Hey everyone! Brian here. Mike and I went to the Star City Games Open series in nearby Charlotte, NC, on April 30. We only played in the Standard Open, since neither of us wanted to stay in town overnight and we didn’t have Legacy decks. I want to talk to you about the event, but I also want to talk to everything that went into getting ready. Since constructed is just as much about what you bring as how you use it (sometimes more, sometimes less), simply saying that I showed up with a Caw-Blade variant shortcuts much of the process.
It’s worth noting that this was the last Standard Open before the introduction of New Phyrexia to the Magic world. This means that when I was preparing for the tournament, the format was extremely well-defined and rich in Caw-Blade. I primarily tested against four decks, those being Caw-Blade, RUG, Valakut, and Mono-Red, using the decklists from the most recent SCG Opens. While there were a number of other viable decks, including BR Vampires and Tezzeret, I figured that these would be the most popular decks to play, along with having the most proven track records.
I’m all about innovation, and I can’t stand to play just stock decklists. Nevertheless, in the past I have felt that I haven’t done as well at Constructed tournaments as I could. I was afraid that my insistence on playing home brew decks was holding me back despite my playing abilities. I’m not claiming here that I’m the best player (far from it), but without using a good deck it was impossible to tell. Therefore, when I started designing my deck I immediately began working with a Caw-Blade deck.
I was drawn to the Esper/Dark- Blade deck that became noticed after Gerry Thompson piloted one to a first-place finish. The thought of using Inquisition of Kozilek to disrupt Stoneforge Mystic, Swords, Squadron Hawk, and essentially any card in Mono-Red was very tempting. The deck ultimately seemed to perform sub-optimally against the straightforward WU Caw-Blade, which is probably why the deck stopped posting Top 8 finishes, but the power of Inquisition was inspiring. I began to test a Mono-Black deck that utilized the one-cost discard spells of Inquisition and Duress, efficient threats like Nantuko Shade and Phyrexian Cruader, a variety of removal spells with Doom Blade, Go for the Throat, and Disfigure, and the closing power of Mind Sludge (so good!), Grave Titan, and Wurmcoil Engine.
Mono-Black actually posted some impressive results against Caw-Blade and RUG, but did very poorly against Mono-Red and Valakut. Casting Mind Sludge was almost always a huge swing in my favor, but those decks actually did the best job of bouncing back. Meanwhile, the deck simply didn’t have enough deck manipulation to draw the appropriate spells for the appropriate situations, which is very important when the roles of the utility spells are so clearly defined. The takeaways from playing Mono-Black were how good creature removal is right now against a variety of threats, including man-lands and animated Gideons. Sword of Feast and Famine was a killer, though.
Next, I tried out a Venser deck, and it just lacked follow-through. That’s when it hit me: what does Venser really bring to a deck? His first ability allows for exploitation of ETB effects, like Squadron Hawk and Stoneforge Mystic, as well as resetting other ‘walkers. His second ability makes sure that creatures wielding Swords get through. He’s W and U. Get it? Venser hearts Caw-Blade!
I ended up taking a lot of the knowledge that I used from testing and compiled it into a deck, then continued to test to see what actually worked and where the numbers should come out. The result was this:
Non-Creature Spells (33)
4x Mana Leak
2x Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2x Venser, the Sojourner
2x Spell Pierce
2x Doom Blade
2x Day of Judgment
2x Contagion Clasp
2x Tumble Magnet
1x Sword of Body & Mind
1x Sword of Feast & Famine
Some brief explanation may be required, especially regarding some numbers. When I was putting the deck together I constantly questioned having so many 2-ofs for utility spells, but each one serves a function. In the end a more focused deck might have placed higher, but this was the deck that suited me best. Also, having 3 Squadron Hawks was probably a mistake, and the Wall should have come out, but blinking the Wall with Venser was living the dream and I wanted to at least allow the possibility.
I hope that I don’t have to explain having Phyrexian Crusaders maxed out, because they’re awesome. Some questioned their presence, since they and the Inkmoth Nexuses are the only sources of poison, so they would seem to be awkward when drawn when the opponent is at 5 life after being beat down (or not drawing any more when the poison count gets high). The truth, however, is that one Crusader will usually end the game within 3 turns thanks to having Swords. I actually value their built-in protection higher than any of the Swords, including War & Peace, because there’s no window of opportunity for the opponent to respond to the equip with a Lightning Bolt. Pretty much the only time they died at all was to Day of Judgment, and even a single Crusader demanding a sweeper is a sign of a good card. The Crusader, in fact, is a big reason why I ran a Sword of Body & Mind instead of two Feast & Famine, since giving him Pro-Blue was so much more important. Crusader with Protection from Jace is really game most of the time.
I ended up in 150th place out of 375-ish players, so I’m actually pretty happy. Anyone that’s surprised by this doesn’t realize just how hard it is to play well against so many good players, and I look forward to trying my hand again sometime. Here’s the obligatory round-by-round account of how I got there.
Vs James – WG Cawblade w/Vengevine
He wins the roll and goes first. As a side note, he’s paired actually sitting next to his wife, which I find pretty cool. He plays a turn 2 Fauna Shaman, I do nothing. He passes with mana up to Shamanize. I play a turn 3 Phyrexian Crusader, which immediately puts him in trouble; he ditches a Vengevine to search up something I can’t remember. I attack and play Jace, bouncing the Shaman. He considers his options and animates a Stirring Wirewood to kill Jace. That’s fine, I just keep attacking. He tries a last-ditch Gideon, but I have the Spell Pierce.
Game 2, he plays a turn 2 Birds of Paradise and a turn 3 Mirran Crusader. I have a turn 3 M Crusader as well, and when he attacks, I trade them (gladly, since it’s hard for me to answer otherwise. I spend some time killing his stuff, including Clasping his Birds since he’s stuck on 2 lands. When I’m ready, I play out a P Crusader and equip the Sword of Body & Mind. He plays a Stoneforge and gets Feast & Famine. I swing for 4 poison and he ends up with 2 Vengevines in his graveyard thanks to the mill. He untaps and plays two green creatures, attacking with the Vines and the equipped Stoneforge, but I can’t really lose. I play it safe and animate my Inkmoth Nexus to block the Stoneforge, dropping from 19 to 11. I proliferate at his end of turn, untap, and end the game.
Vs Stephan – RUG
I keep an opening hand with two land, a Stoneforge, a Squadron Hawk, both Jaces, and a Mana Leak. Awesome, except I don’t get above 3 land. His Jace bounces my Hawks and I concede after he resolves a Precursor Golem and I don’t draw a land or an answer.
Game 2 is much more interesting, and very long. He has a ton of mana acceleration, but not a lot of threats that survive my removal. Mistakes were made on both parts; on mine, I could have protected my Jace from an attacker, but when he tapped my Sun Titan with a Tumble Magnet, I forgot I had a Mnemonic Wall to block with. Ultimately, my Titan got there. When he’s holding a sword and I attack, he gang-blocked with his remaining Golem token and the original Precursor and immediately Lightning Bolted it, but I had been intending to use Disfigure on the golems anyway. I ended up winning on turn one of extra turns, and the match is a draw.
Vs David – WU Cawblade
Not a lot to say here. I answer his Jace with my own, then play my second, but his Hero of Bladehold is awesome. It swings in unanswered twice, and that’s pretty much it. I didn’t get above 4 lands, which certainly didn’t help, but he probably would have won regardless.
Game 2, I land a Crusader. That means I win, right? Well, no, thanks to everyone’s favorite ‘walker. My Crusader gets bounced with Jace and more Hero shenanigans means I lose. At least I got in 3 poison between the Crusader and Inkmoth! David was a great guy and he brought a great deck, and it was good (great?) to see that his individual card selection with the Hero worked so well.
Vs Chad – WU Cawblade
I resolve P Crusader and give him a Sword of Body and Mind. Both games. It’s not even close. I’d love to say more about this round, but I didn’t take much in the way of notes. I do recall that game two was more drawn out, since he answered two Crusaders in a row with Day of Judgment, but Inkmoth Nexus stepped in to finish the job.
Vs Joe – WU Cawblade
Game 1 I get beat down by birds holding Sword of Feast and Famine. That’s pretty much how that works, especially when I don’t get above 3 mana.
Game 2 I beat down with P Crusader. I tell you, the look on an opponent’s face when I resolve one is just priceless, because you can tell that no one plays it outside of dedicated infect (something I consider a mistake, obviously). Once they realize what it does, there is a look of desperation. Equipping Sword of Body & Mind for Pro-Jace usually seals the deal, and that’s what happens here.
In game 3 he has out Gideon but continues to use his +2 so that he doesn’t lose to my Crusader and Hawk. We go to time on turn 4 or 5; it becomes obvious neither of us can win. I play defense just to make sure (offense really not an option, thanks to Gideon). On turn 4 (his), he uses Jace’s ultimate and I now have two cards for a library (Doom Blade and Divine Offering). I’m at 16 and he’s at 22 (no poison) when we are done.
Vs Nicholas – Pyromancer Ascension
In game 1 he gets out 3 Ascensions, 2 fully leveled, but runs out of steam and draw cards. Along the way he blows up two Stoneforge Mystics and a Hawk. I eventually get out Crusader and equip with Body & Mind, swinging in for the first four poison. He draws Lightning Bolt, which takes me to 1 (although I could have countered a copy), then I untap and equip Feast & Famine for the win.
Game 2 he mulligans on the play, and I have the turn 0 Leyline of Sanctity. Must be nice to be me, sometimes (although not all that often) He apparently kept a 1-land (Island) hand, holding a full grip of burn and at least one Ascension. I play a Stoneforge, equip it, and win with him and my loyal wolf tokens. We discuss the game for a while, and he seems convinced that the deck does poorly if it has to mulligan at all. The deck seems potentially poised for a comeback with NPH , so be on the lookout.
Vs Brian – UG Vengevine (90)
Alas. Game 1 I get beat down by Vengevines. I’d love to say more, but it’s a documented fact that Vengevines start each day with a healthy breakfast of Squadron Hawks. I do land a Phyrexian Crusader, but without a Sword for Pro-Green backup, it’s forced to chump block to keep me alive. Jace restocked his hand after playing out his creatures, and I couldn’t keep up.
Game 2 was interesting, off to a slower start. On turn four I was doing fine with lands, except that I only had one white source. I had two Stoneforges, one of which blocked his Vengevine (his first play of the game). The other was holding both swords, and when I attacked on turn 5 he used Nature’s Claim to destroy the Body & Mind. I untapped and cast Memoricide after combat, naming Vengevine. His hand was an Island (his sixth land) and Frost Titan. That explains why he blew up that particular sword! I die before I draw a second white source for the two Days of Judgments in my hand. He shows me that the turn after I Memoricided, he drew Consecrated Sphinx, so he could have pulled ahead anyway with the card advantage. Regardless, I still had no way to capitalize, and I was done.
Now thoroughly out of top-16 contention, tired, and not really wanting to keep Mike waiting through two more rounds (he had dropped out after round 6), I dropped. The resulting pizza was rather good. Overall, I had a great time, and I’d encourage anyone with either the means or the proximity to attend an Open Series event. It was managed very well and presented a great opportunity to stretch my playing and deckbuilding skills. Just remember that, even if you don’t finish in the top spot, make sure you bring a deck you love to play. It’s more fun that way, and who doesn’t want to have fun for 10 rounds?
Thanks for reading!