In my first article since the Grand Prix in Barcelona, I want to talk about one of my favourite decks in the current format. But first, a bit of background history.
My Constructed Rating has continued to oscillate at an alarming rate. I failed to qualify for Nationals on three separate occasions, including a heartbreaking Round 7 win-and-in loss against Nicholas Doropoulos in Huddersfield (in what was, despite the circumstances, an excellently run tournament. You can find Rob Wagner‘s entertaining report of it here). After that tournament, I went into what was pretty much freefall with two very bad tournaments, where I played CawBlade around 5 times too often. In other words, in 9 rounds, I played Caw-Blade 5 times. I lost to it on 4 occasions. On the fifth occasion, I drew– RESULT!………… . . . . . . ¬_¬”
In the current environment, it is absolutely vital that your deck is geared to beat CawBlade, it really is THAT dominant in the current meta. For proof, you need to look no further than the last SCG Open and our last PTQ Nottingham. I have no interest in analysing the SCG data, it’s the PTQ I want to talk about.
Before I begin, I would like to declare what I mean by CawBlade. It is a UW(x) aggro-control deck that plays the Stoneforge/Swords package. Squadron Hawk is longer necessary in the deck for it to be CawBlade.
At the PTQ Philadelphia in Nottingham, there was 52 players in the room. 15 of those players were playing CawBlade. 12 were playing Exarch-Twin variants, including yours truly who went with the Grixis-Twin build that came second from the SCG Open in Atlanta. I went 3-3, which is a fantastic result for me given my recent form. After a very poor first round, in which I made some horrendous misplays, I clawed it back to 3-1 before losing to two very efficient CawBlade decks run by two very efficient pilots, Ross Silcock (who Top 8’d) and Rob Wagner.
But back to the subject of the article. Of the 15 CawBlade decks in the room, FIVE made the Top 8. FIVE. We haven’t had skewed data like that since Faeries was the dominant force, and even then it wasn’t in EVERY tournament, but various Top 8 reports will tell you that this is a major, MAJOR issue. I was wondering why this was the case, why was CawBlade dominating? I came up with an answer. I’m not sure if it’s the right answer, but it’s one I’ll go with, and is sure to cause an awful lot of debate.
We, as a community, are at fault. We got lazy. We just netdecked. We decided not to innovate and simply went with the ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’ crowd. Exarch-Twin lasted a week in the US before they returned to their usual 15-out-of-top-16-are-CawBlade form. Instead of finding ways to deal with Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic, #BanJace, then #BanStoneforge happened. I wanted to change that, but for me to make that happen I needed inspiration.
That spark of inspiration came in Game 1 of a quarter-final in PTQ Philadelphia in Nottingham in the form of Carrie Oliver and the Artifacts of Doom ™. Or Tempered Steel, as normal people (i.e. not me) call it. For reference, this is her list:
3 Mox Opal
This list is obviously pretty strong, and can do pretty ridiculous things by turns three and four, especially with one or, even better, multiple Tempered Steels out. Vault Skirge is an absolute beating in this deck, and with so many creatures in this build, it will swarm your opponents before they will know what hit them.
So how, if possible, can we improve it?
I think the next step for this deck is to splash a colour, and we have three options for this, all of which offer something different.
Red – Galvanic Blast. Metalcraft is really, REALLY easy to obtain with this deck, and more often than not you will have it by turn three, and there have been occasions when I have had it on turn two, and even on turn one, but this has happened only once for me. The 4 damage can kill an awful lot of relevant stuff, including Spellskite, a Sworded Stoneforge Mystic, Batterskull and Deciever Exarch, just to name a few. More removal spells in this deck seems amazing, as it clears a path for you to smash your opponents directly.
Blue – Unified Will. This I am not so keen on. It gives your board protection from Day of Judgement, but that card doesn’t see an awful lot of play right now. There’s nothing else you really want to counter, even Jace, the Mind Sculptor isn’t that scary, as they’re having to pay four mana for it, often tapping them out. This gives you a perfect window to slam down that Tempered Steel and really get the beats in.
Black – Dark Tutelage. A left field choice, sure, but extra card draw in a deck that likes to empty it’s hand as quickly as possible seems solid. The greatest casting cost of your deck is 3, and even then that’s only Tempered Steel, which is a price I am more than willing to pay.
I would also cut Contested War Zone, as it will often change hands, and mana in this deck is so important, especially if you’re only running 20 lands.
If I was playing in an FNM tomorrow (hint, hint), this is what I would play.
Tempered Steel by Ben Heath
3 Mox Opal
What your sideboard consists of is all down to personal preference, I will highlight my reasoning for this sideboard build below.
Spellskite – In a format that is removal heavy, this is an absolute beast. Redirecting their Splinter Twin is also really good, and can often be a game-ender. It’s also an artifact creature you can beat with if necessary. Nice.
Leonin Arbiter – Stop CawBlade from searching their library? Stop Valakut from using Terramorphic Expanse, Green Sun’s Zenith and Primeval Titan‘s ability? Sure, why not. To be honest though, I’d only bring this in if I was on the play when it comes to CawBlade, as Stoneforge Mystic has done it’s job once it’s fetched Batterskull, and you look a bit silly when you have Leonin Arbiter in your hand. It’s also not an artifact creature, so I’m not 100% on this.
Revoke Existance – I’d bring this in instead of Leonin Arbiter on the draw versus CawBlade. It’s also very, VERY good in the mirror. Getting rid of their Tempered Steel whilst yours stays on the table? Seems good.
Dark Tutelage and Swamp – I would bring this in against decks playing white, to get around Day of Judgement. I think the extra Swamp is necessary if you’re going to play a second Dark Tutelage to make it easier to cast it. The mana base, however, is admittedly very fragile already.
The deck is quick, fun and rewards good players who can do combat maths efficiently. It even mulligans well, however from experience the opening 7 is usually aggressive and consistent. The eight removal spells also help to cut a clear path to victory. Tempered Steel was inconsistent before, but I firmly believe that New Phyrexia has changed all that.
Try building your own brews, and maybe, just maybe, CawBlade won’t be as dominant as before, and nothing will have to be banned.
Leave comments below, I am quick to respond as I like in-depth MTG discussion, and will help me, you, and the commnity become more insightful, if not better, Magic players.
P.S. A quick word on Team Leeds. As most of you know, I have effectively moved out of Leeds and reutrned to Rugby for the summer before I go to university in Manchester in September. To everyone I played with in the last four years, it’s been an absolute pleasure knowing you and I hope to see you all around the country as we continue our quest to qualify for Pro Tours, qualify for Nationals and, most importantly of all, have fun. No matter where else I play, whether it be Leeds, Manchester, Worcester or Rugby, I will always be a Team Leeds player at heart.
P.P.S. I’m playing Yu-Gi-Oh nationals in two weeks’ time for a laugh. What should my slogan be on my mtgUK t-shirt?