I arrived at Drew Levin D.C. house on Thursday, which slowly filled up with gamers. With our crew being full of StarCityGames.com Open ringers,
Drew had been making outrageous claims on Twitter about how many Top 8 spots our crew would occupy. We had a lot of work to do.
Ben Hayes and I wanted to play Caw-Blade, mostly because of how dominating a performance it had at Pro Tour Paris. Still, we didn’t want to play
the same ole list, so we set out to breaking it. We were both annihilating the MTGO queues, and it seemed like everyone was just playing the stock list
from the PT. When you know your enemy, it becomes a lot easier to succeed.
Most of the game ones were easy. If we ever drew a Stoneforge Mystic, Sword of Feast and Famine would murder them. We could play a solid tempo game,
which was good enough to win most games handily. However, after sideboarding, everyone thought they had our number.
“Caw-Blade? Pssshhh, I have four Divine Offerings!”
“Little dudes with equipment? Whatever, I have Pyroclasm!”
“Hero of Oxid Ridge! That’s game, boys!”
As I knew from playing decks like Dark Depths and Wargate, if you’re able to shift your game plan when facing down plenty of sideboard hate, it’s
easy to turn a presumably bad matchup around. When your plan A is beating them with an equipment, and Disenchant effects aren’t naturally good in
game one (meaning you’re unlikely to face any), then it’s fairly easy to see what you have to change post-board.
It’s not like we needed to be extremely clever or anything. I didn’t want to side out all my equipment just to get them. It was just
something that we couldn’t rely on any longer.
The main problem with fighting just the equipment is that you still have to deal with a U/W Control deck. You have successfully Disenchanted my Sword,
but I still have a Stoneforge Mystic to chump, Day of Judgment to set you back, and planeswalkers to finish.
Sun Titan was a champ, but the planeswalkers were still problems. Sometimes he’d allow you to fight through them, but if they ever removed your
Titan or had enough chump blockers for it while they got a ton of value out of Jace, it still didn’t matter.
The main problem was not dying to their quick equipment starts. Divine Offering solved that problem rather well, but you couldn’t simply play
four Divines. You’ll end up flooded with Disenchants while they harass you with other threats. Oblivion Ring has never been missed so much.
Having counterspells is somewhat necessary to fight the Jace war but even doubly important for the Valakut matchup. After I watched Ben Stark’s
Top 4 match against an opponent with a singleton Deprive for countermagic, it was clear that Ben had the upper hand. Granted, he knew his
opponent’s decklist, but being able to play Jace on turn 4 with no resistance is unreal.
The turning point came when I suggested having Inkmoth Nexus as another cheap way to wield a Sword. Often, you would start with Mystic into Sword, only
for them to knock the wind out of your sails with a removal spell. Ben and I got really excited but didn’t want to play it online. We wanted to
have an edge.
Once we got to Drew’s, the real testing began. Despite being awesome in theory, Inkmoth Nexus almost never got activated. We figured that it
would block against Boros, provide a solid clock against Valakut if necessary, and wouldn’t mess up our mana base (as we were definitely going up
It was really good against decks with little instant-speed removal and no way to kill Swords like RUG or Valakut, but all of that was only true in game
one. If it would only be good game one (and I use “good” loosely), then we probably shouldn’t play it.
We started discussing what aspects we needed to work on over lunch at Five Guys on Friday. Cunning Sparkmage was a recurring theme in Ben’s and
my losses, so I started jotting down decklists. Lightning Bolt, Arc Trail, Pyroclasm, Crush, and Cunning Sparkmage were all considerations.
With all of our tinkering with the deck, I was getting a little worried. I told Ben Hayes (while Drew was with us) that I needed him to make sure I
didn’t go overboard. I knew Ben Stark’s Caw-Blade list was awesome, and I didn’t want to get too cute and sabotage my chances at
Friday night, AJ and Ben were playing heads-up queues on Magic Online, and they ran into a Caw-Blade deck splashing red. Cunning Sparkmage was a
beating, and even though AJ ended up winning, we decided to brew a list.
After some discussion and durdling, we arrived at the following:
The maindeck is pretty standard once you realize what we’re going for. Three Bolts is a lot of spot removal, but Lotus Cobra must die, and
it’s not the worst in the mirror. We figured they’d probably walk Jace into it, and keeping them off active Sword is the only other thing
to worry about.
Fewer counterspells is probably fine, although it makes your Valakut matchup a little weaker. I was only ever losing to aggro decks with straight U/W,
and the counters were dead draws nearly every time. We decided to hate on Valakut with the sideboard.
After a few tweaks and discussing it with Drew, I think I figured out the perfect mana base. Twelve red sources is about the minimum I’d play,
but in order to get that many, I had to cut Tectonic Edge. While that does weaken our Valakut matchup again, I assumed it would be fine.
You rarely function similarly to the old U/W decks, where you’re fine with Primeval Titan resolving since you have Tectonic Edge and Spreading Seas for
their Valakuts. At first, I had a Tectonic Edge over a Mountain and another in the sideboard to combo with Sun Titans, but that wouldn’t be
enough to beat Valakut on its own. I wanted something that would seriously impact the matchup, but drawing a Tectonic Edge every other game probably
wouldn’t increase my win percentage.
I’m a big proponent of having your sideboard cards do powerful things that will swing the matchup in your favor. Typically, having excess copies
of cards in your board won’t turn the tables as much as playing absolute hosers. Granted, I’m guilty of this at times, but I still try to
do it correctly as much as possible.
Current Valakut is (correctly) focusing on Green Sun’s Zenith rather than Summoning Trap, so it seemed as though we could actually just fight
them with only counterspells. In the past, that might not have been viable, but since things like Thrun, the Last Troll and Gaea’s Revenge are
dealt with easily enough with Swords or Day of Judgment, a counter wall is very effective again.
Also, in the mirror match, Tectonic Edge isn’t as valuable as it used to be. There are very few instances of Celestial Colonnade fighting
planeswalkers. The early game starts with a tempo war where you battle over Sword superiority. After that’s been settled, it starts on the
planeswalker battles, which are quickly won, typically by whoever was able to play around counterspells or whoever could stick a large threat.
Colonnade is so mana intensive that you don’t get to do anything else on the same turn you attack with it, and one hit most likely won’t
kill a Gideon or Jace. Even if you do kill their planeswalker, they’ll either cast the second copy, or you’ll be so behind on tempo that
you can’t catch back up. Squadron Hawk is also exceptional at holding off Colonnade on those crucial turns.
Making all of your land drops is crucial, as is being able to cast spells every turn. I decided that no matter what, I was going to add a land. That
would increase my consistency, but I was a little scared of not having enough utility from my lands with zero Edges. Thankfully, that ended up not
being the case, although I did board out a land when I was on the draw a couple times.
After some quick math and discussion, the mana base ended up nearly perfect. I had no complaints about color problems, the lack of lands, or an
abundance of them, and there were enough blue or white lands that came into play untapped that I could cast Day of Judgment or Jace on turn 4 if I
needed to peel a land.
Glacial Fortress is fine because you have enough untapped lands thanks to a plethora of fetchlands. Seachrome Coast is great, but I didn’t want
to load up on lands that would enter the battlefield tapped because casting Jace and DoJ on turn 4 is of the utmost importance.
Evolving Wilds, while not impressive, does exactly what you need it to do — fix your mana. Again, I didn’t want a lot of lands that entered
the battlefield tapped, but I certainly wanted to be able to cast my spells. Wilds was the only land that could produce all three colors, so it seemed
like we should play some.
The typical concession one makes when building a three-color mana base in this day and age is being slower to develop, but I wanted a design where that
wasn’t necessarily the case. I knew I had to play some Evolving Wilds, but that probably meant that I’d have to cut a Colonnade. Colonnade is
definitely awesome, but it’s one of those things where its value has shifted, and therefore you don’t need to play four of them.
The sideboard is fairly straightforward. I wanted Sparkmages against the mirror, Boros, Elves, and Quest. Flashfreeze was mainly for Valakut but was
more than fine against most RUG builds as well. Killing Swords early is great, so Divine Offering got the nod, although I didn’t plan on bringing
in all of them against Boros.
The Collar is mainly for Sparkmage but could also function as your Sylvok Lifestaff, which I wasn’t totally unhappy to cut. Lewis Laskin said
that he loved Collar in the mirror, as even if they have a Sword advantage, as long as you have Squadron Hawk and Collar, they can’t break
through. I doubt I’d play Collar without Sparkmage, but it just meant that it wouldn’t be a bad draw if I didn’t draw Sparkmage.
I always liked having one Sun Titan in the sideboard for the mirror. Drawing two six-drops is very annoying, so I only played one before. However, when
I realized I was weak to Valakut and added a mini-Tectonic Edge package, Sun Titan’s value seemed to increase. Once I cut the Edges, I decided to
replace one Sun Titan with an Inferno Titan. I was really impressed by it in Chris Andersen RUG list on Friday night and decided that it would
be another solid card for the aggro decks or mirror match.
It may seem like I have pet cards like Dispel, Into the Roil, or See Beyond (which I tried in Caw-Blade), but I only put them in every deck because
they do something unique. When I suggested Dispel to Ben Hayes, all he did was groan, as everyone does.
Once I mentioned that it protected your Sword from Divine Offering in addition to forcing through your Jace through countermagic and stopping a key
Summoning Trap, which was the most likely way we’d lose to Valakut, he was on board.
This is the way that we advised sideboarding in the dark, but this changes depending on the exact contents of their deck and how they played the match.
If they respect your counterspells and play around them, then you don’t actually need them in your deck. If your opponent is the type to just
say, “He doesn’t have it,” and run Jace out there on turn 4, then you probably need to keep some in.
Of course, this all changes when you’re playing against someone who is playing Sparkblade and has read my article.
I could see Day of Judgment becoming more useful now that people should be adopting Cunning Sparkmage, but that totally changes the dynamic of the
mirror. Going forward, I’d recommend some innovation.
+ 4 Flashfreeze, 1 Dispel (if you’re worried about Harrow, Summoning Trap, Nature’s Claim, or Lightning Bolt)
– 3 Lightning Bolt (if they don’t have Lotus Cobra), 1 Day of Judgment and/or Gideon (if they don’t have a lot of creature threats), 1
Mountain (if you feel you can’t afford to get flooded, seriously)
The matchup tends to be a race, although you can defeat them with the all-counterspell draw. The more hate they have, the dicier it gets, but that
dilutes their deck a ton as well. Summoning Trap is your biggest fear, since it will likely penetrate your counter wall, but even then, it’s a
I sided out a land at various points in the day, especially when I was on the draw, but clearly I wasn’t sure if that was right or not.
The CFB crew advised siding out Squadron Hawk against Valakut, but I don’t think I can do that against Valakut with Sparkblade. You’re definitely
the aggro deck and need to act as such. If they don’t have a lot of removal, then you can probably cut one Hawk, but overall, I think you need
some Hawks to put pressure on them.
If they’re packing a ton of removal or slow their deck down post-board in an attempt to attrition you out, Sun Titan becomes a little better. The
counterspells are very slow, and you’re always doing other things with your mana. I’d only bring in two Offerings because, while they’re pretty
good and your opponent’s equipment matters, you never want to draw multiples.
Siding out some Jaces against aggro is standard practice, but again, if they’re slowing down their deck noticeably, then Jace is actually a rock star.
Typically, you’ll find yourself in this situation where they have pressure, you cast turn 2 Stoneforge Mystic, and you don’t know which
Sword to get. Body and Mind is appealing because it creates a blocker after you attack with something, whereas Feast and Famine would make them discard
an irrelevant card.
If you have plenty of gas in hand, Feast and Famine is much better since you can start playing two spells in one turn. However, if you can’t take
advantage of the untapping aspect, Body and Mind would save you.
I’d clearly recommend playing the deck again. While Drew lost playing for Top 8 and Ben Hayes basically got crushed, both liked the deck.
StarCityGames.com Open: Edison is this weekend, and I’ll definitely be piloting a similar deck, but I’m not quite sure yet. Hopefully I can
re-break the format!