Thursday, February 18, 2010

Some Notes on Vampires

Sorry for being slow on updates. I haven't even watched through the GP Oakland coverage/matches - been busy planning for my own events and doing stuff while in LA. GGSlive and CFB did an awesome job on coverage. You can find all the videos on Youtube.

There aren't a lot of places online to find out about the Standard metagame yet; because it seems not many tournaments have been held using Worldwake cards. I might be wrong, and if there are places to find decklists, inform me!

There is one constant resource, though, and that is Magic-League. The one place where you can test with cards online as soon as they hit the stands.

For a look at what's winning there, check here. Note that the metagame on Magic League is probably vastly different from your local metagame, as well as the national/worldwide metagame, as well as the Modo metagame. For one thing, money is not an issue. All the games are carried out on mediums that don't require paying for cards. On top of that however, the player base is a lot more willing to be experimental. They run a lot more combo decks as well as weird versions of known lists. A lot of good rogue lists have come out of Magic League. Or at least, get popularized on Magic League.

From my brief look-see at the post-Worldwake metagame offline however, the decks are more uniform. Players want to invest in cards they are going to use for a while. So they can't all try crazy things. I faced a ton of Vampires decks at GP Oakland as well as in New York. People like Vampires; people know Vampires can only get better with Rise of the Eldrazi. And it's not terribly expensive to build. So at the ground level, among regular players like you and me, you're going to see lots of Vampires.

Now there are a variety of versions of the list because people haven't settled. I've seen Red-Black lists as well as mono-black lists. I think I even saw one blue-black list.

Here is one typical mono-black version from Magic League by BarneyStinso. This list looks very standard to me - it's what I would expect. However I would run one more Bloodghast, one less Highborn. Also, as a huge fan of Eldrazi Monument, I might play one also. I would also try maindecking Tectonic Edge, to see how it played in the mainboard.

Some people don't like Highborns for some reason, but not running them is just wrong.

Reasons for Highborn
  1. It's a form of reach that doesn't require combat damage.
  2. It creates situations where the opponent has no choice but to take 2 no matter what they do. 
  3. It's the best "answer" to Day of Judgment or other sweepers that Vampires has. (Other than drawing lots of Bloodghasts.)
  4. Against aggressive decks, gaining 2 life in each exchange is pretty decent. 
  5. You don't have to leave mana up if you don't need to. If Kalastria never gets activated, it's probably because it ate a removal spell. Against decks with not very many removal spells (like white decks), it has certainly done its job. Against decks with lots of removal spells, like Jund or control, it is usually a better idea to try to leave a black mana up or two. 
  6. In situations where you can no longer get past blockers, just kill your own guys to deal the final points. Sign in Blood sometimes plays that same role, too! 
Anyway, Vampires. How good is it exactly? 

I don't think it will be making very many Top Table appearances at San Diego. I would be willing to bet money it doesn't make Top 8, not necessarily because it's a bad deck but because I can't imagine many people at the Pro Tour willing to play the deck, which is rumored to be bad against Jund. The one person I might expect to pull it off is Cedric Phillips, but he is very good at playing and winning with "mediocre" decks. He knows how to play each matchup, and he doesn't play the decks like most players do. A difference in testing and skill can certainly make up a lot of ground. 

So I guess Vampires, when in the right hands, isn't a terrible deck. But I still don't think it's over-powered, even when played right. A good Jund player against a good Vampires player still favors the Jund player. 

The most problematic cards for Jund are probably Bloodghast and Mind Sludge. This is why I board in Thought Hemorrhage because it's the "easiest" answer I have for Mind Sludge - it hits one turn earlier. And is slightly more reliable than Duress (since after board they run 4 copies and are even likely to have one in hand by turn 4). If I draw multiple Thought Hemorrhage, I can just target Bloodghast; if they have more than one in their graveyard, it's like a 2-for-1. There's nothing really else to name in Vampires (in general). The rest of the cards are not ones Jund cares a lot about, although depending on the situation, there could be a right card to name. (For instance Sign in Blood while at 2 life.) Without Mind Sludge, Vampires have an uphill battle against Jund. 

As for Vampires, the most problematic card for them in Jund is Sprouting Thrinax. I'm not really sure why, but almost every Vampires player I've faced just kicks Gatekeeper against me while I have nothing but a Thrinax on the board. I suppose sometimes there are no better options. But I feel it might not always be the correct thing to do. So I wonder why it keeps happening. Anyway, I win most of my games against Vampires by just drawing a lot of Thrinaxes. They make really good blockers. I try not to swing with them unless I have control. I will often run out Thrinax before using Blightning; Blightning is a fine card, but double-Thrinax will win me more games reliably than double-Blightning (because Vampires has Bloodghast, Sign in Blood, and Grim Discovery to make up for the lost cards). Siege-Gang is obviously another good card against Vampires but doesn't become relevant until much later. 

Post-board, Great Sable Stag is actually not that great. I can board in a few, but I don't really care if I have them or not. They won't win the game for me by themselves. If I have to choose between Thrinax and Stag, I'll take Thrinax. 

Vampires is good against other decks however. Bloodghast is quite good against Cruel Ultimatum decks. Gatekeeper of Malakir is good against the Shrouded Wall plan. I also really enjoy Vampire Hexmage's interaction with Everflowing Chalice and the new Jace. This is why I would run Hexmage as well as copies of Highborn in the maindeck. There's no reason to replace one with the other; you can just run both.

Vampires reminds me of Kithkin a little bit - it's black weenies. Except instead of creating a multitude of threats quickly; it tries to make the most of what it has using graveyard interactions.

Will Control make up the majority of the metagame giving Vampires its time to shine? Does Vampire actually beat Control? (Numbers from one of the SCG 5Ks suggested otherwise, but it's possible the numbers were skewed by other factors.)