Although I looked at the New Phyrexia spoiler with high hopes, I have to say that the
results of StarCityGames.com Open: Louisville
are a bit disheartening. Seven of the Top 8 decks were variants of Caw-Blade (straight U/W, Darkblade, or Tyler Winn’s list that used Deceiver Exarch in place of
Squadron Hawk). In addition, five of the ninth through sixteenth-place decks were Caw-Blade variants, and Neil Michalares’s ninth-place list (Soul Sisters) used the
Stoneforge Mystic/Batterskull/Swords package.
The results of the Orlando Open led me to believe that Deceiver Exarch combo, either RUG or Grixis, would be more popular than it was in Louisville.
While a few talented players opted to run the combo deck, very few finished higher than 6-3 last weekend. Other players attempted more significant
levels of innovation (Neil being the one individual who placed with a new archetype), but they tended to fall outside of the top 32 as well—these
archetypes included Naya Birthing Pod and U/G Infect (from observing a match, he was running Inkmoth Nexus, Glistener Elf, Blighted Agent, and a few
Viridian Corruptors as threats and a variety of pump/evasion spells).
Since I expected Exarch combo to be much more prevalent than it actually was, I entered the tournament with a Grixis Exarch deck that was tuned for the
mirror and that largely was based on Michael Strunk’s list
- 1 Duress
- 4 Mana Leak
- 4 Inquisition of Kozilek
- 4 Splinter Twin
- 4 Preordain
- 2 Twisted Image
- 2 Go for the Throat
- 2 Despise
- 2 Dismember
Because of an incredibly busy work schedule and because New Phyrexia is not yet online, I was not actually able to test the modifications to the list
prior to entering the tournament, and so the tournament itself functioned as a means of testing and informing modifications to the list. Fortunately,
nearly every match proved to be instructive.
Round 1: Versus Naya Birthing Pod
In the first game, I wasn’t quite sure what archetype he was playing. He opened with a Birds of Paradise, which I hit with a Twisted Image, much
to his consternation. Since I was on the play, I was able to Mana Leak his first two Stoneforge Mystics and then use an Inquisition of Kozilek to nab a
third. After this, he seemed to run out of gas, but he played a Hex Parasite (which he later admitted to be a singleton), while I drew three copies of
Jace, the Mind Sculptor in a row in my futile search for a Deceiver Exarch. He eventually was able to kill me while I had a hand full of Splinter
Since he appeared to be an aggressive deck (I put him on Fauna Shaman), my inclination was to keep in the combo, but I saw him board in something like
8-10 cards with a significant level of purpose, and so I guessed that he was well-prepared for my deck. I therefore boarded out Splinter Twin and
Deceiver Exarch, as well as a Duress (this was wrong because I obviously can nab Equipment that he fetches with his Stoneforge Mystic), and boarded in
Sphinx of Jwar Isle, Go for the Throat, three Jace Belerens, two Calcite Snappers, and two Pyroclasms. The next two games saw him holding a number of
Nature’s Claims and Sylvok Replicas, while my mishmash of a Grixis Control deck was able to take the match.
This match reminded me of a key lesson when playing with a quasi-transformational sideboard: if an opponent boards in a lot of cards, it’s
probably a good idea to bring in a less powerful, but less easily hated “plan b,” even if that plan is somewhat weaker against the expected
Round 2: Versus Darkblade
My opponent had a customized Force of Will playmat and talked about being a Legacy player, and so when he opened with Inquisition of Kozilek on the
play, I put him on Grixis Exarch. This was a false assumption (as the players sitting next to me chided—I was “stereotyping Legacy”).
He had a fairly aggressive start with Stoneforge Mystics, Batterskull, and some Creeping Tar Pits. I was able to save an Inquisition of Kozilek and a
Duress until very late in the game, play both the turn before I needed to combo to nab a Mana Leak and a removal spell, and win the game at three life.
He only boarded in four cards against me, so I retained the combo and simply added Negate and three Jace Belerens for three Spellskites (his only
removal was Go for the Throat, and I hadn’t seen any Into the Roils) and the Consecrated Sphinx. He opened with a free Leyline of Sanctity, and I
proceeded to draw five targeted discard spells—we fought back and forth with Creeping Tar Pits, but Batterskull won the day, even after he
accidentally passed turn without attacking once.
We only had seven minutes for the final game, so I quickly boarded out some targeted discard for additional threats (two Calcite Snapper, one
Batterskull, and the Consecrated Sphinx). I probably would have boarded differently if it weren’t for the time constraints. I assume he was
flustered by the time because he randomly tapped very low a few turns into the game for a hardcast Leyline of Sanctity, giving me an opportunity to
land the combo and win with thirteen seconds left on the clock.
Round 3: Versus Darkblade w/Dark Tutelage
This match went fairly quickly, as combo/control matches go. Neither of us had very optimal draws; although I opened with a Splinter Twin and a
Deceiver Exarch, he was able to force me to discard both, and I was able to strip his hand of threats as well. We went back and forth with Creeping Tar
Pits until he resolved a Dark Tutelage, with which he drew something on the order of 6-7 extra cards. Even with this advantage, had I not made a key
mistake, I would have beaten him—he attacked Jace, the Mind Sculptor (at three counters) with two Creeping Tar Pits, tapping out, and I used
Dismember for the alternate cost (four life) to kill one because I reasoned that the match would be a land-based race, and I only had one more removal
spell in hand. However, if I had waited a turn, I could have done the same thing without losing life, while still playing around a single (but not
double) Mana Leak. My overly risky decision ended up costing me when I lost the game by two life, with my opponent at three.
I again boarded out Spellskite, which does nothing against Go for the Throat and most of the other spells and abilities in Darkblade, for three copies
of Jace Beleren, and I boarded out Consecrated Sphinx for Sphinx of Jwar Isle to get around targeted removal. While I landed an early Sphinx and began
attacking, his Dark Tutelage again drew him 6-7 cards at a cost of zero life (thanks to Preordain and Jace), and I couldn’t overcome his card
advantage or assemble the combo in time.
By this point, I was fairly disappointed with Spellskite in the maindeck. While it’s great against cards like Into the Roil, most of the decks
that I had seen relied on Go for the Throat for removal, and many of the Grixis Exarch decks were using Combust to combat the mirror, making it a
sideboard, not a maindeck, card.
Round 4: Versus Grixis Exarch
My opponent was a local player who seemed fairly nervous, and although I never drew either component of my combo in the first game, I was able to
monitor his hand with timed discard spells, maintain Mana Leak backup and Jace advantage, and win fairly quickly with aggressive Creeping Tar Pits.
Since I had seen both Into the Roil and Dismember from my opponent, I boarded in the additional Spellskite, two Combusts, a Negate, a Go for the
Throat, and a Sphinx of Jwar Isle for two Dismembers (which can be redirected), two Despises (because he hadn’t protected his Jaces from Creeping
Tar Pit previously, making it a spell that really only hit Deceiver Exarch, for which I have other answers), a Consecrated Sphinx, and a Splinter Twin.
When I hit an early Inquisition of Kozilek, I saw that he had retained Into the Roil and Dismember, so I laid out an early Spellskite, forced him to
tap out on his turn with a Negate (playing into a Mana Leak), and then landed a Splinter Twin on Spellskite to blank much of his removal. From this
point, I was able to play a control game and again win with Creeping Tar Pits.
Round 5: Versus Eldrazi Green
I don’t have a lot of notes from this match. My opponent drew almost nothing in the first game, and I kept a hand with Island, Blackcleave
Cliffs, Mountain, Preordain, Preordain, Splinter Twin, Mana Leak. Nine turns later, he landed his first Primeval Titan, which I hit with Go for the
Throat. He then drew a Green Sun’s Zenith, played it for x=6, and killed me with the second Titan. I need to learn to shuffle more thoroughly!
The second game, sadly, was more of the same. After resolving four Preordains in the first several turns and shipping lands to the bottom, I still drew
more lands and died to a hardcast Emrakul—the hard way (Forests and Birds of Paradise only, please!)—on something like turn 14.
For the record, I don’t think that Eldrazi Green is a bad matchup (even with Beast Within in the main, as he had)—in fact, it seemed quite
favorable (i.e., draw a single Deceiver Exarch and win either game).
Round 6: Versus Darkblade
As was the case in the previous round, I had very poor draws this match. I opened with an Inquisition of Kozilek into a Despise but didn’t have
very much action (or a Mana Leak) for quite some time. Having seen my opponent’s hand, I knew that he was on the Mirran Crusader plan (I took two
Stoneforge Mystics), so I figured that my only way to win the game would be to bluff an active combo to prevent him from tapping out (he was stuck on
four lands). He passed several turns in a row without playing either Mirran Crusader in his hand, so that I couldn’t combo out. I finally drew
into a Jace, the Mind Sculptor and was able to protect it with Duress, and by that time, I had inevitability and had sculpted a hand that let me ride
Brainstorms to victory.
I saw my opponent sideboard a few cards this round, but I hadn’t seen Dismember or Into the Roil, so I removed my Spellskites (which die to an
attacking Mirran Crusader anyway), a Splinter Twin, and the Consecrated Sphinx for a Sphinx of Jwar Isle, three Jace Belerens, and a Negate. The game
went back and forth for a while as a control mirror, although I was able to stick a Jace Beleren and hold it in play to blank the two Jace, the Mind
Sculptors that I had seen in his hand (he didn’t want to tap low for a turn to kill my Jace). Sphinx of Jwar Isle finished the job for me with
the help of an unassuming Creeping Tar Pit.
Round 7: Versus Darkblade
My opponent this round was quite boisterous but took a mulligan to five in the first game and was never really in it at all. He seemed to be playing
the older version of Darkblade (sans Mirran Crusader or Spellskite in the main), and so I ended up removing my own Spellskites and Twisted Images in
favor of the traditional control suite (see above).
The second game went much longer and looked to be in my favor, with him at seven life with only one card in hand, while I beat in with Creeping Tar Pit
and a Deceiver Exarch, but he drew a Stoneforge Mystic for which I didn’t have an answer, and Batterskull turned the game around quickly.
In the third game, I kept a decent six-card hand against what he called a “shaky” seven. When I hit him with a turn 1 Inquisition of
Kozilek, I saw five lands, a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and a Stoneforge Mystic, which I took. We went back and forth for a while, with him refilling his
hand with a Jace Beleren while I tried to force through the combo. There was a one-turn window when he had only three unknown cards in hand, and I
learned that I could have won if I had just ignored the possibility of Mana Leak and “gone for it.” Since I didn’t, we got into a
control-ish give-and-take, and then time was called. He was playing for SCG points, and I was not, so I conceded to him, despite his ill-advised
attempt to convince me to do so (it’s rarely a good idea to tell your opponent “I don’t know about you, but I played absolutely
Round 8: Versus U/r Vampires
My opponent lost the die roll and had kept a one-land hand with multiple Pulse Trackers and Lightning Bolts. Unfortunately for him, I had kept a hand
with Darkslick Shores, Creeping Tar Pit, Blackcleave Cliffs, two Deceiver Exarchs, Preordain, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and his 1/1 creatures
quickly ran into my surprise blockers, and by the time he started playing more relevant threats (i.e., Vampire Hexmage), I had a full grip again and an
He didn’t really have a way to interact with my combo outside of Duress (I didn’t see Inquisition), so I simply removed three copies of
Jace, the Mind Sculptor, the Duress, and two Twisted Images for three Pyroclasms, Batterskull, and a Calcite Snapper.
Although he came out of the gate quickly with a Pulse Tracker into several Bloodghasts, I hit a timely Pyroclasm to stall until turn 5, when I played a
Batterskull, against which he had no answer.
Round 9: Versus Grixis Exarch
After we traded a few early discard spells, I knew what my opponent was playing and noticed that he had the standard removal/control split (Into the
Roil, Dismember, etc…), so I landed a Spellskite and forced a Splinter Twin onto it through my opponent’s own Spellskite. At this point, I
had two other Splinter Twins in my hand and had to dig for a Deceiver Exarch. Unfortunately, it was not to be, and although I stalled for quite a few
turns, I lost a long and protracted thirty-minute game to his Creeping Tar Pits after drawing no removal to race with my own single manland.
I boarded as I had in round four and had to try to win two games as quickly as possible. I was able to land a timely combo to win the second game
incredibly quickly, as he tapped unadvisedly low to respond to my Creeping Tar Pit activations and assorted shenanigans.
In the third game, my opponent mulliganed, and I was able to strip his hand with a few discard spells. I did not, however, find any threats for quite
some time, and so we played draw-go until time was called. I cast Preordain twice (I had been sitting on one and drew a second) to dig as deeply as I
could and found the combo on turn 3 of extra turns and used discard + Mana Leak to force through the win on the last turn.
Despite the insane number of Caw-Blade variants that performed well in Louisville, I think that Grixis Twin is a legitimate contender. It does,
however, need to adapt to the metagame to stay relevant. While cards like Twisted Image, which can replace itself, are excellent concessions to the
mirror match, Spellskite, which doesn’t even stop the most prevalent removal spell in the format (Go for the Throat), wasn’t spectacular in
the maindeck, and I would have preferred to have it in the sideboard. In addition, while drawing a Deceiver Exarch by itself isn’t the worst
thing in the world (the Twiddle ability has utility), the deck isn’t very threat-dense, and I felt like I could have won one or maybe two
additional matches throughout the day if I had more cards in my deck that could kill my opponent. Although 24 lands seems a little light for this type
of deck, it actually felt pretty good over the course of the day, and I didn’t mulligan a lot, though I might recommend trading the Dragonskull
Summit for a Lavaclaw Reaches—the Summit comes into play tapped frequently anyway.
With a deck like this, it’s very important to read how our opponent is sideboarding, and it is very important to consider the exact utility of each
card in our deck. If our opponent has something like Memoricide, then we might consider running half of the combo and boarding in additional threats,
even when it might not otherwise be appropriate.
With the proper modifications, this deck could be a contender for the Invitational in Indianapolis in two weeks, but as the list currently stands, it
has not yet adapted to the metagame.