[card]Squadron Hawk[/card], its a card that has been doing the rounds for a while now seeing play in Boros and WW as a group of guys who can hold big pointy sticks but not before worlds have the flock of birds seen action in control decks. The two noticeable players championing the tactic are Brad Nelson and Brian Kibler running UW control decks with a full compliment of hawks, and when those guys are playing them you sit up and take notice.
While Brad had a disappointing 3-3 record in the standard portion of worlds, Kibler went a flawless 6-0, so why hawk? and why did these most discerning of players feel confident sleeving up a 1/1 flyer in a control deck?
You can see a deck tech with Kibler and his deck here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ctnm_bGz-U)
Those of you who stayed up to watch Jonno’s Quarter final match vs PV will have seen a couple of games where 2 damage a turn from a small creature added up and was the difference for both players. Against control getting an early threat down early and start beating with it can be crucial. You then force your opponent to make a play in to your counter spells – which in turn will tap them out leaving you the following turn to come back at them with you stronger spells such as Jace. Squadron Hawk is ideal when it comes to this strategy, 2cc is perfect, any more and it would be too prohibitive to cast but more importantly if you resolve one you can fill you hand with them. This means even if the opponent can deal with one or maybe two you are making it very hard for them to deal with all of them. Incidentally if they do start doom blading your birds all the better for your late game creatures/gideon.
This tactic is so effective matches often turn in to battles over that first Squadron Hawk where previously they would be all about Jace. The wise opponent will realise this, as Squadron Hawk is also a very effective answer to an opposing Jace performing double duty in the two key areas opposing control decks rely on. Time and Jace.
More peripheral applications in control matches come down to shutting down SB cards such as [card]Luminarch Ascension[/card] and [card]Calcite Snapper[/card] that some decks opt to run.
Imagine if instead of reading ‘Draw a card’ [card]Wall of Omens[/card] read when you play [card]Wall of Omens[/card] search your deck for any number of cards called [card]Wall of Omens[/card] and put them in your hand. You’d play that in a heart beat. Well currently Squadron Hawks is basically the same. The big aggro deck on the circuit at the moment is vampires which runs at least 12 1 toughness creatures making Sqaudron Hawk an excellent foil. If on the other-hand you are forced to chump block larger creatures you never feel bad about it when your dude is basically four cards in one, crucially seeing you through the first 5-6 turns with a healthy life total until your bigger spells can take over the game. They even grant you such luxuries as protecting your Jace and allowing you to brainstorm rather than bouncing creatures and not really getting anywhere.
Previously decks would run cards like [card]Sea Gate Oracle[/card] to try and slow down aggro decks while not loosing card advantage, however this can be less effective when the opponent just bolts the oracle and carries on swinging. As mentioned above Squadon Hawk is much less targetable with spot removal than most creatures, rewarding you with either less than profitable exchanges for your opponent or time for you to set up for the late game.
Unfortunately Squadron Hawk can’t be everywhere at once. The Ramp decks really don’t care if you cast him, he doesn’t buy you any time and he doesn’t pressure them in any meaning full way. The best application you can hope for is chump blocking a [card]Gaea’s Revenge[/card] but post board they really shouldn’t be in your 60.
So what cards work well with Squadron Hawk and what other implications does he have on your deck and matchups you are likely to face? Firstly I have found Hawk is an excellent answer to some of the tricks found in the current standard meta. I have already mentioned [card]Luminarch Ascension[/card] above but Edict effects such as [card]Gate Keeper of Malikir[/card] are nullified about as much as they can be with Hawks in play, also if you choose to run big fatties along side them they provide some comfort against threaten effects such is [card]Mark of Mutiny[/card] that a lot of RDW and vampire lists are running.
As well as a good way to beat Jace, Hawks work excellently with your own. Even if you have searched up all your hawks you still have the option to have a look and shuffle your deck whenever you play one. This shuffle effect is obviously excellent with Jace’s brainstorm ability allowing you to see three fresh cards a turn and even shuffling your spare birds in to your deck effectively allowing you to draw up to 3 cards in a turn (albeit with diminishing returns as you play more birds)
A card I am testing in conjunction with Sqaudron Hawk at the moment is Elixir of Immortality, able to be found with Trinket Mage it allows you to shuffle dead Hawks back in to your library to start all the shenanigans all over (and gaining 5 life) Elixir is a hotly debated card but if you fall in the camp which likes it anyway then the advantages with Hawk will appeal to you all the more. I for one am beginning to enjoy the late game inevitably infinite Hawks give you Vs the rest of the control decks.
Another card that is gaining in popularity is [card]Elspeth Tireil[/card]. Like Hawk it is a card that is both excellent against control and aggro alike and I feel that the synergies between the two cards will see them as partners in crime in UW decks for the foreseeable future. Able to both protect the planeswalker and gain value from its life gain ability vs aggro or add to the team of 1/1’s that you want to churn out vs control.
Of course there are a number of considerations you need to make before playing such a proactive card in a control deck. Tapping out turn 2 reduces the effectiveness of [card]Mana Leak[/card]. Kibler and Nelson advocated running 4 spell pierce which I have had mixed results with in testing despite their logic. Valakut is still a big problem for these decks and finding a consistent solution to this problem remains. Aggressively siding out 10 cards is where I am at currently but the matchup is still less than 50% over 3 games.
Here is my list at the moment.
4 [card]Seachrome Coast[/card]
4 [card]Celestial Collonade[/card]
4 [card]Glacial Fortress[/card]
4 [card]Tectonic Edge[/card]
4 [card]Squadron Hawk[/card]
3 [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card]
2 [card]Trinket Mage[/card]
4 [card]Mana Leak[/card]
4 [card]Jace, The Mind Sculptor[/card]
3 [card]Day of Judgement[/card]
2 [card]Spell Pierce[/card]
2 [card]Elspeth Tirel[/card]
1 [card]Brittle Effigy[/card]
1 [card]Everflowing Chalice[/card]
1 [card]Elixir Of Immortality[/card]
3 [card]Celestial Purge[/card]
4 [card]Spreading Seas[/card]
3 [card]Mindbreak Trap[/card]
I have decided to run [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card] instead of [card]Gideon Jura[/card] although I feel they are both very closely matched, Also[card] Oust[/card] is something that I have advocated for a while. The ability to control the opponents draw step is really powerful although I am considering bringing in some [card]Journey to Nowhere[/card] due to its marginal improvement in the Ramp matchups vs the fatties – Perhaps a 2/2 split would be closer to optimal.
Thanks as ever for reading.