I'm not going to try to top my article from last week. That was something personal that came out of me a place that I haven't tapped into for quite some time. While I can only hope to produce a piece like that one in the future I think it best to just write and let it come when it comes. After all most of you are here to read about strategy technology and tips on how to become better players. Epic tales regaling you with uncomfortable family moments and Waffle House shenanigans should not be a regular occurrence.
This weekend I'll be attending the StarCityGames.com Open in Atlanta so this week I'll be focusing on Standard. I'm no Legacy expert so I'll just try to stick to what I'm good at.
With all that out of the way let's get down to brass tacks. Standard is dominated almost laughingly by Caw-Blade. Caw-Blade in all its various incarnations has just swept up in popularity becoming one of the most format-dominating decks in history. With each StarCityGames.com Standard Open we see more and more Top 8 performances. With the deck taking so many Top 8 and Top 16 slots at these events you should really consider why you're not playing it. The only question is whether to splash black splash red or just leave it two colors. While Esper-Blade has been doing rather well in the hands of Gerry Thompson it's not just correct to assume that his version is the best version. Let's be real for a minute. Gerry could win a Standard Open with a ham sandwich. Reality has shown what he can do with some Stoneforge Mystics.
In all its glory Caw-Blade is a control deck that presents very strong early threats. It's not your traditional "draw-go" style of control deck. It smashes those. The problem with "draw-go" control decks is that you have very little in the way to recoup from card disadvantage such as mulliganing or drawing dead spells against certain matchups. Caw-Blade focuses on forming an early plan that can establish dominance as early as the fourth turn but still crush you in the long game. Squadron Hawk is just bonkers as it provides you with multiple threats that can carry a sword and also digs you out of mulligan holes that you'd otherwise never claw out of.
There aren't any Esper Charms in this format. You don't have the luxury of sitting and waiting out your opponent while you craft some plan based around a creature with flash. You can't rely on permission spells like Cryptic Command that draw you a card. You have to be aggressive and Stoneforge Mystic along with Squadron Hawk provide the necessary card advantage and pressure you need to combat a variety of strategies. The power level of control elements is fairly low so you must supplement the best of these such as Gideon Jura and Jace the Mind Sculptor with another form of attack. Preferably this plan should cost less than the cards you're relying on to take over the late game.
Faeries had Bitterblossom. You're left with something a little less powerful in a vacuum but Stoneforge Mystic is as strong in Standard as any card has been in quite some time. I'd rate Stoneforge Mystic higher than Bloodbraid Elf in Jund's heyday considering the substantial numbers Caw-Blade has been putting up. Hell it isn't just control decks taking advantage of the little bastard. Boros decks are using them in full force to tutor up Adventuring Gears various Swords Bonehoards and even Mortarpods. They've created a veritable toolbox grabbing whatever equipment performs best in that particular situation.
Card advantage is one of the most important aspects of the game. When your card-advantage spells gain you access to quality such as Sword of Feast and Famine you know you have a real winner. On top of all this Stoneforge Mystic just wins counterspell wars. If you're on the play and cast Stoneforge Mystic there's no way for an opponent to stop your Sword from hitting play aside from a discard spell which is just ridiculous in control vs. control matchups. Jace wars from times past matter so much less than they did because having Sword advantage just matters more. Think about that for a second. Is it more important in the control matchup to connect with your Sword of Feast and Famine or is it more important to resolve Jace and draw some cards?
Sure we all know how good Jace the Mind Sculptor really is but I've honestly used his Unsummon ability more than either other ability lately because keeping your opponent's creatures in their hand while you get busy with your Mystics and Swords is the way to go. You also begin to disrupt their ability to get in with a Sword giving you a considerable advantage. Connecting with a Sword of Feast and Famine usually spells game over so you should do nearly everything in your power to keep it from happening. Allowing an Early Harvest effect gives them the ability to safely land a Jace or Gideon which almost always spells game over once this happens.
As far as figuring out which color to splash I'd highly recommend black. Splashing black gives you access to a few things but most notably you upgrade your Celestial Colonnade into a Creeping Tar Pit and you get access to Inquisition of Kozilek. While that might not seem like a lot it definitely is when the format is full of Stoneforge Mystic. Inquisition of Kozilek is the only card that can prevent a Stoneforge Mystic from landing when you're on the draw but it has many more uses than that. Against aggressive decks Inquisition of Kozilek is not a dead card like most discard spells. It hits their best creature (most of the time) and gives you perfect information for dealing with the rest of their plays. While knowing their hand might not always save your life it keeps you from getting blown out plenty enough to earn its keep. With the added ability to hit any Sword Tumble Magnet and countermagic I can safely say that black is definitely worth the splash. As an added bonus your removal suite gets a substantial upgrade.
While Gerry Thompson has shown us that answer diversity is probably the way to go playing singletons of Condemn Go for the Throat and Doom Blade I'm not certain that his list is perfect for Atlanta. Even Gerry is switching things up from week to week keeping people on their toes. Just last week he had Tumble Magnet in his deck an innovative way to keep opposing Stoneforge Mystics and Sword of Feast and Famine in check. This past weekend in California he opted to go a different route instead focusing on discard with a Duress in the maindeck as well as a miser's Day of Judgment to help stave off the various aggro decks that have been popping up lately. Again we could go back to the "ham sandwich argument" but I'd rather just say that there is probably a perfect list that hasn't been hammered out yet.
Brian Kibler shook things up a bit with his interesting take on U/B Poison. Phyrexian Crusader alone has given me thoughts to reconsider playing both Doom Blade and Condemn focusing more on Go for the Throat or Disfigure. Again I'm not certain what the best removal suite is but mixing it up is probably better than having redundant answers that could potentially end up as dead cards.
I've also found that having two Swords of Feast and Famine in the maindeck is redundant. Few people play artifact destruction maindeck and there are some occasions where you'd rather tutor up Sword of Body and Mind. When you draw multiple Stoneforge Mystics you'd almost always rather have one of each Sword than two of either. While I agree that having the second Sword of Feast and Famine is better after boarding I think that might be a better argument to make for sideboarding a second rather than maindecking the second. Divine Offering is quite the temptress and people will continue to board it despite there being solid alternatives. It just kills the Sword of Feast and Famine which few white cards can do. The ability to do it at instant speed puts it high up there on the list of answers so I wouldn't blame anyone for playing it.
While it's true that Stoneforge Mystic has been getting a lot of hype it's all warranted. His power level extends past Standard through Extended and all the way into Legacy. He's easily the best card in Standard and that's saying a lot considering WotC's favorite poster child planeswalker still hasn't rotated out yet. You can bet that this weekend I'll be battling with some form of Caw-Blade. I'm back to grinding a lot on Magic Online so hopefully I'll get in some valuable playtesting before the tournament and potentially break some new ground in some of the weaker matchups.
Without further ado here's the Esper Caw-Blade list I'd run if the tournament were tomorrow:
Where to begin? As I said earlier Disfigure can be invaluable in the current format with Phyrexian Crusader beginning to run rampant. The effects of U/B Poison can already be seen on MTGO Daily Events and you can bet your bottom dollar that people will be clamoring to play something created by the great Dragonmaster Mr. Brian Kibler. Disfigure kills the majority of threats worth killing in the format and works especially well against Creeping Tar Pit Stoneforge Mystic and Squadron Hawk (when necessary). Condemn has been a little too reactive for me and I suggest playing more aggressive removal. You don't want to let your opponent untap with Stoneforge Mystic if you can help it unless you have a good way to rid the board or their hand of a pesky equipment. With this slight change the mana base should also slightly change. Adding the fourth Darkslick Shores helps ensure you have access to black mana early on against decks like Boros or Mono Red.
I've toyed with Spell Pierce instead of Mana Leak since the recent European Standard Grand Prix was held but I've found that I quite like being able to counter Stoneforge Mystic when I'm on the play. Spell Pierce can catch people with their pants down since most people don't expect it when you're splashing black but the downside just isn't worth it at least not just yet. You can definitely wreck people who don't see it coming giving you a solid window to connect with your Sword but I'd rather have a consistent answer at the moment as opposed to a potential blowout spell. It's also quite likely that people will still play around Spell Pierce even if you don't have it (feel free to mention playing Spell Pierce in your 75 in casual talk at least making them think you might have it).
The maindeck Days of Judgment (aka training wheels) are there to pull you out of tight situations. Even decks like Valakut need a reset button now and then considering the weight that Avenger of Zendikar and Inferno Titan bring to the party. With access to Day of Judgment you give yourself outs to these cards once they've resolved and can catch a stray Lotus Cobra or Overgrown Battlement in the mix crippling them in the process. Other decks like Weenie Quest Boros and even Mono Red need the occasional sweeper to give you some breathing room. I think that it's much more valuable than Tumble Magnet in versions with black since you already have a few ways to combat Swords. Caw-Blade decks without black should most definitely consider playing Tumble Magnet maindeck instead of Day of Judgment since you're a lot weaker to opposing Stoneforge Mystics and Swords but you'll probably have enough room to play some combination of both.
As I mentioned earlier I think it's important to have access to one of each Sword as opposed to having a redundant copy of Sword of Feast and Famine. While I'll agree 100% that Feast and Famine is the superior of the two your tutor package allows you to play one of each in order to attain the most leverage out of your Mystics. You rarely want to have two Swords of Feast and Famine connecting since the untap ability is usually only relevant on the first trigger and creating a Wolf token that can carry a Sword or block is a pretty big deal. Having protection from blue is also pretty huge keeping Jace from bouncing your creature.
The rest of the maindeck isn't really up for debate. The third Gideon Jura could be a singleton of some other planeswalker or perhaps a Grave Titan but Gideon Jura has just performed magnificently for me. The mana base is pretty tight and very solid but a few small changes can and must be made to accommodate the changing of certain spells. This is especially true when those spells are desperately needed in the early game. I think that Disfigure can add a lot to the deck's arsenal and I actually recommend trying to find room for more. Disfigure is just absurd at the moment since everyone is trying to lower their curve.
The sideboard for me is in constant flux but I feel like this fifteen is quite strong. Mortarpod is worth its weight in gold when you're fighting against Boros acting as a removal spell that can pump your blockers and helping you trade later on with your Squadron Hawks. It's also not bad in the mirror allowing your Squadron Hawks to be a tiny big larger than theirs and also acting as a way to chump-block a guy with a Sword on it and still trade with another creature. It's not amazing by any means but the card is usually okay and just bonkers when it's good.
Flashfreeze should be maxed out. Playing less than four is just a mistake and I'd play eight if they'd let me. Alas rules. Flashfreeze plays a very weird role in this deck but one that you literally can't afford to be without. Valakut is quite the threatening opponent but they're much less frightening when you have access to four hard counters. They only have so many threats so keeping their mana stunted or countering their only relevant spell is just too good to pass up.
Without Tectonic Edges or Spreading Seas attacking their mana you should just focus on countering what's important. Memoricide is almost primarily for taking out their Primeval Titans which are their biggest threat by a wide margin. However they'll likely have a few monsters coming in out of the sideboard to supplement their Titans so be wary of Gaea's Revenge and company. Some people haven't gotten the memo that creatures with Sword on them can block large green monsters that don't trample.
The Duress Divine Offerings and Sun Titans come in against most Caw-Blade mirrors helping to fight the Sword wars. I'd like to find more room for another Duress but the aggressive decks tend to take up most of the room in my sideboards. I do hate losing to a Goblin Guide. With that said don't feel like those are the only matchups where these cards are good. Divine Offering is solid against any Tezzeret deck and Duress is quite versatile. Sun Titan is also another large man-ster that helps stave off artifact destruction and quite good when you know your opponent will likely not have an answer for it.
Flashfreeze in addition to being amazing against Valakut is actually insane against Mono Red as well (shocking I know). Blah blah blah. Flashfreeze is good against red and green cards. That should be obvious right? Well in times past counterspells have been quite bad against Mono Red and I've suggested multiple times to fellow players to side them out. However with the increase in popularity of "going big" in the red decks with cards such as Hero of Oxid Ridge and Koth of the Hammer you need more ways to stop those flat. Koth just runs you over without an answer so don't let it resolve! If you do you'll likely be on the receiving end of some 4/4 Mountains.
Kor Firewalker is a recent addition that I'm quite happy with. Without Kor Firewalker there are a lot of draws out of the Mono Red deck that you just can't handle especially so when you're on the draw. I've often found myself staring down 4-7 power after casting a Stoneforge Mystic on the second turn fearing for my life once they play their fetchland and Searing Blaze. It just isn't fun to play fair against Red so I'm not going to anymore. Kor Firewalker solves almost all the problems the deck can present other than Koth (which has been addressed). While he still stifles Koth you can't attack him and defend from his 4/4 Mountain attacks at the same time. That would be a bit too much to ask.
While I've yet to find the perfect version of the deck this one feels damn close. Most game ones feel like a cakewalk and sometimes get even better post-board. You really start to feel it when they kill your Swords but you have ways to bring them back so use them!
I hope you enjoyed this return to normalcy though I was quite ecstatic at the positive responses from last week. I'm thankful to everyone for showing me their support through some tough times and hopefully I'll kick some ass this weekend and do everyone proud. Until next time...
Hello and good luck!
strong sad on MOL