Among the eleven Standard decks with X-1 or better Standard records, only four were Caw-Blade?
Sure, but weren’t there six Caw-Blade decks in the top eight?
Yeah, but that is partially variance because of draft + tiebreakers and partially because most of the strongest players just played Caw-Blade in this event. Â
Why would most of the Channel guys and most of the SCG Open Grinders play Caw-Blade if it wasn’t the best deck?
Well, that’s the thing about being on the tuning plan. It can often lead to great results in the short run to just tune decks, but if everyone is just tuning, then where do the new decks come from?
Not infrequently, people suggest that Magic needs to adjust to handle the SCG Open Series and the amount of major tournaments we see today. Magic needs to change? Please, Magic always changes and always has. That’s the constant. What needs to change is us.
Was Caw-Blade the best deck among decks that existed last week? For sure. So does this mean the only play is to tune Caw-Blade? Not everyone wants to just play Caw-Blade, right? What about U/B Control, Pyromancer Ascension, and Valakut? All of those could be tuned to be reasonable in a heavy Caw-Blade field, right? Yeah, and if we are tuning, there are all sorts of tweaks we could make to existing strategies.
There is an alternative.
Build a new deck.
It is embarrassing how many decks are never getting made, or rather never getting brought to events, written about, discussed, tuned, whatever. Is it because of the quantity of big tournaments? After all, the SCG Open Series provides “so many events that the formats get solved fast,” right?
Please. The SCG Open Series is but a small fraction of the number of events there are on Magic Online, and Magic Online doesn’t make formats unplayable. What it does is lead to a surplus of lazy, out-of-shape deckbuilders that can get by on copy/paste rather than paying their dues and learning the craft of deckbuilding.
Today’s article is about a new deck, not the decline of the art of deckbuilding, but it is worth a few words, a few paragraphs. It has been over a year since I wrote Sixty . What has changed? If anything, The Cancer is worse.
Caw-Blade with Mystic and Jace really was that good. That said, people were glacial to respond. The format should have just been far more aggressive than it was. By the time people adjusted, the bannings took effect, and things looked interesting for a few weeks. Everyone had switched to aggressive and combo decks, meaning Caw-Blade could use those ten new slots in their deck to combat the expected meta.
The result? As long as no one is building new decks, than yeah, why wouldn’t the deck that has been tuned by several times as many people for several times more hours being better tuned at this point? Caw-Blade is a style of play that lets strong players prey on weaker players, plus it is highly customizable and fun for Spikes.
“What are you liking for Nationals?” I asked him.
“The cards aren’t on Magic Online, so I will probably just play Caw-Blade.”
Really, this is what it has come to? It used to be that people gave up too easily. More and more people don’t even try.
If you’re not at least 25% brews, you’ve got no heart. If you’re not at least 25% netdeck, you’ve got no brain.
Anyway, Michael Jacob and I don’t roll that way. You already know I’d play Caw-Blade if I thought it was the best. The difference? I am going to try all my ideas first. This isn’t because I think it is in some way noble, or whatever. It is because I think it leads to my getting the best results in the best picture. When I am talking about brews, I don’t mean having to come up with something new every time. In fact, it still constitutes a brew if one of your friends built it or someone wrote about it in their blog and it isn’t “part of the existing metagame” yet. In the short run, often netdecking gives one the best chances for a specific event. In the long run, those ants that march off in their own direction are the ones that can actually overcome Information Cascades in Magic . Caw-Blade being 34% of the field is an information cascade. Period.
We started our testing by discussing our perspectives on the format with each other. What does it look like the format is about? We agreed with the starting point of Valakut. From there, you go to Twin. What beats Valakut and Twin? Why, U/B Control of course. What beats Valakut, Twin, and U/B? Tempered Steel? What beats all four? Caw-Blade. What beats Caw-Blade? Well, if you are going to stick to the stock decks, nothing beats Caw-Blade and beats the rest of the previous best decks. Red decks are good against Caw-Blade, but then a bit of tuning and now Caw-Blade decks have changed ten cards from last week.
In addition to playing the stock decks against each other to test matchups, we also ran brew after brew against “The Gauntlet.” Our Gauntlet? Well, that changed as the format evolved. Early on, we were most interested in beating Valakut, Twin, and Tempered Steel. As Caw-Blade emerged, Valakut’s popularity was plummeting. With a couple weeks to go before the event, MJ asked me, “What should we beat?”
There is more to this question than meets the eye. The question is really, “What do you expect the metagame to be?” as well as “How ambitious do you think we can get away with being?” After all, building a deck that beats any one strategy is generally pretty easy, if you know what you are doing. In fact, beating lots of strategies is usually no problem. The key? Finding overlaps between the strategies you want to beat.
My response to MJ was that we want Caw-Blade to be our best matchup and that we are going to also beat Twin and Tempered Steel. Valakut was surely going to be the best deck that we didn’t want to face. This is not the first time I have been on the “lose to Valakut” plan, as that was my philosophy for PT Paris, as well. One of the reasons that Valakut is so frustrating to potential deckbuilders is that it has so little overlap with any other strategy, while simultaneously having so few possible ways to meaningfully interact with it. Â
This is not to say that Valakut can’t be beat. After all, you can definitely race it (Twin, Tempered Steel) or play permission (Caw-Blade, U/B Control). What I mean is that if we limit our options to strategies that can race Valakut or use permission, we are going to miss out on so many possibilities. This is not to say that we are scooping the Valakut matchup, but rather that fighting Valakut will be an afterthought.
In addition to performing well against Caw-Blade, Twin, and Tempered Steel, we had to be doing something powerful. This is the second half of “hate strategies” that most people forget. After all, a look at the metagame of US Nationals revealed only a little over half of the field played Caw-Blade, Twin, and Tempered Steel. While I expected this to be even more pronounced in the winner’s bracket, we are still talking about a format with plenty of fringe decks.
As a result, our new concepts generally featured at least one flagship, a linchpinâ€”as MJ would say. Garruk, Primal Hunter, Consecrated Sphinx, Sun Titan/Phantasmal Image, Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, Twin/Exarch, and Chandra, the Firebrand are all quite powerful and have potential that is not being fully tapped. We worked with all of them a bit, but at the end of the day we both wanted to go back to the same point both of us started on, Birthing Pod.
MJ and I had different desires for Birthing Pod, but we shared a common view of how the format was shaping up. He has been working on RUG-Twin combo decks with Birthing Pod since the card was printed. I started with Bant decks that share an awful lot of similarities with Olivier Ruel Bant-Pod list from French Nationals.
MJ quickly realized just how bad Fauna Shaman was in the RUG decks. Meanwhile, I noticed that MJ’s decks always looked so much more impressive when he didn’t draw the Twins or Exarchs. I wanted to push for a RUG deck that was more like MJ’s RUG deck from last year (Jace/Oracle/Cobra/Inferno Titans/Cheap interactive spells).
Meanwhile, my Bant-Pod decks were working reasonably, though MJ was not a fan of the white. Elesh Norn and Sun Titan were nice, and Venser was fine, but the more we played, the more Inferno Titan just seemed like the best fatty in the format. Additionally, playing RUG instead of Bant would give us enough fetchlands to make Cobra great. Basically, red offered more unique elements (Sparkmage, Urabrask, burn), so that became our focus.
In studying Caw-Blade, Twin, and Tempered Steel, I focused on overlap between the strategies. What could we do that would hit all three at the same time? In fact, that is how I got onto Pod in the first place. Decks like Caw-Blade are traditionally weak to permanents they have trouble removing, and Birthing Pod is generally only answered by their Oblivion Ring (a card I was gearing to beat anyway). Â
Tempered Steel as a strategy is very soft to Birthing Pod, if you are fast enough. Getting 187 after 187 will quickly lock up the game, especially since they have no reach. Most people play Birthing Pod decks with all creatures, so they end up being a little slow, but we figured if you just play a single removal spell in the first two turns, you’ll buy yourself two extra turns to execute your game plan. As long as we have a good target to get at each spot on the curve against Tempered Steel, we’d be in good shape.
As for Twin, Birthing Pod is generally naturally weak against it; however we could multiply our hate cards by “Podding them up,” if we could also buy ourselves a little time with some cards that interact with Twin. Additionally, if we could put a reasonable clock on them, while playing interaction that hits from a variety of angles, we could actually turn it around.
Early on, I realized that Nature’s Claim was the card that I really wanted to be playing in this event. “Whatever deck we play, all I ask is that it is a Nature’s Claim deck,” I had told MJ. All he wanted to do was play Lotus Cobra into Inferno Titan. This is where our worlds collided:
As you can see, this list is a far cry from the Fauna Shaman/Vengevine/Deceiver/Twin decks that have been seeing play. Once you let go of all that stuff, you have a lot more room to play sweet Pod targets and some interactive spells. Why did we want to get away from the Twin combo? After all, Deceiver Exarch + Splinter Twin is a better combo than Donate + Illusions of Grandeur!
Deceiver/Twin is a strange combination of extremely powerful (so everyone has to tune their decks to be able to fight it) and easy to interact with (creature kill, enchantment kill, bounce, discard, permission, and locking permanents like Torpor Orb, Spellskite, Urabrask, Sparkmage/Collar, and so on). This combination basically paves the way for a format that is heavily incentivized to plays lot ways to beat the combo (that actually work).
The old RUG decks were generally the decks that used Jace, the Mind Sculptor best. Caw-Blade was a better deck but did not fully capitalize on Jace the same way RUG did, despite the Hawk/Jace synergy. We approached Birthing Pod as our Jace, the Mind Sculptor replacement. After all, every turn you activate Birthing Pod, it is like you are drawing a card. It isn’t just a single card draw, though. You have a massive number of choices, much the same way Jace always gave you so many choices. We figured if we could Pod every turn, we would generally be able to beat most people on the card advantage alone, to say nothing of just making an Inferno Titan.
This is a list where card-by-card analysis is actually very well suited and will hopefully provide some insight into the theory behind this deck. To begin with, the mana creature mix has been in flux throughout testing. MJ was using more Llanowar Elves, since having a one-drop mana creature leads to more explosive draws. We ended up going down to the current mix to address the problem of flooding out too often when someone can actually beat our Pod. Another mana creature we experimented with a fair bit was Nest Invader. Nest Invader is just more reliable than Lotus Cobra against Red and Vampires, but all of the decks we wanted to beat only had a very limited number of ways to actually kill a Cobra.
Is it possible we should have a fourth? Sure, it’s possible, but this isn’t like the old RUG deck where you need Lotus Cobra to function. I actually board one or even two Cobras out in some matchups (generally when I bring in Pyroclasm). Additionally, it should be remembered that it is a very common line to play Birds on turn one, followed by Birthing Pod on turn two. In games like this, we immediately look to tap our Birds to turn it into a Cobra on the next turn, which gives us five mana on turn three, just like Cobras usually do. The net result is that we have five mana on turn three more than must RUG decks, despite having only three Cobras.
All that said, if you want a fourth Cobra, the card to cut is Phantasmal Image (which was fine, but is probably the weakest card in the deck). Sylvan Ranger is vital to our chains, as he both gives us a target that we want to sacrifice to Pod next turn, as well as helping fix our colors (since we have only ten lands that produce blue despite needing it for Preordain/Ponder and only ten lands that make red, despite Hero, Urabrask, and the Inferno Titans all requiring double red).
The Phantasmal Image is certainly exciting but gets sideboarded out a fair bit. We keep asking ourselves if we should just cut it, since we board it out so much, but it really is much better game one. It gives us more of whatever our best action is against someone. After boarding, we are no longer as hard-pressed for redundancy. Additionally, our opponents will have more ways to stop our stuff, so copying effects are far less reliable. It is possible that we are sideboarding out the Image a little too often, but we lean towards the theory that it is a better game one card, out of our deck.
There are lots of tactics to keep in mind with Phantasmal Image, as the card is very tricky. To begin with, once an opponent lets you resolve Birthing Pod, they won’t be able to respond to the Phantasmal Image you go get. For instance, if your only creatures are Birds of Paradise and Inferno Titan, if they let you search after sacrificing the Birds, they can’t Dispatch the Titan before you copy it.
Tuktuk Scrapper is one of the most important Phantasmal Image targets. Why is it not a Manic Vandal or Oxidda Scrapmelter? Well, costing four instead of three is actually huge because against Tempered Steel, we want to go get a Cunning Sparkmage at three. We even have Sylvok Replica because of the crossover against Twin and the card Tempered Steel. What do we have at four? Obstinate Baloth? That is not what you want against Tempered Steel. So why not Oxidda Scrapmelter? The extra power and toughness is worth something, sure, but isn’t as important as Tuktuk Scrapper being optional (it sucks to have a Scrapmelter in hand and a Pod as the only artifact on the table, with no way to turn the Scrapper into Urabrask or Acidic Slime). The extra damage from the Scrapper is nice, of course, but the best part is how his ability stacks when you copy him. The Tuktuk Scrapper doesn’t just destroy an artifact when it enters the battlefield, it does it whenever any Ally enters under your control. This means the Scrapper himself kills one and deals one, but if you Phantasmal Image the Scrapper, you actually get to destroy two more artifacts and deal four damage! Add a Phyrexian Metamorph to the equation, and you now get to destroy three more artifacts and deal nine damage.
Obviously Phyrexian Metamorph has a lot of similar functionality to the Phantasmal Image, such as the ability to go turn three Acidic Slime into turn four copy it, to get free wins against mana-screwed opponents. Copying Baloth gives us much needed additional life gain game one against burn (which is much less of an issue after we board in the extra Baloths and Wurmcoil).
Another key function of Phantasmal Image is its ability to jump up the chain. Often we find ourselves in situations where our opponents have been killing most of our creatures. In situations like this, we can end up with a Birthing Pod and only a Birds to sacrifice. While it is reasonable to get a Sylvan and work our way up the chain naturally, Phantasmal Image lets us copy our opponent’s most expensive creature and then sacrifice it next turn. Other times, we won’t want to sacrifice our highest cost creature. For instance, if we have gotten all the way up to Inferno Titan, then what do we go get next? Well, often the only thing better than an Inferno Titan is two Inferno Titans.
Copying opponent’s creatures opens up new, powerful, and, at times, unexpected lines of play. For instance, many Twin decks use Spellskites, which we can copy for an extra layer of defense (especially since we will often have more life than they do due to our hasty beats).
Another common one is copying our opponent’s Lotus Cobra. It definitely sucks to be behind in tempo in games like that, but sometimes that play is “free” since we make two mana the turn we copy the Cobra, making up for its cost.
The laundry list of ways to use Clone effects in this format just goes on and on. Need to stop an Emeria Angel? Make one! Need to win in a hurry? Copy your Hero, and the game will end fast. After all, just imagine the opening hand of Cobra, Hero, either Clone, and any three land. That is Blackjack turn four!
Need to kill Elesh Norn? Clone it. Need to kill Glint Hawks? Clone your Sparkmage. Need to stop your opponent’s Birthing Pod? Well, definitely remember to Metamorph it first, if you can. Then use your Metamorphed Pod to go get a Replica, Scrapper, or Slime to get them to stop. Basically, getting used to thinking about games from the perspective of “what would a Phantasmal Image or Metamorph do in this matchup or this turn?” takes some time, but gives you access to a lot of very sweet plays.
Being able to copy artifacts with the Metamorph is primarily used for copying Birthing Pod, which is especially important against opponents with answers to your Pod. Often, the right play is to use the first Pod activation on turning a Sea Gate Oracle into a second Pod. As a note to those who would suggest Voltaic Key, we have found that when you are Pod-ing, you are winning anyway. Voltaic Key is just too bad on its own. Why go get a Trinket Mage and a Key, when we could just go get a Metamorph and have a second Pod? Besides, if they destroy the Pod, the Key sucks. If they destroy one of our two Pods, we laugh at them and keep grinding.
Speaking of cards that everyone and their mother is going to suggest, we didn’t forget about Solemn Simulacrum. Believe you me, I love a Solemn Simulacrum more than most, and MJ had to beat me over the head with not playing the card till I understood. After all, an extra land, an extra card? What more value could you ask for? Besides, he is another way to get a turn four Titan.
Still, MJ always insisted that Vengevine was the default four, not Solemn. He kept playing with it, since it seems so obvious, and I was so adamant. Still, he kept pointing out that it isn’t really what you want often enough. For instance, if you are trying to get to Urabrask, sometimes it is right to just not draw a card from Solemn, since if you ever draw the Urabrask off the trigger, you could lose on the spot. Besides, when you are using the Pod and you are already up to four, an extra land and an extra card are just more of what you already have.
Vengevine gives you a new dimension. Now, if you get Day of Judgment-ed, you can get an expensive creature back next turn and resume climbing the chain. Additionally, the four damage helps put pressure on the opponent setting up Urabrask or Hero kills.
Who do you want a Solemn against? We have so many great targets that usually there is something we actually want to get, and when there isn’t, Vengevine is more of what we actually need. Solemn is an excellent card that we would go get some amount of the time, but it isn’t worth the space here, in our opinions.
A key to good deckbuilding? You have to be able to kill your darlings. You think I wanted to run only three Jaces maindeck in Paris? Nothing is sacred.
While we are on the four-drops, let’s take a quick glance at the rest of them. Vengevine isn’t just the default four; it is also the ideal target against Caw-Blade, U/B Control, Vampires, and Valakut (most of the time). Obstinate Baloth is obviously who we want against red, though sometimes you need the extra life against all sorts of decks.
Finally, Hero of Oxid Ridge is like a second Vengevine in some regards, but his ability to stop blocking by Sea Gate Oracles, Deceivers, Hawks, and Battlements combined with his ability to hit for a lot of damage make him a legitimate backup plan on his own.
This particular RUG deck has an uncanny ability to kill out of nowhere, almost like Faeries with its Mistbind Cliques and Scions tempo-ing someone out because they made the mistake of dropping to 16. There is a ton of play to it, and one of most important areas is with regards to a plan. While you are playing, it is so important to have purpose, to have a plan that is driving your actions. Are you going to win with Hero? Are you going to set up Urabrask? Inferno Titan? Are you going to bury your opponent with card advantage and 187s? Like Survival decks, each bullet opens up another line of play to consider. Getting a feel for which lines are best when is crucial.
Speaking of Urabrask, he actually does a number of things for us. To begin with, he is another way to lock out Twin. More importantly though, he gives us another plan against everyone. Like Hero of Oxid Ridge, Urabrask gives us even more haste and is surprisingly effective at ending games out of nowhere. For instance, often all we can do is try to race Valakut. Urabrask hits for four immediately, makes the Titan or Avenger (and plants) that comes down next turn unable to block and lets whatever we play next turn have haste. Obviously this is game over if we have an Inferno Titan, but even a Phantasmal Image or Metamorph on our opponent’s Primeval Titan or Avenger will generally lead to a lethal swing.
One other great aspect of Urabrask is that he provides an alternative to Acidic Slime (which is definitely the default five-drop). Acidic Slime solves most problems, but there are going to be games where the Slime is not what you want. In such games, having access to an option that is as different as possible is ideal. This is because if something similar to an Acidic Slime is what you want, then an Acidic Slime can generally work. The games you need the alternative are when a Slime is nowhere near the right kind of card.
Urabrask the Hidden is the perfect alternative. He is a Baneslayer Angel, instead of a Mulldrifter. He is aggressive instead of defensive. He gets tempo instead of card advantage. He addresses the Twin matchup, whereas Slime does little there. He complements the hasty Vengevine and Hero aspect of the chain, where Acidic Slime complements the 187s.
That we have no sevens is probably not as surprising as the decision to play two Inferno Titans instead of one Inferno Titan and one Frost Titan. We certainly started with a Frost Titan, but MJ found that the number of times we went to go get Frost Titan where it mattered was less than the number of times that a second Inferno Titan would matter (either by drawing or just getting another one after the first was killed). The only matchup where we really miss the Frost Titan is Valakut, and despite always asking ourselves if a Frost Titan would be what we need, we have never wanted to go back.
The nail in the coffin was when MJ tried to Frost Titan my Mountain, while I was playing U/R Twin in testing. He had already destroyed a Mountain with a Slime and was looking to keep me off of double red (a noble goal, indeed). When I untapped it end of turn with a Deceiver, MJ tilt-swapped the Frost Titan for an Inferno; however we liked the change so much we stuck with it.
Finishing up the creature selection, Sea Gate Oracle is obviously the default three-drop, giving us the fuel we need to get paid from our Pod-ing. It is possible that four is actually the correct number, but it is just so slow to draw three of that guy. Cunning Sparkmage gives us a very different angle of attack and is most often retrieved against Tempered Steel, Caw-Blade (usually once they tap out for a Hawk), and against Lotus Cobra. We considered Basilisk Collar and Trinket Mage, but we just wouldn’t set it up often enough to be worth it (even with the alternative Inferno Titan + Collar combo).
Sylvok Replica gives us a good three to go get against Twin, as well as a Pod-able target that can beat a Torpor Orb. Hitting Tempered Steel, the card, is actually huge, since we have so many ways to kill their artifacts and small creatures. While we only have three targets at three, they are all radically different types of cards. One is a Baneslayer (Sparkmage), one is a Mulldrifter (Sea Gate), and one is a spell-like effect that works very differently from our other cards (lets us use an activated ability at instant speed, instead of as a 187â€”i.e. Twin, Torpor Orb).
The mix of Preordains and Ponders is sure to make more than one reader smile. Why do we use four Ponders and two Preordain, despite Preordain being a better card? As always, Ponder’s value scales up proportionately to the number of shufflers you play. With nine fetchlands, a Sylvan Ranger, three Sea Gates, and four Pods, we have way more than enough shuffle effects to push Ponder’s power level. Additionally, every card in our deck that is not Birthing Pod is much worse than Birthing Pod, for us.
As a result, we really, really want to maximize our chances of finding one, since if we do, the “drawback” of Ponder is irrelevant. My advice on using Ponder in this deck? Be willing to shuffle. Ask yourself what you’re looking for. Just because the top cards are fine doesn’t make them what you really want. Also, remember to try to set it up so that you get the card or two cards you want, and time a shuffle to follow.
While not playing four Birthing Pods in some less dedicated Pod decks is fine (assuming you aren’t allowed to make them use it better), this deck is so much more powerful when you get to Pod that it is worth risking drawing multiples often. As for the support spells, Nature’s Claim was the card I wanted most, as mentioned above. Against Tempered Steel, it is a one-mana, instant-speed Vindicate. So often, just drawing a single removal spell early will buy you the time you need to get the Pod engine going or get a Titan on the table.
Against Caw-Blade, it breaks up their ability to Sword you, which is one of the few ways they have to gain a real advantage. Additionally, the possibility of hitting Inkmoth Nexus, a Golem token, or a Spellskite is all worth something. While RUG Twin is favorable for us game one, U/R can be a bit more challenging. Having access to more types of interaction is huge. It also gives us meaningful disruption against Pyromancer Ascension.
We expected a fair number of Pod decks, and having access to answers to their Pods is huge. Against Mono Red, hitting Shrine is game-winning, and sometimes you really do just need to Nature’s Claim to gain four life. Extra Pods are a common target, but remember to keep Sylvok Replica and Phyrexian Metamorph in mind. The card is pretty awful against Vampires, Goblins, some U/B Controls, or Valakut, but is easily sideboarded out.
The Forked Bolt seems a little random, and most are surprised that it isn’t an Arc Trail. To begin with, we wanted more cheap removal, since the formula against these aggro decks is to play even just one removal spell early, then value them out with our midrange plan. Forked Bolt is excellent against Tempered Steel (like Claim) but reduces the number of games where we draw two against the matchups where Claim is dead.
While you can often overcome drawing a single Nature’s Claim against some of these decks (a mulligan), drawing two can be brutal.
Why Forked Bolt instead of Arc Trail? Saving the mana was the most important thing. We are using these cards to try to gain tempo in the early game anyway. When our opponent plays a Goblin Guide, we don’t want to have to wait a turn to try to get a little more value. We want to be able to Preordain or Ponder on turn two and Forked Bolt in the same turn. Basically, we just think that Forked Bolt gives us more of what we really need, tempo.
The lands are fairly straightforward, though we did experiment with lands like Halimar Depths, Raging Ravine, and Tectonic Edge. At the end of the day, all we wanted was tempo and consistency. As a result, tapped lands and colorless lands had to be cut. While only 22 land with Cobra seems loose, we do have six cantrips, a Sylvan Ranger, and three Sea Gate Oracles, so it feels like a lot more.
Act of Aggression out of the board is our most interesting sideboard card. It provides additional disruption against Twin but is also an excellent plan against any Titan-based strategy, especially Valakut. We tried sideboarding Deceiver/Twin, but it takes up a ton of slots and is what people are preparing to beat anyway. A crucial play to keep in mind with Act of Aggression is to steal a creature, hit them with it, then sacrifice it to Birthing Pod(!). You don’t always have to bring in all three, as sometimes two is all you want in some matchups where it is good, not great.
Pyroclasm gives us a very powerful way to interact with decks like Goblins and Elves, as well as some tuning options for Birds of Paradise decks and Tempered Steel. I often board out a Cobra or two if I am bringing in Clasms.
Entomber Exarch is castable off of Cobras and Birds but is mainly as a disruptive four-drop against Twin and Valakut. I am not convinced it is worth it, as my only Constructed loss came against U/R Twin when I drew an Entomber, and if it had been any creature or another Act of Aggression (when I only boarded in two), it would have won the game for me. That said, it does offer a lot of new angles, especially when you factor in the Gravedigger element.
Vengevine comes in against Caw-Blade, control decks, Valakut, Vampires, and Mono Red. That is a lot of the field, but remember it is our general-purpose card, and in game one, we always have something that is bad against someone. Vengevine is the general-purpose card we can bring in against basically everyone.
I will be discussing more of my actual Nationals experience Monday, as well as discussing sideboarding, matchups, and how to evolve the deck. I just received a number of requests to discuss the deck before this weekend and wanted to lay out the basics today. I ended up finishing ninth on breaks at Nationals (only 11-3 to not make it). My Constructed record was 7-1, with my only loss coming at the hands of Matt Nass with U/R Twin (in two heartbreakingly close games). I defeated Caw-Blade, GrimBlade, Tempered Steel, Valakut, two RUG TwinPods, and one identical mirror. I highly recommend this strategy in the weeks to come, as it is very strong against Caw-Blade, a deck that I expect to continue to be popular.
See you, Monday!