Unfortunately, most of these issues can be resolved to the very nature of Blue itself; it's not just a handful of mistakes that we can learn from. However, I think that by truly understanding what Blue is, there may be ways to design around those inherent obstacles, to work to represent the parts of blue that make it an enjoyable part of the game.
I know, it's tough for me to hear it too. Despite the fact that Blue represents all of the things I feel constitute "fun" (a story for another post), ironically Blue as a colour isn't any fun at all. Why is that, and what does it mean for Blue design?
Magic is, conceptually, a game oriented around combat - one Planeswalker battling another in mortal kcombat. As such, when we consider the colours of Magic, it's important for us to consider what it is that drives them to fight. White, for instance, will fight to preserve order, and to protect its community. Black will fight to gain or prove its power. Red will fight for its freedom, or even just because it feels like it. Green will fight to survive, or because of its very nature (in the case of predators). It is the cards that capture these reasons that have by far the most resonant flavour within each colour - because those are the cards that most perfectly represent those colours within the context of a Magic game.
Blue is the colour of learning, of knowledge and information, of memory, understanding, and truth. What drives Blue to fight? Specifically, what is there to learn on the battlefield, with Fireball s and horrifying monsters being thrown at you, that couldn't be learned even more efficiently within the safety of one's study? Every other colour is willing to risk its life because there is something - something precious - to be gained from it; what is Blue gaining?
Nothing. Nothing at all.
Until R&D establishes an understanding of what drives a Blue mage to be on a battlefield on the first place, Blue will always retain this awkward, malapropos impression. Looking at Blue spells from the past, we find that Blue mages rarely even bother attempting to fight; their main focus for years has been simply delaying their opponents (a la Counterspell , Unsummon ) so that they can resume their studies. Unlike the other colours which offer a goal and a drive to play the game, Blue's sole desire is to avoid playing - Blue is not fun.
Blue becomes overpowered when its desire to avoid playing proves successful in winning games; it feels completely impotent when this is not the case, as if it's not even trying to win. This is, I suspect, why Blue tends to get shoehorned into decks alongside other colours, rather than being run by itself. Blue often needs help from someone - anyone - who's 'playing to win', in order to be successful. This leads to the question, of course: if Blue isn't playing to win itself, why is it such an effective support colour?
Blue doesn't play fair.
Anyone who's played against a permission deck will tell you that. Anyone who's played against a Blue-enabled combo deck will tell you that. Blue produces this overwhelming feeling of not-following-the-rules, it has an answer to everything (often before it even becomes a problem), and can find those answers more quickly than you can even find the threats they intend trump.
The paragon of Blue strategy is the Chessmaster. He's planned ahead. He knew how the match was going to end, before you even knew there was going to be a match. He knows every move you're going to make, before you even know what's going to motivate you to make it. The fact that you showed up for this was only a formality; if you had any delusions of winning, it's only because he led you to believe as much in the first place.
Probably related to the fact that Blue is the foundation of fun (again, subject for another post), many of the things that we would normally consider Blue actually take place outside of the game entirely; things like metagaming and deckbuilding are inherently Blue activities. However, Blue continues to attempt these things within the context of the game. Blue card draw makes the decisions about what to put in your deck easier. Blue counterspells make it easy to plan for every contingency. Blue's goal - its ideal - is to ensure that no matter what its opponents may have planned, it's been neutralised in advance, and will not prevent its own plans from going forward. As you can imagine, however, the notion of one player being completely irrelevant makes for terrible gameplay.
So, Blue has no reason to be playing in the first place, and when it does play, it does so - intentionally - in the least fun ways possible. Are you almost wondering why Blue is even part of the game anymore, too?
Magic is a game, a puzzle. It's entirely centered around experiencing, solving, and communicating - gameplay is an inherently Blue activity. The reason that Blue is so awkward inside of Magic, is that Magic itself is Blue. Yes, Blue represents an important part of the balance of the five colour philosophies. Yes, it's a colour that myself, and I suspect many, many other Magic players, are able to connect with very easily. But Blue is already represented in every second of every game of Magic - every time you evaluate a threat, formulate a mana curve, or plan out a turn's plays, you're evoking Blue philosophies. Do we really need cards doing the same thing?
Now, to be clear, I'm not suggesting we eliminate Blue from the colour pie - that seems drastic, and unnecessary. But Blue requires a very serious reconsideration of how it's being represented within the game. First, as stated above, it should be understood what the colour is representing within the game - both to give it its own identity, and to help to differentiate it between contextual Blue activities (Blue spells and creatures) and the Blue activities that make up gameplay itself. The simple understanding of what a Blue mage hopes to achieve through playing a game of Magic will make the design of Blue cards specifically, and the feeling of Blue as a colour, much more comprehensible...
An aside on a particular subject that is indicative of some of what I've said above; I suppose it can serve partially as an example, but for the most part it's simply more dissatisfaction on my part.
I recently imagined the situation of two Blue mages in a duel. Now, ignoring the fact that two Blue mages have no reason to be fighting (as mentioned above), the thought experiment illustrates one core problem Blue seems to have: removal.
The traditional forms of removal in Blue are twofold: bounce and tapping . To me it seems very strange that the colour that is known for thinking ahead has the two least forward-thinking forms of removal. I suspect that the poor quality of real removal Blue possesses is supposed to - somehow - represent the fact that once its plans break down (they got through your counter wall, obviously), it no longer possesses effective answers. But again, this fails to evoke the premise of "thinking ahead" - and if you want to show that Blue has no answers, it would be more effective to give it... Well, no answers.
This, I believe, derives from the fact that we don't understand why a Blue mage would be finishing removing an opponent to begin with; we still presume that a Blue mage would rather abandon the fight at the first opportunity. The duel thought experiment is a great illustration of this. How does it end? Neither mage is actually a summon spell, so answers like Unsummon won't work. One mage can 'tap' the other down, but that is never going to end the fight. What would a Blue mage do to a helpless opponent? How does a Blue mage cement a victory?
Mind Control - In the context of a one-on-one duel, without summons involved, this would be hard to manage. If Mind Control -flavoured effects could be utilised to distract a creature permanently (exile or Pacifism effects would work; does White really need both?), or to make that creature harm itself ("Target creature deals damage to itself equal to its power."), it could presumably be used as a finisher. Similarly, to promote the subject to the realm of planeswalkers, Mindslaver -style effects would be decidedly Blue.
Turn to Frog - Again maintaining the failing of lack-of-foresight, but the theme seems very appropriate. More permanent transformation effects that make the opponent irrelevant, rather than destroying them explicitly, seem very fitting. To this end, I'd consider using the game rule that establishes face down cards as 2/2 typeless, colorless, ability-less creatures; a Blue mage turning a troublesome creature face down seems like a very effective way to eliminate a threat. This maintains much of the same feeling that Turn to Frog establishes (even moreso, as the physical action of turning it face-down would be evocative). Similar alternatives would be effects like Pongify .
Assassinate - This ability shows up in White as well (which also regularly carries the ability to tap creatures, but with different connotations - additionally, it has plenty of removal alternatives, a subject for its own rant) where it is themed as retributive, and in Black where it is themed as taking advantage of weakness. Blue tapping-related spells are often themed as drowning or dehydration , and the concept that pushing those further would lead to death seems perfectly valid. Problematic here is the fact that it's difficult to present elegantly, and that it would want to replace a number of Blue's tap effects, which often prefer to facilitate both tapping and untapping.
Finally, the only other removal I'm aware of in Blue are things akin to Frost Breath and Dehydration , that simply prevent untapping. In a lot of instances these are as good as Pacifism , and I suppose could be reasonably asserted as a finisher in a Mage-on-Mage duel. But again, most of these are specifically designed to be nonpermanent, still coming across as a very poor representation of Blue's "thinking ahead" philosophy.
This had already run prohibitively long, so I'll stop here - my congratulations (and condolences) if you've managed to read through it all. I'm always open to feedback and discussion, so feel free to drop me a line if you've got an opinion, suggestion, or rebuttal pertaining to anything herein...