None Of The Answers

Friday, March 11 – Sometimes, even the best players, even Players of the Year, don’t have all the answers. Instead, there are questions. Brad asks some poignant ones about Standard and Extended.

I spent the last week doing nothing but playing Magic. You would think that, after an entire week of playing, I would have something interesting and
profound to talk about, but that just isn’t the case. I sat in front of a blank screen for hours upon hours, trying to figure out what to say. I even
had to talk Steve Sadin into giving me an extra day to write my article. It wasn’t until Wednesday that I figured out why I kept hitting this wall.
Nothing is black and white right now.

Both Standard and Extended are in a state of flux right now, and I don’t know what the best decks to play or the best versions actually are. This is a
bit strange for me, since I pride myself on having up-to-the-minute lists every time I write an article.

I don’t know if you know this yet, but my goal for this column is to make your lives easier. I put the hours into figuring out what is good and what
isn’t, so you don’t have to.

Also, I can’t stop playing Magic… ever… so I usually have enough material.

I just put in an entire week of work, and I still don’t know what decks are the best. So this week, I guess I’ll just tell you everything I do know and
let you guys take your pick.

There is a very scary thing going on in Standard right now. We all know that Caw-Blade is the most popular (and most successful) deck among the masses,
but the best version has not been determined yet, since the deck is still so young. Some people are playing with a black or a red splash, while others
are just staying with the original colors.

I tested Sparkblade a great deal the day after Gerry Thompson unveiled it to the world. It seemed like a very good deck in a metagame full of U/W
versions of the deck. This is because Gerry’s U/W/R version is loaded with cards that are good in the mirror. I kept playing the deck online and soon
realized where it was weak.

Soon after Sparkblade hit the scene, Gerard and company brought a new version to the table. Esper Caw-Blade is the newest version of the deck, and I
don’t know how long it will take for Bant to make an appearance.

Now I know that our version for the Pro Tour needed more work to make it in the real world. That deck was there to be good for that tournament.
We were not sure what the final list should look like, but, guess what, time was up. We took the best version we had and prayed. It worked out.

Since there’s no deadline, people are pursuing other possibilities. They work on the mirror match and try to get an edge there. This is really opening
up room for the metagame to attack back at the deck, since there are quite a few slots dedicated for the mirror.

The first deck that comes to mind is Valakut. Gerry Thompson knew that the Valakut matchup got worse, but I don’t really think he figured it would be
that bad. The problem is that the Valakut matchup is in fact that bad.

The original version of Caw-Blade was able to beat Valakut in a number of different ways. It could win with an early Stoneforge Mystic for Sword of
Feast and Famine, or it could play control long enough for Jace or Gideon to take over the game. This is something that Sparkblade just cannot do. They
really need to hit an early Stoneforge Mystic or lose after countering one, maybe two spells.

Esperblade seems like it might have a slightly better matchup against Valakut than its U/W/R counterpart, but it still has to be very aggressive.
Outside of Inquisition of Kozilek and Mana Leak, the deck has zero ways to disrupt an opponent when Stoneforge Mystic is not on the table.

Inquisition of Kozilek, Cunning Sparkmage, Doom Blade, and Lightning Bolt are all very good cards in the metagame. The only problem with them is that
they take away from Caw-Blade’s original game plan. I’m not saying it’s wrong to add these cards. All I’m saying is that these cards are being added to
a shell, and nothing else is changing about the deck. I think it will take a lot more time to figure out whether these splashes are worth a poor
Valakut matchup and whether the ole U/W version can find a good strategy for the three-color mirror. Like I said, I don’t have the answers, but I do
know the questions (running theme today).

Before I go any further I would

like to apologize to Gerry Thompson. Earlier in the week, I told him I wanted to write an extensive article on Caw-Blade and its variants. He told
me he would just touch on the deck and let me write the article. Later in the week, I found it very difficult to write the whole report because of
the problems I mentioned earlier. I think this might have caused him to tread lightly on the subject, and for that, I apologize not only to you
guys, but to Gerry as well. I’m sorry.

Where are the Fauna Shamans?

The next thing that I wanted to understand about Standard was why Fauna Shaman decks haven’t begun to run wild. The door for them might have already
closed, since Caw-Blade is starting to attack itself so much that Valakut will once again be a powerhouse. If this is not the case, it seems that Fauna
Shaman should make a comeback.

Valakut is the reason that midrange green decks couldn’t be played, since they had to be fast enough to beat the 4/5-turn clock that the ramp deck put
on the format. However, against Caw-Blade, which doesn’t have the same clock, the Survival Elf can be a big problem for players who are trying to win
with Hawks and Jaces. Even hits from the swords can fuel the Vengevine fire…

I know that the best color to pair Fauna Shaman with is white. This is because of the other powerful two-drops in the color. Stoneforge Mystic and
Squadron Hawk have both proved themselves on their own, but they’re also very good in an animal deck filled with Vengevines and Fauna Shamans. There
just aren’t many other cards I’d want to play to fill out a deck like this. This deck also needs a decent way to deal with other animal decks like
Boros and Vampires.

This is where I will ask another question inside this question.

Is Arc Trail really as good as it seems right now?

This goes for both Standard and Extended. Arc Trail is actually the reason I want to play red in both formats. I know this card should only go in
aggressive decks, since Pyroclasm sweeps every problem that Arc Trail already hits. The only reason to play Arc Trail over Pyroclasm is that being
aggressive pays off in both formats. Control is a very hard thing to pull off right now, and we have Swords and Stoneforge Mystic to thank for this.

So many decks have really good creatures in the early turns and rely on them to help their game plan.


Boros has a tough time dealing with a turn 2 Arc Trail. Not saying they just lose, but it really hurts their chances to win. It also is very hard to
get a turn 2 Stoneforge Mystic’s equipment into play if it gets Arc Trailed; they lose too much tempo in the process.

Vampires doesn’t want to lose two of its creatures, since it will make it significantly harder to get an opponent’s life total close to zero and/or get
a big enough “fireball” out of the Highborn.

Elves doesn’t like to lose their first guys, since they don’t really have a good second wave.

It’s not even that bad against Caw-Blade, since you can kill the first couple of creatures they put on the board.


Half of the decks in this format run Arbor Elf or Noble Hierarch. The other ones run Kitchen Finks and Stoneforge Mystic. I don’t really need to go
much further than that.

Arc Trail just seems bonkers! As Kibler would say, “That card seems gross!”

“Yeah, Brad, we already knew this and didn’t have to waste five minutes of our lives reading this article.” If this is you, please skip the next part.
If not, please keep your seat belts on and take one more ride.

Is Gideon Jura really as good as it seems right now?

Gideon Jura was the hot guy back in Paris, but he’s just getting better. He’s not only the best card against aggressive decks, but he’s an absolute
all-star in the mirror match. Swords really needs to hit players to be good. The abilities are scary when they hit you but not when they hit big
Gideon. He just laughs off the damage and gets the loyalty back next turn unless he sees a Jace, the Mind Sculptor in front of him. He’s cool with
standing beside a Jace but never across from one.

This guy really does it all. I see people cut copies of this card in Caw-Blade, and it makes zero sense. The only reason we didn’t run four of this
badass is that the first copy never really dies.

This guy is the best card in the Caw-Blade deck. It’s also a good reason to run this card in other aggressive decks. Not only does it do a great job
for you even if you’re aggro, but it kills opposing Gideons.

Okay, okay, back to the Fauna Shaman question. I know that Cunning Sparkmage is good against most of the decks — and I know that G/W aggro decks are
already bad against Valakut. This makes it silly to try to make this deck win that matchup anyway. So let’s brew a list that has it all! (Well, besides
a chance to beat Valakut.)

The mana base in a deck like this will probably need some work. Mirran Crusader causes those problems, but I think this is the type of card that’s
needed in a deck like this to put a significant amount of early pressure on your opponents. Now I don’t want you to just sleeve this up and take this
to your next tournament, but you should give this deck, or something like it, a shot if your main target is Blade-type decks.


When I was not playing Sparkblade, I was battling Extended. Most of my time was spent working on Bant lists. The first one I battled with was close to
Reid Duke PTQ winning list.

After playing this deck a ton, I figured some very important things out. The first thing is that this deck has a very tough time beating Elves. Kibler
kept telling me that it was not that bad of a matchup — but every time I won, it felt as though I got lucky. This should not be the way you feel in a

The mirror seemed very important to tech out against, and it seemed like the best card for this was none other than Gideon Jura. It helps in fights
against swords, and it can help you clear the way for lethal alpha strikes.

He also holds a sword pretty well when racing against pesky Elves…

This guy is also a great card against the U/W Stoneforge deck. The reason for this is that he’s a threat that can’t simply be Day of Judgment-ed. You
get to decide when to attack with him, so it’s very easy to wait until you have countermagic ready for Path to Exile. He also deals ten damage when
attacking alongside a Celestial Colonnade.

After playing with this deck over and over again, something occurred to me. Why is Mythic not a viable strategy? It used to be good — but that was back
in the day of aggressive decks and fast board sweepers.

I know that Arc Trail is still very good against Mythic, but it also is great against Bant, so that really isn’t a valid argument. It just seems that
Lotus Cobra can be a king again if only someone gave him a shot.

I played this deck in a few two-mans with decent results. Turn 3 Mirran Crusader kills were very amusing and scary at the same time. “What Sword did
you grab…never mind, I’ll just kill you.”

This deck seems to have potential. At first, I thought this deck didn’t want Jace, the Mind Sculptor anymore — but it comes down very quickly in a deck
like this, and it just seems like a good fit. This is the list I’ll continue to test before I leave for Kobe.

I hope I can get something ready to go before that adventure. Just great. I’m going to a Grand Prix in Japan in a few days, and I have none of the

The last thing that I don’t know the answer to is Faeries. The day I left Denver, I told myself I was just going to test Faeries for an event and just
play that.

The thing is I’ve never really played Faeries for a long enough time to feel comfortable playing it in a big event. This was probably a mistake, since
this deck has always been at least a decent-to-above-average choice. This was especially true if you could consider yourself a very good Faeries

I didn’t test this deck at all in the allotted time. I just wanted to play with cards that I liked to play, which just included green creatures and
Swords. I’m not saying this is a bad thing — but I should’ve just done what I had set out to do.

Tonight, I decided — since I didn’t have anything serious to play in Kobe — that I’d just take a crash course with Faeries. I asked a good friend of
mine what the best list of Faeries was so that I could start testing it for the GP. He replied back with:

Don’t play Faeries; it is very bad right now with Mirran Crusader and Swords everywhere. Play something with Stoneforge Mystic and Swords. Probably
alongside green creatures.

Even though I’ve been doing this for a very long time, I still feel like I’m back at square one.

Well, I hope that this article was at least enjoyable. I don’t really like skipping out on the true answers but trust me — I’d give them out if I knew
what they were. I’m completely lost in Magic right now, and I don’t see the end of the tunnel in sight. I just hope to pull this together before Japan,
and my next article.

Brad Nelson