I told you so.
In my video last week I talked about Caw-Go and how I felt the deck had been overlooked in the wake of Worlds in favor of U/B Control Valakut and the like. I shared my updates to the deck and explained the ins and outs of the major matchups while playing my way through a daily event. Then I went and played 74 of the 75 cards from that video in the StarCityGames.com Standard Open in San Jose where I finished first after the Swiss before I lost to Alex Bertoncini's nut draws in the semifinals.
I felt strongly that Caw-Go was among the top decks in Standard prior to the weekend — and my experience not only confirmed that belief but made me feel even more strongly about it. Previously I'd felt like the deck had an edge against most of the field but was a significant dog against Lotus Cobra decks like RUG. That belief was based more on speculation and theory than on playtesting since Brad and I hadn't expected many R/U/G decks at Worlds and decided to pretty much ignore it in testing. My experiences over the course of StarCityGames.com Open: San Jose however made me think about the matchup completely differently — and now I'm convinced that Caw-Go is solidly the best deck in Standard.
But I'm getting ahead of myself…
A few weeks ago I had been feeling somewhat jealous of the east coast with their plethora of major Magic tournaments to play throughout the year thanks to the StarCityGames.com Opens and similar events. The last such event anywhere near southern California was StarCityGames.com Open: Los Angeles — and that was over a year ago! I was fiending to game since I hadn't played competitive Magic since Worlds but I didn't know anyone from the area who was planning on going to San Jose.
So I turned to the Bat-Signal of the modern era – Twitter.
It didn't take long before I found a ride in the form of Thomas Pannell one-time editor of The Sideboard and my old roommate from Atlanta who had also made his way out west and now lived in LA. He asked me what I was planning on playing and I pointed him to my Caw-Go video which he quickly piloted to a 4-0 finish in a daily event of his own. He was sold. Now we just had to get there…
We left my apartment around noon on Friday. The weather down in Oceanside where I live had finally gotten nice after weeks of rain and dreariness so we were looking forward to a nice trip. We stopped in Burbank at Frys to buy phone chargers for the trip since Thomas had forgotten his and the iPhone charger I tried to use told me “Charging is not supported by this accessory” – what exactly is supported then?
By then the temperature had shot up to nearly ninety degrees. When we stopped at a Chipotle farther north it couldn't have been warmer than sixty and I found myself digging a hoodie out of my bag. And this is all inside the same state! California sure is big.
We arrived at the event site around 8 p.m. and a quick text message from Chapin informed me that a whole slew of gamers were over at Superstars in downtown San Jose. We made the trip over there and watched a few 5-Color Control vs. Faeries games (any guesses who was on each side?) before relocating the entire crew to a restaurant for dinner. Our first few choices fell through – not surprising for a Friday night – and we ended up at Gordon Biersch where we had to wait around at the bar for half an hour or so before our table was ready.
Now normally “wait at the bar” is music to my ears — but I've been on something of a health kick lately and I'm following a very particular diet that doesn't even include bar snacks let alone beer. I soldiered on with my water until our beeper went off then scoured the menu for the limited selection of things I could actually eat. After scarfing down my overpriced seared ahi appetizer I left the rice I'd specifically requested to be left off my entre on my plate and – of course – lost the credit card game.
My misfortune in the credit card game has gone beyond the point of a running joke. I'm actually beginning to think it's some sort of way for the universe to balance the scales. I consider myself remarkably fortunate in most aspects of life — but when it comes to the CCG I just can't win. One time when I was in Vegas during the world series of poker I lost three consecutive credit card games in groups of twelve four and twenty-two. I'm probably down nearly five figures lifetime at the CCG and yet I can't bring myself to say no. If this is my cross to bear then so be it – such is the price I pay for the life I lead.
I woke up Saturday morning excited about two things: first and foremost was the tournament of course but not far behind was the fact that Saturdays are my cheat days for my diet (which is derived from the book “The 4-Hour Body” by Tim Ferris for those who are curious – great stuff with lots of experimental info rather than marketing speak). I started my day off with an apple cinnamon muffin a bagel with lox a Monster energy drink and a box of one dozen donuts I brought to the tournament site to share. Quite the treat when my average day doesn't involve eating any sugar whatsoever. Fully amped up — and likely to die of insulin shock at any moment – it was time to start the tournament.
The only change I made to the deck from the version I posted in my videos last week was swapping one Journey to Nowhere in the sideboard for a singleton Sunblast Angel. I made the change because I played a number of games against aggressive decks like Boros where I'd stabilize but not draw a planeswalker and just be unable to get ahead by trading one-for-one removal for creatures. I wanted a card that could play the planeswalker role and double as removal and a threat and Sunblast Angel was perfect. It combos remarkably well with Gideon Jura and serves as a perfect deterrent to cards like Koth of the Hammer and can let you play a Wrath of God effect in your deck against other control decks that you can also use proactively. All in all a change I was quite happy with.
The first round was an awkward but somewhat amusing way to start the day. My opponent had apparently watched my Caw-Go videos just the day before and switched to the deck as a result and was chuckling to himself before we even started the round. I won a tight game one and was laughing with my opponent about the irony of the situation when someone in a neighboring match asked me if I'd ever played VS System. I informed him that yes I had played it and in fact had won their first Pro Circuit event and gone on to work on the game. We chatted for a bit about the game and what we felt the pros and cons were when I realized I still had a match to finish and handed my deck to my opponent so we could get going.
That little aside is important because it helps to explain what happened during game two. I played a Squadron Hawk fetched up his buddies and handed my deck to my opponent to cut – and he suddenly noticed one of his sleeves mixed in with mine. Apparently I'd forgotten to give him back one of his Spreading Seas from the previous game and we'd both been too busy chatting to pile shuffle our decks to notice that we had the wrong number of cards. We called a judge who ruled that the penalty was a double game loss since each of us had presented an illegal deck at the start of the game. I appealed the ruling because it seemed somewhat lame to decide the match like that (even though it benefited me). But the head judge upheld the ruling and since I won the first game I won the match 2-1.
Afterwards I went up to talk to the head judge about it because even though I felt the ruling was reasonable it seemed incredibly exploitable to me. What's to stop a player who wins the first game of a match from “accidentally” keeping one of his opponent's cards in the hopes of chalking up a free win? Obviously since both players get a penalty it's something that the DCI can track and crack down on long-term abuse but that's no recourse for the players who get cheated out of matches in the meantime.
I'm not sure what a good solution is from the DCI's perspective — but in the meantime always pile shuffle your deck. Make sure you have the correct number of cards before you present because once you hand it to your opponent if you discover there's something wrong you will receive a penalty.
In the next round I had a fake SCGLive.com feature match against Boros which is a real shame because the second game was incredibly interesting and I wish it had actually been recorded. I lost the first game to a double-Plated Geopede quadruple-fetch draw on my opponent's part dying on his fourth turn and not even playing a spell but game two was quite the battle. I ended up far behind really early battling back against a Sword of Body and Mind carried by Squadron Hawks which put me in a serious predicament. I managed to Day of Judgment away the board and kept myself out of too much trouble by chumping with my own Squadron Hawks and had the game set up so I could play out Elspeth Tirel to tick up and a Squadron Hawk to protect her to try to wipe the board.
My opponent threw a serious wrench in that plan with a Goblin Ruinblaster setting me back on mana and threatening to hit me with the Sword of Body and Mind right away. I kept battling back and managed to take some measure of control of the game — but because of the milling effect of the sword I was racing against my own deck. I had the game set up such that I'd kill him the turn I drew my final card and used Jace to fateseal away a Stoneforge Mystic in the off chance he had a Sword of Vengeance in his deck that could kill me only to find Spikeshot Elder waiting on the top of his deck which was able to exactly kill me thanks to the +2/+2 from the Sword of Body and Mind. An epic game and – despite the fact that I lost – one that made me feel really good about just how powerful my build of Caw-Go was and the sort of situations it could dig out of.
Most of the rest of the Swiss rounds kind of run together. All told over the nine rounds of Swiss I played against two Caw-Go decks two Boros decks three Valakut decks a R/U/G deck and a Mono-Black Control deck. I ended the Swiss rounds at 9-1 and in first place.
When I learned the Top 8 had four R/U/G decks at first I was concerned because I'd felt that R/U/G was the worst matchup of the mainstream decks. But then again I'd beaten it rather handily in the Swiss and the games hadn't felt like they were completely out of line so I began to think that maybe I was wrong about the matchup. When I played against Jason Janasiewicz in the quarterfinals and things went pretty much the same way I wondered if maybe my concerns were misplaced.
The theoretical matchup against R/U/G in my head was problematic because of Lotus Cobra. My concern was that Lotus Cobra would allow the R/U/G player to explode out with threats like Oracle of Mul Daya Jace and Garruk Wildspeaker while quickly invalidating my Spell Pierces and Mana Leaks. And sure that happened – in the games where they were on the play with a Lotus Cobra and I wasn't able to stop it.
But if they didn't draw Cobra or I drew one of removal spells for it their deck stinks. In both my matches against R/U/G in the Swiss and in my Top 8 match against Jason I drew one of my Ousts (that I had so cleverly put in over Condemns for exactly that reason as I explained in my video last week) and was able to keep the Cobra at bay until I was able to develop my own mana at which point I was solidly in the driver's seat.
I realized after my quarterfinal match that I wasn't treating R/U/G correctly in my sideboarding strategy either. I was looking at it as a big spell deck like Valakut since it's full of Frost Titans and Avenger of Zendikars and mana ramp so I was taking out my Squadron Hawks — but that's the wrong approach. If you deal with the Cobras R/U/G plays like a bad control deck with a bunch of unimpressive threats that all die to Day of Judgment. Hawk is actually an excellent way to win the Jace war against them just like against other control decks. The weak cards are actually the expensive cards like Gideon Jura which not only take a while to get online but they make you more vulnerable to sideboard cards like Acidic Slime or Spell Pierce when they get pinned in your hand.
I switched up my sideboard strategy for the semifinals against Alex the following morning but lost in three games. In game one he had double Lotus Cobra into Jace into a fast Avenger of Zendikar but I still would have won the game if I'd drawn Day of Judgment. I won game two after Mana Leaking his Lotus Cobra with colored mana denial thanks to Tectonic Edge and Spreading Seas while I beat him down with a Celestial Colonnade. Game three Alex once again had a turn 2 Cobra and this time had the Spell Pierce to force through an Oracle of Mul Daya on turn 3 and played a Frost Titan on turn 4. Once again I would have been in it if I were able to find a Day of Judgment but it was not to be and Alex went on to his umpteenth finals appearance while I had to settle for third place.
I didn't do quite as well in the Legacy or Draft opens but all told the weekend was a success. I had a great time playing competitive Magic learned a bit about my deck and managed to win a bit of cash while I was at it. I'm already looking forward to the Open weekend in Los Angeles in March and checking my calendar to see if there's any way I can make it to any of the other events in the next few months.
In the meantime though Grand Prix Atlanta is coming up this weekend. I have a sweet deck for that one that I've been chomping at the bit to play – and I'll have videos of it for you next week!
Until next time