Turn 3 Kills With Vector Asp In Standard

Monday, February 14 – Kibler cited Tempered Steel’s inconsistency as one of its main problems – and indeed, it is a bit too inconsistent until you make it as fast as possible. Then average draws will kill on turn 4 or 5.

Excuse me, but can I asp you a question?

Have you ever played Grab Asp?

Oh — you’ve never heard of Grab Asp before? That’s when you wander around a tournament site looking through draft refuse for Vector Asps for the deck
that you’re going to play in a Pro Tour tomorrow.

After I finished a successful game of Grab Asp with Kai Budde, Zvi Mowshowitz, Sam Black, Gaudenis Vidugiris, Alex West and Tom Martell, we all went
out for some steaks at Meating — a fancy and expensive restaurant.

While most of us were excited to chow down on some nice cow, Sam Black — being a vegetarian — once again found himself staring at a menu that didn’t
have anything he could eat. When it turned out that Sam’s last hope (an asparagus soup) was made with a beef stock, Sam was stuck munching on bread
while the rest of us enjoyed our delicious steaks that Martell (who must have already been anticipating a Pro Tour Top 8) was nice enough to pay for.

The Deck

Yes, the deck that I — along with Kai Budde, Zvi Mowshowitz, Sam Black, Gaudenis Vidugiris, and Alex West played at Pro Tour: Paris featured four
Vector Asps. We had no other creatures with infect, and we could only activate its ability by using one of our three Mox Opals.

The Vector Asps were played in addition to four Memnites. This marked the first time that I played a deck with two sets of cards that were completely identical except for the fact that one of them costs more than the other.

Did I mention that our deck would frequently kill on turn 3 or 4?

When I built the deck, I had great aspirations. Tempered Steel is an incredibly powerful card, and there are so many good cheap artifacts to pair it

Could it be the new Affinity?

Probably not, but only because there are so many good hate cards available right now. There is even a good amount of danger from splash damage, as
specific answers such as Ratchet Bomb, or even Day of Judgment / Pyroclasm / Black Sun’s Zenith, are quite good against the deck.

But if people weren’t prepared for my Vector Asps, then there was no reason why it wouldn’t be an excellent choice for the Pro Tour and beyond…

My initial version of the deck was seriously flawed, but it still had games where it worked really well.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I needed to speed the deck up considerably if I wanted it to be competitive. I was winning the bulk of the
games where I vomited a bunch of artifacts onto the board early — but I was losing the games where I was stuck with a bunch of slower cards in my hand.

The Glint Hawk Idols were pretty fantastic. They were immune to pretty much every sweeper except for Ratchet Bomb — and people weren’t playing that
many instant-speed removal spells that can actually handle it. Just a Glint Hawk Idol plus a Tempered Steel is actually enough to bury most opponents.

When it came time to tinker with the deck, the first thing that I did was add Vector Asps in place of the Glint Hawks — the results were positive, but
the deck was still choking on its expensive spells on a pretty regular basis.

So I cut the Ousts and some of my three drops to add Ardent Recruit and once again make room for the Glint Hawks.

We briefly tried an asper build, splashing black for Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas — but we once again discovered that any sort of non-Tempered Steel three-
or four-drop was just too slow.

I was thinking about throwing the deck out entirely at around this point. It had incredibly strong matchups against Kuldotha Red and most other
creature decks, good game against the control decks that we were aware of at the time (like most people, we didn’t have the Stoneforge Mystic Caw-Go
deck in our gauntlet) but it had an incredibly bad matchup against Valakut, as well as lower than 50% matchups against U/W Control, and U/B Control

Then Alex West and I discovered the counterspell plan.

We were already slightly ahead of Valakut in game one (because we were faster than they were) — so as soon as we added a way to not only deal with
their sweepers — but also to stop their accelerants or even their Primeval Titans the matchup became a breeze.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to really tune the deck after this point — but the addition of counterspells to the sideboard swung the
Valakut matchup heavily in our favor. I expected a ton of Valakut at the Pro Tour, and I had already been looking for any excuse to play the deck, so
at this point I was completely sold even if I didn’t have time to completely optimize the deck before I sat down for round one.

If I had spent some more time tuning the deck before the Pro Tour, it would have been a lot better. However, I had promised a good friend of mine (who
has been having a lot of self confidence issues since he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome) months before that I would go with him to adopt a new
dog from the ASPCA when his old dog — which he’d had since he was a kid and was incredibly close with — passed away.

Brian Kibler had gotten very close to our list of Tempered Steel during his testing for Pro Tour: Paris, even going as far to add Vector Asp to the deck.

But by the time Kibler gave up on the deck, he still had things like Etched Champion and Lodestone Golem slowing things down for him. Kibler cited the
deck’s inconsistency as one of its main problems — and indeed, the deck is a bit too inconsistent until you really pull all the stops in order
to make the deck as fast as possible.

A draw with Signal Pest + two Memnites — or Mox Opal and some Vector Asps/Glint Hawks (note that Glint Hawk is free when you have an active Mox Opal)
plus a Tempered Steel or a Contested War Zone is usually enough to kill on turn 3.

Even if your opponent has a removal spell, a draw of this caliber will usually allow you to kill on turn 4.

No, this won’t happen a ton of the time — but even an average draw will usually yield a turn 4 or 5 kill.

Hawkward’s vulnerability to sweepers is definitely a big problem. The fact that most decks skimp on maindeck sweepers allows Hawkward to take more than
its fair share of game ones without breaking a sweat. The counterspell package then makes it easy to take down opponents who have a finite number of
anti-aggro sideboard cards.

Tom Martell got excited when he saw what we were doing, and tried a little bit of Grab Asp the night before the Pro Tour — but he ultimately decided
that he wasn’t into it.

Martell stuck with the Caw-Go deck that Brian Kibler and Brad Nelson had built for the event, and was rewarded with a Top 8 finish for his decision.

The Million Dollar Magic: the Gathering Pro Tour

Recently I’ve been trying to cut down on sugar, so I’ve switched over to artificial sweeteners like NutraSweet and aspartame. I wound up getting a
pretty bad headache right before the tournament (sugar withdrawals, no doubt) — but luckily, I was able to find some aspirin and I was ready to go in
time for round one.

Naoki Nakada, my opponent in the first round, had a Tumble Magnet — he thought he would die if he didn’t tap that Asp.

A Brief Aside on Naoki Nakada

Take a quick look at Naoki Nakada’s decklist from Pro Tour: Paris:

In case you didn’t already realize this, Nakada completely leveled the entire tournament by playing a U/W Mystic Caw-Go deck that didn’t have any Mana
Leaks or Spell Pierces — but played as though he had the counter pretty much every time, forcing his opponents to play accordingly.

It never even occurred to me that he could be playing a U/W Control list that had no cheap counters. I mean, who would even think of doing
that? The idea is just so unthinkable!

But Naoki thought of it, and managed to battle his way all the way to the Top 4 — where he got paired against Ben Stark. At that point the jig was up,
and Nakada was forced to content himself with a mere $13,000 and sixteen Pro Points.

End Aside on Naoki Nakada

In game one of round three, I got off to a pretty good start — dropping a bunch of guys and Tempered Steel onto the table early. By moving all in, I
thought I was going to be able to kill my opponent before he had enough mana to cast Day of Judgment — but he also had a Condemn to buy himself enough
time to cast his sweeper. I was out of threats at this point — but unfortunately for my opponent, I ripped Vector Asp, which was enough to kill him.

I played a bunch more matches, I was 9-4 at one point, but then I lost my last three to finish 9-7. I felt like a bit of an asp to leave the tournament
without any prize money after such a strong run, but sometimes that happens when you’re playing a deck full of Vector Asps.

Pro Tour Post Mortem

The Contested War Zones were not good. I thought that they were going to be incredibly strong, but I actually wound up boarding them out in every
matchup. Against control, I would board out two to four of my Contested War Zones to make room for the blue sources that I needed to cast my
counterspells. Against beatdown decks, I’d board out my Contested War Zones for blue sources just so I wouldn’t have to worry about getting my land(s)
stolen every time I took a hit in combat.

The Ardent Recruits also turned out to be a lot weaker than I had anticipated. For a while, we’d been boarding out the Steel Overseers, the Phyrexian
Revokers, an Ardent Recruit, two Plains, and two Contested War Zones for the counterspell package — but Kai Budde eventually pointed out to us just how
weak the Ardent Recruits were and how relevant the Steel Overseers were. So we began boarding out the Ardent Recruits instead.

Despite some claims to the contrary, Ardent Recruit is not the new Wild Nacatl. Sure it’s good if my opponent doesn’t have many removal spells
or sweepers — but at that point, pretty much anything is going to be good.

Given the fact that I was boarding in the blue in every matchup, and given how underwhelming the Ardent Recruits were — I decided to move the
counterspell package into the maindeck. Here’s what I’d play now:

I haven’t actually had a chance to test the Stoneforge Mystic package in the sideboard, but I think that it’ll turn out to be pretty good. Being able
to fetch Sword of Body and Mind, Sword of Feast and Famine, and Bonehoard seems like a pretty sweet thing to be able to do.

Why Hawkward?

Hawkward was — and is — a much stronger choice than Kuldotha Red. It’s more consistent, it’s almost as fast, it’s more resilient, it mulligans better,
it slices, it dices, it… Pretty much every aspect of the deck compares favorably to Kuldotha Red.

The Valakut matchup is incredibly strong. The Kuldotha Red matchup is as easy as pie. Most control matchups are good.

Sure, a deck that’s sporting a ton of hate will be able to beat Hawkward — but given how poorly Kuldotha Red performed at the Pro Tour, it’s not at all
unreasonable to think that players will begin scaling back on their sweepers.

I think that the biggest thing holding Hawkward back right now is the fact that Brian Kibler and Brad Nelson Caw-Go update featuring Stoneforge
Mystics is a really bad matchup.

Sam Black has told me that he is going to take another look at Hawkward over the next couple of weeks and attempt to come up with an update that can
compete with Caw-Go.

I’m hoping that Sam can actually find a way to take down the U/W menace, as I absolutely love this deck!

What can I say? I’m an asp man.

Good luck to everyone who makes it out to Grand Prix: Denver this weekend! Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make the trip (I’m a tired old man) — but
I really wish I could. If I had the time, I definitely would have made it into a weeklong trip so I could spend some time in Aspen.