The Dragonmaster’s Lair – Undefeated at Worlds with Caw-Go!

Friday, December 10th – If you got a text saying, “U/W Control with Hawks is very good. Japanese tech deck,” would you switch into it? Brian Kibler did and went undefeated on Day 1 of Worlds! Read all about the deck. Caw!

It’s amazing the difference a week makes. I’m writing this on Thursday evening after the Standard portion of Worlds. I’ve spent the past ten days split between San Jose and Japan, and pretty much all I’ve been doing is playing Magic.

A week ago, I was set on playing U/B Control. I’d played it a tremendous amount online to a great degree of success and felt like I understood the major matchups inside and out. We had quite the brain trust working on the deck, as I was regularly communicating with Gabriel Nassif and LSV, both of whom were leaning toward playing it. Here’s about where we were at that point:

I liked the deck. It felt like it had a solid plan against essentially everything, even if that plan was usually just “Resolve Grave Titan. Win.” I was pretty much sold on it and had moved on to testing Extended when two things happened. The first was a text message from Brad Nelson about a sweet new deck he’d gotten from Akira Asahara after playing him on Magic Online. The second was that all of a sudden, I started losing.

It was very strange to suddenly go from winning around 40% of my pre-sideboarded games against Vampires to barely squeaking out three wins in a twenty-game set. At some point during our testing, Vampires went from the test deck that we were running our brews against to something people were seriously considering playing, and at that point, not only did our Vampire decks get better, but our pilots improved as well.

When playtest dummies were walking Kalastria Highborn into Mana Leak on turn 2, we just needed to slam down big daddy Grave Titan on turn 6, and the game was over. When Ben Stark and Eric Froehlich started seriously considering Vampires and took over the role of

fanboys, those Kalastria Highborns started showing up just after daddy got home, and the match turned from acceptable to atrocious. I was fine with being a slight dog in game 1 and making up the difference in sideboarding, but that wasn’t where I felt like things were anymore.

On top of that, Gerry T’s victory at the StarCityGames.com Invitational all but assured that Valukut players at Worlds would be looking at his deck for tech. I was totally happy to play against the typical Gaea’s Revenge and Acidic Slime sideboard plan. I was much less enthusiastic about the prospect of staring down the business end of a Koth emblem while staring at a Memoricide in my hand and wondering where it all went wrong.

Cue text message from Brad. “U/W Control with Hawks is very good. Japanese tech deck.” Apparently Ben Stark had played against Akira Asahara aka Archer on Magic Online and gotten crushed by Squadron Hawk control. Brad, being the Magic Online icon that he is, immediately messaged Akira and got the decklist to try it out himself.

I was intrigued immediately. The biggest problem for U/W Control decks in Standard is their weakness against other Jace decks. Squadron Hawk provides a way to threaten opposing Jaces in the early turns of the game. In fact, it’s the number one card I didn’t want to see out of opposing creature decks when I was playing U/B, since Hawk flies over Sea Gate Oracle and even Grave Titan and makes your removal look silly.  

I started testing with Brad once we arrived in Japan. I could barely win a game against the U/W Hawk deck with U/B Control. Squadron Hawk alone dominated me every time it was cast, generating immediate pressure that nothing in my deck could handle efficiently, as well as long-game card advantage when combined with Jace and shuffling Squadron Hawks back into the deck. It was just brutal.

I certainly wasn’t about to drop U/B because it lost to Brad’s pet deck, but the experience got me seriously thinking about this new deck. I wasn’t sure about the other matchups, so I started watching Brad play in Magic Online eight-man queues. He was basically unstoppable, beating not only U/B, but Valakut, Vampires, and other U/W decks handily.

I picked up the deck myself and started testing it. At first, my results weren’t great, and neither were those of others who were trying it out, but I quickly realized that was because we were playing it wrong. The deck has a tremendous array of answers but has to be played proactively. I started tapping out for Jace and Gideon against Valakut rather than holding up counter mana. I started attacking green mana sources with Spreading Seas rather than always saving them for Valakut. And I started winning.

I was surprised at how some of the games went because they didn’t match up to my initial expectations. I won more games when my opponent resolved Primeval Titan than I ever had before. The deck just has such a strong array of answers to all of the major threats in the format that it can play much more aggressively than most other control decks. On top of that, the deck was unexpected. I knew I could expect to steal games with Spell Pierce or Deprive in the tournament more than in testing, when all of my opponents knew exactly what to play around.

The real turning point was when I had a sudden epiphany. This deck could have the absolute best name of all time!

Here’s what I sleeved up for the Standard portion of Worlds: Caw-Go!

After playing six rounds with this deck, I wouldn’t change a card. I might be somewhat biased because I went undefeated, but I was happy to have
every single card in both the maindeck and the sideboard. As I mention in my
video deck tech,

this is truly a 75-card decklist and not a deck with a sideboard thrown together. The deck sideboards incredibly well, and in fact the strength and flexibility of the sideboard may be the deck’s greatest strength.

It’s rare to see a deck with so many “extra” copies of cards in the sideboard, but this deck can really shift between two separate strategies entirely just by swapping cards in and out of the board. Against creature decks, you’re a virtually mono-white removal deck that has Squadron Hawks as efficient blockers and Jaces to draw into even more removal, taking out your countermagic entirely for cheap answer to their threats. Against control decks and Valakut, you’re a streamlined planeswalker deck with enough hard countermagic to win just about any counter war or stop any number of big threats from hitting the board — and even if they do, you still have answers.

In the six rounds of Worlds, I played against three Valakut decks, a U/W control deck, a Vampire deck, and U/B control. I lost only a single sideboarded game, and that was entirely due to a mental lapse on my part that let my opponent resolve a Summoning Trap in a game that I otherwise would’ve almost certainly won.

This deck really has the tools to fight through just about anything the major decks can throw at you. I won a game in which my opponent Summoning Trapped into a Primeval Titan, and I had to Tectonic Edge one Valakut, Spreading Seas another, and then use Jace to bounce the Titan so I could Flashfreeze it on the way back down. I ran another Valakut player entirely out of Mountains because he had to keep dealing damage to Jace to keep him from going ultimate. I was down to two life against B/R Vampires facing down multiple creatures, and I won the game at eleven with removal to spare.

The deck’s worst matchups are all Lotus Cobra decks like RUG, since Squadron Hawk doesn’t match up well against their threats, and Cobra can make your Spell Pierces worthless very quickly, but I don’t think even those matchups are unwinnable. The deck has a ton of play to it and tremendous ability to dig for what it needs. Between five Jaces, four Preordains, and a huge number of shuffle effects thanks to Squadron Hawk, what you need is rarely ever too far away to find.

Have you ever fetched up three Squadron Hawks, then Brainstormed with Jace to put two of them back and then fetched them up again right away? That’s Ancestral Recall right there. What other Standard deck gets to play with that?

I apologize for cutting this a bit short this week, but I have to get some sleep. I still have a tournament to win.