The Dragonmaster’s Lair – CawVenge

Friday, January 28 – This deck by Brian Kibler, PT Austin Champion, has all the hits: Tectonic Edge (4), Knight of the Reliquary (4), Vengevine (4)… Squadron Hawk? You’ve never seen Hawks like this!

Last year, I felt like I squandered a number of opportunities. The first half of the year played host to all of the Constructed Grand Prix,
traditionally the tournaments in which I’ve had the most success. I didn’t seriously prepare for most of them, however, and found myself
flying around the world playing outdated or untested decks. I decided to buckle down and actually play more Magic after a string of disappointing

Unfortunately, with the way last year’s schedule worked, that meant I only had a few Constructed events left. While I certainly made up some lost
ground as far as Pro Points were concerned, I couldn’t help but wonder how much better I might’ve done if I’d put a bit more work into the
earlier events.

This year, I decided to change all that. I resolved not to skimp on preparation for any event I attend. With Atlanta on the horizon, I made a sizable
investment in Extended cards on Magic Online and started to brew decks and grind games.

I discussed my early deckbuilding and testing in an article a few weeks ago. The deck
that I ultimately ended up playing in Atlanta was a result of that process. I started with Doran but didn’t like the mana and wasn’t
terribly impressed by Thoughtseize. I moved to Naya but didn’t like having so many expensive spells in my deck with four Vengevines and four
Bloodbraids. Neither deck really excited me, but both had cards that were performing well, so I kept looking.

One of the cards that were dramatically overperforming was Tectonic Edge. I had a single copy to search up with Knight of the Reliquary, and it was
probably the most common land I went for. It helped in so many situations, from killing Mutavault and keeping Mistbind Clique off the table to
destroying one of four open mana to prevent Cryptic Command to pinning a 5CC or Faeries opponent on five lands so they couldn’t play Wurmcoil
Engine. Extended was clearly a format where people were being greedy with their mana, and Tectonic Edge was the best way to punish them.

I threw together a new deck, this time eschewing Doran or Bloodbraid Elf and just playing straight G/W with the full complement of Tectonic Edges. And
I started winning far more than I had been with any of my other decks. Tectonic Edge got drastically better in multiples, and with Knight of the
Reliquary in the deck, I could more or less just end games on turn 4 or 5 by searching up multiple Edges and blowing up nearly all of my
opponent’s lands.

The more I played the deck, the more I felt like I was on to something. It had the same powerful Fauna Shaman/Vengevine shell that made the Naya decks
so threatening, but the Tectonic Edge plan made Knight of the Reliquary even more of a must-kill than the Shaman. 

The deck evolved in bits and pieces from my original version, but the concept remained the same – a beatdown deck with disruption that was
effective against the field I expected.

The card that stands out immediately to most people is Squadron Hawk. No, I’m not just obsessed with putting Squadron Hawk into every deck. Hawk
may seem like a low-impact card for the Extended format, but it’s actually an all-star in this deck. It provides fuel for Fauna Shaman, returns
Vengevines, chump blocks against other beatdown decks in a race, and more. With seven exalted creatures in the deck, Hawks can serve as a way to win
the game when the ground locks up or just attack and kill Jace over Wall of Omens and Kitchen Finks.

Hawk has even more subtle applications that I discovered over the course of playing the deck. It’s actually a key element of the deck’s
most explosive possible start. On the draw, play a turn 2 Squadron Hawk and overfill your hand, then discard however many Vengevines you’ve happened to
draw. On turn 3, play a mana creature and a Hawk and bring back all those Vengevines to smash your opponent’s unsuspecting face in. More than
once against a red deck, I over-Hawked when I drew only one fetchland so I could discard a land to play a Knight of the Reliquary outside of
Bolt/Searing Blaze range. When I shared the list with Brad Nelson a few weeks before the Grand Prix, one of the first things he said to me after
testing it was that the Hawks were surprisingly good.

The last few changes I made to the deck were at GP Atlanta itself. I’d previously had the full four Kitchen Finks but cut two of them to make
room for a maindeck Linvala to combat the Naya decks around the room and a Dauntless Escort, which should’ve been in the deck to begin with but just
never made its way into my list somehow. I had a few loose cards in my sideboard at that point, including Obstinate Baloth as insurance against Jund
and Red and Acidic Slime for further mana disruption. They got the axe for Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender, an insurance policy against Mono-Red and Firespout,
and Oust.

Oust is another card that elicits surprised reactions from people, but after my experiences playing with it in Next Level Bant and Caw-Go, I realized
it was the perfect card to fill the role I was looking for. Creature matchups with this deck rarely come down to full-on racing. They’re much
more about establishing a dominating board presence and dealing with a few key creatures, like Fauna Shaman, Knight of the Reliquary, and Linvala.

Oust is, quite simply, the perfect card in these situations. It provides a cheap, easy way to develop your own board while stunting your
opponent’s. All you generally need is a window of a couple turns to get your deck going while your opponent stumbles to get far enough ahead.

Against other Fauna Shaman decks, you give yourself enough time to find and play Linvala, or you can Oust their Linvala and play yours to slow them
down even more. Against Jund, putting a Putrid Leech on top makes them redraw the 2/2 when they’d much rather be playing Bloodbraid Elf. Screws
up their game plan quite a bit more than just killing it.

One subtle point about Oust is that it makes your Tectonic Edges that much better. When you Oust a creature, or even two, those are draw steps in which
you know your opponent won’t be drawing land, which can often let you pin them on mana during the crucial early turns of the game. I’ve taken to
calling Oust the “White Deathmark” because of its efficiency at what it does, and I’m progressively more impressed with the card the
more I play it.

The combination of mana disruption, resilient aggression, and must-kill threats made CawVenge a perfect foil for the metagame I was expecting in
Atlanta. The deck was a solid favorite against Faeries, Jund, Naya, Wargate, and 4CC decks and had game against U/W Control, Mono-Red, and the new
U/G/R Scapeshift decks that were becoming popular. There was a span of a week just before the event where I lost maybe two matches on Magic Online
despite playing 5+ a day.

Unfortunately, the field I played against in Atlanta didn’t conform to my predicted metagame. I started off with wins against two Jund decks and a
Faeries deck on day one and then got paired against Chris Lachmann playing R/G Valakut. I’d battled against Jake Van Lunen on Magic Online with
the same deck, and I knew it was a horrible matchup. Unlike the other Valakut decks, I had no meaningful disruption, since they didn’t rely on
Prismatic Omen to kill me, had tons of basics to make them resilient to Tectonic Edge, and barely cared about Gaddock Teeg when they could just go over
the top with Primeval Titan.

I got slaughtered in two quick games (in one of which I had a lone Fauna Shaman as my only permanent for a time) and then went on to play against
another tough matchup back to back: G/W Hideaway. I squeaked out a win in the first match thanks to my opponent bricking multiple times on his hideaway
lands but was not so fortunate in the second, in which I lost to a turn 4 Emrakul in game one, won game two, and couldn’t break serve in game
three. I played a bit too conservatively, using Oust to set back his mana and keep him off of Windbrisk Heights one turn rather than develop my board,
when realistically I probably couldn’t have won if he had anything good under the Heights anyway. I ended day one 7-2, which is certainly not
where I hoped to be (especially after starting 6-0), but with a shot at Top 8 if I could win my first five matches on day two.

Things started off well enough, with wins against Naya and Wargate – two of the decks I’d built my deck to beat. The match against Naya was
particularly satisfying, since I won a completely absurd game one in which I stalled on one land, a Hierarch, and a Fauna Shaman. I was able to pitch a
creature for another Hierarch, then play out Squadron Hawks to chump long enough for me to start recurring Vengevines to block until eventually drawing
into enough mana to play Baneslayer Angel. The match against Wargate similarly showcased the power of my setup, with Gaddock Teeg, Tectonic Edge, and
Qasali Pridemages teaming up to ensure he was never really in any of the games.

The wheels came off starting in round 10 when I played against U/W Control. I was used to playing against the U/W lists on Magic Online that
didn’t have Day of Judgment in their maindeck and played out an extra Knight of the Reliquary when I probably could’ve held back and ended up
paying for it by losing my whole team. I was hardly out of it, though, and my opponent needed to draw every one of his Cryptic Commands and Paths to
deal with my threats and stay in the game – including two must-counter Squadron Hawks! Unfortunately for me, he had all the answers he needed,
and despite winning game two, I couldn’t complete the comeback when I mulliganed into a hand of Hawk, Sun Titan, and four land in game three. I
then immediately drew a second Squadron Hawk and never drew another non-land for the rest of the game.

Out of Top 8 contention, I beat another Naya deck in round 11, then lost to Pat Cox playing R/G Valakut in round 12, despite him punting game one and
then mulliganing to five in game two – the matchup really is that bad. In the final round, I lost to a friendly gentleman playing U/G/R
Scapeshift – normally a fine matchup, but he was playing maindeck Firespouts and drew two of them in game one and then had pretty much the nut
draw in game two.

I finished 10-5, out of the money in 87th place. I was very happy with the deck, since it did everything I’d built it to do. I beat every one of
the decks I’d designed it to beat, lost a few close matches that could’ve gone either way, and got blown out in the matchups where I expected
that to happen. I could’ve played a bit better on the weekend, but my performance didn’t suffer from lack of preparation – if anything, I
outthought myself because I had prepared so much and felt I had a better sense of what my opponents were playing than I really did.

Unfortunately, I can’t say in good faith that I’d recommend CawVenge for PTQs right now. The deck is awesome at what it’s designed to
do, but R/G Valakut is sure to skyrocket in popularity after its success in Atlanta, and it would take some serious work to make the matchup anything
but miserable. There are certainly possible sideboard options, but you’re such an enormous dog in the matchup game one that they’d have to
be incredibly high impact to swing things in your favor. The best options I’ve considered are Leonin Arbiter (which you’d have to play 3-4
of, and which would have to be supported by Burrenton Forge Tender and/or Mark of Asylum to really do anything in time to make a difference) and Lapse
of Certainty, neither of which seems like quite enough to turn things around. Maybe a black splash for Thoughtseize in the sideboard?

With PT Paris just around the corner, it’s time for me to turn my thoughts to Mirrodin Besieged and how it’ll impact Standard. I’m
sure I’ll have more thoughts on Extended – and updates to CawVenge – when I have time to think about it again.

For now, check out the videos going up next week of me playing CawVenge in a Daily Event!

Until next time,