Fun With Vampiric Tutor

The one and only michaelj takes a look at the best and worst things you can do with one Black mana, and talks about some of the theory behind proper use of Vampiric Tutor.

[Editor’s Note: I want to apologize to Mike and the readers, as Mike went the extra mile to help me make sure this article got up on Friday, but plane flight delays and lack of available internet access prevented the from successfully occurring. – Knut]

I love Vampiric Tutor. It is possibly more accurate to say that I love cards that cost B… Duress, Sicken, Dark Ritual, Demonic Consultation… but of them all, I probably love Vampiric Tutor the most. And by “the most”, I mean I love Dark Ritual the most, however the Powers That Be no longer allow me to break play that card, and I must therefore settle for the next best card that costs B.

I love Extended. It is possibly more accurate to say that Extended has been kind to me. I once won the last PTQ in faraway Detroit, Michigan playing an Extended mono-Black beatdown deck built by the great Brian Schneider. My first PT Day 2 was an Extended one, and just a couple of seasons ago, I managed to play in four Extended tournaments (1 GPT, 1 GP, 1 PTQ, and one cash tournament), winning three of them; the one that I didn’t win was of course the GP (I am not good), but MikeyP won it, playing the deck I gave him, while I made up for that lapse by winning the PTQ after missing Day 2 with my impressive three-bye 5-2 performance.

Coincidentally enough, my love for Extended and my love for Vampiric Tutor coincide in that Extended is basically the only format where they let you play Vampiric Tutor, where Vampiric Tutor is quite good. Earlier this week, [author name="Dan Paskins"]Dan Paskins[/author] told you to play Extended, and you really should listen to him. Among the Constructed formats, it is probably the most interesting, with both solitaire and interactive decks viable, beatdown and control living harmoniously next to one another. In addition, Dan is a very smart Magic writer, so you should listen to him whether or not anyone else tells you to. Moreover, he is saying to play Extended, a Magical land where you can play Vampiric Tutor.

#9 Smart English people doing maths

Now speaking of Dan, Dan is a smart English person. He is an innovative creator of Red Decks, including Red Deck Wins, and most recently, Sitting Dead Red (a wonderful, under-played build from last year’s Regionals). But once upon a time, the English in general were the best Constructed players on the planet. And by “players” I of course mean “deck designers”. Their hard work helped feed the success of PT Champions from Kai Budde to Gary Wise, but most notably Zvi Mowshowitz in Tokyo.

On the other end of the spectrum there is my friend Paul Jordan. Paul at the time of this story traveled to PT Chicago (Kai’s Rebel) for, yes, a PTQ. He was supposed to play Secret Sauce, the Secret Force with Survival of the Fittest deck that I designed, but was unable to procure the requisite out-of-print rares. You may have heard of Secret Sauce as, to my recollection, it was the deck played by John “Friggin” Rizzo (by way of our mutual friend Aaron Forsythe) on the occasion of his only PTQ Top 8. Rizzo took out two lands for two fatties while Dan McNeil stole PJ’s Natural Orders, forcing Paul to play, yes, Trix.

Now while in Chicago, PJ became acquainted with the friendly and knowledgable English (I believe it was John Ormerod and Warren Marsh), who taught him what is likely the coolest Vampiric Tutor trick of all, but as it requires Necropotence in play, is forced to the bottom of the list due to its, well, relative uselessness.

The Trix combination involves playing Illusions of Grandeur and then Donating to some idiot after you have gained 20 life. He gets to pay the cumulative upkeep while trying to deal 40 to you, inevitably failing to do so before losing 20 life himself. The sequence of playing Trix generally fell into three phases, being 1) getting Necropotence into play 2) wrecking the opponent with discard and/or deploying mana and 3) actually assembling the combination kill. Trix is probably the most powerful combination deck ever to see competitive play because of its ability to defend itself while demolishing the other guy. Back in Columbus, Mr. Buehler and I educated Teddy Card Game on the difference between goldfish speed and actual speed for a Tier One combination deck. A modern Extended Mind’s Desire deck is “High Tide speed”, which is not that fast for an Extended combination deck, whereas one of last year’s Angry Hermit decks is much faster, but also less good at defending itself.

High Tide was good because while it was a good 1-2 consistent goldfish turns slower than, say Academy, it could draw a bunch of cards and counter threats while ramping its mana linearly. Trix is slower than High Tide, slower than Academy, certainly slower than the Japanese Tinker/Twiddle deck, but can better defend itself than any of these. Besides playing a combination that essentially doubles its life total against beatdown, Trix played both Force of Will and Black disruption; it could therefore annihilate other combination decks and tear anti-combination pieces out of the opponent’s hand all while taking an extra turn or so to do it.

Back to the Vampiric Tutor aspect specifically: Say you have Necropotence out and you have just finished embarrassing your opponent by playing six different 0-1 mana spells on your turn and are about to play the seventh (a Vampiric Tutor). How many cards do you set aside for Necropotence? The answer is probably related to (if not exactly) the equation L-(pD+) where L is your current life total, pD is the potential damage you figure the other guy can do next turn, and four is one more than 1+2. Why would you spend that many cards?

Because your Vampiric Tutor gives you perfect information about what is in your set aside pile.

Normally Necropotence buries your opponent in an avalanche of card advantage, but in a deck with both Illusions of Grandeur and Vampiric Tutor, it can also pretend to be a stack of Demonic Tutors. When you set aside this number, you are assuming that you will have four life left over after all the beats the other guy sends your way. You can know exactly what combination piece (if any) you need. If you didn’t get the right cards, your Vampiric Tutor and three life points will still gives you one life left over after you Vamp for the Illusions of Grandeur and spend one more for the Necropotence. All the relevant spells will be in your grip at the end of turn as you discard a bunch of redundant lands.

#8 Cunning Wish for… Upheaval?

Check out the highly successful Team TOGIT deck Eugene Harvey used to make Top 8 of Grand Prix New Orleans a few years back:

There are some interesting instant singletons in Eugenius’s sideboard, but strangest of them all is Vampiric Tutor. Why would someone want to sideboard Vampiric Tutor in a Cunning Wish deck? If you have Cunning Wish, don’t you just Cunning Wish for what you need, be it a counter, a removal card, or some card drawing?

Not if you want to get Upheaval!

This is actually an old High Tide trick where some versions of the High Tide deck, already laden with manipulation cards, played a lone Mystical Tutor. What good is Mystical Tutor, you ask, when the deck already has Impulse, Intuition, and especially Merchant Scroll?

Ya can’t Merchant Scroll for a Time Spiral.

Eugene used Cunning Wish to get the Vampiric Tutor in his board, and then used the Vamp to get the Upheaval in his main. Sadly, violence ensued and many players were killed. Violently.

#7 Vampiric Tutor for… Vampiric Tutor?

Many players have run this trick, but it was shown to me care of recent GP Champion Jon Sonne. At the end of his turn, Jon knew that he wanted to play Vampiric Tutor, but didn’t know what to get. So he got another Vampiric Tutor so he would have the same option next turn!

Why is this a great play?

Think about it. Your opponent Vamps. Then does nothing to blatantly wreck you the next turn. What did he get? How do you alter your own play? On the mind games list, this play is a powerful one. It is the kind of play that you don’t want to run when you are behind, but can keep you ahead when you already are. You leave your options open for the price of two life and one card, but gain an immeasurable virtual card advantage based on your opponent’s reaction. Will he suddenly elect not to play (further?) into Perish? Will he over-commit, letting you wreck him the next turn with a totally different card than he assumed you got anyway?

Possibly not the best play on Earth against a player who doesn’t think through his choices, Vamp for Vamp is amazing against hand destruction, and remains equally so the next time the opponent wants to try to muscle you with a mid-game Duress.

#6 The Sol Malka Mise

Legend has it that once upon a time, before the world at large had chosen to embrace The Rock, there was an Atlanta-based player who loved B/G and would play it in every possible format. No one yet knew the legend he would brand upon Extended, and they foolishly met him in battle with such decks as CounterSliver or Maher Oath.

One such magician, haughty as he was strong, grip full of counters and board covered in strictly superior lands let young Sol resolve an end of turn Vampiric Tutor. “I will counter whatever threat you present, fan of Christina Aguilera and old tahm rasslin’.”

“Will you now?” grinned our hero as he presented… Dust Bowl.

Vamp for Dust Bowl against permission is easily one of my favorite plays. I used it all day to win a PTQ with The Rock (just like Sol would have liked), and this play greatly informed our tuning and tactics for the Napster deck that is widely considered my best creation.

As a corollary to this play, don’t be afraid to use Vampiric Tutor to just get a land. I know it sucks to burn a card and spend life just to keep your mana flowing, but you gotta do what you gotta do. Back in the days when my group played with such cards as Demonic Tutor, it was even more painful to avoid manascrew this way. Little did we know that years later, whole new schools of Magic thought would be borne on the idea of using valuable library manipulation to keep the lands coming in mana poor decks.

#5 Drawing a Card with Skeletal Scrying

A subtle corollary to some of the other strategies is to use Vampiric Tutor as kind of a delayed cycling card. This only works when you have graveyard recoup like Skeletal Scrying or Yawgmoth’s Will, but when you do, that one card can be surprisingly brutal. Many players hate using Mirage Block Tutors because of the loss of short term card advantage that they require, but when you go for a direct card drawing engine that allows you to burn a Vamp to get another card, that loss becomes immaterial. When you are Vamping for your next Will… you get to run one of these broken techniques all over again.

#4 Getting a Singleton

Structurally, getting a Singleton is probably the most important contribution of the card Vampiric Tutor. Before the mainstream acceptance of the Mirage Block Tutors, we just didn’t have decks like Maher Oath. Vampiric Tutor lets you do things like playing one Perish in your mono-Black deck. You don’t want to draw Perish nine times out of ten, and you won’t, because you only play one. But you have a bunch of Vampiric Tutors, which you draw consistently. That one match out of ten when your StOmPy opponent drops a half a dozen Rogue Elephants, though, you sure are happy that the Perish is somewhere in that stack, because when you untap… oh when you untap.

#3 Winning the Game Immediately or Learning to Play Magic Better

Kind of a cross between recouping card advantage and getting a singleton, Vampiric Tutor lets you get whatever card you need to win the game immediately (or at least make a win inevitable). You are restricted by only two things: the contents of your opponent’s deck, and the contents of yours. I know that it is painful to throw away a card searching. I hate looking at most Extended deck lists… even the good ones because of the crazy mana bases and overabundance of cards that do nothing.

But you know what? It doesn’t matter how many cards you have if you win the game.

Playing Vampiric Tutor helped me understand how Magic works, how interactive counting works, and to break old paradigms. You want to stop playing on Autopilot like Dan said? You have to stop playing according to whatever rules you learned the first day someone explained a two-for-one to you.

Here is a particularly embarrassing story:

The day I unveiled Napster, at Regionals 2000, I lost one game prior to the Top 4. I actually forgot to side in my Eradicate when I was up a game v. White Weenie and Vamped for Eradicate only to find it wasn’t available. I lost to Lin Sivvi and some pro-Black Gliders because of that.

So anyway, flash forward to the Top 4. I’m in Game Three against eventual Northeast Regional Champion Sayan B. I have a full grip… too full in fact. Eight cards. Sayan has a Circle of Protection: Black and a bunch of lands, both in hand and on the table. He’s drawn and said go, so I figure he has something. I only have four lands. I have eight cards in grip. I Unmask.

Paying retail.

Turns out the card he drew was Mystical Tutor. It got Replenish. I was holding the Rapid Decay.

If I had played it right, if I had bit the bullet on “inherent card disadvantage”, I would have actually been on the wrong end of a three-for-one. But you know what? I would probably have also been the Northeast Regional Champion, or at least had a shot against Mark Swoyer’s Twisted Beatdown. Instead, I was tapped out with a Rapid Decay, on the wrong end of a card that they had to pull back in Vintage.

#2 Assembling your combo

Yes yes, you got Cadaverous Bloom. Nothing to see here. Let’s move along.

#1 The best of the biggest

Sadly the best thing most fun thing to do with your Vampiric Tutor, better than all of these other options, is to put a +1/+1 counter on your Quirion Dryad, like some sort of library searching Battlegrowth.

Even though we say we like Threshold best, this is the actual most-favored deck of both myself and Brian David-Marshall. No, it’s not very good at mising PTQ Top 8s. 0 for 3 actually, I think. But when you win a game, boy do you ever win.