Evaluating Trumps in CawBlade

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To every measure there is a countermeasure, and a counter-countermeasure.

Patrick Chapin wrote an article some time ago entitled Information Cascades in Magic. In it he described how information in any area, but particularly in Magic, cascades and plateaus. When everybody knows that Deck X is the best and most dominant deck, many people will play it.

Everyone knows Deck X is the best.

Later, when people are tired of losing to Deck X and its weaknesses are taken advantage of, innovations will occur. Maybe Deck X can't beat a resolved Card Y, and it will fall in popularity as Card Y becomes more widely played.

Everyone Knows Deck X loses to Card Y.

When Card Y is widely played and sideboarded, Deck X can either fold or adapt. Sometimes it can not adapt and will fall away from the limelight for a time or it can find a way to beat the hate. When a powerful strategy has become well known, then hated out to some degree, it can be a very powerful time to be creative.

Only I know that Deck X with Card Z can beat Card Y.

If Deck X was the best and most powerful deck in the format but was vulnerable to a particular card, and enough tournament results have been posted that it is safe to assume that all the tournament goers are aware that Card Y can beat it, you can gain a significant lead over the field if you can find a way for Deck X to overcome the obstacle that is Card Y.

An example of this can be easily seen when looking at the Dark Depths deck from last season. When the Dark Depths [card Vampire Hexmage]combo[/card] was first melded with the Thopter Foundry [card Sword of the Meek]combo[/card], a monster was born. As people started losing to it repeatedly and the tournament results started rolling in, conclusively proving that the deck was real, more hate moved into the field. Bant Charm and Path to Exile were both pretty good against the flying 20/20, and as they started seeing play in greater numbers in the Zoo decks and various others some started to claim that Dark Depths was dead.

Dark Depths can't beat Bant Charm and Path to Exile.

This, as the experienced should know, was not true. So what happened?

Dark Depths was able to adapt to beat single targeted removal spells by sidestepping the attack. Dark Depths began sideboarding or even maindecking other win conditions, such as [card Sphinx of Jwar Isle]Jwar Jwar Sphinx[/card].

[card Sphinx of Jwar Isle]Jwar Jwar Sphinx[/card] beats those pretty well.

After [card Sphinx of Jwar Isle]Jwar Jwar Sphinx[/card] became well known and the tech was out of the bag, [card Meloku the Clouded Mirror] Meloku[/card] and Gatekeeper of Malakir became the hotness as trumps to the Sphinx, and then others to beat them once they became known.

So what?

This seems a very similar situation to me to the current situation in standard, in regards to the CawBlade mirror.

After Pro Tour: Paris and a little testing, everybody and their mothers knew that CawBlade was the best deck. Everyone also knew that everyone knew that CawBlade was the best and it would be widely played , so mirror tech would be required. Gerry T introduced the world to the red splash for the Cunning Sparkmage+Basilisk Collar combo, allowing players to shoot opposing [card Sword of Feast and Famine]sword[/card]-[card Squadron Hawk]carriers[/card] from the skies.

Today, everyone knows that CawBlade is the best deck and that the Red splash for Spark-Collar is good against the mirror. That brings us up to date.

Now there are a wide variety of options available for the mirror.

1) Play Red, but better: Cunning Sparkmage is good at shooting down the opposing team, but other red cards are quite good at shooting him down. One option is to play the Red splash everyone is aware of, with more burn to answer any Cunning Sparkmages that hit play on the opposite side of the field. LSV chose this option at a recent 5k in San Jose where he played with Lightning Bolts and Arc Trails to help him shoot down opposing [card Cunning Sparkmage]Sparkmages[/card]. With maindeck Sparkmages and a Basilisk Collar as well as extra burn spells, he was well equipped to beat the creature war. This strategy is well positioned against any mirror that is not prepared for it, if they are still on level one, or against opposing Red splashes if they are on the next level. It is weak to [card Linvala, Keeper of Silence]Linvala[/card], as she will turn your Sparkmages into do-nothings.

2) Mortarpod: A Mortarpod can shoot down [card Cunning Sparkmage]Sparkmages[/card] as well as a burn spell or another Sparkmage could, only with colorless mana. This means it is available in a traditional UW build, allowing for a more stable manabase and Tectonic Edges. When equipped with Basilisk Collar it can also take care of opposing Sworded creatures, provided you remember the original Living Weapon Germ token is Black. It is, however, significantly more mana intensive than the Sparkmages. This is relevant in the mirror, but especially so against aggressive strategies such as Boros. A Sparkmage is quite good against Steppe Lynxes and Plated Geopedes, but the Mortarpod's speed and mana costs make it a severe step down. This plan of attack is good against the mirror if you value a more stable mana base (while still playing Tectonic Edges) more than the speed of Sparkmage. While stronger than Sparkmages against a resolved [card Linvala, Keeper of Silence]Linvala[/card] because it occupies fewer slots in the deck and thus has fewer cards turned into do-nothings, she still disrupts the combo. It is worse against aggressive strategies.

3) Linvala, Keeper of Silence: At the next level, we find Linvala. The Silence Keeper is quite a trump when opponents are attempting to shoot down your team, whether with Cunning Sparkmage or Mortarpod. A flying 3/4 is also well positioned against flying 3/3s, like [card Squadron Hawk]birds[/card] with [card Sword of Feast and Famine]Swords[/card]. By shutting down their lethal pingers and blocking any attempt at an offensive air attack, Linvala will have a greater impact on the board than almost any other card. Linvala is a sweet trump card if everyone is moving towards pingers as their trump of choice. She has nice applications against other troublesome cards besides the mirror, shutting down Fauna Shaman and just embarrassing Elves!, which can otherwise be a rough matchup. She is weak to both Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Gideon Jura which is a significant strike against her, as every list is running at least six of the duo. Tapping four mana at sorcery speed can also be sketchy if they are bucking the current conventional wisdom and have counterspells in game two.

4) Titans: At the next level of tech, we have trumps to Linvala. Who cares if you can't shoot anything with a Cunning Sparkmage if you have a 6/6? Nice 3/4, bro. Whether you like your Titans Red or White flavored, there is a Linvala trump for you. Inferno Titan is the most aggressive answer, mowing down blockers and threatening lethal in only a turn or two thanks to his Firebreathing. If you have the Basilisk Collar it just gets ridiculous. Sun Titan can bring back a swarm of attackers or blockers, any destroyed Swords, and Tectonic Edge or fetchlands. If you are going with Black as a splash instead of Red, as Gerard Fabiano recently did, you can play with Grave Titan and (are you ready for some spicy tech?) even Geth, Lord of the Vault. An unanswered Geth is probably the strongest card in the mirror. He can steal creatures to block other Titans or attack Planeswalkers, he can take any milled or destroyed Swords and let you double up, and eventually will either give you enough creatures to attack for the win or mill the opponent into oblivion. I would also consider Baneslayer Angel in this category. She is large and First Strikey enough to fight with any other fliers, and her Lifelink will go a long way towards winning a race with any other "Titan" even if she can't fight them directly. The [card Baneslayer Angel]BSA[/card] can regain you any need life points while also gaining an advantage on the board large enough you can ignore Linvala. Any Titan allows you to go big, moving the fight from the small end, where Linvala, Keeper of Silence reigns supreme to a larger arena where she is severely outclassed. They are all good against other decks besides the mirror, pulling double duty by also serving as a trump against any creature-based strategies. The actual Titans also shine when across the table from a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, while the Baneslayer Angel and Geth, Lord of the Vault fail that test. The only one to pass the [card Gideon Jura]Gideon[/card] test is the Sun Titan, but Inferno Titan's repeatable Arc Lightning gets him a solid C+.

5) Trinket Mage: Many games between CawBlade decks see all the Squadron Hawks die off rather quickly, making the third and fourth Hawks rather unappealing to cast. Two mana for a 1/1 flier that gets three friends is pretty damn good, the same mana for 1/1 flier that gets one tag-along is fine but not particularly appealing, and paying two mana for just one would be depressing even in limited. How about a graveyard shuffle effect to bring back your fallen birds, allowing every [card Squadron Hawk]Hawk[/card] you cast to bring all his boys to the yard? Damn right, it's better than yours. Nick Spagnolo played a trio of Trinket Mages and a small tutor package for them consisting of Basilisk Collar, Elixir of Immortality, and Sylvok Lifestaff. He made the top 32, the best possible without his list being published (SCG only publishes the top 16 of their tournaments), which means this won't attract much attention for the time being. He threw one match away and got mana-screwed out of another, ending at a 7-3 that could have been 9-1, which says the list is solid. Being able to tutor up five points of life gain on command is clearly good against aggressive matchups, and the endless Squadron Hawks are excellent in the mirror. They may not exactly trump a Titan, but they'll but you enough time to find an answer. The Trinket Mage package trumps Linvala and has game against some of the Titans, but it takes time to shine. It won't stop you from being dead on turn five against anyone but it will let you eventually win if you're still in the game on turn ten. If you are expecting significant amounts of Boros or other quick aggressive decks this may not be the way to go. If your meta has more of the mirror and the competition has discovered [card Linvala, Keeper of Silence]Linvala[/card] the Trinket Mage plan is probably the way to go.

6) Sword of Vengeance: I briefly mentioned this as a possibility in my last article. Since then I have had more time to test with it, and I am convinced it is superior to Sword of Body and Mind. Vengevine is good against CawBlade, and its numbers are rising. Milling can also be a problem if anyone is still playing [card Bloodghast]Vampires[/card], or if the reincarnation of DredgeVine takes off. The Sword of Vengeance allows you to Trample over any blockers and the granted First Strike will let your creatures survive to fight another day. This will let you trump [card Linvala, Keeper of Silence]Linvala[/card] in combat with [card Squadron Hawk]Hawks[/card], putting the opponent in a bad spot even if you can no longer machine gun down blockers with either Mortarpod or Cunning Sparkmage. It will also let your Titans trump opposing Titans, even if they have a Sword of Body and Mind or some other equipment attached, and it also trumps the Trinket Mage package by removing their ability to block indefinitely. It is weak to Cunning Sparkmage because it grants +2/+0 instead of Sword of Body and Mind's +2/+2, meaning that attached Hawks are vulnerable to pinging even after being equipped. If you play with Sword of Body and Mind instead of the Sword of Vengeance your creatures are equally vulnerable to pingers activating in response to equipping, but once equipped they will be safe from a top-decked pinger, at least until it teams up with Basilisk Collar.

Every trump in the CawBlade mirror can be trumped, the key is to know what the competition will be playing and have the appropriate trump for that week. Check the tournament results from every tournament you can find, and remember that what won last week is what most players will be playing next week.

Thanks for reading,

Brook Gardner-Durbin

@BGardnerDurbin on Twitter

One thought on “Evaluating Trumps in CawBlade

  1. Great Article brook. And your last paragraph is so true. Patrick Sullivan went to town with a Red Deck like a week ago, and basically half of this week's SCG Open tournament is playing red. To which a lot of Caw-Blade decks sided in 3-4 Kor Firewalkers at the same time. And now all the poeple who played red feel bad.

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