“In the land of the bears, the man banging two pans together is king.”
In a format (Vintage) where you can play a turn 1 Necropotence, Jace, Lodestone Golem, Fastbond, Tinker for Blightsteel Colossus, etc., why would you
want to play a 2/2 creature?
In the past, I’d never liked the “hate bears” strategy in Vintage. I had tried to make Gaddock Teeg work alongside Dark Confidant or in a Bant list
with Meddling Mages, but I just couldn’t make a Tier 1 deck. Recently in a side event in Paris, a Brit named Philip Dickinson won a side event with G/W
Bears using Leonin Arbiter and Aven Mindcensor to prevent the opponent from searching their library. All of a sudden, Ghost Quarter was like Strip
Mine. He also played Kataki, which I had never given proper respect.
Inspired by Philip’s success, I wanted to see how good I could make G/W Bears. Philip’s deck played mostly basic lands and had a few other quirks (no
acceleration, no Teeg main) that were a product of the fact that it was a budget deck that Philip and his friends constructed the night before the
tournament. I wanted to harness the power of a deck that beat all, or nearly all, fully powered Vintage decks on the way to the win using 2/2 and 2/1
Here is my current list of G/W Bears.
- 2 Elvish Spirit Guide
- 3 Kataki, War's Wage
- 3 Aven Mindcensor
- 3 Tarmogoyf
- 4 Gaddock Teeg
- 2 Ethersworn Canonist
- 3 Qasali Pridemage
- 4 Leonin Arbiter
- 4 Phyrexian Revoker
Teeg is too good against the blue decks not to use. They all play Force of Will, and when you lead with Teeg, they have no choice but to Force it or
Force nothing after. Aside from Force, they’ll usually either have Tendrils (and accompanying cards like Bargain and Desire) or Gush and nearly always
have Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Shutting down Gush is huge right now and really, really important when you’re playing eight Strip Mine effects. You need
to shut down Gush so they can’t just return the lands you’re targeting to their hand. Â
Phil played four Ethersworn Canonists, and I only play two. Part of the reason is “something had to give” to make room for four Teegs. I chose to trim
Canonist because there are decks that don’t care about it at all (Workshop decks, other fish decks) and also because playing too many artifacts is a
problem. I don’t want Hurkyl’s Recall or Rebuild to bounce my whole team, and I don’t want Nature’s Claim to be a Terminate. Finally, Dark Rituals
aren’t that big a part of the metagame right now. When I attend a tournament, I look around and rarely see more than a few Ritual players.
Arbiter and Mindcensor allow Path and Ghost Quarter to dominate. Path and Ghost Quarter are already free rolls against some decks that don’t play
basics (Workshops to name the most important one), but now, even against a deck with four basics like my TPS deck, stick one of these guys out, and
feel free to Ghost Quarter their land as if it were a Strip Mine. Not only do they combo with Quarter and Path, they also shut down key cards like
fetchlands, tutors, and especially Tinker.
Kataki, Pridemage, and Goyf do what they do. Kataki has been really good. I tried Null Rod initially, but Kataki just shuts down their Moxes in a more
versatile way. Mishra’s Workshop can’t pay upkeep costs.
Phyrexian Revoker is more mana denial (just name whatever Mox they have out or Black Lotus if you’re afraid of a big turn or Metalworker) and also
shuts down Vault-Key, Jace, and Steel Hellkite.
Elvish Spirit Guide is a Mox that isn’t stopped by Chalice, can’t be countered, gets you out from Sphere locks, and costs hundreds of dollars less.
Since this is a great budget deck if you don’t own Power, feel free to take out the Moxes and the Black Lotus and go to four Elvish Spirit Guides and
four Aether Vials instead to keep it budget. You won’t even give up that much edge in doing so.
What’s the best land in Vintage when you need to produce G or W? It isn’t Savannah. Horizon Canopy is simply better. The 1-4 life you pay rarely
matters, and drawing a card when you’re flooded is amazing. There are plenty of games where your opponent is on the ropes, and you cash in your Canopy,
hoping to draw a Wasteland effect or another lock piece to Vial in, and that’s just “value.”
Razorverge Thicket can’t claim to be better than Savannah, but it’s close enough. Fetchlands are suboptimal due to our Leonin Arbiters, but
thanks to all these Savannah look-alikes, there’s no need to make fetch happen.
Savannah is exactly as good as Savannah; it turns out.
One Plains is important because when we get Ghost Quartered or Pathed by an opponent or (rarely) by ourselves, having a basic is nice. The Karakas is
mostly a free roll, rarely costing you anything (lands that make W cast anything alongside a Spirit Guide or other dual, so Goyf and Mox Pearl are
really the only times it matters). Occasionally, an opponent will try to kill Teeg with Fire / Ice or Slaughter Pact or whatever, and you can just
bounce it with Karakas and on your best day, replay it with Vial soon thereafter. If they Oath up or Show and Tell Emrakul, jokes arise.
Against Dredge, I don’t want something like Leyline of the Void or Wheel of Sun and Moon that can be Nature’s Claimed or Chain of Vapored. Every Dredge
player is ready for these cards. With Crypt, I can Wasteland or Quarter the Bazaar and kill the yard, and the opponent’s anti-hate won’t stop it unless
it’s Chalice (on the play), Leyline of Sanctity, or Pithing Needle, all of which can be Nature’s Claimed or Pridemaged, so don’t forget to sideboard in
the Nature’s Claims against Dredge!
Against Stax, I want to bring in Nature’s Claim but also make sure Chalice 1 + Chalice 2 isn’t game over. Seeds of Innocence plays really well
post-board against MUD. Thorn of Amethyst will be boarded out by the MUD player unless they’re brain-dead. This makes resolving a three-mana spell a
reasonable possibility. Also, the first turns of many MUD games will involve Metalworkers, Chalices for one or two, and Steel Hellkites — more than
just pure Sphere effects. Interestingly, the budget version of the deck with more Spirit Guides instead of Moxes has an easier time resolving
Seeds against Stax.
Nature’s Claim is so good that I want a fourth, but I couldn’t find the space. If you don’t like some other card, or if Oath is a force in your
metagame, put the fourth Claim in.
The Mindbreak Traps are against combo obviously, and I chose to play these instead of Thorn of Amethyst because we already have ways to hurt them for
two mana at sorcery speed, but a way to interact for zero mana on their turn 1 or 2 is something we don’t have and can win a game or match by surprise.
The fourth Path is good against Workshop decks, Fish decks, and GAT decks. Phil played four Paths and two Swords to Plowshares maindeck in his
initial brew, which I think is a little overboard. However, I nearly included 1-2 Swords in this sideboard before trimming for space, so if your
metagame seems creature heavy, feel free.
STANDARD: Caw-Blade Updates
I recently made Top 8 of a local $2k Standard event with the following list:
Basic ideas and strategies regarding Caw-Blade are well known at this point, so I’ll just discuss present trends and recent insights.
It’s increasingly common that an opponent has only one threat that really matters (something with equipment on it) rather than several threats that
matter. Also, this deck plays a creature on most turn 2s, so Day of Judgment to kill one or two opposing threats doesn’t make that much sense.
Thus, Tumble Magnet, which can be played proactively or reactively and stops an equipment for three turns, not just one or two, is often better than
Day of Judgment. However, I went a bit overboard in the above list on “Tumble Magnet is better than Day of Judgment!” In reality, Day of Judgment is
still quite good against many decks. I should’ve played three Days and two Magnets. Against Boros and Elves, you really need to find a Day. I beat
Elves in the Swiss 2-0 without drawing Day, but game 1, Gideon and Sword did their thing, and game 2, it was Gideon and Baneslayer. Most of the time,
you’ll need to Day to win.
Baneslayer Angel is better than you think it is. I think maindecking two Baneslayers in Caw-Go is very reasonable right now. The card was awesome out
of the board all day long and is even harder to kill for many decks in a game 1. The Sun Titan maindeck is good as well, but I could see moving him to
the sideboard and cutting a Magnet or a Lifestaff for two Baneslayers.
Kor Firewalker is another card that deserves consideration if you sleeve Caw-Go up in the coming weeks. It obviously owns the Red decks and Boros decks
(Koth and the red Hero are major tools against you, and Firewalker owns them). What I also figured out is that if Caw-Blade with red is using Bolts and
Sparkmages and sometimes Arc Trails or Inferno Titans to keep me from having a creature to equip, why not just side out Hawks and side in Firewalkers?
This worked for me in the $2k, but it also was hard to kill their Hawks without Hawks of my own. For this reason, I think you need 3-4 Days of Judgment
in your deck if you board this way, or at least two Days and two Mortarpods. While you’re trying to next-level the red Caw-Go decks, you’ll get some
auto-wins against Red Deck Wins, which is always a presence.
Mortarpod was definitely good enough to justify its inclusion and very likely good enough to justify 2-3 copies. As I just mentioned, when you board
out Hawks against Sparkmages + Hawks, Mortarpods are awesome at killing their guys so your planeswalkers don’t die and your Firewalkers won’t be
chumped. The card is also an important supplement to Oust in dealing with Lotus Cobra, which is RUG’s most effective way of beating you. Two Ousts and
two Mortarpods seem reasonable going forward. Â
No matter what deck you’re playing in Standard, you should, at this point, be asking yourself, “Should I add Tumble Magnets to my deck?” The card is
that good right now. Who isn’t trying to kill you with an equipped guy? If I’m Valakut, I’d consider Tumble Magnet or Wall of Tanglecord maindeck to
deal with sworded guys, and the Magnet can’t be Jaced. In Kibler’s infect deck, Tumble Magnet has been the reason Sword of Feast and Famine isn’t that
awesome against him.
One final note, in the last tourney, I named my Squadron Hawks “Elaine,” “Jerry,” “George,” and “Kramer” with a Sharpie. I really want to commission
four Hawks with altered art, one named Tobias with silver paint pen or blue sharpie coloring the Hawk’s skin, one named Gob with a Segway scooter, one
named Pop-Pop with an orange jumpsuit, and one named Buster with a hook instead of a hand. To complete the set, I need a basic Revised Plains with the
word Ann written on it and no alteration to the picture. If anyone out there wants to give this a shot and hook me up or knows someone who does
commissions at a reasonable rate, hit me up on Twitter @mtg_law_etc. If no one comes through, I’ll have to make Kibler make one of his fans do it.