The first StarCityGames.com Invitational of the year was this past weekend, and as I write this, I am going into Day Two at 5-2-1. This has been a
particularly busy month for Constructed preparation, with testing Block and Draft for the Pro Tour, Legacy for the Grand Prix, and Standard and Legacy
for the Invitational, as well as brainstorming decks for the new Modern format. Combine all of this with the host of powerful New Phyrexia cards, and
you have a situation where no one has time to focus heavily on all of these events. While this can be hard, it’s not a bad thingâ€”just more
I had the pleasure of working with SCG Open Masters, Gerry Thompson and Drew Levin, on this event, for which I’m very grateful. We discussed technology
in the weeks leading into the event, and I ended up just playing the deck they told me to. I was going to go rogue in Legacy, but amusingly, I was
finally hit with card availability issuesâ€”an obstacle I have managed to avoid nearly my entire career.
Two-format events always pose the question of how much time and energy to put into each. It’s tempting to focus all the time on Legacy, a format that
is allegedly more fun to play and to build decks for compared to current Caw-Bladeâ€”I mean, Standard. However, both formats are going to be
crucial. Add to this the fact that Standard is actually really,
really awesome if you enjoy playing Caw-Blade (which I do).
Caw-Blade mirrors used to be a lot more draw-dependent, but fortunately New Phyrexia is full of great cards that help fix this! The really cool part is
that over half of the ten best cards in the set go in Caw-Blade! (Batterskull, Dismember, Mental Misstep, Sword of War and Peace, Spellskite, Phyrexian
Metamorph.) This doesn’t even count cards like Despise or Deceiver Exarch that go in three-color variants of Caw-Blade.
Yeah, I know. It sounds like I am trolling, but in all seriousness, why not look for the silver lining? It’s no secret that this format is a one-deck
format, and I know that is not what people want to hear, but I’m just keeping it real with you. The interesting thing about New Phyrexia’s impact on
Caw-Blade is that it has made the mirror match an exceptionally skill-testing chess match. There are so many subtle nuances, varied and complex lines
of play, and tiny edges to be gained. It’s great if you like chess, though I concede it is not the best for the game, since most Magic players are not
playing Magic for a pure chess match.
The way I see it, though, this format won’t be around forever. I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t make it through the month. However, while it is
here, I aim to make the most of it. It’s very rare indeed for a format to go the direction that this one has. Was the Academy era completely busted?
Yeah, but while it was around, you might as well get your turn 1 kills in and laugh about it. Everything changes, and this too shall pass, so why not
just enjoy it while it is here? Why not find the beauty? We may never get to see something like this again.
The SCG Invitational and the Standard Grand Prix in Singapore were basically the last two events for challengers to step up and prove that nothing
needs to be banned. As I write this, there is still one more day of competition in both, but I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Caw-Blade
utterly dominates both (probably even the Legacy portion of the Invitational!).
Caw-Blade’s completely unrivaled success since its very inception is without dispute, but recently, it has been becoming more and more clear that
Caw-Blade is the most dominant Standard deck of all time.
Have there been other broken decks? Absolutely, but you always have to look at decks in context. Faeries? Jund? Valakut? None of these decks come even
remotely close to the level of dominance enjoyed by Caw-Blade. To find a worthy candidate to consider for the all-time title, we have to look at
Full-On Affinity and Full-On Academy. The thing is, as broken as those decks were, they both could be targeted by hate. Oxidize? Meltdown? These
hateful cards didn’t stop those decks from dominating at completely unheard of levels, but they did help keep them from getting to the numbers that
Caw-Blade (and only Caw-Blade) has been at for months.
Have there been Top 8s of all Affinity? Yeah, but that’s not the question. Neither Affinity nor Academy was able to dominate for nearly as long because
both were the target of multiple bansâ€”Skullclamp, Arcbound Ravager, Disciple of the Vault, the artifact lands, as well as Tolarian
Academy, Windfall, Time Spiral, and Lotus Petal. Both formats were broken down due to the rise of degenerate strategies with so much power that no
single ban could solve the format’s problems.
For instance, just look what happened to Affinity when Skullclamp alone was banned. Did it hurt Affinity? Well, sort of. In reality, Affinity lived on
and no longer had to compete with other Skullclamp decks. Elf and Nail and Goblins were no longer realistic deck choices.
The last thing we want is for cards to get banned that actually push out Caw-Blade’s competition.
There are some outspoken critics that claim Standard is fine or, comically enough, actually the “best format ever.” If your metric is “skill-testing,”
then sure, this is definitely a very skill-testing format (as long as you understand that the primary skill being tested is how good you are at the
Those who say that SCG Open players are just not incentivized to innovate are deluded. The incentive is winning. I’ll concede that the skill involved
in Caw-Blade mirrors is more pronounced at the amateur level, but the amateur level is where the vast majority of Magic takes place.
Besides, it isn’t as if Caw-Blade didn’t crush at the Pro Tour and the GPs. Those who say that other strategies are good or even better, please go
ahead and look at the scoreboard. Those who say that Splinter Twin beats Caw-Blade have to remember two things.
1) Maybe there should be 70% Caw-Blade, 20% Twin, 10% everything else, but the format is never really going to look like that. There are just too many
players who will never play Caw-Blade out of contrarian desires or card availability or personal style. As a result, Caw-Blade will always be underplayed, so trying to hate it out is a generally losing proposition.
2) I agree with you completely that two weeks ago Twin beat Caw-Blade. How do you suppose the Twin of tomorrow does against the Caw-Blade of tomorrow?
Let’s say that your Twin deck beats a random Caw-Blade opponent 65% of the time (which I suspect is pretty generous). What do you think an expert
Caw-Blade player’s win percentage in the mirror is? Caw-Blade mirror matches are actually so skill-testing that an expert Caw-Blade player is
definitely going to post a record that is miles better, even in the stone mirror.
Caw-Blade is much different from Affinity and Academy in that it is inherently interactive, while those two were almost completely not. Additionally,
Caw-Blade is not linear at all, attacking on so many levels that no “hosers” exist. If you would argue that Affinity or Academy (or Necro) was more
dominate, I would point to the win percentages. Neither Affinity nor Academy nor Necro ever put up the kind of prolonged success that Caw-Blade has.
Is it possible that this is a function of players being worse back then; information spreading more slowly; bannings; more big events; or any number of
other “excuses?” Sure, but whatever the excuse, there is no denying that no deck has ever taken such a high percentage of Top 8 slots, especially wins,
for an extended period of time (let alone four months).
We are long past deciding if we are heroes or villains. Didn’t you get the memo about New Phyrexia? The set’s theme is “the bad guys win!” It breaks my
heart to imagine Aaron Forsythe look of sadness when he witnessed the Caw-Blade Phyrexian oil strip me of my love for Tezzeret, Mono-B, U/B, Fauna
Shaman, and Splinter Twin. If the Phyrexians are a metaphor for Caw-Blade, Forsythe is Jor Kadeen.
A hero would love to tune a deck to beat the “best” deck and step up to the challenge. A hero would find underappreciated synergies, clever angles of
attack, ways of playing nothing but good anti-Caw-Blade cards main, and trumps for defeating those Caw-Blade villians who just keep using the same
netdeck. A hero knows he is going to have to face over half-a-dozen Caw-Blade players (and that is just in the Standard portion…) if he wants to win
the event, but he is also (probably) going to have to face enough non-Caw-Blade players that only realistic and intrinsically powerful strategies will
suffice. A true hero is fearless and will not back down from the enemy but knows that pure hate won’t pay off without enough power to back it up. A
hero would fight to the death to prove that no bans are needed to stop the best deck from two weeks ago.
A villian would play the best deck, Caw-Blade. A villain would just practice with Caw-Blade, know the sideboarding in-and-out and know which Equipment
to get when. A villain knows that Caw-Blade is the best by a mile and will give him the best chances, so he uses it to extract wins from those foolish
enough to not Caw-Blade themselves and uses expertise, discipline, and tactics to overcome the variance inherent in the mirror as a result of the die
roll (which is so very important in Caw-Blade mirrors). A true villain is fearless and will not back down from a field comprised purely of hate and
opponents who have tested against him incessantly. A villain would fight to the death to prove that bans are the only way anyone is going to stop the
deck from two weeks ago.
I can’t help it. This is how corruption works! How do you think the devil is so tempting? Phyrexian oil, corruption, playing Caw-Blade, knowledge of
good and evil, The Truthâ€”it’s all the same thing. The nectar is impossibly sweet and once tasted cannot be forgotten. As much as I want to blame
Kibler (who do you think named it Caw-Blade, anyway…?), it’s that serpent Gerry Thompson who lured me into taking that first bite.
There are formats where the best deck is so good that it should be played by more people than will ever play it. In formats like this, my
theory is that there has to be a compelling reason to play anything other than the broken deck, particularly if the broken deck is skill intensive.
Since Caw-Blade performs better than everything else, is very skill intensive, and will never get played by enough people to justify the totally
anti-Caw-Blade deck, I’m planning on tuning it for Indy.
Does this make me a villain? Maybe, but maybe, just maybe, it will take a villian to defeat these bad guys. I’m going to tune a deck to beat the “best
deck” and step up to the challenge. My eyes are open for the synergies, angles, and trumps. I’ll be preparing for countless Caw-Blade matchesâ€”but
with a strategy that beats the “other” decks. It just so happens that my strategy will revolve around Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Stoneforge Mystic,
Preordain, Sword of Feast and Famine, and Batterskull. If no one can hate them out, why not?
It will no doubt disappoint many readers to hear this full-fledged conversion to the Dark Side, but remember, formats come and go. It’s not often that
I’m full-fledged villain, and it won’t be forever. It’s just that this format looks so broken to me that it’s my duty to help prove it. Here is the
list that Gerry, Drew, and I brought to the Invitational:
- 2 Mana Leak
- 3 Divine Offering
- 4 Preordain
- 1 Sword of Feast and Famine
- 1 Batterskull
- 2 Mental Misstep
- 1 Sword of War and Peace
- 3 Dismember
While this format may be a one-deck format, it’s still rife with innovation and beautiful in its own way . It is not just that there is a variety of Caw-Blade decks possible; even the baseline U/W deck is constantly evolving and
developing incredible and clever new technology.
Phyrexian Metamorph immediately jumps off the page and is the sort of tech that you can’t help but like more and more, the longer you be with it. Straight up, GerryT’s Phyrexian Metamorph technology is just nice. It’s such a good card, and people don’t even realize it yet,
since it is a “clone” variant (which have never been this good before). Let’s compare it to Clone for a moment.
Clone sees fringe tournament play and offers basically no advantages over the Metamorph. So what are the Metamorph’s advantages? Well, the difference
between three and four is light years. You can’t even Inquisition of Kozilek him! And the mana is actually easier. You don’t even have to play blue! To
sweeten the pot even more, you can copy artifacts! Sculpting Steel has seen play, and this card is just miles better in almost every way. Finally, as
Brian Kibler can attest to, the Metamorph is an artifact, even if you copy a non-artifact creature, which can be sweet with cards like Steel Oversteer.
Long story short, Phyrexian Metamorph is a really powerful card that we will be seeing a lot more of.
Now, to add a little context, Phyrexian Metamorph is just the perfect card for Caw-Blade in the world of all Caw-Blade mirrors. Anyone who has ever
played Caw-Blade in a tournament knows the feeling of keeping a Squadron Hawk draw and having to face down an opponent with a Stoneforge draw. Well,
now Metamorph gives you a fifth and sixth Stoneforge. Interestingly, if you don’t draw Squadron Hawk, the Metamorph makes a perfect Squadron Hawk. If
you’ve never indulged in the unadulterated pleasure of Metamorphing a Hawk and finding the other four Hawks (not all at once), you don’t know what you’re
missing! Then, later, when you’ve had your fun, bounce it with your Jace and turn it into something besides a 1/1 flier!
I would hope this has already been enough to sell you on Phyrexian Metamorph. Still, it doesn’t stop there. Copying Emeria Angel lets you keep up with
an opponent that has one when you don’t (or lets you totally take over with one of your own). Still, the truly hot part is when you copy a piece of
Equipment. At this point, Divine Offerings are everywhere (especially after sideboarding). What do you do if your opponent Divine Offerings your
Batterskull? Copy his! This can also be a great way to gain Batterskull advantage, and what’s even sicker is how well Phyrexian Metamorph works with
Batterskull’s bounce ability. Batterskull takes eight mana to fully rebuy, but Phyrexian Metamorph costs only six! Plus, you can feel free to upgrade
it to absolutely anything else, if you can find a better target.
Emeria Angel is perhaps less surprising, but it is hardly universally adopted. There are a lot of reasonable plans to consider for
Caw-Bladeâ€”Mirran Crusader, Sun Titan, Gideon Jura, Jace Beleren, and more. I agree with Gerry completely on this one. Emeria Angel can trump just
about all the good Caw-Blade plans if you can keep up with your opponent’s Equipment. Removal and counterspells are so bad in the Caw-Blade mirror. It
isn’t like your opponent will always have an answer. Add to this the ease of sideboarding in some Spellskites to help protect her.
The big thing to remember with Emeria Angel is that she really goes hand in hand with Divine Offering because it’s crucial you don’t fall behind in the
arms race. Keep up on gear, and she’ll do the rest. It’s generally a good idea to try to play her as a five-drop, so that you can always get at least
one use out of her (under the assumption that she draws out a Dismember). If she somehow lives, the extra turn generally doesn’t matter that much. This
is particularly true if you have other good stuff to do, like play Jace or two Hawks. One last point on Emeria Angel, she can block a Mirran Crusader
by herself. I’m sure I’m not alone in always wanting to throw a Bird and the Angel in front of the Crusader. You don’t have to!
Mental Misstep replacing Spell Pierce might surprise, but seriously, Mental Misstep is just that good. The primary targets are black discard spells,
Goblin Guide, mana dorks, and of course Preordain (and I suppose Spell Pierce). Besides, Spell Pierce is really overrated anyway. That just isn’t what
the format is about anymore. Jace advantage doesn’t mean what it used to. Stoneforge is miles better in the mirror, and the sheer volume of good,
aggressive Equipment lets Squadron Hawks clean up Jaces reasonably well. We even board out Mana Leaks in the mirror most of the time, anyway.
It seems like Mental Misstep is a little wild, but just try it. It’s obviously unreal against Vampire Lacerator, Goblin Guide, Steppe Lynx, and Joraga
Treespeaker, but it’s at its best countering that discard spell they needed to hit your Mystic with. It isn’t amazing against U/W Caw-Blade, but it
still hits Preordain and Spell Pierce, plus occasionally Condemn or Gitaxian Probe. You need something to sideboard out!
Only two Mana Leaks shouldn’t surprise you, as you’ve surely heard that counterspells are generally pretty bad against Caw-Blade (65% of the field at
this point). All the space cleared up by the missing Spell Pierces and Mana Leaks helps make room for three Divine Offerings and three Dismembers. Can
it suck to draw multiple Divine Offerings against non-Caw-Blade players? Sure, but honestly there is really just that much Caw-Blade now, and Divine
Offerings still hit Tezzeret, G/W, Precursor Golem, and Tempered Steel. Just shuffle dead ones away with Jace! It’s often tempting to always want to go
after Batterskull, but be mindful of Sword of War and Peace. Emeria Angel can provide blockers for Batterskull for a long time, but Sword of War and
Peace can provide an unblockable clock that ends things real fast.
Dismember seems like it’s going to cost a lot of life, but let’s be serious. Batterskull and War and Peace make your life total the least of your
worries. The ability to get ahead on tempo is huge. For instance, killing a turn 2 Mystic on the draw can actually turn the tables and “steal” the play
from your opponent. If you can’t kill the Mystic, you’re going to be looking down the barrel of a Batterskull real quick. Additionally, a turn 3
Dismember helps you make two good plays in the same turn, which is so crucial. Additionally, Dismember helps answer Emeria Angel, Fauna Shaman, and
Deceiver Exarch much better than, say, Condemn.
Two Scalding Tarns and two Arid Mesas are a concession to the Emeria Angel, but more interesting is the fourth Glacial Fortress over the fourth
Celestial Colonnade. The games are so tempo-oriented that the land entering the battlefield tapped really is more likely to matter than the additional
dude. Swords and Skulls, not to mention Dismembers and Emeria Angels, all make Celestial Colonnade less of a trump than it once was. It’s a little sad
to not have room for Inkmoth Nexus, but the extra Birds from Emeria Angel more than make up for it, not to mention the mana is more stable.
Most Caw-Blade players don’t play the full 27 land, but I think that’s a big mistake, especially if you’re greedy and playing three colors (foolishly).
Yes, Inquisition of Kozilek is a good card, but Phyrexian Metamorph and Divine Offering can do that work without making your mana base randomly fall
apart N% of the time against a double Edge draw (or worse, you just not “getting there”). Emeria Angel helps pay you for all these lands, and
seriously, when you have a deck this good, sometimes you just want to make sure you can cast your spells.
Let’s look at a couple cards that are conspicuously absent. Jace Beleren, the so-called key to winning the Jace War, has lost his purpose now that Jace
isn’t even what the matchup is about. Without Belerens, Sun Titan doesn’t pull his weight (particularly when it often gets trumped by Emeria Angel).
Gideon is a fine card but unfortunately doesn’t really do anything you need in the mirror, and things that cost more than four are just too slow. For a
good explanation on why Gideon’s time has passed, I recommend Gerry’s article here.
Gitaxian Probe is a fine card, and I wouldn’t fault anyone for making room for some. I was a split second away from cutting one Dismember and one land
to make room for two Gitaxian Probes, but I ended up caving last minute to hedge against Splinter Twin.
Mirran Crusader is just this guy. I get that he’s cute with Swords and immune to Dismember, but he’s so soft to Jace, and Emeria Angel wins the heads
up. He isn’t bad, but he isn’t exciting, and I think we can do better.
Spellskite is a great sideboard, and I even bring a couple in against some Caw-Blade opponents, but cutting Hawks for Spellskites is just too greedy.
If you wanted to make room for some in the maindeck in addition to Hawks, I suppose it would be okay, but you’d have to really want an edge against
Day of Judgment is relegated to the sideboard on account of being generally bad in the mirror (even more so, due to Batterskull), but it’s still
important against those jokers playing U/G midrange decks.
I played a Deprive in the board instead of the second Sword of War and Peace that Gerry and Drew played, for two reasons. First, they like cutting
Sword of Feast and Famine in the mirror, while I do not. I like blocking Batterskull indefinitely without their gaining life, and I like the threat of
untapping my lands. Additionally, I like Deprive as an additional anti-Twin card, the one non-mirror matchup I really respect. Could this be a better
anti-Twin card? Probably.
Sideboard Plans Against All The Best Decks:
-2 Mana Leak, -2 Mental Misstep (instead +4 Mental Misstep, -2 Spellskite, -2 Dismember if they play black)
+2 Spellskite, +1 Divine Offering, +1 Batterskull (and obviously some of the other reactive cards if they splash Splinter Twin)
All right, I realize today has been a pretty gross Caw-Blade love fest, but you gotta admit Phyrexian Metamorph is hot! Still, I’ll make it up to you.
Wednesday, we’ll switch to Legacy. In addition to discussing the deck that I played this past week, I’ll also break down the hot new combo deck I would
have played, if not for card availability issues. I suppose in some twisted way, this is justice for going on and on about Jace in every deck (when card availability is a very real issue).
Still, the deck is sweet and sure to meet the “innovative quota.” See you then!