An Honest Review Of Azorius Cawblade In Modern

Are Squadron Hawk and friends ready for a comeback? GerryT looks at Azorius Cawblade, a throwback Modern MTG deck that has put up surprising recent results.

Squadron Hawk, illustrated by Rob Alexander

Nostalgia is a helluva drug. 

Since Modern Horizons 2, I’ve had an urge to play Modern consistently. The format is constantly adapting, the new cards are powerful in fun ways, and the gameplay is actually reasonable. Nothing makes me want to fire up Magic Online (MTGO) like seeing a cool decklist since I know I’ll be in for a good time. 

Then this happened. 

When a deck is able to 5-0 a Modern League on Magic Online, it causes people to take notice. However, that often comes with some trepidation and rightfully so. You never know if that person played 40 Leagues before they managed to finally snag the undefeated record. 

Some deserve a closer look because they are using an interaction that’s powerful and potentially broken. Some are… using Squadron Hawk to cast Solitude. But, hey! I figured folks would probably want to know if the deck was close to being playable and I was certainly among them. 

In case you didn’t know, Stoneforge Mystic, Squadron Hawk, and I used to tear up Standard tournaments on the SCG Tour. The world has mostly passed by Squadron Hawk, and despite the synergy with Solitude and Jace, the Mind Sculptor, I was skeptical. 

Right off the bat, I wanted to change some stuff, but that wasn’t how I wanted to approach this project. If you see an odd idea be successful, it’s better to start with their build and their vision before you go about making changes.

I joined a few Leagues, beat up some folks, took some beatings, and overall had a blast. Here’s what I learned. 

Squadron Hawk

Squadron Hawk is about as medium as you’d expect. Using it to cast Solitude feels great, as does Brainstorming them away with Jace, the Mind Sculptor. In the mid-game, Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer has no shot at connecting. It also embarrasses Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger. All that said, two mana is a large investment for a 1/1, especially one that is largely useless against a wide swath of the format. 

Serum Visions Opt Consider

Serum Visions doesn’t see much play compared to Opt or Consider unless you specifically need a sorcery for delirium. Serum Visions is much better at digging for a two-drop, plus it interacts well with Jace and Teferi. You can clear a Jace Brainstorm or dig for a specific card and draw it with the additional cantrip from Teferi. 

When you have instant-speed interaction like Spell Pierce, Counterspell, and Solitude, that creates some tension with Serum Visions. If you end up not using those cards, you can’t cast your cantrip and your mana ends up being unspent. Teferi’s +1 makes that a non-issue, but you don’t always have it on the battlefield. 

So, which is better? Serum Visions is doable, although I’d prefer Opt. We don’t have any use for our graveyard, so Consider is mostly worse than Opt. If you Opt into a Squadron Hawk or equipment and don’t need it at that exact moment, you’d rather have it on the bottom of your library than in your graveyard. 

Spell Pierce

Trimming the deck with cards like Spell Pierce is something I’m in favor of. Without proper catch-up mechanisms, any Stoneblade deck needs to keep up with its opponents and answer each threat on an individual basis. That isn’t possible unless you have cheap cards yourself. 

Sword of Feast and Famine Batterskull Kaldra Compleat

The Equipment package is interesting. I wouldn’t leave home without Sword of Feast and Famine, even if the protection it offers isn’t the best. Batterskull is a nod to Burn, which I respect. Sword of Fire and Ice strikes me as odd when Sword of War and Peace is arguably stronger against both Azorius Control and Izzet Murktide. If you respect the big mana decks, you want Kaldra Compleat, even if it is the narrowest Equipment. 

Moorland Haunt Castle Ardenvale Field of Ruin

Is Moorland Haunt playable in the year 2022? In theory, it’s excellent with Equipment, although I’ve found that the game has usually ended by that point, one way or another. It’s strong in attrition-based matchups, but I’d wager you will win those matchups if the game goes long anyway. 

If you didn’t play Moorland Haunt, you could branch out into Field of Ruin or even play more blue sources and Archmage’s Charm. Even though Archmage’s Charm can be clunky, it’s still quite good in any format where you’d want to sideboard Isolate. Granted, the cheaper version is better against Turn 1 Ragavan or Turn 2 Colossus Hammer and when you want to cast multiple spells in a turn when your opponent has Drown in the Loch available. 

Castle Ardenvale is a possibility, but when you have Squadron Hawk in your deck, it’s unlikely that you’ll run out of fuel for Moorland Haunt. There were turns where I felt short a white source for casting multiple spells, so maybe Castle could help there, but it could have been poor planning on my part. 

I like the idea of Field of Ruin. Urza’s Saga is a nightmare and Spreading Seas isn’t something you’d necessarily want to play maindeck. Plus, you get some extra coverage against those sorts of decks without having to invest much. If you’ve played against any of the Tron decks, you’d quickly realize that four Spreading Seas aren’t enough to win the match, especially when they’re all in the sideboard. 

Isolate Engineered Explosives Kataki, War's Wage

As for the sideboard, I love the inclusion of Isolate. It was the original Prismatic Ending and happens to have plenty of good targets at the moment. 

There weren’t many matchups where I wanted Engineered Explosives. Cawblade doesn’t care about Chalice of the Void unless it’s for two and we have Prismatic Ending for that. Crashing Footfalls can hopefully be answered with counterspells or removal and Equipment. I do like it against Mono-White Hammer, but against the Ragavan decks, it’s medium unless you’re getting a two-for-one. A fun-of Supreme Verdict might be better anyway. With no Explosives, maybe we could cut the Watery Grave, but there’s still Prismatic Ending. 

One of the biggest oddballs in the sideboard is Kataki, War’s Wage. Is it actually good against Hammer? What about the other artifact decks? Eliminating most of your Equipment from the equation with Stony Silence isn’t ideal, but it could be the stronger option. Of all the sub-archetypes in Modern, artifacts demand the least amount of respect at the moment. 

A glaring question is whether this take on Azorius Stoneblade is stronger than the artifact-based versions. 

Portable Hole is excellent and Metallic Rebuke is mostly stronger than Spell Pierce. Jamming Urza’s Saga into every deck seems like a winning strategy. 

I’m less high on clunky setups like Thopter Foundry and Urza, Lord High Artificer because those compound the problems Azorius Stoneblade already has. I bet you could play a leaner list that ends up being solid. 

Is it worth splashing red for Ragavan and some sideboard options like Alpine Moon? It’s tempting. 

Here’s what I would play going forward. 

I didn’t make many changes. Opt over Serum Visions makes sense to me, as does swapping some of the Equipment choices. 

On Thin Ice has to be better than Dismember. It’s worse when you need an instant-speed answer to a creature wielding a Colossus Hammer, but there are also Murktide Regent and Burn to consider. 

I’d be fine with a Snapcaster Mage maindeck. There are metagames where the deck could use Archmage’s Charm and Shark Typhoon quite well. Spell Queller is incredible with Teferi, Time Raveler, although that setup is rather slow at the moment. Both Aether Gust and Celestial Purge could make strong sideboard options, just not right now. 

Celestial Colonnade has always been one of my least favorite cards. It frequently messes up your sequencing and rarely gets activated. That said, it does contribute to winning attrition battles and is strong against the various control decks. Moving away from utility lands that directly win the game will cost you in some spots, but Field of Ruin is worth it. 

Celestial Colonnade Spreading Seas

The final verdict is that, while I enjoy the archetype and think it has legs, it’s solidly Tier 2. There are some matchups that are downright awful, but that’s mostly a product of the archetype and there isn’t much to be done about it. You can alter your deck to include things like maindeck Spreading Seas, but it’s a change that will point toward you playing a different deck entirely. 

There’s still the issue of Azorius Stoneblade being too slow. It’s not exactly clunky and I wouldn’t describe it as slow, but you do lose games where your opponent does unfair things and you can’t keep up. Using Stoneforge Mystic or Squadron Hawk as your defensive tools isn’t as viable in Modern as it was in Standard. Your planeswalkers are great at controlling battlefields with a single threat, yet are nearly useless against wide battlefields. 

Answering your opponent’s cards on a one-for-one basis is of the utmost importance in the early turns. If that doesn’t happen, the entire house of cards crumbles. Using cards like Spell Pierce and Solitude to facilitate that is subtle, yet genius. 

I had some other interesting things planned for this article, like some keep or mulligan scenarios. Even without a sideboarding guide, this article is hefty enough as is, so perhaps some other time. I could see a version of this article where a wider variety of content is applicable rather than deconstructed card choices, or maybe it is supposed to be a mammoth piece of content. If you enjoyed me taking a deep dive on a Modern brew and want to see more, let me know.