30-man PTQs. Fewer than 200 players at StarCityGames.com Opens. And fireworks on forums, Twitter, and Facebook blowing up at the deck we all know and hate… we all are looking to Wizards to give us the answers to battle the menace known as Caw-Blade.
I have written articles in the past discussing the problems with Standard and warning the public about the deck and how unstoppable it is in the hands of an experienced wizard.
The printing of Batterskull increased the ways this deck can win, and now we're all on the ropes, staring down at the juggernaut.
This article will have a solemn tone… a tone that deckbuilders, FNMers, and tournament innovators have all become accustomed to since the printing of Sword of Feast and Famine.
Innovation is a hot topic of mine as well as those who tweak decks to perfection, but even I have set aside my toolbox until the release of M12. So far, M12 doesn't look like it will help fix Standard, so we may have to schedule our class, Innovation 103, to a later date as well.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor? I have lost many games with Jace 2.0, and trust me. I have played Jace 2.0 since the release of Worldwake.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor is no doubt the most powerful, unbanned card that Wizards has ever made, but it's not over the top without help from the peanut gallery… Stoneforge Mystic and his friends. I'm not writing another article to explain why Caw-Blade is good, but I am going to base this article on the conclusion that playing a deck without Stoneforge Mystic is a big mistake.
I know, I know; how could I?
It took a year of trying new things to realize that maybe it's time to build a perfect Stoneforge Mystic–centered deck rather than play the answers to it.
This logic only applies to this metagame and not of those in the past, and I'll explain why. Before, you didn't have to play Affinity, Fae, or combo decks; you could just hate them out easily and still pack a punch in a competitive tournament.
The reason why it's different now is because playing a Divine Offering does not “hate” out Caw-Blade, as they overrun you with 1/1 fliers. Playing a Manic Vandal does not stop Jace, the Mind Sculptor as they planeswalker you out. Playing a series of spectacular spells and “hate” cards might give you the illusion of winning, as they activate Celestial Colonnade with a sword on it and kick the crap out of you. The point is that this deck has a Minigun of threats where most potent decks of the past were much more one-dimensional.
In my years of competitive Magic, I have never gone along with the idea “if you can't beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Someone has to stand on the sidelines and fight the good fight to create balance in the metagame. If everyone plays the same deck, then we lose what makes Magic great—diversity. Don't believe those people for a minute when they lecture you about good mirror matches and how skill-intensive they are. I don't care who you are. Playing six mirror matches in a row is not what this game was built on. The color wheel, strengthening each archetype with the tools to be competitive, is what Magic is really about.
Sadly at this point it is time to play some Stoneforge Mystics. I'm not saying Caw-Blade is the deck you all should play, but a deck without Stoneforge Mystic is like coming to a duel without a gun. You know your opponents are all playing it, and even with a resurgence of Vampires and random aggro decks in the Opens, Caw-Blade is still on a mountain top all by itself. I'll use this article to give you the tools to stay on top of the mirror and to avoid scooping when an onslaught of creatures bombards you.
I was playing U/B Control in an FNM last week to test it out. With my shaky hands, I sleeved up the Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, Torpor Orb, Karn Liberated, and hand disruption package up to battle. I was nervous because one loss is an automatic drop in eight points. I've been fortunate enough to steal a couple Draft Open Championships and level my total rating off at 18th in the world, which is always nice :)
After playing two rounds and narrowly winning both (I was outright lucky against my round 2 opponent), I realized the one key flaw with this deck and other decks I have brewed up recently: there are zero copies of Stoneforge Mystic in them.
I'm making it clear in this article that for the remainder of its legality, I will be using Stoneforge Mystic, but of course I will keep it as original as I can. Originality in this case has two purposes: 1) I refuse to play another man's creation, and 2) keeping it different has many advantages that I have discussed in full detail before. Your opponent knowing for sure you do not have Gideon Juras, Day of Judgments, Sun Titans, or Emeria Angels puts you at a huge disadvantage or at best equal footing if they are in a similar situation. As Magic players, we all understand the value of having unknown elements to use in our 75.
A long while ago, I made 17th place with a No Hawk variant of Caw-Blade using Hero of Bladehold and some other goodies. To this day, I still will advocate the use of zero Squadron Hawks. Squadron Hawk is easily the worst card in Caw-Blade, which doesn't say much. It being the worst card in Caw-Blade is like being the poorest millionaire… but I believe we can use those slots to further our agenda and beat up those pesky aggro decks.
There are many negatives to Hawks with very few positives. Hawks drawn naturally after the first are a nightmare. The Hawk's true disability comes from its 1/1 body, which combo / aggro decks laugh off. Their fragile body becomes even more apparent when you are faced against powerful cards that seem to time walk you if your turn is used to drop one or two of them. Hawks seem to only be useful in the mirror match after testing, and even then, other cards can be just as powerful.
It brightened my day to see my old love, Emeria Angel, rise from the grave of obscurity and make its way into some “pro decklists.” Emeria Angel is everything Squadron Hawk is, plus it has the ability to get carried away with a fetchland upon resolution.
“But they will just Jace bounce him!”
That line of logic is in the same neighborhood as not playing creatures in fear of removal… silliness. Sometimes, he will get bounced around, but sometimes he won't… then they die! Also your own Jaces give you the defense needed to really seal the deal.
We all know the key to victory in Standard often comes down to the Jace war and who can keep him in play. Don't let the fear of that deter you from playing powerful creatures that are great in a multitude of scenarios. Before I go into the other unique card choices, I'll post the spell list for you all.
I disagree with my colleagues on how Caw-Blade is beaten in the mirror. They argue that the matchup is quick and decided in the early turns, hence the heavy use of Spell Pierce, Condemn, and Into the Roil. Actually the opposite applies. Game 1 can be very quick and decided by the most aggressive start, but with the use of maindeck Divine Offering and Dismember in each list, the games still can drag out to benefit whoever drops a late-game bomb.
The logic that Gideon Jura is terrible due to Spell Pierce can be applied to Jace too. Just don't play the big guy for five if they have one up; just give it a few turns and use spells that are immune to the one-mana spike, such as Mirran Crusader, Emeria Angel, and Stoneforge Mystics.
You have the power to level the playing field against the Caw-Blade semi-mirror match with this decklist. You have resources that you know your opponent doesn't have and will not play around. An opponent who taps out to reuse Batterskull and equip Sword of War and Peace will be shocked when you resolve Elesh Norn, Grand Game Ender. The key is playing smart and around the cards that you know for certain are in your opponent's deck, and you can win the match over 50% time against the stock builds. But as I said, the gameplay is much different from the standard Hawk battle that occurs in the mirror.
Day of Judgment is your friend. I do not board out Day of Judgment anymore against anything. RUG combo has Inferno Titans; U/R Twin has Consecrated Sphinx; and it is spectacular in the mirror match. Against a weak opponent, it will be the best card in your deck.
A Squadron army along with a Batterskull will eat the dust; then Gideon can get in for six. Day of Judgment is crucial against the new threats like Emeria Angel and the old threats like Sun Titan later in the game.
The card is the least exciting one to have in your opening seven, but the value you can gain is endless. Give it a shot and wrath your opponents out of the game over and over, and if they choose to play around it and drop fewer Hawks, then we already have won a key battle.
True control wizards know the value of always having a board sweeper to get them out of trouble. Every time I have played decks without a Wrath of God, I make a pact to never make the same mistake again. It is an ability in Magic that was once deemed the most epic, but now it fights for spots in the sideboard at best.
Do you have insurance on your car? This is insurance for your match… when things are looking grim, it gives you a light at the end of the tunnel,—an out, if you will—and you will thank yourself in the end.
The pros LOVE him. Play three copies! All right… maybe two… well they are decent in the sideboard.
Gideon has been on a rollercoaster ride in Standard, but I've always kept two of him in the main. I do board him out sometimes however—against U/R Twin—but I keep him in against the RUG variant. Against most other decks in the metagame, he is still MVP and a powerhouse, especially against Caw-Blade.
The key is to stick him, but turn 5 it won't happen unless you are very lucky. Be patient; work on the board state to achieve some advantage or a slight disadvantage; then Gideon's plus two will lead you to victory. Him backed with a Day of Judgment and a little mana is amazing against the mirror and works almost every time.
Some will argue that the cutting of Gideon Jura was due to metagame shifts and the release of NPH… I think not. Edgar Flores along with a few other SCG grinders found Gideon Jura to be unworthy well before the release of NPH, but I believe that it was a mistake to drop him entirely.
Batterskull usually eats the maindeck artifact hate, which is why two is a must.
The other swords can be bait early on as you carefully plan a Sun Titan resurrection.
With Sun Titan in the mix and not wanting to be on the wrong end of a Jace 2.0 war, Jace 1.0 joins the fight as a two-of.
Elesh Norn, Sun Titan, Jace Beleren, Divine Offering, and Mirran Crusader are all for the mirror match as well as to surprise other opponents. None of those cards are ever dead, and some are just as good against the rest of the metagame.
Look at the surprise on an Elf opponent's face as you cast Day, Gideon, then Elesh Norn game 1. Playing this build with these saucy entries will put you back at a 75% chance to win against Vampires, like you truly deserve, unlike my buddy Wes, who lost embarrassingly in the finals of the Open (sorry!).
Sure, decks change as the metagame shifts, but that doesn't mean cutting powerful cards due to their mana cost is a rule of thumb. Don't be scared… cast some expensive sorcery-speed cards!
Preordain… okay fine!
My initial argument against Preordain does stand however, which was that it does not belong in a U/W Control deck. That argument is moot in this metagame because U/W Control doesn't exist, and it's currently needed in decks that contain blue mana.
It is necessary because of two-drops like Lotus Cobra from U/G and Stoneforge Mystic from U/W, which are spectacular on turn 2 and can win the game. If you have a Preordain in hand, and you are missing your two-drop or don't have green or white mana, a Preordain can save your life.
Three is the perfect number for me because of my irritation of being overloaded with them early on and having to put key and valuable cards on the bottom as well as having my mana tied up in the early turns from other plays. If Chapin is reading, here is the closest I am getting to a concession, friend. Enjoy it!
The sideboard is your safety net for aggro and combo. Since your maindeck consists of tools to beat Caw-Blade, there is only so much you can board out. I personally would board +2 Divine Offering, +1 Deprive and -3 Mana Leak. They will play around your counterspells anyway, so I tend to drop off a few Mana Leaks. Another strategy is boarding out the Mirran Crusaders on the draw and one Mana Leak for the same sideboard package.
Decks that use hand disruption or aggro creatures will call out Mental Misstep. Combo decks and aggro decks both require the aid of Spellskite, and Flashfreeze/Celestial Purge are easily sided in against decks that play the color they hose.
Caw-Blade is nearly unbeatable on a consistent level. Any player that boasts above a 60% win percentage against the deck is probably bending the truth.
Ali Aintrazi, the master sculptor, tends to play rogue decks. At the Invitational, he was playing a masterpiece that included 1/4 fliers with infect that could proliferate and some unblockable 1/1s. His record may have been 0-3, but he is a perfect example of a good player desperately trying anything to tilt the metagame away from Hawks and Swords.
I, on the other hand, feel it is necessary to rogue it up and still use the most powerful section of Caw-Blade, which is clearly the Blade aspect. You heard it here: Hawk isn't all that. Its advantages are minor and mostly good in the mirror, which you can easily change using a few potent “left field” elements.
Your Expensive Sorcery Master,