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Silvestri Says – I Fought the Caw and the Caw Won

This past weekend I came in second place at the Channelfireball 5k event. This came as a bit of a surprise to me, as I was thoroughly destroyed at the 1k the night previous with 72 of 75 the same. At that point I was heavily considering a switch to a big spell deck like Valakut or UG Turboland, because I felt like CawBlade had moved in a direction where it was weak to those decks. Plus the idea of a Gruesome Encore to the events of a few hours ago was not a pleasant thought. Instead I jumped on Magic Online, smashed a couple more people and felt it correct to stick with the deck I had been planning on running with two swaps. As it turned out Mortarpod was/is the nuts and Linvala, Keeper of Silence was very well-positioned for the tournament so the three slots mattered a lot more than I thought, more on those later.

As for the 5k itself most of my matches weren’t that interesting and I didn’t take notes, so rather than bore you with a tournament report, I’ll recap the matches & results I had. After that, we can jump right into what makes my list different from other versions currently available and what you can do in the future against the Caw menace. First the Angry Birds list I was playing:

And my matches, only counting matches actually played out:

Round 1: R/G Oddness (Mimic Vat, All is Dust, and Liquimetal Coating)
G: 1-1-1, M: 0-0-1
Round 2: UWr CawBlade
G: 2-1, M: 1-0-1
Round 3: Kuldotha Red
G: 2-1, M: 2-0-1
Round 4: RUG
G: 2-1, M: 3-0-1
Round 5: RUG
G: 2-0, M: 4-0-1
Round 6: Good man Kyle Eck scoops me into T8
Round 7: ID
QF: Valakut
G: 2-1, M: 5-0-1
SF: Valakut – Coverage Here
G: 2-0, M: 6-0-1
Finals: UW – Michael Hetrick – Coverage Here
G: 0-2, M: 6-1-1

Tally:
2 Valakut
2 RUG
UWr CawBlade
CawBlade
Kuldotha Red
Rogue

Played against real decks pretty much the entire day, and the one match I lost was against a better player and better copy of the deck for the mirror. People told me UWr has a natural edge on UW, but honestly I never saw that bare out either online or off. I think people tend to overstate the usefulness of Cunning Sparkmage, because without a Basilisk Collar, all it’s doing is killing Hawks and pings planeswalkers. That’s annoying, but hardly any sort of a gamebreaker until it has deathtouch equipped to it. Meanwhile you always have the traditional answers of Gideon Jura, Day of Judgment, or Divine Offering, or you can go one step beyond using Linvala.

LSV and company came to the table with maindeck Arc Trail, which is something a bit more worrying since it can get more value and occasionally team up with the Sparkmage to take out a suited up creature. Of course as he mentioned in his own article, UWr has the distinct disadvantage of losing out on Tectonic Edge and being more vulnerable to Tectonic Edge due to the extra color strain. A number of matches online and the one UWr I played in the tournament I took games off of purely because of a destroyed UW dual knocking them off UU or WW for a number of turns. The average UWr list also lacks any effective way to take out a Colonnade outside of besting it in combat or corner cases like double Lightning Bolt or Sparkmage-Collar. This puts their set of Jace and Gideon at more of a risk than in the UW mirror, though this can be worked around if people adopt cards like BSA, Frost Titan or Tumble Magnet.

I prefer UW because I don’t think there’s anything UWr has that UW can’t match with a little work and still reap the benefits of a better mana-base and Tectonic Edge. Yeah I can’t match the versatility of Lightning Bolt, but if you give me the choice of casting Oust or Bolt in any non-mirror, I’m almost always taking Oust. Quick rundown of all the cards Oust turns into a joke: Overgrown Battlement, Lotus Cobra, Steppe Lynx, Plated Geopede, Signal Pest, Fauna Shaman, and Cunning Sparkmage (usually). Oust just gives you a great pseudo-removal spell that’s in color and sometimes more powerful than Lightning Bolt. Mortarpod is another spell that’s colorless, tutorable, can sneak through counters via Stoneforge Mystic, and after killing Sparkmage, can equip later and shut down opposing Hawks. I think even UWr should consider one since being able to find it on turn two and kill a Lotus Cobra, Sparkmage or Steppe Lynx on turn three before it goes to work can just be huge.

As for other alterations in my deck, the most notable other than Oust are the four Baneslayer Angel. As I wrote on my Facebook page earlier this week, it seemed like every single anti-Caw deck was vulnerable to a turn five Baneslayer. While written off due the vulnerability to Jace, the Mind Sculptor and previously being too slow for the format, I like where she sits in the current metagame. Sure she isn’t the dominant force she once was, but she still does a fine job of slaughtering Boros and Red players. Plus when people don’t answer her, she’s actually pretty useful in matches like RUG, Vampires, Vengevines and even the mirror since she just trumps everything with first strike and gaining 5-7 a turn is pretty impressive. I definitely shouldn’t have run the full set maindeck, but I think two is a good number if you’re worried about Boros, Red or Vengevine decks.

Of course I can’t talk about five-drops without bringing up the biggest omission from my UW list, Gideon Jura. Time to let people in on the truth, I only had access to one on Magic Online and as a result, it never really impressed me much. Most of the time it either helped me lock up a game I was probably already winning or it was a great trump in the mirror match. Once I got to playing real life games and watched others during the tournament I recognized that Gideon Jura was indeed an amazing mirror match card. Neither version of UW has very good answers to Gideon, and even if it just sits there racking up incremental bonuses, the high loyalty makes it a major pain to kill. In every other match I was not very impressed by the card though, it’s rare to snag important creatures with the -2 and while Fog is sweet, Titans don’t care what they attack and Red decks won’t be relying on their creatures heavily around that point. Gideon’s power in the Caw match can make it a worthwhile maindeck card, but I wouldn’t go overboard, two is my max.

As for other large threats, I tried Sun Titan and Admonition Angel, both of which had moments ranging from spectacular to depressing. Angel was the higher variance of the two, sometimes coming down, eating a Gideon or Jace and being able to block any opposing creature on the other side of the field, casually winning the game at leisure afterwards. Other times I would use it to eat a Titan or PW, watch it get bounced by Jace or blown up by Valakut triggers and weep as I swiftly lost the match. The good times outweighed the bad, but the bad ones were incredibly tilting and led me to ax them at the last minute. Sun Titan was the final card I cut from the maindeck after I decided not to maindeck mirror match trumps and even then it would have had to beat out Linvala for space. I think a singleton Sun Titan can be worthwhile and it’ll definitely win you a long game when Tectonic Edge is involved in the proceedings. That’s about it for major creatures; I didn’t see Frost Titan ever being more useful as BSA or any of the other six-drops, and everything else either sucks or is better served as a Gideon or Elspeth Tirel.

The final note I’d like to add about the maindeck is the lack of a Sword of Body and Mind and the use of a 2nd Feast and Famine in its stead. Times I’ve wanted to tutor for and play a SOBAM has been in the single digits. Meanwhile the times I’ve lost a SOFAF to artifact removal or discard and wanted another one have been more significant in my experience. I just don’t ‘get’ SOBAMl; it’s quaint as Jace protection, but that’s the only practical purpose it served me outside of corner cases of milling away Valakut’s Mountains.

Well that covers the maindeck, so let’s throw in some token thoughts on the sideboard, shall we? The amount of anti-mirror tech is going to depend on how much of a maindeck slant you have, so going with the rough assumption you have 10 sideboard slots, here’s what I think you should be using your sideboard space on. If you want to beat Valakut on merits that don’t include good draws and Ousting Lotus Cobra, then I highly suggest the full regiment of Flashfreeze. I didn’t run them because I suspected there would be little Valakut in contrast to other decks in the field. Then I played through two in a row in the top eight, matches where I felt I was the underdog because I lacked the hard counters my old UW decks had.

See here’s the dark dirty secret of the Valakut vs. CawBlade match. Valakut with Summoning Traps is going to win pretty much every long game and CawBlade has to be the aggressor without real countermagic. Valakut can absorb SOFAF shot or two, and force through a Primeval Titan or Avenger of Zendikar and if it doesn’t die that same turn, UW will lose. Flashfreeze means you can play a long game though, especially if you also have Dispel in the board, since that gives you up to 12 counters and plenty of anti-Primeval cards. That said, I had no Flashfreeze and won both my Valakut matches (Despite maindeck Summoning Trap), so I don’t feel the match is unwinnable by any stretch. Versions with Lotus Cobra maindeck are especially at risk since Oust wrecks their tempo and also makes Battlement into a terrible early play.

Speaking earlier about Dispel, that’s another card I like running in the sideboard as cheap way to keep my creatures and swords alive against Nature’s Claim, Lightning Bolt, etc. Against Valakut it actually hits Summoning Trap, Harrow, and the aforementioned utility for just a single U, which many opponents aren’t expecting (Playing around Spell Pierce, are ye? TOO BAD!). There isn’t want for too many Dispel and I understand if they feel too narrow for some people, but increasing the hard counter count is important in some matches and this is one of the easiest ways of doing so.

Divine Offering is a card I’ve slowly been souring on. Mortarpod, Linvala, and Twisted Image solve the Sparkmage issues in the UWr match and I’ve never felt an overwhelming need to murder equipment in the mirror. Sometimes the Swords can make life hairy, but I’d rather have a card like Tumble Magnet, which has more uses in offense and defense than a card my opponent is already expecting and won’t just walk his SOFAF into. I would lower the number to two if I had room and possibly excluding it altogether for Tumble Magnet.

Cards like Condemn, Day of Judgment, and Sylvok Lifestaff all fall under the anti-aggro plan and all are valid for those purposes. Condemn actually was a bit worse than I had anticipated if only because it didn’t stop battle cry from triggering. If you don’t run a maindeck Mortarpod, I would suggest one in the sideboard; it’s yet another blocker / removal spell and amazing with Squadron Hawk, just like Lifestaff. You could also choose to run the 4th Oust or Tumble Magnet in this section of anti-aggro cards, but I prefer a more varied removal suite other than the possibility of going up to four Days.

Kor Firewalker’s role is the same that it’s always been, but people were cutting him from lists for other cards and you have to consider whether that’s going to be right for you. Even though it was more Patrick Sullivan that won SCG Edison than just the pile of red cards in his hands, people will see the list and attempt to emulate his success with little regard to the actual reasons for why he won. Lacking a card of particular value in the match and also good in the Boros match may be fine for some WU players, but for others I would suggest leaving the training wheels on. I have a healthy respect for RDW and similar decks, so I don’t mind sacrificing the slots.

That’s it for now; I’m focusing on the deck and reasoning behind certain choices instead of the match breakdowns, because I don’t feel like I have enough experience to really break them down. Most of them are obvious in what the essentials are, but I couldn’t begin to tell you about hand selection or the particulars of the mirror. I’ll leave those types of match dissections to those better versed in them. As always, good luck to those with tournaments this weekend and feel free to e-mail me for suggestions and advice.

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

Bonus advice: To those who want to beat Angry Birds and don’t like any of the current options, I suggest looking into Naya and Bant Fauna Shaman decks. Matt Nass played a very interesting Bant aggro deck that won the 1k the night before the 5k and had some success with. Look for his article this week on it. Meanwhile Naya is just an aggressive variant of the WUr deck, trading in counters and Jace for the Fauna Shaman, Vengevine, Squadron Hawk trifecta while still having access to all the equipment and removal UWr has.

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