This is my GP Pittsburgh report!
GP Pittsburgh was one of those GPs that precede Pro Tours and that no one really tests for. We had a bunch of very competent players grouped together (Me, Luis, Josh, Web, Matt Nass, Conley, Brad, Owen, Kibler, Yuya, Shuhei, Martin, Lucas) for a week in a Ski Lounge that was about two hours away from Pittsburgh, but we didn’t really touch standard since we had an entirely new format to prepare for and we were pretty clueless about both the Modern and the drafting portion of the PT (though I will not talk much about those things here, since they’ll be on the PT report).
This whole situation put me in a somewhat bad position compared to other players, since everyone else has had Nationals (and therefore already tested a bunch) and I haven’t. Because of that, I decided to just go with the consensus deck in our house, Caw-Blade, despite not being in love with it myself after the bans. Even though we didn’t play much, we discussed a little bit and after a while settled on a list that was similar to the one the Channelfireball guys had played at Nationals, except with [card]Mirran Crusader[/card]s borrowed from Conley’s aggro version. This was our final list:[deck]4 Mirran Crusader
4 Squadron Hawk
2 Phantasmal Image
2 Sun Titan
3 Mana Leak
2 Spell Pierce
2 Gideon Jura
3 Into the Roil
2 Oblivion Ring
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Sword of War and Peace
4 Celestial Colonnade
3 Glacial Fortress
4 Tectonic Edge
4 Seachrome Coast
2 Inkmoth Nexus
3 Timely Reinforcements
1 Celestial Purge
1 Jace Beleren
1 Grand Abolisher
1 Gideon’s Lawkeeper
3 Mental Misstep[/deck]
The mechanics of this deck are almost the same as they were before (you play some guys, counter some of their stuff, blah blah), except that now without [card jace, the mind sculptor]Jace[/card] your late game is much worse – whereas before you could achieve reasonable control of the game, right now you kinda have to kill them fast and/or hope they don’t topdeck something important, since even your counterspelling is very time limited. You also have 27 lands, and despite 6 of those being manlands you still flood out a bit in the late game. Instead of going through the whole Caw Blade plan again, I think it’s more interesting to go to individual cards and why we chose those over the other options.
The first card that stands out (somewhat) is [card]Mirran Crusader[/card]. There are four decks Crusader is good against – the mirror, Valakut, Pod and UB. Against the mirror, it is just a nice guy now that Jace is out, and he breaks the [card Squadron Hawk]Hawk[/card] parity. Against the other three decks, he is a reasonable clock that cannot be blocked and is impervious to their removal, so a pretty good card.
The deck has no [card Hero of Bladehold]Heroes[/card] and no [card]Emeria Angel[/card]s for two reasons – one, it makes [card]Dismember[/card] really bad against you instead of really good; two, with [card Oblivion Ring]Rings[/card] and [card Mirran Crusader]Crusaders[/card] (as well as [card Gideon JuRA]Gideons[/card], Swords and Titans) we felt like we’d get many clunky draws with sorceries and we’d be forced to play the tap-out role every time. Instead, we preferred to have instant speed cards that interacted with the opponent.
1 [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card] – this is almost strictly for the mirror, which we expected to be the most popular deck, though it’s nice with Crusader against anything.
The sideboard’s weird numbers came from us wanting certain cards against the mirror and not really knowing which one was better. [card]Grand Abolisher[/card] not only stops [card]Counterspell[/card]s but makes sure they can’t do anything like [card]Into the Roil[/card] or [card]Dismember[/card], so your Swords get much better. [card]Gideon’s Lawkeeper[/card] was kind of a joke suggestion by Luis but in the end we really liked it, because it killed [card]Phantasmal Image[/card] and stopped their Sworded guy or Titan, though it was pretty much strictly for the mirror. Jace was good but we didn’t want to overload on three drops, and we already had Crusaders. The rest was pretty much standard.
We were staying at the tournament hotel, which would seem like it would give me enough sleep time, but in the end I wasn’t able to sleep very well anyway. It might seem like I’m saying this as just an excuse for doing poorly, but… eh, ok, it’s just an excuse.
In round four I started with land go and my opponent played land, [card]Mox Opal[/card], [card]Memnite[/card], [card]Signal Pest[/card], [card]Signal Pest[/card], a start that looked a lot less impressive when I played a turn two [card]Squadron Hawk[/card]. He attacked, I traded and he played a [card]Steel Overseer[/card], which I [card]Dismember[/card]ed and then the game was pretty much over – he didn’t do anything troublesome until I played a Titan.
Game two was a little better for him, since I had to [card]Mana Leak[/card] two artifacts early on and then he landed two [card]Tempered Steel[/card]s, but I [card]Dismember[/card]ed his next two guys and he was left with only a [card]Signal Pest[/card] facing my Titan, which returned a [card]Squadron Hawk[/card] every turn. He followed with a Shrine at some point, but it was not fast enough and I killed him with [card]Celestial Colonnade[/card].
I think this format is very open and diverse, and you can play almost any deck you want – Mono Red, Pod, UW, UB, Valakut and Twin are all tier 1 and very viable choices, so you should just play whatever you’re more comfortable with. This is of course a great thing, and the format is way healthier now than it was before the bans, so I think they definitely did a good job in that regard. The only deck I do not think is good at all is Tempered Steel – everyone else’s deck is a bunch of good cards that combines for an awesome deck, and your deck is a bunch of bad cards that combine for an awesome deck, so almost strictly worse. My opponent ran into a UW deck without [card]Day of Judgment[/card] or [card]Ratchet Bomb[/card], only two [card]Dismember[/card] and three [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card], which is basically as good as you can get, and he still lost relatively easily. I don’t know, I might be wrong, but it just seems like there are sooo many viable decks in the format that are all better than WW, even if they are not prepared for you at all.
Round 5: RUG Pod
Game one I had a [card]Mirran Crusader[/card] and my opponent had a [card tuktuk the explorer]TukTuk[/card] to trump it, but I had [card]Into the Roil[/card] and [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] and in the end he couldn’t get to six mana in time (though I don’t actually know if he had a Titan).
Game two I had a Crusader and he had some creatures and a [card]Hero of Oxid Ridge[/card], but I thought I was winning the race since I had [card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card] and even [card]Nature’s Claim[/card] would give me time to survive an attack and then play Titan next turn, but his answer was [card]Combust[/card] and I died.
Game three he started with a [card]Ponder[/card] and my hand was [card]Flashfreeze[/card] and [card]Jace Beleren[/card], so I [card]Flashfreeze[/card]d his [card]Birds of Paradise[/card] on turn two so that I would have time for my Jace to do some work instead of being killed outright by Hero or [card]Vengevine[/card]. I played a t3 Jace and used the minus ability, and then he played [card]Forked Bolt[/card] and killed it. I don’t know if it was the right decision to minus it, but as far as I knew, they ran one or zero [card]Forked Bolt[/card]s (and he didn’t even have a Red land in play yet), and I didn’t want to give him extra cards yet because maybe he doesn’t have more lands, for example, after I countered the Birds. It ended up being a lot worse for me, since that killed Jace and left me with a bunch of lands, and perhaps if Jace had been +2’ed I would have won.
The game progressed to a point where I had a [card]Sun Titan[/card] and lands in my hand, and he had a [card]Sea Gate Oracle[/card] and a [card]Birthing Pod[/card] with four lands. My graveyard was Crusader, and his an [card]Phantasmal Image[/card]. My thought was that if I didn’t play the Titan, he would eventually just overwhelm me with his [card]Birthing Pod[/card] and his many cards in hand, which were not likely to be all land, like mine. I also figured that if he had [card]Phyrexian Metamorph[/card] in his deck, then I would probably lose on the spot, whereas with Titan I would likely, but not assuredly, win. At the time, I thought the chance of him not having Metamorph in his deck or siding it out against me was higher than of me winning through his Pod, so I played Titan. He Metamorphed it and I died very easily.
I think that the first decision ([card]Flashfreeze[/card] the [card birds of paradise]Birds[/card]) was debatable but right. The second decision (-1 Jace) was debatable and maybe right. The third decision (playing the [card]Sun Titan[/card]) was just wrong at every level – I basically jumped at the opportunity to get the fate of the game out of my hands, because I thought winning would be too difficult through his active Pod. It’s pretty obvious that the chance he doesn’t have Metamorph is very slim, and that he sided it out even slimmer, and there is no reason for me to risk basically losing the game. Besides, he would very likely upgrade his Oracle into, well, anything, which means I would be able to play my Titan next turn depending on what else he had. I don’t know if I would have won the game if I hadn’t played Titan, but it was a horrible decision based more on laziness to think than on anything else and I definitely deserved to lose. Whenever you think “eh I just have to hope he doesn’t have it”, there is a very high chance you don’t actually have to hope, you just don’t want to try to play around it – if it’s out of your hands, it makes you feel better if you lose. Don’t do that.
Round 6: Mirror
Game one my opponent got stuck on lands and lost. Game two I had [card]Grand Abolisher[/card] to his [card]Azure Mage[/card] (and my hand was Hawk, Crusader, Sword), and I think I would have won easily after that if I had drawn more lands, but he [card]Into the Roil[/card]ed my [card]Mirran Crusader[/card] twice while I was stuck on three and I fell behind on the board. At some point, I had three non-basics and he had six lands, three being [card]Tectonic Edge[/card]s. I drew a Plains and figured I just had to play it or I wouldn’t go anywhere, but he didn’t Edge me since he had only those six lands himself. We traded blows back and forth until I had all my Hawks and he had none (they were all dead), but then he played [card]Day of Judgment[/card], and then a Sphinx, and killed me. We had 5 minutes for game three and it was not enough, so we drew. I think the game was slightly in my favor when the turns ended, but nowhere close to decided, and we both played very sloppily to try to end the game in the short time we had, so I have no real way of saying who would have won if we had started that game with 15 more minutes on the clock.
I really like the [card]Mirran Crusader[/card]s game one for the mirror, but one of the downsides is that it makes cards that are not great against you actually very good, such as [card]Day of Judgment[/card]. Out entire board plan loses to [card]Day of Judgment[/card] basically, so it would be better if we had something that doesn’t get affected by it, like more Jaces. The [card]Grand Abolisher[/card] was very good, and I only drew the Tapper when I was already dead, so I don’t know how good he would have been early on. Overall, I am not entirely happy with the direction we took this, though – I don’t think your plan can be to have more guys than them game one and then bring even more guys for game two, because then you just lose to Day if they have it. Another downside of [card]Mirran Crusader[/card] after board is that [card]Combust[/card] gets much better against you, even if [card]Dismember[/card] doesn’t work.
Round 7: GW
My opponent was playing a kind of control GW deck that didn’t offer much resistance in either game. In turn four of game two, he tapped two to play [card]Torpor Orb[/card] and then immediately tapped two more to play [card]Nest Invader[/card], and I had to suppress a laugh since the move caught me by surprise. He followed it with [card]Squadron Hawk[/card] a turn later, which meant his Orb did a lot more for me than for him, but I doubt it would have mattered anyway.
Round 8: Mono Red
My hand was 5 lands ([card]Tectonic Edge[/card] + [card]Celestial Colonnade[/card]), [card]Squadron Hawk[/card] and [card]Sun Titan[/card], which I wouldn’t have kept on the draw in normal circumstances but kept because I was on the draw bracket. My opponent promptly played turn one [card]Goblin Guide[/card], to which I revealed a [card]Tectonic Edge[/card] that I promptly discarded. A couple of turns later I was dead, having drawn two [card]Dismember[/card]s while at four life.
Game two was looking good – he had a [card]Chandra’s Phoenix[/card] and was at two life more than me, and I had a [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card]. He thought for a while and [card]Dismember[/card]ed his own Phoenix, which made me get zero tokens and zero life. In the end, though, I managed to play a Titan while at a still healthy life total and it won me the game.
Game three was trickier, since he had two [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card]s and it was actually the first time I played against the card with Caw-Blade. I managed to block one and [card oblivion ring]O-ring[/card] the other, though it was at the expense of my [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card], since he killed itself in response and there were no other targets on the board. I was fine with that, though, because it meant I stayed at 13 life and had a Titan next turn, while he only had one card left in hand.
Going into the tournament, we thought Mono Red was a bad match game 1 and a good match game 2, and that was only partially correct – it got a lot better game 2, but I’m not really sure if it was actually good. While Reinforcements is a very good card, I don’t think it’s what you want to be doing right now, because [card]Hero of Oxid Ridge[/card] completely trumps it and most mono-Red lists should play three or four. We did a little better than just that, since we had 3 [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card], 1 [card]Condemn[/card] and 1 Purge as opposed to 4-0-0, but that was not enough and our record against Mono Red was overall not positive. I think if you want to play Caw-Blade now, the best possible sideboard card for Mono Red is [card]Kor Firewalker[/card], since it trumps the Hero, though it also loses to [card]Dismember[/card]. Having more spot removal is also a decent choice, maybe mixing with two Reinforcements.
Round 9: Splinter Twin
I knew my opponent was playing Twin, since we had sat next to each other in the previous round, so I mulliganed a hand with two [card]Mirran Crusader[/card]s and no disruption on the draw that I would have kept on the play, since it would give me time to play those guys before he actually threatened to kill me. In the end my hand was not bad but land light, and he started with a shrine. At some point I decided to animate a [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] and play [card]Phantasmal Image[/card] to copy it, with [card]Mana Leak[/card] backup for [card]Deceiver Exarch[/card], but then he [card]Dismember[/card]ed the Nexus which left me even more land light than before. At some point I found a Hawk, but I messed up my calculations – I tapped enough so that I could beat Exarch + Dispel but not double Exarch which is what he had. If I had realized what double Exarch would do to me, I would not have played the Hawk, though it is hard to say I was a favorite to win regardless of that.
Game two we got into a fight for his combo the turn before he died, and in the end he cracked a Shrine for 8 in the hopes of finding either [card]Dispel[/card] or [card]Mental Misstep[/card] (which I am not sure he played), but failed to do and we were on to game three.
For game three I kept a land heavy hand with a [card]Preordain[/card], and then Preordained into three lands. I had a [card]Grand Abolisher[/card] in play early on, but in this match it is not nearly as good as [card]Azure Mage[/card], and it did not get me out of the mana flood. I topdecked a [card]Celestial Purge[/card] one turn after he [card gitaxian probe]Probed[/card] me, so I could stop him, but a couple turns later he tried again and I hadn’t draw disruption for his combo so I just lost.
Even though I knew this was not the best match ever (pretty close to 50/50ish I think), I was pretty disappointed to not make day 2, since I generally do well in Constructed GPs. It was especially bad because I had a draw instead of a loss, so you can’t help thinking what would have happened if you had only conceded sooner or something. Still, you could say my mind was not really in it, and my play was not the best at most times, so I can’t complain much. I also think the deck choice was not the best – I think UW is a nice deck, but I would not play it again because I dislike the late game of the deck and I think that to have a better early game (so that you don’t reach the super late game) you have to put yourself in situations I don’t want to (such as losing to [card]Combust[/card] and Wrath). I also think that right now there are many different decks and it’s hard to be focused on defeating one or two, and the builds and sideboards differ vastly.
If you want to play UW, I would play something close to our build – I dislike the bunch of Heroes/Crusaders/Angels build from the top 8. Yuya Watanabe was testing with us for the PT and in the end decided to play [card]Bladed Splicer[/card] over [card]Mirran Crusader[/card], but didn’t really explain why – one of the downsides of testing with the Japanese is that it is hard for them to explain things sometimes, so I feel like they don’t even try to. If, say, Josh, Owen, Matt Nass or anyone else felt like that [card]Blade Splicer[/card] was better than [card]Mirran Crusader[/card], they would have wholeheartedly tried to convince us of it, so that we would play it too. In Yuya and Shuhei’s case, they just said they thought it was better but I don’t really know why they think that. I think the Crusader is MUCH better against UB and any green deck, and better in the Mirror because of [card]Into the Roil[/card] – the only match where I really like Splicer more is Mono Red, so it doesn’t seem worth it to me. It is also relevant that it dodges [card]Combust[/card], but why would they have to [card]Combust[/card] it when they can just block it?
I would probably not play the [card]Gideon’s Lawkeeper[/card] – I think a [card]Jace Beleren[/card], another [card]Grand Abolisher[/card] or an [card]Azure Mage[/card] are all fine depending on what you expect (Jace seems like he is the best against UB, Abolisher against the mirror and Azure Mage against Twin, though maybe Jace is just the better card overall). The four [card]Flashfreeze[/card]s are I think untouchable, since they are what makes you beat Valakut after board, and the Red sideboard depends on what you think they’re going to have – the two Red decks in the top 8 played three [card]Dismember[/card]s in the board, so maybe [card]Kor Firewalker[/card] is not the answer and just more spot removal is fine to buy you time to get to Titan (say, for example, two [card]Condemn[/card], two [card]Celestial Purge[/card], one [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card]). The [card]Mental Misstep[/card]s were very good in the Red and Twin matchups (despite me not actually casting them versus Red), so I would leave them as they are now.
Well, this is it! I hope you’ve enjoyed it and see you this weekend in Philadelphia (where I’ll hopefully have a sweet deck)