Casting Blue Spells

Feature Article from Nick Spagnolo
Nick Spagnolo
10/28/2010 9:12:00 AM
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Preordain and Jace, the Mind Sculptor dictate what blue decks can do in our Standard format. These two cards offer so much card manipulation that you can reliably find 1-ofs in most games. I've wanted to write about Preordain for a while, and this is largely inspired by our own AJ Sacher's article “Pondering Brainstorm”, which I would highly recommend as a must-read.

For this article, I'm going to be using examples from my U/B control list, but they can easily be translated into U/R or U/W control. Whenever I say Doom Blade, you can envision a Lightning Bolt or a Journey to Nowhere, or whatever other removal spell you fancy. All of these points can apply to any Preordain, Jace, Mana Leak deck.

Don't cast Preordain until you need to.
This is the most important thing to take away from the article. Preordain generates more value the longer you wait to cast it. A late game Preordain is usually game-winning, while an early game Preordain is little more than a cantrip. As an example, let's say you have an average hand with 2-3 lands, a removal spell, and a Counterspell. How does a turn 1 Preordain help you here? A few turns later you will have drawn more cards, and can use Preordain to find any specific piece you are missing.

This theory is just as important in the mid-late game. A midgame Preordain that finds an answer to what your opponent might have is worse than a Preordain to find the answer to the question you are currently being presented with. Of course, always use Preordain to find land drops if you need them.

Preordain with a goal.
The blue decks we are looking at are full of 1 for 1s, and use Jace or Titans to put the game away. If you are lacking a shuffle effect, Preordain can turn into a Thirst for Knowledge after a Brainstorm. Preordain can find you the card you need to stay alive. Preordain can find you the Jace or Titan you need to win the game. The point here is to Preordain with a goal. You want to use it as a source of card selection, not as a cantrip.

The turn 3 Preordain is one of my favorites, especially in the control mirror. If you cast Preordain before playing your 3rd land, your opponent needs to stop and think about whether or not you have a land, and will sometimes even counter it. If it resolves and you play a land and pass, your opponent is far more likely to think you have a Counterspell, since you just Preordained. The goal here is for information and to see if you can walk your opponent into a mistake. Even if it does resolve, you have more knowledge of what you need now than you did on turn 1, and you still are representing everything.

Never cast Preordain blind.
I see people cast Preordain on turn 1 before they know what their opponent is playing. How can you even know which cards you want to keep or put on the bottom? Unless you're keeping a 1 land hand with Preordain, which is a trap in itself, you won't yet know whether you want that 2nd copy of Doom Blade, or the Memoricide you're about to Scry away.

Preordain and 1 land on 7 cards is not a good hand in most situations. You're ideally going to play a land every turn for the first 6 turns at least, so your hand needs to be good enough with no more spells drawn for at least 4 turns. Of course, if you have a Jace Beleren and multiple 1 or 2 mana interactive spells, this becomes a lot more attractive. I would advise against keep this hand blind however, as missing land drops in the control mirror is the fastest way to lose.

On Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
Jace does everything. He catches you up when you're behind, gets you ahead, helps lock your opponent out of the game, as well as being his own win condition. Jace has this hidden triggered ability of “If you untap with Jace, the Mind Sculptor, win the game.” You do need to set yourself up for Jace to win the game, and that comes with having a plan in each matchup.

There are some matchups where sticking a turn 4 (or 3!) Jace will win the game. The control mirror comes to mind, though you can never let him walk into a Mana Leak. Mono Green Eldrazi is another good example, if you are able to cast a Jace when they are unable to reach the critical 6th mana on their turn, he will win the game on his own. Fortunately, his -1 ability even lets you bounce the Joraga Treespeaker, Overgrown Battlement or even Eldrazi Spawn token that can buy you the time you need to untap with him.

In some matchups, such as the Vengevine decks or against Elves, your Jace is here to provide game-ending card advantage and value. Decks like these start to fall behind incredibly quickly as you cast Brainstorm and powerful spells every turn. Against these decks, Frost Titan and Creeping Tar Pit are your win conditions.

Against other decks, such as Valakut and the control mirror, Jace is best at being his own win condition, constantly +2ing himself until he can go ultimate. Frost Titan gets worse as your deck becomes entirely Jace and answers, as you can just survive until you get to ultimate Jace off, without having to take the risk that tapping out for a Frost Titan presents.

What all of these decks have in common is that a Mind Sculptor will always win the game when it stays in play. Going into each match, you should have an idea what role you want Jace to fill, and play accordingly. You will often find yourself with an additional Mind Sculptor in your hand when you have one in play. KEEP IT! Once you are in this position, the only road to your opponent winning is to get your Jace off the table – having a backup Jace further reduces your chance of losing.

On Trinket Mage and Elixir of Immortality.
There is lots of debate about Elixir of Immortality being too cute. I have a hard time understanding why everyone isn't playing this card, as I feel it's pivotal to the success of the deck. Trinket Mage is pure value, and is versatile and useful in every matchup. Against all the decks in which it is underwhelming, you can sideboard out these generally good cards for the specifically powerful removal spells and Counterspells you want to stock your deck with.

Elixir gives you complete inevitability.
Unlike any other card, Elixir ensures you will win any game eventually. You are able to re-buy every answer in your deck, and easily reach a situation where you can draw more answers per turn than they draw cards. Because of the way Trinket Mage, Elixir, and Jace interact, you can gain large amounts of life, while drawing 4 or more new cards per turn. Of course, this is a late game scenario where you stuck a Mind Sculptor – but that is your game plan.

You don't need to win the game.
Having inevitability in every match means something important – you don't need to win, you just need to not lose. This is extremely relevant when considering making “risky” plays like tapping out for a Frost Titan if they might have a removal spell. Once again, because of Elixir of Immortality, you can spend every turn of the game attempting to get more turns. This includes making as many plays for value as possible for the whole game. Think about what sequence of events will actually cause the game to end, and play around those. What might usually be considered a losing position might not be, as long as you are propelling yourself further into the late game.

Elixir keeps you alive!
I hear people talk about how bad Elixir is to draw by itself. Yes, it's a pretty “weak” card in the typical sense, but if you only have 1, it's a great way of ensuring you see another draw step. In addition to the 5 life, it provides a shuffle effect and makes sure you never get decked. Of course we aren't all going around playing “3 Mana, Gaea's Blessing, Gain 5 Life” as a card, but when you have a tutorable, recurring one, it's actually pretty great. Trinket Mage can be compared to a 2U Kitchen Finks because of Elixir, with the added option of being able to fetch Removal or a Chalice.

As one example, let's say your opponent has a Plated Geopede and you have a Trinket Mage. Without the Elixir option, chump blocking is almost always correct to preserve your life total, but thanks to Elixir, you have more leeway in saving your Trinket Mage for a Kiln Fiend, Goblin Guide, or even have it stick around for a turn where your opponent can't landfall. In many situations, you can make better options based on value with less concern for your life total getting dangerously low. A few of these value plays later, and you far more than made up the card disadvantage that Elixir entails.

On Sideboarding.
When you sideboard, think of it as building a new 60 card deck, as opposed to adding and removing cards. You get to fine-tune your deck to have the right answers to whatever your opponent is playing. For the ramp decks you get to Overload on counterspells, for the creature decks, you get to Overload on removal. A lot of people have asked why I usually board out my Frost Titans, and this is the reasoning.

In game 1, Frost Titan is an answer to almost anything, as well as being a relevant clock. In game 1s, you might have some dead spells against a certain matchup (for example, a handful of Doom Blades against mono black), or you might not have enough interaction to have inevitability in game 1, (such as against Pyromancer Ascension). Postboard, you get to bring in all of the specifically cheap answers you need to have inevitability, instead of the generally good Frost Titans that are often a 6 mana Twiddle.

The same goes for Trinket Mage, the 2/2 body is acceptable at worst, and the card advantage is always good. You might side him out when you just want to be full of high impact spells and when the 2/2 body is irrelevant (such as against Eldrazi Green).

When you sideboard, you should know exactly how to use Jace. If you boarded out your Titans, Jace is there to -12, so keep that in mind instead of aimlessly brainstorming. If your deck is full of Titans and removal, Jace is here to Brainstorm, so play for him to take over after you run low on cards.

A new list.
I'm going to Charlotte this weekend, and here is the list I am currently on:

UB Control by Nick Spagnolo
Main Deck
3 Frost Titan
3 Trinket Mage
Creatures [6]
2 Jace Beleren
4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Planeswalkers [6]
1 Brittle Effigy
1 Consuming Vapors
4 Doom Blade
2 Duress
1 Elixir of Immortality
2 Everflowing Chalice
2 Into the Roil
4 Mana Leak
1 Negate
4 Preordain
1 Stoic Rebuttal
Spells [23]
4 Creeping Tar Pit
3 Darkslick Shores
4 Drowned Catacomb
5 Island (234)
2 Misty Rainforest
3 Swamp (238)
3 Tectonic Edge
1 Verdant Catacombs
Lands [25]
Deck Total [60]

4 Disfigure
2 Duress
3 Flashfreeze
3 Memoricide
2 Negate
1 Nihil Spellbomb
Sideboard [15]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

There were some small changes: most notably, I added a set of Duress to the 75. The mirror has become popular, and Duress is a great way to fight it, while also being valuable against the Ramp decks. Consume the Meek was underwhelming and only good against Elves, so I cut it from the 75. I added an additional Darkslick Shores to help cast turn 1 Duress.

On Scrubbing out of Pro Tours.
I just locked up a rating invite to Worlds, and I look forward to making sure I don't start the tournament 1-4 like I did my first 2 Pro Tours. Standard is the first day, and I am going to stay heavily focused on the format over the next 2 months.

Thanks for all the positive feedback from the last article, it was great reading all the input.

-Nick Spagnolo

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