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Silvestri Says – Cawing in the City of (Baneslayer)Angels *Top 8*

This weekend I made top eight of the SCG Open in LA with those loveable Angry Birds. This is the second major event I’ve top eighted with straight-up CawBlade and I can’t see myself playing anything else for future Standard tournaments. Oh sure, I’ve dabbled in other decks and my Magic Online folder is full of wacky brews and even the classics of RUG and Valakut, but nothing has matched the power and consistency of CawBlade. The weekend as a whole was another strong showing with those comfortable with playing the birds of prey and I can’t really recommend anything other than CawBlade or RUG for upcoming Standard tournaments. Enough with the small talk though, here’s my list.

CawBlade, aka: CawGunBlade, aka: Mortarpod Theme Deck

 

I’m a big fan the maindeck with the exception of the two Day of Judgment which should probably be replaced especially in light of the numbers CawBlade has been putting up in the metagame. Day just doesn’t do very much against the best decks in the field and a cheaper spot removal spell would often do just as much work as Day, but at a cheaper cost. Condemn is the most likely spot removal spell to take up DOJ’s slot in the deck, since it’s amazing against Goblin Guide decks and can still be used to take out a Gideon Jura, Celestial Colonnade or Creeping Tar Pit on the cheap. Journey to Nowhere is also a reasonable pick and AJ Sacher had a build running a couple maindeck to some success.

Most of the deck is rather standard fare, so I’ll focus on the cards that not every list has switched to yet. Magnets ‘How do they work?’ of Tumbling should be standard fare in any build of WU simply because it covers so many scenarios you’d normally need a variety of cards to do justice against. Not only does it help you win Sword fights and stop any number of rumbling attackers, but it even goes the extra mile of stopping opposing Magnets from ruining your day. Magnet isn’t some high strength card, just another piece of utility that synergizes well with the deck and is cheap enough that you can play it early and leave it until it’s needed. There are matches where the card is weak, but none where the Magnet is dead and with only two in the deck it isn’t too much of a concern.

Baneslayer Angel is one of those cards that feels replaceable, but I still have yet to find anything better than a flying 5/5 life linker in the majority of matches. Sure there are cases where cards like Sun Titan or Elspeth are better, but in racing situations it’s nearly impossible to beat BSA without a Titan and she shuts down nearly everything in the mirror. I cut back from my anti-Gideon stand when I realized how many mirror matches I was potentially in line for and as a result, I cut back the maindeck BSAs to a pair with a third in the board. I like this number personally; I don’t get so many awkward draws and I still have a maindeck creature way of stabilizing and racing successfully.

Mortarpod is one of those cards that nobody thinks about because it’s simply a sweet value card and the obvious heavy hitter Sword of Feast and Famine is. Having a tutorable way to kill Lotus Cobra and Cunning Sparkmage is sweet enough for me to maindeck the card, but it does so much more in the deck. It let’s you win equipment wars against Squadron Hawk and basically lets you get value out of any excess mana you have on the table when you need to block. The fact that it’s a black creature is occasionally relevant since it chumps Phyrexian Crusader and just the toughness boost can help your guys stay alive in mirror fights. Between my own Mortarpod and Sam Pardee’s, at least six games were ended by killing opponents with Mortarpod pings. Throw in the capability to finish off ailing planeswalkers and Mortarpod has been a lot sweeter than Sylvok Lifestaff ever was.

I ran a pretty standardized sideboard with the exception of the three Spreading Seas which weren’t actually there as an anti-Valakut measure. No, they were actually what I was using against opposing CawBlades, specifically targeting the UWB build GerryT and Chapin ran at the Open. I’ve been finding that the easiest way to beat them was to Tectonic Edge them early off a double color or cutting a color entirely. At worst, they would still kill off Creeping Tar Pit, which was a fine trade any day of the week. Since my countermagic was garbage against them post-board, I decided Spreading Seas was a fine value card. It assisted Tectonic Edge in the color-screw plan, gave me more ways to knock out manlands and was a cheap cantrip in case I needed to dig for a fourth land. Against WU builds it also provides another out against Mystifying Maze which can really slow down an offense predicated around Sword of Feast and Famine, Celestial Colonnade, and Gideon Jura. Plus Seas is still a fine role-player against Valakut.

Take notice that when I said earlier that CawBlade was the best deck because of power and consistency, I meant because it has both. If we were judging the deck purely from the view of the run-goods, then RUG is the best deck in the format and you can make a case that Valakut is the most powerful deck. However these decks just lack the raw card advantage and tutoring power of CawBlade, RUG has a shifty mana-base and only gains the proceeds of Halimar Depths, Preordain, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. CawBlade on the other hand runs most of that and Squadron Hawk, Stoneforge Mystic, and Gideon Jura which puts it on another level in terms of card advantage and cards that just gain you a ton of resources on their own. That’s what I feel puts CawBlade over the top in the current metagame.

Pre-Tournament Ramblings

‘If you really want to have a broken mind, it’s a war against evolution. But quite clearly, profits are so much higher in their minds.”

I was convinced to attend the Open by my friend Ron who had a foolproof travel plan to get us there for cheap and back by Sunday evening by skipping the Legacy event. Considering I play Legacy roughly three times a year and Standard usually means playing 9 rounds the day before, this was not a big loss and a 50 dollar trip was the most reasonable LA trip I’ve had in a while. With a group which included John, Tai, Ka-Shing, Lokman, Ron, Asif and I we got in the van and started our journey to LA. I’d insert interesting stories here, but there’s not a whole lot to tell you since I-5 is mostly flat plains, cows and people who can’t drive well. On the way home I did get to make a fun little drifting turn around a 270 degree exit ramp in the van since all the back-weight meant we weren’t going to automatically slide off the side to our deaths. That woke people up for about 5 minutes after which everyone went back to sleep. At 4pm. Wimps.

A unique experience on the way down to LA came from teaching my friend Ka-Shing new words. Let me explain Ka-Shing for my home viewers: Ka-Shing speaks a mix of broken methodical English which would make you think A. He doesn’t understand English at all, B. Is making fun of you and other Asian kids at the same time, and C. Makes all his jokes hilarious since it’s all in monotone. Combine this with his default expression of a blank stare or slightly aghast look on his face and you’ll begin to imagine it. On the way down we took to calling each other any number of unprintable slang which we then had to explain to him and hear him repeat broken up in monotone syllables. I’ll definitely try to get a recording of this in the future, because I can’t get over Ka-Shing’s voice making a lot words end with ‘-tar’ and I’m pretty sure a dogtar would be a neat thing to have.

Unfortunately after arriving at our miserable hotel, I found out that some people in my car had a dark and terrible secret. They snored. This meant even with my iPod on full blast, the symphony of snoring would break through off and on and I’d awaken. Of course the degenerate fanclub playing thirteen/big-2/whatever that card game every Asian kid played in high school until 4am didn’t help things. Eventually I did get some sleep and we dragged ourselves to the tournament center.

So let’s cover the pre-tournament checklist:

Roughly 2 hours of poor sleep? Check.

Lack of food? Check.

Last-minute untested changes? Check.

Confident I would 2-3 drop due to the above? Check.

Not having Forests for Matt Nass and his mono-green deck? Check.

Jeez, if I broke any more pre-tournament regulations as drafted by the tournament checklist association, you’d think this was a Zaiem Beg PTQ report. Despite this, I’m still trying to win every game I play, so don’t get this confused with giving up, I’m merely stating that I didn’t have a great pre-game warm-up before the tournament.

Oh well, at least I have my sweet new Chun-Li playmat I drew to show off. On to the tournament itself!

Tournament Ramblings

My first round was against a WW Quest player (Edgardo Monjardin) in which I was reminded about the complexities of playing with one timer instead of MTGO clocks. Since I rarely played control until CawBlade, I’m not truly used to the idea of going to time outside of the occasional outlier, but with CawBlade it’s definitely a threat. I took too long to concede a terrible game one game two got dragged out far longer than it should have as my opponent failed to play Quest for the Holy Relic so Baneslayer Angel, and Gideon Jura dominated the late game. Unfortunately for me, my opponent was also trying to win and ended up taking quite a while to figure out how to get around my various biggums in an attempt to kill me.

As a result of the decisions we had made, we had around 11 minutes for game three, which became a drawn out struggle. At one point I had the opportunity to take a line of play that could have potentially won me the game by being aggressive with Jace, but instead I played for the draw when it became clear I couldn’t kill my opponent in time. In the end, he drew what he needed to break through, but was two turns short of killing me. The sudden shift to finishing game three in a hurry also caused my opponent to miss dropping a Sword of Body and Mind off of Stoneforge Mystic a turn early which also could have significantly changed how the game played out.

Lesson learned: If you feel the opponent is taking too long or you want a rude awakening on how slow you’re actually playing, call a judge early and ask him to watch the match for slow play. Most of the time it isn’t intentional, but that won’t make you feel much better about taking a draw when you could have a win.

The second round was against GW Allies (Noah Walters) which wasn’t too interesting except for a rather odd incident involving his 1st round opponent’s deck. See since we were in the draw bracket, we ended up sitting next to almost all of our 1st round opponents. Noah’s opponent was missing a Misty Rainforest from his deck, alerted the judge, and after about ten minutes had to run to the booth to buy a new one. Toward the end of our game one, Noah drew a card, showed his opponent and called a judge. Turned out he had accidentally gotten it in his deck (they both had black sleeves) and whoops. After a five minute break and quick discussion with Riki Hayashi, his neighbor got his Misty back; Noah got a game loss and a consolation prize of having the oddest judge call of the day.

Lesson learned: Check your deck at the end of every round!

The next three rounds were all mirror matches so they tend to blend together in my mind with the only thing sticking out being my opponents. Who I thought to be a small child (Andrew Herbelin), friendly giant (Frank Harris) and one of the fastest CawBlade players I saw all day (Robert Phan). All of them were quite cordial and most of the games were well-fought, though against each of the three I got one free win. In Herbelin’s case, I took a shot as Spell Piercing a Preordain on a hunch and very low opinion of Pierce in the mirror, so getting any value from it was worth it for me. Turned out my opponent needed that Preordain to clear away the non-lands from the top of his library and I quickly took advantage of my opponent’s misfortune. Both my other CawBlade opponents had games hurt by mulligans which I capitalized on with early pressure and a Jace to make sure the game stayed firmly in my grasp.

Probably the most interesting games were when my opponents got planeswalkers out for multiple turns, but I came back and by battling and forcing them to over commit resources to protecting their planeswalkers I managed a position that I could win from. In a long game one against Phan, I ended up value Spell Piercing a Tumble Magnet which opened up the chance for him to land a Jace shortly after, but once he bricked on Brainstorming he had few ways to stop a growing number of threats on the table. It was still very close and I ended up having to planeswalker trade both Gideon Jura and Jace, the Mind Sculptor two turns afterwards. In the end I had active Sword and Baneslayer Angel on the field and eventually overwhelmed his second Tumble Magnet and Celestial Colonnade.

Lesson learned: planeswalkers are the most important aspect of the mirror, learn when to play them, how to optimize their use and when to let them go. This isn’t something you can get out of reading an article, you really just have to play the deck and get a feel for how the match flows.

My sixth round opponent was Chris VanMeter who you may have seen on the coverage, he had a sweet Naya build, but our games were incredibly boring. He took some mulligans, got color-screwed and since I had reasonable draws he was never in either game.

Lesson learned: Free wins are nice. Variance is unfortunate. The sky is blue. Magic cards are in English.

Round seven was against Rory Draxler playing Valakut who I bantered with a bit during the match. Much like my games against Naya, none of them were all that interesting. Game one I did what CawBlade is supposed to do in the match. I dropped an early Stoneforge Mystic and Squadron Hawk, got Sword of Feast and Famine online, and dropped Jace to seal up the game. All the while I had a pair of Mana Leak just in case anything insane was to occur. Game two I got stomped in short order to little fanfare. Game three he kept a no-green source hand and I punished him hard with the same type of hand I had game one.

There was a bit of disagreement when Rory thought I saw two cards off a Jace fateseal, but after a brief judge call, it was resolved without incident. I hold no ill will toward him for the judge call, and I’d like to remind people if you think your opponent is doing something wrong intentionally or unintentionally to call a judge. Worst-case for me was a warning for looking at extra cards so I was never worried about it, but if you do get a judge called on you for something like that, do not tilt. Sam Pardee regaled me with a similar story and his opponent flipped his lid shortly after the judge call and completely threw away the game.

Lesson learned: When in doubt, call a judge and don’t tilt if one is called on you.

The final Swiss round I actually played out was against UB Tez Infect (Alexander Lapping) for the opportunity to draw into top eight. All the games were reasonably close affairs with two moments sticking out for me. The first was when I had a Mortarpod in play and a Sword of Feast and Famine equipped to it. This made it a 2/3 black creature with protection from black. Alexander had a Phyrexian Crusader on the board and swung into it mistakenly thinking the first strike would turn it into a 0/1 before it would deal any damage. I snap blocked and he immediately realized his mistake, I even understood why it happened because we were both pretty tired by this point in the day. Without the Crusader to pressure me, I was free to move around Sword of Feast and Famine and not rely on the Mortarpod token anymore which gave me a lot more room to maneuver and win the game.

For the second weird moment, I tried to Tectonic Edge an Inkmoth Nexus which had been turned into a 5/5 by Tezzeret. My friend and level two judge Alexei Gousev was sitting next to me and informed me I couldn’t do that. I believed him, even though I wasn’t quite sure if that was true and went on to to win the game with Gideon Jura killing it instead. Immediately after the game I was informed by another judge that Riki had told him that I could’ve killed the Nexus. I then later made fun of Alexei about it.

Lesson learned: Try not to get to a point where you’re playing MTG while exhausted.

Alternatively: When in doubt, appeal your judge and then make him relive his shame forever.

Top eight match against Kibler (UB Infect): I’m pretty sure everyone at one point or another has tuned into the Magic stream of a major tournament at one point or another and then been disgusted at the level of play they saw. Game one of this match was basically one of those moments, I made multiple errors when I kept changing my mind about what threats I wanted to protect against and sabotaged my own supposed gameplan of control. Long story short I lost the game rather badly and I could’ve at least held out far longer than I did if I had sequenced better. I was too scared of Phyrexian Crusader and too worried about running planeswalkers into counters when I should’ve been more aggressive once I realized he perfectly comfortable playing around what few answers I had.

One play someone asked me about was when I cast Mana Leak on an Inquisition of Kozilek despite Kibler having the 3 to pay for it. I don’t remember the exact game state, but I believe it was that I had 5 cards, Mana Leak, Tumble Magnet, Sword of Feast and Famine, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and Gideon Jura and 4 lands in play (1U open). Kibler had played his 4th land and Inquisitioned me.

My logic behind Leaking there: If he pays for Leak, I lose the Leak and likely Sword of Feast and Famine, I gain tapping him out which is mildly important if he has a Phyrexian Crusader, Contagion Clasp, or mini-Jace. If he wants to resolve one of those spells and I don’t Leak, I lose the Leak, he sees my hand anyway and resolves his spell. If I do Leak and he doesn’t pay, he can run out his spell, but my hand is safe. If I Leak and he pays (what actually happened), I lose the Leak and Sword and he’s tapped out. Perhaps that was too greedy or I was overrating the threat he could play on the board, but that’s what I was thinking at the time.

There was one other interesting decision where I fetched up a Mortarpod over my 2nd Sword of Feast and Famine, and that’s one I’ve pondered and chatted with people about and I still think it was reasonable. It buys me two poison against Crusader and can effectively shut off Inkmoth Nexus / Necropede which I felt was going to do more than a Sword on a board where I really had shown no signs of aggression to that point. Speaking of aggression, in game two I figured out a gameplan and drew a hand capable of executing it. This plan would later be known as “bash him with Celestial Colonnade and hope he doesn’t draw anything.” Which ended up being a pretty reasonable plan when my pair of 1/2s and my 4/4 knocked him down to single digits before the Colonnade was shrunken, bashing for only a wee bit a turn. Even then a timely Squadron Hawk meant he had only a few outs at 3 life and a Mana Leak sealed the deal.

Excellent! Forced a game three, had a little more time to adapt and come up with a possible plan that doesn’t involve losing to a late-game Skittles and some much needed energy in my weary body. Game three is going to be awesome! Draw seven seeing Jace, the Mind Sculptor, BSA, irrelevant expensive card and 4 land. Hm… nice slow pile that loses to Duress, pass. Six cards: A bunch of five-drops, 2 Preordain and a Mystifying Maze. Five? Land, Preordain, Squadron Hawk and Stoneforge? Best hand I could ask for really. Kibler had answers and an early Crusader meant I didn’t have time to get any late-game threats online. A desperation Jace, the Mind Sculptor on my end met a Mana Leak and I was dead next turn to a Skithiryx and Crusader attack. Handshake, chat briefly about games, temporary sadness which is tempered by a good many congrats / condolences coming to my phone*.

*The correct phrase here is of course: Boys blowin up our Phones Phones.

**Probably the funniest part of the match was when I was getting destroyed during game three and I received a phone call from one of my friends mid-match. I took it and while he was talking about top eight, congrats, etc. I was busy telling him I was busy getting destroyed and if I could call him back in three minutes. Kibler then quipped, “Oh, it’s not going to take that long.” which got a nice laugh out of everyone there. The match ended two minutes later.

This match was a good example of the power a rogue deck can have at the right time, I had heard about Kibler’s UB Infect list and in the top eight we saw each other’s lists, but just knowing the cards gave me no feel for the match. I couldn’t even go off my previous match against Infect in the tournament since Kibler’s list was so different in how it accomplished its goal and how he could disrupt my deck. With no practical experience to go off of, it was just a lot of intuitive jumps and I incorrectly assumed it would benefit me to play defensively at first. Even after I got aggressive game two, there was no reason for me to believe that was necessarily the correct strategy for the match, two games doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. Heck if you pick a Conley Woods article at random you’ll probably have already read this type of analysis, it just never really had affected me until now since most rogue deckbuilders give back many of the advantages they have with in-game errors. Obviously against a hall of famer that isn’t what you want to be counting on.

With my tournament over, my friends showed back up to the tournament site, gave me some fried rice and we went to go watch Sucker Punch. It was a good tournament.

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

Props: All of my opponents for being cordial / funny, all of my driving companions and JJ / FroTim for keeping my spirits up throughout the day with biting sarcasm and wildly inappropriate remarks
To everyone that came up to me and told me they liked my articles
To John Pham and Michael Sohn for loaning me the cards necessary to play
To the judging staff
Sam Pardee for making top eight

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