“It’s like I’m playing a real deck, and my opponents are playing precons bought from one of these vendors” — Alex Majlaton
wielding Caw-Blade at Pro Tour Paris
My fellow magicians…
The state of Standard is a grim one. We live in a world of Hawks and Swords that have an unprecedented amount of power in the current format. I
didn’t believe my buddy Alex or the multitude of other players having great success with the “Caw-Blade” deck until I sleeved up a
version of it myself and played it. The deck is insane and unfair, and I’ll give you my reasoning why.
1)Â Â Control decks shouldn’t have the ability to play an “expensive sorcery” (planeswalker) and then be able to counter your
stuff. Do you know what it’s like to confidently tap out for Jace, the Mind Sculptor, have it countered, attack with a dumb Hawk, and then play another
Jace, the Mind Sculptor? It breaks the drawback of blue…the only drawback of blue decks is that their permission doesn’t allow powerful
main-phase plays on the same turn.
2)Â Â Do blue control decks really need more power? Sure, the bulk of the Pro Tour champion’s deck is white, but we all know how games
end! It’s that darn Jace and his four abilities…who can stop him??
3)Â Â Squadron Hawk is Ancestral Recall with Sword of Feast and Famine. I disagreed with Kibler and others like him, prior to this
equipment’s existence. Squadron Hawk without the weapon was not Ancestral Recall or a mandatory inclusion in U/W. Things have changed. The Hawk has to
be answered four times by your opponent while equipped. Hypothetically, multiple spells have to be used to stop you from abusing two main phases with
full mana. I could type up thousands of scenarios where getting hit once with an equipped Bird results in GG — against aggro, control, or combo
— but that would take a few extra articles.
4)Â Â Preordain is at its full power level in this deck. This deck, which is the best deck in the format, is warped even further by Preordain.
The deck is blue, so most people auto-include four Preordain, but you all know me, so it takes a little testing and thought before I play the card. In
this deck, it allows you to make sure you have the turn 2 Stoneforge Mystic. It isn’t used to smooth out draws or put Day of Judgment on the
bottom but to maximize those chances of dropping a Mystic, Hawk, or Spreading Seas on the second turn. It’s borderline amazing in this deck and gives
control a new dynamic: a turn 2 threat that must be answered immediately while wielding the same control bombs that make your opponents
5)Â Â This control deck attacks early as easily as an aggro deck. So is this aggro-control? I don’t think so. A deck with four 1/1
fliers and four 1/2s can hardly be called aggro-control, but it does create a new dynamic for control. You still have to Day of Judgment against
aggressive decks and survive. You still have to prevent an early Jace or ramp to make it to the late game. But…instead of your
opponent’s game plan of building their empire against your control trickery, they have to answer your early plays, or the game will be over.
An example would be instead of playing Cultivate, the Valakut player has to Slagstorm to kill your would-be equipped Stoneforge before the turn 4
attack. In the old world (before Sword-wielding Hawks), the Valakut player would ignore all actions by a U/W player and continue to build up to that
golden six-mana mark. Other examples can be given as well, but this new dynamic of U/W Control is a remarkable one.
6)Â Â It’s a one-card combo! Stoneforge Mystic getting Sword of Feast and Famine. Untap, go! Spell Pierce your spell,
end of turn, put weapon into play. Untap, equip, Hawk, attack! Untap trigger (discard, too!); Jace, the Mind Sculptor fateseal. Give me a break…
You might get the feeling that I’m upset by these cards and the power level that this deck has. I mean…it’s U/W, so how mad could I be at
WotC? My Magic personality is one of a peacekeeper. I enjoy format harmony where there is a balance of combo, control, and aggro. In this mythical
utopia of a format, each deck gives game to the others, and no one deck is supreme. This deck isn’t Skullclamp Affinity or Fae at its peak, but
it’s definitely the best deck in the current format. Twenty-four Squadron Hawks were in the Top 8 of Pro Tour Paris. Those numbers resemble the amount
of Arcbound Ravagers in previous tournament Top 8s, but at least in this case the Hawks were in three completely different decks. As soon as more
people sleeve up Caw-Blade and test, FNM, goldfish, etc., they will see the consistency and power of the equipped Birds.
A Couple Other Options (For Control Mages)
It will only get better in the months to come. Chapin Top 8ed after cleanly rolling through the Standard portion, and the deck is super powerful. A lot
of tweaks and changes can also be made to better suit the metagame and beat the Boros / aggro decks. Although this deck will get better and is
pretty powerful, I still feel it has less of a chance to take down these tournaments in weeks to come in comparison to Hawks and Friends.
I played against U/B Control four times at the Pro Tour and dropped one game with the deck I’m about to unveil. The deck is like a pristine racehorse
that has won its 40 championships and is now older and weathered and simply wants to take a break. Let the U/B Stallion take a break!
I started off the tournament 4-1 in the Constructed portion of Day One and went into Day Two at 6-2. Combined with the awful decision to continuously
board in Leyline of Sanctity, a few mistakes here and there, and sleep deprivation, I fumbled Day Two pretty badly. The deck itself performed
magnificently, defeating U/B (Mori being one) multiple times, Quest, and Boros. The deck has its weakness against Valakut, but that is easily fixed
with the addition of two more Flashfreezes and one more Spell Pierce to the board.
The deck plays like U/W Control, countering spells, playing planeswalkers, and wrathing the board…but suddenly can just win the game. One of my
other U/B opponents was a player from Japan who turn 2-5 Spreading Seas-ed all of my white sources and on that fifth turn also dropped Jace Beleren. I
had out one Hawk and a Plant token, and he hadn’t seen the combo game one or two (game two was won by Luminarch Ascension), so he tapped out for
Grave Titan on turn 6 with his seven cards in hand, and I untapped, easily winning the game.
The deck is definitely a rogue “get ya” deck, and it has a decent matchup against the Caw-Blade deck…but not a great one. I’m
sure with some tweaking, the matchup could get even better, but I warn you…never play Leyline of Sanctity. I can’t stand this
card, and as I mentioned, it cost me more matches than it ever won when I drew multiples in the late game and when I didn’t have the ability to
mulligan into an opener with it. Stay away from that card. By the way, if you haven’t seen it, be sure to check out the deck tech I did with BDM for some
Preordain jokes at my expense :)
The real question about Mass Polymorph is “Why should I play that, Shaheen…it looks ridiculous!” Great question!
1)Â Â Â Surprise!! Even with the deck tech, even after seeing a Khalni Garden, not one of my opponents at the Pro Tour
saw it coming, and I lost very few game ones. The deck extends its “icy grip” with Spreading Seas, countermagic, planeswalkers, mass
removal, and card advantage. This series of smoke screens forces an opponent playing blue to tap out or an aggro deck to play poorly into an easy turn
6-8 Mass Polymorph for the win. At your respective Open tournaments or even at the local stores around the world…expect your opponent to be
bamboozled once you tap six for the big surprise!
2)Â Â Emrakul and Iona are nearly unbeatable. It’s not as though the old Polymorph decks resolved their spell, got
Emrakul out, and still lost. With the ability to stick a Jace prior to the Mass Polymorph, you can easily cut off their white spells and swing a turn
later for the victory. Why not Blightsteel Colossus? They can block that guy and soak up damage…come on! Each deck, for the most part, at the Pro
Tour had answers in one of their colors and not the other; therefore, the duo is nearly unbeatable.
3)Â Â See Beyond isn’t that bad… The card gains a lot of value when you shuffle Hawks, dead Day of Judgments, or
excess lands. Obviously, the card is in there in case you draw a member of your dynamic duo, but it isn’t an auto-scoff once you draw the spell.
4)Â Â You can easily win without the combo! Gideon Jura, Squadron Hawks, Celestial Colonnade, Elspeth Tirel, and all the
backup you could dream of. Many of my games were won off the back of alternate win conditions and joined by Luminarch Ascension after board. If your
opponent knows your combo, they live in a life of fear…not able to counter what they normally would counter and not able to tap out when they
normally would. They know it’s coming, and that gives you a huge advantage to win with other methods!
5)Â Â Who knows how to play against this deck! The deck is rogue and powerful. Opponents have no clue how to play against it
or board against it. Do I leave in all my removal? Do I bring in extra removal to kill Hawks and Plants before a disaster strikes? What if he has
Luminarch Ascension? I just get owned on turn 2! What about all those planeswalkers…someone help! I don’t need to preach about all the
different advantages you have when playing a rogue deck, but this is it right here, ladies and gentlemen.
I, for one, will be playing a version of Hawks and Swords at the SCG Open tournament coming up rather than my beloved Mass Polymorph. I figure I might
be able to steal a victory or two before the true power of this deck settles in, but we’ll see. Once the deck catches on, I have a few ideas to help
craft the Twenty-Two deck against the Hawk/Sword menace. I feel that I could probably win with Twenty-Two, but if people aren’t fully prepared for
Sword of Feast and Famine, I feel I have to abuse that. I have a feeling I might be waaaayyy off; maybe people are ready for Caw-Blade, and I’ll be
destroyed! If that’s the case, then Mass Polymorph will be the champion deck in New Jersey the weekend after :)
Expect a ton of nightmare mirror matches. The result of a turn 2, on-the-play Stoneforge Mystic is usually good game. There’s no one-mana counter for a
creature, and the Sword cannot be countered. I hope it doesn’t turn into the Fae mirror…one deck has a Bitterblossom on turn 2; the other
doesn’t, and that’s all, folks.
Of course, that deck had Thoughtseize to attempt to prevent the end of the world. But this prediction isn’t about Fae or tough mirror matchups
but about miserable mirror matches. Even though Boros is a fine deck and made it to the finals, it’s no match for the U/W Caw-Blade deck. Expect the
future to contain different builds perhaps, but be assured that Jace, the Mind Sculptor will be joined by Hawks, Stoneforges, and Swords for a long
time. The hate for the deck exists in Divine Offering and other Disenchant effects, but in game one, that’s not a threat, and more Swords can be played
to compensate for the loss of the weapon. Another strength of the deck is that it can win easily after its weapons are answered…on the back of
powerful planeswalkers, wrath effects, and control cards that have been winning for years.
Thanks for reading, friends! I would like to thank Mike Flores for all the Preordain namedrops at my expense with a reminder that I NEVER SAID IT WAS
BAD, BELIEVE ME! I said it didn’t fit for my one style of deck! Any questions/deck help, fantastic readers, you know the drill. Email me at [email protected] or post in the forums (which I check regularly). I’d like to end on a few quotes
from PT Paris:
“Shaheen…the earlier you Zenith (Red Sun’s Zenith), the more times per game you cast it. It’s like cheating and virtual card
advantage” – Tommy Ashton
“Maybe next time someone asks you if you Day 2ed, show some excitement instead of an underwhelming â€˜Yea, I did’…especially if
the questioner did not Day 2, thanks.” – Gerard Fabiano upset at Shaheen Soorani