In the recent SCG Open LA I started 7-1 with GW in Standard, couldn’t draw in the final round, and lost in a match featured on ggslive. The next day I would start 6-1 in legacy with Elves and again lose the last round on ggslive. Fun stuff.
Before I would have the chance to watch the rug pulled from under me (twice), I first had to figure out what Standard deck to play. I had played caw-blade (UW) in the previous 2k I attended a few weeks ago, but I didn’t want to just show up and grind away with the “best deck.” At least not if I could brew up or locate a viable alternative.
I began my mental search by thinking “when I was playing Caw-Blade, what decks or cards gave me the most trouble?” I thought about Vengevine. Whether you play Day of Judgment, spot removal, or Tumble Magnet, Vengevine is really annoying. The next annoying card to come to mind was Lotus Cobra. RUG without Lotus Cobra is nothing special against Caw-Blade, but when they draw the Cobra, things can get really ugly really fast.
Why wasn’t anyone playing Lotus Cobra and Vengevine in the same deck? I don’t know, but I set out to change it.
Here’s my initial list that I played at the Open without having tested a single game (brewed up and tweaked with Thursday and Friday before the Saturday event).
Strengths and Weaknesses
The deck is very explosive and resilient, which is what you want your aggro decks to be. We have so many good 2 drops that the beginning of the game is consistently really productive for us. The end game is nice too, as Vengevine, Fauna Shaman, and all the fatties, in addition to Squadron Hawks, will keep up busy applying pressure. The strengths are what they are, just look at all the threats we present. Wherever the opponent threatens Cunning Sparkmage, Linvala tends to be awesome, so sometimes that perceived weakness turns into a strength as you blank their entire board while they wait to draw one of their 2 Gideons.
The weaknesses are unfortunately also many. There is a tradeoff to packing all threats; you have very few answers.
If an opponent casts the card Inferno Titan, which has been gaining in popularity, the game is often over right then and there. The same is true of Primeval Titan. The deck is also very vulnerable to Pyroclasm and Slagstorm.
Based on the previous 3 sentences, can you guess how our Valakut matchup is?
Just like if you play RUG, Valakut is a nightmare, so you have to hope Caw-Blade decks knock out the Valakut decks. Caw-Blade is “Rock” in this format, I’ve build a “Paper,” and Valakut is “Scissors.” That analogy is rarely this accurate.
Other weaknesses the deck has are other large annoying threats like Baneslayer and Gideon. Our own Gideon answers both, and I have considered moving up to 4 Gideons in the 75. Without our own Gideon things can turn sour. Sun Titan is slightly more annoying than Baneslayer, since it brings back a Hawk to block (which is like gaining life) and Gideon can never kill it.
Tips and Tricks
Regarding sideboarding, I’ve found that boarding out the equipment package vs Caw-Blade is effective. They often bring in Diving Offering, which you can turn into a dead card, but more importantly, the equipment just isn’t your best use of mana. Hawks are ready to chump block, Tumble Magnets are ready to tap, and Condemn is ready to get boarded in. Just playing more threats is more effective than equipping the first threat after boarding.
Don’t be afraid to sideboard out what seem like “key” components of the deck. Against Red mages, I board out Fauna Shaman. It just doesn’t live very often, and when it does, will it perform better than a mana creature like Lotus Cobra or Birds of Paradise? Probably not, since accelerating into more things helps keep pace with an aggro deck (and because if they didn’t kill it, that means their draw is probably threat heavy and removal light, something like a bunch of Lynxes or Goblin Guides. This means spending G to find a creature isn’t as effective as playing a big bomb faster or multiple blockers).
Boarding out the Birds or Cobras can be correct where you suspect the opponent will be casting board sweepers like Pyroclasm or Slagstorm or Day of Judgment. You have to visualize how the games will likely play out, and be cognizant of whether you are on the play or the draw. Sometimes on the play you hope to just be faster than Day of Judgment and stick a Gideon or some Vengevines, so Birds of Paradise might be very effective.
Bonehoard. People misplay this one all the time. It isn’t essential that you get use out of the Germ part of the card. I see people not casting or not Mystic’ing this into play because there aren’t yet any creatures in the graveyards. It is often correct to just put it out (instead of, say, another Hawk or two) so that when that Day of Judgment or Arc Trail does emerge, or the opponent just trades 2 Hawks for your Hawks, you can get a creature equipped and huge for just 2 mana rather than 6. Having a 4 mana 4/4 just isn’t as impressive as playing a Hawk and equipping it to 5/5 flying, so why are you sandbagging the Bonehoard?
Where are the Birds?
Why only 3 Birds of Paradise? I cut the 4th BoP for a 25th land because I didn’t want too many mana sources to be vulnerable to sweepers and other removal. In deck construction there are many ways speed and resiliency must be balanced, and this is a perfect example really.
The Emeria Angels are for control decks, not Red decks. Linvala is actually better against Red due to 4 toughness. On turn 4, Angel just gets Bolted while Linvala is often quite annoying for the opponent. Also, Sparkmage is always a possibility for a red opponent. Just trust me and stay away from Emeria Angel. The card is awesome against control though, as no number of Tumble Magnets or Jaces or Squadron Hawks will keep it from winning the game over time.
Improvements Going Forward
The first thing I would change is a change that I thought of before the tournament started but I simply forgot to do it. I wanted to add an Admonition Angel to the sideboard, but I looked through my box and I don’t own one. I got to the site and forgot to buy one. This shouldn’t happen. I should have just proxied one in the board so that I didn’t forget. In any event, the card is good because a) it trumps Baneslayer or Gideon or Sun Titan, and b) if the opponent is threatening Day of Judgment, you can hide other threats under the Admonition Angel so when they wrath the hidden away threats come back. This matters more than you think because you’ll get to board states where you’re way ahead…but a Day of Judgment can eliminate much of that lead you’ve built up.
Another possibility for the sideboard is 1 Swamp and some Doom Blades and/or Memoricides. The fetches I played (4 Catacomb and 4 [card]Marsh Flats[/card]) reflect the fact that I was considering a black splash in the board. The [card]Doom Blade[/card]s are a great answer to [card]Inferno Titan[/card] or [card]Primeval Titan[/card], and they also kill [card]Lotus Cobra[/card], Linvala, etc. etc. Memoricide is probably too narrow to make the cut. I’m still a fan of “fingers crossed” hope I don’t play against Scissors. Even the [card]Doom Blade[/card]s don’t quite seem worth it to me. If we can get another [card]Mortarpod[/card] or two to keep [card]Lotus Cobra[/card]s dead, then against RUG we don’t need to worry about Inferno Titan quite as much.
[card]Mortarpod[/card] was excellent, as I suspected it would be (the card is chronically underplayed right now). [card]Sylvok Lifestaff[/card] was unimpressive and unnecessary, so perhaps 3 [card]Mortarpod[/card] is better. If we play [card]Doom Blade[/card], however, there won’t be room. If we don’t play Doom Blade, this will do a great job killing Cobras, Sparkmages, [card]Steppe Lynx[/card]es, [card]Necropede[/card]s, and Hawks (Boros’ hawks, not UW’s hawks, since we won’t board it in vs. Caw Blade).
I’m reluctant to mess with the Sanctifier and Corrupter numbers. Against Caw Blade and Boros it is so good to just not have to worry about their Equipment or their Journeys or their Tumble Magnets, and the rounds you get paired against Tezz or Infect, you’ll smile as you reach for your sideboard.
In the maindeck, the 1 [card]Sunpetal Grove[/card] needs to be a 3rd [card]Stirring Wildwood[/card]. The manlands are a bit more useful than I anticipated.
Here’s how I might construct the deck for a tournament this weekend.
1 Sword of Body and Mind
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
2 Baneslayer Angel
3 Birds of Paradise
4 Fauna Shaman
1 Kor Sanctifiers
4 Lotus Cobra
1 Mirran Crusader
4 Squadron Hawk
3 Stoneforge Mystic
1 Sun Titan
1 Sylvan Ranger
1 Viridian Corrupter
1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
2 Gideon Jura
4 Marsh Flats
1 Misty Rainforest
4 Razorverge Thicket
3 Stirring Wildwood
4 Verdant Catacombs
1 Admonition Angel
3 Emeria Angel
3 Kor Firewalker
2 Kor Sanctifiers
1 Viridian Corrupter
1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
1 Gideon Jura[/deck]