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The Last Great Deck Before New Phyrexia

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Last time I brought you a B/R deck that gave you an option for defeating Jace, the Mind Sculptor without playing Blue. This week I've got another spicy deck for you, one that eats Caw-Blade for lunch and has strong matchups against a most of the rest of the current field. I have to admit up front that I'm only partially responsible for this deck's design. After I showed my B/R deck to my friend and deck construction advisor Jay Schneider (of Sligh deck fame) he decided to try White in place of Black, and since then has been tearing up the MTGO queues with what he calls "Caw-Burn."

He started out with this list (not ideal, we're getting to it... hold your pants on!):

He immediately found it was quite strong, but not yet perfect. The Student of Warfare was okay, but not quite what he needed. He changed them to Kargan Dragonlords, but these too were troublesome, as they demanded too much of his mana on subsequent turns. When we started discussing it, I suggested he move the Manic Vandals to the main because just about every deck has artifacts these days, and they could sort of serve in that "early creature that is at least somewhat of a threat" slot.

-4 Student of Warfare
-1 Plains
+1 Mountain
+2 Manic Vandal
+2 Kargan Dragonlord

Jay also reported that between the eight burn spells and the Cunning Sparkmages (and their little [card Basilisk Collar]doggie collar[/card]) his opponents couldn't keep a creature on the board. He adored the Ousts in the sideboard, bringing them in in a whole lot of matchups. Mortapod & Basalisk Collar also turned out to be a devastating combination, one that a supply of Squadron Hawks makes into yet another highly efficient killing engine.

The deck has nothing above CMC four, because it often wants to use Tectonic Edge aggressively to compliment its Goblin Ruinblasters. If you recall, last week I mentioned that I lost a match with the B/R deck by using an Edge right before drawing five and six cost spells. Not really a problem in this deck.

While I'm a huge fan of Staggershock, when Jay mentioned sometimes having trouble with Elves decks I recommended he use Slagstorm. 457,239 pros all said it would be one of the best Besieged cards in the articles the published right after the prerelease, and they can't all have been wrong. It's a little slower than Pyroclasm, but the other eight burn spells all cost one mana. Also, the three damage it provides is much better against Boros and sword-carrying birds. The additional ability to finish the opponent or one of their Planeswalkers doesn't hurt either.

Still trying to fill in the Kargan Dragonlord / Student of Warfare slot, Jay tried Luminarch Ascension, Ember Hauler, Transcendent Master, and a few other cards, but ultimately settled on "wait until New Phyrexia provides better." They were eventually cut entirely, though Ascension remains in the sideboard.

The hardest matchup is ramp decks, as Inferno Titan & Primeval Titan are quite problematic. I suggested Brittle Effigy or Journey to Nowhere as a replacement for Into the Core, as both of these cards can handle all those fatties, including the indestructible Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre.

Final, highly recommended list, Caw-Burn:

I asked Jay about the sideboard:

1 Blazing Torch: 1 copy just so decks that have Phyrexian Crusader (or board it in) aren't an issue.
2 Luminarch Ascension: Crushing against classic control decks.
1 Manic Vandal: It's important to be able to go up to 4 of these where they're a 2 for 1. Leave them out otherwise.
2 Slagstorm: Is it a weenie rush deck? If so, bring these in. If not, don't.
2 Journey to Nowhere: These help a little against Titans. If you can find a better solution to them, let us know!
3 Oust: Brought in vs. decks that will bring in Kor Firewalkers or Superfatties. It might be right to have 3/2 or even 4/1 split here in favor or more Journeys.
4 Kor Firewalker: Are they playing Red? Bring these in. If not, then don't.

How do the matchups go?

Eldrazi or Titan Ramp decks: you are unfavored.
Everything else: you are favored or heavily favored.

Wow, that's a big claim I'm making! The evidence so far has backed it up. Both Jay and a friend of his who hasn't played competitive magic since Ravnica have been winning queues left and right with it.

What? You also want to know how it works? Well okay, I guess I can tell you. Better yet, let's have Jay tell you:

The first high level strategy point for this deck is to remember it's an aggro-control deck with a strong emphasis on control. If they have a permanent (land/creature/Planeswalker whatever) and you have the choice to race or destroy their permanent, always destroy the permanent. Probably the most common example of this is whether to cast Koth or Goblin Ruinblaster. The LD Goblin is almost always the right choice. Surprisingly, often just using a Tectonic Edge to suppress land can be a better choice than starting the Koth beat down. Speaking of Koth, instead of continuing the beats he often sacrifices himself to provide a range of mountain Tims.

The second high level concept is to constantly test the other deck. Dave Price's maxim, "There are no wrong threats, just wrong answers," applies to Caw-Burn. Keep pressure on the opponent. Destroy their land to see if they have another. Attempt to Sparkmage/Collar to see if they have an answer, try to force out a Sword and get it on a Hawk (or whatever). See if they can keep you from using Koth's ultimate. Constantly test the opponent.

On a tactical level, the mana/color base is solid but requires precise play. First turn, almost always play an Evolving Wilds. That is, unless you need to Bolt their turn 1/turn 2 drop. The goal is to have R&W available on turn 2. On turn 3 you also have another "spare" mana for a ETBT land as you'll usually be playing another two-mana threat or using Stoneforge Mystic's ability.

Also on the tactical level, deciding which to spell to cast can be challenging. You don't have the ability to swing with a Sword-equipped threat on turn three so don't try to force it. Aim for a turn four swing and use the excess mana to suppress their board. Generally, if there are no counters visible, Stoneforge fetching Sword on turn two is almost always correct. If they are showing counterspells testing with a Hawk is usually the correct play, especially if you've drawn a second. Even if you haven't, they won't know if you're bluffing with the 2nd Hawk in hand. In sideboarded games, always go with the boarded 2-drop; either the Ascension or the Firewalker.

Vs Control decks, like UB Control

Black control decks will probably get a Stoneforge or a Squadron Hawk out of your hand early, but you generally wind up with a 2 for since your deck is all cheap stuff it's not like they can leave you with only 6-drops. This also makes it pretty easy for you to avoid getting Mana Leaked, and due to the number of threats you have one of them will sneak out. This will put them on the defensive and they'll be forced to tap out and you'll punish them pretty severely, with multiple threats or a savage turn-around (usually named Goblin Ruinblaster or Koth of the Hammer).

Be sure to board in Luminarch Ascension vs. U/B. It ranges from very strong, against the standard U/B, to a near immediate scoop if they are playing the poison variant (because poison doesn't prevent Luminarch Ascension from gaining quest counters).

Vs Control-ish decks like Caw-blade

You both have the well-known birds with swords plan, but with 8 burn spells to clear the way, you'll be having the last laugh. Similar to pure control matches, you keep the opponent from getting ahead of you with Goblin Ruinblaster and Manic Vandal, taking out their mana sources, creature-lands, and equipment. Just like the matches against more pure Control decks, Koth of the Hammer is quite a hammer, putting nails into the nice coffin you've made for them.

Vs Aggro decks, such as Boros and Elves, Vampires and Vengevines

These matches are like the start of a bird-heavy Caw-blade match, where you both throw out a lot of dudes and trade them off to see who has one left at the end. Caw-Burn is almost always that deck. Obviously, Slagstorm is a big help in doing this. Aggro decks game plan is to race you, as such an early Kor Firewalker will put the nail in their coffin.

Vs Ramp decks (Green Eldrazi and Valakut)
These fights are really hard. You can usually handle one or two fatties with your equipment but you've got to get lucky to win. The more non-basics they have the better, as you can at times stall them at 5 lands when they need 6 to go off.

Well, there you have it. The format is never really over till it's over. Quick, go out and win some matches with this before NPH is legal!

Gregory Marques

6 thoughts on “The Last Great Deck Before New Phyrexia

  1. Blazing Torch doesn't help against Phyrexian Crusader unless you're equipping it to a Germ token.

    This really just looks like a slower Boros deck. Geopede and Lynx are fairly bad at the moment so putting in Sparkmage-Collar is probably a solid plan, but I can't help but think giving up Hero of Oxid Ridge and Goblin Guide is a step too far.

  2. As Jay & I said, it's a control deck, not an aggressive deck. It plays completely differently from Boros. Try it, you'll see!

    Also, Blazing Torch kills Phyrexian Crusader every time. Unlike most Auras and equipment, the Torch's ability uses the Torch itself as the source of the damage, not the creature.

    Thanks for reading!

    1. Actually, it looks like you both are (at least partially) right. The Torch is the source of the damage, but the creature it's equipping needs to be able to legally target the Crusader (or Kor Firewalker, or whatever) for the play to work. Torch on a Boros guy to kill a Phyrexian Crusader doesn't work. 🙁

    1. Yes, Arc Trail had a shot, burst lightning was more effective against equip activations, and is cheaper. The 2-for-1yness of Arc Trail was less needed. I'll have to ask Jay about the Torch, as he's played the deck a lot online and surely it has come up.

      1. Lolz! Josh is right, it doesn't work. Jay said he has fetched it and had it Duressed by his opponent 3 times despite it not being able to do anything. He never noticed because the one time he did get to use it was with a Germ token.

        Well, Infect decks haven't been much of a problem for the deck, as Luminarch Ascension races them very effectively.

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