“Five Caw-Blade, one pseudo-DarkBlade, a Splinter Twin, and Goblins in the Top 8 at SCG:Pitt. It doesn’t have to be this way!” –Patrick Chapin
“Caw-Blade is the best deck, hands-down!” – the rest of the Magic community
What is going on in this game we all love? Why have we all become the victim of something so ridiculous? Let’s look at the track record since February: PT Paris shows the world that Blue-White Stoneforge is a dominant deck. The next handful of Star City events and Grand Prix do nothing but reinforce this fact. New Phyrexia releases, pushing the deck into the stratosphere, prompting WotC to swing the ban hammer in the name of diversity. That should have been the end.
What’s happened since then? The deck has reasserted itself as the “best” in the format, due almost entirely to everyone that still plays it insisting upon its continued dominance. While I’ll admit it’s hard to argue with results, (several wins on the SCG circuit, 6/8 Top 8s at US Nationals, wins all over the World at Nationals, etc..) the deck simply cannot be as mind-blowingly awesome as advertised. Aintrazi didn’t drop a game to the Winged Menace until the finals, and Chapin himself has designed several powerful shells to combat the boogeyman and still maintain solid matchups across the board. The only answer is one I hate to admit, but it seems to be the only explanation: People still want Caw-Blade to be good, and if enough of them try, someone will succeed. Even in Modern, where the combination of card pool and good removal engines should have squeezed it out of contention, the deck won the first event, simply because someone played it and navigated a field that wasn’t too hostile to it.
How do we stop something that seems to be a self-perpetuating problem? Players all over the world are dying to know how to beat it, but until someone else does it for them, they’ll just sleeve up Squadron Hawks and see if it still gets there. Even several professionals are saying the same thing: Until someone else comes up with a way to beat it, they won’t play anything else. What does this say about a game that was supposed to be about options? What ever happened to the diversity that was supposed to happen after the Jace/Stoneforge bannings? Have we just decided to see how many cards we can get them to ban?
Personally, my local metagame is nothing but aggro decks, from Tempered Steel to Goblins, with a few Birthing Pods and even an Allies player here and there, all enjoying the fun times with creatures. I have longed to sleeve up Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas since he released in Mirrodin Besieged, and finally got my wish after Gen Con, obtaining a playset by casting off cards I didn’t need any longer. While the deck is far from perfect, it does offer an alternative to just playing UW: Play something that beats aggro and games against control, but doesn’t rely entirely on creatures getting into the Red Zone. Such a thing isn’t fantasy, and is very much possible. While Tezzeret the Card isn’t ridiculously powerful on his own, cards like Wurmcoil Engine and Myr Battlesphere are, and Tumble Magnet just keeps getting better all over again, thanks in large part to the resurgence of Caw.
I’m not saying Tezzeret is the best deck in the world, nor am I saying it beats the Caw. I don’t have enough games against it to prove one way or the other. Instead, I’m saying you should try it, not because it’s the best overall, but because it may well be the best in your local metagame. Let’s face it: That’s where the real Magic happens. Local tournaments are the most consistent way to improve ratings, test ideas, and push the envelope, but players just assume that a deck taking down a Pro Tour is a sign that you should play that deck everywhere. Sometimes it’s true, but most of the time, it’s really not. Early in the year, while Valakut was the face of the game, my local format was actually under the heel of two competing strategies: Bant Vengevine and Grixis Control. Both sported solid aggro matchups, the ability to take Valakut out of the game, and the ability to outplay their opponents.
Instead of trying to find the next Best Deck, start looking for one you can play better than the people around you. Caw may well be the best deck in the format, but it has holes that can’t be filled with Timely Reinforcements or Sun Titans. If the opponent is on a remove-then-attack plan, you’re in trouble as the Caw pilot. Consecrated Sphinx dying before it draws any cards is an utter waste of six mana. Hawks getting killed in droves makes it difficult to get a Sword swing in, and putting any kind of pressure behind this plan gets you there. Aintrazi knew it at Nats, and took that plan all the way to the title. I’m not saying you should play his deck either, as even he advised against it. I’m saying we need to reevaluate the way we look at Magic as a whole if all we can do is play what Gerry Thompson, Edgar Flores, or LSV tells us to. Instead, the Magic community as a whole needs to learn how these types of decks come to light, then repeat the process.
Either that, or we can go back to the world of a hundred Caw-Blade mirror matches per round until someone shows up with the right mirror-breaker that wins them a trophy. Mirror matches aren’t the way to go, as it just shows the stereotype that all of us will flock to the same bright, shiny object and worship it until we can’t anymore. Then all it takes to get us under heel is another shiny object and a few words about how awesome it is.
The deck isn’t broken, and even when it’s ahead, the opponent can still find plenty of ways to win. Instead of perpetuating the cycle and pushing a deck that was supposed to be dead to higher places than its pre-bannings version ever was, stop for a minute and think. Are you actually on the Pro Tour? Even when armed with the most recent technology and innovation for the mirror, have you ever really been close? If so, what stopped you? Are you like most players, scrubbing out at PTQs and dreamcrushing FNM each and every week?
Maybe you should worry about learning to play the game better, instead of just scouring the Internet for decklists and driving singles prices up. Every player has that one type of deck they avoid because they can’t win with it. Well, if you can’t win with Caw-Blade, but you really hate trying to play linear aggro, maybe now is a good time to try your hand at linear aggro. You might learn something about yourself and this great game we all play along the way.
Thanks for reading,