Six Shades of Blue: The Threesomes

Control is widely associated with the color blue—and for good reasons. Whether it's countermagic or card draw, blue gets the most and the best such spells. A reactive strategy basically locks you into this one color, and a second color adds some nuance. Now let's explore how a third color changes the dynamic!


threefold signal

Welcome to the sequel to my discussion of the second color in blue control. If you haven't yet, I highly recommend checking out that piece for better context. That said, let me provide a quick recap.

When you've decided to play control, most often you'll be locked into blue from the get-go. Then, you usually choose a flavor and a second color. At this stage your deck already possesses some specific traits and nuances that seemingly similar, but differently colored decks wouldn't have. Each color pair has its own strengths and weaknesses, and I dove into these details in my earlier "Four Shades of Blue" article.

However, some formats allow us to incorporate a third color. The main factor in determining whether you can go tricolor is the number of tapped lands you'd have to run or other price you'd have to pay to fulfill your mana requirements, for example life. This article doesn't focus on that decision but rather on which color triple to choose once you've established that such a mana base is possible in the first place. Mixing blue with two other colors means greater overlap, but the six resulting combinations still come with their very own strategic features, advantages and disadvantages. Below I look into how these decks play out and also at the cards the combinations have access to.

The whole topic crucially links back to Streets of New Capenna as now all the three-color combinations have trilands, a topic I already covered separately as well. Before, there was a clear asymmetry as the ones with access to Triomes had the upper hand in deck building.

Esper (White-Blue-Black)


damn kaya's guile

Let's start off with my personal favorite. I've tried a million times to make Esper playable, and only sometimes was it successful. One of the reasons used to be the mana base and the lack of a Triome. But thanks to Raffine's Tower Esper is now back on the menu.


The cards that pull Modern players into the direction of Esper:

  • Kaya's Guile—as far as I'm concerned the biggest reason to go Esper. As a white and black card, you cannot play it in either Dimir or Azorius, it has to be specifically Esper. I love the flexibility of the card and how it provides powerful narrow effects in a form that we can easily maindeck. In Modern, having an edict effect against Bogles or Murktide Regent is a game changer, as is graveyard hate for Dredge or Living End, or 4 life against Burn. If that was not enough, later in the game you can entwine it to have all of the effects. To top it off, you can use Snapcaster Mage to flash it back and potentially still entwine it. Love it!

  • Damn—a card deemed the best mass removal spell ever. However exciting though, it fell flat in the most boring department: consistency. The main culprits are Counterspell and Archmage's Charm, which force all the control decks to be able to produce double and triple blue on their respective turns. Then to go double black for Damn, with white along the way was a tall order. Thanks to Raffine's Tower, it's much less of an issue now, with turn one Tower, turn two Watery Grave, turn three Island. Bear in mind that it's still an average spot removal spell and mass removal worse than Supreme Verdict, so it remains to be seen whether the flexibility is worth it.

  • Fracture—one of my favorite sideboard options. I like to play one or two copies. Excellent against Urza's Saga in general and Titan and Hammer decks specifically.

  • Esper Charm—the likely no longer playable Charm in the room. There are a lot of long-time Esper control mages who can't imagine playing this color combination without their good old Esper Charm. The issue is that, while it's old, it's not that good. You already have to accommodate quadruple Archmage's Charm and then you have to dedicate a very limited number of slots on the curve to Teferi, Time Raveler and Kaya's Guile, at which point Esper Charm does not fit. Though I can imagine the satisfaction of casting Snapcaster Mage into Charm to make the opponent discard two during their draw step.

Esper is very often associated with draw-go and for a good reason. It does not include either of the colors largely considered aggressive, no red or green. That's why Esper players usually try to go for hard control. The profile of an Esper deck can vary. Sometimes it can be fully three-colored but sometimes it leans more on Azorius or Dimir with a splash of the third, and trust me, this is not just semantics. The difference is absolutely crucial to understanding the way it plays out and how the mana is contructed.

Blue-black with white is usually a control deck with good countermagic and point removal, splashing for finishers like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, few wrath effects, or strong white sideboard hosers such as Rest in Peace or Stony Silence. White-blue with black is usually an otherwise strong control deck, lacking that point removal or sideboard discard. Maybe the white and blue core is strong enough but needs just Fatal Push to fend off against aggressive draws.

Bant (Green-White-Blue)


ice-fang coatl teferi, time raveler

There are no green-white gold cards that this color combination could be interested in, but it might want both some white and some green blues. The main example is a white-blue control deck that splashes some utility green cards such as Ice-Fang Coatl, Growth Spiral for ramp, sideboard Veil of Summer, or in older formats Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath. As I mentioned in the previous article, green-blue really leans on ramp-y effects such as Wilderness Reclamation.

Splashing white in such a shell also makes sense to have access to Prismatic Ending, Teferi, Time Raveler, et cetera. It's not a popular color combination in Modern or Pioneer, a tad more in Legacy thanks to Uro.


Jeskai (Blue-Red-White)


lightning helix fire // ice

Nowadays, you can see three ways of approaching this color combination. It's white-blue splashing red for efficient removal like Lightning Bolt or Unholy Heat, blue-red splashing white for sideboard cards and some hard removal like Prismatic Ending or Timely Reinforcements, or actual three colors taking full advantage of a Jeskai mana base. One of the cards you see the most in those full Jeskai builds is Lightning Helix.

Jeskai is really good in creature-heavy environments, but it certainly prefers small creatures like Elves rather than Eldrazi. When paired against a deck where removal is dead, Jeskai's advantage is that the removal sometimes isn't actually dead. With cards like Lightning Bolt or Helix, you can always go to the face, effectively turning removal into a way to shorten the clock. In Modern, you'll see Snapcaster Mage capitalizing on this effect, giving the deck an ability to close the game relatively quickly with the infamous "bolt-snap-bolt" sequence.


Another popular way to incorporate red is to adopt Fire // Ice, which can sometimes be a blow-out against small creature decks and isn't dead without red mana.

There are also some builds of Jeskai that veer off into a prison or combo direction. Arguably the most popular off-the-wall build is Jeskai Lotus Field whose aim is to abuse the extra mana with planeswalkers, card advantage spells, hardcasting Elementals, and the otherwise unplayable Cryptic Command.


Grixis (Blue-Black-Red)


kolaghan's command kroxa

Here's a color combination that one can take in a couple of very different directions. You can build it as a pure, draw-go control deck. However, to this day the best control finisher is Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, whom this deck can't have. Due to the lack of a true haymaker, the way to go is to aim for incremental advantage. For instance in Pioneer such decks have to go for Ashiok, Nightmare Muse or Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God. The first is lackluster as it does not provide proper card advantage and the other one is super hard on the mana.

One of the ways to accrue value is to utilize Snapcaster Mage and Kolaghan's Command to recur it. Nowadays we can add Archmage's Charm to the mix.


It's always been difficult to curve the hard removal this combination had access to, for example Dreadbore or Terminate, into proper blue spells like Counterspell, Archmage's Charm, or Snapcaster Mage into a blue spell. Now Xander's Lounge helps out with that.

The other approach is more skewed toward actually closing the game. It may be through snapcasting Lightning Bolt, Tasigur turboed out via Thought Scour, adding Murktide Regent, or starting out on Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer. You accrue card advantage but get some chip damage along the way, treading the line between control and aggrocontrol. Nicol Bolas, the Ravager // Nicol Bolas, the Arisen is another good example showcasing this approach to lean more on a tap-out style of play, aiming to close the game with damage.

As this color combination has access to black, it may rely a bit more on discard.

Sultai (Black-Green-Blue)


abrupt decay assassin's trophy

This color combination's specific cards include two versatile removal spells in Abrupt Decay and Assassin's Trophy. I've always liked them, but it will depend widely on the metagame. Previously, under the aegis of Lurrus of the Dream-Den, Decay would hit most if not all permanents. It's also good against decks with counterspells that try to protect their threats. Trophy is an excellent catch-all, but you can't afford to run too many. After all it still has a major drawback.

One of the most popular approaches is to take advantage of what black and green bring and that is making the deck kind of like blue Jund. You pave the way with discard to drop a Tarmogoyf and control the rest of the game to ride it to victory. One of the most powerful BUG decks that I've ever played was when I took down a paper tourney during the Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath era.


The deck played a hard control game with the inevitability provided by Uro and Cryptic/Sanctuary. While I could have played a different color combination, the black removal was way too strong to pass up. Green life gain also came in handy as that's an easy way for a control deck to help stabilize.

Temur (Green-Blue-Red)


wrenn and six scapeshift

In my opinion this is the most flexible tricolor combination. As I wrote in my two-color article, blue and red lend themselves to being pretty combo-genic and that transpires to RUG. There have been numerous combo control decks that splash green to have additional threats to be able to attack on multiple axes.

One RUG-specific shell is Temur Scapeshift. It takes what green does best, ramp, and combines it with blue countermagic, red removal, and a mountainous win condition.


In Modern specifically, another reason to go RUG is to include Wrenn and Six, a supremely powerful engine card. It's especially useful in control as it's the macro archetype that has to make all the land drops and Wrenn ensures that it happens.

This concludes the second article in the series. Now you should have a good idea which two- or three-color combination to choose when building your next control deck. Cheers!


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, not of Cardmarket.



1 Kommentar

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Fiddiput80(05.08.2022 12:39)

Interesting

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