Welcome! I am The Magic Person, not to be confused with The Root Beer Person, and I admit: I spend a tremendous amount of time on Magic: The Gathering™. Most of my time is spent building budget decks, and on occasion, playing kitchen table or casual, EDH or commander, modern, standard, and historic. I spend the majority of my time playing with paper, but I’m also on Arena (challenge me!) This website will serve as a place to curate and gather decks, from brilliant to jank, that I am most proud of. I may also write about favorite card combinations, or other card game related content. Today’s article is about deck building, and today’s deck is probably the one I am most proud of putting together, and it’s also one of the most enjoyable decks I have ever piloted. While this is a Modern format deck now, originally it was a Kitchen Table / Casual deck.
I’m a maniac, maniac! On the play~mat!
Sometime in 2013 after exhausting hours of research on what kind of deck I could possibly build to fit my specific casual playstyle, I happened across a very specific card that tickled the kind of manic shenanigans that blue can truly exploit: Laboratory Maniac.
Laboratory Maniac: If you would draw a card while your library has no cards in it, you win the game instead.
I got back into the game in 2012 when some friends of mine started picking it back up to avoid the repetitions of playing Halo every Friday. After getting stomped with cards from the Masques through Odyssey blocks, I started looking at what I could do to improve my chances of winning. I’ve always had this nagging feeling that despite this being a truly enjoyable hobby, dropping huge amounts of cash on cardboard just isn’t a financially sound investment. Therefore, most of the decks that I’ll feature on this site are going to be budget oriented.
The cards in the first iteration of this deck, BlueStein, were less than $15 USD combined. At the time, $15 USD was the maximum I was willing to pay for a whole deck excluding basic lands, and still, to this day, I’m well known for trimming my card costs down significantly. Ready for a well known secret? The best way to cut down on price is by playing a mono-color deck. One of the most expensive parts of Magic: The Gathering™ is the cost of lands, like fetches and duals. If you’re only playing islands, then you’ve already halved your deck price or more!
Back to Labman. On the surface, for anyone who isn’t already familiar with the plentiful combos that exist with this card, it looks like a dud. In order to truly take advantage of Labman, I need to walk a precarious line between defeat and victory. He needs to be on the battlefield, unharmed, and I need to draw a card while my library is empty. So let’s talk about each step of success, here, in reverse order.
An empty library is a pristine mind
As it turns out, there are a lot of cards in Magic that clean out your library, but they can be very situational; like Divining Witch (which isn’t in this deck.)
Divining Witch: 1 Colorless Mana + 1 Black Mana + Tap Divining Witch + Discard a card: Choose a card name. Exile the top six cards of your library, then reveal cards from the top of your library until you reveal a card with the chosen name. Put that card into your hand and exile all other cards revealed this way.
Quick anecdote: when I first started playing Magic in the early 00s, I didn’t play to win, or even understand the mechanics and foundations of the game. I played because my friends played, and I collected because I loved the art and atmosphere of the cards. I would routinely trade away anything of value for anything pretty. When I picked it back up again, my collection was trash. Divining Witch was one of the cards I had in my collection, but I didn’t have any win conditions. When I knew I couldn’t win, I’d play it, and choose something like Mox Sapphire, which I definitely couldn’t afford, and that would be my way to concede without outright scooping.
You might pick Black Lotus if you really needed an empty library.
Leveler: When Leveler enters the battlefield, exile all cards from your library.
Mirror of Fate: Tap Mirror of Fate + Sacrifice Mirror of Fate: Choose up to seven face-up exiled cards you own. Exile all the cards from your library, then put the chosen cards on top of your library.
Originally, this was the extent of the combo. Drop Labman, wait a turn, drop Leveler or Mirror of Fate, and then wait for the upkeep. Obviously this didn’t take into account removal, or draw to trigger the win, but it worked. It worked so well that it became a bit notorious among my playgroup. Plus, Mirror offered a secondary option to filter your deck, because according to 406.3:
Exiled cards are, by default, kept face up and may be examined by any player at any time.
That means that if Labman wasn’t in your hand, but you had access to Leveler or Mirror, you could search for anything you needed. Admittedly, this didn’t happen very often, but it was a neat trick.
Now, let’s figure out a way to draw a card before upkeep.
Blue draws cards
There are so many ways to draw cards at instant speed in blue, this should be a peace of cake. But if we’re going to draw cards, we need to get more out of it than a draw, because if we don’t have Labman out, it’s just not good enough. Even for a budget deck.
Peek: Look at target player’s hand. Draw a card.
Conjurer’s Bauble: Tap Conjurer’s Bauble + Sacrifice Conjurer’s Bauble: Put up to one target card from your graveyard on the bottom of your library. Draw a card.
These cards weren’t originally in BlueStein, but that’s OK. Things change and evolve. Normally you might say that Gitaxian Probe, which uses Phyrexian mana (replace each mana symbol with 2 life as payment) to do the exact same thing at sorcery speed, is better. But remember, it’s all about cantripping into Labman victory. Oh yeah, and git init probe is banned in modern. Peek’s not free, but it does let you take a look at your opponent’s hand on turn 1, and you cantrip into a win later.
Conjurer’s Bauble, on the other hand, can be triggered freely at a later time, which means it’s great for a win on turn 5 if you just dropped Leveler. I’ll also mention that Conjurer’s Bauble is absolutely perfect for this deck, not just because it’s a permanent with an activated ability that lets you draw for free, but because it gives you the option of putting a card from your graveyard on the bottom of your library if you just so happen to get Labman destroyed or might otherwise lose by decking yourself.
If we’re talking blue, we’re talking counter spells. Labman or Mirror removal is unacceptable, and we simply won’t stand for it. If you’re going after my crazy boy in blue, then you’ll have to sling some spells, Planeswalker. Protect the combo at all costs!
Siren Stormtamer: 1 Blue Mana + Sacrifice Siren Stormtamer: Counter target spell or ability that targets you or a creature you control.
Essence Flux: Exile target creature you control, then return that card to the battlefield under its owner’s control. If it’s a Spirit, put a +1/+1 counter on it.
Turn Aside: Counter target spell that targets a permanent you control.
Dream Fracture: Counter target spell. Its controller draws a card. Draw a card.
Siren Stormtamer is excellent because it does thrice as much work: it acts as Turn Aside for Labman, it stops weird ability interaction, and it can block a 20/20 legendary flying creature without trample. Essence Flux is pretty simple, just flicker Labman and let their spell fizzle. Turn Aside we’ve already covered. But Dream Fracture probably has you a little confused. Three mana Counterspell? What is this? Limited? Okay, if I could use Arcane Denial I would, but I can’t, so let me counter my own spell and draw a card.
Redundancy is key
With some recent sets, we’ve been privileged to see a few more redundant win conditions in the same style as Labman. They’ve actually taken a lot of formats by storm, including commander, and I’m a little peeved about that because they’re starting to push the bounds of what I consider budget buys. Since this combo is one of my favorites, I’ve been trying to incorporate it into an EDH deck, and dropping more than $10 on two cards just doesn’t feel right.
Thassa’s Oracle: When Thassa’s Oracle enters the battlefield, look at the top X cards of your library, where X is your devotion to blue. Put up to one of them on top of your library and the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order. If X is greater than or equal to the number of cards in your library, you win the game.
Jace, Wielder of Mysteries: If you would draw a card while your library has no cards in it, you win the game instead. +1: Target player mills two cards. Draw a card. −8: Draw seven cards. Then if your library has no cards in it, you win the game.
Despite how verbose it is, Thassa’s Oracle really is straight forward. If we’re not ready to win, we get to filter our deck, and if we are ready to win, we win. I’m really not a fan of Jace as a character, but this Planeswalker really fits the theme here. Mono blue, with the inherent Labman ability and the ability to draw cards? Awesome.
We’ve got the path to success figured out, but what about the other elements that make a deck work?
Detection Tower: 1 Colorless Mana + Tap Detection Tower: Until end of turn, your opponents and creatures your opponents control with hexproof can be the targets of spells and abilities you control as though they didn’t have hexproof.
Ghost Quarter: Tap Ghost Quarter + Sacrifice Ghost Quarter: Destroy target land. Its controller may search their library for a basic land card, put it onto the battlefield, then shuffle their library.
Halimar Depths: When Halimar Depths enters the battlefield, look at the top three cards of your library, then put them back in any order.
Magosi, the Waterveil: 1 Blue Mana + Tap Magosi, the Waterveil: Put an eon counter on Magosi, the Waterveil. Skip your next turn. Tap Magosi, the Waterveil: Remove an eon counter from Magosi, the Waterveil and return it to its owner’s hand: Take an extra turn after this one.
Quicksand: Tap Quicksand + Sacrifice Quicksand: Target attacking creature without flying gets -1/-2 until end of turn.
Detection Tower takes care of hexproof creatures that we can’t deal with. Ghost Quarter takes care of enemy lands that are too oppressive. Modern threats need ghostly solutions, after all. Halimar Depths is a really unique land, for the cost of entering the battlefield tapped, it lets you filter your deck, and that’s incredibly useful for timing your win. Magosi is a bit of a Pandora’s Box. An early skipped turn can lend itself to a protected win condition, but using this card is really risky. Quicksand is a solid choice to take down ground aggro that just won’t quit.
Let’s talk sideboard
I’ll admit, this is an abysmally cheap and ineffective sideboard for modern. There are some choice cards here that do work, but there are much better options if you’re looking to be competitive. I guess you could say that about the whole deck! I’m not really that competitive with BlueStein, so I’m really happy choosing cards that are incredibly affordable and work with a neat little trick: Fae of Wishes // Granted. If you could access your sideboard like a second hand, wouldn’t you?
Fae of Wishes: 1 Colorless Mana + 1 Blue Mana + Discard two cards: Return Fae of Wishes to its owner’s hand.
Granted: You may choose a noncreature card you own from outside the game, reveal it, and put it into your hand.
Tormod’s Crypt: Tap Tormod’s Crypt + Sacrifice Tormod’s Crypt: Exile all cards from target player’s graveyard.
Pacification Array: 2 Colorless Mana + Tap Pacification Array: Tap target artifact or creature.
Sorcerous Spyglass: As Sorcerous Spyglass enters the battlefield, look at an opponent’s hand, then choose any card name. Activated abilities of sources with the chosen name can’t be activated unless they’re mana abilities.
Unsubstantiate: Return target spell or creature to its owner’s hand.
Whirlwind Denial: For each spell and ability your opponents control, counter it unless its controller pays 4 Colorless Mana.
Fae of Wishes, in a pinch, can block and bounce itself, which is great, but Granted is the real key here. Granted let’s you get any noncreature card from your sideboard, which really opens up your options. The first pick is obviously an island, so you can get that fifth land. Tormod’s Crypt deals with graveyards, Pacification Array deals with unblockable creatures, Sorcerous Spyglass deals with win conditions, Unsubstantiate can either stop a Grapeshot or protect Labman, and Whirlwind Denial is just an incredible answer to some ridiculous combos. Seriously, Whirlwind Denial is an amazing card. Don’t @ me.
Was SaffronOlive first and/or better?
In May of 2019, SaffronOlive put out an article using Leveler and Mirror of Fate and reinvented the concept to be fairly competitive while still focused on budget, using Jace instead of Labman as the primary win condition. When you’re deck building, it can sometimes feel like when you stumble upon a combo or synergy and you don’t find many resources about those specific card combinations, that you invented it. I certainly felt that way with BlueStein, but the truth is, deckbuilding in Magic isn’t about being first, and I don’t think anyone should choose what they play based on that. Excepting Popeye Stompy, featuring the enigmatic Ramirez DePietro, of course. Ultimately, you don’t need to invent the wheel to reinvent it. I’ve heard controversies about SaffronOlive in the past, and I won’t delve into that, but suffice to say, I don’t have anything against him. When the redundancy came out, he definitely popularized the combo. Is his version better? Probably, but I don’t really know. He has a lot more experience as a Magic player and as a personality. That being said, even tuned Magic decks need to be tailored to their pilot to be effective. Put your own spin on it!
I will note that based on a comment from when his version was released, SaffronOlive did not realize the combo between Leveler and Mirror of Fate, and if you ever do plan to build this deck, you should become comfortable with risky plays like that.
Bring this creation to life!
Now that we’ve unveiled the individual elements of this deck, it’s time to bring it to life! Here’s the deck list, including card count as of August, 2020. You can also check out the deck list here on Scryfall.
- 2 Siren Stormtamer
- 1 Fae of Wishes
- 2 Thassa’s Oracle
- 4 Laboratory Maniac
- 4 Leveler
- 1 Jace, Wielder of Mysteries
- 4 Conjurer’s Bauble
- 4 Mirror of Fate
- 4 Essence Flux
- 4 Peek
- 2 Turn Aside
- 4 Dream Fracture
- 2 Detection Tower
- 4 Ghost Quarter
- 4 Halimar Depths
- 10 Island
- 2 Magosi, the Waterveil
- 2 Quicksand
- 1 Island
- 4 Tormod’s Crypt
- 2 Pacification Array
- 2 Sorcerous Spyglass
- 4 Unsubstantiate
- 2 Whirlwind Denial
I hope you enjoyed this write-up of one of my absolute favorite deck builds.