After 1-3ing my last two high-level Standard events with Splinter Twin and Caw-Blade, I was fairly lost in Standard. If I wasn’t winning with either of
the two decks that were putting up the best results, I was definitely doing something very wrong. Either I just kept playing last week’s lists this
week, or I had no idea how to play them.
So, naturally, I took the easy out and switched decks.
Realistically, aggro master Kyle Dembinski had continued bashing with the Tempered Steel list we had worked on a month ago when I had ditched it due to
the sheer amount of hate present after
StarCityGames.com Open: Seattle
. Given the recent metagame trend towards no one respecting it (and most people gearing towards the combo decks and the Caw mirror), it seemed very
well-positioned. Day of Judgments were moving out of the main deck, as Corrosions were Creeping out of deck lists in favor of Twin hate. After the
StarCityGames.com Open: Boston
, it didn’t hurt that you were basically pre-boarded for Twin â€”and that at the Grand Prix site, it seemed like a lot of the high level players were
moving towards Mirran Crusaders and other aggressive options in Caw-Blade.
Despite all my arguments for it above, I definitely was not locked on Tempered Steel, it just seemed well positioned. Here is a list of the other decks
I considered playing, and why I chose to not play them.
Too high variance. Sometimes you have everything naturally, sometimes you whiff for a million turns. Cantripping to find a two-card combo is not
reliable, especially when you only have four of each piece…. Not to mention you often need to have counter backup and/or bounce.
Too little range of play. It just does the same thing every game â€” and if they beat it they beat it, except when you don’t draw it and lose. It never
really interacts enough in the early game, and just hopes a Titan is enough.
Didn’t like the Twin and Valakut matchups. I didn’t like how you didn’t have enough pressure early to punish their bad draws or enough answers late to
go deep against them. Also wasn’t comfortable with the Pod matchup, but I think the trick is to just be aggressive. You can never really out-long-game
a Vengevine deck â€” you just have to play tempo. There was almost surely a correct list of this that was a better option (probably just Yuuya’s, with
the extra Swords and Blade Splicers to be more aggressive), but I didn’t figure it out or try enough to.
Didn’t like the Twin and Valakut matchups. It’s the standard midrange against combo issues; you have a bunch of clunky tap-out spells, and they just
kill you while you make one play a turn.
It’s very possible that I’m wrong here, as the deck can do everything, but it’s fundamentally a very uphill battle to fight.
This was my second choice, but in the end I went with Tempered Steel. I had played against Timely Reinforcements with Mono Red before, and didn’t want
to do so again. The newer builds are said to be solid against that card, but I still don’t buy it.
Here is the list I played â€” or, more accurately, Kyle’s seventy-five:
Main Deck Choices:
0 Glint Hawk, 0 Ornithopter, 0 Contested War Zone, 2 Mox Opal
We wanted as many of our cards to do something on their own and didn’t want to play to overextend into Day of Judgment. The other deck has some merits,
but I’m not a fan. It doesn’t help that Squadron Hawks are really good at stealing War Zones. While this list ended up taking second place, I think
that’s more on the natural merits of the deck and less on the specific list.
The all-star. Protects your Tempered Steel from Into the Roils and Nature’s Claims, redirects Deceiver Exarch taps to push through damage (beyond the
obvious anti-Twin use), and generally crushes Red decks. For an 0/4 in a beatdown deck, it does a lot of work.
This is the ace in the hole against Caw-Blade and other control. It just sits there until you decide to kill them. You just sit on it until it wins the
game and then activate. I was making four or five guys most of the time, and felt after the event I wasn’t getting enough value out of the card most of
We wanted more removal in the main; this is easily the next best one after the one that costs one mana and zero life.
This is primarily for Valakut as Corrosion insurance, but often comes in as a random monster. It’s the same philosophy as the block deck â€” i.e., it’s
not an artifact, so it dodges most hate and kills on its own â€” but it is a bit worse in a world of Wraths.
This is the four-drop of choice against Birthing Pod, preventing them from just Sliming down your team or some similar shenanigans. Against most other
things it is worse than Hero, but that matchup needs some help.
You need more mana if you want to be casting these four-drops. The War Zone is good against Valakut, but you can’t have two as you need another against
Birthing Pod, which can fight over the War Zone. Mox is the next best source.
I wanted to hate on some Red decks. Mission accomplished. Timely Reinforcements was also considered, as it is better against Vampires, but that was
determined to be a non-issue when you wanted real hate against red. Purge is also a non-Spellskiteable answer to Twin, which helps.
I needed one more card for Valakut. This is not for Twin, as costing three is prohibitive when you want to cast multiple answers in a turn to beat
For the mirror, but really just so you have an out to a Birthing Pod. If that card stays in play, you lose almost 100% of the time.
Round 4: Valakut
I really wish there was more I could say about this match, but my opponent played one spell this match â€” and it was a turn 4 Oracle of Mul-Daya game
one. He promptly conceded after my next turn.
For what it is worth, I boarded out three Shrine of Loyal Legions, a Spellskite, and two Dismember for the Heros, the mana, and the Act. Shrine is too
slow and weak to Creeping Corrosion, Spellskite only really works against Nature’s Claim and doesn’t add to your clock, and Dismember only hits
Overgrown Battlement, since they should be boarding out their Oracles against you.
Round 5: Caw-Blade
The board plan against Caw-Blade is to take just one Spellskite out for a Hero. You are more or less pre-boarded for them, with three Shrines and the
fourth Spellskite can just lead to flooding with irrelevant cards.
Game two I stuck a Tempered Steel and played a long game where I was barely raced. In the end he had one turn to draw an interactive spell (i.e.
Gideon) to win when we were both low on life, and he did.
In retrospect, I definitely got greedy in game one with the Tempered Steel. The game plan should be to resolve a Tempered Steel and protect it with
Spellskite. You aren’t racing; you’re grinding. If Steel is in play, the cards you draw are actually better than theirs, and things like Nexus can just
kill them. They also can’t exchange Hawks for anything.
Round 6: Tempered Steel
Game one was fairly typical. I established a Lord advantage and easily won.
The mirror is almost entirely about who has the most pump effects. Steel Overseer usually wins against Tempered Steel in the fight, unless their board
is already advanced enough that the immediate impact of Steel wins the game. Otherwise Overseer keeps adding more and more pumps until your 12/12s
fight their 3/3s.
Game two I used two removal spells on Spellskite and a Steel Overseer, but he had the second Overseer and started to pull ahead. I ended up resolving
Tempered Steel then using Indomitable Archangel and Spellskite shenanigans to keep it alive through two Revoke Existences. The first time I just moved
the Revoke to Spellskite and then Metalcrafted up by animating Nexus to fizzle it, the second time I sacrificed a Shrine to lose Metalcraft, and then
ran back the “move, then animate” trick.
And suddenly, my world turned into a giant punch line.
He kept trading hits of Vault Skirge for Inkmoth Nexus this whole time, leaving me at four â€” but him at seven poison. He decided to swing again and I
chumped with an Angel, leaving him with no flying blockers and me with another Angel to shroud up Nexus, some Myr Tokens, and a pair of Vault Skirges.
I tanked as to what he could possibly have, came up with Safe Passage, and shipped with the Nexus to ensure that I have blockers back to live through
removal… and get completely blown out.
Without a source of poison, I no longer had a route to victory and got ground down by Eldrazi size Imps. My two Vault Skirges that didn’t attack that
turn were chumped away, looking embarrassed as I died.
Game three, I kept a one-lander and didn’t get there â€” but that’s not the end of the story. All he had was a Nexus and a Vault Skirge to beat down
with, so I managed to live a million turns and drew out of it. He burnt all his removal on my guys immediately when all I was trying to do was bait his
removal and stick Overseer, so things were looking good.
Just before this all worked out, he drew his own copy of the mirror breaker and it got difficult.
I wound up with two Overseers to his one so my guys got bigger, but he had more flying threats and could just wait to get them both lethal, as I was at
five life and nine poison. He didn’t and instead bashed with the team â€” which, after a timely Dispatch and a solid follow-up turn, left the board at
his Steel Overseer, Glint Hawk Idol, and Memnite to my Memnite, three Overseers, and Glint Hawk Idol. He was around thirty life; I was at one life and
nine poison, with Spellskites and Shrines in hand.
His next draw step? Suture Priest.
I’m marginally ahead, dead to a removal spell, and am forced to hold back off any creature he draws. He also had a Tectonic Edge, so I could only
advance my board with another Idol. I got in some chips with a growing Memnite and get him to twenty two before he draws Ornithopter.
My guys’ powers: 13, 11, 18, 18, 11.
His board: Four blockers.
His life total: Still 22, as he forgot to gain one off Priest.
And that’s how I won at one life, nine poison, facing down a Suture Priest because he missed one gain life trigger, letting me exactly kill him (or
force all chumps) in one swing from twenty-two life.
Round Seven: Tim Landale, with Valakut
Game one I just clocked him through a Bolt on Overseer, and he whiffed on a Summoning Trap before scooping.
There really isn’t much more to this matchup. You either race them or they win. Maybe they play some removal, maybe you do. Maybe they have Creeping
Corrosion in the board, maybe they don’t. What happens, happens.
Game two, my all-in hand got Pyroclasmed on turn 3. Primeval Titan shortly wrapped things up.
I’m comically ashamed of winning Game Three. I kept three plains, Inkmoth Nexus, Mox Opal, Hero on the play. I have no clue what I was thinking, but
was rewarded for my miserable hand by top-decking running Glint Hawk Idols on turns 2 and 3. My Hero on turn 4 was matched by an Inferno Titan, and I
casually slammed a Dispatch off the top for the easy win. Just another day in the life â€” or something along those lines.
Round 8: Blade Breaker
Game one I resolved a bunch of guys and a turn 2 Overseer. Even though it got Manic Vandaled, my opponent died on turn 4.
Game two my hand was slower, and involved sticking a Spellskite into a Hero. His hand was also slow, and Hero ended up getting to swing and trade with
an Acidic Slime and some life. He Arc Trailed me twice, but ended up falling to some random beats.
Round 9: Elie Pichon, with Crusader Blade
This was only appropriate, given that he schooled me in round one of Pro Tour: Nagoya with Tempered Steel.
Minus one Spellskite, plus one Hero. Plan stays the same the rest of the event.
Game three, I curved Shrine into Tempered Steel and neither dies. Instead, he does.
Turns out he had no Day of Judgment in his main or sideboard. That makes things easy, I guess.
Yet another constructed Grand Prix, yet another 8-1 or better. Standard food haumphing, standard lots of sleeping.
Round 10: Lucas Florent, with U/B Control
Games one and two were the same: He did nothing relevant for a million turns and died. I might have made some sick plays of staying on three lands so
Nexus couldn’t be Tectonic Edged. I did not board a card.
After the match I was congratulated by someone I know on mising the bye this round, and I agreed. Lucas claimed that post-board the seven spot removal
spells, the probably three (at most) Wrath of God effects, and four Inquisitions post-board were enough to make this favorable for him.
My thoughts are that the zero Gideons are enough to make this a lock for Steel. The fact that they are miserably configured in game one doesn’t help
Round 11: Joel Larrson with Caw-Blade
We traded the first two games, with me resolving an early Steel game one, then mulling out of game two.
Game three basically came down to one key turn: I knew he had Day of Judgment, as he fumbled it on to the table, and he was at nineteen with one mana
up. My board was a Steel Overseer, Tempered Steel, Shrine on four, three lands, and three Dispatches for his blockers as well as an Inkmoth Nexus.
For those counting at home, that is exactly lethal.
I had three valid lines:
First, I could just sit on Shrine until it was actual lethal damage. He was representing a clock with four Hawks and Celestial Colonnade â€” and I was
cold to a Gideon Jura if I do this among other things, so I decided against it.
Second, I could play a second Tempered Steel and crash. This puts him to “not dead to damage” and “dead in two hits to Nexus” once he Days. Since the
damage was probably going to be irrelevant post-Day, this seemed worse than going with plan one and just not Shrining. Tapping out with Shrine also
lets me die to Oblivion Ring or Into the Roil, so this plan was no-sirred.
Round 12: Hero Blade
Game one I mulliganned into a threat-light hand and kept in the dark. He had an early Hero and I couldn’t kill it on the spot. Death ensued.
Game two, I kept a seven-card hand of Signal Pest, Tempered Steel, Mox Opal, Inkmoth Nexus, and lands. Simply having the Steel was enough for me, as I
knew I could resolve it on the play and from there my deck would be more alive than his. I ended up flooding out and didn’t draw enough creatures to
get there after my Nexus got Dismembered.
I can’t hit all the run-goods; this probably was a sloppy keep in game two. I’ll give all the standard excuses of variance and such â€” but it’s still a
Despite the fact that my record against this deck is poor, I don’t think the matchup is that bad. Every game is close, and it’s easy for either player
to chuck it. They need to line up their answers perfectly, and Steel is trying to force them to be unable to. I definitely would have benefited from a
few dozen more games of testing here.
Round 13: Splinter Twin
I resolved Spellskite in game one and beat him down with removal up. Fairly standard play given your quick clock, heavy removal suite, and play set of
Spellskite. He did misclick and fail to respond to Tempered Steel by Twisted Imageing my Signal Pest â€” which may or may not have cost him the game,
depending on the number of counters in his hand.
Shrines came out for Celestial Purges. Shrine is just too slow to be relevant. Act is also considerable â€” but as I said before, a three-mana response
almost locks you into playing one answer to their Twin that turn.
Game two my opponent played no spells on turns 1 and 2. I opted for Steel Overseer over Spellskite on turn 2 to bait a Leak â€” and when he didn’t have
it I went for Spellskite on turn 3, knowing I could Steel Overseer it through a Twisted Image. He had Deceiver Exarch, untap my land to Steel Sabotage
my Spellskite, untap, kill you. Oops.
Game three, I kept a one-lander with two Memnites, Signal Pest, and Vault Skirge. I missed my land and got Pyroclasmed. Eight turns of him bricking
later, I had him on the ropes with a Tempered Steeled Glint Hawk Idol that eventually took it down.
Better lucky than good, I guess â€” or some other meaningless phrase people use in these scenarios.
Round 14: Noah Schwartz, with Mono-Red (Glenn Jones‘ list with a million Shock)
Games one and two were uneventful alternations between flood on one side and screw on the other.
Game three, we made some early exchanges resulting in my Shrine tokens and Firewalker facing down his Kargan Dragonlord. From “dead on board,” I
runnered Celestial Purge to kill his ultimated 8/8, and then Tempered Steel to instantly win.
I boarded in Firewalkers and Purges, as expected. I boarded out Signal Pests that don’t do anything on their own, a Dispatch that is hard to get
Metalcrafted early, and a Memnite on the same grounds as Signal Pest. On the draw, I boarded a Glint Hawk Idol that doesn’t play defense well for an
Archangel that might.
Red is usually fairly easy, but the maindecked Forked Bolts are marginally obnoxious. The card still doesn’t beat Tempered Steel, Spellskite, or
Firewalker â€” and those are really what matters. The bigger issue is the move back to Dragonlord making removal necessary, but that is workable.
Round 15: Hao-Shan Huang, with Splinter Twin
Game one, I kept a very fast hand with no interaction. On my turn 4 he Deceiver Exarched my guy and I went to “dead on board.” He untapped, drew,
sighed, Probed for two life, and blind-slammed the lethal Mountain for Twin.
Celestial Purges swapped for Shrines again.
Game two I got a solid team down, including a Spellskite, but forgot to misdirect Exarch taps to it, letting him live two more turns than he should
have. Fortunately, I was holding/ripping a hand of removal and he was completely dead.
Game three, he cantripped along while I made a turn 1 Spellskite. The game came down to him needing his five cards to be Deceiver Exarch, Splinter
Twin, answer to removal, and answer to Spellskite. He had land, Mana Leak, Into the Roil, and the combo, so I died â€” but there were other combinations
that would have worked, as another Exarch would tap me off of Celestial Purge mana.
Round 16: Kyle Dembinski, with the 75 card mirror.
We debated the breaker math, determined that a bunch of the tables ahead of us had just drawn by how empty they were, and drew into what we thought was
63rd and 64th or close to it. There was a chance one of us could win into the top 32, but it was not assured, and the loser would
be guaranteed out of the money and points.
This was also influenced by the fact neither of us had any desire to play a rather mindless mirror with no real edge.
Turns out a bunch of people ahead of us played when they could draw in, and people below us drew when they might have had to play if the higher-ranked
players drew, so we were a bit higher than we expected on the final standing. Had one of us won, the best place they would have gotten was 33 rd, so it was just good value all around.
Would I run this event back with Steel?
Are your matchups actually good against the field?
Depends too much on lists. In the no-hate metagame, you beat Valakut fairly handily on sheer speed and Splinter Twin on speed and disruption. They can
obviously win, but their hands have to be very good and yours have to be mediocre. Caw ranges from mediocre to unlosable on list and play skill on both
The problem is Birthing Pod. You can never beat that card or that deck…. but realistically, no deck beats everything in this format. At most one deck
beats this week’s build of everything and triggers a shift.
If I had another Grand Prix next week, would I play this deck?
I’m unsure as of now. The hate will probably start edging back in, so it might be time to go away for a while. On the other hand, the Caw-Blade decks
are moving further away from lists that are good against you. Notably, Yuuya had zero Day of Judgment â€” which, despite his finals win, makes the
matchup extremely easy as they can’t easily reverse Steel Overseer or a non-lethal Shrine.
Most of my time this week will be spent testing Modern, and hopefully dodging hurricanes. For those of you who will be in Philadelphia this weekend,
I’ll see you there â€” and for those who aren’t, I hope you see me under the lights on Sunday!