Reeling from Dallas:
Grand Prix Dallas was pretty uneventful for me. I played basically the same deck as everyone else I talked to, and I failed to make day two.
Playing the Caw-Blade mirror is incredibly hard. The one time I played the true mirror, I lost a game where I felt I had no chance. After the game,
Matt Ferrando noted that I could’ve double Spell Pierced his Into the Roil when I’d Mana Leaked it to play around his having a counter. I hadn’t
considered this play, but it might have given me a chance to swing tempo and land a Jace. It’s a counterintuitive play because it uses two cards to do
what one card does, but it’s much safer. I should have enough familiarity with the mirror to recognize that option, but I still needed more practice.
It’s an overwhelming matchup.
After I lost, I watched Ari Lax and Korey McDuffie feature match on GGsLive. It’s amazing how many decisions the mirror presents and how hard it is
to figure out what the players are thinking about and predict what they’re going to do, even seeing their hands.
Amazing Magic, but I just can’t figure out how to break itâ€”how to get a significant edge on everyone else. “Just outplay your opponents” seems like it
should be so easy, but even if I know the match better than my opponents, I’m still not convinced I can win consistently. There are too many variables,
and certain uncontrollable factors, like going first or drawing Stoneforge Mystic, are too important.
There are a lot of possible lines of play, and it seems like consistently choosing the right one should provide a significant edge.
I think this is part of why we’re not seeing more innovation in this format. Learning the Caw-Blade mirror can take as much time as you have to put
into it because it’s so intricate, and practicing that seems more valuable than trying to build something new.
A match against U/W Venser ended my tournament. Game one I mulliganed to five and still felt as if I could make the game interesting, but I just
couldn’t win. Game two I thought I was in great shape when I landed a Jace, but my opponent played Venser, which trumped my Jace, and later resolved a
Depressing, but somewhat inspiring at the same time.
Appreciating Venser, the Sojourner
Venser’s ultimate trumps almost everything, and his card draw can keep up with Jace. If you can play him on a stable board, he’ll end the game very
The U/W Venser deck’s game plan is often very effective against Caw-Blade: Wall of Omens trumps Stoneforge Mystic with a Sword; Tumble Magnet trumps
Colonnade, Gideon, or a creature with a Sword; and a single Day of Judgment answers the Hawk-swarm plan for the entire game.
Meanwhile, you can incidentally pressure your opponents while sitting back and drawing cards, blanking the substantial amount of removal they play.
While the more controlling U/W Venser deck gives up Caw-Blade’s explosive potential of hitting with a Sword, that plan loses some value as players
adapt to protecting themselves from being attacked in exactly that way.
In a metagame clearly dominated by Jace, in which people are trying to protect Jace from getting attacked, playing Jace along with another planeswalker
that can trump Jace might make a lot of sense.
Developing the Venser Deck
A few weeks ago a U/W Control deck with Venser, Wall of Omens, Contagion Clasp, Tumble Magnet, and Sun Titan started making appearances on Magic
Online. It’s a cool deck with a solid game plan against Caw-Blade, but without the free wins from connecting with an early Sword of Feast and Famine,
the deck hasn’t had quite the same success.
Losing to this deck made me think more about it, and it seems like the perfect home for the black splash people try to fit in Caw-Blade. The black
splash makes curving out much harder, but that might not be as big a problem with a deck that’s much less aggressive (although control decks certainly
also need to be mindful of a curve).
Inquisition of Kozilek is awesome in this format, largely because there’s so much value to seeing your opponent’s hand. (I wonder how many Peeks
Caw-Blade would play if it were legal.) I can only assume the Venser Control strategy would be happy to have access to it.
Moreover, adding black allows the incorporation of Tezzeret, Agent of Bolasâ€”a notable answer to opposing Jaces that plays very well in a deck that
contains Contagion Clasp, Everflowing Chalice, and Tumble Magnet anyway.
Here are some cards I want to consider:
Jace Beleren: Jace Beleren is a nice planeswalker to have access to in a deck with Tezzeret because it lets you curve planeswalkers from 3-5. It also
plays very well with Contagion Clasp because you can just use its -1 ability every turn against opponents who aren’t attacking it.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor: We’ve learned that this card is a must by now, right?
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas: When Caw-Blade splashing black for Tezzeret finished in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Barcelona while not having enough artifacts
to reliably hit with the +1 ability, it sent a strong message about the power level of this card when it can hit regularly.
Venser, the Sojourner: The reason to move away from Squadron Hawks and Stoneforge Mystics is to make room for two-drops that draw cards so that the
deck can support Venser.
Gideon Jura: Best friend to all the other planeswalkers, he’s the best way to buy time for them to win the game.
Elspeth Tirel: I don’t think this is the right direction because I think Gideon and Venser are better, and I expect to have a lot of nonland permanents
in play, but it’s a sweet planeswalker against Vampires, which has been gaining a lot of popularity on Magic Online very recently.
Wall of Omens: This has always been a great card, and the fact that it can randomly thwart some of Caw-Blade’s otherwise very good draws is a nice
selling point. It’s also awesome with Venser and Sun Titan.
Sun Titan: This is probably the best way to actually kill people in this deck. It works extremely well with Jace Beleren, Venser, Wall of Omens, and a
number of other cards that can be played, apart from being fairly well positioned in the format.
Trinket Mage/Treasure Mage: Depending on what kinds of artifacts are available, these could work well. Trinket Mage would mostly get Everflowing
Chalice. Treasure Mage’s most exciting options are Wurmcoil Engine, Myr Battlesphere, Mindslaver, and Spine of Ish Sah.
Guard Gomazoa: Guillaume Matignon had this in his sideboard in Barcelona, and it does an excellent job of holding off Squadron Hawks, which might
otherwise cause problems for the planeswalkers. I’m not sure that it’s the best direction, but it’s a reasonable sideboard consideration.
Wall of Tanglecord: This is both an artifact for Tezzeret and an exceptional blocker. With Sphere of the Suns, it can even block fliers.
Everflowing Chalice: Everflowing Chalice is awesome with proliferate, especially as a way to blank Mana Leaks and Spell Pierces going late. Being able
to play Jace or Tezzeret on turn 3 is huge, but this might not be the best way to do it.
Sphere of the Suns: A disadvantage of adding a third color is that this likely has to take the place of Everflowing Chalice, but it does give us the
ability to do so without stretching the mana too much.
Prophetic Prism: This is another way to make the mana a little easier that also works well with Tezzeret and Venser. It’s unfortunate to spend two mana
on a card that doesn’t impact the board immediately, but there might be enough value to justify its inclusion.
Contagion Clasp: Moderately effective removal that gains a lot of value with Venser’s ability to reset it. Proliferating can also be very powerful with
this many planeswalkers.
Tumble Magnet: This card is generally best used aggressively, but this deck is good enough at adding counters to it that it fits well here.
Spine of Ish Sah: This is a pretty awesome answer to planeswalkers in a deck that isn’t great at attacking. It’s obviously phenomenal with Venser, but
it might be too expensive, particularly without Everflowing Chalice.
Preordain: This is an obvious staple in blue decks, but I could see cutting it if the deck has enough taplands. Adding “air” to the deck like this also
weakens Tezzeret’s +1 ability.
Inquisition of Kozilek: I can imagine mana bases that would make me consider playing this only in the sideboard, but I think signs currently indicate
that it’s strong enough to play in the main deck.
Spell Pierce: This card generally gets cut to make room for Inquisition of Kozilek, but this deck seems to function as more of a tap-out style deck, so
a couple of these might be the easiest surprise counters to include.
Mana Leak: I’d love to be able to get by without this, but it might be necessary, since the deck could have problems with resolved planeswalkers.
However, Jace Beleren goes a long way to preempting Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and Tumble Magnet can preempt Gideon Jura, so we might have viable
Removal: Any combination of Disfigure, Oust, Go for the Throat, Doom Blade, Condemn, Into the Roil, and Day of Judgment. Day of Judgment is somewhat
better in this deck than in Caw-Blade.
Gerry wrote about reconfiguring the mana in Dark Blade to focus on Terramorphic Expanse and M11 Duals to make curving into four and five easier, which
can’t be done if you have too many Scars duals. This could be a very realistic approach to take here.
Creeping Tar Pit is obviously necessary, particularly in a deck that doesn’t have other creatures to threaten planeswalkers. Despite being a colorless
land, Inkmoth Nexus’s synergy with Contagion Clasp and Tezzeret justifies its inclusion as a one- or two-of.
Memoricide is an option against Valakut with the black splash. Spreading Seas is more synergistic with Venser, but without Tectonic Edge, I’m worried
that it would be too low impact.
Precursor Golem is an excellent way to punish people for cutting removal. It also plays wonderfully with Tezzeret, Venser, and to some extent, Jace.
Duress is an obvious inclusion that does exactly what you want against control decks and Valakut.
A starting point for the deck might be something like:
- 3 Jace Beleren
- 2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
- 1 Gideon Jura
- 2 Venser, the Sojourner
- 2 Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
- 1 Condemn
- 2 Day of Judgment
- 2 Spell Pierce
- 1 Everflowing Chalice
- 3 Inquisition of Kozilek
- 1 Prophetic Prism
- 2 Contagion Clasp
- 2 Tumble Magnet
- 2 Sphere of the Suns
- 2 Go for the Throat
Esper Venser is designed with this matchup in mind. It should have good answers to everything Caw-Blade opponents are doing and cards they’re not
especially well equipped to deal with. Their best advantage will come from counterspells punishing you for playing a tap-out deck, so discard is very
valuable here. Sideboarding is tricky, since there aren’t really dead cards. Day of Judgment is much better here than in the Caw-Blade mirror, since
you have to be able to answer the Hawks. The sideboard plan should probably look like:
-1 Condemn, -2 Go for the Throat, -1 Contagion Clasp, +1 Inquisition of Kozilek, +2 Duress, +1 Precursor Golem
As always, you need to stop R/U/G opponents from getting too explosive. This always means killing their Cobra and stopping them from resolving Jace,
the Mind Sculptor. You’ll want to use Jace Beleren’s +2 ability to prevent your opponent from Bolting it and playing their own Jace. Tumble Magnet is
good against Inferno Titan but bad against Precursor Golem. Day of Judgment is important. Sideboard plan looks something like:
-1 Wall of Tanglecord, -3 Wall of Omens, -1 Gideon Jura, -1 Venser, the Sojourner, +1 Inquisition of Kozilek, +2 Duress, +2 Day of Judgment, +1
The control vs. Valakut matchup should be very familiar by now. Slow your opponent down; get enough ahead that you can counter or Memoricide all their
Titans. This deck is positioned relatively poorly for this matchup because it doesn’t have Tectonic Edges or Spreading Seas to deal with Valakut, so it
could easily just lose to the land, since it doesn’t have a lot of pressure either. This is a serious problem and might be a reason to stick to U/W in
this kind of deck. Remember that, in playing the match, going late can be a problem, and try to do things like aggressively kill your opponent with
Tezzeret. Spine of Ish Sah might be a passable answer to Valakut the card, but I’m not sure if it’s worth it.
-1 Condemn, -3 Wall of Omens, -1 Wall of Tanglecord, -2 Contagion Clasp, -2 Tumble Magnet, +1 Inquisition of Kozilek, +2 Duress, +2 Memoricide, +4
This is another archetypal match that should be pretty familiar; you just don’t want to fall too far behind. Contagion Clasp is very good, but Tumble
Magnet is pretty slow and ineffective.
-2 Tumble Magnet, -1 Prophetic Prism, -1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor, +2 Disfigure, +2 Day of Judgment
U/B opponents have more counterspells, which could present a problem for you. On the other hand, it could become a liability for your opponent once you
get to add a lot of discard. Also their removal is relatively bad against you, and you have more planeswalkers. The more you can sit and go to the late
game, the better, as their counterspells go dead once you have enough lands.
-2 Tumble Magnet, -1 Wall of Tanglecord, -3 Wall of Omens, +2 Duress, +1 Inquisition of Kozilek, +1 Spine of Ish Sah, +2 Memoricide
The Esper Venser list and plans are still very rough, and I’m not sure that what you gain by adding black is worth what it costs in the Valakut
matchup, but it seems like there should be something here. This deck integrates a lot of successful components of other decks in a very synergistic
way. There are a lot of cards that you’ll want access to in small numbers, so getting all the pieces exactly right will be tricky, but the core is
If it doesn’t hold up in Standard, it’s an interesting core to consider for Standard Singleton on Magic Online, but that’s not a format I’ve really
looked into yet.
Thanks for reading,
@samuelhblack on Twitter