Dissecting Standard Caw-Go, Worlds 2010

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Welcome back to The Brewery! I hope this middle-of-the-night writeup goes over well enough; Worlds 2010 is going on literally as I write this! I had no plans on writing anything tonight, and then I saw this exceptional brew played to a 6-0 record by Brian Kibler:

Caw-Go, as played by Brian Kibler

Last time I wrote about UW Control at The Brewery, it was Kyle Sanchez' take on the deck during TCGplayer's Wizard World Series in Austin, TX. Kyle Sanchez later wrote about his win with what he thought was the best deck in Standard. Today's UW "Caw-Go" from Worlds has a much different take on the classic Control combination.

First, let me say that this is one of the coolest decks I have ever seen. To be honest, I was getting a little sick of the current Standard format. Extended has been drawing more and more of my attention and concentration when it came to brewing up new decks or tweaking established archetypes.

Why is Squadron Hawk so awesome?

The simpler question might just be what doesn't? Let's start with the most obvious card choice: Squadron Hawk. Notice that this deck eschews UW stalwart, Wall of Omens (more on this later), and that Squadron Hawk is the only true creature that this deck offers. Squadron Hawk provides 4 primary functions:

o A reshuffle effect after Jace, the Mind Sculptor Brainstorms for you.

o An automatic 4-of blocker against Aggro decks.

o Explosive, easy to find, & difficult-to-answer win condition against other Control decks.

o Evasive attacker against opposing Planeswalkers.

Squadron Hawk has been finding its place in Standard over the last few weeks, and it should be no surprise why. In terms of sheer card advantage, casting one Hawk offers up drawing 3 cards; you're guaranteed to draw three more Squadron Hawks, but it's a lot closer to "Draw 3 cards"-style card advantage than typically credited for. Boros; White Weenie; GW, Naya, and Bant Fauna Shaman; UW Control... All now often turn to Squadron Hawk for any or all of its 4 major roles.

In short, Squadron Hawk is really good.

Removal Suite

UB Control gets Doom Blade. UR Control gets Lightning Bolt. UW Control gets... Condemn or Journey to Nowhere? Clearly, the strength of UW over the other Blue-based Control options isn't on the back of its superior spot removal (though notice how both choices can be pretty awesome against Vengevine). Instead, White gets to turn to a pretty slick group of mass removal spells. First and foremost is obviously Day of Judgment. Caw-Go plays 3 copies in the maindeck and the 4th in the sideboard. Alongside Day of Judgment in the "mass removal" category is Gideon Jura. Make no mistake: Gideon Jura's Assassinate ability only kills 1 creature at a time, but his +2 ability can neutralize an entire board full of creatures every bit as well as Day of Judgment in the right circumstance.

Gideon isn't the only Planeswalker on this list. Jace, the Mind Sculptor could probably get a whole heading of his own, but for our purposes each ability will be separated. Jace's Unsummon is 1-part spot removal, 1-part general utility spell ala Into the Roil. Most often used is obviously his Fateseal or Brainstorm, but having the ability to Unsummon can be critical as well. Either way, Jace functions as pseudoremoval in a deck already laden with removal.

Where's Wall of Omens?

Wall of Omens has been a pretty automatic 4-of in UW Control decks since Rise of the Eldrazi. Incidentally, it was also featured in one of Brian Kibler's most recent well-known Standard decks, Next Level Bant. I thought it was a pretty good choice too, and Kyle Sanchez agreed. I ended up coming to the conclusion that Wall of Omensplayed so well with White's mass removal suite (by trying to force an opponent to overextend into a Wrath to attack past the Wall), and that it most likely replaced the automatic playset of Preordain that UB and UR Control have been playing universally. Caw-Go takes the opposite approach, completely dumping the Wall in favor of Preordain. I have to admit, I've been a huge fan of Preordain. It's one of my favorite cards ever printed, and it's exceptionally powerful.

When I play Blue-based Control decks, I find myself casting my first Preordain later and later in the game, even if it's in my opening hand. The exception would, of course, be if I need to dig for a land drop. But it sure as hell makes me happy to see my opponent cast it on turn 1, especially blindly on the play! Note to all of you out there: "Scry 2, then draw a card" gets much, much better as your drawing needs become better defined. Even in Pyromancer Ascension, I've often been saving my Preordains. Your mileage may vary.

Spell Pierce is Awesome, and Other Thoughts on Countermagic

I'll say it again: Spell Pierce is awesome. Not only is it such a huge surprise to an opponent not expecting it (And certainly never expecting 4 copies! Maybe we all will now?), but it can often be just as good as Mana Leak but for half the cost. Think of the type of spells you're going to Mana Leak in the most important matchups: Against any deck with Summoning Trap, you're rarely going to Mana Leak a non-creature spell if you can afford to, and in the same situation, how often do you find yourself with a single U untapped when that Summoning Trap actually does hit the stack? In either case, Spell Pierce works almost as well, especially when backed up by a set of truly hard counters. Stoic Rebuttal will never have Metalcraft turned on (Notice Caw-Go's lack of both Ratchet Bomb and, perhaps more notably, Everflowing Chalice in a format full of ramping strategies), and Deprive has the nasty side effect of setting you back a turn, but both answer Primeval Titan, Avenger of Zendikar, Grave Titan, and any other card that Negate, the format's alternative "hard" counter, cannot touch.

The most intriguing portion of this decklist may be the 2-of Mana Leak. It's certainly unconventional, but I surmise that the convention is simply wrong. Deckbuilders have been lazy by assuming that every Blue-based Control deck in this format needs to start with 4 Mana Leak. I know I sure have been. If you tend to just swipe decks of The Internet without paying much attention (let's face it, we all have at times), some of these nuances might not seem like such a big deal. But as someone who looks through a lot of decklists, Caw-Go is really cool.

Card Advantage

Almost everything in this deck provides solid (real or "virtual") card advantage. Going down the list, Squadron Hawk, Day of Judgment, Gideon Jura, Jace Beleren, Jace the Mind Sculptor, Preordain, Elspeth Tirel & Spreading Seas either draw cards, "draw" cards, provide card selection, removal multiple threats at once, or provide other utility while replacing itself. In Elspeth's case, she provides card advantage in the way every Planeswalker should by providing another powerful Sorcery every turn. Notice that this list includes every single nonland win condition in this deck. Can any other deck in Standard say that? It's a fairly varied threat selection as well, with Squadron Hawk, Gideon Jura, and Celestial Colonnade providing wins via damage and Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Jace Beleren providing alternate win conditions as well (with Brian Kibler claiming 50% of his match wins at Worlds due to Jace, the Mind Sculptor himself).

Every single other nonland card in the deck is either efficient 1-for-1 removal or a Counterspell. Again, awesome. No gimmicks, no shenanigans, just Control, Card Advantage, and Kill.


UW Control has the second best manabase in Standard behind UB Control, with the only difference being Celestial Colonnade versus Creeping Tar Pit. However, Celestial Colonnade is good for most of the same reasons as Creeping Tar Pit: They're both evasive manland threats, and they both combine with other threats in the deck to create 2- or 3-turn clocks in the blink of an eye.

However, there are a few lands to make note of, especially for novices to the archetype or format.

Arid Mesa and Scalding Tarn are included to reshuffle the deck after a Jace, the Mind Sculptor Brainstorm. I suppose they can also be used to shuffle the deck in case an opposing Jace, the Mind Sculptor Fateseals you. This is very much a deck based around abusing Jace, the Mind Sculptor as much as possible.

Tectonic Edge is huge in so many matchups, and the 4th copy lives in the sideboard. It can come in for Control matchups or against Valakut, and having the flexibility to increase the deck's land count against other Blue Control decks is impressive. The deck plays just 26 lands in the maindeck, but between both Preordain and the 27th land, this deck is well-suited to mirror matches.

Remaining Sideboard Cards

Celestial Purge is an easy answer to Vampires and Dark Tutelage, and it provides additional Instant-speed removal against the Red decks of the format (Including against Koth of the Hammer!). Flashfreeze fills a similar catch-all role against both Red and Green. Extra copies of Day of Judgment, Condemn, Jace Beleren, Deprive, and 3/4s of a playset of Spreading Seas round out what is an incredibly interesting collection of 75 cards. One thing I can say for certain is that UW Control, and specifically this version with Squadron Hawk, is one of the top decks in Standard. It would probably be my top choice for a tournament right now, though I have an admitted distaste for the current RG Valakut decks for various reasons.

So, what's the verdict. Off-hours articles on breakout Standard (or Extended!) decks from Worlds/Pro Tours: Yea or Nay in the future?

Thanks for reading 🙂

Dylan Lerch
@dtlerch on Twitter
dtlerch at gmail dot com
The Brewery

Addendum: It's been made clear, through @torerotutor, @MacAree, and others that I took for granted as obvious the coolest interaction between Squadron Hawk and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. It goes like this:

Cast Squadron Hawk, finding his 3 buddies. Beg Jace, the Mind Sculptor to Brainstorm for you, and then put back 2 Squadron Hawks to the top of your library. Cast Squadron Hawk #2, shuffling your library and netting you 2 of his buddies. You're now +2 Squadron Hawks and +3 random cards in hand from the beginning.

Brainstorm again next turn, and return 1 Squadron Hawk to the top of your library. You can probably count on some number of cards in hand being completely useless by this point, but you'll have to return one to the top of your library either way form Jace. Cast Squadron Hawk #3, finding the last Hawk and reshuffling your library once more. You've now cast 3 Squadron Hawks, leaving 1 in your hand, and drawn a net of 5 cards (Truly, draw 6 and reshuffle 1).

Turn 3 of this card advantage avalanche sees you Brainstorm, returning 2 cards to the top of your library, and you can cast your last Squadron Hawk to reshuffle any dead or undesirable cards.

Final tally is 4 Squadron Hawks in play (alive or dead) for 4WWWW over 3 turns, drawing 9 cards from Jace and reshuffling 3.

Sick. And awesome.

Thanks for all the comments, and I hope this explains part of why this deck is so freaking cool.

15 thoughts on “Dissecting Standard Caw-Go, Worlds 2010

  1. Wow, Squadron Hawks…I definitely have to try them in my UW!

    Turn 1 Preordain seems like a really huge tell that you kept a bad hand. I'll never cast it first turn unless, like you said, I need to hit a land drop.

    I love Spell Pierce, and I'd definitely consider going from 3 to 4 in my build. The SB Spreading Seas also looks devastating against Valakut.

    I really like this breakdown, and I'd like to see more in the future.


  2. Big hit. Here I was reading my Twitter feed, hearing about the deck and wondering what was in it, with a promised article by Kibler tomorrow on SCG. Now I'm not saying it won't be a good read, but it was grand to see the list and some analysis here -today- on QS. Off-hours articles are definitely welcome!

  3. Thank you for all of the kind words 🙂 I'll definitely be looking out for brand new Extended tech as the coverage breaks! Keep an eye on QS alongside for the rest of the tournament.

  4. ‘Off-hours’ articles are awesome. It means that someone like me (living down in the antipodes) can wake up to read something new!
    Very interesting take on U/W control.

    1. Sounds awesome, Corbin. This Extended format has so far been extremely unpopular, and I think that once people see how incredibly cool the format is, there's going to be a pretty big spike in demand for the format's staples.

  5. One thing I'm surprised to not see, in a control deck sporting Hawk, is a Trinket Mage package. Hawk only draws you three cards once – unless you shuffle all of your dead Hawks back in with an Elixir of Immortality…

    Or do Wraths plus a heavy suite of counters mean the deck doesn't need to bother with Elixir tricks in order to succeed against RDW/Elves/Vamps?

    1. I could be mistaken, but I recall mention somewhere on The Internet (Twitter perhaps?) about some of these Squadron Hawk UW Control decks using Trinket Mage, and I think it's a fantastic direction to take the deck if/when the Spell Pierce plan gets weaker or less removal is necessary.

    2. Elixir Trinket Mage is something I've been a fan of in UB Control for a long time, though I wonder if it would just end up being superfluous here. It sure as hell seems worth testing with though! I'm not sure what I would cut to fit in in, and I think you'd want at least 2 Mages and 1 Elixir? Perhaps just 1 & 1.

      Edit: Hmm. The comment system made it appear as if that previous one didn't go through! :/

  6. Hawks with Elixir is one of the more annoying things to play against in Standard. Playing 3 Hawks as attackers/chumpers, then recycling them with Elixir is such a backbreaker against Control decks.

  7. this is a really dumb idea but I thought I'd post it anyway. I thought that maybe you could combine the squadron hawks with a mass polymorph. You play one squadron hawk and you get the rest in you hand (or on the field) and then you cast the polymorph and get 4 creatures of you choice onto the field. Not a bad deal. I know it's not really a standard competitive deck, but I figured I'd throw it out there.

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