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Caw! – Standard after Paris

March 2, 2011

I tell you one thing, there is a lot of Squadron Hawks in the meta game right now. In the Pro Tour Paris Top8 we saw 7 out of 8 people sporting 4x Squadron Hawk in their 75. And just recently there were 13 out of 16 people in the Starcity Games Open Series in Washington DC (which had almost 700 players!) also sporting 4x Squadron Hawk. Why this suddenly seemingly unlimited love for the mighty hawk? Lets go back to the previous Standard format for a bit…

Caw!

A problem control decks suffered in that format was the inability of actually grasping control against Valakut decks  (even against other Primeval Titan-based ramp decks as well). These decks just sports a deadly mixture of threats and explosiveness that makes it impossible to achieve a state of control of a regular basis. After you have made sure that you weren’t dead in the water by turn 4 or 5, you needed to get aggressive which was though and awkward to do with these decks. Now enter Mirrodin Besieged.

The recent addition of Sword of Feast of Famine to the Standard format got peoples thinking of new ways of fighting the previous boogeyman of the format, Valakut. This gave people incentives to be more aggressive, even in the control decks. The new rising star of the Standard meta game is the now much talked about “Caw-go” or Caw-blade” deck (whatever you want to call it), at Paris primarily championed by the Channel Fireball-crew. In this shell Squadron Hawk fits like a glove. Extra shuffle effects for JtMS, multiple bodies to put the swords on, cheap and cost effective ways to handle the aggressive decks… Squadron Hawk does a lot of work in this deck. And at the end of the day, Squadron Hawk is just straight up a good card.

The popularity of Squadron Hawk doesn’t end with Caw-go though, as Squadron Hawk is presence in what seems to be the primer aggro decks of the format. Boros is the big poster child right now, partly due to the success it has had on the SCG Open Series-circuit as well as the impressive second place finish by Paul Reitzl with Boros in Paris. I certainly has taken over the crown that Vampires used to have. There is not a ton of the innovation for Boros since the release of Mirrodin Besieged but it has made good use of what was given. A part from the new sword and the mighty Bonehoard, the most impressive card to me is Hero of Oxid Ridge.

Funny story, a friend of mine, Samuel Korsell, played Kuldotha Red at Pro Tour Paris. After crashing out on day 1 he said to me that his deck was a pile of crap…and a couple of Hero of Oxid Ridge which he thought was the best card in his deck by a mile. I can truly attest to that. Particularly when Squadron Hawk’s popularity is as high as it is right now, Hero of Oxid Ridge gives you wins out of nowhere. I’m still amazed on how many games I won that I thought I had lost when I suddenly ripped Hero of Oxid Ridge of the top when I been practicing with Boros.

After that we have seen a small resurgence of Quest decks (more hawks!) as well as some very exciting decks sporting Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. Patrick Chapin made Top8 with a Tezzeret deck that showed off the control aspect that Tezzeret can provide, but I’m more impressed with the more combo oriented version that Martin Juza sported to a 5-0 start at Pro Tour Paris. There hasn’t been that much buzz about Tezzeret since Paris thought, except both of these gentlemens have written articles about the subject and they both think that these decks are a couple of cards off from really shining. So even if the time is not right exactly right now for Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas in Standard, this is certainly a card and an archetype with a lot of potential for the future. I’m will follow the evolution of this card with a high interest.

Finally I guess something about Valakut is worth mentioning. Is the deck gone now? You know, history? No. People playing Valakut at Pro Tour Paris had a hard time since everyone, and by that I really mean everyone was gunning for them. In addition to the fact that most of the players playing Valakut wasn’t prepared to combat the new line of attack from the control decks. As the weeks progress and people starts to build towards fighting a bunch of hawks instead we will see Valakut be back in Top8s. I would be surprised if not.

However one can wonder, are we stuck with a bunch of Caw-go decks until Mirrodin Pure/New Phyrexia comes out? I have a hard time seeing that deck getting obsolete with the current card pool but that doesn’t mean there are room for innovations. For starters, I think people just recently really understood that it’s not enough to just fight the equipments. Even if you can deal with your opponents Sword of Feast of Famine, there is still a bunch of Squadron Hawks staring you down that will end you if you don’t do anything about it.

Just recently from the SCG Open Series in DC I was very impressed with the arsenal of the RUG decks. Lotus Cobra is really pushing in the battle of “who can do the most unfair things” versus Stoneforge Mystic. Inferno Titan seems like a beast in a field of filled with a bunch of X/1 creatures.

Precursor Golem is also present in theses list and I’m very delighted of seeing that guy in action. I have always liked that card and thought it was just a matter of time before this guy entered the spotlight. He is particularly nasty against Caw-go as they have no good way of dealing with him except of Day of Judgement. He threatens to kill a Gideon in one swing, JtMS fights him extremely poorly and the fact that he and his friends is colorless means they can block creatures with Sword of Feast and Famine (or Body and Mind). The card that is held back a little by the presence of Lightning Bolt. Trading a card you spent 5 mana into for a 1 mana instant seems smelly on paper, but honestly it’s not the worst. You didn’t lost any card advantage or anything. Besides, your opponent probably had to play that bolt on a Lotus Cobra or something similar before Precursor Golem even got into play.

Standard is an interesting place these days, at least I’m enjoying it. GP Barcelona takes place at the end of this month, which I’m looking to play at. I’m unsure if I will actually be able to go though, as my school schedule for the next period is kinda rough. Fingers crossed that I will be able to make it.

Until next time…

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