Picking Up Caw-Blade In 24 Hours

Tuesday, April 19 – Ari Lax was going to play U/B Control but made the last minute switch to Caw-Blade for the GP. He found out as much about the deck as he could in 24 hours and shares his info: take these tips to SCG Open: Boston.

I wish I could give you a report where I break down in depth how to beat everything with Caw-Blade. The deck certainly has the power to do so and has
the range of options that such a report will be useful.

Instead, this is the story of how to pick up the deck and become decent enough with it to Top 32 a Grand Prix in twenty-four hours.

As of Friday morning when I left for Dallas, my top choice was a U/B build Kyle Boggemes had provided me a few weeks prior. The primary difference
between it and the lists from Barcelona was the inclusion of Precursor Golems in the main deck and the lack of Spreading Seas. The problem I found was
that putting Caw-Blade into the position of doing nothing really didn’t get you anywhere, as inevitably the game would grind out, and they were more
threat dense than you were. Instead, I was winning by just keeping the game stable long enough to slam down a dominant threat that would kill them
within a couple turns. RUG was my back up, but I felt the deck was too much of the Lotus Cobra lottery.

Why wasn’t I on Caw-Blade? Whenever I watched the deck, it just felt like a bunch of do nothing. A bunch of Suntail Hawks and Squires was not exciting
to me, and the rest of the deck just felt like a watered down U/W Control shell. Hitting them with a Sword seemed like the kind of thing that only
happened when they had nothing, and you could’ve won with just about anything.

Yeah, I was wrong about that one.

Two games after I showed up at the hotel, I was off U/B. I had only really tested against the three-color builds of Caw-Blade and was savaged by Gavin
Verhey playing the two-color build. The combination of Tectonic Edge to keep you off your high drops, Spell Pierce to blow you out when you try to
stall their Sword equips with removal, and Day of Judgment as a removal spell that actually hits Grave Titan and Golem was too much. On top of that,
they never just stumbled and failed to have the double blue for Jace or an untapped land for Mystic. At this point, I decided this whole Caw-Blade
thing wasn’t just an overblown joke (think Aluren at Columbus) and that I had one day to go from zero to master with the deck.

My first instinct was to cut Spell Pierce. It was only good in your good matchups and was basically blank against the random creature decks that were
supposed to beat you. My Pierce-less list held up well against the random field of eight-mans and Valakut, but when I started testing the mirror,
things went rapidly downhill. While the games did often go long enough to make Pierce a blank, more often you needed the card early to stop a
planeswalker or protect your Sword from an Into the Roil or Tumble Magnet.

This still left me in an awkward spot for the mirror. For those who have never played it, every single turn has a massive number of decisions to make.
You have to identify whether the game is currently about Sword or planeswalkers and then figure out which two of your six two-mana options combine to
put you in the best position to get ahead in that fight.

My advice to figure out this mess? I just birded a bunch of better players for a few hours. For those who can’t do this, go back and watch SCGLive
videos of those who have been consistently winning with the deck.

From those games, here is what I learned:

-When you have Mystic on the play, it’s often best to just leave up the ability to flash in your Sword on three even if you have another
board-advancing play like Squadron Hawk. It’s more important to have mana up on four to protect your attack or have the ability to interact with theirs
if they have something that you can’t deal with.

Mortarpod is really important in the Hawk battles that occur. Not only does it stop them from suiting up, but they get into really awkward positions
trying to figure out how many guys to block with. The toughness boost even brick walls all of their Hawks with just one of yours. It was to the point
that I watched Brad Nelson snap get Mortarpod on the draw when they led by fetching Sword. While I don’t necessarily agree with that, it’s probably not
out of the question.

-Planeswalker wars are mostly about trading things that aren’t your walkers for theirs. If you get to kill their Jace with some Hawks, not only do you
keep board position, but you get to follow up with your copy. While sometimes you have to do it, trading your Jace for theirs is miserable, as you’re
not only down at least a card, but you have to tap down and expose yourself to a Sword hit. Gideon is almost the reverse, as often, they’re relying on
it to redirect your attack when you legend rule it.

-If you have Mystic, Spell Pierce, and four lands on the play, you’re a massive favorite to win unless you literally do nothing else the whole game.

The night culminated with my getting bashed by Craig Wescoe B/R Vampires in game ones and Brian Kibler Poison deck. Both of these were things I
could accept, as Vampires got significantly better post-board with Oust, and no one actually played Poison.

The next morning, I registered the following list:

Some of the decisions I made about the list compared to others:

Jace Beleren in the main: I was extremely impressed by this card in U/B and felt I wanted more Jaces in this deck.

-2 Swords: I wanted to naturally draw Swords a fair amount, and having more things to fetch with Stoneforge was fine. It also made it easier when you
wanted both it and Mortarpod if you just drew one of them. No Body and Mind, as you never actually want it except in the mirror when you don’t have
anything else to do with your mana.

Sylvok Lifestaff: I wanted just a bit more against beatdown, and Brian Kibler videos of the Vampire matchup with this card sold me.

During my byes, I talked with Sam Black a lot about the deck and specifically the mirror. He seemed to think that every card in the deck was
situationally insane, and it was all about setting them up for blowouts with what you had and not letting yourself lose to what they could. After
playing some more games, I came to the conclusion that this was very die-roll dependent. On the play, you were usually very far ahead to start, and the
game was mostly about just making sure you didn’t get randomly blown out by something, but on the draw, you needed to set up the same blowouts to
regain the tempo.

Round 4: Jon Job with Big Red

Game one I set up to Spell Pierce his Koth only to be met with a Molten-Tail Masticore. I had to Day it away immediately, and the Koth he stuck on the
follow-up put me too far behind to catch up.

Boarding: -3 Spell Pierce, -1 Into the Roil, -1 Mortarpod, -1 Jace Beleren, +3 Kor Firewalker +2 Flashfreeze, +1 Divine Offering

Tumble Magnet was another considerable cut, but I wanted it for his Kuldotha Phoenixes and Inferno Titans. Spell Pierce seemed mediocre at best against
everything but Koth, which is easier to control with attacks anyway.

Game two, everything went according to plan. I hit him with a Sword on turn 4 and stuck a Jace. I easily dealt with all his threats while fatesealing
him off more.

Game three played out just like game two, only instead of threats being the limiting factor, it was land. I kept him at four mana by Tectonic Edging a
Valakut, and Jace sent a bunch more lands away en route to thirteen loyalty.


Round 5: Josh Mitchell with U/B Poison

Game one I drew both of my Tumble Magnets to hold off a Phyrexian Crusader and Vatmother until I got to Gideon, which easily handled both of them. A
couple of Sworded hits later, and the game was mine. His having Vatmother over anything else was pretty lucky for me, as the card is basically a
complete brick against Jace, Gideon, and Squadron Hawk chumps.

Sideboarding: -1 Spell Pierce, +1 Day of Judgment

I might have wanted more, but I was just looking for more answers to Phyrexian Crusader and didn’t want to overboard, as all of my maindeck cards
seemed good. Mortarpod is probably the next worst card, but it can hold off an Inkmoth Nexus for a long time.

Game two my opponent led on an Inquisition of Kozilek. I revealed a hand of Jace, Day, Gideon, two Preordains, and two lands. I binned a Preordain and
waited on my opponent to write down my hand. About a minute later, he was still writing down the third card, so I asked him to hurry up. He gave me a
blank stare, and I called for a judge. My opponent ended up getting pretty mad about this, but pressing time is very important with Caw-Blade. There
were more unintentional draws at this Grand Prix than at any other I can remember, bar the first few rounds of Columbus where people were playing decks
that actually couldn’t win in time. I personally watched AJ Sacher and Edgar Flores test a post-board game of the mirror that took around an hour.
Fortunately, time ended up not being an issue this match. I drew a bunch of planeswalkers while Tectonic Edging to keep him off of four mana, and a
Gideon eventually got in for the full twenty after I countered all of his removal.


Round 6: Evan Coffey with Darkblade

Game 1: We both led on U/W duals, prompting me to give the “Let’s play quick and not draw this one” speech that was so common at this event. This game
was pretty typical fare for this matchup. I got a Tumble Magnet in, he over committed into a Day, and I followed up by hitting him with a Sword,
sticking a Jace, and Tectonic Edging his Tar Pits.

Sideboarding: -2 Day of Judgment, -2 Mana Leak, +1 Jace Beleren, +2 Sun Titan, +1 Divine Offering

Day of Judgment, despite being good game one, is too often a lose-less card, as they get the first turn to reestablish after it resolves. Taking out
Mana Leak is what everyone said to do, but I’m not sure it’s completely right. It’s bad early in the Sword fights, but it’s very good in the midgame
when walker fights start. Obviously, it becomes dead after a while, but leaving in 1-2 seems more correct to me than just not wanting it at all.

Game two was one of the rarely simple games of this matchup. He didn’t have a Mystic; I did, and when I Tectonic Edged his white source and his Jace
Brainstorm failed to reveal one, he conceded.


Round 7: Josh Utter-Leyton with W/U Caw

I won the die roll and had Mystic, Spell Pierce, and Jace. He didn’t have anything to really stop me, so the game ended very decisively in my favor.

Sideboarding: -2 Day of Judgment, -2 Mana Leak, +1 Jace Beleren, +2 Sun Titan, +1 Divine Offering

We both had Mystics, but when I tapped out for Tumble Magnet on turn 3, he had the Into the Roil and Jace follow-up to basically lock up the game. I
scooped a couple turns later.

Game three, I had a hand with a Squadron Hawk, an Into the Roil, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and Preordain. This hand had the tools to get me to the
planeswalker stage of the game pretty quickly, so I kept. He led on Squadron Hawk, Jace Beleren, while my Preordain didn’t find an untapped land to
cast a second Hawk on three. On my turn 4, I decided I needed to clear his Beleren, so I could establish my own Jace and used my Into the Roil and a
Mortarpod to do so. He had a follow-up Mind Sculptor, and I fell too far behind when I started having to use my walkers to legend rule his. In
retrospect, the correct play was to Into the Roil his Beleren on his end step and then play my Jace. Instead of losing to another Jace, I would lose to
a counter, but he might not necessarily leave one up if he still had Beleren on board.


Round 8: Chris Lewis with RUG

Game one he played a Lotus Cobra on two. I didn’t have an answer, and his hand actually did something. A Jace and another threat later, and it was time
for game two.

Sideboarding: -3 Spell Pierce, -2 Tumble Magnet, -1 Into the Roil, -1 Jace Beleren, +2 Flashfreeze, +4 Oust, +1 Day of Judgment

Spell Pierce only really hits Explore and planeswalkers, but the walkers should be easy game for your creatures, as they have no good defense against
Squadron Hawks, and Explore really doesn’t matter too much. Tumble Magnet only really stalls a resolved Titan, which has already stalled you more than
enough by killing all of your Hawks. Into the Roil doesn’t actually solve any problems, and you don’t really have time to drop a Beleren. Flashfreeze
bulks up the number of answers you have to an Inferno Titan before it resolves, Oust is the number one answer to Lotus Cobra, and Day is a solid panic
button to have, especially when their resolving a Titan usually means you don’t have a board any more.

Game two the plan executed perfectly. I played a Stoneforge Mystic and Ousted his Cobra, and Sword was connecting in no time.

Game three things went a little longer. I Ousted his Cobra but didn’t have any threats, letting him get to Garruk and then Frost Titan. I stuck a Jace
and ended up Ousting his Titan a bunch before Garruk eventually got Hawked down, and I could Mana Leak his Titan. There were a couple turns where if he
had another threat on top of his library, I would’ve been in trouble, but to quote him, he was “running colder than Christmas.” From there, Jace
fatesealed him a bunch, and it was over. Continuing the cold jokes, I pointed out all the Flashfreezes that were “chilling” in my hand.

All of the RUG players seemed to like this matchup, but having played both sides, it really just felt as if they were playing the Lotus Cobra lottery.
Sometimes, they just have it, and there’s nothing the Caw-Blade player can do, but the other 60% of the time, it’s really rough.


Round 9: Christian Flodstrom-Sconce with Valakut

Game one I curved out with Mystic into Sword and Jace. His Overgrown Battlement got bounced, and from there, the game was basically over. A couple more
swings, and he was hellbent and getting fatesealed.

Sideboarding: -4 Squadron Hawk, -2 Gideon Jura, -2 Tumble Magnet, -1 Into the Roil, -1 Jace Beleren, +3 Kor Firewalker, +4 Oust, +2 Flashfreeze, +1 Day
of Judgment

Cutting Hawks for Firewalkers was an Edgar Flores suggestion, and in retrospect, I don’t agree. The idea is they can’t Bolt down a Firewalker, but not
only is Firewalker miserable at attacking through Battlements without a Sword, but Hawk is significantly better at letting you follow up Day. Gideon is
a bit slow, but one stays, as you sometimes need a way to close that isn’t Sword, as they’ll board in artifact hate. Tumble Magnet and Into the Roil
again only stall the problem, so they leave for real answers, and Jace Beleren is again too clunky and low impact. As for the cards I bring in, Oust is
even more unreal against Valakut than RUG, as they have eight cheap guys that you can force them to draw again.

Game two, I Ousted him a few times and played a Jace, which started fatesealing away his threats. The next turn, I Ousted his Battlement before
fatesealing, so that if he had a threat on top, I could ship it and force him to draw Battlement again. This resulted in what was probably one of my
more amusing judge calls:

“Judge, can you confirm that we resolved Oust correctly?”

“I don’t understand; what do you mean?”

“I want to make sure that we put an Overgrown Battlement second from the top before I resolve this fateseal.”

“I still don’t understand, why?”

“The card I’m looking at is an Overgrown Battlement, and I want to make sure we didn’t accidentally resolve a Time Ebb.”

Todd Anderson, who was sitting next to me, described it as asking the judge to confirm my opponent was dead. I ended up giving him a chance to rip out,
as I didn’t fateseal away a Valakut two turns later, but I ripped the fourth Oust to ensure he was drawing dead.


After rushing out to a solid dinner and victorious Next Level Credit Card Game, I failed to convince Zaiem Beg and Will Cruise to play U/B Fae in the
Extended PTQ on Sunday. Not that the format is real any more, but I don’t understand why people assumed Sword of Feast and Famine signaled the end of a
deck that operated on instant-speed tricks and removal. Gavin was all about Faeries but wanted to play U/W instead. Apparently, the concept of just
winning off a turn 2 Bitterblossom is out of style these days.

A solid eight hours of sleep and a breakfast later and I was ready to go for day two. Especially at a Grand Prix, people underestimate the value of
good physical operations. Day one takes forever, and if you intend on winning, day two usually does as well. Add travel on top of that, and I don’t
understand how anyone plans to function deep into day one without full amounts of sleep, let alone at all on day two.

Round 10: Will C. Jones with Eldrazi Green

I’d been told this matchup was bad, but I really don’t understand where that concern was coming from. To be fair, I had the nuts game one, curving
Mystic, Sword, equip, second Mystic, and a Jace to bounce his Battlement. He really had nothing he could do at any point of the game to interact.

Sideboarding: -1 Squadron Hawk, -2 Gideon Jura, -2 Spell Pierce, -1 Into the Roil, -1 Jace Beleren, +4 Oust, +2 Flashfreeze, +1 Day of Judgment

You don’t really need to fetch four Hawks in this matchup, as the game should be decided by then. Gideon is slow just like it is against Valakut, and
Spell Pierce isn’t good against anything but Trap, as they’re usually on all creatures for ramp. Unlike against Valakut, Tumble Magnet is actually good
here, as it can lock down a Treespeaker as well as Battlements early, and tapping down an Ulamog actually does something.

Game two played out in a similar fashion to game one. I got a Sword and Jace going while Ousting his creatures. When Jace hit eleven counters, I saw a
Summoning Trap on top of his library and went into the tank. I took a look down and realized it didn’t matter, as he was dead on board. I very
meticulously tapped my mana, triple counted to make sure I was right, and shoved my team into the red zone.


I ran over to the PTQ to lend Zaiem the last Thoughtseize for his deck and found one Gabe Carlton-Barnes looking for a deck. I told him I had Faeries,
and he handed me an already written up decklist. A couple changes later, and he had everything he needed but a possible fourth Thoughtseize.

Round 11: Korey McDuffie with U/W Caw

Game one was a combination of great and terrible plays. He scared me off of hitting him with a Sword on four by representing a Condemn that would
almost immediately end the game if he had it. I then thought I had him with a Sword hit and went all in, completely forgetting he had fetched Mortarpod
with Mystic. Flashing it in around my Spell Pierce destroyed my entire turn and let him swing back with a Sword, putting him in a commanding position.
I got to resolve a Gideon to match his Jace but opted to Sword it up and hit him with it to let me play all my spells and tread water a bit more. He
swung back and played a few guys, and when I untapped, I realized I had it. I Tectonic Edged him in my first main, suited up my Stoneforge Mystic,
animated Gideon, and moved to combat. He neglected to use the one he had floating in his main phase, letting me Mana Leak his Into the Roil and hit him
for nine. Gideon and the Mystic hopped in the Mortarpod and dealt the lethal two to win a game I thought was far beyond my reach.

Sideboarding: -2 Day of Judgment, -2 Mana Leak, +1 Jace Beleren, +2 Sun Titan, +1 Divine Offering

Game two, neither of us had the early game setup, and I just one-upped him on walkers and mana, leading to a game-breaking Sun Titan.


Korey seemed pretty tilted about his punt at the end of the first game, and while I’m pretty sure he could have gotten over it on his own, I gave him
the same advice I use to deal with tilt myself. If you make a mistake, it happened in the past, and there’s nothing you can do to fix it now. You know
for next time what not to do, but doing anything other than not caring about it is not going to help.

Round 12: Orrin Beasley with RUG

Both games of this matchup went the same. I had a strong start while he didn’t have the nuts, but I missed my fourth land and couldn’t fight my way
back in. Game one, I think I had the chance to just go more aggressive with my plays and Mana Leak his Precursor Golem, but I had the Into the Roil and
could afford to take one hit, whereas I had no answer for an Inferno Titan other than the Leak. Considering how poorly my opponents had run earlier
during this event, I couldn’t complain about one match of below-average luck.

Sideboarding: -3 Spell Pierce, -2 Tumble Magnet, -1 Into the Roil, -1 Jace Beleren, +2 Flashfreeze, +4 Oust, +1 Day of Judgment


Round 13: Aaron R. White with Valakut

Game one I kept a mediocre hand of two Preordains and a Jace on the play, assuming that on the play everything would work itself out. He had a Titan in
play by turn 4. I could have Brainstormed into a Day of Judgment to not just lose but failed to hit the two-outer.

Sideboarding: -1 Squadron Hawk, -2 Gideon Jura, -2 Tumble Magnet, -1 Into the Roil, -1 Jace Beleren, +4 Oust, +2 Flashfreeze, +1 Day of Judgment

Game two, I had a Jace hand with Oust. I Ousted his first Cobra and bounced his second Lotus Cobra on turn 3, leaving him with three lands and a Khalni
Heart Expedition on one counter. I untapped, facing down a Primeval Titan. I Preordained into a Day and a Oust but didn’t have a fifth land, so I
decided to keep both and Brainstorm to try and hit it. I missed but could still Oust his Titan and then fateseal it away the next turn. Unfortunately
for me, his top card was a Green Sun’s Zenith, and I died. I could’ve fatesealed to begin with on Jace, but he also had two cards in hand that could
have been a Titan.


I figured I had about a 4% chance of Top 8 at this point. Actually, everything had to go my way, and I needed multiple blockers, but I wasn’t
completely cold, as my tiebreakers were insane.

Round 14: Brian Siu with U/W Caw

Game one I mulled to five. The game was still reasonably close, but his Magnet got mine, and he hit with Sword.

Sideboarding: -2 Day of Judgment, -2 Mana Leak, +1 Jace Beleren, +2 Sun Titan, +1 Divine Offering

Game two, I kept a strong planeswalker hand and ripped a Stoneforge Mystic. He stumbled a bit on mana, and we were quickly off to game three.

Game three was just as lopsided as the first two. We traded off a bit on the early turns, but I missed my fourth land, and he got a Jace down to lock
me out.


I quickly looked at the standings before the final round and figured a win would put me in the range of 30-35th, while a draw would put me around 64th.
I told people I wasn’t sure about the math on drawing in, but partly I just didn’t want to have flown across the country for a top 64, especially after
starting 10-1.

Round 15: Joe Bass with U/W Caw

This really wasn’t even a match. Game one he didn’t keep a hand with a two-drop and got rolled by my curving out with Mystic, Spell Pierce, Hawk, and
Jace. When we started shuffling up for game two, the people next to us were still resolving a mulligan to four.

Sideboarding: -2 Day of Judgment, -2 Mana Leak, +1 Jace Beleren, +2 Sun Titan, +1 Divine Offering

Game two was more of the same. I had the Mystic, an answer for his, and more walkers than he had. He fell behind quickly and had no way to fight back


Final standings went up, and in standard fashion, I was 32nd on the nose. It turned out a bunch of people had drawn when they shouldn’t have in the X-4
bracket, and I could have drawn into money, but I think “Who has the chips?” applies here.

A large group of people went on a barbeque adventure, but half the group jumped ship to go to Ojos Locos, aka Mexican Hooters. Myself and four others
continued on to be rewarded with $10 all-you-can-eat ribs.

I returned to the site to resolve borrowed cards to find that GCB had mised his way into Top 8 of the PTQ at 6-2. In the meantime, Kyle Boggemes, Dan
Jordan, and I played an extremely lopsided 3v3 draft. Not only were our decks all solid, we opened a ton of bombs. One game, Kyle ultimated Venser and
played a Sword of Feast and Famine the next turn. He played two more spells, exiling two more permanents, and connected with Sword. His second main
phase consisted of playing and activating a Hoard-Smelter Dragon and blinking out a Trigon of Thought to refuel his hand. His next spell? Volition

After resoundingly crushing that draft, I four-man cubed. I had no clue on the contents of the cube, so after a first pick Tinker, I just forced
mono-red. Pick 1, pack 2 Mox Sapphire, Survival of the Fittest, and Timetwister were all passed in favor of a Hearth Kami. After lighting some people
on fire, the draft ended just in time for me to go watch Gabe win a Fae mirror in the finals of the PTQ. The resulting Quest for the Cakelord was a lot
simpler than Gavin’s from Austin, with our only having to ask one local and walk two blocks to get there.

My ride to the airport left at 5 am, so I ran the re-ups on the same cube in the hotel lobby. I drafted a mono-green Little Kid deck, which was
apparently good enough to beat such real things as turn 1 Mox Ruby, land, Sol Ring, Prismatic Lens with such powerful combos as Troll AsceticRancor. I
didn’t stay awake long enough see the end of the draft, so I’m not sure if Luis’s four-Mountain, Koth monstrosity beat anything real, but I’m sure
someone can inform me.

Of course, my run goods only apply to everything but travel, so when I got the 4:30 am call that my flight was canceled, it was business as usual. Of
course, could be worse. Plane could catch on fire or something.

Oh wait, shouldn’t say that—it might happen to me again.

In retrospect, I wouldn’t have played the maindeck Jace Beleren. The deck has too much going on early to work it into the early curve. There should
also be one Inkmoth Nexus in the deck, two if you make the Jace the 27th land over the second Into the Roil or a miser’s Condemn. On the subject of
Condemn, I would consider turning one of the Magnets into one. While Magnet is better midgame in the mirror, Condemn is better against everything else
and better on turn 3 in the mirror. My sideboard was fairly solid, and even though I never wanted the Lifestaff, I think it deserves a spot. A second
Divine Offering might be decent, but it isn’t necessary.

Also, regardless of how narrow this format is, the games are deep and fun. There are tons of decisions, and skill is rewarded. People are calling for a
banning, but even if you can’t afford $100 mythics, you can still make a budget deck to compete with the Jace decks. This is not Ravager or Survival,
where the game is just over on turn 4. This reminds me more of a more dominant Remand, where a couple utility spells make one color a really good
choice, but the games are still games.

The next event on my list is probably StarCityGames.com Open: Louisville, and I’m definitely looking forward to Standard there. At the very least,
having a R/W Sword will punish blocking with Squadron Hawks a bit and make other colors more realistic options. At best, a whole new format will opens.