The morning of the Invitational, I had a few friends come up to me and ask me what I thought of their Caw-Blade deck. For the most part, I had nothing
nice to say. Nobody’s lists impressed me.
What year is it?
I could understand playing those cards if New Phyrexia weren’t legal, but come on, that set changed everything! Let’s take a look at how the old
mirror used to play out.
Early game, they would play a Stoneforge Mystic, fetching Sword of Feast and Famine. They were in a position where if they connected with the Sword,
they could get far enough ahead to lock you out of the game. Meanwhile, you were doing everything in your power to prevent that Sword hit via chump
blocks, Condemn, or bouncing with Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
In today’s mirror match, they play a Stoneforge Mystic fetching Batterskull. If they get anything else, they’re either inexperienced or have
Batterskull in their hand already. At that point, Stoneforge Mystic must die. Even if you Divine Offering or Dismember their Batterskull, Mystic is
going to be a huge pain further down the line.
Eventually, they’ll find another Equipment, most likely Batterskull, and use the Mystic to gain a huge mana advantage. Most of the time, both players
find a Batterskull. That much is almost inevitable. The key is what you do to break those mirror situations. Assuming both players’ decks and
skill levels are similar to one another’s, it comes down to a lot of luck.
This is what I played at the Invitational:
Breaking the Mirror
I’m here to tell you that there are always ways to find advantages. Before NPH, everyone figured out that Sun Titan and Jace Beleren were the
keys to the mirror. I took it a step further and started playing Emeria Angel because it flew over Sun Titan and killed all the Gideons they played on
Emeria Angel wasn’t a new card to play in Caw-Blade by any means, but without the right plans to back it up, it was just another card. However,
when you’re matching them Jace for Jace, Titan for Titan, the Angels become awesome. Still, you probably needed the Titan/Jace plan; otherwise the
Angels might not have been enough.
Moving back to the present again, I feel I can safely say that Jace is not as good as it used to be. Mystic into Batterskull or even Sword of War and
Peace are both incredibly threatening to Jace. It used to be that you could assemble a wall of Hawks and safely Brainstorm for turns on end or use
Jace’s -1 ability to keep their board clear.
It doesn’t work like that anymore. It used to be correct to slam Jace at the first opportunity presented. If you do that now, you’re asking
to get your Jace lit up by a Sword, which would probably put them so far ahead you couldn’t come back.
With current mirrors, I often don’t cast Jace until I have nothing left to do, or I’m so far ahead that Unsummoning something will lock it
up. It just isn’t that good because it isn’t as safe as it used to be. For the Invitational, I was even considering playing G/W or B/W
Caw-Blade in the Standard portion just because I don’t think Jace is all that.
In short, the mirror is a lot faster these days and definitely far more brutal. You can’t afford to stumble or keep sketchy hands. Playing tight
is even more important than it used to be, so be careful.
The mirror is all about Equipment. If you don’t deal with Batterskull or Sword of War and Peace, you’ll most likely lose. It’s as simple as
that. Priority number one should be destroying their Equipment, which is why playing Divine Offering maindeck or playing Darkblade with Duress is about
the only way to go these days.
Also, keeping parity is very important. If they have a Mystic, you probably need a Mystic as well. Same with Squadron Hawks and basically everything
else in the deck. Phyrexian Metamorph allows you to do that, but also potentially allows you to get ahead if you double up on Mystics or Batterskulls.
Once you have dealt with their toys, you need some way to break parity. Again, Metamorph allows you to do that, but Emeria Angel is the true key. If
they don’t have any Equipment, Emeria Angel is going to trump nearly anything they can do. If you take away anything from this article, it should
be this: Equipment is king, and Emeria Angel is queen. The only thing that matters is those two.
Adjusting Everything Else
One of the seemingly minor changes I made to my Caw-Blade list was to cut a Celestial Colonnade down to three and Inkmoth Nexus to zero. Almost no
single matchup comes down to activating Colonnade and getting in there. If that’s happening, something has seriously gone wrong, and Colonnade is
unlikely to save you.
It’s still a dual, and having the option is nice, but I’d rather have a Glacial Fortress and basics to ensure that I’m not short a
mana on a crucial turn. A lot of my Caw-Blade mirrors were determined by players stumbling on mana early when they had the Colonnade/Colonnade/Fortress
draw or some combination of Fortresses and all nonbasics.
Inkmoth used to be good for getting in cheap Sword hits, but it rarely comes down to that anymore. You should be getting Batterskull first in literally
every matchup, and I mean literally. The Swords are Plan B, and Inkmoth will be tapping for mana on 99% of turns and screwing you a nonzero percent of
the time. Not only that, but post-board, everyone is going to be trying to kill your Swords. They also have Dismember. Inkmoth just isn’t going
to connect, nor do you really have time to. Just accept that fact and move on.
Playing a mana base like that is just asking for trouble, especially when the early game is so important. There are still several fixers, and
it’s very unlikely—when you’re playing 27 land and 23 of them colored—that you won’t have access to WW and UU if you need it.
The mana base is rock solid already; you don’t need to jam more duals to make sure you have access to all your colors because you probably
With no Inkmoths and fewer Colonnades, I’m frequently able to use two mana on turn 2, three on turn 3, four on turn 4, and so on. I can’t say the
same for my opponents though. Keeping up is key, and playing lands that come into play tapped or add colorless mana (except for Tectonic Edge)
isn’t where you want to be.
Mental Misstep was the other key to the puzzle. “Oh, you just cut Pierces for Missteps? That kind of makes sense,” they’d say, but
that wasn’t entirely the truth. For a time, I had Pierces and Missteps in my deck, but that just wasn’t working.
Every single person out there knows that Spell Pierce exists. You’d be hard pressed to find a person in any given tournament who will
absentmindedly jam Jace or Koth into an open blue mana. By now, everyone has played Standard, and nobody likes getting their big spells Pierced.
Why is Pierce even in your deck then? Sure, there are times when your opponent will be stuck on four mana and have a mitt full of four-drop
planeswalkers, but Pierce will probably just buy you a turn in that scenario. Most of the time, I’d say that you gain a lot of value by just
bluffing Pierce, since nearly everyone will expect you to have it regardless.
Mental Misstep isn’t quite the powerhouse it is in Legacy, but it’s still very good (and underrated) in Standard. There are plenty of uses
for Misstep. Obviously there aren’t as many one-drops running around as in Legacy, but Misstep still counters plenty of things that you’d
like to. Rather than viewing Misstep as a versatile answer to a number threats, you need to realize that its job is very specific.
Sure, it will be dead in some games, but against most decks, it counters some of their most important cards. Goblin Guide and Vampire Lacerator are
huge threats, as are things like Crush and Nature’s Claim. In addition, protecting your Stoneforge Mystics from Inquisition of Kozilek is the
difference between winning and losing.
Granted, Darkblade is waning in popularity right now, as are the Grixis versions of Splinter Twin, but that doesn’t stop Misstep from being worth
playing. I stand firmly behind the fact that Spell Pierce is outdated, and Misstep is a fine replacement. If nothing else, Misstep forces your Jace
through their Spell Pierce or mana screws them after they keep a loose Preordain hand.
Squadron Hawk is still awesome. Don’t believe the hype. Regardless of your mirror plan, you need to be able to beat fliers; otherwise,
you’ll just die to theirs. Emeria Angel might not be enough, so you need your own Hawks.
Mirran Crusader, to put it bluntly, is a joke. You know when your opponents play something like a Leatherback Baloth, and you play Jace, bounce it, and
laugh in their face? That’s what Mirran Crusader is. Yeah, you get the chance to kill them on turn 4, but is that realistic? What type of hand
did they keep where they’re just kold to Mystic, Crusader, Sword?
Come back to reality.
The Splinter Twin Matchup
I learned something really quickly when playing Caw-Blade vs. Splinter Twin. Whenever I would play Stoneforge Mystic on turn 2, an Into the Roil would
show up and ruin my day. By the time turn 4 rolled around, I had applied no pressure, and they were about to stick a Jace. Or, you know, kill you.
Whenever I had one of those “bad” draws where I “only” had a Squadron Hawk for turn 2 (only in game one scenarios because
obviously you side out Hawks against combo), I ended up winning. Oftentimes, I’d end up with a few Hawks in play while they dug for action. On
turn 4 or 5, I’d untap with Dismember and Mana Leak, and they’d have an incredibly tough time winning.
Mike Flores may be right when he says U/R Twin is favored against, say, Edgar Flores’s Caw-Blade deck from three weeks ago. Regardless, in no way
is U/R the second coming, nor does it dethrone Caw-Blade as the best deck. For months now, Caw-Blade has faced new challenges, and always, it has
shifted like a chameleon and remained the champion. You think it can’t do the same now? That’s a very dangerous assumption.
Everything has changed, and yet everything remains the same. Caw-Blade is king.
Most of the time, I see good players play ten or so games of a matchup, note that the result was 70/30 in deck A’s favor, and move on. That
isn’t playtesting; that’s just jamming games for fun. Unless you’re specifically looking for what works and what doesn’t or what
needs to change, then don’t even bother. Putting in the work just to say that you did isn’t valuable, but finding out the true answers is.
Before SCG DC, I played Caw-Blade on MTGO for about a week and a half straight. It was a new deck and one that I knew I needed to familiarize myself
with. I spent days grinding, but most of all tweaking! I changed cards after nearly every tournament and started making decisions as to which cards I
felt were bad, good, or great and went from there.
After playing against decks like Valakut, RUG, Vampires, and the mirror, I felt like I knew what was important in each. Only then could I make informed
decisions as to which 75 to sleeve up. Playing ten games while making zero observations would never allow me to do that.
However, now that I’m so familiar with the Standard format, it’s very easy for me to drastically alter my deck week to week with
confidence. I don’t need to play games to know what works because I’ve already figured it out.
If Mono-Red or Vampires is popular, I want a lot of spot removal or Leyline of Sanctity. If Valakut makes a resurgence, I want counterspells for their
big threats and a solid clock. To fight RUG, I need to be able to deal with resolved Titans. To me, this is very simple, but it takes a lot of initial
If you want to put in the time just to be able to say, “I should have totally won that tournament. I playtested a ton!”, then you should do
Predicting the Invitational Field
I played three Divine Offerings maindeck at the SCG Invitational. Perhaps that was a tad overzealous.
My rationale was two-fold. First of all, Caw-Blade is the best deck, so I expected plenty of people to play it, especially in the tournament that was
likely the most prestigious they’ve ever played in. Second, I knew that if I wanted to win the tournament, I’d probably have to face it several
Going in, I was expecting Caw-Blade to take upwards of 50% of the field. Naturally, I may have jumped the gun a bit. I predicted that for those wanting
to win the tournament, Caw-Blade would be the weapon of choice. In my mind, there were no other options.
Why would you sleeve up some mopey Birthing Pod deck? You honestly think that everyone else who has been brewing Birthing Pod decks just missed the
“tech” that you uncovered? The reality of the situation is that there is nothing special about those decks; they don’t actually beat
Caw-Blade; and they just so happen to be very vulnerable to the maindeck Divine Offerings that everyone is playing now.
Sure, you could be someone like Matt Landstrom or Patrick Sullivan, who are masters of their craft. You could play your pet deck and spike a
tournament. There is also plenty of value in wielding a weapon that you have mastered. Still, if you’re trying to win a lot of matches and end up
with 10K and a novelty check, why wouldn’t you play what you know is the best?
In the end, I knew it wouldn’t matter very much, even if I were wrong. A pair of Divine Offerings is likely necessary to fight the mirror in game
one. I hate dead cards as much as the next guy, but Divine Offering is dead against few decks these days. Against Mono-Red, using Divine on a Shrine of
Burning Rage is very powerful, and using it on your own Sword or Batterskull will likely gain you enough life to win the game.
I would only make a few cosmetic changes to my list from the Invitational. One fewer Divine Offering sounds correct and maybe a retooling of the
sideboard. I added the Day of Judgments at the last minute based on hype over Larry Swasey’s U/G Vengevine deck. Honestly, Linvala, Keeper of
Silence probably would have been a better choice, as Day is weak against decks like Vampires and Mono-Red.
Next week: Fighting Caw-Blade!