As always, you'll want Gatherer open. After playing the deck once, and just examining it, I came to the realization that I was trying too much to make things happen without the right tools to combo effectively. While Blue is a great color for enabling infinite combos, I just don't feel like with the cards I own, I could actually make decking the entire table with Jace's Archivist or winning with Laboratory Maniac happen. That left me just fumbling looking for answers most of the game, unable to advance an attack. Not only that, mana was a problem. Most of the changes you'll see below are based around fixing that, while also just upping card quality now that I'm not worried about staying in budget.
-1 Ensouled Scimitar, +1 Island
This was just one of those weird choices I wanted to put in to see how it worked. The answer: It wasn't going to. I need to keep mana free to counter, so I want as little sorcery speed activations as possible, which equipping is. At 35 mana-producing lands plus Ice Floe, I was mana light, so this was just a common sense change [and one anyone reading probably should've expected anyway.]
-1 Words of Wind, +1 Island
I only have a few creatures with strong ETB effects; my opponents probably have tons. This card literally only helps me win more. We need more lands, so let’s cut this, the weakest of our “draw lots” synergies. This gives us 37 mana producing lands and four non-land mana sources (Sol Ring, Sky Diamond, Eye of Ramos, Darksteel Ingot.) Not the best artifact mana sources, but they’ll do. 41 mana sources seems like a good starting point. Now, to help focus our threats and deck.
Initially, we were going for a bit of a mix of things. Let’s now focus on one subtheme with our blue good stuff: Hand size matters. With that in mind, let’s get rid of things that might be useful to other strategies, but which aren’t helpful here. Our goal, right now, is just to get rid of things that aren’t going to help us win, or that diversify our deck.
-1 Laboratory Maniac
We just don’t have enough ways to combo and empty our deck for him to be much more than a 2/2 who paints a target on our forehead as people fear a game winning combo.
Since we’ve added a Howling Mine and a Temple Bell, we really don’t want to keep giving our opponent’s more and more cards. Not only that, just like with the Ensouled Scimitar, this eats up previous counter mana. Whispers of the Muse and Capsize are also mana hungry, but they are instant speed and reusable -- and bouncing an attacking, enchanted something is a tempo swing we want.
-1 Scepter of Insight
All the same things apply here as they did Ensouled Scimitar. We want to draw cards, but not this mana intensively. In a G/U deck with ways to abuse and ramp mana better, this might be a fair investment. In a mono-blue deck, it just isn't worth it when we're lacking power as we are.
So that’s opened us up three spots. What we need are: Power, threats and card draw to fill up those slots. Luckily, I know exactly what we need to do that.
+1 Sensei’s Divining Top
This is power, gives us pseudo card draw, and deck filtering we desperately need.
+1 Bribery, +1 Duplicant
These are just raw power cards that Blue needs, and that I was trying to avoid putting in the budget version. However, in the game I played (and every other Commander game I’ve played with other decks), the power that those cards bring are just too much to turn down. I can imagine almost zero board states I would not be happy to draw either of these in [even after a board wipe, Duplicant means I'm going to stop whatever big threat the wiper is about to play.] Bribery is an incredibly great target for Sage’s Knowledge, Archaeomancer and Mnemonic Wall, while Duplicant is a good Fabricate and Reconstruction target.
-1 Eye of Ramos, +1 Sisay’s Ring
Now, let’s look at our mana again. Color fixing isn’t a problem, ramp is. We just need to be getting MORE mana. The Sky Diamond comes into play tapped, but it can come down on turn 2, and push us into early 4-drops on turn three. The Eye of Ramos doesn’t come into play tapped, and comes in on turn 3. If it DOES come down on turn three though, I’ve got nothing else to cast. That extra mana isn’t really going to help me the turn it comes online. Not nearly as much as having two mana a little later would help. I feel confident dropping the Eye of Ramos for a 4-for-2 mana artifact [Sisay’s Ring or Ur-Golem’s Eye are the same here.]
-1 Wall of Air, -1 Soratami Seer
Now, let’s look at just plain old card quality. The Wall of Air was a filler because I needed to stall. There are better cards to stall the game out, so let’s cut this. The Soratami Seer is fun if I get the Library of Leng out with it. That won’t happen often enough to justify its 5 mana cost. Any creature I’m paying 5 mana for needs to be doing a lot more. What we want to do is turn these two cards from being passive to more active. So, let’s take a look again at our blue and artifact creatures.
+1 Dungeon Geists, +1 Giant Oyster
These two are much higher quality cards. The bodies on them aren’t as impressive, but the ability to tap down creatures for a bit, and maybe even outright kill weaker ones, are both potentially game changing.
-1 Dominate, +1 Keiga, the Tide Star
Both of these are essentially steal spells for me, but one is attached to a 5/5 legendary dragon [which means it interacts with my Minamo, School at Water’s Edge.] Clearly, we know which one we should pick [plus, Dominate will probably be about this expensive if we ever wanted to cast it.]
-1 Thieving Magpie, +1 Guard Gomazoa
This makes our deck a bit more defensive, but honestly, when I played the Magpie, I never saw a good chance to attack with it. I would always rather have had it back to chump block a giant non-trampler. The Guard Gomazoa can do that and live to tell the tale. Plus, since we added the Duplicant, Geists, Giant Oyster, Bribery and Keiga, the Magpie being an extra target for Empyrial Armor isn’t that big of a deal.
Now, we want to refocus our deck, so let’s get rid of two cards that are just hanging around in case they hit the table together.
-1 Viseling, -1 Jace’s Archivist, +1 Island, +1 Callous Oppressor
In the original incarnation of this deck, these were powerful ways to deny opponent’s cards and to dig to win with the Maniac. That’s no longer an issue. What we need instead is a more credible threat at the three or four mana price, and the last Island to give us 38 mana producing lands. The Oppressor adds to our ability to steal things, and we can always just choose a player who doesn’t have anything we want to steal to pick the creature type.
The new decklist is available here. The things I like and dislike about these changes:
Like: The deck is a lot more competitive and consistent. It will, hopefully, now actually be competitive with the pre-constructed decks [which is my goal power level at the moment.]
Dislike: But that was at the cost of the deck’s unique identity. That’s fine though; the unique general and the subtheme of hand size matters should play well enough with our new threats to make us relevant.