Initial Technology: Swan Song

I don’t like Standard.

Maybe I’m spoiled from playing Vintage and Legacy (GP Chicago was awesome), but the decks just aren’t that interesting to me. A big reason for my current boredom with Standard is that all of the archetypes have been around for so long, since Lorwyn Block continues to overshadow everything else.

To see how pervasive Lorwyn Block is, take a look at the major archetypes and what cards drive them:

5-Color Control

Cryptic Command
Volcanic Fallout
Vivid Lands
Reflecting Pool

Kithkin and Boat Brew

Figure of Destiny
Ranger of Eos
Windbrisk Heights
Spectral Procession


Uh, I think we know where all the Faeries cards come from.

BW Tokens

Windbrisk Heights
Spectral Procession
Cloudgoat Ranger

I realize that Alara Block isn’t fully fleshed out, but the ratio isn’t close to being close. I for one will be pretty happy once all that nonsense rotates out, regardless of how much I happen to like Cryptic Command.

Still, all is not lost. I happened across a pretty interesting deck at the Superstars 5k two weeks ago, and by “happened across” I mean “got run over by”. Merlin Catterall-Davis, the eventual winner, defeated me in two straight games with Blue-Red Swans. I was aware of the deck before that, since Shuhei and some of the other Japanese ran it at Pro Tour Kyoto, but I didn’t really know much more than that.

Merlin’s performance at the 5k, as well as GerryT’s insistence that the deck was good, made me take a look at the deck. After defeating me, Merlin went on to beat Josh Utter-Leyton, who was playing almost the same 75 as me. I suppose it is slightly more accurate to say I was playing the same deck as him, since Josh was the one who actually built the deck, but credit is meant to be stolen. Plus, I have some experience with Blue-Red Swans. A whole six rounds, but that’s all it took to be a master of all things Swans-related.

Starting with Shuhei’s original deck:

Now this was a deck that looked interesting. It actually reminded me of the old Counter-Burn decks from years far in the past, even if the spells have mostly gotten worse. I mean who would trade Counterspell and Force of Will for Broken Ambitions, Cryptic Command, and Remove Soul, given the choice?

The gameplan is pretty simple, since every card in the deck can be slotted into four categories:

Lands (not too exciting, but I just know if I say all the cards go into three categories someone will point out that “lands” is a fourth, since I probably would)

Counterspells (sweet!)

Card Draw (starting to see why I like this deck?)

Burn/Removal (this would just be “burn”, but Plumeveil isn’t burn, even if it is definitely just a removal spell)

I pretty much counted Swans as card draw, since that is the main function of them. While they do eventually kill the opponent, that is definitely less important than drawing cards. Such simplicity is very appealing, and if it can actually compete, well then all the better.

Since I knew GerryT was testing Swans for the upcoming Indy 5k, I bothered him for a list. He tried cutting the Swans/Assault and just running a straight UR control deck, but apparently that didn’t pan out. The list he gave me was pretty close to Shuhei’s list, and after some tinkering with it, I ended up running the following in a few MTGO events:

Swans 2.0

The maindeck was basically the same as Shuhei’s, with just a few changes. An extra land (since Gerry loves land), and a swap of the 2 Negate and Volcanic Fallout for the 4th Broken and a miser’s Banefire was the extent of it. The sideboard was the main difference, since Goblin Assault didn’t seem very impressive. I also cut Swerve, since despite the blowout potential, it seems a bit inconsistent for my tastes. I will elaborate more on the sideboard a bit later, but suffice to say that it is actually less random than some of the sideboards I like to run.

I played in a bunch of 2 and 4 man queus before running it in any Premier Events. My win percentage in the queus was acceptable, although not insane. Nobody seemed to be running Faeries anymore, so it was mostly just Kithkin and 5-CC, with some smatterings of randomness. I was pretty satisfied with how Swans was doing, and it was a blast to play. Some conveniently timed Standard PE’s popped up, and it was time to take it to the (slightly bigger) show.











The second PE went much better, as I ended up losing in top 4. True to form, Guttural Response was key in two of my rounds, as I battled against 5-CC something like four times in the swiss. We kept getting into a big counterwar, and the mana advantage of Negates and Gutturals really was the difference. They usually have Negates, but Cryptic plus Negate is almost always going to lose to Cryptic plus Negate plus Guttural. I also even play an extra land, since most 5-CC lists have 26, and just about all of mine comes into play untapped.

My loss in the top 4 was this strange deck with Bitterblossom, Glorious Anthem, and Spectral Procession. Honestly, where do people get these terrible decks? I got destroyed by Ajani Goldmane two games in a row, since if Ajani resolves, their army soon becomes unkillable. Sometimes not having actual Wrath of Gods sucks, but it is probably for the best that Blue cannot yet summon that power on its own.

That about ended my online adventure with Swans, since my attention was soon drawn to other things. I wish I could go on about how Gerry won the 5k with Swans, but sadly he went something like 2-2. I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t provide some sort of sideboarding / matchup analysis, even if such things don’t remain relevant for very long. Luckily there aren’t very many good decks right now, so it won’t take as long as say, Extended.

5-Color Control

(5-CC although I have been calling it 5-CC the whole article, so if you got to this point without figuring it out I don’t know how much help that is)

This is by far the most commonly played deck in Standard, both online and in live events. Between it winning the Pro Tour (so lucky) and it playing all sorts of powerful interesting cards, people seem to love this deck. It makes sense, especially since people will take any excuse NOT to play Faeries.

Game one against 5-CC can be a little dicey, since you have a ton of dead cards. Pyroclasms are the worst, followed by Plumeveils and Volcanic Fallouts. These cards aren’t totally dead, as Plumeveil DOES block Mulldrifter, and double Pyroclasm sure deals with Broodmate. Still, siding them out definitely makes post-boarded games much more favorable.

Side out: 4 Pyroclasm, 3 Plumeveil, 2 Volcanic Fallout, 1 Swans of Brynn Argoll
Side in: 3 Negate, 2 Guttural Response, 1 Banefire, 1 Tidings, 1 Remove Soul, 2 Pithing Needle

I add in Needle most of the time, since most 5-CC decks play some number of random planeswalkers like Elspeth or Ajani Vengeant. If they don’t appear to run any, don’t add the Needles and keep in the Swans and one of the Plumeveils.

Games against 5-CC are one big staring match that hopefully ends with a large Banefire. At some point you both fight over something important, ideally on their turn. They usually try and stick a Broodmate or Cruel Ultimatum, and once you deny that you untap and Tidings. Having Jace in play is pretty key, since once you get Jace going you really have no reason to do anything. Beware of hitting with Mutavaults, as Plumeveil is pretty annoying. Gerry likes having one Oona for this matchup, since decking them lets you ignore Wall of Reverence. I haven’t tried that plan, but the Banefire + Seismic Assault plan was working fine for me.


I lump these two decks together since the matchups play out the same way. They play guys, you Clasm them away, with a Swans in play if you are really good. Most of your losses are going to be a result of you getting too far behind, since this deck isn’t great at dealing with threats that can’t just be Clasmed away. Luckily, the deck is very good at not getting to that point, which is why all your removal is instant speed or very cheap. It is difficult for them to play around all your answers, although Burrenton Forge-Tender makes things pretty tricky for you.

Side Out on the draw: 4 Broken Ambitions, 1 Banefire, 2 Jace
Side Out on the play: 2 Broken Ambitions, 1 Banefire, 2 Jace, 2 Incinerate
Side In: 2 Volcanic Fallout, 3 Sower of Temptation, 1 Remove Soul

If the have Ajani Goldmanes, also side in the 2 Needles for 2 Incinerates/Broken Ambitions.

Sowers are just there for Forgetenders, although stealing a Knight of Meadowgrain can be pretty sweet. Yes, Sower has negative synergy with all your sweepers, but they usually have to deal with your Sower before you have to cast one anyway. Plus, it is one of the better ways to kill Forgetender. Needle is mainly for Ajani, but naming Forgetender is ok too. You generally want to slowroll Swans, since they have Paths at the ready, so tapping out turn 4 is not a good plan. Let them use up their Paths on Plumeveils, or play Swans when you have Assault out. You just want to get value out of your birds before they go farming.


The boogeyman of Standard has been relegated to Tier 2 status, or at least that’s about how often it shows up in tournaments. Swans is exactly the kind of deck that Faeries used to murder, but Volcanic Fallout and Banefire sure do a good job of changing that. You don’t even care about Bitterblossom that much, although I usually counter it on turn 2 if I can. The only times I don’t is when I have multiple Fallouts in hand already, since then I know I can just burn them out.

Side Out: 1 Swans, 4 Pyroclasm, 1 Seismic Assault
Side In: 2 Guttural Response, 1 Banefire, 1 Remove Soul, 2 Volcanic Fallout

Pyroclasm may look better than Incinerate, but I like being able to burn my opponent. Fallout and Plumeveil should keep the faerie hordes under control, with Remove Soul getting the nod to deal with Mistbind Clique. Much like the 5-CC match, you don’t really need to do much on your turn. Ideally you can wait them out, although Guttural Response is pretty good at forcing through Tidings. Yes, they can Spellstutter you, but otherwise you are pretty safe.

Boat Brew

This match ends up being a lot like Kithkin or BW, but there are some differences. Reveillark is really annoying, since once it hits play you can’t really help but to trigger it. Also, Boat Brew is less aggressive than the other two decks, so you can lean on Jace and Broken Ambitions a little more.

Side Out: 2 Incinerate, 1 Jace, 1 Swans, 1 Banefire, 1 Pyroclasm
Side In: 1 Remove Soul, 3 Sower of Temptation, 2 Pithing Needle

Beware of opposing Banefires, and try to always keep a counter up. Yes, that sounds pretty lame, but Boat Brew will consistently play a big and easy to counter threat just about every turn, so just keep countering them. Occasionally they will try and get frisky with an early Figure of Destiny, but Plumeveil is pretty good at containing that beast.

Those are all the decks I commonly see, although Green decks can be somewhat of a concern. Against decks like Bant or what have you, Sowers pretty much shine. Doran is pretty hard to deal with, so I suggest not letting him resolve. If he must enter the arena, taking him with Sower is going to be just about all you can do. Still, I don’t see much Green, since Spectral Procession does such a good job at keeping it out of the winner’s bracket.

Swans is a pretty sweet deck, and certainly got me more interested in Standard than I had been for a while. It’s fun playing an oldschool draw-go deck, and Swans feels more like that than any deck I have played for years. Before I go, I decided to add a little bonus section on the Faeries deck I played at the 5k.

A Pretty Sygg Brew

by Josh Utter-Leyton Luis Scott-Vargas

Sygg is actually quite good, since he puts pressure on the opponent while surviving Volcanic Fallout. With Sygg, you don’t have to overcommit, since they have to deal with even a small amount of guys or let you draw two cards every turn. The one-of’s are sweet, and function like the 5th Broken Ambitions, Mistbind Clique, Terror, and uh, yea. I’ll let you guys figure out which is which. I was pretty happy with the deck, and would recommend it.

Until next time,

4 thoughts on “Initial Technology: Swan Song”

  1. i’m a huge fan of urs,LSV

    checking new articles from y every single morning…..

    so glad to read ur new thoughts…

    Mead from China….

  2. I am not a fan of Swans in standard, though I love the 4c list in Extended.

    And I’m diggin’ the Faerie deck. How did you do with it? I remember playing Cutthroat when it came out in Fae, and catching shit for it from everyone.

  3. Pingback: Chasing Victory: Standard Roundup | ChannelFireball.com

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