Hello ladies and gentlemen; welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch. Before we get started I would like to note that this is not the tournament report I wanted to be writing just after Canadian Nationals. It had been my intention to keep detailed round to round notes on the event and share my perspective as a first time participant in this tournament. Unfortunately destiny had other plans for me and as my tournament unfolded I stopped keeping proper match notes because I was too busy wondering how many times someone can have to mulligan in a single tournament. To say that my tournament did not end well would be something of a mild understatement so rather than reliving the experience round by round I've decided to write about the decks I played/drafted, the people I met and the fun I shared with 140 some odd amazing Canadian Magic players. Hopefully this doesn't get too "sappy" but if it does feel free to make fun of me in the comments section as usual.
Once the player's meeting was over and the clock finally started on our round 1 match I honestly figured my jitters would pass; naturally of course I was very wrong. Things started out dicey right away in game 1 as my opponent presented a deck for me to shuffle in brand new Silver Dragon Shields. Now, I don't know if these sleeves are *designed* to produce warnings/game losses when your opponent shuffles but they are significantly more slippery than ultra-pros. Despite my best efforts and direct attention to detail I managed to drop one of his cards onto the table; thankfully it landed face down so there was no need to call a judge over to explain that I can't shuffle Dragon Shields very well. Once I'd returned his deck things improved slightly but I had kept a somewhat slow draw because I had no clue what my opponent was playing; as it turns out he was playing B/r Vampire aggro and after putting up a valiant effort I eventually succumbed to a horde of Bloodghasts and Pulse Trackers. Sideboarding was pretty easy however and after shuffling/presenting for game 2 I was pretty sure I would sweep the next two games. Unfortunately once again the "jitters" would strike; early on in either game 2 or 3 my opponent cast a Duress into a 1 land, 4 creature hand. He tanked for a couple of seconds, gave me my hand back and said "go". Naturally this excited me a great deal because he had failed to play a land, cast another spell or even attack with his Pulse Tracker so as I was untapping I said "thank you for that" and drew a card for my 3rd turn. At this point my opponent says "I never said go" even though I distinctly heard him say just that; realizing that regardless of who is right (and I assure you I heard him say go, audibly) we were both in a bit of trouble now I called for a judge. After explaining both of our positions to the judge I made a point of noting that I was not trying to deny my opponent his right to a turn and that my primary interest at this point is not being penalized for drawing a card "out of turn" when my opponent had clearly said "go". Thankfully the judge agreed to allow the game to rewind to just after my opponent cast his Duress and we both proceeded to finish our match without further penalty or incident. As I had predicted I won in 3; unlike some players I do not consider Vampires a "casual" or "non-viable" deck here in the post-bannings Standard. It is however a pretty good match-up for Caw Blade in general and when I boarded in 3 copies of Celestial Purge, an Extra Day of Judgment, a 3rd Sword of Feast and Famine and 2x Mental Missteps there really wasn't much my opponent could do with that deck to stop me. My round 2 opponent was one of the coolest people I met all weekend and openly admitted to me that he had recently returned to Magic after a long hiatus and was running a deck he was very unfamiliar with primarily because his test-team had said it was good in the format. They were of course right; he was piloting RUG Pod which is probably the single worst match-up for the deck I was playing (Caw Blade) in Standard. Unfortunately for my opponent his game 1 draw was miserable and I quickly overwhelmed him. Game 2 saw a better draw for him but his unfamiliarity with the match-up began to shine through; on turn 3 he cast a Birthing Pod into my open mana to draw out a Spell Pierce and then repeated the effort on turn 4 only to meet a Flashfreeze. Eventually I managed to stick a Sword of Feast and Famine and through judicious use of an Into the Roil and a 2nd Sword power past his Acidic Slime/Phrexian Metamorph combo to kill him with said Sword. My 3rd round opponent was a pleasant young man from Red Deer Alberta who had traveled all the way to Toronto to participate in his 2nd (?) Nationals. Unfortunately he was also playing U/R Twin and predictably I managed to lose game 1; although in this case it was primarily because I drew very few counterspells and missed 3-4 land-drops before having to tap out to generate some pressure and watching him combo off. As is typical of the match-up game 2 was much more interesting and eventually our final board state looked something like this; my opponent had 7 land in play, one of which was a Scalding Tarn. He was on 4 life and I had cast out 3 of my 4 Squadron Hawks; we both had completely full hands when I shipped the turn back to him and prepared for the ensuing counter war. Sure enough my opponent dropped the Exarch at end step and on his turn cracked the Scalding Tarn for a Mountain and attempted to combo out with it. Realizing that he had 3 mana open I decided to cast Mana Leak as my first answer; while his previous play had left no indication he'd be silly enough to actually pay the 3 mana I figured it wouldn't hurt to try. Of course he did not do so and proceeded to drop a Dispell on my Mana Leak, to which I responded with a "free" Mental Misstep. Not to be outdone my opponent responded with his own Mental Misstep which forced me to cast Mana Leak once again. When my opponent responded with a Deprive I was almost 100% sure the game was mine; he was now completely tapped out and after letting all the counterspells resolve I went back to the top of the stack and cast Flashfreeze on the Splinter Twin. With a huge grin on his face my opponent finally revealed his trump card and cast Mindbreak Trap for zero to win the game and match. Laughing ruefully I could only stare at my 1 untapped mana and the Into the Roil in hand and wonder what might have been. If the truth be told while I was unhappy to have lost the match I couldn't help but admire my opponent's preparation; in something like 100 test games against Splinter Twin I had *never* seen Mindbreak Trap played and yet looking at how most games between Caw and Twin end (5-6 card counterspell wars) it was the absolute *perfect* answer for that moment. Overall I was fairly happy to be 2-1 after the first portion of Standard all things considered and I felt pretty confident about my chances in the upcoming draft portion of the tournament. For those of you are curious this is the final 75 I entered the event with:
Creatures - 9:
4x Squadron Hawk
1x Phantasmal Image
2x Emeria Angel
2x Consecrated Sphinx
Spells - 25:
2x Spell Pierce
4x Mana Leak
2x Into the Roil
2x Sword of Feast and Famine
2x Oblivion Ring
2x Timely Reinforcements
1x Jace Beleren
2x Day of Judgment
2x Gideon Jura
Lands - 26:
4x Celestial Colonnade
4x Glacial Fortress
4x Seachrome Coast
2x Scalding Tarn
4x Tectonic Edge
Sideboard - 15:
2x Mental Misstep
3x Celestial Purge
2x Revoke Existence
1x Jace Beleren
1x Sword of Feast and Famine
1x Day of Judgment
Analysis: Believe it or not this is essentially the exact same version of Caw Blade I have been tinkering with since about 2 weeks after M12 was released. At the time I considered it quite revolutionary; main-deck Timely Reinforcements, going back to Day of Judgment as a game 1 board-sweeper, Emeria Angel over Hero of Bladehold as a finishing creature and finally the inclusion of Phantasmal Image as a "1-of" catch all answer to both annoying creatures in the format and enemy Squadron Hawks in the mirror. Unfortunately as those of you who watch the Star City Open series on a regular basis are no doubt aware virtually every one of these concepts have become part and parcel of the "standard" Caw Blade build on that circuit. Watching the events leading up to Nationals itself was almost like watching my own deckbuilding process in fast forward; each week more and more "new tech" sprouted up on the circuit until after a mere 3 weeks nothing about my deck was a secret anymore. To be fair I *also* learned a thing or two while watching those events; not the least of which is that Consecrated Sphinx wins more games, faster in the current format than both Frost and Sun Titan combined. This naturally caused me to switch out my Titans for Con Sphinxes roughly 10 days before Nationals and the deck was essentially completed. In terms of overall design philosophy I tried to focus on making the deck as strong as possible against a varied field; I really had no idea what kind of decks I'd see at Nationals and I wanted to make sure the deck I was playing could put up a solid fight against nearly anything I could possibly face in the tournament.
What it's good at: Like most Caw Blade decks running Timely Reinforcements, Day of Judgments and Gideons this deck excels against aggro strategies. During testing I was consistently able to score pre-sideboard victories against RDW, Goblins, Elves, Vampires, R/G Aggro, anything Infect and G/W Aggro. Tempered Steel was a much harder game 1 match-up but I could typically sweep games 2 and 3 post-sideboard quite easily. This deck also tested out fairly well in the mirror and against other U-based control decks in general, including U/B, Grixis, U/R and Mono-Black control decks. Naturally of course it rarely swept these matches but when played properly it was more than capable of stealing game 1 and winning 1 of 2 post sideboard with frightful consistency. While I won't say it's "good" against U/R Exarch-Twin because the deck almost always loses game 1, but after literally 100+ test games with Jared I can honestly say that it's a 60/40, 65/35 post sideboard favorite in the match-up. Of course these results were generated without the presence of Mindbreak Trap and I haven't had time to really consider exactly how much that card changes the game 2 and 3 match-up; at a minimum it makes me want to consider an additional Pierce/Dispell in the sideboard.
What it's not good at: Frankly I'm starting to come to the opinion that Caw Blade decks as a whole aren't very good at "game 1". While most of the problems I've experienced with the deck are easily answered in the sideboard the standard Caw Blade builds I've seen in tournament play will typically have numerous below-average to poor game 1 matches. In this deck's case they are U/R Exarch-Twin, Tempered Steel, U/B Control, Mono-Green Elves, Pyromancer's Ascension and to a degree other Caw Blade decks with less creatures and more main-deck card draw effects (multiple Jaces, more Into the Roils, main-deck Azure Mages, etc). It can also occasionally struggle with Vengevine based combo decks if you can't find/stick a Sword; although once again this becomes considerably easier post-sideboard. The only really "bad" match-ups I came across during my testing were G/w Eldrazi ramp decks with Quicksilver Amulet and of course Caw's current format Nemisis; RUG Pod. I wasn't exactly worried about the Eldrazi decks since they have a number of terrible match-ups in the format but frankly losing to expertly-play RUG Pod when you're siding in 10 cards (Flashfreeze, Dismember, Revoke Existence, Baby Jace, Day of Judgment) is pretty frustrating. Despite the fact that I won my only round against this deck at Nationals I still feel RUG Pod is this deck's absolute worst match-up in Standard.
What the Sideboard does: Much like the rest of the deck itself the sideboard was designed to cover as much ground in the format as possible with only 15 cards to work with. To this end I focused on high utility answers like Flashfreeze, Celestial Purge, Day of Judgment and Jace. This allowed me assemble a reasonable 5-9 card sideboard against virtually any deck in the format; although in many cases I would choose to maintain deck cohesion and leave some potential options in the sideboard as a result. Here is a quick rundown of my sideboarding guide for Nationals:
Vs U/R Twin + 4 Flashfreeze, +3 Celestial Purge, +2 Mental Misstep, +1 Jace Beleren, +1 Dismember, -2 Day of Jugdment, -2 Timely Reinforcements, -2 Gideon Jura, -1 Phantasmal Image, -2 Sword of Feast and Famine, -1 Consecrated Sphinx, -1 Tectonic Edge
Vs U/B Control + 2 Mental Misstep, +3 Celestial Purge, +1 Jace Beleren, +1 Sword of Feast and Famine, -1 Phantasmal Image, - 2 Timely Reinforcements, -2 Day of Judgment, -2 Gideon Jura
Vs Red Aggro (RDW, Goblins) +3 Celestial Purge, +2 Mental Misstep, +1 Day of Judgment, +2 Flashfreeze, -2 Spell Pierce, -2 Mana Leak, -2 Into the Roil (sometimes Dismember instead if they are REALLY fast), -1 Phantasmal Image, -1 Jace Berelen
Vs Valakut +4 Flashfreeze, +1 Sword of Feast and Famine, +1 Jace Beleren, -2 Timely Reinforcements, -2 Into the Roil, -2 Dismember
Vs B/r Vampires +3 Celestial Purge, +2 Mental Misstep, +1 Sword of Feast and Famine, +1 Day of Judgment, -2 Into the Roil, -2 Dismember, -1 Jace Beleren, -1 Consecrated Sphinx (against creature heavy decks with less removal/discard I leave the Dismembers in and board out the Spell Pierces instead)
Vs Tempered Steel + 2 Mental Misstep, +2 Revoke Existence, +1 Dismember, +1 Day of Judgment, -2 Spell Pierce, -1 Jace Beleren, -1 Mana Leak, -2 Consecrated Sphinx
Vs Pyromancer Ascension +3 Celestial Purge, +2 Flashfreeze, +2 Revoke Existence, +2 Mental Misstep, +1 Jace Beleren, -1 Phantasmal Image, -2 Dismember, -2 Timely Reinforcements, -2 Day of Judgment, -2 Gideon Jura, -1 Consecrated Sphinx
Vs Mono Green Elves + 4 Flashfreeze, +2 Mental Misstep, +1 Dismember, +1 Sword of Feast and Famine, +1 Day of Judgment, -2 Spell Pierce, -2x Into the Roil, -1x Phantasmal Image, -1x Mana Leak, -1x Jace Beleren, -1x Consecrated Sphinx, -1x Tectonic Edge.
Vs RUG Pod w/ Twin +4 Flashfreeze, +2 Celestial Purge, +2 Revoke Existence, +1 Dismember, -2 Gideon Jura, -2 Consecrated Sphinx, -2 Timely Reinforcements, -1 Jace Beleren, -1 Mana Leak, -1 Phantasmal Image.
Vs Caw Blade (Mirror) +2 Mental Misstep, +1 Jace Beleren, +1 Dismember, +1 Sword of Feast and Famine, -2x Timely Reinforcements, -2x Gideon Jura, -1x Day of Judgment
Vs Mono Black Control +3 Celestial Purge, +2 Mental Misstep, +1 Jace Berelen, +1x Sword of Feast and Famine, -2x Day of Judgment, -2x Timely Reinforcements, -1x Gideon Jura, -2x Into the Roil.
Well folks it's probably about time to wrap up part one here; the next 6 rounds of Nationals would be M12 Booster Draft format and writing about draft can eat through pages pretty quickly. As always thanks for reading and be sure to check back in the next 24 hours for part 2 of my Nationals report where I'll talk about the two drafts I played in, meeting KYT again (and the rest of the Mana Deprived crew), playing against Noah Long and setting some kind of world record for mulling into oblivion on day 2. Until then folks always remember the words of MtG sage Phil Samms; "it's just Magic." Keep it weird.