Me: “Ben I don't see how you can expect to Top 8 a StarCityGames.com Standard Open with Hero-Blade; the deck doesn't seem very good.”
Ben Friedman: “Well the deck is very good.”
Me: “I don't believe you but if you Top 8 three times in a row I will play your 75 at the next Open.”
That conversation took place at the Open in Cincinnati. He proceeded to Top 8 Cincinnati Pittsburgh and Richmond. Being a man of my word there was only one thing to do. I asked for a list and grinded it on Magic Online and played the same 75 as Ben in Boston (or Boxborough for that matter).
Now this wouldn't be “The Sukenik Special” if I just wrote about Caw-Blade like many writers have been doing these days. Hero-Blade plays many similar cards to Caw-Blade but uses them in a very different manner. It would be an oversimplification to say that Hero-Blade is Caw-Blade with Blade Splicer and Hero of Bladehold. Let's try to analyze the way each deck approaches the metagame and then jump into a tournament report to see some interactions with the deck.
Caw-Blade is an aggro-control deck that tries to use cheap efficient cards to generate card advantage and tempo at the same time. Squadron Hawks are used as Sword of Feast and Famine carriers to make cards like Into the Roil better. To better explain what I just said if your opponent plays out his hand to “dodge” Sword of Feast and Famine's discard effect Into the Roil can bounce a blocker during your turn and your Sword becomes a pseudo removal spell.
Some other key cards and interactions are:
(This topic will specifically cover the mirror.)
If one player has Squadron Hawk and the other doesn't the player with Squadron Hawk is allowed to race and use his or her Tectonic Edges more aggressively in an attempt to stop cards like Gideon Jura from coming down to shift the game. If both players have Squadron Hawk or one has the Hawk and the other has Phantasmal Image a battle of pump effects or trumps will occur. Pump effects include Sword of Feast and Famine and the underplayed Sword of War and Peace. The best trumps that are not pump effects are Emeria Angel Consecrated Sphinx Gideon Jura and Celestial Colonnade. Through this we can see how Tectonic Edge can prevent certain trumps from showing up.
-Mana Leak and Spell Pierce-
Bluffing a counterspell is almost noob proof in this deck. Most of your deck is very low cost and efficient that you will find yourself in a position to leave up a blue source and Tectonic Edge very easily. This makes your opponent play more carefully and sometimes gives you intel as to what is in the opponent's hand. For example who wants to get their Karn Liberated Spell Pierced? I know a U/B control player wouldn't.
Hero-Blade is a more aggressive aggro-control deck than Caw-Blade and each of its cards works differently. Squadron Hawks do not have to be used for chump blocking as much since you have more creatures on the lower end of the curve. Blade Splicer is perfect for holding down the fort and is excellent against Caw-Blade's natural enemy Hero of Oxid Ridge. I won a match against Red Deck Wins on Magic Online where my opponent had two Hero of Oxid Ridges and I had two Blade Splicers. You will find yourself in a lot fewer positions where you need to have your Squadron Hawk block Goblin Guide.
Blade Splicer is mainly over Jace Beleren and Timely Reinforcements in the more traditional Caw-Blade builds. How does this change the dynamic of these decks? First let's compare Blade Splicer to Timely Reinforcements. Everyone and their cousin know that Timely Reinforcements is insane against Vampires and Red Deck Wins and Blade Splicer is just pretty good against them. So when is Blade Splicer better than Timely Reinforcements?
Try in every other matchup!! When will U/B control or Valakut have a creature in play? Probably when you are losing! Blade Splicer is a consistent threat across the board and plays much better with Sword of Feast and Famine since you know you will get two creatures out.
Jace Beleren vs. Blade Splicer is another matter entirely. Both of them make Tectonic Edge better. Jace Beleren allows you to pull ahead on cards. With these excess cards you can afford to use Tectonic Edge to stall your opponent on mana. Then you can play a few roadblocks like Squadron Hawk until your trumps show up and save the day.
Blade Splicer lowers your mana curve allowing you to Tectonic Edge even if you have no other lands left in your hand. I also happen to think that Blade Splicer is better against opposing Jace Belerens since you will still have a board presence after the Jace dies.
One common comparison is Hero of Bladehold and Emeria Angel. Emeria Angel allows you to chump block for many turns while giving you more fliers in the Squadron Hawk fight. Hero of Bladehold is the one-man army that gets Dismembered.
After playing with both for a while I honestly feel like Hero of Bladehold is stronger. Let's just face it; almost everyone plays Emeria Angel like a five-drop while Hero of Bladehold is obviously a four-drop. This once again makes your Tectonic Edges better than a normal Caw-Blade deck. Emeria Angel is better when you have Jace Beleren out because you will have excess lands while Hero of Bladehold is better when you have Blade Splicer out due to the extra attackers. This innately makes Hero of Bladehold better because Emeria Angel is commonly accepted as a five-drop leaving a hole in the four-drop slot.
Let's compare these two without their favorite companions around (Jace Beleren and Blade Splicer respectively). Emeria Angel is better when you have extra lands. But sometimes you will have mana-light hands where you are stuck at four mana. You are then left with some 3/3 with flying. Hero of Bladehold is consistently good when you have enough mana to cast it. If unanswered she will singlehandedly win the game. Emeria Angel will always need the assistance of more lands to take over a game. In summary Emeria Angel makes your bad hands better (those with mana flood) while Hero of Bladehold is always good except when your back is on the wall and you need defenders. Luckily Blade Splicer can help on defense!
Preordain is an interesting card. People say it is okay to play it on turn 1 if you do not have a Squadron Hawk in your hand. Hero-Blade is able to wait a little longer on its Preordains since Blade Splicer can come down to affect the creature battle while Caw-Blade will play a Jace Beleren and be forced to +2. If you have Emeria Angel out and you Preordain you will have to decide to pick up lands and/or spells making Preordain lackluster since lands and spells are your whole deck. In Hero-Blade you will usually only want Tectonic Edge or Celestial Colonnade in the late game and any other spell is good for you.
Gideon Jura serves a slightly different role in Hero-Blade. Caw-Blade tends to use Gideon Jura more as a removal spell or a set up for Day of Judgment. Hero-Blade will +2 Gideon Jura; that way the coast is clear to animate him and send in with the team as soon as possible. An aggressive Gideon is a powerful Gideon in my opinion.
In conclusion I feel like Hero-Blade is a lot more consistently powerful than Caw-Blade. While Caw-Blade will start off on the back foot and try to play a few trumps Hero-Blade will apply pressure with most of its creatures. You do not have to agree with everything or anything I said; I am just trying to offer another point of view and prove that not all Squadron Hawk decks are the same. So how did the deck play in the Open? Tournament report time!!!
Saturday August 20th
StarCityGames.com Open: Boston/Boxborough
When I got to the site I had to find Ben Friedman first; that way we could discuss a list. The list I was playing on Magic Online had Azure Mage in the sideboard and fewer Phantasmal Images than the one that is posted up top. I was convinced that Day of Judgment was the worst card in the deck while Ben said he wouldn't play the deck without at least three between the main and sideboard. Like always I won't be posting sideboard plans because they are both player dependent and play/draw dependent. However if you are stuck in a specific matchup don't be afraid to leave a comment and I'll get back to you on it!
Round 1 – Ben Winterhalter – Valakut
Game one I led with the classic Squadron Hawk into Sword of Feast and Famine. Without him playing a Nature's Claim this game was fairly easy. An interesting point was when he had a Forest Raging Ravine and a boatload of Mountains to my Squadron Hawks and Sword of Feast and Famine. He drew his card for the turn and tanked. Then he played Explore and then shipped the turn. I said “Guess I get to make you discard your Primeval Titan!” To which he responded with “Unfortunately.” When you're hot you're hot!
The last game was pretty easy for me as I had a billion counters accompanied by a Blade Splicer with Hero of Bladehold bringing on the beats. He only had two Summoning Traps for “Titans” both of which got countered.
Round 2 – Brian Greene – Caw-Blade
His version of Caw-Blade was very interesting in that he ran many Sun Titans and a full complement of Solemn Simulacrum. In the first game I tried to Tectonic Edge him off of mana while beating down with Squadron Hawk. I didn't quite trust my instincts to leave a Dismember on top of my library with Preordain but eventually he got a Sun Titan with Phantasmal Image and double Emeria Angel. I didn't draw a Day of Judgment and died with him at one life where if I had Dismember Oblivion Ring or Into the Roil I would have won.
Pro tip: don't think you don't need removal if you are trying to win with damage before your opponent can stabilize. My rationale was that I needed to dig for an answer for a possible Gideon Jura he could have since I had all lands in my hand. Oh well…
In the next game I just stomped him with Squadron Hawks and three Blade Splicers (except one was a Phantasmal Image… silly me). The last game resulted in a board state with him having Sun Titan and a “Sun Titan” with me having two “Sun Titans.” Neither of us wanted to scoop after five turns and we graciously accepted our draw both of us glad to have a new acquaintance.
Round 3 – Juan Rojas – U/B Control
I expected to be playing a lot of control mirrors in the draw bracket and having a more aggressive control deck could prove advantageous here. I happily laid down the insane curve of Squadron Hawk into Blade Splicer into double Hawk into Sword of Feast and Famine. After his Consume the Meek I played another Blade Splicer and my last Squadron Hawk. He slammed down Grave Titan and I dropped Phantasmal Image. We can all imagine how this game ended.
Game two Juan kicked off with an Inquisition of Kozilek. I flashed him a Blade Splicer Squadron Hawk Hero of Bladehold Sword of Feast and Famine and three lands. He responded with an “Ayeyeyeye” and took my Sword. Naturally on turn 5 I ripped my other Sword of Feast and Famine and was able to kill his Jace Beleren. With no cards in hand he conceded the game.
Round 4 – Konosuke Iwamoto – Puresteel Paladin with Tezzeret
Wow… this match was a total train wreck. In essence he had more threats then I had counters but everything in the deck was a threat. He resolved a second Mortarpod after the first got Spell Pierced. I felt confident with my Hero of Bladehold but he dropped a Trinket Mage onto the table to fetch up Basilisk Collar. Tezzeret Agent of Bolas soon finished me off.
The second game ended the same way except with Sword of Body and Mind and Puresteel Paladin fueling his Basilisk Collar with Mortarpod combo. I got smashed quickly and knew that I had to win out to have a chance at Top 8. However this deck idea was really cool! I would love to explore this type of archetype! Maybe it's a good idea for the Grand Prix this weekend.
Round 5 – James Searles – Caw-Blade
He was able to play three Timely Reinforcements and two Emeria Angels with a Sword of Feast and Famine. There is definitely no way I was winning that one. He did overextend his whole hand into my singleton Day of Judgment but I was unable to draw it.
In game two I mulliganed and kept an all-colorless hand with Sword of Feast and Famine and Inkmoth Nexus. I could feel myself already being knocked out of the tournament. Stuck on two lands and unable to cast anything I noticed that he was light on white sources. I Tectonic Edged his only white source and I was able to draw out of my mana screw before he could draw his colors. Quite the tight and laughable game since if either of us had a “normal” draw the other one would have been crushed.
In the last game I was able to deploy Squadron Hawks and Blade Splicer with Gideon Jura. His Timely Reinforcements couldn't keep up with this. It was a very fun match though and a person I was happy to meet as he kept on checking up on me throughout the whole weekend.
Round 6 – Jonathan Morawski – Caw-Blade
After some small talk I found out that Jon was playing David Shiels; Caw-Blade deck and I found out that he was Ben Friedman's first loss of the day. That meant that he was ready for me! Game one resulted in me being very aggressive with my board state with triple Blade Splicer but Into the Roil and Phantasmal Image hurt that plan. When it was going to get out of control he played a Sun Titan to get back Phantasmal Image so I dropped my Day of Judgment to clear the field.
“It's weird that neither of us drew a Squadron Hawk yet” I said. Naturally I drew Squadron Hawk the next turn and took the game. The next game was very easy considering he kept a two-lander with Preordain into Squadron Hawk but double Blade Splicer was able to dispatch that easily with counter backup. If I was playing normal Caw-Blade I would have not been able to apply enough pressure that quickly. Luckily I was playing Hero-Blade!
Round 7 – Brian Rodriguez – U/B Control
It is always nice to see a player from my PTQ area but it was unfortunate to see him across the table. In the first game he didn't play a spell except for Consume the Meek which promptly got countered. In the second game he played Vampire Nighthawk. It was a card that could have been really scary if he had a discard spell but playing Squadron Hawk on turn 2 and Sword of Feast and Famine on turn 3 pretty much ended the game. Blade Splicer would have won just as easily for the record.
Round 8 – Matt Boccio – U/R Splinter Twin
I knew that Boccio was playing Splinter Twin from talking to him between the rounds. I was more than happy to keep my opening hand with double Dismember and Mana Leak. The first game was really grindy but being on the play and landing a Blade Splicer while he played a Shrine of Piercing Vision allowed me to apply enough pressure and just pass the turn with all of my mana up every turn. I put him a position where he had to use Deceiver Exarch in combat to tap my Hero of Bladehold (I had a billion mana so I landed one) and I was able to Oblivion Ring the Deceiver Exarch. Grim Lavamancer probably would have stopped normal Caw-Blade but not Hero-Blade and its Blade Splicers!
The second game showed why Mental Misstep is great in this matchup. I was able to stop his Dispels and stop him from comboing. I could see this card being playing even in non-blue decks even though blue is arguably the best color.
Round 9 – Max Tietze – Caw-Blade
Unfortunately I had to play against one of my good friends whom I have known for a long time. Max Tietze Jim Davis and Mike Lapine are a group of people I am always glad to see at every tournament we are at and definitely some of the best people in my PTQ area. I knew this match would be a hard one.
In game one he played an Azure Mage to which I responded with a Squadron Hawk. On turn 4 I noticed that the board was my double Hawk double Seachrome Coast and an Island to his Azure Mage Tectonic Edge Seachrome Coast and double Island. The land he played last turn was Tectonic Edge which felt like a sign of weakness. I tapped my Island played and activated my Tectonic Edge on his Seachrome Coast. Max responded with a “Huh? Oh… I see what you did there…”
What I did was I used my Tectonic Edge right away so that he wouldn't have a chance to activate Tectonic Edge on my lands. It turns out I didn't have any more lands but did have double Blade Splicer. I didn't have to fear Day of Judgment or Gideon Jura since he was off of double white.
The second game was probably the tightest game I had to play all day that resulted in me playing an end of turn Into the Roil on his Gideon Jura. I was tapped out to play that but had access to a Celestial Colonnade attack. He had to Mana Leak my Into the Roil so I just calmly “Legend Ruled” his Gideon Jura and used Mana Leak to tap him out next turn to force through my Hero of Bladehold to win the game. Hero of Bladehold can be better than Emeria Angel in the late game because you will not have as many lands in your hand and Hero can singlehandedly win a game as it did here.
Round 10 – Anders Simpson-Wolf – U/R Splinter Twin
Glenn Jones covered this match very well and I would like to think that I got a little bit unlucky to not draw any action after he Gitaxian Probed me both games. But that's Magic!!! Games are just not going to go your way sometimes and you have to accept it. There is no reason to get upset when luck isn't on your side. Congrats on the win Anders!
I ended up in 24th place at 7-2-1 and was able to finally get Ascension: Return of the Fallen for my awesome college friends Alex Wong and Hepburn Best back at college!!! Hooray for friends! Oh and Top 8ing the Legacy Open two weeks in a row was nice too.
You are probably wondering what I would like to play this weekend in the Grand Prix? Well so am I! That's right as of today (Tuesday for me) I have no idea what I want to play.
Personally I think a version of Red Deck Wins and Splinter Twin have to be the best decks. However those decks don't fit my playing style. I would play Hero-Blade over Caw-Blade. However Ray “the Ray Train” Wickersham had me thinking that in this format black is a better color than white.
I want to try to build something I would call Blood Blade with Bloodghast over Squadron Hawk. The only question is “Where to go from there?” I am considering Mortarpod with Abyssal Persecutor like in Reid Duke's Jund deck. I love Vampire Nighthawk and Grim Discovery. The best part is that you can still have U/B control elements in the fatties and planeswalkers. This allows you to be a better/different Caw-Blade… at least in theory! We will see how this idea goes but that's how all great decks start. As an idea…
Thanks for reading
Jonathan “Watchwolf92” Sukenik