The Sukenik Special – Night Shift

People have called Gravitational Shift in Caw-Blade “too cute,” but Jonathan Sukenik, or Watchwolf92 on MTGO, wants to prove you wrong! He’s played Shift in the last 3 events he’s attended and made Top 8 in Pittsburgh.

“Happy news is on its way to you.”

This was what “Cookie’s Fortune Cookie Fortunes (with Cookie “Fortune Cookie” Masterson)” decided to give me last week. (Sorry for the “You Don’t Know Jack” game reference for those of you who have never played it; it is the best trivia game in the world.)

For the following 24 hours, I was on my laptop playing Magic Online with my cell phone next to me, just hoping for some good news. To my surprise, Confucius came through for me! StarCityGames.com Content Manager Steve Sadin graciously offered me a spot on the StarCityGames.com writing team. So expect plenty of Magic tech and insight for both Magic Online and paper Magic. I hope to grow and learn as a writer, so please feel free to leave comments, and I will surely get to them. All right, here we go!!

As you can probably tell from the last couple of weeks, I really love Gravitational Shift. The problem is that nearly every article I read on every website, including StarCityGames.com, have all said how the card is too cute and unnecessary in a focused deck like Caw-Blade. However, my main purpose in this article is to provide a positive opinion on Gravitational Shift that isn’t Pascal Maynard’s. Instead of listing reasons why you should like the card and accept it as the real deal, I will just give three mini-tournament reports with game play analysis. I think this is a better strategy than just going with one report. Let me know in the forums if you liked this or would have liked one detailed report. Last I checked, a three for one is good!

Saturday, July 16. StarCityGames.com Open: Cincinnati.

“Friend Rudy” Briksza wanted to drive to Cincinnati from New Jersey to visit his girlfriend but had no one to go with him. Who am I to keep lovers apart? The only problem was that I hated this new format. I wanted to play with sleeper cards that only the really up-to-date people would know about. My candidates were Gravitational Shift, Birthing Pod, and Birds of Paradise.

For the last couple months, I have felt like Birds of Paradise is just really strong because there are no appealing two-drops other than Squadron Hawk ever since Stoneforge Mystic got the boot. At first, I tried shoving Gravitational Shift and Birds of Paradise in the same deck, but we can all imagine how that ended up.

My cop-out when brewing is Magic Online replays. While watching replays with popcorn in my hand, I finally found some respectable Magic Online players playing Gravitational Shift. Zapgaze and TeamCKgetthere were the two people I kept on looking for in the Daily Events, and I would constantly laugh out loud when they “slammed” down Gravitational Shift in their Caw-Blade decks, and I knew that was where I wanted to be. These people were playing the same list as Pascal Maynard from Canada, so I knew it wasn’t one of those “4-0 a Daily Event” flukes.

The car ride to Cincinnati was really long considering the farthest I’d ever went by car was to Richmond, Virginia. “Friend Rudy” and I were discussing an eighth creature to run in the maindeck next to the three Emeria Angels and four Squadron Hawks. He suggested Sunblast Angel and Baneslayer Angel, while I nominated Admonition Angel. The following conversation ensued:

“Friend Rudy”: That seems like too late of a drop, and it’s only a 5/5.

Me: It’s like a third Oblivion Ring that doesn’t die to Dismember since it is a 6/6.

“FR”: That sounds great and all except for the fact that it’s a 5/5.

Me: Ummm… I’m pretty sure I’m right. How about this. If Admonition Angel is a 5/5, I run one of your cards, and if it’s a 6/6, it gets a spot in the deck.

“FR”: Deal!

U/W Shift

Jonathan Sukenik

As for the tournament itself, I ended up 7-2-1 in 22nd place. Beating U/W Control rounds one and five was a piece of cake since Squadron Hawk was in my deck. The Valakut decks I played against in rounds two and three really showcased the aspects of this deck.

Devin Eckard was able to smash me game one on the back of Urabrask the Hidden with Primeval Titan. However, game two was a little more eventful, as I had three Squadron Hawks in play to his multitude of lands and nothing else. Off the top, he slammed down Avenger of Zendikar to which I replied with an “Oh My God! You are going to love this or cry!”

I proceeded to slam down a Gravitational Shift, which made my five-turn clock into lethal next turn and turned all of his Plant tokens into -2/1s. The match was easy from there. My next round against Gabe Owens proved that this deck could still play like Caw-Blade when I proceeded to counter all of his ramp spells and Sword of Feast and Famine him out of the game.

While all of the other matches were interesting and all, the one I want to stress the most for people looking to play with Gravitational Shift is my on-camera feature match against Tony Chu at 5-1. This match was definitely a huge grind from the Watchwolf side. The beginning of the video is cut out, but I did end up taking a few hits from a Golem token, courtesy of Blade Splicer, while I was deploying some Squadron Hawks. One thing that was important and cut off was on turn 4 when he played Squadron Hawk, digging up enough to give him a full grip, and I proceeded to Into the Roil with kicker his Hawk, forcing him to discard.

Using Into the Roil in a Gravitational Shift deck is very different from a normal Caw-Blade deck because you allow yourself to use your life total as a resource to get more value out of your Gravitational Shift. Tony Chu ended up discarding a Squadron Hawk, which allowed my Shift to be a lot better than normal. The pivotal turn was the one right before the linked video started.

He forced through a Gideon Jura with Spell Pierce for my Mana Leak, which in turn tapped him out. I had three Squadron Hawks in play to his Blade Splicer, Golem token, and Gideon Jura. I slammed down Gravitational Shift and killed Gideon Jura. This led to Tony muttering “geez… who plays Gravitational Shift anyway” for the next four turns until he died. While being too cute isn’t a good thing, having the element of surprise can really turn the tide of a game. Game Two also showed the strength of not one, but two, Gravitational Shifts.

So, you are probably wondering how black got into this deck? As you can read in my Deck Tech with Glenn Jones, “Friend Rudy” and I came up with adding black for Vampire Nighthawk to trump other Hawks (of the Squadron Variety). I expressed a huge liking for discard over situational counters such as Spell Pierce to be able to snag a Squadron Hawk or Sword of Feast and Famine from the semi-mirror. Also, knowing your opponent’s hand helps you to know if the time is right for Gravitational Shift.

Despite “Friend Rudy” starting the discussion with “Before you think of it, you are not running Abyssal Persecutor in this deck!”, I came running out of the bathroom an hour later saying, “I came up with a great idea!! We can run Abyssal Persecutor.” He knows my love for Abyssal Persecutor runs deep after I told everyone running Grixis Twin a month ago to play it as their alternate win condition instead of Consecrated Sphinx.

One last thing that I added to the deck, which put black over the top, was Disfigure over Mental Misstep. I never sided in Mental Misstep against non-aggro decks and knew that Disfigure was just better. The best part about this deck was its ability to go from U/B Control to U/W Caw-Blade, which made it Faerie-esque. This was something that was definitely up my alley.

Saturday, July 23. PTQ in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The following list is the list that I played in this PTQ to a Top 4, while variants played by “Friend Rudy” and Peter Yong didn’t seem to do so well. This made me question whether or not it was just me who was winning or if it was variance. 

This list needs a little more explaining than the U/W one. The weird discard split came from the fact that I wanted half of my discard to hit Gideon Jura and at least four of them to hit Squadron Hawk. Go for the Throat seemed like the best removal spell for this deck, since no other black removal spells could kill Abyssal Persecutor. The one Sword of Feast and Famine wasn’t in the deck until ten minutes before decklists were collected. The third Vampire Nighthawk was cut for a Sword of Feast and Famine because we wanted to shore up the Valakut and U/B control matchup. Spellskite got kicked out of the sideboard, since discard seemed to do a better job, while Revoke Existence was a strict upgrade to Divine Offering. The one Timely Reinforcements was a third Day of Judgment, but I never wanted more than two Days to side in, and it was a concession to the Red Deck Wins matchup.

I won’t include a sideboarding guide for any of these games because they changed a lot and really depended on the way my opponent played along with what they were playing. If you need a guide, I’ll supply one in the forums. Onto the tournament!

U/B Control was easy despite the opponent being one-time ringer Patrick Albergo. Two Vampire Nighthawks were able to race his Solemn Simulacrum and Creeping Tar Pit. I Into the Roiled his Wurmcoil Engine with kicker ripping into Despise to take his artifact Titan. Game 2 was won with Squadron Hawks, Sword of Feast and Famine, and Gravitational Shift pumping my team and leaving his Grave Titan tokens with very sad faces.

All of my Caw-Blade matchups were hard to play but really showed why the black was good. Against good buddy Blake McClure in Round 2, I was able to make his Timely Reinforcements do nothing with a “timely” Into the Roil on my only creature, Squadron Hawk. In Game 3, I was able to Inquisition of Kozilek his Squadron Hawk and Day of Judgment his Blade Splicer and Hero of Bladehold.

Round 7 against Tim Timlin proved why Abyssal Persecutor is the man! I played a Turn 6 Abyssal Persecutor after my Turn 5 Gideon Jura stuck. After eating all of his creatures with Persecutor, Gideon finished the job by killing my Abyssal Persecutor with Tim in the negatives. A plethora of discard spells allowed me to do this by constantly knowing his hand.

My loss in the Top 4 to eventual and well-deserving winner, John Alesi-Mullen, was a very tight match. My win Game 1 was on the back of Gravitational Shift and killing him with Emeria Angel. Game 2 was a total blow out, but Game 3 had the most action. I had a good amount of discard and a board, but his ripped Jace Beleren was too much for me. Discard is only better than counters if they aren’t drawing more than one card a turn. While the first Jace Beleren only drew one or two cards, the second one drew him around six or seven, which allowed him to win the game handily. It was after this match that I decided to reconsider Jace Beleren.

The other matches were not as eventful. Gravitational Shift blew out Valakut the times I played against it, while I had a loss to RUG Pod in the Swiss. I felt like Tempered Steel and Birthing Pod variants were the only bad matchups for this skill-intensive deck. Time for the last incarnation of the deck!

Saturday, July 30. StarCityGames.com Open: Pittsburgh.

The car ride consisted of Ray Wickersham at the wheel, Jon Fleming with the love for Superman vibrant and noticeable, and “Friend Rudy” Briksza as the movie critic. I asked everyone what they were going to play.

“Friend Rudy” shipped me his Twinblade list. I told him to cut a few cards and change up the mana base to support Grand Abolisher. Ray wanted to play Flores Blade, and Jon stuck to his guns, thinking that throwing Mountains at people with Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle would win him the tournament (Spoiler Alert: It didn’t work).

I told Ray that instead of playing Flores Blade he should just play the best deck ever, which is whatever I’d be playing. Even though I was just kidding and my ego is not that big, he was open to suggestions. I told him about the Esper Shift deck, which will from now on be called Night Shift, since it’s in its final stage. He asked about the card choices and started jamming in games as soon as possible.

One experiment we tried was cutting Mana Leak for Everflowing Chalice and running Consecrated Sphinx over the Vampire Nighthawk, which were underperforming since most people are still in love with Sword of Feast and Famine. We decided that Sword of War and Peace was better than Sword of Feast and Famine against everything that was not Valakut and U/B Control.

The Everflowing Chalice didn’t really affect the games that I won or lost, while having two Consecrated Sphinxes was annoying when I wouldn’t live to the late game. For this reason, I cut the Vampire Nighthawks from the original list for a Consecrated Sphinx and a Jace Beleren. The reason for only one was that Jaceing into another Jace Beleren was not what I wanted to be doing against non-control decks, which is how the second one got into the board.

Ray’s main contribution was the one Ratchet Bomb and Sword of Feast and Famine in the sideboard. He was afraid of Tempered Steel and wanted to switch Swords against Valakut and U/B control. We swapped the Despise and Duress count because we expected to hit more things that way.

The very last change was something I came up right before going to sleep. Ray and “Friend Rudy” hated the second Abyssal Persecutor, so I randomly thought of Phyrexian Metamorph. He was the 60th card to this deck of an abnormal number of one-ofs. However, I assure you that these numbers were thought of very thoroughly and weren’t an attempt to be cute, even though the picture with Watchwolf in my mouth seemed to be my definition of cute. Anyhow, I give you Night Shift!

Round 1 against Dan Spiller playing G/W infect was easily won with Sword of War and Peace on an Abyssal Persecutor while Round 2 Consecrated Sphinx helped smash Dusty O’Brien who was playing Tempered Steel.

Sword of War and Peace along with Gravitational Shift singlehandedly prevented Mike Patnik’s innovative U/B Vampires from winning. He had Trinket Mage for Brittle Effigy, Gremlin Mine, Blade of the Bloodchief, Hex Parasite, and other spicy things.

The fake feature match against Marsh Usary was enjoyable even though I got smashed by turn two Tempered Steel off the top after I Inquisition of Kozilek-ed the one he had in his hand. We were full of laughs, but I was soon living life on the bubble.

Ben Wienburg would be my first U/W Caw-Blade opponent. Despise-ing his Gideon Jura, killing Jace Beleren with my Sword of War and Peace yielding Squadron Hawks, and landing my own Jace Beleren allowed me to take Game 1. Game 2 was easily won with Jace Beleren and discard. Singletons sure are nice, right?

Josh Cho was my next Caw-Blade opponent. After Despise-ing his Emeria Angel, his Timely Reinforcement Soldiers were attempting to race my Squadron Hawks, but Sword of War and Peace had a different plan. I made all of his Day of Judgments two-for-twos in Game 2 so it wasn’t that backbreaking.

It’s always a pleasure playing against Matt Ferrando, and it sure was nice to rip my black sources for the plethora of discard spells in my hand, while manlands were no chance for my Pyromancer Ascension opponent.

I got to play Jeremiah Renda under the camera with his RUG deck. While Cunning Sparkmage sniped Squadron Hawk, Consecrated Sphinx singlehandedly won the game. The last round against Jacob Shapiro was covered by Glenn Jones, along with the Top 8 match against good friend Ben Friedman. I guess after getting lucky not to die in game three of round nine, it was only fair for me to draw nine spells in two games against Ben Friedman. Oh well, all I have to say is, “I did my best!”

If you expected an update to the deck, I’m sorry, but I don’t really have one, yet. The deck performed very well for me and had a lot of play to it. I will surely be playing a variant of Night Shift at Nationals. Don’t be afraid to say hi or message me on Magic Online; however I am hesitant to add people I don’t know on Facebook. Ordinarily, I would not be allowed to go to tournaments like the StarCityGames.Com Opens in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, but hopefully writing for this website will allow me to have enough money to go to more of these and provide a twist in the metagame. It is a pleasure writing for all of you and please leave feedback!!

Thanks for reading,

Jonathan “Watchwolf92” Sukenik.