Friday, April 15, 2011

Standard Deviations #13 - Knightwing (U/W Fish)

* This article was originally intended for a Tuesday April 12th release.  Unfortunately at 5AM on April 11th the author's family lost it's feline matriarch, the mighty warrior Squeak.  Understandably the author was unable to finish the article on time while celebrating Squeak's life and mourning her passing.  The author asks that you please forgive the length of time between articles; this has clearly not been the best month of her life.*

Hello everyone and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  Before we get started I'd like to thank Kyle for his email reminding me that I haven't written an article about Standard in more than a month.  Unfortunately as I've mentioned previously I haven't been attending a lot of Standard tournaments recently due to illness; the store I play Standard at is about an hour away from my apartment by subway. Truthfully however that doesn't mean I haven't been playing a lot of Standard as most of my playgroup has been hanging around the apartment recently play-testing for upcoming National Qualifiers season.  While I've been sworn to secrecy regarding a number of the decks and sideboard strategies we're testing, I am perfectly free to write about decks I built outside of the group.  Today I'd like to take a look at a variation on Caw-blade that I have been tinkering with for more than a month now after having a conversation with local deck brewers Luke Wilkinson and Adam Dexter.  At the time I was really struggling to make Caw-Blade work in our  aggro/red/Valakut dominated environment and the 3 of us spent a smoke break outside trading deck tech.  While ultimately my build would vary greatly from theirs in the final production I was intrigued by a number of ideas; most notably the inclusion of Mirran Crusader in the main deck to both maximize the value of "Swords" and significantly increase threat density.  Naturally of course I also drew heavily on the Japanese build that ran 2x maindeck Crusaders at Worlds and the Channel Fireball decks that were featured in LSV's recent Standard series before finally arriving at this variation on the theme:

"Knightwing - U/W "Fish":

Creatures: - 12:

4x Squadron Hawk
4x Stoneforge Mystic
4x Mirran Cruasder

Instants - 8:

4x Spell Pierce
4x Mana Leak

Sorceries and Planeswalkers - 11:

4x Preordain
2x Day of Judgment
3x Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2x Gideon Jura

Artifacts - 4:

1x Sword of Body and Mind
1x Sword of Feast and Famine
2x Tumble Magnet

Lands - 25:

4x Celestial Colonnade
4x Glacial Fortress
4x Seachrome Coast
5x Island
5x Plains
3x Tectonic Edge

Sideboard - 15:

3x Condemn
2x Celestial Purge
3x Flash Freeze
2x Revoke Existence
1x Day of Judgment
1x Thada Adel, Aquisitor
2x Baneslayer Angel
1x Sun Titan

Overview:  At it's heart this deck is a classic example of a "Fish" or "Aggro-Control" strategy.  By combining hyper-efficient creatures, cheap disruption spells and both Standard-legal "Swords" you get a deck capable of adopting both the aggro and control roles on a turn by turn basis.  This of course makes the deck extremely difficult to play against because it represents a constantly shifting target and can easily adapt it's play-style based on current board state or the inherent weaknesses of the opposing build.  Conversely this is also a very difficult deck to play well; winning requires an intricate understanding of both decks in the match and the ability to play around what your opponent is *likely* to do while simultaneously working towards your own win conditions.  Basically what makes this deck so strong is that every spell costs very little compared to it's board impact (Mystic, Crusader especially) so you can sneak out a threat early and disrupt your opponent's attempts to counter it OR you can grind the game out with counters/Jace before finishing it quickly with Swords and Crusaders.  What's more the deck is so flexible that you can actually change strategies mid game if your line of play isn't working out or the cards on top of your deck aren't co-operating.  This is an extremely powerful deck but the fact is it's hard to play, requires a lot of foresight and is completely unforgiving of pilot errors.  While many of these same things can be said about "netdeck" Cawblade at the moment the inclusion of Mirran Cruasder significantly improves Knightwing's aggro options while simultaneously making the deck less dependent on finding a Mystic/Sword to close out the match.  This has the added side effect of making the deck significantly stronger against both Valakut and RDW; decks I was struggling against during testing with classic Caw-Blade.

What I think it's good at:  To be perfectly honest the answer to this question is "everything".  When played properly by a skilled pilot who understands the sideboard well I don't feel this deck is the underdog against any of the other 5 "tier 1" decks in the format (RUG, Valakut, RDW, Boros and Vampires).  While you'll certainly lose a fair share of game 1's to Boros and RDW the truth is Caw Blade decks have some of the most diverse and effective sideboard options in the format making it fairly easy to sweep games 2 and 3 in these match-ups.  Much like Valakut this deck also has the added advantage of destroying most of the "B" strategies in the format; in testing I have registered decisive victories over U/B Control, Tezzeret (both Infect and non), G/W Quest and a number of artifact/Tempered Steel based aggro decks.  Unfortunately as previously mentioned the amount of practice and mental effort required to play the deck flawlessly is tremendous; I estimate it took me at least 60 games to figure out exactly what the deck was trying to do at any given moment.  It then took me another 30 or so games to learn how to play it properly and finish tweaking the last 15 or so slots in the deck.  Unfortunately this steep learning curve has convinced many players that their built "has a good match against Caw Blade" because they are capable of beating inexperienced opponents piloting one of the many variations on the build.  Trust me; 200 some odd games later I am utterly convinced that this deck or something very close to it represents the strongest archetype in Standard.

What I think it's not good at:  In terms of bad match ups I really don't think this deck has many.  As previously mentioned it can struggle against Boros and RDW in game 1.  Additionally I've lost more than a couple games against RUG when my opponent drew "the nuts" simply because Knightwing struggles to contain their Lotus Cobras. Ultimately however I feel both of these problems are adequately addressed in the sideboard.  One match I *have* struggled with in both pre and post board games is Kuldotha Goblins.  K-Gobs particular combination of cheap/free creatures, haste and just enough spot removal to clear out blockers gives Knightwing fits in the early game.  On some of their best draws the K-Gob player can actually kill you before you've had *time* to cast a Day of Judgment!  Once again this match up is addressed in the sideboard but in this case I still find it difficult to win games 2 and 3 against this archetype; they are simply too fast.  Thankfully this deck under-performs against a number of other Tier 1 strategies (Valakut, Boros, even Vampires) so you don't tend to see it later on in larger tournaments.  I have also struggled to maintain a 50/50 win ratio against well piloted Pyromancer's Ascenssion and I almost *always* lose game 1.  Finally while I don't think Knightwing has many *bad* matchups in Standard it can struggle against 3 specific cards in the format; Vengvine, Goblin Guide (in multiples) and Inquisition of Kozilek (also in multiples).  That certainly isn't meant to imply the deck can't answer these cards but it can struggle to do so in the early game/before sideboard. 

What the Sideboard does:  Over the past few months I've found myself slowly shifting my sideboard style away from "silver bullet" meta cards and more towards a blanket coverage effect.  Basically this means breaking the sideboard down into number of 2-3 card sets that work well in several situations and then blending multiple sets into an appropriate game 2 sideboard depending on the match-up.  While the obvious trade off is raw power this type of sideboard allows you to meta against a much larger number of decks/strategies simultaneously.   This is particularly effective in a deck with Preordain and Jace, the Mind Sculptor; with all that card draw/brainstorming you're actively rewarded for choosing versatility over 4x copies of specific meta cards.  In fact I would go so far as to say that the only single use "silver bullet" meta cards in this sideboard are the 3 copies of Flashfreeze which are included entirely to help shut down Valakut (sometimes I bring in 2 copies against RUG as well).  On the opposite end of the spectrum the 3 copies of Condemn serve as a sort of catch all answer against fast aggro (RDW, Boros, Goblins, etc) while simultaneously attacking problem cards like Vengevine and Bloodghast directly.  Heck, sometimes I even board it in the mirror if I'm on the draw since you can "timewalk" a Sword activation by Condemning the creature carrying it before it ever hits you.  It's also pretty easy to slide underneath a Mana Leak/Spell Pierce which makes it a huge upgrade over Day of Judgement in Caw-blade on Caw-blade battles.  Another good example of choosing versatility over power in this sideboard can be found in the selection of 2x Revoke Existence over the traditional choice; Divine Offering.  By trading off some life gain and downgrading from an Instant to a Sorcery you gain the ability to attack echantments, Wurmcoil Engine and Molten-Tail Masticore while still directly metaing against enemy Swords.  This is particularly effective if your opponent is running Sun Titan since Revoke will remove the Sword from the game; in a long grindy board situation being able to return *your* Swords while forever denying his certainly has value.  Obviously Revoke is also pretty good against any artifact or enchantment I haven't listed here but be wary of Infect; you can't use a Sorcery speed kill spell to take out an Inkmoth Nexus (barring Tezzeret shenanigans).  The 2 copies of Celstial Purge may seem out of place at first but they actually fit the versatility theme quite well in the current environment and help support an number of other cards in the sideboard.  Against mono red or Vampires they often act as a 4th and 5th Condemn while also helping against problem cards like Koth of the Hammer, Creeping Tar Pit, Inferno Titan, Pyromancer's Ascension, Grave Titan and Raging Ravine.  Rounding out the removal package is a singleton copy of Day of Judgment; frankly I'm not very fond of this card because it's so slow but there are still some match ups you can't win without it.  As a general guideline I usually bring this card in against anything with 24+ creatures or any deck that *has* to play 3 creatures on the table to kill me; so Boros, Goblins, Elves, uh yeah.  Hiding a 3rd copy in the sideboard allows you to increase consistency when you need it without mucking up the main deck with what is essentially a "bad" card in 60% of your match ups.   In terms of creatures the deck packs 2 copies of Baneslayer Angel primarily as aggro meta but also to "go big" in the mirror; it's actually very hard to slide a Hawk carrying a Sword past a 5/5 Flying, First Strike Angel and she wields *your* Swords as well as any creature in the deck.  One thing I should mention is that while BSA is an excellent answer to Mono red decks in games 2 and 3 many of them will bring in Mark of Mutiny from their sideboards so always be sure to leave a Hawk back to block when you play it.  Losing to your own geared up flying Angel is pretty embarrassing.  The lone copy of Sun Titan is included primarily to replay your Swords against artifact destruction but he also acts as a 4th copy of Tectonic Edge (assuming you've seen one this game), can fatally block an enemy Grave/Inferno Titan and even helps counteract their Tectonic Edges in the mirror.  Finally I included Thada Adel, Acquisitor as a "techy" way to interact with enemy artifacts; particularly in decks with Islands.  While ostensible included to control enemy Swords the fact is a lot decks are running at least 3-4 artifacts these days.  I've stolen Tumble Magnets and Wurmcoil Engines with Thada and exiled my opponent's lone Blightsteel Colossus before he could ever fish it out.  Even if you "wiff" and can't find an artifact you get to look at your opponent's entire library in the process; making it fairly easy to figure out his exact post sideboard build and even reconstruct his hand in your head if you know the format well enough.           

How to play it:  Ladies and gentlemen I'm going to be honest with you right now; if I could explain how to play any version of Caw Blade in a few easy steps I'd probably be getting paid for my writing. :)  Simply put this archetype is very difficult to master and doesn't produce the same results for inexperienced pilots as it does for well practiced players.  The best I can hope for here is to offer a basic primer on the two most common lines of play the deck will adopt and how to play them against some of the more popular decks in Standard.

The first and in my opinion preferable line of play for this deck is to go "full aggro" with a turn 2 Stoneforge Mystic leading into a turn 3 Crusader and going to war with a Sword on turn 4.  Against decks with good removal suites you may be forced to wait until turn 5 when you can back up your equip action with a Spell Pierce but the point stands; drop a threat, sword it up and go for the jugular.  By seizing the momentum early you force your opponent to contain the super cheap threats you're playing; which in turn walks him directly into the reactive side of your deck (Mana Leak, Spell Pierce, Gideon, etc).  The key at this point is not to get greedy; once you've established a threat, a Sword and a back-up creature (usually the mystic) the only card you should even consider playing is Jace, the Mind Sculptor to find *more* counterspells.  Not only does this allow you to keep your mana up for counter-magic but it ensures that if your opponent actually DOES answer your threat and stop the bleeding you can simply play out another Bird/Crusader or two and restart the party all over again!  This line of play is your default option against Control, Combo and mirror matches against other Fish decks assuming you are on the play. 

Alternately Knightwing can seek to adopt the "control" role early in the game; slow rolling Preordains and counterspells into a Jace, the Mind Sculptor and/or Gideon Jura.  While not a fully loaded control deck this build still packs 8 counterspells, 5 Planeswalkers, a couple of board sweepers and strong defensive options like Mirran Crusader or Tumble Magnet.  By leaning heavily on these control elements in the early/mid-game the deck is capable of wearing down most aggro builds over a number of turns before dropping a Crusader/Hawk and comboing out with a Sword to quickly end the game.  Typically you won't "choose" this line of play so much as it will be forced on you against most good aggro decks (Boros, Vampires, RDW, anything with Vengevines) or an opponent on the play in the mirror match.

Probably the most difficult aspect of playing any Caw Blade variant is knowing with line of play to adopt in a given match or game situation.  Further complicating the issue is that a deck like Knightwing can successfully switch back and forth between these roles on a turn by turn basis.  As a general rule if you are losing or somehow behind in tempo you are playing "control" while if you have the hammer as it were you should be adopting an "aggro" strategy.  This is however a gross oversimplification of how to pilot the deck and in reality there are a huge number of keys in a given match that decide what line of play you should be adopting at a given time.  The best advice I can offer is to practice with the deck until you're sick of seeing the cards in it; 100 matches is not an unreasonable estimate of how much practice is truly "enough".  Now that we've talked a little bit about the two most common lines of play in Knightwing's arsenal let's take a look at some tips and strategies you can use against other "tier 1" decks in the format:

Boros:  Barring a pretty terrible draw on his part you are pretty much always in the "control" role in this match-up.  Game 1 can be incredibly difficult for you on the draw because it typically forces you to tap out to play blockers and or Day of Judgment in the early game.  Tapping out to casting blockers allows him to freely zap them with Lightning bolt while tapping out to cast Day of Judgment often walks you directly into a Koth of the Hammer.  Winning the first game requires extremely tight defensive play and it's likely you'll lose almost immediately if you try to switch to aggro before you've dealt with his initial rush.  Your best cards in game 1 are probably Day of Judgment, Tumble Magnet, Mirran Crusader and Gideon Jura while alternately your blue cards not titled Preordain lose tremendous value unless you can weather his early assault; mulligan/brainstorm accordingly.  It also wouldn't hurt if your opponent has an average or sub-par draw; for all of it's raw power Boros is quite capable of producing some absolute stinker draws as the game progresses.  This is a natural byproduct of running a deck that wants to draw more creatures, more removal and more land all at the same time as the game progresses.  The good news is that games 2 and 3 are considerably easier because the sideboard has multiple options against Boros.  Typically I will board out all 8 counterspells and the 3rd copy of Jace (slow in this match) for 3x Condemn, 2x Celestial Purge (especially if they run Koth), 2x Revoke Existence (for their Swords/Bonehoard), 2x Baneslayer Angel and the 3rd copy of Day of Judgment.  Sometimes I'll bring in Sun Titan over the DoJ if I think they're "going big" in the Sideboard or might be attacking my Swords with meta cards.  Occasionally I'll actually leave 3-4 copies of Mana Leak in the deck; typically if I think my opponent is expecting me to board out all of my counter magic or I'm not afraid of his artifacts (Revoke) or a Koth (Purge).  These changes combine to turn the deck into a more powerful control builds while simultaneously focusing on containing your opponent's monsters; as any good Boros player will tell you controlling his creatures is the primary key to beating the deck.

Valakut:  The most important question in this match-up is "did you win the roll to go first?"  If your did it's very easy to adopt the "aggro" roll and go to town; in fact Knightwing was built *specifically* to crush Valakut on the play in Game 1.  Your opponent has almost no interest in seeing a Mirran Crusader hit the table and most of them are running 6 or less removal spells in the main deck not counting Valakut triggers; he can't kill everything.  To this end remember to spread the Sword love around and force him to choose between neutralizing it *or* your Crusader.  If you didn't win the roll things become a little more tricky.  You'll still want to adopt an aggressive early stance but you can *not* take the risk that he resolves a turn 3 or a turn 4 Titan.  To this effect you will have to milk maximum value out of your Spell Pierces and Mana Leaks in the early game, slowing down your Mystic/Crusader plays by a turn or even sometimes two.  Most Valakut decks are packing Green Sun Zenith in the main deck these days and Summoning Trap in the Sideboard but you're still probably better off countering his early ramp spells like Explore, Cultivate and Khalni Heart Garden.  If your opponent casts a Harrow into open blue mana do not hesitate to punish him for his arrogance by countering it; sacrificing the land is a cost of playing Harrow and he won't get it back just because the spell fizzled.  If you do have to risk countering a creature makes sure it's a Primeval Titan; you can neutralize an Avenger with a Day of Judgment but nothing puts the land your opponent fished out on resolving a Primeval back into his deck and each Valakut/Mountain puts him closer to victory.   Your best cards in game 1 are the 8 counterspells, Mirran Crusader, Day of Judgement, Tumble Magnet and both Swords (or a Mystic to fish them out).  It should be noted that this is only one of two match-ups in all of Standard where its preferable to get the Sword of Body and Mind first over Feast and Famine; milling your opponent's Mountains/Titans/Valakuts away is absolutely a legitimate strategy here.  Jace can be quite strong in this match once you've established board control but is otherwise unwelcome when you're scrambling to keep Titans and Avengers off the table; you certainly don't want to "Jace-bounce" those guys!  Gideon becomes an expensive removal spell that has excellent synergy with Tumble Magnet but is likewise not as important here as he can be in other match-ups.  As a finally note I should mention that the value of Tectonic Edge in this contest has been vastly overstated by a number of writers who clearly don't spend a lot of time playing Valakut.  Good Val players will be quite capable of playing around your Tec Edges if they realize they are coming; they will *not* win you the game against Valakut and merely serve to slow your opponent down and limit his ability to snipe off your creatures in the midgame.  While this is obviously quite useful it's not a path to victory in and of itself and given enough time the Valakut player will cast enough Titans/Avengers to finish you off with the 1-2 or "Molten Pinnacles" still hiding in his deck.  In terms of sideboard I generally only bring in the 3x Flashfreeze and a 3rd copy of Day of Judgment; as previously mentioned this deck is designed to deal with Valakut specifically so I don't really expect to board a lot of cards in and out during this match.  Typically I will board out 2 Spell Pierce and 2 Mana Leaks to make room for these cards although I've also dropped Gideon from time to time.  Every once in a while I'll board in Sun Titan as a 4th Tectonic Edge if I suspect my opponent's build is particularly vulnerable to land destruction strategies or he has difficulty playing around them in game 1; again usually at the cost of a Gideon or a 3rd mana Leak.  The only real difference between game 1 and games 2 and 3 is that in the latter you can pretty much guarantee your opponent has 3-4 Summoning Traps in his deck and you must constantly play around this card.  Try to hold back an extra cheap counter for the mid-game so that you can respond to his Trap with a Spell Pierce and completely lock his game out.  Alternately don't counter his creatures and let Day of Judgment and your Swords do all the heavy lifting.
Vampires:  In my opinion this is one of Knightwing's strongest match-ups and I'm often puzzled in general when people say Vampires has a good game against Caw Blade.  On a basic level the only cards in his main deck you really care about are Lightning Bolt, Bloodghast, Khalastria Highborn and probably 2 copies of Vampire Hexmage.  Some version of the deck run Inquisition of Kozilek which can be frustrating but as previously mentioned IoK really only hurts this deck when played in multiples.  What real makes this match-up a cakewalk however are the 4 maindeck Mirran Crusaders; assuming you can protect it from Lightning Bolt and Gatekeeper of Malikar a single Crusader can shut off your opponent's entire deck.  Obviously when fishing with the Mystic you'll want to go get Sword of Feast and Famine since it creates another protection from black threat when equipped.  Gideon is also an absolute house against this deck unless they can find the aforementioned Vampire Hexmages in game 1.  Most of the time you will spend the early game in the control role against this deck but it's much more fragile than Boros or RDW in my opinion and switching over to aggro to finish him off happens both earlier and more easily than against other aggro decks.  In terms of sideboarding I usually drop all 4 copies of Spell Pierce and a single Mana Leak for 3x Condemn and 2x Celestial Purge (great against Bloodghast and Kalastria).  The only real changes in this matchup for games 2 and 3 are that you can expect your opponent to have some form of discard (Duress, IoK) and it's likely he'll be up to 4 Hexmages; while this makes the match slightly more difficult you're still the heavy favorite in my opinion.

Red Deck Wins (RDW):  This is basically the same match-up as Boros but worse for you in every single way; your opponent is faster, has more spot removal to contain your Crusaders/Swords and likely has a full rack of 4 Koths waiting for you to tap out even once.  Losing the roll against this deck almost always means a game 1 loss unless your opponent draws poorly, which is entirely possible because RDW plays the entire game off the top of it's library.  Once again this first game *is* winnable but it requires you to play extremely tight defensively while consistently drawing blockers, mana and counterspells to protect your investments.  Playing a Gideon or two also goes a long way towards winning Game 1 in this match-up; RDW fears this card like no other and has almost no answers to an opponent constantly activating his +2 "Attack me!" ability.  I should probably also mention that this is the other deck you'll want to be fishing a Sword of Body and Mind out against in this format; a 2/2 wolf token makes an excellent chump blocker and RDW players dump their hands so quickly the discard aspect of SoF&F quickly becomes irrelevant.  As usual against aggro decks in this format games 2 and 3 get easier when you factor in the sideboard.  I will almost always bring in all 3 Condemn and 2 copies of Celestial Purge; typically at the cost of 4 Spell Pierce and my 3rd Jace who is pretty awful in the match-up most of the time.  Sometimes I'll rotate in 2 copies of Flashfreeze as well if I suspect my opponent is "going big" game 2 with Dragonlords, Koths and Inferno Titans.  Usually I'll drop Day of Judgment in that case although I've also rotated out a couple Mana Leaks at times.  Finally if I suspect my opponent is running artifact hate in his sideboard I'll occasionally drop the Sun Titan in; often in place of a near worthless Tectonic Edge (mono R doesn't have a "Manland").  While it may seem counter productive to cut down to 24 land and bring in a 6 drop, you will eventually hit 6 mana against this deck if you're controlling his early assault properly and a late game Titan to fish back a long forgotten Sword will usually end the game immediately. 

RUG:  One of Knightwing's hardest match-ups, this contest exemplifies why Caw Blade is one of the most difficult archetypes to master in Standard.  While on the surface the RUG player would appear to have the advantage in every single way you *can* actually win this match if you play it properly.  Once again the key is understanding which line of play you should be following while simultaneously sniffing out his future plays and adjusting accordingly.  If you won the roll to go first adopting the aggro strategy and simply bashing him out of the game with Cruasders/Sword of Feast and Famine is a completely reasonably option.  You will still have to be wary of his Jace's, Lightning Bolts, Mana Leaks and to some degree Inferno Titans but if you can get an unmolested sword going Turn 4 that's really not much of a problem.  On the draw however game 1 becomes a completely different animal mostly thanks to RUG's supercharger; Lotus Cobra.  The simple truth is this build's greatest flaw is an inability to deal with a resolved Lotus Cobra and one day I'm going to find room in the Sideboard for Oust or Mortapod just to kill off the little menace.  On the plus side RUG doesn't have room for Spell Peirce so your opponent can't play a Jace through your Mana Leak on turn 3 without an Explore and a 2nd "fetch" land to complete the "home run".  If you are forced to play defensively in game 1 I've found there are two major keys to pulling off the upset; first you have to find a way to win or at least not lose the Jace war and second you need to make him cast either a Precursor Golem or an Avenger before you drop your Day of Judgment.  The first point is pretty self explanatory; your opponent has more threats than you have answers so if you let him draw extra cards all day eventually he will beat you.  Keep Spell Pierce and Mana Leak up at all times and don't be afraid to drop one of your Jaces just to kill his if you have to; remember you *will* lose this game if he gets to "brainstorm" 3 or more times.  The second point is a little trickier because it can be pretty hard to resist the urge to wipe the board staring down a Cobra and an Inferno Titan.  The key to remember is that your *can* deal with the Titan by dropping a Tumble Magnet or snapping a Gideon into play after a single attack and droping 2 Loyalty to kill the Titan.  Nothing but day of Judgment is going to save you from a turn 3 Precursor Golem or a turn 5 Avenger.  In terms of sideboarding I usually take out 1x Crusader, 1x Mana Leak, 2x Spell Pierce and 1x Preordain for 3x Condemn and 2x Flashfreeze to help me contain Precursor Golem and Inferno Titan in games 2 and 3.  If it looks like my opponent is playing more than one Avenger sometimes I bring in the 3rd Day of Judgment and only 2 copies of Condemn instead.  Regardless this is still a very difficult match-up even after sideboarding and you can't get sloppy just because you have a few more removal spells at your disposal.  Focusing on controlling your opponent's Jaces and squeezing maximum value out of your removal will let you win this match-up; playing loosely will more often than not lead to an embarrassing loss against RUG.  

Caw Blade (Mirror Match):  It should probably go without saying that in the Caw Blade mirror the better pilot or the player with the superior draw often comes out on top.  There are however a few keys to this match-up that can be the difference between winning and losing in a long hard fought game.  In my opinion the three most important aspects of the mirror match are Sword control, Jace control and mana development in that order.  While it's often be falsely claimed that the first person to hit with a Sword of Feast and Famine will always win in the mirror the simple truth is this one card *will* often decided the match-up over a number of turns. On the upside you have the advantage in terms of controlling the Sword because you have more monsters to wield it (4x Crusader) but at the end of the day it really does come down to stopping you opponent's Sword while finding a way to get through with yours.  Winning the Jace war is also pretty self explanatory in my opinion; the player who sticks a Jace and can brainstorm 3 or more times will almost always win a blue on blue mirror match in my experience.  You can *not* let your opponent start going wild with an active Jace even if it means sacrificing your Jace and tapping 4 mana just to kill his.  Finally of course because the player who can stick a Sword/Jace and back it up with counter magic will almost always win this match-up it becomes incredibly important to develop your mana properly.  Casting a threat/Planeswalker with counter backup first gives you a tremendous leg up towards winning both of these power struggles and ultimately the game.  As far as sideboarding for games 2 and 3 go my decisions are affected significantly by which type of Caw Blade they are running and which cards they are likely to board in against me.  Usually I will take out both copies of Day of Judgement, 2 copies of Spell Pierce, a Mana Leak, 2 Mirran Crusaders and a Preordain for 2x Condemn, 2x Banelsayer Angel, 1x Thada Adel, Aquisitor, 1x Sun Titan and 2x Revoke Existence.  Sometimes I keep the Crusaders and skip the Sun Titan/Thada Adel if I think my opponent has easy access to a lot of removal (Esper Caw Blade for example).  This sideboard strategy allows me to play for longer ground out games which are much easier to win because ultimately I can control my opponent's Swords forever with Revoke existence and he can not do likewise because of my Sun Titan.  Even if he does manage to deal with the swords I can always just go over top of his defenses with Baneslayer Angel and Gideon; you can only chump block with a Bird so many times before you eventually run out.  Once again much like RUG even after sideboarding this is still a very hard match-up that rewards tight, conservative play and punishes hastiness and mistakes harshly.      

The Rest:  Unfortunately as this article is already running rather long I don't have the time to discuss Knightwing's match-ups against the myriad of tier 1.5 decks in the format.  All I can really tell is you is that I've struggled against K Gobs and Fauna Shaman/Vengevine decks on "nuts" draws.  Otherwise the deck has tested out well vs White Weenie/Artifact swarm decks, Elves, Tezzeret (both Infect and Non-Infect), Brian Kiblers U/B Crusader Infect deck, Eldrazi ramp (W/G and mono G), mono blue proliferate decks and virtually every type of hardcore control deck under the sun (U/B, U/R Grixis, U/W Tapout, etc).  As always the best advice I can offer in general when playing this deck is to practice with it a lot before you go to a tournament and always play according to your optimal line; this doesn't change just because your facing a Tier 1.5 deck.

Possible Improvements?:  As previously mentioned Caw Blade is one of the most versatile decks in the format; U/W has access to an absolutely phenomenal number of great cards both for the main deck and the sideboard.  The deck is pretty modular and if you don't like how a given card is performing feel free to change it with something else; Divine Offering instead of revoke, Condemn in the maindeck and Day of Judgment in the sideboard.  Really the options are somewhat limitless.  I should also mention that many players run 4 and 3 copies of Jace and Gideon respectively at the cost of a 4th Spell Pierce and Mana Leak.  I tried this version for a number of matches but found I was constantly flooded with 'extra" Planeswalkers I couldn't or didn't want to cast and short on answers for what my opponent was doing.  As always "mileage may vary".  Finally many people I've shared the deck with question the "techy" 1 of creatures in the sideboard (Sun Titan, Thada Adel) and feel they should be more copies of Condemn/Flashfreeze but I never got around to trying it myself.
Well folks once again I've worn my fingers down to bloody stubs writing about the game I love.  I hope you've found this primer useful and apologize profusely for it's somewhat mind-numbing length.  It takes a lot more effort to describe a deck as complicated as Knightwing and I didn't want to leave anything out if at all possible.  I'm also sorry that it's coming out so close to regional qualifiers so most of you won't read this until Monday; as mentioned above a death in my little family pretty much drained my will to write for a few days.  Until next time folks remember that double strike means you get to trigger the Sword twice and always keep it weird!



  1. Absolutely fantastic write-up!

  2. as always good nina, still have to play this deck and see how I fair :)