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Silvestri Says – Caw! Caw! No, seriously. CAW!

For the last month I’ve been writing about CawBlade not for lack of anything better to write about, but based on my own success with the deck and because other people have been e-mailing non-stop about The Birds. Unfortunately with GP Dallas and the National Qualifiers coming up, this is a trend I can’t see ending in the near future. So what’s really left to talk about with CawBlade? Well now comes the fun time where we discuss some of the nitty-gritty of the deck. Don’t fret if you hate the deck, just run the ‘ol find function for ‘banana’ and you’ll be whisked away to a wondrous land of non-CawBlade decks!

As for CawBlade, let’s start with the mirror match since that’ll probably be the most important matchup for your Standard tournament. The key I find to CawBlade mirrors is the person who is willing to ignore certain resource disparities and take their own approach has the best chance of winning. I’ve beaten players after getting hit multiple times by Sword, opponent’s having Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Gideon on the field for multiple turns and even being Tec Edged down to two land for the entire game.

I won these games back on ignoring what I couldn’t do anything about at the time and throwing my resources into something that actually could gain me ground in the match-up. Just because the opponent has an active Sword of Feast and Famine it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to commit resources into stopping it from hitting. Frequently I’ll see people throw away legions of Hawks, Stoneforge Mystics and Tumble Magnet counters all in an attempt to stop me from ever laying a single hit with a Sword.

Personally my favorite wins come on the back of turn two Bitterblossom, aka: Squadron Hawk, a card people really don’t respect enough in the mirror unless it’s carrying a Sword. If your opponent doesn’t have one, it doesn’t take a lot other than playing a Hawk every turn and bashing until the opponent turns up dead. The only good way to deal with a mass of Hawks is to force them into a position of blocking or playing a Baneslayer Angel. Gideon isn’t much of an answer because Hawks can kill him in a few turns and with help, it’s actually just one turn.

Sword of a minor detail

Too many people get caught up in trying to win Sword fights, especially ones only involving Sword of Body and Mind. It’s definitely an important aspect of the match, but frequently people don’t even put thought into why they block a Sworded creature. If it stops them from getting +4 or more mana it makes a lot of sense to block, but I see a lot of people blocking even if the opponent was only going to gain 0-2 mana off of the hit. What’s more important to you? Discarding a Hawk from your hand and taking a little damage or losing the Hawk already in play? Both put you down a card, it’s merely a matter of adding up the mana difference and when the opponent isn’t taking advantage of it why jump to blocking?

While some people still have Divine Offering in their boards a good number have moved onto Tumble Magnet, Condemn, or outright ignoring any true stake in Sword fights. Tie it into the above reasoning that often you can take a Sword hit and come out OK and you can see why people don’t want to waste slots on cards that are sometimes dead. I actually would rather just run more Tumble Magnets in my deck (which already has two) before I add a Divine Offering and perhaps even as far as Contagion Clasp before moving onto it. Tumble Magnet just helps so much when protecting Jace or moving on the offensive with your larger creatures.

The same goes for killing Jace, there just isn’t a lot of inherent value in getting ahead in cards in the CawBlade match. I’m a lot more scared by the guys using Jace’s bounce ability to maintain or gain board advantage or simply keeping their own Jace alive by fatesealing* which prevents your own Jace plays and make it difficult to kill when it does switch to Brainstorm or Unsummon mode. If you Brainstorm every turn, what exactly are you shooting for? I understand trying to find Gideon and Squadron Hawk, but frequently I’m left wondering what some of you are expecting to find on the top of your deck. If you don’t have shuffle effects, my curiosity piques further because

*Even fateseal on yourself is underrated since controlling your draws is still important and you keep Jace in play and difficult to kill off

Gideon Jura, on the other hand, I think is the most important card in the match if I boiled it down to a single card that completely warps the game. Not only does it turn off Sword as a threat, but it can shift your role in the match from control to aggressor very quickly with the only real threat being Condemn and obviously that’s something you can play around if you feel the need. Unlike Jace it can permanently shape the board and even Gideon just hanging around is probably going to make your opponent make bad decisions. Planeswalkers in the mirror are a lot like Fact or Fiction; they’ll always be okay, but opponents’ play can make them absurd.

As for the most misused card in the mirror, I’d like to think it’s Preordain with a little Spell Pierce thrown in. People love to play Preordain on turn one and there’s no reason to do it other than mana efficiency or to help dig for lands. Of course for the latter if you wait a turn or two you might draw out of it naturally or better still you could mulligan mana light hands instead of hoping to get there when you need at least four mana to even function properly. Preordain works better when you know what you’re looking for and often can help you sculpt out the best hand for a situation on turn four. Everyone seemed to have gotten the memo on Brainstorm, but for some reason people need to be retrained when it comes to Preordain.

Of course if you want an original looking variant, then you have a couple of options. The UWB Esper builds have been covered in-depth elsewhere and basically every argument for it can be boiled down to the following:

“I LIKE TECTONIC EDGE!”
“I LIKE INQUISITION AND REAL SPOT REMOVAL

Cue arguments about how double Tectonic Edge or Spreading Seas + Edge ruins UWB in the mirror versus how much the black helps in every other matchup. For my money, I think both builds are valid choices and neither is just flatly superior to the other. I play UW because I feel like I get more value from a slightly better mana base and Tectonic Edge, but the more people catch on with other decks the more I want the information IoK gives me. I think SparkBlade variants are actually the worst-positioned because Lightning Bolt isn’t that great, Sparkmage is awful and while Inferno Titan is sweet a lot of people have gone to black removal or Tumble Magnet. As for the Bant version… We’ll talk more about that one later.

As far as mirror technology goes, I’ve been trying every single remotely viable late-drop in the deck to my own embarrassment. Thus far the best option I’ve found that wasn’t already seeing play was Consecrated Sphinx. Yes this was tech blatantly stolen from the Block Constructed queues, but the more inbred CawBlade decks became, the more this became an attractive option. It blocks everything short of Sun Titan in the mirror, still bashes Gideon for four, and draws you two cards before the opponent can do anything to it. Normally my main complaint with cards like this is that you need to make it to your untap before getting an effect. Well, this time it’s your opponent’s untap before you get value city. The best part is unless you lose it to Gideon or Day of Judgment almost no maindeck CawBlade cards can kill it unless it attacks or blocks into a fairly obvious trap. So I’m running one over what was formerly a Sun Titan slot in the sideboard, not exactly a huge game-changed, but maybe someone brave could run it in the maindeck.

Another maindeck answer to the mirror which my friend Le brought up was the use of maindeck Contagion Clasp to assist Tumble Magnet. It actually amazes me how well the Clasp works in the mirror, often killing a creature and making it so your Tumble Magnets go infinite. If you’re willing to devote the space to the mini-combo you’ll find that many opponents are unable to win anything resembling a fair fight against you in the mirror. Even without Clasp’s help, it should be realized by now that multiple Tumble Magnet is going to give you a huge edge on your opposition. To top if off, Contagion Clasp takes out Lotus Cobra which gives you a chance of actually beating a resolved Cobra without relying on a lucky Mortarpod.

Moving onto other decks, we have officially gone looking for a banana.

The full list of mainstream decks I would recommend is rather short.
CawBlade
RUG
RDW

Meanwhile the two non-mainstream decks I could recommend are Vampires and Boros, meanwhile there’s one other contender I’d like to consider – UG Ramp.

Vampires

 

This is a very basic decklist and you could quibble over many of the details. The one maindeck inclusion that many people dislike, but I can’t really get over is the use of maindeck Inquisition. Personally I’m a big fan and there’s no deck in the format the card is actively bad against, so maindecking it feels right to me. On the flip side you don’t need it for anything in particular, so perhaps you’d rather keep the heavy dose of Arc Trail or Vampire Hexmage in the main.

As far as Boros goes, I’ll recommend you mosey over to LSV’s excellent gauntlet series on the subject.

My final list is most definitely a work-in-progress, but builds on some of the principles I spoke of.

 

While this deck is soft to Valakut and not the toughest on aggro game one, it does have a solid approach to fighting against CawBlade and beating up other Lotus Cobra decks. You have the best end-game by a fair margin since nobody is equipped to deal with Avenger of Zendikar anymore and tokens in general are in a good place right now. Everyone going nuts about Eldrazi seems to forget that this card exists usually winning the game quicker than Eldrazi and the only card that beats it outright is DOJ. Precursor Golem is a solid five, but if you’re worried about spot removal, it isn’t an unreasonable decision to upgrade them into Titans or Wurmcoil Engine. In fact that’s one of the nice things about this deck, bringing in some Walls and Wurmcoils when combined with the Magnet/Clasp plan basically demolishes aggressive strategies.

This deck isn’t quite there yet, but the more I see ramp deck succeeding, the more I wanted to slide in the Tumble / Clasp combination for defense. While you could call this a bad RUG list, I think of it as one skewed toward a very specific metagame.

Good luck to those attending Dallas and I’ll see you next week.

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

p.s. I mentioned Bant Blade above, but much like the UG list it isn’t quite there yet.

Why this over any other list or RUG? Your deck actually works if Lotus Cobra gets killed and resolving Lotus Cobra in the mirror may be the easiest way to win a game of Magic printed in years. The downside is you can’t fit in everything you want, your spot removal still sucks and you lose out Tectonic Edge. Maybe that’s too much to overcome, but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to try. I liked Matt Nass’s Bant brew minus all the durdling with Fauna Shaman and Vengevine, while this feels much closer to what I had in mind.

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