There was a TCGplayer.com cash tournament coming up, but I hadn’t played a single game with New Phyrexia yet. I asked all my friends what I
should play, and they told me I’d be crazy to go with anything but Caw-Blade. I knew that it wasn’t so simple. I also knew there was
one man who would be able to see more.
There was no other way. I climbed high into the snow-capped peaks of Northern New Jersey. The wind was howling, and the snow was outrageous. I
could no longer feel my limbs; my legs kept moving, independent from my conscious mind, but I knew that even that couldn’t continue for much
longer. Just then, I came over a crest and looked down upon a small valley that was mysteriously unaffected by the hostile weather. There was a
calm lake that remained unfrozen despite the subzero temperatures all around it, and next to it, I saw Gerard Fabiano’s hermitage.
He had been expecting me and already had a decklist drawn out for us to play.
Saturday: The TCGplayer.com Open
- 4 Mana Leak
- 4 Doom Blade
- 2 Into the Roil
- 4 Inquisition of Kozilek
- 4 Preordain
- 1 Volition Reins
- 2 Despise
- 2 Gitaxian Probe
- 1 Life's Finale
Round 1—Mike with Bant Caw-Blade:
Mike slaughters me in game one by playing a turn 1 Birds of Paradise on the play followed by a turn 2 Lotus Cobra plus Stoneforge Mystic. However, I
really like this matchup after sideboard because I have so much efficient removal to kill his creatures. I take the two postboard games.
Round 2—Terrence with U/R Twin:
U/B has permission, removal, and bounce to fight at instant speed, as well as eight spells to see the opponent’s hand, making this matchup easier
than it is for Caw-Blade. Terrence has some plan B creatures like Consecrated Sphinx and Inferno Titan, but they don’t look so hot when I have
half-a-dozen black removal spells in my deck to fight his combo anyway. I win both games.
“With all due respect, I don’t think we need Gitaxian Probe since we already have discard spells to see their hand.”
“We need Gitaxian Probe so that we never miss with our discard spells.” *
* Not actual quotations.
Round 3—Ray with U/W Caw-Blade:
Game one is a drawn-out affair where I’m a little behind all game but hanging in there. I play out Jace and Karn Liberated, but my life is so low
that I can’t stop his army of Squadron Hawks with Equipment. At the last moment, I topdeck Life’s Finale to clean his board and leave me
with an unopposed Karn. I concede game two on the third turn after I keep a one-lander and Ray Mental Missteps my Preordain, but I win the third game
and the match.
Round 4—Landon with U/W Caw-Blade:
This is another one of the many close, three-game matches I play against Caw-Blade over the course of the weekend. I come out on top on the strength of
Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
Round 5—Jamaal with U/W Caw-Blade:
I win two close games, again against Caw-Blade.
“Sensei, won’t Caw-Blade be a hard matchup?”
“Caw-Blade is our best matchup. Even though Stoneforge Mystic and Squadron Hawk are good cards, U/B has so many advantages in a control
mirror—discard spells, efficient removal, and more Jaces.”
Rounds 6 and 7:
Because they didn’t have a single room to fit everyone, they split the tournament into two halves, cut each to the Top 8 after seven rounds and
randomly paired the top 16 from there.
Top 16—Ezra with Darkblade:
My only real play of game one is a turn 6 Life’s Finale to see his deck before I concede. Game two, I deal with his Mystic, but he resolves a
Squadron Hawk. It ends up being a cool three-for-one, as I have to Into the Roil the Hawk (without kicker), take it with Inquisition of Kozilek, and
then Surgical Extract them all. Getting three-for-one’d, however, is better than getting killed, and when the dust settles, I have Jace, the Mind
Sculptor, who quickly undoes the card disadvantage.
In game three, I find myself in a terrifying dilemma. He has a Creeping Tar Pit with four other lands and a Stoneforge Mystic in play, and I know that
his hand contains a land, a Sword of Feast and Famine, and two Emeria Angels. I have nothing but four lands in play but haven’t played one for my
turn yet. My hand is: Drowned Catacomb, Mana Leak, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and Liliana Vess. The only sure-fire way to stay in the game would be to
use Liliana to tutor for Life’s Finale, but I had sideboarded it out! I think of using Liliana’s -2 anyway in the hopes that he’ll be
so afraid of Life’s Finale that he doesn’t play his Angels. In the end, I decide that the only way I would realistically win would be to
play Jace and luckily brainstorm into a discard spell or a Disfigure to cast with my fifth mana. That’s exactly what happens, and I Inquisition
his Sword of Feast and Famine, setting up a Volition Reins for the following turn. Ezra opts, on his turn, to play an Angel and make a token. I Reins
the Angel, make my own token, and win from there with the help of Jace and Liliana.
“The U/B decks from Worlds played three Grave Titans as their only threats. What’s wrong with that?”
“The opponent might have Day of Judgment, they might have protection from black, or you might need to gain life if they have flying
attackers. Wurmcoil Engine is better than Grave Titan, but we also need a variety of threats.”
Top 8—Miles with U/W Caw-Blade:
Again I lose game one and win game two. In game three, after an early flurry of action, I leave him with not much gas except for a Phyrexian Metamorph
in his hand. With this U/B list, it’s no hardship to play the entire game without letting him stick a creature or without casting one of my own.
The Metamorph stews in his hand, and I slowly but surely take control of the game.
Top 4—Mike Flores with U/R Twin:
Going in, I have nothing but positive (arrogant) thoughts about this match going through my head:
“I beat Twin 2-0 earlier today; it’s an easy matchup.”
“I have eight ways to see his hand, and his deck only wins because of its cute, little surprises.”
“Flores just played U/R to beat up on Caw-Blade. He’ll lose now that he’s playing against a black deck.”
“I’m gonna show this punk who the beatdown is!”
Game one, I take my first mulligan of the tournament. I look at six lands and keep it as homage to the deck’s creator. My first three
draws are lands, so all I can do on each of my turns is make a face of extreme concentration while I sing the Alphabet song silently in my head. Mike
doesn’t need to know that I have no decisions to make! Once I draw some spells, we trade Jaces and have some friendly back and forth, which
doesn’t yet involve me taking infinite damage. Unfortunately, I fail to set up a good target for the Volition Reins in my hand, and I can’t
do much except twiddle my thumbs and wait until he draws Splinter Twin. This was one of those games that I feel like I should have won, but I
can’t exactly point to one turn where I had made a mistake.
Game two, I have a good hand and Inquisition him on turn 3 to leave only a Spell Pierce, a Splinter Twin, and lands. I have plenty of lands, two Jace,
the Mind Sculptors, a Mana Leak, and a removal spell. In retrospect, there were two reasonable ways for me to play this game. The best would have been
to not cast anything until I drew a discard spell or a Gitaxian Probe to make sure the coast was clear. The other option would be to fire out a turn 4
Jace and a turn 5 Jace and hope the second one sticks. If it does, I never have to tap out again, and it would be an easy win from there. I took some
inexcusable, middle-of-the-road line of play where I played Jace after hitting six mana. In the meantime, he had drawn Deceiver Exarch (which should
have been obvious to me) to go with his Splinter Twin and Spell Pierce, and I died an ignominious death.
“Reid, when we have complete information, we should have no problem finding a way to win from any situation. That’s really why U/B
Control is so good.”
It was disappointing to play well for the whole day only to throw away the semifinals in such a stupid way. I blame it on facing Caw-Blade five times
in a row and then playing an unfamiliar matchup where I had to play very differently. Nevertheless, I had a great day, and it was a pleasure for me to
meet Mr. Flores. I decided I’d wait until after our match to tell him that I had his book at home and ask if I could bring it for him to
autograph next time. He beat me to the punch by asking me if I was “reiderrabbit” and telling me he was a big fan of mine—go figure
that one out. Congratulations to Mike Flores for using his own decklist to win a top 16 that featured eleven Caw-Blade decks.
Round 1—Matt with Valakut:
I Inquisition him on turn 2 to see: his third land, Cultivate, Harrow, Harrow, Primeval Titan, Summoning Trap. I take his Cultivate, wait for him to
Harrow, then Surgical Extraction it. In the meantime, he had drawn a third copy of Harrow. I’m already glad I maindecked this card! Jace, the
Mind Sculptor and Karn Liberated make sure that his hand becomes his library before he ever reaches six mana. In game two, I Memoricide him three
times, and that’s that.
“I think we should play with Spreading Seas. Darkblade is popular, and it has a pretty sloppy mana base.”
“No, we need to fight their creatures in the early turns, so the way is clear for Jace. Gitaxian Probe replaces Spreading Seas as an early
cantrip, and it doesn’t take a full turn to cast.”
“Won’t we lose to Valakut without Spreading Seas?”
“Valakut could be a tough matchup—if people still played with Thrun, the Last Troll and Gaea’s Revenge. Those cards aren’t
good against Caw-Blade, though, so there’s no reason for anyone to play with them.”
Round 2—Ben Hayes with Darkblade:
I was staying at Ben’s place in the city, and he had been helping me with my decklist about an hour before we are paired. He knows all my tricks,
right down to the one Consecrated Sphinx in my sideboard. In game one, I Inquisition and leave him with a Despise because I don’t have anything
he can take in my hand. I even draw a card I don’t want with Preordain so that I can leave Jace on the top of my library instead of in my hand.
The next turn, I cast it and ride it to victory.
Game two, I again Inquisition and take his Stoneforge, leaving him with two Preordains and lands. He casts one the following turn, and on the draw step
of his third turn, I Surgical Extraction them. Just like Matt, Ben drew a third copy of the card in the meantime! Ben had mentioned on Saturday that he
lost to an opponent who missed half-a-dozen Consecrated Sphinx triggers, so I make sure to miss one also before winning anyway. Usually drawing four
extra cards off of your 4/6 flier gets the job done just as well as drawing six.
Round 3—Chris with Darkblade:
For the most part, this is another close but straightforward Caw-Blade match, which I win 2-0. However, an interesting situation comes up. I Doom Blade
Chris’s turn 2 Stoneforge with a Surgical Extraction in my hand. I probably lose if he casts another Mystic, but I decide I need to save the
Extraction until I can get sure-fire value out of it. Chris plays his third land—Marsh Flats—and taps a blue for Preordain.
Now I have a new game plan. If he cracks his Flats after the Preordain, I’ll know he’s about to play either Stoneforge Mystic or Squadron
Hawk, and I’ll have to gamble with using the Extraction in response to his fetchland.
Chris draws his card, tosses the Flats in his graveyard, and puts a card down from his hand before searching for his land. I look away and yell
“wait!” and explain that I wanted to respond to his fetchland. I tell Chris that I saw it was a white card but not what it was and explain
my logic in wanting to respond to his fetch. He understands and doesn’t call a judge, but it’s still awkward when he shows that his hand
indeed contains Stoneforge Mystic but not Squadron Hawk. I don’t fault Chris in the slightest because I was tapped out, and he was just trying to
keep the game moving, but I’m not sure what I could have done differently myself, either. I guess the lesson is that it never hurts to be precise
because there can always be something out there that you’re not thinking of.
Round 4—Steve with Mono Red:
I’m lucky to draw my one Wurmcoil Engine in game one and win. Game two, he starts with turn 1 Goblin Guide, turn 2 Goblin Guide on the play. When
he attacks, I reveal Mana Leak on the top of my deck. I go down to fourteen and ask if it’s my turn. Steve says no and looks at his one untapped
Mountain for a moment before passing the turn. The only thing that makes sense to me is that he has a Lightning Bolt and was thinking about casting it
before I have Mana Leak open. Since my hand is Vampire Nighthawk, lands, and a bunch of permission spells, I figure that the only way I can win is if
the Hawk sticks. I intentionally tap my only blue for Preordain on turn 2, and he Bolts me. The Nighthawk goes unanswered and buys me enough time to
“Gerard, would it be crazy to go totally creatureless?”
“Maybe, maybe not. It’s crucial to have some six-drop creatures in your deck to lock up the game against aggro, and nobody’s ever
complained about topdecking a Wurmcoil Engine before. We might as well play one or two, and we can always sideboard them out.”
Round 5—Dan with Bant Caw-Blade:
Bant has scarier nut draws than straight U/W, but it’s less consistent and more dilute in the late game. Dan mulligans to hands without early
creatures, and U/B has a huge advantage when the game goes long, so I win 2-0.
Round 6—Ian Duke with Gitaxian Probe Caw-Blade:
Glory! My brother and I are the only undefeated players! We draw with each other and again in round seven, ending up as the third and fourth seeds,
with the possibility of meeting in the finals.
“Is Karn Liberated really the best win condition we could play?”
“I don’t know, but I opened one in a pack yesterday, so I really want to play with it.”
“That works for me; I opened a foil one!”
Top 8—Josh with U/W Caw-Blade:
Josh wins a close game one, and I win a close game two. Game three, he’s on the play, and we both have nut draws. He leads with Seachrome Coast
and Spell Pierces my Inquisition of Kozilek. On turn 2, he plays a Stoneforge Mystic, and when I untap, the first thing I do is pay two life for
He shows me a disgusting hand that includes a third land, a second Stoneforge, the Sword of Feast and Famine that he searched for, and a Squadron Hawk.
As I’m staring at the cards Josh comments, “Hopefully you’re thinking ‘how can I possibly beat this?’” I smile
because that’s exactly what I’m thinking but not in the way that he means it…
I play my second land, Doom Blade his Mystic, and Surgical Extraction it. After he plays a Squadron Hawk, I Inquisition his Sword, and it comes down to
the four Hawks with a Batterskull against Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I alternate brainstorming, fatesealing, and bouncing and use every trick in the book
to answer all four of his Hawks individually.
He eventually kills my Jace, but I kill everything he has also, leaving the previously hectic game as nothing but lands against lands. The problem is
that I’m at seven, and he’s above thirty from Batterskull. He draws Celestial Colonnade, and I draw an Inquisition, getting knocked down to
three. Inch by inch, I lift what could be my last card off the top of my deck, and I see the dazzling light reflecting off of my foil Karn Liberated.
The spectators behind me are blinded by him and forced back, away from the table. I clear the way with Inquisition and exile Josh’s Celestial
Colonnade. When his draw step can’t match Mirrodin’s creator, he concedes.
Top 4—Kevin Jones with Grixis Twin:
I’d been watching Kevin all day, as he’s a friend from my local store, and his matches were much more interesting than the three Caw-Blade
mirrors that were typically on either side of him. Our decks are fairly similar, with my main advantage being a smoother mana base. Game one plays out
like a traditional control mirror where he has an edge because of his extra discard spells (seven to my five) and instant-speed threats. He gains an
advantage from his Consecrated Sphinx so that shortly after I kill it, he combos off on me.
Game two, I have a great draw with double Inquisition into turn 3 Jace Beleren. Jace stays in play for about twenty turns, but I often decline to use
him so that I won’t have to discard from having eight cards. I just make land drops every turn until I have such a big mana advantage that I can
comfortably answer anything Kevin might do.
Game three, I take my second mulligan of the weekend (a zero-lander), then get Inquisitioned and don’t have much besides lands. By turn 7, we
both have seven lands, and my hand contains: Memoricide, Mana Leak, Doom Blade, Doom Blade. Kevin’s hand contains: Mana Leak, Splinter Twin,
Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and an unknown card. If I play Memoricide naming Jace and his unknown card is either Deceiver Exarch or a second Mana Leak,
I’ll probably lose the game. However, if I pass the turn and he plays Jace and pays for my Mana Leak, I’ll also probably lose the game. I play
Memoricide, and to my dismay, he responds with Deceiver Exarch and Mana Leak on my Memoricide. I pay and have no choice but to name Splinter Twin. He
plays Jace and fateseals me five times, and I’m not fortunate enough to have two business spells in a row.
Ian also lost in the top 4, but again, we both considered the tournament a success. Congratulations to Kevin Jones, who went on to win the finals.
My final record on the weekend was 13-2, and I went 10-0 against Caw-Blade. I was happy with my decklists from both days, although slightly more so for
Sunday’s PTQ. However, I’ll leave the card-by-card breakdown to Gerard if he wants to write about the deck.
Even though the tournament ended, my story hadn’t.
I had finished in the top 4 on Saturday, then again on Sunday, but my friend and mentor had left before I could thank him for the deck. Again, I
travelled for many days to reach the same mountain where I had found Fabiano the first time. Like before, the snow swirled around me, making it
impossible to see more than a few feet ahead. Strangely though, this time, my breath came easier, and I didn’t fear the climb. I reached the
familiar valley with the calm lake, but Gerard was nowhere to be found, and where his hut had been was only an undisturbed grove of hazel trees.
Had I even really met him here the last time? Perhaps, after all, the idea for U/B Control had come from somewhere deep within myself? I sat in the
hazel grove for some time pondering these things, but when I turned to leave, I spotted something floating in the shallow waters of the lake.