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Silvestri Says – Trying Not To Go Stabby In a Less-Than-Sane World

This weekend’s Standard results are in and to the surprise of nobody, GerryT took down the Standard portion of the Dallas SCG Open with UWB CawBlade with two other copies in the top eight. Of course the others colors weren’t neglected as UWR and UW CawBlade both made their contractual appearance and only one deck in the top 8, a Goblins deck, failed to have Squadron Hawk in its 75. Right now it’s become obvious to all that the white bird of happiness is one of the most powerful cards in the format, not because it’s a blatantly overpowered card, but rather because of all the minor advantages it gives a deck. Let’s take a closer look at some of the Squadron Hawk decks available to us, shall we?

First we’ll start with the Jace-bearing suspects.

Blades

 

These decks belong to GerryT, AJ Sacher and Joe Bass who came in 1st, 7th and 13th, respectively, at Dallas.

Start by noting the similarities in what they each kept for their respective decks. All of them have the main plan of Stoneforge Mystic, equipment and Squadron Hawk in place, but the specifics are slowly changing. For example, all of them have cut Sword of Body and Mind from the maindeck in exchange for second copies of Sword of Feast and Famine or just running one Sword. Although a few CawBlade players have the two-Sword split, almost all have moved to running two SOFAF in the main to increase the resiliency game one and saving sideboard slots when artifact removal becomes an issue post-board.

Day Time

Another point of contention for many of these decks has been the removal suite. Note the sliding scale on Day of Judgment; very few people can agree on the “optimal” number for CawBlade. Gerry’s Esper build has no Day of Judgment in the maindeck or sideboard, AJ has three and Joe runs the full set. My current version of the UW deck only has two in the maindeck and none in the sideboard. If you skim the Magic Online lists, almost all have Day of Judgment in some number, but I’ve seen every single legal amount in the UW and UWB versions online. The value of Day and its decline in many lists can largely be linked to the lack of midrange decks in the format and attack angles from opposing decks changing.

What I mean by this is before a Day of Judgment was a serious threat against a creature heavy Red, Boros or Fauna Shaman deck. Nowadays Day of Judgment barely counts as a stop-gap measure, too slow to crush fast decks like Kuldotha Red, Boros or Quest, and is a very weak way to kill off Fauna Shaman. Meanwhile the number of CawBlade mirrors has gone up, and its use in the other matches I’d be worried about as a CawBlade player (RUG and Valakut) is minimal. There are plenty of good reasons to start dropping the Day count for more useful removal like Condemn, Oust, Tumble Magnet, or appropriate red or black spells. The use of Lightning Bolt or Doom Blade are actually very valid arguments for those colors and for me Bolt has been the MVP of the SparkBlade builds.

Permission-wise I have no idea what to say anymore, you will find proponents on both sides of the fence either advocating for more permission (usually hard counters) or moving toward tap-out. I still stay in the middle; I’m a big fan of having three Mana Leaks in my UW list and just boarding Flashfreeze for the few matches that I want extra counters in. Spell Pierce, on the other hand, is a card I’m becoming more wary of and I’m finding less incentive to play it. Everyone plays around it now or at least keeps it in mind when forming a plan and the overall value of the card has dropped a fair degree. It’s still somewhat effective, but the threat of it is nearly as good as the actual card at this point.

I am still a fan of the UW version and while I have some big things going on, they most likely won’t work out and I’ll be playing it in LA. The esper version has certainly raised its profile and with multiple placements I would suspect a fair number of people to jump onto the next big thing, if only for a week or two, much like SparkBlade enjoyed a temporary increase in popularity.

For those wondering where the Lotus Cobra decks were hiding, fear not as two RUG decks and a UG Wave build finished just out of the top eight. There’s not a lot to say as none of these decks have really changed from builds we’ve seen before. Precursor Golem and Inferno Titan are two of the best threats in the format right now and right now RUG is the only deck playing them with Preordain and Jace. This means they aren’t just in pure variance decks hoping to get there which should tell you all you need to know about why you aren’t seeing these cards elsewhere. I’ve certainly tried them in other decks, but RUG makes the best use of them by a fair margin. In fact there’s nothing wrong with RUG at all, people just don’t want to play the deck, the only real weakness is that the mana is sometimes a pile of garbage and forces some awkward mulligans. Get over that issue and you have your alternative Jace deck if you hate the idea of playing white creatures.

RDW

Red players can rejoice in the streets as two Goblins, a RDW and a ‘Red Control’ deck all finished in the top sixteen of Dallas. For this article I want to focus on the Goblins build as it seems to be popping up the most other than straight RDW and very little has been said about it. First the build that David Kilhefner made the finals with:

For an aggressive deck, the build listed is surprisingly well setup for a board control game. What amounts to 21 cards capable of direct damage and a focused swarm effort that doesn’t get rolled by spot removal unlike some Boros or RDW hands. With that said, Goblin Chieftain sticks out as a sore thumb here as a creature just begging to get killed by spot removal while also being terrible post-sweeper. Every time I see a deck running that card nowadays all I can think about is how much needs to go right for the card to have a significant impact over a non-synergistic card like Kargan Dragonlord or Koth of the Hammer. Sure they end up being more mana intensive, but both are major threats that can supplement a swarm or battle on their own. Chieftain suffers from being completely dependent on additional creatures for it to be effective.

Past that pet peeve, this is as close as you’ll get to a red swarm deck without invoking the liability and power of Kuldotha Rebirth. By sacrificing that one card, you open up space in the deck for all these additional burn spells and a deck better suited to playing on the draw. This deck can easily adapt some of the more mana intensive cards I mentioned and if you add another land could sideboard into a deck with a lot more reach to it. Personally that’s my recommendation over trying to go nuts with attempting to beat Kor Firewalker outright. The number of cards red has access to that beat a Kor Firewalker without killing it is pretty impressive, ranging from the aforementioned to raw Bonehoard or Molten-Tail Masticore. Regardless of your sideboard, the maindeck remains one of the best game one attack decks in the format and slides around the mana issues that Boros sometimes faces.

Oh and before I go off on a bit of a tangent, yes I’m aware of the Naya build that Ryan O’Connor made top four with. I took it for a quick test drive on Magic Online with ten matches in the 2-man queues just to get a feel for it. I was not impressed with what I saw from the deck and I couldn’t believe how badly the deck functioned if Fauna Shaman died, or if Stoneforge Mystic failed to resolve, or if Sword died. I understand the Valakut matchup isn’t good, so I give it a pass in those games, but the deck just feels unfocused and underpowered most of the time. Without real acceleration* it’s impossible to go into a plan B against a deck that isn’t trying to grind you to death and in those games, cards like Baneslayer Angel and protected Gideon Jura is just going to dominate anything you can pull out of your hat. Maybe it was just a case of small sample size, but I just wanted to give my initial assessment before I got comments about it.

*No, four Birds of Paradise doesn’t do a lot for me when I’m trying to dump my four and five-drops on the table or race with small guys and Equipment.

I’m actually lost as to why there’s so much kvetching about the current format, this isn’t a format dominated by one deck and with seemingly random results in terms of player success. Almost every single player succeeding with CawBlade is reasonably competent if not actually a ringer or pro player. CawBlade and variants may be the best deck strictly speaking, but it isn’t as if other decks can’t succeed as well. We’ve seen at least 12 different archetypes top 16 the last three SCG Opens. Even if you remove the unpopular archetypes and leave only ‘common’ decks, that’s still nine different decks! This is such a far cry from even recent formats where decks like Faeries and Jund dominated and you’d typically only see 3-4 other archetypes have any notable success. Let’s not even go into how bad some of the older formats were with deck dominance, especially in terms of a raw power comparison.

On some level I understand that many people will never be happy with the state of any format, because you can see the same complaints in competitive video games like FPS or fighting games. It doesn’t matter how right or wrong the arguments are; people just love to whine about things, especially those that bother them at the level they play at. Sentinel in MVC3? Broken and OP, right until people figured out he gets bodied by characters with certain rush down or projectile aspects and that massive damage output isn’t that relevant in a game where 3/4ths of the cast can kill with two combos. Oh and god forbid you ever try to argue Weapon X vs. Weapon Y on any Call of Duty / Halo board ever created; the ensuing flamefest is usually hilarious though.

Magic suffers from the same fate I’m afraid. Even when development catered to players by toning down certain “unfun” aspects of the game, they just jump to the next boogie-man whether it be “I’m being priced out of the game” by referring to a single card (JTMS) or that X deck isn’t being given the tools to exist, how dare you do this to me! Even when people get what they want they’ll just move onto something tangentially related to cry about next, such as the aforementioned “Is CawBlade broken?” without any real context or useful discussion to be had. I think some of this can actually be traced to people not playing in the days where cards were actually banned or what truly powerful and broken decks actually were like.

On a balance note, how about that Vengevine card in Legacy? In a surprising twist, I don’t see it dominating Legacy despite Survival being banned, even though a number of people went out of their way to scream about it being the true killer and that the DCI were fools for missing the ‘real problem’. Yeah those Vengevine/ Intuition/ Buried Alive decks are just running things with no end to the misery in sight. Not to single them out however, what about the outcry that somehow Faeries and Jund were the best decks in Extended and that the entire format was ruined? Less than two months into the PTQ season, Jund was a second-class citizen and Fae was on the decline. Three months in and Jund doesn’t even exist anymore, while Faeries is a quaint tier 1.5 deck in a field full of Elves, Bant, CawBlade and Boros. Ruined format indeed, when it may be the most balanced Extended season on record. Not that you’d know it by the low PTQ attendance and minimal discussion about the format by just about everybody.

Understand that trying to actually have a meaningful discussion with many of these people is borderline useless and your best bet is to just nod your head until they go away. Not all complaining is bad, but those that engage in it while sidestepping any real discussion are the people you know to avoid. Other people have no idea how to contextualize any of their arguments or what a real balance actually is. Here’s just one of many examples:

“I’m sure this has been presented before but can not find the appropriate thread. With all the negative attention Jace, Stoneforge and the swords get, I think the most overpowered card in Standard is [card]Inquisition of Kozilek[/card] and Duress. On the play both those cards amplifies first turn advantage in a game where card advantage was built in on the draw to mitigate this already inherent flaw in turn-based games.

If you mulligan once its bad news…..twice you are pretty much top decking and odds of winning are significantly reduced. This doesn’t take in account information gleaned from seeing your hand.

Maybe making the one mana discard spell a random discard would be better. If you are on the draw, there is nothing to prevent this from happening. Am I the only one who thinks this or is there similar feeling about how broken a Duress/IoK on the play is?”

Just some food for thought before you go about ringing the unfair bell on a forum or to your friends. I’ll see you guys in LA for the Open!

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

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