Building Caw-Go for Modern – Feelin Blue with Paul Mclachlan

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There are numerous problems with Bitterblossom as a card from a power-level perspective. I can accept this. The analogy I like to make is that Bitterblossom turns your opponent into Tim Roth in Reservoir Dogs. They’re just lying there on the floor, gut shot and waiting to die. If nothing else happens in the game they will be overcome by a horde of flowery dorks. Bitterblossom put the onus on your opponent to act, which played into any number of the tricks those flying rogues and their dastardly masters had at their disposal.

I can admit it: I know that I’m in denial. I can’t believe that Bitterblossom is gone. It’s been a few months now since the DCI unveiled the tragic news that I wouldn’t be able to lose one life and make a 1/1 flier every turn in their shiny new Modern format. I’m still struggling to get by on a day to day basis. Like Jimmy Stewart in that one Hitchcock movie whose name escapes me; I’m trying to fill the void any way I can.

I just have cards and effects I want to play. I’m not that spiky any more that I’ll just play whatever wins. I want to counter spells. I want to draw cards. I want to kill your dudes. I want to make you feel ineffectual by beating you down with the crappest creatures imaginable. I stumbled across an interesting list while conducting a stream of consciousness brewing session; the results of which should hopefully be up on this here website already.

The Deck.

The initial list was raw, but there was potential. Certainly the mana base was extremely rough, and the spell mixture could do with some work, but I was convinced I’d found a gem. I’ve been testing the deck online and I’m happy to report that it is quite powerful. Here it is, the deck that I’ve been calling Vial-ent Birds:

Creatures (12) –

4 x Snapcaster Mage
4 x Squadron Hawk
3 x Vendilion Clique
1 x Meloku, The Clouded Mirror

Spells (24) –

4 x Aether Vial
4 x Path to Exile
3 x Spell Snare
3 x Spell Pierce
4 x Rune Snag
4 x Thirst for Knowledge
2 x Engineered Explosives

Lands (24) –

4 x Misty Rainforest
4 x Scalding Tarn
3 x Hallowed Fountain
3 x Moorland Haunt
1 x Steam Vents
1 x Breeding Pool
1 x Darksteel Citadel
1 x Academy Ruins
6 x Island

Sideboard (15) –

4 x Ethersworn Canonist
3 x Ancient Grudge
3 x Wrath of God
3 x Timely Reinforcements
2 x Last Breath

This deck is a call-back to the halcyon days of Caw-Blade. Well, maybe not those days. That deck was insane. It had Jace, The Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic in it. I’ll start again. This deck is an attrition based control deck that can play either a control or aggressive role depending upon the match-up. I would be loath to call it a mid-range deck, but I guess you could label it as that if you really felt cruel. It might just be me, but mid-range decks always seem to have Birds of Paradise in them.

Aether Vial

This card is ridiculous, and was just waiting for a deck that could effectively abuse it. Vial-Ent Birds tries it’s best. You typically want to leave your Vials set on two for Snapcaster Mages and your many, many Hawks, but there are occasions when you’ll ramp it all the way up to five and plonk a Meloku onto the table.

I’ve never played with Vial before. It had come and gone before my time, and there’s not a Legacy scene in Scotland. It feels akin to playing with a Sword of Feast and Famine that requires a lot less set-up and risk. You don’t have to be concerned about spending five mana only to let your opponent Time Walk you with a Lightning Bolt. It just sits there, accruing counters and dumping stuff into play.

Squadran Hawk

Squadron Hawk is a great little engine card. It allows you to recover from mulligans very well, and while it’s not the greatest in a fight; it brings back-ups to the scrap. There are a great deal of decks in Modern that seem to be overloading on removal to combat various creature based strategies – either aggro or combo. How does one of these decks propose to beat a Vialed out Squadron Hawk backed up by Moorland Haunt and a healthy counter suite? Caw-Caw!

Moorland Haunt

I raved about this card when it was first spoiled to friends. Literally raved. I would run up to them and start throwing shapes excitedly whilst chanting “Moorland Haunt” over and over again. I lost many friends acting in this fashion. My excitement was caused by thoughts of getting to continue to strap big swords to tiny widdle fliers and beating face with them.

A single Squadron Hawk, when combined with Moorland Haunt, gives you the equivalent of eight creatures. Sure, you have to tap mana to get them all, but Bitterblossom was banned for a reason. This combination is my attempt to capture the power of that 1B Enchantment with the tools I have at my disposal.

Snapcaster Mage

It was when I was testing against Jund that I realised that Snapcaster Mage is the anti-Blood Braid Elf. Blue players would often struggle against the Cascade mechanic. Permission based decks are looking to one for one their opponent until they can comfortably cast some card drawing spells, then pull  ahead in the game. An opposing deck getting to cast two spells on turn four that could potentially total seven mana worth of value was trouble.

Snapcaster Mage is the perfect foil to Bloodbraid Elf, in addition to all his well known other strengths. He requires more forward planning, but Tiago can neuter an Elf by trading with it and dealing with the Cascaded spell by granting flashback to the appropriate target.

Aether Vial and Snapcaster Mage is a particularly pleasing combination. It doesn’t seem like much, given that Snapcaster already has flash, but putting Mages into play for free is amazing. You can chain Thirst for Knowledges all day long without having to pay an inflated five mana price tag.

Vendilion Clique

The best three drop blue creature of all time. I know Psychatog was big in it’s day, but those days are long gone. ‘Tog is over in the retirement home talking about how great things used to be with Morphling and Rainbow Efreet and wondering why it’s kids don’t call (It’s because it ate them). Clique does it all. It’s disruptive, it provides a quick clock, and it blocks and trades with a decent number of creatures in the format.

Meloku, The Clouded Mirror

I have a deep and abiding love for Meloku. I used to own a foil French one, back in the days when I owned cards and didn’t try to Panara* every tournament I attend. I remember well the day that I found that Meloku was packing a wang. I had to ask myself some hard questions. It was a dark time, but I can safely say I’m past it.

Meloku provides a trump in a great deal of match-ups. Churning out a sufficient number of 1/1 Illusions can stall an attack or provide a very real threat, whether The Clouded Mirror eats a removal spell or not. Mostly, I just want to play with the card. It makes me smile.

Path to Exile

The best removal spell in the format? If it’s not it’s got to be pretty close.

Spell Snare

There are a number of threatening two drops in the format: Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, Coretapper, Arcbound Ravager. Spell Snare stops them all cold. It’s exceptionally good on the draw, and you should bear than in mind when you’re deciding whether or not to cast turn one Aether Vial.

Spell Pierce

It’s a cheap counter that hits a decent number of spells in the format. This will be sided out in a number of match-ups, but it’s never dead.

Rune Snag

I’ve chosen Rune Snag over Mana Leak due to the cumulative effect. The first Rune Snag is often the same thing as the first Mana Leak, and the second and third Snags are certainly better than the second and third Leaks. When I had Leak in the deck I was running into situations where, with a combination of my opponent naturally making land drops and Path to Exile, my late game Mana Leaks were dead. Late game Rune Snags are rarely dead. There is theoretically an issue with Snapcaster Mage reducing their effectiveness, but this has yet to come up.

Thirst for Knowledge

The Modern banned list leaves Blue decks really struggling for good card advantage. Thirst for Knowledge is the only real contender for a list like this. Those Gifts are being left Ungiven, and unsleeved. Thirst forces you to accommodate it by playing a certain number of artifacts, which we’re doing anyway. I don’t know if I’ve hit the sweet spot just yet regarding the artifact count, but you rarely play a second Aether Vial and Thirst allows you to trade these away for action. Supporting Thirst is also the reason there’s a Darksteel Citadel sticking out like a sore thumb amongst the lands. Bear Thirst in mind when you’re making your land drops. Don’t run out the Citadel unless you have no other choice.

Engineered Explosives

A catch-all card, and one of the reasons the deck is packing a Breeding Pool and a Steam Vents. This slot was previously occupied by Sword of Feast and Famine, but I’ve found this to be a bit clunky and risky. If you tap out for Sword and get your man killed you’re left stranded, like a whale watching the tide got out. I prefer the utility of Explosives.


The Sideboard.

The sideboard choices are speculative at the moment, as I don’t know how the format is going to shake out. I’ve tried to hedge against what I think will be popular archetypes, rather than targeting specific decks.

Ethersworn Canonist

This is here for spell based combination decks. Storm decks in particular will have to deal with him before they can go off, and the deck is packing enough counter-magic to protect him whilst you beat them down. You may also get to Vial Canonist into play in response to the first ritual of the turn, a play that may result in you exploding from pure joy. I take no responsibility for any deaths caused.

Ancient Grudge

A general artifact hate card, which is great against Affinity. I’ve went with Grudge instead of the less mana-base straining Kataki because of two factors. Firstly, Grudge is widely applicable, Kataki is not. Secondly, Affinity has lost the majority of it’s artifact lands, rendering Kataki a shadow of his former self. If you can’t give the Affinity player a lose-lose choice between their board presence and their lands, a fragile 2/1 is just not going to cut it.

Wrath of God

I’m pretty sure Wrath of God is legal in Modern. I’m just assuming here. You can play Day of Judgments if you don’t have or can’t play with the original white board sweeper.

Last Breath

This is an odd one. I wanted to have more instant speed removal for against Splinter Twin and Melira. Sylvok Outcast combo decks, and I’ve just kind of lumped in Last Breath. It’s possible that I should just suck it up and play Dismember, but I could see bringing this in against other decks where the life loss of Dismember would be a liability.

Timely Reinforcements

Life gain and dudes. There’s not much to explain here.


Sideboarding Guide.

This is pretty rough, but here’s a guide of what I feel you should put in and take out against particular match-ups.

Spell-based Combo –

– 4 Path to Exile
+ 4 Ethersworn Canonist

Creature-based Combo (Non-Splinter Twin) –

– 3 Spell Pierce
+ 3 Wrath of God

Splinter Twin –

– 3 Spell Pierce, – 1 Meloku, The Clouded Mirror
+ 2 Last Breath, + 2 Ancient Grudge

Aggressive Decks –

– 3 Spell Pierce, – 4 Rune Snag
+ 3 Timely Reinforcements, + 3 Wrath of God, + 1 Last Breath

Affinity –

– 3 Spell Pierce, – 4 Rune Snag, – 1 Vendilion Clique
+ 3 Timely Reinforcements, + 3 Ancient Grudge, + 2 Wrath of God

Control –


To reiterate, this is a very rough draft of the sideboard, and is a starting point rather than something I would strongly recommend. Feel free to make your own changes.

Thanks for reading,

Paul Mclachlan

* The Panara: named for well known razorphobe Bruno Panara. This is an attempt by a player to show up at a tournament with a decklist, a dream, and little else. If you have to borrow all your cards – except basic lands -, this is known as the Basic Panara. If you have to borrow your entire deck, you are a master of the form. If you have to borrow your entire deck, sleeves, a pen, paper, and dice you achieve transcendence and progress immediately to a high form of consciousness, leaving your physical body behind as an empty husk.


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