When it comes to blue/red decks, I consider myself a bit of an expert. I’ve been playing “purple” aggro, counterburn, and random Johnny decks since I began playing Magic the Gathering in 1997. One of my first creations was a Reins of Power/Dracoplasm deck, which pretty much got stomped by everything in Urza’s block. Suffice it to say, I’ve never taken anything to a major tournament, but after one and a half decades of blue/red play, this color combo is in my blood.
With Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013’s Ravnica DLC, lots of players are ragging on Mindstorms, the Izzet deck.
Yawn. The same thing happened in Duels 2012, when everyone was crying that Cloudburst was unplayable. They claimed it had a 5% win rate. I went to the lab, worked my magic, and told everyone you’re doing it wrong. Within a few days, the (admittedly underpowered) blue/red deck earned the love it deserved, even if it was only meting out victory 60% of the time.
Well, it looks like the community is determined to once again hate on purple, so I really don’t have a choice. This is where I stand up, break things down, and put together everything you need to know to win with Mindstorms.
Playing with fire… and water
At first glance, it’s easy to see why many players are anxious about the power level of Niv Mizzet’s newest deck. There’s some burn, some counters, and a few staple cards like Electrolyze. But this isn’t the straightforward control from Duels 2009, nor the sac-happy mess of Duels 2012. Many of the most clutch bombs (am I allowed to mix regular slang and MTG terminology?) appear at five or more mana, worrying ‘Gatherers that Mindstorms won’t fare well against Goblin Gangland.
- The bad news: without a perfect draw, Izzet Mindstorms will get owned by goblins.
- The good news: Goblins is going to get owned by other DLC decks, making it less prominent.
As for other, less aggressive matchups, Mindstorms has a lot of tools that give it the advantage in more mid-temp battles. Low cost utility cards (Mana Leak, Compulsive Research) help you survive till midgame and remove key threats. High-damage burn (Beacon of Destruction, Prophetic Bolt) can be used as effective removal or to-the-face finishers. Versatile, choice-based cards (Wand of Elements, Invoke the Firemind) give you a lot of flexibility against a variety of Duels decks. And terrifying, world-ending flyers (Sphinx of Jwar Isle, Niv Mizzet) are always available to mop up the board.
Of course, running a deck based around all those expensive bombs isn’t going to work. Even slower opponents like Exalted Darkness or Celestial Light can muster a formidable army by turn five, and holding out for a single flying fatty is just asking for a Murder or Mind Control anyway. On top of that, I didn’t want to keep too many cards that pushed difficult mana requirements. For these reasons, most Mindstorms deck builds will look very similar to what I’m about to propose. Most of the low cost cards are control, burn, and support that are absolutely vital to the early game, leaving only a few spots for creativity.
It’s possible someone will prove me wrong, but until that happens, we’ll assume everything’s normal.*
Izzet Mindstorms deck list
- 2 Razorfin Hunter
- 3 Mana Leak
- 1 Gelectrode
- 3 Wee Dragonauts
- 3 Arc Lightning
- 3 Breaking Point
- 3 Compulsive Research
- 2 Electrolyze
- 2 Quicksilver Dagger
- 3 Steamcore Weird (or -1 Weird, +1 Lightning Elemental)
- 1 Wand of Elements
- 2 Dominus of Fealty
- 2 Spellbound Dragon
- 1 Beacon of Destruction
- 3 Prophetic Bolt (or -1 Bolt, +1 Puca’s Mischief)
- 1 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
- 2 Volcanic Geyser (or 2 Time Warp, or 2 Lightning Elemental)
- 3 Terramorphic Expanse
Note: I highly recommend substituting blue/red cards as needed to reach a near-even split between Islands and Mountains.
Izzet Mindstorms card-by-card analysis (cost order)
Terramorphic Expanse: 4.5
Since you can’t alter your land count in any Duels game so far, color fixing is going to remain an incredibly powerful mechanism in every Ravnica deck. How many of these you run will depend on how complicated your mana needs are, but don’t go with fewer than two.
Razorfin Hunter: 5.0
As your only 2-drop creature, this tiny Tim is an autoinclude. If not dealt with quickly, he’ll single-handedly destroy armies of goblins, elves, or tokens. Better yet, his existence can keep your opponent’s entire army off the board, at least until he/she finds removal for your mean little merfolk.
Mana Leak: 5.0
Unfortunately, Mana Leak is the only countermagic in Mindstorms. Fortunately, it’s very powerful countermagic. Good blue/red players will have to use it very judiciously, but it helps to remind yourself of this: “If I can burn it before it kills me, I probably shouldn’t counter it.”
This card’s sibling, Twincast, is much better in Crosswinds than Reverberate is here. It’s RR casting cost is nasty to play around, for starters. Plus there are almost no spells worth copying in Mindstorms. Yes, you could use this defensively, but most of the time it’ll sit in your hand.
Thunder Strike: 1.5
As a combat trick, it’s decent. You’d get good mileage out of Thunder Strike + Gelectrode, or Wee Dragonauts. However, you won’t be winning with piddling combat damage most of the time, and you’d be better served to use other cards to solve your creature problems.
In a deck that’s packed with instants and sorceries, this cute little monster goes from being a cute pinger to a self-contained thunderstorm. A turn that’s well-planned around Gelectrode can obliterate your opponent’s creatures and/or life. It’s a shame there’s only one to play with in Duels 2013.
Wee Dragonauts: 4.0
A great card in other decks, these pumpable flyers lose some luster in Mindstorms because their ability will often go to waste. Since there are so few early game critters, Wee Dragonauts will too often be hanging back to block… instead of swinging in for massive damage.
Act of Treason: 2.5
Without a way to sacrifice creatures or enough ground forces to make blocker removal worthwhile, Act of Treason is ultimately an overcosted burn spell. It can never actually save you from waves of creatures, and doesn’t impact the board in any meaningful way.
Arc Lightning: 4.5
Consider this the grand-daddy of Flames of the Firebrand. This is a perfect burn spell for thinning out troublesome 1/1 hordes, or picking off slightly beefier creatures without wasting overkill damage. With only one red mana required, this will frequently be your go-to turn 3 play.
Breaking Point: 4.0
Giving your enemy the option of choosing between himself and his creatures may not seem beneficial, but hey: your opponent doesn’t know what’s in your hand! Try to reserve this red wrath for times when the “right” answer isn’t obvious. For instance, if your foe has three good creatures in play, but is at 10 life. Nobody is going to sacrifice a phalanx of soldiers if they’re one turn from killing you.
Cerebral Vortex: 2.5
At best, it’s instant-speed card draw at the cost of two life. At worst, it’s really mediocre burn at the cost of card disadvantage. Sure, there’s a hypothetical situation in FFA where you play this on an enemy right after he casts Prosperity, but in most situations, Cerebral Vortex is mediocre.
Compulsive Research: 4.5
Bad players will dismiss Compulsive Research as overcosted card drawing. Good players will recognize that, in the Magic world, “draw three cards” basically translates to “get ready to win.” Yes, you have to ditch cards, but if you didn’t have anything to get rid of, you probably didn’t need to draw three cards anyway, did you?
Much like Arc Lightning, Electrolyze is ideal for cleaning out some of the early game creatures that are causing you trouble. Unlike Arc Lightning, this spell is an instant and comes with a free replacement effect. To that end, it’s just as effective late game as it is at the end of turn 3, assuming you can rassle up the mana for it.
Quicksilver Dagger: 3.5
In general, aura cards are terrible since they enable the possibility of card disadvantage (if your creature dies to removal, you lose the aura, too). This delightful little dagger, however, guarantees you’ll break even if you can land it on anything that doesn’t have summoning sickness. Sure, it’s a tad redundant with three pingers already in your deck, but the option to make anything into miniature Niv Mizzets is worth it.
The art is bad. The effect is bad. This card is bad.
Lightning Elemental: 3.5
While I don’t initially like this as a maindeck inclusion, I’m toeing the line. Sure, a 4/1 body is frail, but with so many turn 3 removal options, odds are Lightning Elemental will usually get at least one clean swing in. That said, expect it to be a big, fragile blocker for most of the game.
Think about it: for four mana, you get a 3/3. In some kind of deck, somewhere, Petrahydrox is a useful card. This isn’t that deck. Yes, it’s basically unkillable, but an overcosted unkillable creature isn’t going to win you many games. By the time you get it to stick, you’d rather be playing dragons and sphinxes.
Steamcore Weird: 3.5
By no means a powerhouse, this awkward bowl of jelly is a necessary evil in the Duels 2013 metagame. If you’re playing first, it can nullify your enemy’s turn 2 and turn 3 creatures by killing one and blocking the other. Late game, it’s a decent chumper that comes with a “free” Shock.
Jester’s Cap: 1.5
The bane of combo decks, effects like Jester’s Cap just don’t have much oomph in Duels of the Planeswalkers. Few of the decks rely on combos to win (save perhaps Crosswinds), and the Cap is too slow to stop certain plays anyway. Save this card for your Commander pile instead.
Puca’s Mischief: 3.0
Since Mindstorms is light on nonland permanents, this otherwise powerful enchantment is somewhat limited. That said, many of your cards (like Steamcore Weird or Wand of Elements) are useless if swapped, giving you a few targets for easy fodder. T3 Tip: If you swap away Quicksilver Dagger using Puca’s Mischief, your opponent technically gets control, but you/your critter still get the cool benefits.
Wand of the Elements: 3.5
No, this doesn’t give you an unlimited supply of mid-sized Honda crossover vehicles. Instead, it lets you turn excess lands into creatures. This artifact is generally terrible in real Magic, but perfect for turning around long games in Duels 2013. And hey, if your opponent is play blue or red, feel free to use Dominus of Fealty to pitch their lands for creatures. This artifact is also a great way to recover from Breaking Point.
Djinn of Wishes: 2.0
For five mana, most of your other options are more powerful, more versatile, or less color strict. The Djinn‘s ability is interesting, but you’ll rarely get a card you want, and when you do, you might be mad you couldn’t choose an X cost or opt to activate Steamcore Weird.
Dominus of Fealty: 4.5
Get ready to enrage your adversaries. While Act of Treason and Puca’s Mischief are just okay, stealing a permanent (including land) every turn is sure to turn the tide of battle. A 4/4 flying body isn’t bad either, especially considering the Dominus is a guaranteed 5-drop, no matter your land mix.
Izzet Chronarch: 2.5
Nobody plays Archeomancer for his power/toughness, so why dish out five mana for a sad little wimp? Yeah, you could get a useful spell back, but you could have used your turn playing something scary instead. This geezer will probably just end up talking to a chair while you lose the
Spellbound Dragon: 4.0
As with Compulsive Research, this dragon will be snubbed by noobs who hate discarding cards. Of course, this fat flyer also lets you draw them, not to mention the damage boosts you get for your sacrifices. Worst case scenario, its huge toughness is nothing to sneeze at, nor is the possibility of swinging in for up to 11 damage a turn.
Beacon of Destruction: 4.5
Expensive burn with a big effect. Perfect for the mirror, letting you clear out the previously-lauded Spellbound Dragon. It’s also a great follow-up or precursor to Breaking Point, giving your opponent a hard decision or an early funeral.
Prophetic Bolt: 4.5
A classic blue/red spell, what this instant lacks in damage it makes up for in winning-ness. The bonus of scavenging through the top of your deck for the perfect threat/answer is not to be underestimated. This is the card your enemy is least happy to see on turn 5.
Drawing cards is good. Tidings lets you draw a lot. But it also costs a lot. You decide.
Time Warp: 3.5
Without any particular combos or a flock of flyers to unleash, Time Warp doesn’t have the power it wields in Crosswinds. Sure, an extra turn is (almost) always good, but holding a Time Warp for five turns won’t typically pay off. However, the spell does wonders if you’ve filled the board with aura’d pingers and in-the-sky swingers.
Conquering Manticore: 3.5
Anything you pay six mana for better be a game-changer, and I’m not sure this is it. The 5/5 body is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but the Manticore’s one-time effect is a little underwhelming. At least it’s immediate, unlike Dominus of Fealty.
Hoard-Smelter Dragon: 2.5
Very few artifacts dominate in Duels 2013, and the ones that are prominent don’t cost a lot of mana. In other words, this dragon’s ability will rarely be used and, when it does activate, it won’t do much. Save your mana for better six-drop beasts.
Mindwrack Liege: 2.5
Like the Dominus, this fatty’s casting cost is very accommodating. However, its utility is questionable, at best. The Liege can make your Gelectrodes 2/3 creatures (yay?), but that’s about it. Without evasion, this creature won’t see much combat, and its ability only works if you filled your deck with terrible, overcosted bombs.
Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind: 4.5
Everyone’s going to ask why I didn’t put the Firemind in my decklist, and the answer is: he’s just too likely to get nuked the second he hits the board. Your opponents know you want to play it, and you can bet they resisted the urge to Fireblast your Dominus on the off chance you drew Niv-Mizzet. My own paranoia aside, this legend is a powerhouse and is more than playable. Just don’t come crying to me when he gets Mind Controlled, okay?
Sphinx of Jwar Isle: 5.0
An untargettable flying fatty that’s fairly costed and gives you constant, psychic knowledge? If this card existed in Urza’s block, it might’ve been used over the venerated Morphling! Unlike Niv-Mizzet, this guy can’t be bombed out of the sky. Ironically, Breaking Point is one of his only counters!
Sphinx of Magosi: 4.5
Bigger than everything else at this price point and paired with an unthinkable ability, Sphinx of Magosi is a game-ending, advantage-generating beatstick. I hesitated to give it a below-perfect rating, but be mindful of its required UUU casting cost. This isn’t a card you can count on actually playing every time you hit six lands, but when you do…
Thunder Dragon: 3.0
Its effect is perfect for blue/red, but its cost is sadly astronomical. Worse yet, three damage to the ground is just enough to kill of your entire collection of pingers and weirds, but possibly not big enough to slay our foe’s ground troops. It could turn out better than I’d guess, though.
Living Inferno: 2.5
Much like Thunder Dragon, Living Inferno is simply too costly for what it does. As an eighth turn play, it just doesn’t do enough. In most situations, even an Electrolyze would be a more welcome sight at this stage in the duel.
For what amounts to a boatload of mana, Insurrection gives you a near-guaranteed victory. That’s the least it could do, right? I can’t exactly recommend it for every Mindstorms build, but it will most assuredly win games in 2HG or vanilla multiplayer matches.
Invoke the Firemind: 3.0
As far as X-spells go, Invoke the Firemind is a tad too pricey. A Tidings effect would cost seven mana, and a Beacon of Destruction effect would cost eight! That said, having the option is appealing, especially in drawn-out matches. Don’t play more than one copy.
Volcanic Geyser: 3.5
I don’t like Volcanic Geyser. I didn’t like it in Mirage, and I don’t like it now. But as far as burn options go in Mindstorms, it’s solid. If necessary it can be thrown at an Accorder Paladin on turn 3, but it can also sit around to melt your foe’s face in the endgame. Instant speed is certainly welcome, even if a necessary RR is annoying.
Mindstorms gameplay example videos
Gameplay videos are coming soon.
* That is: I’m always right.