We are at the dawn of a new year, which means new hopes, aspirations, and goals. From the smallest change in daily habits to the most well-intentioned attempts to overhaul one’s diet, January is the time where most people look to improve their life in some way.
If you’re short on ideas for new changes to make this year, I’ve got an easy one for you to implement. I’ve actually got five, and they’re all for your blue decks!
There are troves of lesser-played gems to be found in the deep recesses of Gatherer and Scryfall, and they can be used to make your decks feel truly unique. I’ve spent immeasurable amounts of time deep-diving while brewing, and I’ve found some of the best treasures in every color. I’m happy to share them with you, so you can spend less time scrolling and more time shuffling!
These five blue cards have yet to see an appropriate level of play for the power they bring to the table. You not only get to take advantage of these powerful niche cards, but they will help to put a unique spin on your decks. No deck feels better than one you’ve made your own!
As Magic is at its best when it’s at its most inclusive, I want to make sure that players at any budget can find some real gems here. As such, all cards on my lists tend to be under $5 at the time of writing. However, as we’re all still recovering financially from the Christmas season, this week’s cards are all under $1 instead. Everyone deserves sweet new upgrades, now more than ever!
Removal plays a pivotal role in Commander. It’s usually more important to stop a permanent’s effect or abilities than remove the card itself, which is why spells like Beast Within and Reality Shift see such extensive play. Exiling a threat can often be critical, too; you often want to ensure the problem is permanently dealt with so you can worry about the rest of the board. This is why Amphin Mutineer should be seeing more play than it is right now.
The Salamander Pirate is an amazing addition for countless decks; removing a problematic creature and even trading off with the residual Salamander token in combat afterwards is a great deal. Four mana might seem high for targeted removal, but it’s worth it for additional exile removal in a color that has limited options.
The secret value of this card comes from its encore ability. This new mechanic from Commander Legends is a mix of unearth and embalm that really shines in multiplayer games. Six mana to remove up to three creatures from the game is a steal, even if it leaves behind a few small bodies on your opponents’ boards. You might even remove some of them with the tokens you generate, further mitigating the downside!
Amphin Mutineer would be a brilliant addition to any deck that could take advantage of its enter the battlefield ability, either through flicker effects or simply by replaying them. Aminatou, the Fateshifter and Barrin, Tolarian Archmage are fine examples of commanders that would benefit from the swashbuckler.
Free spells are almost always good. Most blue decks have a few ways to interact with permanents, with bounce spells being a popular choice for the role. Even if they only deal with a permanent for one turn cycle, there are up to three other players taking their turns in the meantime. The entire board state can change in such a short period of time; you could find a counterspell for it, or someone could have enough time to find a more permanent answer.
One big downside, though, is that you’ll usually have to hold up mana for this when you probably should be advancing your board state. This is where Snapback really shines. You can tap out and maximize your development while never fully dropping your guard. You can also use Snapback to save a creature from removal, either to help forge an alliance or protect the lynchpin to one of your own combos.
It’s true that casting Snapback for its alternative cost is card disadvantage, but blue decks can easily mitigate that drawback thanks to their sheer amount of card draw. Most importantly, Snapback trades card advantage for a mana advantage, which is something that mono-blue decks often struggle with.
Even if you end up casting it for its mana cost, it’s still a perfectly reasonable spell! Most blue decks run some kind of bounce spell, and it’s often directed at creatures, so you’ll lose very little by replacing Into the Roil with this.
Snapback is at its best in aggressive decks, particularly ones that can capitalize on the tempo loss. I play it in my Adeliz, the Cinder Wind deck as a way to remove blockers, while also pumping my team for free.
It’s generally a good idea to include some form of land hate in your Commander decks, to help deal with lands like Maze of Ith or Field of the Dead. While all colors have access to cards like Ghost Quarter and Field of Ruin, blue is very limited in its other land hate options. Spreading Seas is one of the best ways that blue can shut down specific lands, and it really doesn’t show up often enough in Commander.
While it’s possible to remove the enchantment and stop its effect, it does have distinct advantages over cards like Stone Rain. It draws a card when it enters the battlefield, so you can cycle it even when it has no decent targets; it also adds to your devotion to blue, which can be relevant for Master of Waves or Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. And don’t overlook Spreading Seas’ ability to turn a land into an Island — you can use it to make creatures with islandwalk unblockable, too.
Spreading Seas really shines brightest in flicker strategies: you can reselect the land it’s targeting by flickering it with Brago, King Eternal and draw an additional card, for example. It’s also great in Merfolk tribal decks like Sygg, River Guide, as most of the lords give all merfolk islandwalk.
Counterspell is the most popular, eh, counterspell in Commander, and for good reason. Most others attempt to emulate it, but they rarely come close. However, there are some decks that stand to gain much more by making the change to one of my favorite counters.
Cheap and efficient counters are a dime-a-dozen in Commander, with some of them appearing to have drawbacks in the form of additional costs. Familiar’s Ruse is one of those counters, but there are many decks that want additional ways to return creatures to hand. Naban, Dean of Iteration is a perfect example: rather than just using Counterspell to stop a play, you can use Familiar’s Ruse and return a Cloudkin Seer so you can recast it later and draw even more cards!
Archaeomancer is a great creature to bounce with this, as you can replay it to return Familiar’s Ruse to your hand. This is the creature-based alternative to Deprive & Mystic Sanctuary, which is a very popular loop in Commander. You could even return Amphin Mutineer to your hand with this spell to really maximize the value you can get from this list!
This obviously isn’t better than Counterspell overall, but if you have a deck that can turn the additional cost into a bonus, then it could be one of the best cards in the deck.
I believe Commander is the format that benefited the most from War of the Spark. Dovin’s Veto, Karn’s Bastion, and Spark Double are just a few examples of cards from WAR that have become exceptional format staples. Even though it’s been nearly two years since the set’s release, some of its lesser-known cards could see play for many years to come. Lazotep Plating is certainly one of those hidden gems.
The two-mana instant is blue’s analog to Heroic Intervention; it may not provide indestructible (that’s just not in blue’s wheelhouse), but giving your entire board hexproof is still a great deal. The 1/1 token it gives you can also be used as a combat trick; it might just be a small army, but it’s enough to block a threatening attacker or trade up with a fragile creature.
This would suit decks that are a little more defensive, or that rely on a permanent-based combo to win. It’s an amazing card for Jalira, Master Polymorphist; it generates a creature for Jalira to polymorph while also protecting her, making it one of the safest ways to execute her game plan. This also fits right into most Talrand, Sky Summoner strategies, or decks that want to go infinite with creatures like Peregrine Drake and Deadeye Navigator.
I hope this has helped to provide some fresh inspiration or spark some new ideas. If you really want to embrace the whole “new year, new you” philosophy, there’s no better place to start than to update your decks with sweet new additions like these!
What do you think of this list? Do you have any secret spice picks? Let me know on Twitter, and feel free to show me your own hidden gems!
Scott is an Irish content creator and the Head of Budget Magic for the Izzet League. He focuses on affordable decks in Pioneer, Modern, and Pauper, particularly ones that stray from the mainstream. When he’s not writing about his favorite decks, he can be found talking incessantly about them on Twitter and on The Budget Magic Cast.