Izzet theme week yet? – Shared Discovery by Rob Wagner
Hi all, it’s Izzet theme week but while I’m a consummate blue mage going straight blue-red isn’t something I often indulge myself in.
Blue and Red are widely known as the “spell” colours, with a get-in get-out approach to interactions. Many Blue and Red spells have an immediate and significant effect, whether it’s a good old fashioned Counterspell or an in-your-face Lightning Bolt.
The colours also find their difference from White, Green and Black also in the quality of the creatures, with the others getting good quality creatures at various points of the curve. There are a few recent discrepancies in Blue, such as Delver of Secrets and Geist of Saint Traft but generally Blue doesn’t get creatures which can attack particularly well and are usually played for their spell-like value, e.g. Snapcaster Mage or Frost Titan. Red fares slightly (pun intended) with some cheap aggressive creatures and a fair few 2-power 1 drops such as Goblin Guide and Rakdos Cackler but it struggles when we get more expensive as it starts picking up dorky over-costed Dragons.
So if we don’t tend to play Blue-Red for its creatures (there are exceptions of course) why do we lean that way?
Simply put, it really is the spells. Blue and Red are the kings of Combo in the Modern era. Classically Black was included for reasons which will soon become apparent, but what it did is now done by our Izzet guildmates. Nearly always the fuel behind a good combo deck (and many bad ones) is the ability to draw into the cards we need and to generate either a real or an effective tonne of mana over a single turn or strategic section of the game.
The drawing portion of this is catered to with literal card draw, card filtering, or card tutoring. Cards can be a combination of these, for example the -2 ability on Jace, Architect of Thought being a card draw / card filter mechanism, but he’s not so awesome for a combo deck. Combo decks tend to not have room in them to strongly interact with the game and so want to be as quick as possible.
Ponder and Preordain are good examples of cards that filter quite effectively through a deck when you are looking for particular cards to make up your hand and there is a reason why they were banned in Modern. In days of yore, or indeed just in Vintage, Black had an effective monopoly on this with cards like Demonic Tutor, Vampiric Tutor and Demonic Consultation for tutoring and Necropotence for one of the best card draw spells ever.
The mana portion is about generating a lot of mana on a single turn or sequence of events. Sometimes this is about casting a bunch of “rituals” e.g. Pyretic Ritual, Seething Song, Rite of Flame (banned in Modern), and sometimes it is about setting up your mana in advance for some reason – e.g. all the ramp spells in Modern Scapeshift, the Lotus Blooms in the “Eggs” deck, or Goblin Electromancer in the Storm deck at the last Pro Tour. Black also used to have a near monopoly on the “fast” mana with the eponymous Dark Ritual and Cabal Ritual, but they kept printing silly stuff like Sol Ring, the Moxen, Ancient Tomb, Lotus Petal and Tolarian Academy.
What do we do with a bunch of mana and a hand with all the cards we want to have in it?
Generally, anything we want in all honesty. It depends on the format because often people try to stop us with pesky counter magic or discard, to undo the big-mana and card finding effects respectively. Either that or they just play dorky creatures and we annihilate them. The most common things to do in this situation is play cards that reward us for having done what we have done already, for example the Storm mechanic rewarding us for casting lots of spells (see Mind’s Desire) or Epic Experiment for having generated a bunch of mana.
Sometimes it is a bit hidden, for example the Legacy Show and Tell deck uses card draw such as Brainstorm to find a hand with a Show and Tell and something to put in. Show and Tell is a big mana generator, which gets you exactly the mana cost of the thing you’re putting into play. Sometimes that mana is 7UUU and you get an Omniscience, which is itself the (current) pinnacle of mana production because it gives you all the mana you will ever need to cast your spells, but not pay for stuff like Spell Pierce.
So where do I sit with the Izzet?
Generally on their left, for they are my right-hand men and women. My flirtation with the Izzet sometimes delves (more puns intended) into combo but I generally not a fan of having little control over my interaction with the game and I really hate “fizzling” on a combo. Historically I’ve actually done pretty poorly with straight-up Blue-Red decks for the very reason that I am not able to do anything to influence the result of the game except for trying to combo and hoping it works. Often instead I will include a small dose of Blue in a deck that contains Red, or a dash of Red in a Blue deck. I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader about which way I tend to lean, but articles like this one may help you to figure it out.
Recently though I stumbled across a brilliant idea from one of the grinder lists from Grand Prix: Auckland – to splash an Izzet card in the Standard Jund deck.
This is what I have been using to tear up the local FNMs, why not give it a try?
1 Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
3 Mizzium Mortars
2 Abrupt Decay
1 Rakdos Keyrune
2 Underworld Connections
2 Sever the Bloodline
1 Garruk, Primal Hunter
1 Vraska the Unseen
2 Rakdos’s Return
Thanks for reading, thanks for sharing!
@DrRobWagner on Twitter