Insider Information – Vampires in Standard

The StarCityGames.com Open Series returns to Dallas/Fort Worth!
Friday, January 1st – With the StarCityGames.com Open Series: Los Angeles this weekend, Cedric Phillips is suggesting an old favourite Standard deck… Vampires. However, is it wise to place your eggs in the vampiric basket, especially when they are an underdog to Jund? Let Cedric reveal all…

Safely home fresh from graduation, I’ve been sitting around playing Infamous on the PS3 and Standard on MTGO. Infamous is awesome. Standard on MTGO? Not so much…

Wait! It has been pretty awesome! I finally found a deck that I almost like, and I have been winning a lot more than I thought possible. But what deck is it? Is it something new and innovative? Is it cool and creative?

Nope. It’s Vampires. Boring old Vampires.

It’s interesting how I stumbled upon this deck. At the beginning of the season, I made fun of Vampires. A lot. I’ll be the first to admit it. So, what changed my tune?

A couple of things…

I was at a local store recently, called Kidforce Collectables, playing in a Standard tournament with Time Sieve to see if that experiment could continue to pan out. One Underworld Dreams later, and I decided that this was the final nail in the Time Sieve coffin. But what was even more surprising was that Vampires won the local 18-man tournament. It was piloted by a somewhat inexperienced player, but he managed to go 5-0 fairly easily. That really sparked my interest.

It sparked my interest because no one gives Vampires any respect. Yes, Vampires is a heavy underdog against Jund, but what I have found over the past week is that Vampires is an overdog against every non-Jund deck. Trust me. I was surprised at how easily I was beating every non-Jund deck.

See, the format is in an interesting place right now because people are tired of playing with Jund, and are looking pretty actively for decks that beat it. Decks like Mono-Red, Barely Boros, Grixis Control, and UWR Control are decks that are slightly favored against Jund, but they have little to no chance at beating Vampires. So, having a deck that preys on the decks that attempt to prey on Jund can be a very powerful thing. The real question you have to ask yourself is:

“Am I okay with having an autoloss to Jund?”

If you look at previous Magic formats, decks having an autoloss to the most popular deck have had great success in the past. Two examples that illustrate my point:

1.) Pro Tour: Honolulu 2006. Zoo was perceived to be the best deck/most played deck. Owling Mine was a deck that could never beat Zoo, but managed to put two players into the Top 8 that weekend. Antoine Ruel ended up getting smashed by Zoo in his quarter-finals match, and Tiago Chan got mangled by eventual winner Mark Herberholz in the semi-finals.

2.) Pro Tour: Hollywood 2008. Faeries was perceived to be the best deck/most played deck. People were deemed crazy if they even considered playing Reveillark at this tournament, yet two players found their way into the Top 8 with it (one of which was 61 cards!) Charles Gindy ended up winning with his mid-range Elves deck, but Reveillark certainly made its presence felt.

Trying to dodge the best deck/most played deck is an interesting concept. At the end of the tournament, you will either feel like a genius or a complete buffoon. In a format like the one we have right now, where Jund is clearly the best deck but everyone is growing so tired of it that they are looking for alternatives, Vampires can truly succeed. I would know, as I have been dodging Jund a ton online and have been bringing home the bacon because of it.

My list is pretty stock, and really won’t surprise you:

The only thing that may surprise you is Mind Rot over Duress. I have made that switch because Duress just isn’t good enough against Control decks, because all of their cards are so redundant. Duressing their Terminate doesn’t matter because they will probably have an Earthquake and a Lightning Bolt in their hand too. I’d rather make them discard two cards of their choice and give them the opportunity to make a mistake instead.

Another thing I would like to point out about Vampires is what you read about it in other articles and primers. I read just about every deck primer that comes out on the various websites, just to see where players are at in the metagame, and I keep reading the same thing about Vampires:

“My deck cannot beat Vampires, but it really doesn’t matter because Vampires is bad and no one plays it.”

I was under a similar impression, and then the lightbulb went off in my head. How about I be the “idiot” playing Vampires for a few days, and see how it works out! I’ve been chastised numerous times by opponents who claim I was not “playing a real deck,” and who cannot believe I am “stupid enough to play that terrible pile.” That is a pretty sweet feeling while bashing in their skulls!

Here is a pretty quick matchup rundown:

Grixis Control
-4 Disfigure, -4 Tendrils of Corruption
+4 Mind Rot, +4 Mind Sludge

All of your removal comes out because their only creature is Sphinx of Jwar Isle. After sideboard, they will probably have a few Vampire Nighthawks, but that’s okay, because you can trade with them fairly easily or just Gatekeeper of Malakir them. Clearly, your discard is awesome against a removal-based control deck, but be aware that they do sideboard a few Swerves so don’t get overconfident with that Mind Sludge.

The big thing to keep in mind here is that Grixis Control cannot (I repeat, cannot) beat a Bloodghast. If you play one on turn 2, so much has to go wrong for you to lose.

UWR Control
-4 Disfigure, -4 Tendrils of Corruption
+4 Mind Rot, +4 Mind Sludge

This matchup is very similar to Grixis Control, but their cards are a little better. They have access to Path to Exile for your Bloodghasts, so that isn’t as much as an auto-win as we’d like. Wall of Denial is annoying, but with Gatekeeper of Malakir, Malakir Bloodwitch, and the deathtouch of Vampire Nighthawk, it really isn’t a very big issue. Vampire Hexmage is a lot more relevant here due to Ajani Vengeant, so be aware of that as well. After sideboard, they will probably have a few Baneslayer Angels, but we have answers in the form of Gatekeeper of Malakir and Malakir Bloodwitch, so you shouldn’t be too worried about it. Be aware that they also have access to Swerve, but they tap out a lot more often than Grixis Control does because their relevant spells are sorcery speed (Day of Judgment, Ajani Vengeant, Baneslayer Angel, etc), so you can really take advantage of them with Mind Sludge.

Mono Red/Barely Boros
-4 Bloodghast
+4 Mind Rot

If you didn’t notice, we have a lot of life gain. As such, both of these matchups are heavily in our favor. Resolving a Tendrils of Corruption isn’t game over, but it sure does make it difficult for them to win. As with most Red decks, if they have to start killing your creatures, they have probably lost the game, so the goal is to put them in situations where that has to occur. Another neat thing to keep in mind is how quick a clock Vampire Nocturnus can provide. You can win out of nowhere and put them under the gun a lot faster than they are prepared for. Bloodghast comes out because it cannot block, while Mind Rot attacks them in a way they do not want to be attacked. Either they will have to discard spells, which sucks for them (even if they have Unearth), or they will discard lands, which prevents Earthquake from being as deadly. It’s really win-win.

Boros Bushwhacker
-4 Bloodghast
+3 Marsh Casualties, +1 Deathmark

The most important thing here is to keep their creatures to a minimum. If you have Gatekeeper of Malakir on turn 3, cast it and kill their guy. You want to prevent the big Ranger of Eos turn as much as possible, and keeping their creatures off the board is the key to that. Malakir Bloodwitch is great here, as it is difficult for them to kill, and it blocks a lot of their relevant creatures. Bloodghast comes out again, due to its inability to block, for a mini-Wrath in Marsh Casualties and a mizer’s Deathmark.

G/W decks
-4 Bloodghast
+4 Deathmark

These matches really aren’t that difficult because you have a lot of removal after sideboard. Their mana elves make your Gatekeepers a little worse, but it isn’t the end of the world. Let them ramp into their threats, and then pick those off as best you can, leaving them with embarrassing mana elves. Malakir Bloodwitch shines here, as they really don’t have an answer to it while it shuts down a lot of their threats. Bloodghast and that whole “not blocking” thing leaves in favor of Deathmark: a one-mana Terminate.

-4 Disfigure
+4 Mind Rot

I’ve tried a bunch of different things against Jund, but the truth is that you are not going to win. Sprouting Thrinax is borderline impossible to beat, and every single card in their deck is a nightmare for Vampires. The matches I have won, I have gotten extremely lucky or my opponent was playing extremely poorly.

Vampires is an interesting deck, and one that I would recommend playing at a tournament if you feel you can dodge Jund. Nothing beats Jund as well as people think anyway, so I’d rather be extremely soft against that deck and have great matchups across the rest of the field. It’s risky, but it’s a technique that has provided success in the past and will prove successful in the future. The question is if you want to run the risk. I decided that I did, and have been pretty happy with my results.

2009 has been a great year for me, and it sucks that it is coming to a close. I graduated college, I made Top 8 at a Pro Tour, I was the reigning Indiana State Champion, I obtained Level 5 pro status. and I got to write a weekly column for a website I’ve read for a very long time. I hope you guys have enjoyed reading my column as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

I’m really looking forward to 2010 and seeing what kind of results I can bring home. After achieving Level 5, I want more, and I know I am capable of more. Here’s hoping a big year is in store for me.

As I walk into 2010, I will always remember one thing:

“Maybe it’s not my weekend, but it’s gonna be my year.”
All Time Low – Weightless

Happy New Year!

Cedric Phillips

[email protected]