Topping the SCG Invitational with B/R Vampires

Tuesday, December 14th – Keith has Top 8ed several Grand Prix in years past and makes a comeback in this year’s SCG Invitational with a deck he never expected to wield, B/R Vampires. Read his report and complete sideboarding guide.

[In the voice of Troy McClure from The Simpsons] Hi. I’m Keith McLaughlin. You might remember me from such Top 8s as Grand Prix Atlanta 2003 and Grand Prix Boston 2005…

Oh, you don’t? Well, that’s okay, too. It’s been a long time since I’ve seriously played mainstream Magic. You see, once upon a time, I considered myself to be one of the hardest working Constructed players in Florida. I, along with
a few close friends,

would grind local Standard tournaments three times a week and run all-night playtesting sessions several nights a week prior to any major event in the region. Eventually, I went on to obtain four or five money finishes in major events, a handful of Pro Tour scrub-outs, and a
brief stint as a writer

for this very website. Enter my third year of college (chronologically, my fifth year). Being a dual-major in Physics and Mathematics, even at an average state university, proved to be quite the formidable task. I went from grinding every local minor and major tournament to playing Legacy a few times a month over dinner.

I completed my Masters and the bulk of my Ph.D. coursework in November of 2009 and suddenly found myself with an excess of free time. I was, and still am, a bit burned out but began hitting up the local Legacy tournaments on a semi-regular basis. I became increasingly more integrated with the Tampa
Magic community when in early 2010, I agreed to move in with local ringers, John Cuvelier, Kitt Holland, and the

herself, Megan Holland [1]. At this point, I was clearly pot-committed to grinding negative-EV Magic tournaments (Read: playing countless hours of Diablo II with Kitt).

[1] And my girlfriend, Robin Lee, who everyone agrees is positive-EV to live with.

I kicked off by playing the Orlando SCG Open. I showed up to the Standard portion with that terrible
red deck that splashed black

for removal. I was really only interested in playing Legacy and had actually convinced myself that I would drop from the tournament if I lost in any of the first four rounds. Well, turns out, I didn’t lose my first match until round six (to Isaiah Ley’s Polymorph deck) where I got blown out by Fog, which I didn’t even
realize was legal,

ultimately finishing in tenth place.

I played
Life combo

in the Legacy portion, where I was paired against Kitt Holland (Merfolk) in the first round. The match went to the third game, where I peeled a Diamond Valley (whose first activation was Stifled), followed by a Daru Spiritualist to take the round. I was X-1-1 going into the final round, where I unintentionally drew while sitting at infinite life against
Taylor Raflowitz.

The draw allowed David Sharfman to sneak into eighth place with Goblins, with which he proceeded to win the entire tournament. I’d like to believe that I’m solely responsible for the
reemergence of Goblins as a viable Legacy deck,

which of course, is a

matchup for the Life combo.

About a month later, since I already had four Open Points, I decided to
up to Atlanta

to play in the Atlanta open. I had planned on running John Cuvelier Open the Vaults list but audibled into a weird
Polymorph deck
that Tampa player Sam Riley had been brewing. I came down with some illness on the day of the event and could barely speak for most of the day [2]. This gave me the perfect excuse to drop from the tournament if I suffered an early loss. Again, that didn’t happen, and I went on to another Top 16 finish before scrubbing out of Legacy again with Life combo.

[2] Which I found rather unfortunate, since I really enjoy conversing with my opponents throughout the day.

Sitting with eight Open Points, I was able to convince John Cuvelier,
who also had eight points,

to plan on hitting up the SCG Open in Boston to secure the last two points. We weren’t super interested in testing for the Standard portion and wound up running a really awful Metal Red list to subpar results. The Legacy portion, however, went better for us. I ran Charbelcher combo to a 4-0 or 5-0 start, before dropping a game to Zoo with four Mindbreak Traps and some number of Gaddock Teegs after board. In the following round, I squeaked out a win against Merfolk in a game where I played Empty the Warrens on turn 3 (behind a Xantid Swarm), put my opponent down to three life, then managed to runner-runner two Rites of Flame to Belch out my very conservative opponent, who could’ve killed me a turn earlier had he been more aggressive with his board of triple Coralhelm Commander.

After losing a very close match to ANT, where I mulliganed to five all three games, I found myself paired against Cuvelier. He was playing Welder Reanimator, which Doug Azzano had been bugging us on a Google Group for months to test. We had thrown together a few different lists the night before, and while the Survival matchup didn’t seem strong, it was annihilating everything else in the gauntlet.

Since it was unlikely that either of us would make Top 8 (I believe attendance was just short of nine rounds) and Cuvelier had bad tiebreakers, I decided to scoop. We played for fun with Cuvelier taking down both games, including one where, despite my Ingot Chewer “om-noming” his first two mana sources, he got a Force-of-Will-backed Platinum Emperion in play on turn 3. Cuvelier wound up with a Top 16 finish, while I missed a clean-cut Top 32.

Back in Tampa, we began preparing for the SCG Invitational. I was pretty obsessed with Metal Red, as the deck can get some truly absurd starts, and I felt with the correct list, the deck could be the absolute nuts. Unfortunately, the more we played on Magic Online, the more we ran into maindecked Pyroclasms. Eventually, we abandoned the idea and tried a Mono-Red Control deck with planeswalkers, Iron Myr, Everflowing Chalice, and Destructive Force. We ultimately found that Destructive Force is pretty bad when all of our opponents were running 6/6 Titans. The Forces got cut, and we soon discarded the deck altogether.

A few days later, much to my disgust, I came home to find Cuvelier playing B/R Vampires on MODO. I’m not sure why I’ve always hated the Vampire deck. I thought the deck was pretty bad prior to M11, and Captivating Vampire was almost certainly a downgrade from Vampire Nocturnus (Read: Edward, himself). Nights went by, and about a week before the Invitational, Cuvelier swore he kept winning with the deck, only failing to have positive numbers against R/G Valakut and eventually shipped his list to Joshua Cho.

Cho went on to test and tune the deck for the next few days, while bizarrely Cuvelier began testing U/W Control splashing red for Pyroclasm. Out of curiosity, I tried the deck and actually had a blast playing it; in particular, I really enjoyed playing with Venser, the Sojourner. I began actively making plans on borrowing the cards for the U/W/r, but Kitt Holland convinced me that I was making a big mistake. Ultimately, Cho shipped me back his tweaked Vamp list the night before we were set to fly into Richmond, with some substantial changes to improve the Valakut matchup. I believe the only contributions I actually made to the deck were the sideboarded Demons of Death’s Gate and the land base. I’ll talk a bit about the card choices and sideboarding later.

Michael Brady [3], Cuvelier, Megan Holland, and I arrived in Richmond the night before the event where I met up with Cho to discuss the sideboarding strategy. Doug Azzano was also in our room, so naturally, instead trying to get more familiar with the Vampire deck, we played a bunch games of Tezzeret versus the Coalition. Living Death is such a blowout.

[3] Brady qualified on a Top 4 finish in the Legacy portion of the
Orlando SCG Open.

Now, rather than pretend to remember enough of each game to give a detailed play-by-play, I’ll do my best to give a brief synopsis of each match.

Round 1 – Erik Johnson (U/W Control) – Win (1-0)

I don’t remember anything! Sorry Erik!

Round 2 – Pro Tour Champion Charles Gindy (Boros w/ Squadron Hawk) – Loss (1-1)

This was a
feature match.

I think the matchup is fairly close, particularly after sideboard, but Gindy had way too many pingers in game 3, and I had a pretty removal-light opener. Also, if you watch the beginning of game 1 closely, you’ll notice that I inadvertently added a Goblin-Guide-revealed Vampire Hexmage to my hand, while also drawing an additional card for my turn. Fortunately, Gindy won that game. I can’t imagine how crappy I’d feel if that extra card won me the match and Gindy wound up missing Top 8 by a hair.

Round 3 – Ray Frederick (Valakut?) – Win (2-1)

I only think Ray was playing Valakut because I remember being surprised in the early rounds where I unexpectedly steamrolled several Valakut opponents.

Round 4 – Steve M. Walsh (Valakut) – Win (3-1)

I believe Steve also played Valakut, and I probably made the most epic misplay of the tournament. I had a Bloodthrone Vampire in play, along with double Bloodghast on turn 5 (I don’t remember which game). Steve was at fifteen life, and I had a fetchland and third Bloodghast in hand. Clearly the play here is to play the third Ghast, pump the Bloodthrone to 7/7, play the fetchland, pump to 13/13, then pop the fetch, and pump to 15/15 or larger. On the other hand, the Valakut decks all play Lightning Bolt, and I had yet to give Steve a reasonable Lightning Bolt target all game. In fact, it was possible that Steve was holding two Lightning Bolts, which could turn my entire plan on its head, removing my Bloodthrone in response to the third activation. I devised a plan to avoid this. I played my Marsh Flats, put landfall on the stack, then sacrificed all three Bloodghasts. Except that there was no landfall to stack, since the Bloodghasts were still in play. Oops. However, if there is one thing I’ve learned in my fourteen years of playing Magic, it’s this: Sometimes you run soooooooo good! A bit tilted, I tried to relax for a moment to calm my nerves. I regrouped, picked my hand back up and noticed a Kalastria Highborn. “Why, hello there!” I cracked my fetch, played the Highborn, sac’ed the three Bloodghasts again, shot my opponent with the Highborn using my one available black mana, and swung in for exactsies.

Round 5 – Alex Tamblyn (U/G/W Monument) – Win (4-1)

Alex, brother of Grand Prix Oakland (2004) Top 8er, Mitchell Tamblyn, was running a very interesting U/G/W Monument/Token brew. He blew me out in one of the three games with Elspeth, but I managed to force a game 3, where Alex kept a hand with only one blue source, a Birds of Paradise. I killed the Birds on my first turn, and Alex didn’t get another until turn 6 or so.

Round 6 – Lewis Laskin (UW Control) – Loss (4-2)

Lewis is another Florida player, who was one of the pioneers of U/R/W Super Friends, as well as Legacy Bant aggro. I punted game one with this series of plays: Holding a Lavaclaw Reaches with only a Bloodghast, a second Lavaclaw, and five other lands in play, I decided to attack before playing the second Lavaclaw to encourage Lewis to Condemn the land rather than the Ghast (if he had it). I activated the Lavaclaw Reaches and attacked for seven, then quickly passed the turn, forgetting to play the second Lavaclaw. Lewis untapped, played Gideon, +2ed it, and sent the turn back. On my turn, I didn’t draw another land, and since my second Lavaclaw would enter the battlefield tapped, I was one damage (or one mana) short of murdering Gideon with my team. On the following turn, Lewis added a Jace and was now able to protect it with Gideon. Now, I’m not certain that I would’ve won if I hadn’t forgotten to play my Lavaclaw Reaches, but it certainly could’ve been a completely different game.

Round 7 – Gene Richtsmeier (Koth Red) – Win (5-2)

Gene was probably the nicest opponent I played all weekend. Unfortunately for him, I crushed him easily in two games after he managed to muster only five nonland spells in our second game.

Round 8 – Lucas Siow (U/W Control) – Win (6-2)

In my final round before Day 2, I was up against Lucas, who had won an Invitational Grinder the previous night. Probably the card in U/W Control that makes this matchup somewhat nightmarish is Leyline of Sanctity. Luckily for me, Siow only ran one copy in his sideboard. I don’t recall the match details, but I do remember having somewhat of a nut-draw in at least one game, involving multiple Lacerators and Bloodghasts in the early turns.

I was pretty pumped up at the conclusion of Day 2 with my 6-2 finish.

and Cuvelier both scrubbed out with their brews, while Josh Cho,
running nearly the exact list

was sitting with
a respectable 5-3.

Starving, we hit up the sports bar connected to our neighboring hotel’s lobby, before heading back to our own hotel. We took a few minutes to put away our decks and score sheets for the night before heading down to the lobby to down a few shots before heading to the hot tub. Before we went down, I got changed into my surf shorts, grabbed a room key, credit card, and my ID from my wallet, and set my cell phone down on the nightstand by one of the beds. We headed down, and of course, Brady and Crystal (Cho’s girlfriend) immediately had to go back up to get towels or their IDs or something. I don’t really remember.

Cho somehow convinced me to stand outside with him while he downed a cigarette, despite the fact that I was wearing only a t-shirt, my surf shorts, and a towel around my neck, and it was snowing outside. When Crystal and Brady made their way back down, we stopped by the bar where I tried to sweet talk the bartender into finding us some opaque plastic cups, so we could smuggle booze into the swimming area. She complied, but when she went to check my ID, I realized I only had my student ID, which doesn’t include my birthdate. I without hesitation told the bartender that my age was 27, I was born in 1983, I graduated in 2001, and I was clearly suffering from a bit of male pattern baldness. She conceded and served us our drinks, and we headed down to the hot tub.

The water in the hot tub looked quite hot, though this was quite welcoming, since my body temperature was probably at least two or three degrees below 98 from standing in the snow. I slowly put both legs in the tub and lowered my body until I was waist deep. At this moment, I noticed something rectangular and heavy against my leg. It was my phone! I thought I set you down in the hotel!! Cho and I rushed to pull the battery out and tried to dry it out, but it appeared we were too late [4]. Cho insisted that, now, I needed only to finish in the money, and then I could just buy myself a new phone. That sounded good to me, and I quickly got over the loss of my crappy Huawei M750 and got back in the hot tub.

[4] Kids, this is yet another example of why you shouldn’t consume alcoholic beverages.

I probably downed both of my drinks in less than three minutes, but just then a few hotel employees entered the pool area. We were definitely busted. The punishment, they explained, was that they were going to bring us a bunch of leftover wine from some party in one of the hotel meeting halls. I drank more than my fair share of the free wine, and we eventually stumbled back up to our room, just in time to weird out Taylor Raflowitz and David Sharfman with my drunken ramblings. I found this hilarious and made sure to bring it up several times during the course of the next day.

I’m typically a night owl, and this, along with tournament anxiety, usually make it very difficult for me to get a good night’s sleep before (or during) any event. Fortunately, I was fairly intoxicated and passed out rather quickly [5].

[5] This could’ve been a very bad thing, since I have a moderate case of sleep apnea, and the use of sleeping pills or alcohol greatly increase the likelihood of having episodes.

The next morning, I kicked off with a surprisingly gratifying cheeseburger from the convention hall’s concession stand and tried to relax a little before the round nine pairings went up, which by the way, I think are the two best things you can do before a long day of Magic: eat and relax.

Round 9 – David Mayer (Metal Red) – Win (7-2)

David, the winner of the Atlanta SCG Legacy Open, somehow managed to dodge all the Pyroclasms in Day 1 (or somehow just won through them). We talked a lot about his list, which he was particularly open about throughout the course of our match. I mentioned that I really liked the deck and had been trying lists that maximized the artifact count to get the most mileage out of Mox Opal. He insisted that the Mox is just unnecessary, and that he’d cut down to a single copy, while moving up to four Chimeric Masses. After a quick first two games, the third came down to a slow-rolled Vampire Nighthawk that came down after David’s hand had been completely depleted of removal. The Nighthawk got in for about ten before a kicked Burst Lightning finished David off.

Round 10 – Tom “The Boss” Ross (Mono-Black Vampires) – Win (8-2)

Tom is, of course, a well-known Pro Tour player and creator of Boss Naya. In game 1, we had the following board: I had a Bloodghast, Kalastria Highborn, and Bloodthrone Vampire, while Tom had Captivating Vampire with Blade of the Bloodchief, Bloodthrone Vampire, and a Viscera Seer and was at nine life. I drew a land on my turn and had a Lightning Bolt in hand. I couldn’t simply sacrifice all three of my guys to dome Ross for six, since I’d need to sacrifice the Highborn last but wouldn’t have the Bloodthrone to sac it anymore. I decided to alpha strike and assumed that this would tip off Ross that I was holding a Lightning Bolt, forcing him to block all three of my creatures, while saccing whatever blocked my Highborn, leaving me with a Highborn that he could neither kill, nor attack into. I suppose he put me on a bluff instead and allowed my Highborn to take lethal combat damage. I sacrificed my other creatures before damage and shot Ross down to three and showed him the Bolt, which revealed the first glimpse of emotion out of the impressively lax Ross.

I managed to punt game 2 by playing Mark of Mutiny on Ross’s Highborn, only to see my Viscera Seer Disfigured, to which I responded, “I forgot that Disfigure was a card.” Had I Marked Ross’s Vampire Hexmage, it may have been a completely different game; though I suppose had he not had the Disfigure, I’d be boasting about how sick it was to steal my opponent’s Highborn and use it to shoot him. Regardless, I wound up coming back and easily taking down game 3 thanks to a couple Arc Trails.

Round 11 – Andrew Steckley (R/G Valakut) – Win (9-2)

This was a
feature match.

Andrew was X-0-1 on the day and didn’t necessarily need to draw to lock up a Top 8 at this point. Andrew tried to talk me into a draw, but I needed a win and figured that if it were a bad enough matchup for me, Andrew’s wisest play would be to concede me into the Top 8. I wound up taking down game 2 after digging through a ton of cards with a Viscera Seer for two Lightning Bolts to deal exactsies and took game 2 with a Demon of Death’s Gate when Andrew failed to draw one of about sixteen outs in his final two turns.

Round 12 – Adam Cai (RUG) – ID (9-2-1)

Round 13 – Jessie Butler (Mono-Black Control) – ID (9-2-2)

Despite the fact that Jessie had the best tiebreakers of the 9-3-1s and was a virtual lock for Top 8, he was a bit uncertain and wanted to play. I took down the first game rather easily, but Jessie boarded in what felt like ten extra removal spells. With an empty board and way behind on cards, I played a Memoricide simply to figure out how Jessie’s deck was supposed to work, then scooped and prepared for the next game.

While shuffling, I showed Jessie my standings math and told him that he was almost definitely in with a draw and that that once I played my first land of the game, my offer to draw would be out the window. Gerry Thompson, who was playing in an adjacent match, insisted that I was correct and that Butler was a near-lock with a draw (he led in tiebreakers by about three percentage points). After looking at his opening seven, which it turned out, was fairly subpar, he agreed to the draw. After we signed the match slip, I told Jessie that if he missed Top 8, I’d make sure he got a fair share of my winnings. Fortunately, this didn’t need to happen, as Jessie easily slid into eighth.

Quarterfinals – Two-Time Grand Prix Champion Gerry Thompson (R/G Valakut) – Loss (7th Place, 9-3-2)

(Watch the
feature match


Prior to the beginning of the Top 8 matches, the Top 8 players agreed to a prize split, worth over $4000. A few other players insisted that I play out one round before splitting, since this was a good matchup for me, but I’ve known Gerry for a long time, and I’d feel pretty guilty if I refused the split and knocked him out of the Top 8, despite the fact that it’s completely fair game to do so. It turned out to benefit me, however, as Gerry easily took game 1 when I failed to draw a ten-outer on my final two turns and proceeded to take a very lopsided game 2, as well.

Overall, throughout the tournament, the B/R Vampires deck played very well for me with the only unfavorable result against Boros, against which I was 0-1 (1-2 games) against. On the other hand, I put up favorable numbers against Mono-Black Vampires (1-0), Mono-Red decks (2-0), U/W Control (2-1), and Valakut (3-1). Now, I’m writing all of this prior to taking a close look at the Worlds results, so take some of this with a grain of salt, but if I were to run this deck back, here’s the list I’d go with.

As you might be able to tell, I wouldn’t change a single card in the maindeck. I think the single Sword of Body and Mind is somewhat awkward, but the card is obviously quite good but probably bulky enough that I’d never want to risk drawing two copies. I don’t think the deck can afford to cut any of its sacrifice outlets, Bloodthrone Vampires or Viscera Seers, as these are essential to abusing Kalastria Highborn and Mark of Mutiny and can be pretty absurd in conjunction with a couple Bloodghasts. The Vampire Lacerators are probably the only “bad” card in the deck, but I think getting early pressure against the control decks is very essential to the burnout plan.

In the sideboard, I had originally intended to run three copies of the Demon but couldn’t secure the third, so I went with two. I think Duress is pretty subpar against U/W Control if they have any Leylines of Sanctity, but the Duresses are definitely necessary against Valakut post-board when they’ll have extra removal to slow down your clock. The fourth Arc Trail is a definite must-have. The card is so good in the mirror, Boros, and the red decks. Finally, I’ve added an extra Dark Tutelage in an attempt to improve a potentially shaky U/W matchup.

I would still forego running Pulse Tracker, which is present in many of the other B/R Vampire lists that I’ve seen, as I don’t think the card does much in the creature matchups, and elsewhere it increases the effectiveness Pyroclasm.

As far as the lands go, I find it very interesting that we wound up with the exact same land base ran by the three other Vampire players in the Top 16. I suppose that likely means that we’re doing it right, and my rather smooth draws throughout the day tend to enforce that. If you must, I could see cutting an additional land, likely a Dragonskull Summit, to add a Burst or Arc Trail to the main (and the third Vampire Hexmage to the sideboard), but I don’t think that’s necessarily the correct thing to do.

As far as sideboarding goes, here are the configurations that I’d recommend.

Against U/W Control

+3 Dark Tutelage
+2 Doom Blade
+3 Duress
-3 Mark of Mutiny
-2 Burst Lightning
-3 Lightning Bolt

Although burn is nice to help deal with planeswalkers, I think creatures are even better. Duress is obviously quite poor if they have a Leyline, but if they have Leyline, they’re already pretty far ahead; I’d rather maximize my chances in games where they miss on Leyline. If you expect most U/W lists to run three or more copies of Leyline, then your best bet is to likely fit two extra Hexmages in the board. I like Doom Blade to deal with Baneslayer Angel or Sun Titan, since those are obviously very bad if they stay in play for long.

Against Metal Red

+4 Arc Trail
+2 Doom Blade
-1 Sword of Body and Mind
-3 Mark of Mutiny
-2 Bloodthrone Vampire

Here, I think the best bet is to maximize the deck’s early game presence and allow yourself to stabilize if the red deck gets a nut draw and is able to put you under ten in the first three turns. It seems weird to leave Bloodghast in, but I think it’s your best bet to win the game, since they’ll have a ton of removal post-board.

Against Boros

+4 Arc Trail
+2 Doom Blade
-1 Viscera Seer
-3 Bloodthrone Vampire
-2 Vampire Hexmage

The Hexmages definitely need to come out since they’re a huge liability against Cunning Sparkmage, Spikeshot Elder, and opposing Arc Trails. I would trim a Seer for the same reason. I don’t think the Bloodthrone Vampire does enough to warrant his spot here. I recommend leaving Mark of Mutiny in the deck here, as it kills Sparkmage, which is a huge pain, and can take out a Spikeshot Elder if you have six mana, which is very likely to happen. It’s completely imperative that you have enough removal to guarantee that the Boros player can never stick the Sparkmage or Elder, since they, along with a Basilisk Collar, will easily pick apart your entire team. As in the Metal Red matchup, I think the Bloodghasts stay, as they’re your best win condition.

Against RUG

+3 Dark Tutelage
+2 Duress
+2 Doom Blade
-2 Burst Lightning
-1 Bloodthrone Vampire
-4 Vampire Lacerator

This matchup is very easy. The only card that can potentially pose a problem is Avenger of Zendikar, but they will, at most, have only two copies. I think that you want to minimize the effectiveness of Pyroclasm by removing the Lacerators. I think Doom Blade is a slight improvement on Burst Lightning, since they’ll likely board in some number of Obstinate Baloths. The Dark Tutelages are obviously quite insane here, since your removal should keep them from having the nut Lotus Cobra draw. I’d only bring a pair of Duresses, as I really like the rest of the cards in the deck, and I want to keep as much of my maindeck synergies in place as possible.

Against Valakut

+3 Demon at Death’s Gate
+2 Doom Blade
+3 Duress
-2 Burst Lightning
-4 Lightning Bolt
-1 Vampire Lacerator
-1 Bloodthrone Vampire

Again, I trim a Lacerator to try to minimize Pyroclasm’s effectiveness, but at the same time, I need as many early drops as possible to turn on Demon of Death’s Gate, which is very difficult for the Valakut players to deal with unless they start boarding Plummet or something else silly. Duress almost always buys you an extra turn and is typically at its best when you can take a Khalni Heart Expedition. The burn is nice as a finisher, since attacking becomes very ineffective once the Valakut player lands an Avenger of Zendikar, but I think it’s too easy for them to stay out of burn range with their Obstinate Baloths. I think the best strategy is to just pound them early with guys, disrupt with Duress and removal, and try to finish them off with a Kalastria Highborn, Mark of Mutiny, or Demon.

As far as playing the deck in general, the number-one tip I can give is

I don’t think this deck is excessively complicated, but there are a lot of interactions, and it’s very difficult to not miss a few points of damage here and there. For example, in game 2 of the quarterfinals, I had a Vampire Lacerator, Bloodthrone Vampire, and two lands in play with a Bloodghast and land (among other things) in hand. The correct play was to play the Ghast, sacrifice it for +2/+2, play the land to bring the Ghast back, and attack for three. Due to sheer mental exhaustion combined with years of conditioning myself to play spells post-combat, I didn’t realize this until I’d already begun the motion of turning my team sideways. Fortunately, it didn’t cost me the game, but it easily could have; many of my games throughout the day were decided by one or two life.

Here are some other pointers. I think these are all pretty obvious, but at the same time, they’re pretty easy to miss.

1) Just as I missed the Bloodghast/Bloodthrone interaction in the quarters, make sure to take advantage of Bloodghast with Viscera Seer.

2) The deck can deal a surprisingly large amount of damage with Bloodthrone plus a couple Bloodghasts and, optionally, a fetchlands. Make sure you’re aware of the amount of damage you’re capable of doing. See my round 4 for more details.

3) If you have a Highborn and Bloodthrone/Viscera Seer and a total of X Vampires in play, you can drain your opponent X-1 times. If your opponent is at 2X life, many times the correct course of action is to go ahead and start draining your opponent, particularly in cases where your mana supply is limited. There will be instances where you’ll be able to drain your opponent to two and make them unable to block your Highborn without killing it. Make sure to keep this in mind when doing math.

4) Play around Pyroclasm. Bloodthrone Vampires and Bloodghasts are practically invincible to Pyroclasm. It isn’t atypical for RUG and Valakut to maindeck this two-mana board sweeper. Play accordingly.

5) The protection from blue on Sword of Body and Mind seems rather useless, but it does grant protection from Jace bounces and Celestial Colonnade. I nearly missed this in one of my matches.

6) Sometimes it’s correct to randomly dome an opponent with a Kalastria Highborn trigger or burn spell to get him/her to ten or less life, since this saves you from Lacerator damage and grants haste to Bloodghast.

I think that’s about all I have to say regarding this deck and the SCG Invitational. I’ll be in attendance at the SCG Opens in Orlando and Atlanta in 2011, as well as Grand Prix Atlanta in January. If you see me there, feel free to come say “hi,” introduce yourself, and ask me any questions or whatever. My primary motivation to play Magic is to meet new people and have a good time. After all, what’s the point of traveling to events to play Magic if we can’t have fun while doing so?

Thanks for reading!
Keith McLaughlin