The Dragonmaster’s Lair – Standard Vampires and Worldwake Spoilers

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Friday, January 15th – At the recent StarCityGames.com Standard Open, Vampires finished top of the food chain. Is this aggressive deck, traditionally the underdog against the format-gouging Jund, ready for a true spell in the sun? Brian Kibler investigates, before discussing a couple of the Worldwake cards spoiled thus far…

Here we are in that strange period just before the release of a new set. There are a few spoiled cards out here and there (like my preview article for today — go check it out here), but by and large there isn’t that much to talk about just yet. I’m sure that will change in the next week or so, but for now we’re going to look back once more before we can look forward. Thankfully, we have some interesting things to look at from the SCG Open in Dallas / Fort Worth last weekend, so I’ll start with something old before moving on to something new.

As the official coverage proclaims — Twilight fans rejoice! Vampires wins the SCG Standard Open! Ever since the release of Zendikar, people have been trying to turn the fan favorite tribe into a successful Standard deck, but the oppressive power of Jund has always kept Team Edward out of the winner’s circle. In fact, Jund has historically been such a bad matchup for Vampires and such a huge part of the field that most players didn’t bother to consider the matchup in their playtesting. LSV went so far as to say that he didn’t consider Vampires to be a real deck in his discussion of his preparation for his SCG: LA win.

At the time, that was largely true. Vampires made up only 14 of the 316 decks in Los Angeles, and many of those, including Cassius Weathersby and Gary Talim (the top finishing Vampire players), chose to splash Red, which prevented them from effectively taking advantage of the scariest card Vampires has for control players — Mind Sludge. In a field made up of 30% Jund, which is traditionally a rough matchup for Vampires, playing a deck that matched up well against Jund and poorly against the bloodsuckers wasn’t a bad call.

That all changed thanks to the results of SCG: LA. With LSV winning the whole thing, and Jeff Huang making the Top 8 with the exact same 75, UWR Control was suddenly a major player in the metagame. The arrival of an apparently legitimate Jund-slayer shook things up tremendously for the field at SCG Dallas/Fort Worth. The popularity of Sprouting Thrinax and friends dropped like a rock in the Lone Star State, falling off from the 30% representation it had enjoyed in virtually every major event since the release of Zendikar to be merely the most prevalent deck at 16% of the field.

That’s a big difference. Over the course of a nine round tournament, that means that rather than expecting to face three Jund decks, you can expect to face one or two. Assuming you have maybe a 35% win rate against Jund, at 30% of the field you can expect to pick up two losses from Jund alone, which is generally enough to knock you out of Top 8 contention. At 16%, you’re in much better shape, especially if the rest of the field is made up of decks that are typically good matchups for you. If you can get a little lucky and beat the few Jund decks you face or even just avoid them until the later rounds of the tournament when you can offer the draw, Vampires certainly has a shot.

That was the gambit fourteen year old Eric Palmerduca took at SCG Dallas/Fort Worth, and it paid off handsomely. Here is Eric winning deck:

This list has a few innovations that I’m a pretty big fan of, although the fact that the first one hasn’t been the standard in all Vampire lists blows my mind. Eric chose to play two copies of Mind Sludge in his main deck. Somehow this is something of a revolution in Vampire technology despite the fact that Mind Sludge is quite possibly the best card a Mono-Black deck has available to it. It’s particularly bizarre to me that Mind Sludge has been largely relegated to the sideboard given that it’s one of Vampire’s best weapons against its toughest matchup — Jund. In fact, against a slower Jund start, a savvy Vampire player with Mind Sludge in his hand can play out nothing but lands to give Jund nothing profitable to do with its removal before forcing them to dump their hand with Sludge. This is of course on top of how powerful it is against the heavily anti-Jund UWR and Grixis control decks that have had a lot of success lately. Flashfreeze looks pretty silly when you have a Mind Sludge pointed at your face.

The other major maindeck innovation is Grim Discovery. Along with Sign in Blood, Grim Discovery gives Eric Vampire deck a hefty lineup of cheap card advantage — or, in this Blightning filled world, discard recovery. Grim Discovery obviously has excellent synergy with the deck’s eight fetch lands, and can bring back Gatekeeper of Malakir after he does his job for further Edicting card advantage goodness — not to mention Limited superstar Vampire Nighthawk and UWR-bashing Malakir Bloodwitch, both of whom can turn a game around on their own. I could actually see playing extra copies of Grim Discovery in the sideboard to help shore up the Jund matchup. They seem like an excellent way to help fight back against the card advantage of cascade.

Eric sideboard is more standard, but solid nonetheless. I’m on the fence about going up to 4 copies of Mind Sludge in addition to 4 Duress, since Mind Sludge in particular isn’t terribly exciting in multiples. On the other hand, Mind Sludge is so devastatingly powerful that you want to be sure that you’re going to draw one, and while Grim Discovery can give you card advantage it doesn’t actually dig you deeper into your deck. With only four Sign in Blood for real card draw, I can definitely see the argument for playing 4 Mind Sludge to maximize your ability to hit it on turn 5 in the matchups where it is most important. Everything else looks fairly standard, though as I mentioned before, I’d probably consider including a third Grim Discovery in the sideboard as just a little more action against Jund.

If I were to play in a Standard tournament tomorrow, I actually think there’s a good chance I’d play Vampires. If Jund remains a more reasonable percentage of the field than it has represented in the past, and you play a Vampire deck with the necessary tools to fight it out with them, of which I believe Mind Sludge and Grim Discovery are high on the list, I think Vampires may stand to be the best choice. I am not by any means claiming that I think Vampires has a good matchup against Jund, but I think despite that fact it may still have the best chances against the field at large — just as long as Jund doesn’t make up too much of it.

And who knows? Worldwake could bring some amazing Vampire that turns everything around. We haven’t seen much so far, though things are beginning. In fact, if you haven’t already, you should go check out my Worldwake spoiler article as soon as you’re done reading this! Besides my unofficial Invitational card, there are a few other cool cards that have popped up between spoilers and the Orb of Insight.

One of those cards is Quicksand. Quicksand is an interesting card in the modern era. Once upon a time, Quicksand was a staple in control decks. It was one of the best ways to deal with early opposing creatures that didn’t even require tapping mana on your turn. In those days, control decks were much more heavily defined by their countermagic than anything else, and tapping out on your own turn was something you wanted to avoid at all costs. This made the ability to trade your land drop for an opposing creature absolutely invaluable, especially when that creature was something like Jackal Pup or Carnophage

It’s hard to say what place Quicksand has in modern Magic. Tapping mana on your own turn is the rule now rather than an exception. And creatures are bigger — much bigger. If someone showed up with a Jackal Pup nowadays they’d be laughed out of the room. Vampire Lacerator is a Carnophage on steroids, and Vampire decks don’t even consider playing it. It’s a different world out there these days. These days, there are real monsters.

But that doesn’t mean Quicksand might not have a home. Look at the most prominent creature in all of Standard — Bloodbraid Elf. Part of what makes Bloodbraid Elf so powerful is the tempo swing that it creates, putting a 3/2 haste creature into play on top of whatever else it cascades into. Quicksand can slow that down by taking out the Elf, albeit at the cost of setting you back a land. It can also threaten to take out a Putrid Leech who dares to pump on offense, which can serve as virtual life gain even if you’re never actually forced to use it — an interaction that is sure to present interesting problems for players in Standard if Quicksand does become popular. And hey — it has pretty awesome interactions with Grim Discovery. Is it worth the weaker Tendrils and Mind Sludges to play Quicksand in Grim Vampires? We’ll find out.

The other recently spoiled card I want to talk about briefly is Mysteries of the Deep. There has been a lot of fuss over the quality of card drawing available to Blue in Standard, and in particular a lack of instant speed card drawing (remember what I said earlier about Blue players being trained to never want to tap out on their own turn?). Well, Mysteries of the Deep is instant speed card drawing that requires just a little bit of extra work. With the prominence of fetch lands in so many decks — UWR control plays eight — it’s not hard to imagine this card quite often just being 4U Instant: Draw 3 cards. That’s not the best deal around — you can get an equal number of cards from Mind Spring without the need for a fetch land, but you have to do it on your own turn. If you do play Mysteries on your own turn, you don’t even need a fetch land. I could see decks heavier in countermagic than the current control decks reaching for this after Divination. It’s certainly no Esper Charm, but it’s much easier on the colored mana, that’s for sure. I’m not sure if it will find a home in Constructed, but it’s a sign that WotC is still willing to delve into the space of instant speed card draw for Blue.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. I’m sure next week there will be a whole lot more Worldwake to talk about.

Until next time…