Sanity Grinding: A Real Deck

Feature Article from Nick Spagnolo
Nick Spagnolo
3/23/2011 11:24:00 AM
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For weeks, Edgar Flores and Jason Ford have been telling me to play CawBlade. “Play a real deck!” has been getting pounded into my head for what seems like forever. Edgar lives less than a mile from me, and after a few nights of him stomping me regardless of which deck I picked up, I caved and decided to play the enemy.

Caw-Blade by Nicholas Spagnolo
Finished 5th - 8th Place at 2011 Star City Open - Dallas
Main Deck
4 Squadron Hawk
4 Stoneforge Mystic
Creatures [8]
3 Gideon Jura
4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Planeswalkers [7]
3 Day of Judgment
1 Deprive
3 Mana Leak
4 Preordain
3 Spell Pierce
1 Stoic Rebuttal
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Sylvok Lifestaff
2 Tumble Magnet
Spells [19]
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Glacial Fortress
5 Island (148)
1 Misty Rainforest
4 Plains (146)
4 Seachrome Coast
4 Tectonic Edge
Lands [26]
Deck Total [60]

2 Condemn
2 Divine Offering
2 Flashfreeze
2 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
1 Mystifying Maze
1 Negate
3 Oust
1 Sun Titan
1 Sword of Body and Mind
Sideboard [15]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

Edgar has been putting up incredible results with the deck, and playing against him made me ask myself “Why am I fighting so hard to find something else to play?”. After tanking on it, I realized my aversion to playing CawBlade stemmed from a few tournaments ago, back in DC.

I was playing CawBlade with Elixir of Immortality, and started 3-0, before getting paired against Kurt Spiess. I won the die roll, played a turn 2 Stoneforge Mystic, and proceeded to lose on account of not reading my own Mortarpod. While I then got outplayed in the next game as well, I took the loss and mentally sabotaged myself. After that tournament, I avoided playing CawBlade, and picked up a GW Aggro deck (Jumanji).

I stopped playing the best deck, of an archetype I greatly enjoyed, simply because it was the most played and best performing deck. This aversion to playing the best deck has been hampering my tournament results. I know I'm not the only one with this problem, and I just learned the lesson myself. AJ Sacher came up to me at some point at put it best “You don't need to break it every week. Just play the best deck!”.

The Tech
Michael Hetrick won a $5k with U/W CawBlade last week, playing 2 copies of Tumble Magnet in the main. I read his article and agreed with most of what he said, specifically on Tumble Magnet. Tumble Magnet is extremely important right now, and almost every deck should be playing it. Tumble Magnet is fantastic in a world of Stoneforge Mystic, creating a huge tempo advantage against all who are trying to equip Sword of Feast and Famine. It's not bad against any deck in the meta, and it gets better when your opponent is also playing Tumble Magnet, as you can tap their Magnet. Gerry won the tournament with Tumble Magnet in EsperBlade.

The other card I agreed with Hetrick on was a Mystifying Maze in the sideboard. You can't afford to miss land drops in the mirror, and the Mystifying Maze is to come in as a 27th land. In any match up where Tectonic Edge isn't great, Mystifying Maze usually is, and is an easy swap.

The rest of the list includes all of the usual suspects, though I choose to main a Sylvok Lifestaff over the second copy of Sword of Feast and Famine that most people are still playing. I'm still not sure which is better, because naturally drawing a Sword makes your Squadron Hawks much better than when you have to Stoneforge for it. On the other hand, the only decks I were scared of were Goblin Guide decks, which I wanted Lifestaff against.

In the tournament, my only two losses were to Mono Red, including losing to Goblins in the quarters.

Damn those Mountains!
Mono Red is the natural enemy of CawBlade at the moment, taking down another $5k in TCG WWS Toronto. You can find the lists from the top 16 of that [event here].

This is another top 8 that was full of CawBlade and was taken down by the Mono Red deck. In Dallas, the only thing that stopped Mono Red from taking down the tournament was Gerry T himself. Despite the alleged bad match up, Gerry went 4-0 against Mono Red on the day.

Most CawBlade decks are tuning themselves to beat the mirror, and make themselves weaker as decks to do so. As a deck, CawBlade is so powerful because of how many angles it attacks from, the amount of cheap interaction available to it, and the power level of it's top end spells. Day of Judgment, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and Gideon Jura are 3 of the most powerful spells you can be casting in Standard. When CawBlade decks focus on beating each other, they give up edges elsewhere to gain an advantage in the mirror. SparkBlade and EsperBlade lose Tectonic Edge in order to gain more efficient spells, like Lightning Bolt or Inquisition of Kozilek.

Tectonic Edge is extremely powerful though, and is often better than any spell you can be casting in the mirror. As a card, it lets you press the mana advantage hard, especially when combined with Spell Pierce, Mana Leak, and Sword of Feast and Famine. This lets you quickly turn corners, and become the aggro deck, putting opponents into the position where they have to tap out. Against a tapped out opponent, CawBlade can do nearly anything favorably, and a connection with Sword of Feast and Famine will seal most games. While drawing multiple Tectonic Edges and screwing an opponent on 3 lands isn't going to happen every game, it happens often enough to take getting “free wins” into account.

However, Tectonic Edge does little to nothing against Mono Red decks of all varieties, where having access to Doom Blade and Lightning Bolt does a lot. The lack of spot removal in the main deck of the U/W CawBlade decks is a point of weakness that Goblin Guide decks prey upon. Tumble Magnet helps a little in this aspect, but it's still not the best solution to 2 power 1 drops.

Condemn is incredible right now, and I will be playing more next week. It's the best card you can have against Goblin Guide and is amazing against Vengevine. Condemn is also better than Oust against Boros and Vampires. It's worse against Valakut primarily, as even against Fauna Shaman it slows the Vengevine bleeding.

Celestial Purge is a card Edgar told me to play that I would've liked to have as well. It's like Condemn against the Red decks, while also giving you the ability to deal with a resolved Koth of the Hammer. 3 Condemn and 2 Celestial Purge is likely where I'm starting my new sideboard.

Tacticle Advantages
Vengevine and Lotus Cobra decks are the other two cards that help win the war against CawBlade. RUG decks use Lotus Cobra with Mana Leak in the same way that the CawBlade decks use Stoneforge Mystic. Lotus Cobra is a 2 mana creature that creates a significant advantage, and is the only other deck that can be using Counterspells as efficiently as CawBlade.

Stoneforge Mystic and Squadron Hawk are so good because there is no profitable way to deal with them. Aside from a Mana Leak, nothing in the format is able to break even with those cards. Inquisition of Kozilek is the best answer, and even that puts you at -1 mana in the exchange. Mana Leak only works to stop these cards on the play, which is why you need to be playing these creatures (or Inquisition of Kozilek) if you want to be optimizing your counter magic.

While Vengevine is powerful, I don't think it's the best angle to attack CawBlade from anymore. People will be playing Condemns and Tumble Magnets, while Vengevine decks are overly reliant on the card Vengevine. Ryan O'Connor top 4'd with Naya Vengevine, so I expect to see an increase in Vengevine decks next week. This is another reason why I want to be playing more Condemns, and have the ability to be aggressive.

The Tournament
I played against a few rogue decks in the swiss, including G/W Eldrazi Ramp, U/G Genesis Wave, and Mass Polymorph. Each of these match ups were relatively easy based on the power level of CawBlade, but only because I had Tectonic Edge. I beat a Boros player and Adam Cai with Esperblade, though he mulliganed a lot and was stuck on lands in one game while I drew Tectonic Edges. Playing Esper Control last week, I took considerably more mulligans than playing a 2 color deck. These tiny edges in variance is something to take into account when choosing a deck for a tournament.

I found myself boarding in Linvala, Keeper of Silence against every opponent with red in their deck, simply because she is hard to kill for a red mage. Them killing your creatures with Staggershock and Arc Trail are how they can fight through Sylvok Lifestaff, cheap creatures, and cheap removal. Not only does she shut down Cunning Sparkmage, but she does a wonderful job of blocking creatures equipped with Sword of Anything and Everything.

Adam Cai almost won the match via an Into the Roil blowout, a card that should start seeing play in CawBlade decks very soon. Bouncing a Gideon, Jace, or Sword unexpectedly can swing games wildly, as most players will not be expecting you to be able to do this for the cost of 1U. At worst, Into the Roil can reset your Tumble Magnets, at best you can target a Precursor Golem with it.

After the 8th round, I was at the top of the X-1 standings, and could comfortably draw into top 8. When I find out my opponent can't draw, I was suddenly worried that I would miss again, having lost 3 “win-and-in's” just last weekend. Fortunately, my deck served me two strong draws against his tri-color Tezzeret list, and I secured my slot.

In the top 8, I was paired against Goblins and win game 1, but lose the match after stumbling a little game 2 and then getting stuck on two lands against his double Goblin Guide draw in game 3. The whole match took all of 15 minutes, which was disheartening after performing so well on the day.

I wanted to try the U/W Chalice of the Void based control deck that Lewis Laskin ran last week, though I added a last minute Wrath of God to the deck the morning of. I didn't actually have any copies Wrath of God on me, and neither did anyone I asked. I ran a Day of Judgment instead, and proceeded to lose the first game in the tournament on camera because Day of Judgment couldn't kill two Golgari Grave-Trolls. I draw the round with Dredge, frustrated with the circumstances.

In the next round, after a 15 minute deck check, my opponent gets a game loss and proceeds to Crush me in the next 10 minutes over two games. Starting 0-1-1 left me wanting to try my chances at the Draft Open, deciding that I'm going to play an established top tier Legacy deck next week. My current choice is Gerry's take on Team America.

The Draft Open
As the start time of the Draft Open neared, there were only 14 people signed up for the event. After everyone who realized what a high EV tournament would take place, the numbers doubled and we started a 28 person tournament, with 7 man draft pods.

My first draft was a train wreck, with 2 copies of Fangren Marauder and a Morbid Plunder as my only feasible options of winning the game. Otherwise, it was a mediocre B/G infect deck hellbent on dealing the full 30. They announce that the tournament is to be taken place single elimination, with the 8 2-0's advancing to top 8. Then I got a Bye. Sometimes, you run good.

My next match ended after I got my nut draw of Skinrender, Sylvok Replica and Morbid Plunder, then curved out with Virulent Wound, Ichorclaw Myr and Septic Rats in a deck that had otherwise 4 other infect creatures. One match win into a top 8 with a payout of $1.1k? I'll take it!

The top 8 draft was a little strange, with me getting passed a Piston Sledge both 2nd and 5th pick. I don't take much over the Sledge, and couldn't imagine what cards the people to my right were choosing over what I think is the best Uncommon in the set. Picks 3 and 6 Quicksilver Geyser sent me straight into a very aggressive U/W deck, featuring 2 Training Drones.

In both the quarters and the semis I simply played my threats and equipped them, and no one was able to deal with Piston Sledge. I met Ryan O'Connor again in the semis, then split in the finals, since my opponent didn't mind giving me the win.

Breaking the Threshold
This is my first weekend hearing my name announced in the top 8 of an event for months, when I once had a feeling of being unstoppable. Falling short into the top 32's of event after event was wearing on my confidence, and breaking that boundary twice in the same weekend felt great. The circumstances were definitely lucky in regards to my Draft Open victory, but I still drafted and played as well as I could, and came away from the weekend with 21 points.

Overall, I know to think about how well things went for me in this tournament whenever I get upset about variance in Magic. For now, I'm about to level up on the SCG Grind, and my Spirits are high.

Getting by with a little help from my friends,
Nick Spagnolo

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