Last updated on April 6, 2021
Spectral Sailor | Illustration by Cristi Balanescu
Today we’re going to take a look at Mono Blue Tempo. Unfortunately, unlike most of my other decks, mono blue isn’t viable in BO1. It’s more of a BO3 style deck. I’m currently holding about a 58 to 60% win rate with this deck, and it’s been treating me very well in the BO3 Historic meta.
This deck requires careful navigation, and you need to always be one step ahead of your opponent to use your interactive spells. If something hits the battlefield while you’re playing this deck, it’s likely going to stick around for a while, be it friend or foe. A lot of people hate facing mono blue decks since you’re countering your way to victory. This might result in your opponent rage quitting. I think that at least 1% of my current win rate with the deck is because of people just leaving out of anger.
Still, while it does make me feel slightly guilty, it’s a legit playstyle that comes with its own share of weaknesses. Be ready to see opponents salt rope and let’s get into the deck tech!
Mystical Dispute | Illustration by Ekaterina Burmak
As I mentioned above, this deck is packed with counterspells and mostly stack-based interaction. We’re going to have a counter for pretty much everything. If you really want to play this deck in BO1, you could swap some of the Grafdigger’s Cage copies in from the sideboard, but this deck shines in BO3.
You want to get a 1-drop creature onto the board early, slapping a Curious Obsession or Curiosity on it, and just keep on generating massive amounts of card advantage. It requires a bit of luck and setup, though, since you don’t want your creature to get removed once you put an enchantment on there. But, with cards like Spell Pierce, you can easily dodge the enemy’s early Fatal Pushes.
This deck is a tempo deck and, for this particular list, the 1-slots are going to be very crowded. Let’s take a look.
Pteramander, a cute little salamander drake with flying as a 1/1. What’s great about this little lizard is that it has adapt four for 7U, which gives it four +1/+1 counters. 7U might sound like a lot, and it is, but this cost is reduced by one generic mana for each sorcery or instant in your graveyard. Basically, this card’ll either be a giant 5/5 drake or an early 1/1 flyer depending on if you draw it early or late game.
Siren Stormtamer is a special card. Not only is it a 1/1 flyer but it also has a built-in counter. You can sacrifice it, pay U, and counter target spell or ability that targets you or a creature you control. Great to have this as a sort of “bodyguard” for your other creatures.
Spectral Sailor, another impressive 1-drop. A 1/1 flyer with flash, it also lets you draw a card for just four mana. Since both the Sailor and Stormtamer are pirates, they’ll reduce the cost of Lookout’s Dispersal by one.
The 1-drop creatures take up ten slots already, but the fun doesn’t end there. We also have plenty of value auras, the main cards that make a deck like this possible.
First we’ve got Curious Obsession, an aura that costs U but gives your creature +1/+1 and draws you a card whenever it deals damage to a player. Be careful; this aura will sacrifice itself if you didn’t attack with the creature during your turn, so be sure to attach it to a flyer to maximize the attack potential.
As for our instant slot, we run three copies of Spell Pierce since they play such a crucial role in this deck. With the current popularity of Sultai decks, it may even be an idea to run four copies in the mainboard.
Our main 2-drop creature is Brineborn Cutthroat. A nice 2/1 pirate that gets a +1/+1 counter whenever you cast a spell during your opponent’s turn. Generally, you want to combo this card with counterspells or Spectral Sailor casts during your opponent’s turn. It can get out of hand pretty fast. Being a pirate, it’ll also reduce the cost of Lookout’s Dispersal as well.
We have a lot of counter and bounce spells in the 2-mana slot. Because we run so many pirates in the deck, Lookout’s Dispersal is almost always going to be a 2-mana spell as well, so I’ll cover it in here.
First we have Lofty Denial. Thanks to all our fliers, this’ll force your opponent to pay four mana to stop it. It can counter anything. Sometimes, even without flyers on the field, it can be a great counterspell if your opponent taps out completely. You can, for example, counter an Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath or Nissa, Who Shakes the World on curve, even if you have no board state or only have ground-dwelling creatures like Brineborn Cutthroat.
Next is Essence Capture, our creature-specific counter spell. It can be great if you have a creature on the board already, giving them +1/+1 on top of countering.
Lookout’s Dispersal is a 3-mana counterspell but, as I mentioned, castable at two mana. This card forces your opponent to pay four mana to stop it. It also can counter any spell.
Finally, we have a non-counter magic instant in the form of Brazen Borrower. This card has a 2-mana instant adventure tied to it that lets you bounce a non-land permanent to the hand. Sadly, you can only bounce your opponent’s permanents. This card would have been even better otherwise, saving one of your creatures from a board wipe.
The aforementioned Brazen Borrower is also one of our 3-drop creatures. A flash creature that provides a 3/1 flyer for three mana isn’t bad at all.
Tempest Djinn, a 3-mana flyer, has power equal to the number of Islands you control. Since all but one of our land are Islands, a late-game Djinn can become absolutely massive. You generally want to cast this once you have five or more mana so you can protect it with counterspells, but you may want to cast it early against aggro decks so you can block with it.
A mulligan with this deck is something you sort of want to avoid. Since we’re in blue, our spells trade in a one-for-one fashion and, even then, you need to be one step ahead of your opponent. Because of this, you sort of want Curiosity or Curious Obsession in hand. In reality, though, you may not have that luxury. Regardless, make sure to follow these rules:
If you have one of the auras in hand:
- Make sure you have a 1- or 2-drop creature;
- Have two lands.
If you have no auras in hand:
- Have three lands;
- Have at least two counterspells.
If you mulligan (or, better yet, don’t mulligan) your hands based on these above criteria, you should be good to go.
Using Your Counterspells
Since we trade one-for-one, you want to be extremely selective in how you use your counterspells. Don’t just counter everything your opponent plays because you’ll run out of gas very quickly. Instead, you want to focus your magic on countering win conditions. This requires some knowledge about the meta, though. Never be afraid to quickly tab out to look up your opponent’s deck on sites like MTGgoldfish or Draftsim’s deck database.
Most people netdeck. This means that they’ll copy the latest “top” variant of a deck and use it for the day. Knowing this, you’ll be able to easily find their exact list nine out of ten times. I get hazy when trying to remember the month’s current flavor for certain decks and quickly check their win conditions.
You need to ignore a lot of stuff to make sure you counter the right cards. This can be nerve-wracking, but the more you play this deck, the more you’ll learn when to counter and when not to.
Colorless Ramp Matchups
Mono Red Goblins Matchups
Azorius Auras Matchups
White- and Black-Aligned Matchups
The sideboard has some toys that are specifically meant to be pulled out for certain matchups. Against all graveyard and Collected Company decks out there, like every deck, Grafdigger’s Cage is your friend.
The way you side these cards into your mainboard varies from deck to deck. As a rule-of-thumb, I tend to replace counterspells that have no interaction first, followed by Pteramander and Tempest Djinn. Depending on the matchup, Brazen Borrower will take a time-out if there aren’t many targets to bounce. In some matchups (emphasis on some) I’ll even side-out a couple Spectral Sailor copies.
Red or Gruul Matchups
Red or Green Matchups
Non-Creature Wincon Matchups
An extra copy of Spell Pierce will do wonders against decks that run many non-creature win conditions.
Big Creature Matchups
Entrancing Melody against all the Titan decks, or just decks in general with big creature pay-offs.
You’re gonna wanna slide Mystical Dispute in against all the blue-aligned decks.
While this version of Mono Blue is based around pirates, you could also go the wizard route and use cards like Merfolk Trickster. If you go this path, you can use Wizard’s Retort in your mainboard. In a wizard deck, Gadwick, the Wizened can be pretty good too.
A personal favorite of mine is Syncopate. Not only does it counter a card, but it also exiles it. Perfect against Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath. In short, lots of blue cards are a perfect fit for a deck like this, but I think the current build is the most optimal.
Slowing Down the Tempo
Brazen Borrower | Illustration by Eric Deschamps
I had a lot of fun revisiting this deck. I was skeptical about its efficiency, but it’s great having played it in the ladder. It requires a slightly higher skill cap to play properly, so it’s likely more suitable for people who know the meta well. If you consider yourself a good player, you likely have no issues navigating a deck like this.
Thanks to the built-in tempo game plan, you can easily switch things up from being too defensive and going into full offense, playing creature after creature to race your opponent. Generally, you need Curious Obsession on one of your creatures to make this viable, so you can draw into more and more creatures to put onto the battlefield. It’s an entertaining and interactive deck, for the person navigating it at least, giving you a lot of room for decision making towards your victory.
Blue magic is blue magic, though, which means that many people will get frustrated with you playing a deck like this. Don’t let that beat you down. It’s part of the game, after all! Being tied in blue means we don’t have access to hard removal, which can be harsh against decks that like to play lots of cards in one turn since our counterspells are mostly tied to the 2-mana slot. You’re going to suffer some losses against go-wide red decks and some Gruul opponents. Sadly that’s one of the deck’s weaknesses, but that also means you will have a lot of great matchups in BO3, which has more midrange and control decks.
If you play this deck, feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments down there or head on over to our Discord if a more length discussion is your thing. And of course, be sure to check out Draftsim’s fantastic MTGA deck tracker, Arena Tutor.
I hope you have a lot of fun with it and see you all soon with the next guide!