Caw-Blade.

Just seeing those words on the page will be enough to evoke a visceral reaction from anyone who played Standard during the deck's reign in 2011. To the unfortunate souls that fell to the Blade, it was death and despair embodied, but those who wielded it experienced what could be described as Magic nirvana.

The merging of what would become two of the game's most storied cards, it raised Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic to the next level and started a legacy that lasts to this day in the form of "Stoneblade" decks. With both of these cards now Modern legal for the first time, their reunion has marked the return of one of Magic's most beloved and feared decks.

The Card That Started It All

Printed in Worldwake in February 2010, Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor became immediate Standard staples. Stoneforge Mystic was used in aggressive white decks like the one Craig Wescoe used to Top 8 Pro Tour San Diego, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor was a perfect centerpiece for control decks like the blue-black that won the World Championship that year. It wasn't until the release of Mirrodin Besieged a full year later that they were brought together to set the course of history.

The catalyst was Sword of Feast and Famine, which gave Stoneforge Mystic a potent tempo tool that generated not only card advantage with its discard effect, but more importantly, a mana advantage that helped its controller get ahead and stay there. It created the perfect environment for making the most of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and its own ability to generate mana advantage with its -1 bounce effect, or card advantage by burying opponents in Brainstorms.

Fueled by Squadron Hawk as an effectively endless supply of evasive bodies to equip, the deck broke through at Pro Tour Paris, winning the event and redefining Standard. When Batterskull was printed in New Phyrexia, the already dominant deck became effectively unbeatable, and within a month both Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor were banned.

By that time the deck had already taken hold in Extended, but by the fall it was banned there too, before the format was fully phased out for Modern. No chances were taken in the new Modern format, where both Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor were banned from its inception. That left the deck legal only in Legacy, where it rose to prominence in yet another format, and has persisted there in some form ever since.

Why Is the Blade Back?

The merits of unbanning Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic in Modern has been debated for years, and while they were eventually both unbanned to some fanfare (Jace early in 2018 and Stoneforge Mystic last fall), they haven't become the metagame-warping powerhouses many feared them to be.

The unbanning of Stoneforge Mystic put the pair back together and promised to usher in a new era of Stoneblade. An exciting proposition—or a scary one, depending on your perspective— but it was overshadowed by the release of Oko, Thief of Crowns barely a month later.

With the ability to either shut down equipment from Stoneforge Mystic or create Elks to pressure planeswalkers like Jace, the Mind Sculptor, it's hard to imagine a card more perfect for hosing Stoneblade.

With Oko, Thief of Crowns rising to dominate both Standard and Modern in a way that hasn't been seen since Caw-Blade itself, there was little room for Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor to operate until its banning. It's no surprise that in the month since, Stoneblade has finally found a firm footing in the metagame, and has quickly risen to become a contender and one of the best decks in Modern today.

Stoneblade had a breakout finish two weekends ago by winning the MKM Series Event in Paris. It followed up with a big performance on MTGO, winning last Saturday's Modern Challenge, and putting a player into the Top 8 (and another into ninth place) of the Modern PTQ on Sunday.

What Does Stoneblade Look Like in 2020?

 

Stoneblade supports Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor with some of the best cards in Modern, including a few of the most broken cards printed in the overpowered sets of 2019.

Teferi, Time Raveler acts as a great bridge on the mana curve between the two all-stars, and its versatility as a catch-all bounce spell, card advantage, and instant-speed hoser makes it an incredible addition. Like Force of Will in Legacy, Force of Negation adds insurance against the format's most broken strategies, so it's a perfect addition to a deck that's ultimately playing fair and honest Magic.

Force of Negation headlines a suite of countermagic that can be stretched very far with the help of Mystic Sanctuary, which mitigates mana flood and gives the deck action late into the game. Paired with Cryptic Command or the singleton Deprive to bounce it, it can even create an endless stream of countermagic and creates a powerful endgame plan. Along with a playset of Snapcaster Mage, Mystic Sanctuary helps the deck get the most out of its large suite of disruption, which includes some of the most efficient staples in Modern like Path to Exile.

Tying everything together are Opt and Serum Visions as card selection, and they allow deck to play a sleek 23 lands. Celestial Colonnade is nowhere to be seen, as the deck needs many Islands to support Mystic Sanctuary, but Field of Ruin adds another disruptive element against the format's many utility lands and is a key hoser against land decks like Urzatron and Amulet Titan.

Everything adds up to a perfectly balanced midrange deck. It can control aggressive decks like Mono-Red Blitz with creature removal and Batterskull, break up combo decks like Ad Nauseam with countermagic, or out-grind control decks like Azorius and other midrange decks like Jund with its many card advantage elements.

Reaching for the Sideboard

Straddling the line gives midrange decks game against just about anything, but at the same time, everything has game against them. Stoneblade lives and dies by its sideboard for dealing with the many Modern strategies it comes up against, all of which are broken in their own right and require hosers to beat consistently. Luckily Stoneblade has a wide assortment of options to choose from, including some of the classic hosers white decks are known for like Rest in Peace and Timely Reinforcements, and a few broken new blue hosers from 2019.

The versatile Ashiok, Dream Render is on the rise as one of the best sideboard cards in all of Modern right now. It's one of the few ways to counteract Primeval Titan, which has seen a resurgence since the printing of Dryad of the Ilysian Grove. It's devastating against the Gruul decks with a ton of land searching, and it stops Tolaria West against Amulet Bloom. Ashiok goes further by acting as a graveyard hoser, so it gives the deck extra game against any Dredge opponents it might run up against and means the deck doesn't need to spend slots on multiple Rest in Peace.

Another versatile 2019 hoser that fights back against Primeval Titan is Aether Gust. It's especially powerful because it gets around Cavern of Souls, so it's truly a blowout against an opponent who expects to resolve their spell—maybe even a game-ending one if they were counting on finding lands to help pay for a Summoner's Pact. With Snapcaster Mage and Mystic Sanctuary to reuse a spell, a one-of can go a long way, and this one surely does in these matchups. Hitting red cards means it's also a nice removal spell against Red Prowess and Burn, and is on its way to being a Modern staple in the vein of a card like Celestial Purge.

Mystical Dispute will go down in history as one of the best hosers since Pyroblast, and it's an easy addition here for a wide range of matchups, including the mirror.

Matchup and Sideboard Guide

Vs. Dimir Urza

In post-Oko, Thief of Crowns Modern, the formerly metagame-defining Urza, Lord High Artificer deck has been severely crippled by the banning of Mox Opal, and has fallen back into the pack as just another good deck among many. It has returned to its old strategy of Whir of Invention and the Thopter Foundry / Sword of the Meek combo.

The new, more disruption-heavy and controlling version of the deck is less susceptible to just folding to a sideboard hoser like Stony Silence, which Stoneblade no longer even plays or needs. Instead the game is more like a typical mirror match between midrange blue decks fighting over the battlefield and card advantage.

Stoneforge Mystic and its equipment suffer against discard spells and Pithing Needle, so I don't mind cutting them entirely and buckling down for a grindy game that Stoneblade will be in better position to win.

Vs. Amulet Titan

The top spot in the metagame has been taken by the Amulet Titan decks, and their land-based plan can easily go over the top of the fair Stoneblade deck. Countermagic does go a long way against the strategy, but it's important to pressure them and end the game ASAP or Field of the Dead will inevitably take over the game.

Vs. Valakut

 

The same logic applies against red-green Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle decks, which tend to be less explosive but less susceptible to disruption.

Vs. Mono-Red Prowess

Since the bans, Mono-Red Prowess has grown into one of the most successful decks in Modern. Combatting it requires containing its creatures as the first priority.

In their most recent iteration of the deck, the Challenge winner TSPJendrek has added an Oust to both the maindeck and sideboard to help further combat the matchup. Whether or not this is necessary remains to be seen, but it's something to consider if you're having trouble against Prowess.

Vs. Jund

Jund decks have been on the rise in Modern, and the matchup is a nice classic midrange battle between two sides of the color pie.

Their discard and Kolaghan's Command mean Stoneforge Mystic is unreliable, Bloodbraid Elf can make short work of Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and their planeswalkers are all very threatening. That all combines to make a difficult matchup, but one Stoneblade is capable of winning by leaning on its own disruption and card advantage elements.

Vs. Ad Nauseam

One of the hottest decks in Modern right now is the Ad Nauseam combo deck, which has gained a new tool and combo piece in Thassa's Oracle. It's an upgrade over the Laboratory Maniac the deck already played, but now players are going further by including multiple copies and opening up a whole new combo.

With the aid of Phyrexian Unlife or Angel's Grace, Spoils of the Vault turns into an Inverter of Truth-style effect that will completely clean out the library to set up a kill. The deck already sometimes played Spoils of the Vault, so it's an easy adjustment and a big upgrade that has brought the deck renewed success.

All of the countermagic in Stoneblade will go a long way toward disrupting their combos, but their ability to win the game at instant speed means death is always looming, so playing the matchup can be tricky. The best plan is to disrupt them and develop the board early in the game, before they can combo and you have to put your guard up.

Back to the Blade

If you played with Caw-Blade back when it was in Standard, or have enjoyed playing it in Legacy, now is a great time to get back to it. If you haven't had the joy of playing with it, then now is a good opportunity to get on the right side of history, and I doubt you'll be disappointed.

Stoneforge Mystic's ability to put game-winning pressure on the opponent starting on turn two combined with the original broken planeswalker Jace, the Mind Sculptor, surrounded by some of Magic's finest blue cards makes Stoneblade a real cadillac of a deck and a true luxury experience to pilot. It's only just beginning its ride in Modern.


Adam Yurchick

Adam Yurchick is a competitive Magic player and writer. He writes about Modern, Pioneer, and Eternal formats, and keeps a weather eye on shifts in the metagame.

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