One Step Ahead – Fighting Caw-Blade

Thursday, April 21 – Gerry Thompson thinks the idea of banning Jace is ridiculous. He gives you ways you can legitimately fight Jace without playing Jace. Just stay one step ahead!

With the Caw-Blade menace running rampant, people are doing some drastic things. They’re calling for the banning of Jace, or perhaps Valakut (which
would allow Vengevine decks to roam free), and players who would otherwise never have considered picking up the deck are doing so just so they have a

But you know all this already. You’re most likely living it. However, you need to stop and think for a second. Forget everything you “know” because
either it’s wrong or you can change it.

Consider your previous matches against Valakut. Do you ever see yourself thinking, “I sure hope my opponent doesn’t have this card…” when you
pass the turn? I do. I do it all the time. It helps me figure out what truly matters in the matchup and what types of cards I could play if I wanted to
be on the other side.

In this case, there are a few cards or particular lines of play that I’m scared of from Valakut. Valakut already has a game plan, which is to get to
six mana and cast a Titan. Caw-Blade has a couple plans that are designed to trump Valakut, so any self-respecting Valakut player needs to re-trump or
at least find some way to be competitive.

So far, I’ve found two ways that work.

Out-mana or Outdraw Caw-Blade

These are strategies that RUG uses to beat Caw-Blade and that Valakut uses to beat RUG, but for some reason, Valakut players don’t use them to fight
Caw-Blade. Caw-Blade players are looking to fight Valakut by keeping them off six mana entirely or fighting their threats on a one-for-one basis. In
the meantime, they’re trying to connect with a Sword of Feast and Famine to make their job a lot easier.

Whenever my opponent plays an Oracle of Mul Daya, I feel like I’m in a bad spot. I’ve probably spent a few turns using Spell Pierce or Mana Leak to
slow down their ramp, but Oracle undoes all of that with a single card. Any soft counters that I see past that are likely going to be dead draws. On
top of it, I can’t risk Mana Leaking their Oracle without fear of their casting Summoning Trap.

Splashing has been the easiest answer to Oracle. So far, my Lightning Bolts and Doom Blades have served me well in dealing with Oracles. With U/W, I’m
more than a little scared of it.

There’s no reason to be all-in on Oracle though. Harrow is a fantastic Valakut card, as it turns unimpressive Forests into multiple Mountains,
triggering Valakut several times. While it’s only a one-for-one spell, it has gotten the nod over Cultivate for a long time. I think that time has
passed, at least if you’re functioning off the “out-mana” them plan.

So now we have a few, to borrow a Michael Jacob term, lynchpins to build off of, so where do we go from there? Typical Valakut lists have some
acceleration, some removal, and lands, so we just add some of those and call it a day right? Absolutely wrong. That’s not how you go about building

Fetchlands are great with Oracle, and Cobra is great with both, so I imagine that we’d play some of those. With both of those, we have a sort of
mini-clock on our opponents. Typically, this incremental damage won’t matter because Valakut tends to finish the game in spectacular fashion, often
dealing a wealth of damage. Getting your opponent to ten in the meantime tends to be irrelevant.

However, I found that playing a couple Raging Ravines gives you a reasonable backup plan. Ravine is a solid threat against Jace decks as well. One of
the goals of the Caw-Blade player is keeping you off of six mana, so it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect that they will achieve their goal, at least
in the short term. Having a backup plan in case the enemy is doing their job is very important.

So what do we play as our support cards? For starters, I think we want some cards that aren’t weak to Jace. Joraga Treespeaker is pretty awesome right
now but absolutely abysmal against Jace. Overgrown Battlement, while not great, is a much more consistent card.

Khalni Heart Expedition, while solid for being a two-for-one, a shuffler for Oracle, and a way to ramp to Titan mana all on its own, is fairly
miserable against counterspells and Jace. They can either fateseal you into oblivion or counter your accelerators. Cultivate is probably where we want
to be. Spell Pierce is something we want to be wary of though.

Green Sun’s Zenith and Summoning Trap are both good with Oracle of Mul Daya, but I’m not exactly sure if we want to be using just one or both. Oracle
is going to give you a large mana advantage if it lives, and then you can use Zenith to take advantage of that. Meanwhile, Summoning Trap deters them
from countering it in the first place.

I’ve said earlier that not walking into Spell Pierce is something that I want to try to accomplish. Doing so would require starting with creature
accelerators, playing things like Cultivate and Explore when Pierce isn’t an issue, and then going from there. Hopefully, you can cast your Traps or
Zeniths with some mana open, but if there’s no feasible way to do that, sometimes you just have to walk into it.

This is what I would try:

Yes, 29 land! You never want to miss a land drop and have plenty to do with extra lands. There’s no reason to play less than that. Your Oracles will
reward you, I promise.

Notice how our deck is mostly creatures? I’ve always wanted to experiment with a build of Valakut that uses Lead the Stampede, as it’s a great way to
come out on top of a game of attrition.

Green Sun’s Zenith didn’t make the final cut, but I’m not done with that card just yet.

Zero Harrows makes the Cobra nut draw unlikely, but I’m fine with that. I want their Spell Pierces to rot in their hand. I could probably use more
shufflers for Oracles, so maybe a couple Harrows would be worth it. I still feel like this is a Cultivate format though.

Against Caw-Blade, I would sideboard like this:

+ 3 Nature’s Claim, 1 Summoning Trap, 3 Precursor Golem

– 2 Lightning Bolt, some amount of ramp

The Precursor Golems are an experiment. I’m not entirely sure if they’re good or not, but not much deals with them outside of Mana Leak, and you still
have Summoning Traps. Increasing your Trap threat density is nice, as is having something that doesn’t get Flashfrozen.

Ramp spells are about the only thing we can cut, but I’m not sure which. Cutting a two-drop seems sort of bad if our game plan is to ramp into Oracle.
Perhaps the right thing to do is just not play Golems in the board and barely sideboard at all.

Attack Them

Justin Corbett wrote a solid article here detailing his brand-new
take on Valakut, and I was very impressed. He credits Nick Spagnolo with the original brew. His list for reference:

After boarding against Valakut, Caw-Blade tends to have lots of counterspells and few removal spells aside from some Ousts or Day of Judgments. How
exactly do they sideboard against this brew? Counterspells aren’t the be all, end all, especially if you have Summoning Trap somewhere. I imagine at
some point, they’re going to have to tap out for Gideon Jura to get a turn of reprieve. Slamming a Titan at that point should be fairly easy.

I’ve said this before, but the main reason I think that Valakut isn’t performing well against Caw-Blade is that the Valakut player approaches the
matchup from the wrong side. Most tend to overvalue Sword of Feast and Famine and side in a bunch of things to stop that plan.

If their opponent can adapt and realize that they aren’t connecting with Sword through Nature’s Claim, Wall of Tanglecord, Tumble Magnet, and Acidic
Slime, then they need to switch their game plan. Counterspells become spectacular when over half your opponent’s deck contains lands or spells that are

Similarly, creatures become awesome when your opponents have no blockers or removal spells! There’s a certain amount of value you gain when you go
rogue, and your opponent doesn’t know the contents of your deck. Most of the time, you don’t gain enough value because you’re playing a worse deck, but
that isn’t the case here.

I’d probably change a few things though. Corbett said that Summoning Trap and Nest Invader were in the original version of the deck, and those are
cards that I’d like to try again. Clearly Viridian Emissary and Bestial Menace are there for aggro decks, but Emissary seems especially weak against
Caw-Blade. Bestial Menace seems like a gigantic Spell Pierce target. He says that the Menace is a great follow-up to Day of Judgment, and on that, we
agree, but any planeswalker would be, like perhaps Garruk Wildspeaker.

Overall, focusing on Caw-Blade rather than the aggro decks seems the best way to maximize your chance for success. Perhaps a hybrid of Lewis Laskin
Christmas Aggro and Corbett’s Aggro Valakut is where you want to be. I’d consider some sort of turn 1 accelerator and possibly Lotus Cobra. Maybe
hybridizing the Oracle of Mul Daya version would work as well.

Other Options

Recently, Vampires has been picking up steam in the hands of stainerson (Tommy Ashton, superstar of other CCGs and very capable Magician),
BrianFRESHlop (notable grinder Brian Fulop), and Jaberwocki (Logan Nettles, cousin to Reid Duke—apparently MTG skills run in the family).

The thing that I find super cool about these lists is that both of them shaved (or cut entirely) Pulse Trackers, seeing as how they’re pretty loose
against Squadron Hawk. Both also feature Staggershock as some additional reach.

I’ve seen players go back and forth on Dark Tutelage and its role in the Caw-Blade matchup. I know that Caleb Durward’s Chicago crew (featuring Matt
Landstrom and Joe Bernal, among others) decided that it wasn’t worth it. I know from the Caw-Blade side that I’m not happy to see them resolve a Dark
Tutelage, but then again, if it were another Grizzly Bear on turn 3, I wouldn’t be very happy either.

Still, you could have Jace and Gideon going, and in theory, they could keep up with an active Tutelage. There’s also the threat of them just burning
you out with Viscera Seer, Bloodghast, and Kalastria Highborn.

Inquisition of Kozilek is something I’ve wanted to play in Vampires for a while now but could never find room. Having Pulse Tracker falling out of
favor finally gives you the room.

Mark of Mutiny is now the Valakut hate of choice, seeing as how it doubles as RUG hate. Usually an Inferno Titan is going to set you too far behind to
come back, but hopefully you’ve gotten them to ten or so and just kill them with Mark.

I’d actually suggest playing a couple Manic Vandals in your Vampire (or hell, RDW) sideboard nowadays. Caw-Bladers are trying to assemble Mortarpod
plus Sylvok Lifestaff, and you really don’t want that happening. Sword of Feast and Famine shouldn’t be an issue, but I’d be concerned about the other

If you don’t have Jaces, don’t want to work to borrow them, or just hate playing blue decks, there are plenty of options right now. You just have to
look. There’s no reason to ban Jace or resort to such drastic measures.