Last week I wrote about how Valakut was once again becoming an appealing choice because it had a favorable matchup against CawBlade decks. Since CawBlade is now becoming inbred and designed in such a fashion to fight one another, it has to dump some dead weight elsewhere and the usual dead weight to drop is the hard counters. This is because a fair number of UW players play the deck very aggressively, almost as if it was just a straight tapout midrange deck. These people were the first to get behind dropping Mana Leak and Spell Pierce numbers as well, though they seem to like keeping token numbers around to scare opponents into submission.
Once again it comes down to people preying on their opponent’s perceptions of the deck and what it’s supposed to be. For example, some skilled CawBlade players board out all countermagic in games two and three of control mirrors depending on how the opponent plays. If they respect countermagic, you may as well play on that and run more actual threats or better answers. If they don’t, then you should play to maximize the strength of those counters and it’ll probably be free value. In fact I’m surprised nobody has done really well with a tapout version that just tries to duck Valakut, because at this point nobody is walking into Spell Pierce if they don’t have too.
Of course this means decks which plan involves resolving turn 4 Titans and creatures like Gaea’s Revenge have quite the appeal, especially when you can even go a step further and play cards like Koth of the Hammer and Nature’s Claim to further reduce UW’s options. This is only a temporary hindrance of course and one easily correctable by a mixture of Flashfreeze and Deprive. The other reason I doubt Valakut will be more than a weekly solution is RDW and Boros both being the go-to aggro decks over Vengevine decks which I believed would be the obvious conclusion for many aggro players.
We can thank Patrick Sullivan for running a RDW meme and providing everyone with the basic framework for a deck to copy wholesale and attack people with. Of course pilot has a lot to do with it and for every successful red player I see plenty of dead Goblins on the wayside. That said, it is notable to see triple Kor Firewalker in everybody’s sideboard again after the numbers were being chopped down at the last couple of SCG opens. Nobody has gone balls out like I have and started maindecking a bunch of [card baneslayer angel]Baneslayers[/card], but I can’t really blame them considering the field.
Lack of Vengevines at tournaments has actually been a common occurrence as of late and I’m starting to wonder if people are even trying anymore. I still get questions about GW Quest, which for my money is one of the best VV decks, and considering how badly UW does against it game one I’m surprised more people aren’t playing it. Post-board if they have a proper board is much more of a fight, but at the end of the day if they really want to bring in all the answers to your Quest and Vengevine plan, something is going to leave and usually that means all the counters and major threats are gone. This gives you an opening that never existed in previous iterations of the UW Control matches of old.
With this realization certain avenues open up that weren’t available, more expensive spells like Green Sun’s Zenith, Hero of Bladehold, and other more midrange cards become very appealing since you can naturally drain UW of removal and then they have to fall back on whatever small Titan set they run and Gideon Jura to do all the work. Yeah the Swords shut down Vengevine in the short term, but the pressure is almost always on them to play defensively with the Swords. It also becomes far easier for you to pinpoint pressure on their Swords and make them miserable if they need to rely on it for defense, between Leonin Relic-Warder, Viridian Corrupter, and Nature’s Claim, you have a billion ways to take Swords out.
Even better is that you can cripple their own boarding by removing the Quest package wholesale and leaving them stuck with dead Divine Offering and heavily weakened cards like Tumble Magnet. Plus if they board out countermagic to make all the answers fit, then all of your answers become sure-hits and you can control the flow of the game until Gideon comes online. If you’d like to know more on GW Quest, just scroll down a little ways and you’ll see Michael Boland’s mini-article and my own thoughts on current Quest decks.
Moving on, right now the new hotness or rather the continuation of last week’s hotness, was the emergence of EsperBlade. For those not up-to-date, the deck uses the UW core and leverages a discard element to neutralize the early plays of the UW deck while also giving all-valuable information. While I don’t buy that the mana is free, the mana certainly isn’t awful if you aren’t one of the people cramming 16 CIPT lands into your deck. I like the weapons Esper brings to the table versus the UWR list that was two week old tech, but as you can see UW is still going strong and Tectonic Edge remains a very good reason to stay two-color. With that said if you want to tweak your deck in a way specifically designed to help win the mirror, this is a good route to travel down. Ultimately I think we’ll see all three versions of CawBlade pop in and out of popularity as the season progresses, depending on the whims of the metagame.
Now for what you’ve really been waiting for – Michael Boland’s take on GW Quest after his moderately successful run at the Channelfireball 5k.
Cawmbo-ing Off – Questing in Type Two
Hello ChannelFireballers out there in internet-land! Let me give some background information before we begin out wonderful journey into the land of vengeful vines wearing armor. My name is Michael Boland, I’m a student at UCSC, and I’m hopelessly addicted to Vengevine. For the past few weeks I’ve been getting lots of questions on Facebook about the new build of GW Quest I’ve been playing, most recently to a T8 finish in the March 5th Channelfireball $5K and finals finish the following day in the smaller $1K. So I’m here to give a quick rundown on the deck – a brew that is aggressive, resilient, and, most importantly, extremely fun to play.
Here’s the current list in all its singleton glory:
The sweetest part of this list is the sideboard, since it neatly addressed the main problem I found Quest facing in sideboarded games – opponents overloading on Disenchant effects.
Old-fashioned Quest could often run opponents over in Game One, but I found I just couldn’t beat cards like Divine Offering and Nature’s Claim in sideboarded games. It felt like playing Dredge in Legacy and seeing turn zero Leyline, except worse because you couldn’t even know whether or not the opponent had it until the moment they cast it and destroyed you. The UW Caw deck was a bad matchup, either they chumped Sworded creatures or took Argentum Armor hits and not caring too much. Even preboard when I Vindicated them down to 3 lands they’d just untap, play a fourth mana and slam Jace to Unsummon or Day of Judgment, making me very sad. Hawks and Stoneforge Mystics got in the way of my equipped creatures, and postboard the equipments that I’d spent so much effort putting into play just got blown up.
So I tried addressing the problem rather than just accepting a bad matchup against commonly played artifact removal cards and together with Sam Pardee came up with a sideboard man plan to swap in for the Quest strategy. The overall plan (against something like UW Cawblade) is:
(Memnite or Ornithopter)
This plan lets the Quest player take advantage of opponent’s sideboarding out Spell Pierces and Mana Leaks for cards like Divine Offering and Ratchet Bomb. The new gameplan focuses solely on the Fauna Shaman/Vengevine engine – Green Sun’s Zenith serves as additional copies of these important creatures and through Fauna Shaman can access the white finishers as well. Often the best use of a Zenith is fetching a second Fauna Shaman after you’ve untapped with one already, since two shamans working in tandem for even a single turn usually puts you far enough ahead to win.
These no-Quest games often come down to long grinding attrition wars, Vengevines serving as threats that are resilient even to cards like Gideon, Baneslayer, pro-green swords, and Wraths. I’ve often used the Vengevine grind to battle back from ridiculous series of cards like multiple Gideon, Cunning Sparkmage/Collar, pro-green 3/3 Squadron Hawks, and Wraths that would usually cripple an aggro strategy. The grind just refuses to die, and every Fauna Shaman activation brings the opponent closer to chump-block mode as your creatures kill planeswalkers and eat chunks of life total. This forces your opponent to race while containing your hard-to-kill threats, often after having mulliganed to Divine Offerings that are now relatively blank. Another advantage I’ve noticed is that as the board gets more and more cluttered, opponents often make more mistakes as the game goes on longer than they’d expected.
Unfortunately the red splash in some of the new Caw decks makes that matchup much tougher, mostly because they have more removal to prevent you from untapping with Fauna Shaman (Arc Trail, Bolt, Sparkmage), but the matchup is still quite winnable. Creature decks like Vampires, Boros, Mono-Red (and to a lesser extent, Elves) have trouble beating the normal Quest plan, so in those matchups you need only board in a few of the creatures (just Refraction Trap, Kor Firewalker, Linvala, and Baneslayer Angel against Boros, for example).
At the $5K, I played against Vampires twice, RUG, Cawblade, Boros, and a homebrew Land Destruction deck, losing only to the LD deck before IDing into the T8, where I lost to Valakut due to poor draws. I think Quest is a powerful contender in the current meta, and since it’s fairly cheap to put together you have no excuse but to give it a try!
Thanks for reading, may your Fauna Shamans always live and may you always have a Vengevine in hand.
Bonus play for those who read this far
~ Opponent activates Gideon Jura’s +2 ability, so you attack him with your Hero of Bladehold and a Vengevine. Killing Gideon just isn’t enough for you, though, so you put Hero of Bladehold’s Soldier tokens into play attacking your opponent’s Jace, the Mind Sculptor. You then battle cry them by +1/+0, wreck all the planeswalkers in town, and proceed to win the game. You are then crushed under a flood of expensive cars, women flock to you, and you feel oh-so-cool – you are welcome.
End Boland article, return to me. A hearty thanks to Boland for that write-up and helping me answer roughly 7000 questions about a GW Quest deck I didn’t even make.
While I wasn’t originally sold on the GSZ plan, I’ve become more of a believer after taking the time to test it out myself. As I mentioned earlier many CawBlade pilots leave in the bare minimum of countermagic support, if that, making the Zenith’s far stronger than they normally would be. Additionally while many of these decks run Oust, Lightning Bolt, Doom Blade, or other cheap ways to deal with Fauna Shaman, many only have four spells capable of doing so on the play. The rest of the time you’ll get at least one activation and often two or three before a Day of Judgment or Jace Unsummon stems the bleeding.
Even if you aren’t a fan of the X-spell plan, just sideboarding in a land or two and large creatures is a legitimate threat people tend to overlook. Thrun and Sun Titan make for nice Vengevine companions and often you can focus on killing them with waves versus the game one plan of throwing everything all-in. One of my favorite plans I’ve been trying off and on with GW Quest is boarding in a pair of lands, a full set of Hero of Bladehold, some equipment killers, and a pair of Molten-Tail Masticore – Essentially going to town with the midrange plan. While this is a slow plan, often post-board without an early Squadron Hawk CawBlade players will be choked on high-end spells and useless answer cards. Stoneforge Mystic isn’t a real threat even with a Sword equipped due to artifact killers, and can’t hope to compete with a Fauna Shaman on the opposing side of the board.
Even if you dislike GW Quest, Fauna Shaman decks are in a good place right now since they can easily have boards tweaked to smash aggro and have favorable matches against CawBlade in every facet of the game. It would have been foolish to suggest playing a deck with a soft Valakut match previously, but nowadays it isn’t unreasonable to duck them for most of the tournament. Even if you do get paired it isn’t the end of the world, a deck like Matt Nass’s Bant brew has a lot of the same features I had to defeat a pair of Valakut decks with in the 5k. A clock backed by some form of disruption whether it be counters, discard or LD is really all that’s needed to steal games with a strong Fauna Shaman deck.
That’s it for today, Standard is pretty balanced as it is and seeing the same names in these top eights should help reinforce that good players do have an edge here. It isn’t just some random shots and trying to get lucky match-up wise, if you have a good angle on the metagame and play well you can succeed right now. Even with decks that don’t cost 700 dollars, contrary to what some people would have you believe. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go back to my nice bed until I’m not sick anymore.
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom
Harass Boland on his FB page just because it’s fun to do