One Step Ahead – It’s All An Illusion

Phantasmal Image is becoming a major player in Caw-Blade. Nick Spagnolo ran Gerry’s list to a Top 8 last weekend, and Gerry provides a helpful sideboarding guide, so check out the deck and consider it for SCG Open: Boston this weekend.

Phantasmal Image is the new Frost Titan

Is anyone sick of me using that analogy yet? I would hope so.

Last weekend I had a tough choice. I could either drive four hours to Charlotte and catch a flight to Chicago for the TCGPlayer Championship or drive three hours to Richmond for the SCG Open. The drive to Charlotte was necessary because it was the only way to find a reasonable plane ticket. 

Sure, I would have more fun at the SCG Open, but there’s always the chance that I could pull a Sam Black or Todd Anderson and spike the giant payout. Some might say that I needed the SCG points to catch Edgar in the Player of Year race, but I’m not scared. 

I had an idea of what I wanted to play but decided to explore other ideas as well. My Pittsburgh list, which was then tuned by the ChannelFireball guys for US Nationals, was looking like the best deck by a wide margin. My hopes of getting an edge were dashed. 

For a brief time, I was considering running Boros. After talking to a few friends, it was clear they all thought I was insane. In their minds, Boros was a hyper aggressive deck, but that wasn’t how I wanted to build it. 

I have, and always will, as long as it’s viable, build and play Boros like a midrange deck. My Boros deck won’t be loaded with burn spells, and I’ll likely have more Plains than Mountains. Goblin Guide will hit the bench nearly every round. The way I control the board will be by turning Steppe Lynx sideways every single turn. 

Imagine you’re playing Caw-Blade, except you start with a four-power creature in play. Each turn you get to attack for four while doing your Caw-Blade thing—countering, killing, ignoring, or trumping everything your opponent is doing. You see, eventually, they will have to start chump blocking. In the meantime, you’re killing everything that they are pressuring you with. 

Goblin Guide seems necessary in game one. You aren’t configured to be perfect against any strategy, so having the extra pressure is key. Post-board, the games will be a little slower, and you’ll have better answers for their threats. 

Here’s what I was thinking:

I could also see shaving the red element, namely Goblin Guide, for some more white cards, like Grand Abolisher. Abolisher does a lot of things, namely making Deceiver Exarch worse (and allowing you to Oblivion Ring it), letting you connect with Sword without fear, and getting in large hits with Hero of Oxid Ridge without fear.

I’m still taking suggestions for SCG Open: Boston, but Boros, in one form or another, is a frontrunner.

But let’s talk about last week, shall we?

As we all know, Todd Anderson took home the trophy and novelty check with Caw-Blade. Nick Spagnolo made top eight with close to my 75.

My list was +1 Emeria Angel, -1 Into the Roil. I also had the fourth Glacial Fortress in the sideboard instead of a Day of Judgment. 26 land seemed correct game one, but post-board, I wanted to have an extra land against certain matchups like the mirror and Splinter Twin.

My logic stemmed largely from the Goblin Guide dilemma in Boros. The maindeck isn’t great against anything, and at times you’ll draw cards that aren’t particularly good in any given matchup, like Oblivion Ring against Twin or Into the Roil against Valakut. With little card drawing, being flooded along with drawing a dead card for your matchup means that you will be hard-pressed to win.

Post-board, when all your cards are awesome, being slightly flooded is okay. Some matchups are won and lost based on whether or not all of your land drops are made in time. Ideally, the 27th land would be one that provides a little utility, as if you do get flooded, you want your lands to have that “spell” feel to them.

Ultimately, I didn’t want a colorless land. Inkmoth Nexus is a card I was never impressed with, especially when I was cutting down on Sword of Feast and Famine (which I’ll explain later). Glacial Fortress seemed like the best option, although maybe Halimar Depths was the correct choice. Even against aggressive decks, I’d often swap a Tectonic Edge for the colored source.

Phantasmal Image is the key to our success. I was embarrassed that I didn’t play at least one Image or Phyrexian Metamorph in my SCG Pittsburgh list. Getting out-Hawked is the quickest way to lose the mirror match, and playing a Clone or two goes a long way.

Metamorph has its upsides, namely being able to copy equipment and being able to be equipped. Still, Image seemed much better to me. Costing a full mana less is very important. However, the main interaction is the one with Sun Titan. With a pair of Images in the deck, Sun Titan became better than Consecrated Sphinx. Against U/B Control, Sphinx might just die, whereas a resolved Sun Titan provides multiple threats.

The fact that Image can’t be equipped was becoming even more irrelevant considering I was becoming disenchanted with the idea of connecting with Sword of Feast and Famine. It’s a hassle to set up correctly and can lead to a huge tempo loss if they brick wall your first attempt. Leading up to that turn, Sword is a pseudo-mulligan.

There’s a large upside to Sword, mainly that connecting with it means that you are probably winning. However, does Sword ever turn around games that you were going to lose? Sword tends to make winning easier, but rarely helps you win games you were definitely going to lose.

I figured drawing one Sword would be fine and would allow me to test my theory that the Swords are unnecessary in control Caw-Blade. As it turns out, I was mostly right. In a Mirran Crusader/Spellskite build like Edgar’s original version, Sword is much better. Your game plan is actually connecting with Sword as soon as possible, but that’s not the way my games tend to play out. I’m far more interested in controlling the board than taking a risk of losing my turn to a Dismember.

Mental Misstep is a card that I’m not opposed to playing maindeck. Spell Pierce is solid most of the time, but the reason I played it before was because of Tempered Steel. With that deck mostly out of the picture, Pierce is back to being mediocre. Misstep will at least trade one-for-one a large percentage of the time.

In order for Misstep to be good, I had to make sure that I would get value out of it in my various matchups. The one problem I had with it (besides being dead vs. Valakut) was that my opponent’s Spell Pierces were often dead. I wasn’t loading up on Gideon Jura like the CFB guys were, so my opponents had nothing to Spell Pierce!

The dream is Misstep-ing their Pierce on your Jace, but if you don’t draw Jace, and they don’t draw Preordain until after you’ve drawn Misstep, your draw starts to crumble. In order to rectify this, I added a second Gideon to give them a juicy Pierce target.

Psychic Barrier was Nick’s idea. Typically, one tries to get to nine mana to play their Titan against Caw-Blade, but no one really expects you to have a hard counter. Against U/B Control or Valakut, hard counters are perfect, and those felt like our toughest matchups.

With aggro on the decline, I felt like we’d be safe by cutting a Day of Judgment and Timely Reinforcements for another counterspell and another Jace. I like having one of each, because I like that I’m always drawing live.

Onto the tournament!

Round One: Sparkblade

My opponent’s Mountains gave me cause for concern. I wasn’t set up to beat the Twin combo with my hand in game one. As it turned out, he was only playing out cards like Emeria Angel, Gideon Jura, and Inferno Titan. My controlling hand of Oblivion Ring and Day of Judgment took care of those easily, and we headed to our sideboards.

He quickly jammed his entire board into his deck, but it seemed like a very obvious attempt to get my attention. I considered the situation and decided that he was likely not playing the combo. Sure enough, his turn three yielded a Cunning Sparkmage, and I was certain that not boarding in Torpor Orb was correct.

Unfortunately for him, using his Sparkmage on my Hawk so that he could attack with his Hawk only opened the door for my Phantasmal Image. I copied his Sparkmage and then killed it, which then blanked all of his Hawks. Winning was academic from there, but I still played good, tight Magic.

On turn six, I could have played an untapped land and forced Jace Beleren through his obvious Mana Leak. However, I had a better plan. It was clear that, because of our stalemate, Jace was a real threat, and he would likely counter it. I cast Jace before playing my sixth land, and after he Leaked it, I played Celestial Colonnade (with my Mana Leak mana still open).

A few turns later, I cast the Sun Titan I had been holding, confident that he was out of Leaks. I even managed to return a Tectonic Edge, always keeping my Leak mana open.

Sadly, that was about the only good match of Magic that I would play.

Round Two: Mono-Green Dungrove Elder

I lost.

Game one, I Oblivion Ringed his Overgrown Battlement, and he played another. At that point, I assumed he was some sort of Eldrazi Green deck, but at the very least, he was likely playing Primeval Titan. If I allowed him to resolve Titan for Tectonic Edges, I was probably going to lose, as I was short on lands. Rather than running out Emeria Angel, I decided to bluff Mana Leak. If he did just jam Titan, I could always Roil my O-Ring, Image his Titan, and then O-Ring it (assuming I peeled a fifth land).

Instead, he just passed. If I Roiled in his end step, he would be able to play Titan without fear of Leak on his turn, and I’d be forced to peel a land or lose. Instead, I chose to wait another turn, bluffing Leak again.

Through a combination of Beast Within and Tectonic Edge, he was able to strip my blue and resolve his big threat: Karn Liberated. At that point, I was fairly certain he wasn’t Eldrazi, but it didn’t really matter anymore. That Karn was going to be the death of me.

I played out a few more turns to see more of his deck and saw a Dungrove Elder.

I headed to the sideboard, convinced that my matchup was solid, and I could pull out the next two.

Game two, I mulliganed again and drew my second Squadron Hawk on turn two. As I sided out a Hawk, I could only shrug awkwardly as, with four cards in my hand, I only searched for one Hawk. Against these green decks, you will probably play a Hawk on turns two, three, and four, and then leave open countermagic, so the fourth Hawk rarely does anything. I couldn’t decide on the last card to cut, and shaving a Hawk seemed more than fine.

Being short a Hawk didn’t matter much, but it certainly hurt to have mulliganed already, and then effectively mulligan again. He waited until he could play Garruk, Primal Hunter with three mana open. Several turns passed, but I couldn’t find an answer.

Round Three: UGW Sun Titan

His deck was similar to mine, except he was Hawk-less and featured more of a land destruction element with Beast Within.

I was stuck on lands in game one, and his barrage of LD didn’t help me. When it was clear I had no outs and had seen enough of his deck, I conceded.

Second and third games were won on the back of my counterspells and Jace Beleren advantage.

Round Four: U/W Caw-Blade with Phantasmal Image

Game one went super long, and he eventually killed me with damage, although I would have been decked in a few turns regardless. We traded one-for-one until all my threats were gone.

In game two, I had a solid advantage but started to flood out. In an attempt to close the game quickly, I walked into a Day of Judgment, which basically sealed my fate. If he had it, I wasn’t going to win anyway.

Round Five: Valakut

In the first game, I got rolled, which is to be expected. The second game was decided by my Psychic Barrier. He wasn’t able to stop it with a Ricochet Trap, an otherwise awesome card against me. After that, I put on the pressure with Gideon Jura and Sun Titan.

In the decider, I played a turn three Torpor Orb, turn four Emeria Angel, turn five Oblivion Ring on Primeval Titan, and then turn six Sun Titan. My opponent was out of gas and under pressure and soon succumbed.

Round Six: Bant Birthing Pod

My opponent was a super cool dude from Long Island, who, after I beat him, gave me a slice of Giordano’s pizza. I’m known for my love of pizza, and Giordano’s is my favorite. If there was a deciding factor in my choice to go to Chicago, it was the fact that Culver’s and Giordano’s were there.

First game, he resolved a Birthing Pod, but I Oblivion Ringed it. The Ring’s weakness was exposed when he killed it with Acidic Slime, but I rebought with Sun Titan. Naturally, he had another and turned his Slime into a more formidable Wurmcoil Engine. I knew what was coming next, and Elesh Norn wiped out my bird army.

Fortunately, I wasn’t without answers. I Phantasmal Imaged his Elesh Norn, Dismembered his token with deathtouch, and turned my dead Image into another Sun Titan, this time returning Jace Beleren. He was drawing dead at that point.

Second game was a beating, as I opened with the perfect hand while he mulliganed.

Round Seven: RUG Twin

I chose some pretty poor lines in game one that I got punished for. It was clear he had the Deceiver, but not the Twin, and instead of jamming my threats into his Mana Leak, I held open my own Mana Leak. By the time he started digging and eventually found Splinter Twin, my Leak was useless, and I got comboed out.

Second game was all me, but the third game he led with Lotus Cobra into Thrun. Thankfully, I had Dismember and Phantasmal Image, and we settled into a game of draw go. He baited his spells perfectly, but I countered them all and Sun Titan-ed back Phantasmal Image. His Inferno Titan and Nature’s Claim on Oblivion Ring put up a fight, but it wasn’t enough.

Round Eight: U/W Caw-Blade

Before the round, I checked the standings to see that I was in 53rd place. If I went win-win, I’d likely be in top 32 but doubted that I had a shot at top sixteen. No matter what, I couldn’t spare a loss.

Seeing as how I was in do or die mode, I decided to start playing worse than I had all tournament. My sequencing was poor; I chose poor timing for my removal and got outplayed. However, it is worth noting that despite all that, I probably would have won had I not drawn my Sword in games one and three. It was completely useless.

After that, I dropped.

With Nick in top eight, and Dave Shiels within a hair of top eight, it was pretty clear I had a winner on my hands. Phantasmal Image changes the dynamics of several matchups, and with Nick’s help, we had great sideboarding strategies for otherwise tough matchups.

One of the reasons I don’t want to play Caw-Blade next week is that I feel like I have nowhere else to go. I’ve done all that I could with the archetype, and it will be difficult to gain an edge in the coming weeks. Perhaps it’s time to tune some of the other decks?


+1 Azure Mage, 1 Psychic Barrier, 1 Glacial Fortress, 1 Deprive, 1 Revoke Existence

-1 Timely Reinforcements, 2 Dismember, 1 Sword of Feast and Famine

Sideboarding isn’t cut and dry here and never really should be. The Revoke comes in if they have Oblivion Ring or Sword of War and Peace; otherwise it isn’t very good. Azure Mage was terrible for me all tournament. While it’s good against Splinter Twin, it’s much worse than Jace Beleren everywhere else. The Deprive can likely be cut, as it’s very poor when you’re trying to hit six lands for Sun Titan. Barrier is always fine for stopping their Hawks and six-drops.


+2 Torpor Orb, 1 Azure Mage, 1 Day of Judgment, 2 Flashfreeze, 1 Deprive, 1 Psychic Barrier, 1 Glacial Fortress

-1 Timely Reinforcements, 2 Mental Misstep, 4 Squadron Hawk, 1 Sword of Feast and Famine, 1 Into the Roil

The idea here is that your Torpor Orbs lessen the impact of their Titans. They aren’t perfect, but let you use spot removal to kill their Titans without giving them value. Their deck is designed to resolve a Titan, and sometimes you won’t be able to stop them, either because they have Summoning and/or Ricochet Trap, or because they get to nine land while you’re sitting behind Mana Leak.

Birthing Pod

+3 Torpor Orb, 1 Psychic Barrier, 1 Deprive, 2 Flashfreeze, 1 Revoke Existence, 1 Glacial Fortress, 1 Mental Misstep

-4 Squadron Hawk, 1 Sword of Feast and Famine, 1 Timely Reinforcements, 1 Tectonic Edge

Whatever else you cut (or don’t add) is up to you. The Deprive could probably sit on the sidelines, as could the second Psychic Barrier. Day of Judgment is fine against them but not great. While you wouldn’t mind clearing their creatures away, they either have Vengevine to make your Wraths ineffectual, or a much better follow-up. Gideon Jura is alright, but could probably go.

Splinter Twin

+3 Torpor Orb, 1 Psychic Barrier, 2 Flashfreeze, 1 Deprive, 1 Glacial Fortress, 1 Mental Misstep, 1 Azure Mage

-1 Sword of Feast and Famine, 2 Oblivion Ring, 1 Day of Judgment, 1 Gideon Jura, 2 Phantasmal Image, 2 Sun Titan, 1 Timely Reinforcements

I don’t mind keeping in Squadron Hawk here, despite the nonbo with Torpor Orb. Hawk is your best turn two play outside of Azure Mage and goes a long way to killing them because they can assemble the perfect hand.

RDW (assuming creature light)

+3 Timely Reinforcements, 2 Flashfreeze, 1 Mental Misstep, 1 Azure Mage, 1 Glacial Fortress

-2 Phantasmal Image, 1 Sword of Feast and Famine, 1 Day of Judgment, 1 Psychic Barrier, 1 Tectonic Edge, 2 Mana Leak

You want some counterspells here, as you want protection from their lethal burn spells or threatening cards like Koth of the Hammer. Overloading on them is a good way to lose, but you still need some. On the play, keeping in an extra Mana Leak is fine.

Dismember is a fine way to keep their board clear, despite costing four life. After that, that turn one Goblin Guide was going to deal you twelve damage anyway.

It’s hard to say that last week was anything other than a disappointment, but I’m happy that my deck did well in the hands of my friends. Seeing someone like Nick, who is one of the few people I truly like, climb to the top is often better than doing it myself.

I don’t know what I’m playing this weekend, but I’m open to suggestions. So far, I’ve gotten some pretty fun Legacy ideas, so keep ’em flowing!

See you next week!