One Step Ahead – Day In The Grind

Gerry Thompson hit Magic Online in preparation for the SCG Open in Boston last weekend; he tried Caw-Blade, Illusions, Mono-Green with Dungrove Elder. Here are his thoughts on all of them.

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

SCG Boston was rapidly approaching, and as per usual, I didn’t have a deck or a plane ticket. I could have booked earlier, but I was waiting on one Matt “Great” Scott to tell me whether he could pick me up on his way to Boston or not. As it turned out, work was slamming him, so he wouldn’t get a chance to try out his Dungrove Elder brew.

Caw-Blade was the obvious backup plan, but I was about ten tournaments deep with Caw-Blade. That $h!+’s boring. I felt kind of helpless last week, but that’s just how it goes sometimes. I had a couple of brews in my lap, and I had roughly a day to decide.

Time for a Magic Online session!

For funsies, I loaded up Caw-Blade for a Daily Event. If I got crushed, then it would give me more push toward the brews.

Sandwich in hand, soda nearby (Dr. Wham, for those curious), and hand on mouse, I eagerly awaited my match to pop up.

But it never came.

What the hell? The bye!? I wasn’t sure I could actually complain about getting the bye, but there I was. After all, I just wanted to play. Not all was lost though. I decided to comb the internet for Modern decklists in preparation for Pro Tour Philly. I got so wrapped up in brewing new decks that I was kind of disappointed when my round two popped up.

Round Two: U/B Control

In the last DE I played in, my round one opponent had the bye, so I couldn’t scout, so it served my opponent right that he couldn’t scout me this time. I kept a hand with some Leaks and lands, but no pressure, but that was fine.

We played draw go for quite a while, and despite him missing a land drop, I saved my Tectonic Edge until he drew a Creeping Tar Pit. Once I finally hit a threat (Emeria Angel), I held it for a few turns while I watched him discard.

When he finally pulled the trigger on some spells, the game got interesting, but I was already so far ahead. He tapped out to play some stuff that I countered, and then I resolved a Sun Titan. He couldn’t really beat that one.

Second game was more of the same. I kept a land heavy hand and played Squadron Hawk on turn five, which basically ran him over.

Round Three: Sneakattackkid, Tempered Steel

I know James Beltz, my opponent, from my PTQ days. He’s got a GP T8 to his name and would probably have some more notable finishes under his belt if not for his decision to start a family instead. Despite that, he’s a notable MTGO grinder and about the only person succeeding with Tempered Steel these days.

Games one and three were easy, but in the second, I mulliganed into a one-lander. With Mental Misstep, Dismember, and some Mana Leaks, I felt like I had enough time to draw out of it, but the second land didn’t come in time.

In the other games, I prioritized keeping his Tempered Steels and Glint Hawk Idols under control. Without those, Day of Judgment was an all-star. Even his Shrines of Loyal Legions didn’t mean much if I stabilized at a high enough life total and kept his Crusade effects in check.

While Tempered Steel, at one time, was built to crush Caw-Blade, the controlling versions tend to be very good against it. Oblivion Ring is a huge help, and even though I didn’t have Spell Pierces for his key spells, the matchup was still mostly a cakewalk. His mulligans didn’t help his cause.

Round Four: U/W Caw-Blade

Our decks were similar, and game one was very close, and very interesting. I Oblivion Ringed his Gideon and then Consecrated Sphinx, and resolved Sun Titan. He used some card drawing and then cast Into the Roil without kicker on my Oblivion Ring, trying to return his Sphinx to play. With his quad Colonnade draw, I was probably going to have to use my mana every turn, so I Mana Leaked his Roil.

He had four lands untapped and two Squadron Hawks. I figured he had a Dismember, as it’s one of the few cards he could be holding onto, and I figured that if he single blocked, I’d Dismember the Hawk that appeared to be chumping my Sun Titan, just in case.

When he didn’t pay for Leak, it was clear that he had Dismember and was cautiously playing around a second Mana Leak (or perhaps a Spell Pierce). My only hope was that he wouldn’t play around my Dismember or give me credit for using it before damage. However, he continued to play tight and double-blocked my Sun Titan, and then Dismembered.

After the dust settled, we were on parity except that I had a single Hawk, two Edges, and a Colonnade to his quad Colonnade. On the next turn, I animated Colonnade and swung in. He activated Colonnade, I Edged, and he had enough to animate another Colonnade. I Dismembered and got in some damage while keeping open Psychic Barrier and Mana Leak. Next turn, I offered the trade, rather than Tec Edge and give him a window to resolve a key spell.

I attacked him down to four after finishing the last of his Colonnades. With him on four life, I decided to up my clock by Phantasmal Imaging my Hawk, which may have been a mistake. His Day of Judgment made me look foolish, but I still had the upper hand.

He peeled Jace, but I returned the favor by drawing a Colonnade. With no Tectonic Edges in sight, he scooped ‘em up.

Sadly, after such a fun and interactive game, he disconnected and didn’t come back. Oh well, first place and eleven packs for me!

Clearly Caw-Blade was still a force, and my “new” list looked pretty sharp. I had to cross more decks off my list for potential candidates though.

First up, Illusions!

My list was a hodgepodge of the various Illusion decks I had seen out there. I was going to try Adaptive Automaton and maybe some Wurmcoil Engines maindeck, but just decided to keep it simple. Splashing a color was an option, but I didn’t feel like I needed white, and the black was mainly for Creeping Tar Pit. Not wanting to shell out 7.5 per Tar Pit, I ended up battling with mono-blue.

Phantasmal Dragon seemed like a giant turd, although one that might be good in certain matchups. I didn’t want to play with any, but decided to keep it in mind.

Round One: Grixis Twin

He rolled me game one after making me discard my Dismember. Oh well, my Torpor Orbs should do the trick in the post-board games. On turn four, I had four Grand Architects in play, and he couldn’t assemble the combo.

I led with Lord of the Unreal on turn two and then had the choice of playing Torpor Orb or Phantasmal Image. I decided to get my beatdown on and was somewhat surprised to learn that Lord of the Unreals don’t pump each other. Suddenly, the deck was a lot worse in my eyes. Phyrexian Metamorph basically requires a Grand Architect to be good, and Adaptive Automaton seemed unplayable.

He Inquisitioned away my Orb, which left me in a precarious spot. I chose to use all of my mana to play Phyrexian Metamorph instead of another Phantasmal Image on the next turn, which was very poor. That misplay gave him a window to sneak an Exarch into play and not have to chump block with it, so I was dead if he had a Splinter Twin.

He bemoaned the lack of a decent shuffler on his turn, and conceded.

Definitely got lucky with that one, but hey, we were still working the kinks out.

Round Two: Bant Birthing Pod

He crushed me. Torpor Orb was ineffectual, and he had solid defensive creatures. This was one matchup where the Dragon would have been nice.

Even after two matches, I could tell this wasn’t the deck for me. It felt like Legacy Merfolk, where you create inevitability by piling Lords into play. However, not all the Lords played well with each other, and there was still the problem of falling way behind if the opponent had a removal spell. Despite wanting to side out Phantasmal Bear against the non-blue, non-combo decks, it seemed like keeping it in was integral to the deck’s success.

After some thinking, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want any removal maindeck. Splinter Twin was likely going to beat me game one anyway, so why bother? I needed to assemble a Voltron of Lords; otherwise my deck was poor, and the removal just got in the way.

If I mulliganed, I felt like I was drawing dead because of my lack of card drawing. There was no way I wasn’t going to play the maximum amount of one-mana search spells. Finding the Lords was just that important.

The black splash is probably worth it, as are the slots for a couple of Dragons.

For my next experiment, I had to try out my buddy Matt’s Dungrove technology. For weeks he had been going on about how sick his deck was. After borrowing Lotus Cobras, Solemns, and Karns, I was ready to rumble.

Round One: Illusions


I got rolled in the first match. My lands weren’t kind to me, and while his draws weren’t too explosive, he eventually assembled that board position I just couldn’t break through.

Time to hop in another heads-up queue.

Round Two: Illusions

Apparently he had the same idea.

This time, I was the victor. Dungrove Elder and Thrun held the fort until I could play Garruk or Karn around his counterspells. Flashfreeze was sort of annoying, but I had plenty of threats in my deck.

At any point, Phantasmal Dragon would have likely crushed me.

Round Three: Caw-Blade

Squadron Hawk, Day of Judgment, and Gideon Jura proved to be quite the meddlesome combination. There was the game where I used Garruk to draw six into another Garruk and keep the chain going, but other than that, I mostly just died convincingly.

Rampant Growth was meh. Cultivate would have been superb. I wanted all the lands I could get my grubby little paws on.

This is what I would probably play if I ran it again (and I likely will):

The Tectonic Edges would have been better as Forests (or even Khalni Garden) nearly every time. I considered a Zenith package, but it took up a ton of slots. Maybe it’s the way to go, and I should cut the smaller mana creatures and Swords. I wanted the Swords as a way for Dungrove Elder to break through and to give myself something to do with my mana dudes both early and late. However, that plan never really came to fruition.

Having a way to not die to an early swarm of Goblins or Birds would certainly be nice, but maybe that’s asking too much.

Sideboarding Memoricide is always an option, but I’d prefer having Torpor Orbs for the Birthing Pod decks, as well as Splinter Twin and Primeval Titan.

After that, I took a quick break, but then it was back in the trenches.

For my final queues, I decided to play some more games with Goblins. Tom Ma and Jesse Sigler have been doing well, but no one seemed to be able to come to a consensus best Goblin build. I suppose it would vary depending on your matchups, and what you really wanted to beat.

Me? I wanted to beat everything.

Round One: R/U/G Birthing Pod, Chapin/MJ-Style

Both games it seemed helpless. I had mulliganed, been brick walled by Sea Gate Oracle, and he started doing his thing. However, I snuck in some points here and there, Grenaded, and Bolted him out.

It seemed easy enough.

Round Two: Caw-Blade

My opponent was playing basically my above list, with maindeck Missteps and all. They were kind of annoying, but as long as I had more gas, I didn’t mind giving up my one-drop. It meant that my Grenades were more likely to resolve later anyway.

I didn’t necessarily agree with some of my opponent’s plays, like chumping a Goblin Guide on turn two with Squadron Hawk, but he played reasonably well. A constant stream of removal, Timely Reinforcements, Gideon Jura, and Consecrated Sphinx sealed my fate.

Round Three: Bant Birthing Pod, Ruel style

The games were a struggle, but I had some timely reinforcements of my own in the form of Lightning Bolt and Goblin Grenade. Overall, I felt favored, as the early game was certainly mine, but if they escape the early game with a healthy life total, I’m typically drawing slim.

Round Four: Caw-Blade

This one didn’t go like the other. Rather than destroy me with Gideon or a six-drop, he drew a steady stream of one-for-ones that I could easily break through. Without some way to drastically alter the board state, something that takes control all by itself, it was easy.

Round Five: Valakut

We traded games with our nut draws, but then I re-upped him game three.

Turn one Goblin Guide.

Turn two kicked Bushwhacker. (He cast Rampant Growth.)

Turn three Teetering Peaks, Goblin Grenade, Goblin Grenade.

That was the most fun I had in a while.

As it turned out, I ran Caw (no)Blade. Standard felt like less of a crapshoot than Legacy, so I decided to play the “real” deck. My shot at doing well in Standard was probably higher than Legacy. I think that, at the end of the day, Legacy rewards an intimate knowledge of the format, and tight play, but matchups matter too much.

Your super tight play gets rewarded less in Standard, but you don’t have to find answers to specific matchups in time. For the most part, Caw-Blade is the most interactive deck you could play, and it doesn’t have many bad matchups. At the very least, every matchup seems very close.

At one point, AJ Sacher, Nick Spagnolo, and I were 7-1 playing mostly the same deck. We hoped to avoid each other, but when AJ and I got paired, he conceded me into top eight. Unfortunately, Nick lost playing for the right to draw into top eight.

We were all on top of our game and felt like the deck, despite having only changed a couple cards, was amazing. All of our losses were due to making a stream of tiny mistakes that ended up with us losing, much like my top four match.

The fun came on Sunday.

So what am I playing next week? Well, I think the answer is pretty obvious.