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Feature Article – Winning the CFB $5k with Caw-Blade

This is my first article for ChannelFireball, so allow me to give a brief introduction of myself for those of you who haven’t heard of me. I’ve been playing Magic since Legions was released and have been trying to qualify for the PT many of the years since then. I was finally able to do so last year when I won a local PTQ followed by an online one a few weeks later. I didn’t do well in those two Pro Tours (4-4, losing the last round of Day 1 both times), but I’ve still managed to make a name for myself using the screen name “_ShipItHolla” on MTGO. I’m no Conley Woods, but I think that one of my most valuable traits as a Magic player is coming up with variations in decks that put them over the top. At least, that’s where I seem to find the most success.

If you know me well, you’ll know that I’ve been playing almost exclusively UW Control for a while now. I’d like to mention that I am willing to play other decks, but I’ve felt that UW has been the best choice, for Standard at least. As soon as there is a deck that I think is better than UW, I will play it.

Now that that’s over with, I can move on to talking about the ChannelFireball 5K, which I managed to win last weekend. My deck of choice was of course UW Control, or as it has been known for the last few weeks, CawBlade. I’ve been playing the deck since its inception and have found it to be very good. I wasn’t considering any other decks until Gerry Thompson won an SCG Open with a red version of CawBlade. When I first saw it, I thought of how sweet Cunning Sparkmage would be in the deck and immediately hopped in a Daily Event to try it out, and in the maindeck, no less. Unfortunately, I didn’t test Gerry’s original list before making alterations to it, which is almost always a mistake. Testing a deck its original form is a good way to figure out what’s going on in it. Even if some changes seem obvious, it’s better to get an understanding of the deck before you make any. I ended up dismissing the deck entirely because the list I used wasn’t very good. On the plus side, this allowed me to test more with the deck that I was more inclined to play anyways. The list that I had been testing with is:

 

Before I ever started testing the deck, I knew I wanted something in the maindeck to improve the mirror match. The card that I decided on was Tumble Magnet and it has proven to be even better than expected. It is a good answer to equipments as well as manlands, Titans, and Gideon Jura. It has some synergy with your own Gideon and it allows you to tap multiple creatures if you’re trying to get a Sword hit through. It’s worse than Journey to Nowhere against dedicated aggro decks, but it’s exactly the card you want in a lot of other matchups. I’ve found that it’s better as a maindeck card because it can fill different roles in different matchups, whereas you would rather have a real removal spell against aggro (Journey to Nowhere) and a real artifact removal spell against decks with artifacts (Divine Offering). Tumble Magnet should probably start seeing more play in other decks for the same reasons it’s good in this deck.

Sylvok Lifestaff vs. Mortarpod is an interesting debate. Both are decent against Boros, with Mortarpod killing landfall creatures and Lifestaff answering Hero of Oxid Ridge and regaining life. Mortarpod is better against a wider range of cards and decks, but Lifestaff helps in matchups that tend to be tougher. I chose to play Lifestaff because of the fear of Vampires and red decks, which may be the only decks that Lifestaff is better against.

Another card that I think could start seeing more play (next to Tumble Magnet) is Mystifying Maze. It’s very similar to Tumble Magnet, but it doesn’t have to take up a spell slot. I’ve been playing with one in the board as a way to go up to 27 lands against the mirror and make better use of a Tectonic Edge slot against a lot of the aggressive decks. Its uses are very limited, but I think that it’s worth having.

Before the event, I decided I wanted to improve the mirror match a little more. The first thing I did was replace the singleton Baneslayer Angel with another Gideon Jura. My justification for playing her in the first place was that she’s great against aggro while being acceptable against the mirror, but the fact that she’s weak to Day, Jace, and Gideon makes her distinctly worse than Gideon.

The second thing I did was swap the 2 maindeck Day of Judgments with the 2 sideboard Linvalas. Linvala is a way to answer a Sworded Squadron Hawk or Stoneforge Mystic while being able to get past Spell Pierce and pick up a sword of her own. Her ability is mostly negligible, but it can still shut down a card or two in a lot of matchups. It’s possible that Baneslayer could have worked in this slot, but I didn’t want to add more 5-drops to the deck without testing.

Match Breakdown

Round 1 vs. Valakut – Russell Kyle (my driver and eventual top4 finisher)
We each do our things in Games 1 and 2, and then in game 3 he makes a play that may have cost him the game. I had a Stoneforge Mystic and 3 lands in play to his Lotus Cobra and 5 mana sources. He knows I have Sword of Feast and Famine in hand, but he casts Acidic Slime anyways. I assume that he has a Trap, and just let it resolve and put the Sword into play after. The rest of his spells are discarded and countered. Had he waited to play the Slime, there’s a chance that I wouldn’t have been able to counter both it and the Trap. The play he made was an attempt to Trap me a turn sooner, but it wasn’t that hard to see through.

It sucked that I had to play against and beat my driver in the first round, but it turned out nicely since he managed to win the next 7 matches that he played.
1-0

Round 2 vs. Boros
In Game 1 he Stoneforges for Sword of Body and Mind and gets a hit in. I fail to find an answer. In Game 2 I deal with his few early threats and land the singleton Baneslayer Angel and he doesn’t have an answer. In Game 3 he plays 3 Goblin Guides and throws on an Adventuring Gear plus Teetering Peaks for good measure.

This is one of the reasons I greatly dislike Goblin Guide. There was very little I could do to win this game. Even Ratchet Bomb would have only left me at 6 life (without including Adventuring Gear and Teetering Peaks).
1-1

As usual, after accruing a fast/early loss I take the opportunity to refuel with a sandwich. I always seem to do well when I get to eat early in a tournament…

Round 3 vs. Valakut
In Game 1 he stumbles on mana while I am tapping his Overgrown Battlement with Tumble Magnet. I get a Gideon going which deals with the first Battlement allowing the Tumble Magnet to handle the new one, and then kill him with Gideon. In Game 2 I see an assortment of board cards that I will have to fight through including Tumble Magnet, Wall of Tanglecord, and Nature’s Claim. He gets in with a pair of Gaea’s Revenge while I have just counterspells. For Game 3 I decide that I have to come up with a new plan to deal with what I saw in the previous game. I board out all the Hawks in exchange for the more copies of Day of Judgment, Linvala, and Tumble Magnet. This game goes very long. I counter as many relevant spells as I can, but he eventually resolves a Terastodon. He’s low enough that he can’t just blow up my Colonnades and Jace, so he leaves me with a Colonnade. He adds a Gaea’s Revenge to the board the turn after and I play the Day that I was slowrolling. A Tumble Magnet buys him some time but eventually Colonnade kills him.

2-1

Gaea’s Revenge used to be a fine card against decks like UW, but things are different now. Because of Swords and Hawks, that card should probably being seeing zero play. I think a combination of Acidic Slime, Summoning Trap, and Terastodon is the way to go. In addition, Wall of Tanglecord and Tumble Magnet are good ways to keep Sworded creatures at bay, but similar to Tumble Magnet in UW, they would have to be maindecked to really matter. Postboard you have access to Nature’s Claim if you want to deal with equipment.

Round 4 vs. UB Control
My opponent’s deck was not built with this matchup in mind. His maindeck featured a few too many Vampire Nighthawks and Skinrenders. Game 1 I took some hits from Nighthawk but eventually got Sworded Hawks going. In Game 2 he surprised me by playing a Sword of Feast and Famine, but he didn’t have enough threats to make it work (having boarded out the previously mentioned creatures). I got a Jace into play when he was tapped out and was careful to play around his Creeping Tar Pits. Mystifying Maze helped with that. He played a Frost Titan that I wasn’t quite prepared for, but mistakenly second guessed himself and targeted Mystifying Maze over a Sworded Hawk. I subsequently played Jace, bounced his Titan, and made him discard it as well as untapped my lands.

3-1

Round 5 vs. Eldrazi
In Game 1 Linvala helped keep Eldrazi Spawns and Overgrown Battlements from doing anything while also beating down. There was a point where he was one mana short of casting Emrakul, but I made sure that I could still win if he managed to cast it. He didn’t get the last land he needed. In Game 2 I got Sword of Feast and Famine going and when he played Gaea’s Revenge, I just moved sword to a blocker afterwards and won in short order.

4-1
Round 6 vs. RUG
In Game 1 he gets stuck with 2 lands and a Lotus Cobra (I Spell Pierced an Explore) and he can’t catch up. In Game 2 I keep a risky hand and don’t see any white mana sources. He applies pressure and I die. In Game 3 he again stumbles on mana and I capitalize by resolving a few Planewalkers. He draws the lands he needs but I slowly grind him out.

5-1

I haven’t played against this deck much and don’t really know where the matchup stands, but I do know that the game is totally different if they have Precursor Golem. If they have it, then they have a huge threat available to them on turn 3. Boarding becomes difficult. When you would normally want to board out Day of Judgment, you can’t, and when Flashfreeze is normally pretty good, it no longer is. The obvious conclusion would be to leave in Day of Judgment over Flashfreeze, but you have to know their list to do so.

Round 7 vs. Kuldotha Red
Coverage for this match can be found here.
6-1

Quarterfinals vs. UWr CawBlade – LSV
Coverage for this match can be found here.

Playing against Luis is always interesting. From past experience playing against him, I’ve made it a priority to not let his fast pace affect the way I play. I think I was very close to making a mistake that would have cost me Game 1, but I took the extra time I needed to make sure that didn’t happen, and managed to win it. A few good draws may have contributed to the win as well, but that’s beside the point.

7-1

Semifinals vs. RUG
In the first two games we each take turns missing land drops until death greets us. In Game 3 I get an early Stoneforge accompanied by Sword of Feast and Famine and Mana Leak and Spell Pierce his remaining threats.

8-1
Finals vs. UW CawBlade – Josh Silvestri

Coverage for this match can be found here.
In case you’re wondering why I Mana Leaked a Spell Pierce

…it was for value.
9-1
So I ended up winning the tournament, but due to splitting with one “Shahar Shenhar,” it didn’t exactly feel like I did. In any case, the deck I played was great and there is hardly a card I would change, though Baneslayer deserves consideration over Linvala and Mortarpod could find its way into the sideboard.

Luis’s version of the deck looked pretty good, and I did a little testing with it. Lightning Bolt and Arc Trail give you an edge against the aggro decks, but cost you a lot in the Valakut matchup. Without Day of Judgment and Tectonic Edge, the matchup gets considerably harder. For now I’m going to continue playing the UW version of the deck and I would have to recommend the same to others.

For those of you who want to know how I sideboard against popular decks, I can give you a general guide:
Mirror Match (and UWr)

Out:

 

In:

 

Cutting Linvala is not something I want to do, but it’s the only card that I can really justify. If they have Cunning Sparkmages then cutting a land and a Spell Pierce (on the draw)/Mana Leak (on the play) instead would be acceptable.

Valakut
Out:

 

In:

 

You can board out an extra Linvala, and an extra Day of Judgment or up to 3 Journey to Nowhere.

Day of Judgment is worse than Journey a lot of the time, but you have to have some Days for Avenger. It helps if you know exactly what they are playing. Linvala is fine against Overgrown Battlement, but it’s usually not worth keeping in. In round 3 I brought Linvala back in because of Wall of Tanglecord.

Boros
Out:

 

In:

 

I swap Feast and Famine for Body and Mind just for the 2/2. I’m not sure if that’s completely correct, but I do know that you aren’t going to be attacking much in the early game and later on you’d generally rather have the extra creature. Keeping in Linvala over Jace or Mana Leak is acceptable, especially if they have [card]Cunning Sparkmage[/card].

RUG
Out:

 

In:

 

Day of Judgement is between 1 and 2, and between 1 and 3 Journey to Nowhere.

RUG decks tend to play various win conditions that are each good against certain cards. Avenger beats Journey to Nowhere and Gideon, but not Day or Flashfreeze. Frost Titan can’t be Flashfreezed, but can be answered with Sword of Body and Mind and Gideon. Precursor Golem is one of the best threats they can have because it costs 5 and can only be effectively answered by Day of Judgment, but most people forgo Precursor because it is weak to Lightning Bolt.

Vampires
Out:

 
In:

 

Vampires can be a difficult matchup because they have effective ways to deal with all your threats and kill you at the same time. Some Vampires players have adopted Vampire Hexmage, which makes Gideon laughable. My solution to this is to grind them out with Lifestaff and play as many fatties as possible.

Don’t forget to leave me some feedback in the comments!

Discussion

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