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Pro Tour Paris: Hawkward, Part 2

Wednesday, March 9 – Zvi explains why one should never side out Vector Asp. All the intricacies of the deck are laid bare within. Figure out how to board and play out matches with Tempered Steel and ready yourself for SCG Open: Memphis.


Don’t miss Part One, here!

The best way to think of Hawkward is as the good version of Kuldotha Red. Kuldotha Red is slightly faster at killing a goldfish, but Hawkward is far
more resilient across all lines of defense. Unlike Kuldotha Red, which asks one Question and folds to a single Answer, Hawkward can both soundly defeat
anyone who lacks an Answer and also be resilient enough to survive one. The key to playing the deck is to make sure you can reliably ask that Question
in a manner that forces them to Answer. Doing this requires some anti-intuitive choices, but even if you don’t buy the arguments on paper, once you
have play experience with the deck, those choices will make perfect sense. 

Here is the list for Hawkward:


This was my list from the Pro Tour, and I stand by all the choices as valid. The numbers in the sideboard will surely shift over time as people figure
out the details, but I like all the cards involved, and I don’t care for any cards not involved.

The most important thing to remember about this deck is that it’s constructed for speed. That is why you’re running Vector Asp despite the fact that
it’s very close to a one-mana Memnite, although you should remember to activate its ability off Mox Opal when it would prove useful once every three
tournaments. Turning on Ardent Recruit and Mox Opal as soon as possible and giving Steel Overseer and Tempered Steel attackers to pump up on the third
turn are vital to this deck’s success. Therefore, you should never sideboard out Vector Asp. I’m serious. It’s too important. There was a game at the
Pro Tour where I drew quads of Vector Asp, and my opponent drew quads of Ratchet Bomb. I won that game.

When deciding to mulligan, the question you should be asking is what your hand is capable of beating. It’s not about having a mix of land and spells,
as many hands with only one mana source are fine; while some with three do exactly nothing useful. The best hands have two or three, but the only
question you should ask is what can this hand do? What do you need to draw?

Remember that drawing another mana source is far from a reasonable thing to presume you’ll do, whereas drawing another artifact creature is a much
fairer assumption. Also remember that there are only four cards in the deck that cost three mana, so as good as Tempered Steel is for you, being stuck
at two permanently isn’t that big a deal.

Look at how the game will play out. How much damage will you do on turns 2, 3, and 4? What would give you a turn 4 kill, or at least a turn 5 one? Can
you do anything if they have an Answer? Also remember that the deck mulligans well, and you’re perfectly capable of getting a turn 4 through resistance
from six or even five cards. Beating a true Answer off a mulligan, however, is hard, and you can’t throw a hand back if it will win against opponents
without an Answer.

When deciding how to play out the deck, remember to have a plan for the entire game, not only the current turn. This sounds a lot more complex than it
is, but often you’ll have to answer questions like whether to expose additional artifacts to removal spells in order to do more damage quickly and
whether to make a play that you know will give good pressure or gamble on drawing an additional piece you need.

The needs of your initial attack can be thought of as a threshold effect. You should only play additional threats if those additional threats turn
games you would lose into games where you win. The main way to do that is to speed up your clock, either against an opponent who does not interfere
beyond what you’ve seen or one who only has one removal spell or other defense you don’t already know about. Often, it will look right to play another
threat but will be clear when you look at the situation that it doesn’t change the board situation at all.

The flip side of that is that you shouldn’t try to play around what you can’t hope to defeat. If your hand is highly unlikely to have any way to beat a
Ratchet Bomb or Pyroclasm or whatnot, then it makes little sense to give them more time to find one in exchange for the slim hope of surviving one
somehow, and you should dump everything you can onto the table as soon as possible. If they have it, they have it, and this applies to most mulligan
hands or hands with four or more mana sources. Often, players will have unexpected cards that they want to use to keep themselves alive for a time or
unexpectedly high quantities of spot removal, and you don’t want to give them the chance to buy themselves a turn that way unless you’re getting
something in return.

A final note concerns Seachrome Coast and other blue sources. Whenever possible, you want to hold back blue mana and, if possible, make it look like
you’re quietly making a point to do so and trying to hide that. A lot of players will read that blue mana as Spell Pierce, Mana Leak, or Unified Will
and act accordingly, which will usually mean making bad decisions. On rare occasions, you want them to tap out for something, in which case you should
do the opposite. Note that Mox Opal doesn’t get this job done unless they’ve already seen Seachrome Coast, but once they do, it can be quite the
distraction. Even better is tricking them into using Tectonic Edge on it, protecting Contested War Zone and reducing the amount of mana in the game,
since you have no use for it, and they frequently do.

That takes care of the basics, so we can go on to talk about the individual matchups. Keep in mind that our team did not get the chance to extensively
playtest this deck, so a lot of this is still somewhat raw and might be improvable; don’t hesitate to question these suggestions.

U/W (Caw-Blade):

Caw-Blade is the best deck in Standard until such time as everyone adjusts themselves to this fact. Once that happens, I expect there to be answers
that keep it in check, but I’m not assuming that because I suspect this deck is ridiculously good. You certainly have a far rougher time beating them
than you do beating a version without the Stoneforge Mystics, and that goes double when they use their leverage to sideboard more cards against you.

Their deck will, over time, overpower yours, but it doesn’t have room for Ratchet Bomb in the maindeck, so they can’t remove Glint Hawk Idol or
Tempered Steel. This forces them to use Squadron Hawk, Gideon Jura, and equipment in some combination to stop them, and their strategy will force them
to tap out most of the time and let you get these cards on the table. The ways you win games are to get forces onto the table and overwhelm them,
either too quickly for Day of Judgment or gambling that they don’t have it, by having enough forces for two waves and them not having a second answer,
or by being Hawkward. Remember that they can get active on you quickly thanks to the Sword, so you can’t afford to try and sit back on an Idol, but you
should still do your best to shield it from Spell Pierce and Mana Leak if you can.

As is the standard with control matchups, the key question you need to answer is what cards you’re trying to beat. In particular, you need to decide
whether or not to try and beat Day of Judgment. Often, you can dump your hand and be confident that you can win against anything else, but if they do
have the Day of Judgment, you lose. If you hold back, other cards can beat you, but it’s possible you can beat a Day. It takes a strong hand to try
this if it involves major sacrifice, but holding back an Idol until they tap out completely or until you can pay four to get around Spell Pierce can
often be done without opening the door. Similarly, the possibility of the Sword makes it worthwhile to sometimes sacrifice a little damage in order to
build up your creatures with Steel Overseer.

Phyrexian Revoker can name equipment, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, or Gideon Jura. Occasionally, you can name Elspeth Tirel or Ratchet Bomb. Leaving it in
is tempting, but it can’t fight through a Squadron Hawk or a Stoneforge Mystic, and if they Day of Judgment against one, it’s devastating with so much
invested, so it clearly leaves when you’re transforming.

Sideboarding gives you two options. The default plan is to do something akin to this:

-3 Plains

-1 Contested War Zone

-1 Chimeric Mass

-2 Phyrexian Revoker

-1 Steel Overseer

-2 Ardent Recruit

+3 Spell Pierce

+3 Unified Will

+1 Glacial Fortress

+3 Island

You may or may not want to bring in a seventh counter if you have one that fits. The first six are clear wins; the seventh is close, and the eighth is
probably actively bad. I can respect taking out any number of Ardent Recruits and Glint Hawks as part of this package, or taking out more copies of
Overseer, but you must leave in Vector Asp. The concept is the same in any case. Originally, the deck was taking out all the Overseers and leaving in
all the Recruits, but my experience has shown this to be wrong. Many games against control decks come down to trading cards, and often you’ll need to
be able to bring home a long game. You also can’t properly survive a Ratchet Bomb if nothing in your deck costs two mana. Steel Overseer gives you the
chance to win a longer game, and taking it out makes the deck too easy to strand with an unimpressive clock that can be taken out with Squadron Hawk or
a Sword.

When playing after sideboarding, your goal is, if possible, to get enough threats down as quickly as possible and then protect them from answers with
counters. You can also use them to force through Tempered Steel or Glint Hawk Idol. Remember when tapping mana that when they counter back, it will
usually be with Spell Pierce, which means that you often want to stay completely untapped to make sure you can stop Day of Judgment or another key
spell. They still win most long games, of course, but remember that it’s far from automatic. He’ll be spending a lot of cards on mana, so the fight may
not be fair, but it’s a lot closer to fair than it looks. Note that if they’re smart, they’ll bring in a full complement of Baneslayer Angels, which is
one reason to pack Unified Will over Spell Pierce, as that card is a nightmare.

U/B:

Your enemies in game one are Ratchet Bomb and Black Sun’s Zenith. If you go first, a Steel Overseer can get out ahead of the Zenith, so prioritize that
if you get the opportunity. You’re posing a lot of questions their deck has a difficult time answering without those two cards, to the extent that the
first one is usually survivable. They have more mana sources than you, their threat costs six, and their main spot removal is Go for the Throat. They
have a very Hawkward time getting into position, so usually your actions should be to come roaring out of the gate; then if they do answer, use that to
get down Tempered Steel or Glint Hawk Idol if you haven’t already. Grave Titan is the only way they have to turn the game into a nightmare short of
somehow sticking a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, which is a sign you’d already lost, so try to time things so that won’t stop you. That takes priority over
playing to survive other things. You have a large edge in game one.

Sideboarding:

STAND PAT. I repeat, STAND PAT. Step away from the counters.

This is counterintuitive, but the sideboard package is no good here. It’s not crazy, and there is some chance that I’m wrong about that, but given my
current experience, I would fake bringing the counters in and not do so, then bluff them aggressively in game two should the opportunity arise;
potentially this should include bluffing that you’ve been stranded without blue mana.

His sideboard will give him more removal, and this will make his chances better, but the change is not large, and many opponents are bringing in Duress
to go for Glint Hawk Idol and Tempered Steel. Your best bet is to play as you did in game one, and be conscious of the fact that they’re far more
likely to have it, especially the second time, but remember that they can’t close you out easily without a Grave Titan, so you often have more time
than you think you do; even though they can pick up some card advantage, you start ahead by playing fewer mana sources.

Valakut:

In game one, you’re playing two races: The one in which they have it and the one in which they don’t. ‘It,’ in this case, refers to either Pyroclasm or
Slagstorm. If they don’t have it, then nothing else they do before Primeval Titan does much to slow you down. You’ll usually have a turn 4 and almost
always have a turn 5, while they’ll usually have the Titan on turn 4, but often you can kill them anyway, since they usually don’t get too many shots
in with that first trigger. The second trigger is what stops you. Even then, sometimes you can steal wins with an Idol; although things will go
downhill fast if they don’t die. Remember that if they don’t have a sweeper, then even going second, a turn 4 is usually good enough if you can do
substantially more than 20, but turn 5 isn’t. Going first, you have almost a full additional turn on top of that. Phyrexian Revoker doesn’t have much
to name, so Overgrown Battlement is usually the call.

That’s what it takes to win if they don’t have it, which could also be described as having a draw that isn’t awful. Beating a board sweeper is
trickier. Their using it tends to buy you about half a turn off their schedule, and they can’t fight you at all until they get to their high end,
beyond sweeping the board; so you can often realize that holding back doesn’t cost you anything, in which case you do it. It’s not uncommon that you
can keep your clock up in the face of a Pyroclasm effect. Keep an eye out for cards that tell you they’re not maindecking any sweepers, and keep an eye
out for an absence of those cards to see how likely it is that they do have it. Also keep very careful track of whether they’re about to hit six mana
and how bad it would be if the Titan hit.

Sideboarding:

-4 Steel Overseer

-2 Phyrexian Revoker

-2 Plains

-2 Contested War Zone

+3 Island

+1 Glacial Fortress

+3 Spell Pierce

+3 Unified Will

Against control decks, it’s not clear how many copies of Steel Overseer to take out, but here there can be no doubt. What matters is speed and throwing
monkey wrenches into their plan while having that speed, so you take out the expensive cards and bring in the counters.

The games play out in a way that’s even harder to lose than before. In general, your counters want to hold off unless they’re going to sweep the board,
Harrow, or bring forth a Titan, but of course there are obvious exceptions. Use your judgment on how much a spell will speed them up, remembering that
often a counter can buy you an entire turn but that Spell Pierce can’t hit Titan; so if that’s your counter, you want to hit mana acceleration if it
keeps them away from six mana for an extra turn. 

Kuldotha Red:

If they’re going to win, they have to do it quickly. Otherwise, you’ll get down either Tempered Steel or Steel Overseer along with a large number of
artifact creatures. Once that has happened, your army keeps towering over theirs more and more; your fliers steal any War Zones; and their deck has no
further gas to offer the world. Short of one last Alpha Strike to get in a little extra damage, it’s all over, and it tends to end quickly. The two
danger zones are getting your War Zones stolen on turn 2 or 3 and being crippled on mana or getting overwhelmed with numbers before your blockers start
surviving attacks. They can win game one, but it’s very difficult for them and almost always involves an excellent draw backing up Kuldotha Rebirth or
your draw being extremely Hawkward.

Sideboarding is all about making it that much harder for bad things to happen to good decks:

-4 Contested War Zone

-1 Ardent Recruit

-2 Signal Pest

-2 Phyrexian Revoker

+3 Island

+1 Glacial Fortress

+2 Ratchet Bomb

+3 Refraction Trap

The logic behind this sideboard is easy to understand. They have to be the beatdown, with their only two options being overwhelming you with numbers or
using dual removal spells Arc Trail and Forked Bolt. Refraction Trap turns any attempt to remove creatures against him and effectively ends his
ambitions, while drawing Ratchet Bomb makes his getting critical mass of attackers highly unlikely. Contested War Zone can be taken, so there’s no
reason to expose yourself to that risk. Note that it’s often correct not to play Memnite or Ornithopter out if you know that Steel Overseer or Tempered
Steel is coming, and you have no intention of blocking with them, since attacking doesn’t matter much. Get your shields up quickly while protecting
against Arc Trail, and then win at your leisure.

Mirror:

We didn’t test this at all, since we didn’t expect anyone else to be playing the deck, so there was no reason to waste the time. Biggest suggestion
would be to mulligan very aggressively, since there is wide variance in how strong draws are, and the player who has Tempered Steel and/or Steel
Overseer will win fights regularly. Ratchet Bomb comes in, and Phyrexian Revoker comes out, while the land swap is a given. Beyond that, it’s an open
question whether to bring in Spell Pierce.

Boros:

Game one, you should have a strong edge. You’re faster than he is and hit harder when he’s not employing landfall, and there’s nothing beyond attacks
that can seriously threaten you. You also have the bulk of the evasion, so sculpting the game to your advantage will usually be easy. The issue is that
his sideboard is quite good if it matches Rietzl’s, since he brings in Cunning Sparkmage and Arc Trail. That means you’ll need to respond in the
obvious fashion:

-1 Chimeric Mass

-2 Phyrexian Revoker

-2 Contested War Zone

+1 Glacial Fortress

+1 Island

+3 Refraction Trap

Then it’s time to play some Magic. Your big worries are his sticking a Sparkmage or, to a lesser extent, catching you with Arc Trail more than getting
a quick kill with landfall, but that can also happen. Tempered Steel makes this matchup a lot easier, since they have what it takes to kill Steel
Overseer, but if you have a Steel, then they should be relatively easy to overpower. Again, think about whether to commit creatures to the board if you
can power them up first instead, although offense is more important here than against Kuldotha Red.

Quest for the Holy Relic:

If they pull it off, there isn’t much you can do beyond being even more awesome, so try to do that as often as possible and hope for the best. If they
don’t pull it off, your deck should win in a fight without too much trouble. Their sideboard doesn’t do much for them, so all you likely do is swap out
the lands and bring in the Bombs:

-4 Contested War Zone

-1 Chimeric Mass

-1 Phyrexian Revoker

+3 Island

+1 Glacial Fortress

+2 Ratchet Bomb

Phyrexian Revoker has plenty of good targets, but it also can’t attack, although Chimeric Mass is clearly worse in this spot.

Tezzeret Control:

Different players will build this in different ways, so it’s hard to know what’s coming at you. Red board sweepers are always a possibility, as are any
number of Ratchet Bombs. Nothing else they do is particularly scary, as Tezzeret himself isn’t going to get it done all that often. If you figure out
what you’re up against, do keep in mind that they have some big threats they can accelerate into, but often you should be able to afford to play around
the sweepers. From our perspective, this is a lot like U/ B Control, and while it’s hard to test this against most versions, the transformation is
likely incorrect, and you should decline to sideboard. Phyrexian Revoker can preemptively name Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, or he can shut off a Prism,
Chalice, or Bomb.

Vampires:

If they’re not playing red, this is easy. Your deck is better than theirs, and their sideboard doesn’t threaten you much. They’ll likely sideboard in
Marsh Casualties, so be aware of that; although holding back for Tempered Steel isn’t likely to work given all of their discard. If it does, you’ll be
very hard to stop with anything short of an active lord. The only sideboarding question is how many War Zones to keep, and I’d keep them against anyone
likely to be packing Nighthawk to make sure you can make that exchange. If you’re confident those are missing, trimming some copies for safety is
reasonable. Phyrexian Revoker has nothing worth naming, so it comes out for Ratchet Bomb.

Red versions are more dangerous. If you’re going to lose to Vampires, it’s usually to Arc Trail or Forked Bolt, which means you’ll need to bring in
Refraction Trap. If you pull that off, the game is yours. Phyrexian Revoker once again comes out along with Chimeric Mass to bring in all three copies.
Ratchet Bomb isn’t worth bringing in against most red versions.

Overall Outlook:

Caw-Blade proved itself the best deck in Paris, and I recognized that as soon as I realized what they had done. I expect the winning build to become
the default one, and it causes a lot of problems for Hawkward relative to a more pedestrian old U/W deck, which was an excellent matchup once we found
the transformation. Hawkward is an excellent deck against the remainder of the field as well. If you’re interested in pursuing this deck further,
learning the Caw-Blade matchup and figuring out how much you can extract in it is the key to success.