- UG ďCAW-BLIMEYĒ - BUILDING THE TOP 8 DECK FROM GREAT BRITISH NATIONALS - by Will Dunn (Views: 686)Thursday 8th September 2011
- I started prep for nationals about 6 weeks ago. Iíve just graduated from UCL and due to various commitments canít start looking for a career for at least two more months, so I thought Iíd try and use the time constructively to have a proper run at nationals. I decided that if I could find a homebrew/rogue deck that was as competitive or even almost as competitive as most of the top decks in the format, Iíd play that. I would not advocate playing any old pet deck, but I feel like playing a rogue deck, which is competitive, gives you such a huge advantage at high level events where your opponents know the format inside-out. At this level it effectively creates an asymmetry in knowledge, where having tested the matchups you know everything your opponent can do in every situation, while they know little about what your deck does or what you can do. This asymmetry lets people make misplays and gives you a huge initial advantage, while they try and work out what your deck does.
Ed Hughes also commented to me on another advantage it gives. To ensure it is competitive you have to learn the format inside out, you have to know the crux of every deck and what makes that deck run. It forces you to think critically about exactly what makes every deck tick and why it is that one deck beats another and forces you to try and come up with solutions for why these decks work. By learning this, even if you are not successful with the creation, you get to know a format to the point where you know everything about the match ups. This is a huge advantage when it comes to knowing what cards you need to beat decks, how you want to board in matches and how you want to play in the matches, from the simplest decisions of who is aggro vs who is control, to deeper intricacies of which lands to tap in order to bluff the answers they fear the most.
In order to brew a competitive rogue deck we started by mashing up the Grand Architect deck with Tezzeret and put a lot of time into learning and tweaking this, however, as tempered steel started to gain more momentum the potential for being caught up in the fallout from steel and running into a room full of artifact removal put me off and I started to look for something different. I decided I would rather be the reactive one, the one with the artifact removal rather than the one being punished by it.
So about four weeks ago I looked to green. At the time I quickly made the decision that I thought
Nature's Claimmight be the best removal spell in the format. This format was different to others, it wasnít the creatures which were the threat you wanted to remove, it was the artifacts or enchantments. At the time Caw-Blade generally beat you not with the caw so much as with the blade and either way you didnít want to be trading one of your removal spells for their Squadron Hawk. This applied to decks like Birthing Pod, Tezzeret, Splinter Twin and Tempered Steel as well, where the threats were not necessarily creatures, but an associated artifact or enchantment instead. I felt like Oblivion Ring also gained a lot of value because of this pattern, so I want to answer that as well. Nature's Claimseemed to do all these things for one mana, meaning it was a lot easier to pay for Mana Leaks or Spell Pierce s while doing it.as well.
At the same time I felt like it was important to try to out-mana the control decks, Iíd learnt from the Grand Architect deck that since the counters in the format are almost all switched off if you can get an additional three mana, then acceleration like Lotus Cobra lets you quickly out mana most of their answers or counter their answers with your own.
At the time, my friend Sam Stokes was running rings around me by dropping turn two Swords, with Birds of Paradise. By being the first to the Sword in most matches all you had to do from there was hold the advantage, this is where the blue came in. Birds and Cobra both let you have a played and equipped Sword on the table on turn 3, which was a tough situation for most decks to deal with. From this point all you have to do is defend your advantage. Even ahead of Mana Leak this made me contemplate Spell Pierce. Spell Pierce let you hold this advantage through their removal and Mana Leaks.
The deck I finished with felt a lot like a blue-green version of Caw-Blade. It still had the Caw in the form of Birds of Paradise, which while not replacing themselves provide you with the ability to out pace and out mana the control decks. The cost of green, however, was the loss of Timely Reinforcements and Day of Judgment. At the time, we felt the ability to beat the more popular CawBlade and UB control decks was worth this sacrifice and undoubtedly it was this choice that let the deck 6-0 and then double ID the constructed portion of Nationals, however it is this exact cut which cost it in the quarter finals.
Anyway, enough of my ramblings here is the deck I ended up playing at Great British Nationals:
4† Misty Rainforest
2† Scalding Tarn
4† Tectonic Edge
3† Verdant Catacombs
4† Birds of Paradise
1† Consecrated Sphinx
4† Lotus Cobra
2† Thrun, the Last Troll
4† Beast Within
3† Garruk, Primal Hunter
4† Mana Leak
1† Nature's Claim
2† Spell Pierce
2† Sword of Feast and Famine
1† Sword of War and Peace
2† Tumble Magnet
3† Creeping Corrosion
2† Nature's Claim
3† Obstinate Baloth
3† Torpor Orb
Possibly the best card in the deck though is Beast Within. Itís shear utility in every match is incredible. The card offers a huge amount of flexibility it kills Jace Beleren, Gideon Jura, Karn Liberated, Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, Titans, Sword of Feast and Famine, Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, Oblivion Ring, Tempered Steel, any of the Man Lands, Consecrated Sphinx and pretty much any other threat in the format and it does it at instant speed, replacing them with a 3/3 which canít block your Sword of Feast and Famine and is outclassed by your 4/4 Skinshifters and Thruns or trades with your own 3/3s from Garruk.
Beyond this removal flexibility it offers you more options. Often youíll find you end up playing it on your own empty Tumble Magnets or spare land, letting you apply extra pressure, kill the Jace Beleren they just tapped out for or provide an end of turn, flashed in, target for your Sword which they otherwise thought was useless. Against the aggro decks it flashes you in a blocker they were not expecting. It always gives you options and provides you with some sort of answer.
Beast Within also provides you with more dream starts, which donít just include Cobra + fetchland + Garruk, Cobra + fetchland + Sword or Bird + Sword. The play responsible for at least two of my game wins against control when I was on the play this weekend was: turn 1 Birds of Paradise, turn 2: drop land pass the turn and in their upkeep Beast Within their one land. This leaves them floundering around with one land on the table while you have 4 mana and can start dropping Cobras or Skinshifters with Mana Leaks up or just dropping a Thrun. Obviously this is not consistent, but it is capable of winning you the occasional game. Even if they have the Spell Pierce, they have missed an opportunity to drop Squadron Hawk or counter your turn 3 play.
One of the decks greatest strengths is that many of the cards provide this same flexibility which Beast Within has.Skinshifter is clearly another example of this. It provides a great threat in control matches, his low cost allows you to make him and protect him with Mana Leaks and Spell Pierces. His trampling means Swords still deal damage to opponents in spite of pesky Squadron Hawks, Bird tokens or Solemn Simulacrum and his flying means that he can jump to protect Garruk from those same Squadron Hawks. In the aggro matches you have to be a little more careful of removal responding to his single activation, but he becomes a 0/8 to stall by blocking up and worst case he often buys you a turn and a card while you block and they Bolt him in response, not ideal, but it buys you time getting you closer to a better answer. Without a Tempered Steel or Steel Overseer he blocks all the pesky fliers in Tempered Steel
Tumble Magnets provide further flexibility and in the end it was this flexibility that made me replace both Dismember and
Nature's Claimwith it as the extra removal spells of choice in the main deck. Itís ability to tap Titans is crucial, stalling them hopefully for long enough for you to find the Beast Within or race them. It also stalls Birthing Pod, tapping it in the upkeep to deprive them of a search. It taps creatures with Swords, lets you apply pressure by providing a temporary answer to two blockers and it protects Garruk from threats or man lands and, as Iíve already said, when itís all out of counters, you can always turn it into a 3/3 to have a Sword or block up.
I found the deck had very good match-ups against the control decks in the format, such as Caw-Blade and UB Control, providing very early threats they often couldnít deal with such as Thrun, the Last Troll or Garruk, Primal Hunter or just out-mana-ing them so that you could counter their answers to your other threats such as Skinshifter or a Sworded
Bird of Paradiseor Lotus Cobra.
The Birthing Pod matches seemed somewhere in between. If they could get an active Birthing Pod early enough or out aggro you, then the match was a struggle, but the great match-ups against control provided the deck with sufficient sideboard space, this allowed for Torpor Orbs. Between Torpor Orb,
Nature's Claimand Flashfreeze the match becomes a lot better. Torpor Orb also provides a great answer for Twin and Valakut, meaning that with 8 main deck answers to Valakut itself, you could prevent the Titans letting it out pace you with too many Valakuts at once.
The deck does have a hellish first game against aggro, but post board the matches seemed to get a lot better. Bringing in more
Nature's Claims and, crucially, Creeping Corrosion for the Tempered Steel match turned the whole game around. The red matches while a little tougher benefit hugely from Obstinate Baloth and Battleskull. Initially I tried Mental Misstep in the sideboard, but Battleskullis much more of a definitive answer to the aggro decks, if it stays on the table just one turn then the life gain and vigilance provided such a huge advantage that you could often win, if they kill the Germ Token then equipping it to anything else is often still enough to swing the game in your favour.
By far the worst match is Vampires, which feels almost unwinnable. Their huge number of creature removal spells and Vampire Hexmages answer almost every threat you have, with the exception of Thrun, which Gatekeeper of Malakir also answers. Obstinate Baloth can make the game slightly better but he dies so quickly that he often canít influence it enough. This leaves you scrabbling around to try and find
Battleskulls. The only real advantage you have is that their creatures are 2/2s while yours are 3/3s or 4/4s and this is really an advantage you have to press. If you can stick Garruk just one turn that can sometimes swing it through the two extra 3/3s he produces. I guess with this in mind, it was an inevitability that my quarter finals match would be Vampires.
The deck list seemed very tight in the end and a lot of cards I tried out didnít make the cut. Here are a few and the reasons why I didnít think they were right in this deck.
Jace Beleren: While Jace is really good, especially when dropped on turn 2, the control matches already felt good enough and it didnít offer enough against the aggro decks. It felt at the time like it died too quickly to Squadron Hawks as well and didnít apply the pressure the deck wanted to be applying early on.
Acidic Slime: We tested this mostly for the Valakut matches, but found that land destruction wasnít the right approach for them. A lot of the time Acidic Slime, despite itís flexibility, just isnít high impact enough for your 5 mana, especially when the choice is between this and Garruk or Sword+Equip. It also made hands awkward a lot more often if your early acceleration died. It has obvious advantages against Tempered Steel, but when Creeping Corrosions and
Nature's Claimcome in post board, Acidic Slime is often surplus to requirement.
Khalni Garden: I felt like the comes into play tapped start with the garden, slowed the deck too much, the token didnít have a sufficient influence on the game to warrant those draws where on turn 2 or 3 you have to make a tapped land and it stalls you or prevents you out-mana-ing the opponent or having one of the decks dream starts.
Dismember: This was another tough cut, but we felt like Tumble Magnet gave you a better answer to a lot of different threats and better game against RDW/Goblins, where youíll often lose your early acceleration and donít want to pay 4 life against them.
Into the Roil: While it was satisfying to Beast Within their threat then bounce the Beast, we felt that Beast Within,
Nature's Claimand Tumble Magnet all provided better long term answers to whatever Into the Roil was dealing with. You could often put them off equipping a Sword completely by just having a Tumble Magnet on the table. It also lead to hands of Nature's Claim, Beast Within and Into the Roil, but no pressure and these were often not the opening hands which fitted the UG tempo game we were trying to play.
Green Sunís Zenith: My personal view on GSZ was that it was too greedy with the mana to suit the decks ability to drop threats and keep counter mana open. In a lot of games the one mana makes a huge amount of difference and that extra one mana was too costly. I also felt that running a set of silver bullets inhibited the decks ability to out pace the control decks and stopped it keeping pace with the other aggro decks. In the late game it also didnít feel like it added the value you would want it to probably just fetching Thrun or in a deck with bullets maybe Acidic Slime or Obstinate Baloth.
The last Preordain: This is likely a mistake on my part, but again because the extra one mana is often so important, I didnít really ever want to double Preordain in one turn. You often want to either Preordain on turn one to try and find a Cobra or fetch land or far later in the game. The first few turns are usually too intensive with the mana and so drawing 2 can sometimes slow you to the point where you have lost your ability to out-pace other decks or out mana them. So I cut the 4th Preordain for a third Skinshifter, preferring pressure to control in a deck without a wrath effect. This is likely wrong, but I donít really know what else I would cut for it as everything else has so much value.
Timely Reinforcements: This sounds bizarre but we spent a lot of time playing with the idea of splashing white to try and make the Vampires and the RDWs match better. I eventually opted against it. I liked that my opponents Tectonic Edges were useless against me and so I was always able to keep ahead on mana. It also meant that there were never any awkward comes into play tapped lands interrupting turn four or five plays and preventing gaining a tempo advantage. It could be that Seachrome Coast and Razorverge Thicket fit into the deck and let you play Timely Reinforcements as well and possibly even Oblivion Ring, Day of Judgment or Gideon Jura. This may be a better approach for the deck and one people want to consider in future, but I opted for what I felt was a more consistent, Tectonic Edge-proof build. To be honest I underestimated Vampires and assumed it would not be popular or successful enough to justify these changes to a deck which otherwise seemed to perform very well against the rest of the field.
Dungrove Elder: I didnít actually have time to test the Elder, but I imagine itís hexproofness fits the Sword plan very well and it does fill the 3 drop slot which this deck is sorely missing. It might be worth playing around with this guy to see if the deck hits sufficient Forests for this to be a threat.
I hope this has been useful. I definitely think that if you are expecting a field with a lot of Caw-Blade, UB control, Pyromancer Ascension, Splinter Twin, Tempered Steel, UB Tezzeret or Birthing Pod this is the best deck to play. If you expect a lot of Vampires or RDW, maybe leave this at home or have a try at fitting the white splash in. The deck provides a lot of opportunities to outplay opponents, opportunities I certainly failed to take advantage of on many occasions and this leads me to have no doubt that a better player than me could definitely win a major Standard constructed competition with this deck.
Thanks for reading. If you have any comments or questions please feel free to get in touch with me. This article has already become a bit long so Iíll cover how the deck sideboards in the next article.
Aside from all this, some quick acknowledgements for all the help I got: Iíd just like to say a massive thank you to Sam Stokes and Ed Hughes for all their patience in play testing and thoughts and ideas for improvements/innovations while we ran a random assortment of our different designs into the other decks in the format. A huge thank you to JSJ and Lee for lending me the cards for the deck and to BFF for his thoughts on a few of the designs which didnít come off. Thanks to James Geach, Tim Lim, Matt Moate, Jon Hopkins, Mike Groves, Flounce and everyone else for all the support over the weekend. Finally to Dan Royde, Charlie Grover and Thom Richardson for helping me figure out how to get even 2 games off Vampires. And finally finally thanks to Megan for being awesome.
- s. wallace - September 8, 2011, 14:50 I really liked this article, well written, relevant, and very in depth, I hope to see more of this writer in the future.