New Phyrexia has a lot of goodies… but does it contain the answer to Caw-Blade?
As with any final set of a block, we Magic players yearn for a change in the metagame. New cards are always cool, and I look forward to a few months of
innovation, but Caw-Blade will still be public enemy number 1. Immediately after Paris, I wrote an article warning the Magic community of the power
level of Hawks and Swords. I went into detail of the dangers of Jace, the Mind Sculptor coupled with a one-card, sword-wielding combo. The deck was
brand new and only took a couple spots in the Paris Top 8, but now it’s everywhere… like a wildfire that just can’t be put out.
Thanks to the StarCityGames.com Open Series, we see very competitive tournaments almost weekly, which enable players to see Caw-Blade as I saw it in
February… Houston, we have a problem!
I believe the Hawks will gain more power with New Phyrexia, rather than being put in check, where conventional wisdom says otherwise. Throughout the
article, I’ll use third-set examples and base-set examples throughout the history of Magic, wherein Wizards attempted to fix metagame imbalances.
Are you thinking Star Wars here? I sure am! The Dark Side is clearly the evil of Hawks and Blades, the perversion of true control into a monstrosity
that true control players cringe at. You all know who you are… either you refuse to sleeve up the powerhouse, or like me, you yielded but now are back
to the original boycott. So what is the good side of the Force here? I believe it is you guys, the readers who will try tirelessly to innovate with the
help of a select group of professionals in changing the atmosphere.
At this point, the Open Series is truly dominated by good players playing the best decks. All-stars like Kibler and GerryT perform as well as they
should, but the next tier of professional player has been born. I consider Edgar Flores, Alex Bertoncini, and Drew Levin phenomenal players but on a
slight different tier from the “pros” of Grand Prix and Pro Tours. Before we confuse that as an insult, I mean a different tier in a good way. These
players dominate the field each and every week in these Opens and are completely accessible by the average mages looking for some advice on strategy,
play, and deckbuilding. These players might not be the Kenjis or Matignons (had to put that there), but they’re definitely skilled.
The reason why I bring them up is because they help sculpt the format for better or for worse. Players look to these results weekly to see what the new
tech and hotness is in Standard. At the previous Open, we saw Edgar Flores with zero Gideons climb his way to the Top 4, a U/G ramp deck with
Consecrated Sphinx… but seven out of eight decks still had that Sith presence. How can we not think Caw-Blade is unstoppable when it wins every premier
tournament? Even though I feel we’ll lose this battle with the Hawk menace, let’s see what we can do and what the new set offers.
Where’s my Volcanic Fallout???
Not an actual card:
Slaughter the Sheep!
Remove target creature from the game and any Equipment attached to it. You can only target a creature that was equipped this turn.
Volcanic Fallout was printed, and the Fae players were saying outrageous things like “That card isn’t that good against me” and “Fae is still the most
dominant deck easily.” Give me a break. Volcanic Fallout crushed Fae upon its release in Nationals across the world. Of course, some Fae decks still
Top 8ed and did well, but it was not even close to the same magnitude. Fae desperately had to change its strategy… cutting Scion of Oona, splashing
different colors… it was a nightmare for those who spent their paychecks on Mutavaults and Bitterblossoms. But Wizards did it; they created a format
where 5CC, Ramp, Elves, Fae, Jund, and many other decks could do well.
At first glance, New Phyrexia doesn’t seem to accomplish the same thing against Caw-Blade. A Sword that gives pro-red and white is far from what the
world needed to combat the Dark Side. As a matter of fact, I believe the Sword enhances the deck even further, giving the Hawks a way to deal combat
damage and slay planeswalkers with ease. Would it have been too much to ask for a solid hoser in one of the underplayed colors? Can Hawks and Swords be
hosed or severely hurt by a single card? It might be one of those “let’s wait it out” kind of things.
What spells can assist in combating the menace?
I know, I know. Spell Pierce sucks, but hear me out. A big-mana deck can easily take Caw-Blade off its perch with the resolution of this fellow.
Depending on the board state, of course, Karn could be underwhelming, but at an even or slightly behind board state, he would have a bigger impact than
a wrathable Avenger of Zendikar or a Flashfreeze-able Primeval Titan. Seven mana doesn’t seem too unreasonable if you have just one or two copies in
your deck. Decks that abuse mana with Everflowing Chalice / Contagion Clasp or the green decks can easily give the big fella a home.
Can’t Spell Pierce this guy! Currently, Caw-Blade has Mana Leak and two Day of Judgments to deal with this. Of course, they can Jace-bounce, Condemn if
you attack, etc., but the seven-mana champion does his deed when he enters play and has two pretty amazing abilities. With some defense, this is
another expensive answer to the Birds and their Stoneforge friend.
I actually really like this card. It’s cheap and gives black a way to combat the Hawk card advantage. Getting a poison counter here and there seems
like a fair price to pay for repeatable, small-creature kill. Of course it’s in the color that has a good amount of weapons at its disposal, but at
first glance, this card looks like it has a good shot at being a strong sideboard card.
I can’t wait to tell my opponents that I Despise them. Cool card, and finally Wizards got over not wanting the word “planeswalker” in the card text.
Planeswalkers are badass and cool, but they need to be answerable, and this is the first of hopefully many steps to get them under control. I see this
replacing Inquisition of Kozilek, or at least sharing the workload, in the black decks. Duress used to work together with Inquisition to give decks an
answer to Jace, and I think Despise has a broader range of uses. Against RUG, it’s even more amazing, but Caw-Blade is the menace currently… gotta
An exciting thing about this little fella is that he can be tutored up by Trinket Mage. Of course, as a blue mage, I wouldn’t want to have to play many
copies of this guy, and I think he nearly makes it worth giving the Trinket Mage package a whirl. Caw-Blade doesn’t have a good answer for Hex Parasite
in game one at all. It has next to no way to stop it from resolving and eating a Jace or aiding in the war of planeswalkers. This guy is the most
exciting of potential hosers to Public Enemy Number One. It feels as if I’ve played millions of matches against Hawks, and the losses all come down to
being out-planeswalked. Hex Parasite in some form may be able to cut off one of the hydra’s heads and put more focus on the equipment package. Of
course, this little guy can also carry a sword like the champion he is.
A potential Trinket Mage package can additionally contain: Brittle Effigy, Elixir of Immortality, Nihil Spellbomb, Sylvok Lifestaff, Chimeric Mass,
etc. Of course, you wouldn’t run all these silly things, but a good 3-4 package is good enough to pull the mirror match in your favor. The Elixir
provides a huge advantage on its own by allowing Hawks to be reshuffled back in, producing absurd card advantage. Early-game decisions become easier
(chump blocking, Mortarpod tossing), and the five life ain’t bad!
This is the no-brainer of the set. Amazing card and both abilities fit U/W Control and other control decks perfectly. The life gain is super relevant
against the aggressive decks, which happen to share one if not both of the colors the Sword gives your boys protection from. The damage ability kills
planeswalkers, and that scenario comes up every match. Do I send this guy in and kill Jace? Or do I put him at lethal next turn? Sword of War and Peace
will not get the same underwhelming welcome as Feast and Famine because we know what kind of power the Swords give creatures that are god-awful without
them. This Sword, like the last one, will create an immediate threat that takes focus away from planeswalkers and the battle of card advantage. I was
joking with friends during the Charlotte Open about how great Mass Polymorph would be right now… except oh wait… Tumble Magnet! That card shuts
down an Emrakul as well as a sworded threat.
You think third sets will change the world and kill off the top tier decks? …Think again!
Caw-Blade will only be strengthened by these sets. So it leaves us with same choices if we want to win a Nationals, an upcoming PTQ, or even
1) Do we just play Caw-Blade? If the answer is yes, then we have to make it better against the mirror even if it weakens other matches. I lost three
straight “win and in” final rounds to Edgar Flores, Edgar again, then Calosso Fuentes this last weekend. These defeats were obviously handed to me by
the deck that we’re all talking about.
There are other scary decks out there, but all are pretty easily beat, especially RUG. I spoke about RUG in the last article, and after wielding U/B
Control this last weekend and U/W Venser before that, I’ve had no issue defeating the average RUG player and masters of the Open Series like Alex
Bertoncini. So weakening a matchup here and there to make sure we have the edge in the Caw-Blade mirror is a must if we decide to run the Hawks.
2) Do we attempt to create a deck that beats the projected new Caw-Blade decks? I’m going to personally answer yes to this one now. Now, answering yes
to question one is a perfectly reasonable thing to do and might be the best decision, but as I wrote about a few articles ago, innovation is in the
average Magic player. Most of us love to play cards and archetypes that define us as mages and win a lot if possible. The use of some of the new
cards in existing decks or in something new can catch a veteran Hawk player off-guard… remember that the new sword gives pretty nice protection. When a
set is just released, it’s tough for me to formulate a great 75 until I talk to a few of my people to see what variant of the best deck they’re
playing. Once I figure out a generic “best deck” list, I’m ready to metagame and prepare for battle.
Remember that innovation is a broad term, and I don’t innovate in every format. For the most part, I enjoy a control archetype, and I’ll sculpt it
until I’m ready to take the field on. I don’t see any Blink Riders or Greater Gifts capabilities in this new set. If a new combo dawns upon me, I’ll be
sure to write an article immediately… oh wait… we can cast turn-one Fauna Shamans now… no, nevermind.
3) Do we just quit playing Magic and spend our time and money on more productive things? NO WAY!
NPH has a lot of great spells that transcend into older formats, and I’m not going to be the guy who spends time repeating the same stuff… so I’ll make
it short 🙂
We all know what Mental Misstep can do as well as Gitaxian Probe. Nothing has ever been more broken in Magic than free things. I like the printing of
powerful spells to move Magic away this Timmy, big-creature mess we’re in now.
Chapin spoke about the possible power of Birthing Pod, and I also see a chance for that card to be very, very powerful.
When purchasing cards from the new set and preparing decks for these important tournaments coming up, be sure to have Caw-Blade as your primary target
to defeat. The U/B Control list with which I placed seventeenth in Charlotte this past weekend was made to beat Caw-Blade, and I ended up giving myself
great games against the control mirror and RUG.
For those who missed the RUG comments from earlier, just KILL THE DAMN LOTUS COBRA. It’s a bold strategy, I know, but all of you should make sure you
slay the little bugger before very large bombs are dropped on you.
I want to end on the declaration I made earlier that a third set does not drastically change the format. You still see Vampires in the Top 8 when
people thought it was dead; you see U/B dominate a Grand Prix Top 8 even after Caw-Go was rampant; and then you see a Top 8 with four Caw-Blade and
four RUG decks.
The obvious card that makes all this possible is Jace, the Mind Sculptor. So after NPH is released, you’ll still see Squadron Hawks with Stoneforges,
Cobras, and expensive things with Jace. Be sure to prepare yourself accordingly using some of the new possible answers. Good luck, mages, and I hope
you all can defeat the Hawk menace, as I’ll work tirelessly to fight on the side of the good guys… as long as I can. 🙂
Until next time SCG readers,