Initial Technology – Playing Vampire Nighthawk in Extended

I’m writing this just after taking a pretty heartbreaking loss in the last round of GP Atlanta, though I shouldn’t get too far ahead of myself. I tested more for Atlanta than really any tournament in recent memory, though that was largely in part to a few unique circumstances.

First, Mirrodin Besieged isn’t out yet, so there wasn’t any meaningful preparation to be done for PT Paris. It will surely have a huge effect on both Standard and Limited, both formats which I am bored to death of pre-Besieged. We tested a ton for Worlds, and I didn’t see any reason to continue playing dead formats until the release of the next set.

Second, Extended is awesome. There really isn’t much better than getting to play a very fun and skill-testing format. I feel that Extended right now is actually a really good mix of interesting cards and viable decks, which gave all of us the best incentive possible to playtest: it was fun!

While I ended up playing Faeries, don’t think that I just settled on that weeks ago. Our test group ran through the entire gamut of decks before deciding on sleeving up the Bitterblossoms, and even up to three days ago Wrapter was considering playing a Mythic/Naya hybrid. A good sign of how healthy the format is can even be seen in the answer I gave whenever anyone asked what they should play:

“Play whatever deck you know best (unless it’s Kithkin, then you are just screwed)”

The top 6 or so decks are all very close in terms of matchup percentages, and I feel the best play for anyone is to pick a deck and learn it inside out, preferably a deck that matches their playstyle well. For some people, that is Naya, Jund or mono-red, for others, 5-Color or Faeries, and for the combo-control players, there are even a ton of different and good Scapeshift builds. As I write this, the Top 8 looks like multiple types of Scapeshift decks (RG and UG), Faeries, Jund, and possibly even mono-Red.

After testing out all sorts of brews, I was faerie sure on the deck I chose. I think that if you can play Faeries well, it is a great choice, and the printing of Creeping Tar Pit has even made the mirror a really interactive matchup, instead of the previous “Bitterblossom or no” coinflip it used to be. My mirror match % is quite good, and I credit that to knowing how the matchup works and a pretty solid sideboard plan. Basically, every match ends up being pretty close for Faeries, but I feel you have the edge in basically all of them if you really know how to pilot the deck. Plus, we had some awesome sideboard tech, courtesy of one David Ochoa.

Midway through testing, we were really unsure about what we wanted in the “Stag slot”. Because of the popularity and effectiveness of Great Sable Stag, you really need some sort of plan in your sideboard to deal with it (and Wurmcoil Engine doesn’t really count, since it costs six). Here is the the list of cards we considered:


Ok, the last three aren’t real, but the top four cards were all in the sideboard at various points. I initially was pretty excited to try Wall of Tanglecord in the sideboard, but after actually playing with it, quickly realized it sucked. It just isn’t a very good card, and even at its best, is purely reactive. It didn’t even stop Knight of the Reliquary or a Wooly Thoctar with Exalted, which made it even worse. Consuming Vapors was a little better, since it could actually just blow them out, but I found it to be way too swingy. Sometimes, it ate a Stag and then came back and ate another one, but more often it either ate a useless mana guy or a Vengevine, which is not what I want my four mana sorcery to do. Warren Wierding was just a cheaper and much less powerful version of Consuming Vapors, and Consume the Meek was way too slow to be any good.

Luckily, the Ocho broke it as usual. A few days before the GP, he suggested Vampire Nighthawk. Not only does it mitigate Stag damage, if they don’t have Stag it still bashes, and can trade with Wooly Thoctar or Knight of the Reliquary. Plus, it seemed like it could be good in the mirror, though we didn’t have enough time to fully try it out.

After many, many, hours of testing, here is the maindeck, which I was very happy with.

I wouldn’t change a card, though if you really want a second big Jace you could cut a little one. The 2-2-2 split on removal was sweet, since they all do slightly different things, while still being flexible. Even Peppersmoke, which seems like the most narrow, is good against control, since you can at least cycle it. In the mirror, Smoke is by far the best, and against 1-drop mana guys it is insane. Another secret reason that Faeries is an awesome deck is the lands. Getting to play 26 lands AND 10 spell-lands (manlands + Tec Edges) is actually a huge advantage. Most people don’t fully grasp that being able to play a ton of lands (which reduces mana screw) and a bunch of lands that do things (which reduces mana flood) just gives you a very substantial advantage over decks that don’t get to. Even against 5-CC, not only do we have more lands overall, ours actually do things too!

Our sideboard was also sweet, and ended up being:


The Edges in the sideboard were fantastic, since they let us up our land count against everyone, while still being almost a full spell in most matchups. We didn’t have too much against control/combo, since Faeries is just naturally good there, and our aggro plan was pretty nice. I think we lost to one Naya deck combined, among the entire six of us who played the deck (me, Ocho, wrapter, Owen Turtenwald, Tom Raney, Matt Nass).

The reason our sideboard was so good against aggro was that we got to bring in cards that were not only good in the matchups, but good against the cards they were bringing in. Round after round, we would talk about how our last opponent brought in Volcanic Fallout, Cloudthresher, Deglamer and other nonsense, while we were transforming from Faeries to UB Control. Postboard we had a ton of removal and must-kill threats, while still retaining the capability of Bitterblossom nut draws.

I should give a quick rundown on how to sideboard, since we were bringing in the full 13 against Naya and 9 against Jund. Do keep in mind that these plans are nowhere near set in stone, and all of us boarded a variety of different ways. This format just has a lot going on, and all sorts of factors influenced how we were sideboarding. Even a difference in playstyles would affect my choices, since some cards are much worse when playing against an opponent who actively plays around them. This is a rough guide, but I would caution anyone against not mixing it up, both depending on who is on the play/draw, and what specific cards you have seen from them.

Against Naya:

IN: everything but Spell Pierce

OUT: 2 Vendilion Clique, 2 Jace Beleren, 3 Mana Leak, 3 Mistbind Clique, 2 Spellstutter Sprite, 1 Thoughtseize

At times, I also only brought in 1 Tec Edge, and sometimes cut more Thoughtseizes instead of Mistbind/Spellstutters, but this was the plan I think I liked most. What this does is almost blank Cunning Sparkmage, since you only have Blossom and 2 Sprites as 1-toughness guys, as well as getting rid of garbage like Mana Leak and Jace Beleren in exchange for a ton of removal and must-kill guys. They don’t have a ton of actual removal, so boarding into 3 Nighthawks and 2 Sowers really makes things tough for them, especially when you have Wurmcoils ready to mop things up. I really didn’t mind playing against Naya, and was actively rooting to do so by the end of the tournament.

Against Jund:

IN: everything but Sower, Spell Pierce, and Peppersmoke

OUT: 2 Jace Beleren, 2 Peppersmoke, 2 Vendilion Clique, 2 Spellstutter Sprite, 1 Mistbind Clique

This is assuming Jund plays Fauna Shaman, since every Jund deck I faced had them. Deathmark and Doom Blade are pretty bad if they aren’t Shaman’ing, so keep that in mind. This matchup is a little tougher than Naya, since they have a lot more scary cards (Blightning, Demigod of Revenge, Anathemancer) instead of big dumb idiots like Wooly Thoctar. Still, most Jund players were boarding out Lightning Bolts for Fallouts, which made Nighthawks very good. I did lose against Gindy, who knew about the Hawk plan and kept in Bolts (though I never had a Nighthawk in play the postboard game I lost, so it didn’t matter). If people are aware of how you are boarding and take steps to adjust for it, it might be time to go back to the drawing board.

Against Faeries:

IN: 2 Spell Pierce, 2 Tectonic Edge, 3 Vampire Nighthawk, 2 Sower of Temptation, 2 Peppersmoke

OUT: 2 Disfigure, 2 Grasp of Darkness, 2 Vendilion Clique, 3 Mistbind Clique, 1 Spellstutter Sprite, 1 Mana Leak (on the draw), with 2 Sprite and 0 Leak being cut on the play.

This is the matchup where boarding is toughest, since the individual card choices in the opposing deck really matter. If they have Scions and Sowers, you definitely want Disfigure, and I would cut a Leak and a Mistbind to keep them in. Alternately, you can just not board in Nighthawk, and keep Grasp of Darkness in your deck, thought that also hinges on whether they are cutting Mistbind. If they are, Grasp is your worst removal, and probably just worse than Hawk. Mistbind really isn’t that good in this matchup, since all their spells are instant and it relies on having another Faerie in play, as well as just being expensive. You may notice that we bring in Tec Edges in most matchups, but I don’t think you can cut any of the maindeck spells without weakening your game against one deck or another, though I suppose –1 Jace Beleren +1 Tectonic Edge could be ok.

Against Scapeshift:

IN: 2 Spell Pierce, 2 Tectonic Edge, 1 Deathmark, 1 Doom Blade

OUT: 6 removal spells

This is a pretty easy matchup to board, since your removal sucks and you have four cards you really want to board in. Depending on which version of Scapeshift you are facing, you might end up keeping the 2 Disfigures over the Deathmark/Doom Blade. Against UG Omen, Disfigure is way better, since it kills Oracle for one mana at instant speed, but against RG Valakut, Doom Blade and Deathmark kill Titan, so they get the nod.

That really sums up most of the big decks, but again, don’t be afraid to try other plans. This deck is full of flexible and powerful cards, and there are certainly a ton of different sideboard plans you could implement.

Battling in HotlantaFreezing Cold Atlanta

Let’s just say I was on the case:

Much like my GP Bochum report, I figured I would condense my tournament to the most interesting of plays, just because nobody really needs to read about the games where I just curved Blossom into Jace into Mistbind (aka every game Owen Turtenwald played in the tournament).

– I lost round one to turns 3, 4, and 5 Stags, though he also needed a Path for my Mistbind and a Bloodbraid Elf. That was a lot of stuff, and despite losing, it gave me a good feeling about our deck choice.

– I managed to trick a Jund opponent pretty well with Tectonic Edge. He had three lands and a Leech out, and I knew his hand was just two lands that come in tapped. During his attack step, I picked up my Tec Edge and said “oh, I guess I can’t Edge you yet”, since he only had three lands. He then just didn’t play a fourth land, in order to foil my plan. In general, stopping your opponent from doing what they want is a good thing, but in this case it really didn’t get him anywhere.

– My other Jund opponent on day one ended up with a deck full of reactive cards, such as Volcanic Fallout and Nature’s Claim, and just gave me way too much time to develop my hand and board. When the aggro deck boards in a ton of removal, it usually makes them too slow to beat the control deck (and yes, even with Demigod and Bloodbraid, Faeries still has a better long game).

– Mistbind continues to trick people. I cast it during all sorts of different phases, and always made sure I knew what my plan was before passing the turn. Shipping the turn and then tanking on their upkeep is pretty loose, though I suppose you could run it if you actually didn’t have the Mistbind, but make sure not to oversell it.

I ended Day 1 at 8-1, after losing to Scapeshift and beating GW Trap, Jund, Jund, Naya, and UG Omen. Wrapter, Web, and Raney were also 8-1, and Owen was still undefeated at 9-0, with Nass bringing up the rear at 7-2.

Day two was a little more frustrating, since both Web and I went 3-3, with Josh and Raney going 4-2. Still, Owen did Top 8, and Raney and Josh made Top 16, which meant the six of us had a pretty sweet win % overall (a tad above 74%, for those interested).

– I managed to lose to Valakut twice on Day 2, though one of the matches involved me missing my third land drop both games (a mull to 5 and a two land Blossom Spellstutter double Mistbind hand, respectively). By the end of the tournament, we all decided we would rather play against Naya (a “bad” matchup for Faeries) instead of RG Valakut (a “good” matchup).

– The Faeries matchup is really all about the manlands. The printing of Creeping Tar Pit was so good for this matchup, and now I don’t really mind playing it all that much. Postboard, we had the full 12 sweet lands, and that was huge. Tar Pit just naturally outraces Blossom, and the games where neither player has Blossom (which are common postboard, since both players have 6+ ways to stop it), whoever draws more manlands tends to have the edge (and since we boarded up to four, we always had the Edge).

– Nobody actually knows how to play against Faeries, and adding cards like Vampire Nighthawk and Sower of Temptation just further confuses them. Besides the impossible dilemma (playing around Cryptic and Mistbind is pretty difficult), even just making the proper attacks against a Faerie player with all their mana up is really tough. Hawk may be an on the board trick, but so many players misplayed against it during the tournament, ranging from not killing it when they should, Pathing it when they shouldn’t (thanks for the lands, now I’ll just cast this Wurmcoil), and in general not properly evaluating whether they should just trade for it or not. Multiple times I saw Nighthawk holding back way more than it should, because nobody wanted to trade anything for it. To be fair, we were pretty lucky to open so many Nighthawks, since it is a windmill slam first pick.

– I had an interesting board situation against Naya during Day 2. I mulled to 5, but was holding off his Knight of the Reliquary with a Vampire Nighthawk, after Tec Edging two of the Raging Ravines he searched up. I eventually drew Cryptic, tapped his Knight so he couldn’t fetch Sejiri Steppe, and played the Sower I had been holding for many turns. On my turn, I had to do some thinking. I was at 4 and he had Vengevine + Fauna Shaman in play, with no cards in hand. I had to figure out the optimal attack, and had Sower, a 4/4 Knight of the Reliquary, two Vampire Nighthawks, a Spellstutter Sprite and a Creeping Tar Pit. It took me a long time to figure out my play, since I couldn’t kill him in one turn, and figuring out his possible outs was very difficult.

I eventually attacked with Sower, the Knight, and one Nighthawk, putting me to six and leaving up three potential blockers. He ended up bricking and I won easily, but there were just so many things he could have drawn, especially with Fauna Shaman in play. Of course, as soon as I told Owen and Web, we realized that even if he drew the nut perfect, I was going to win (which made me feel good about the attack). In the worst-cast scenario, he draws Vengevine, discards it to Shaman, gets Bloodbraid, and Bloodbraids into Boggart Ram-Gang or Cunning Sparkmage. Still, with me having 3 blockers and six life, plus a Nighthawk, I would still live. What I failed to realize was that if he did that but cascaded into Gatekeeper of Malakir and paid the kicker with his Birds, I was dead, so I probably should have left another guy back. Despite the fact that I won, I wanted to figure out if I played around all the reasonable things he could have, since that is what you need to do for long-term improvement.

Of course, when wrapter was in a similar scenario, the card Naya topdecked happened to be Inferno Titan, which was quite the beating. Let’s just say that when wrapter was complaining about getting one-outered, Owen and I didn’t believe it was an actual one-outer until we asked what card it was, at which point we were fully convinced.

Spell Pierce is apparently a confusing card. One of my Spell Pierces got Spellstuttered on an otherwise empty board, when he had a Mutavault in play (making the Stutter a counter for Blossom at some point), and another opponent Spell Pierced my Spell Pierce when I had two mana untapped and he was completely tapped out on his mainphase (hint: I paid the mana).

– Playing a land on turn 2 is pretty good value. In my feature match against Gindy, I went turn one Tar Pit, turn two Thoughtseize, tanked for a long time on what to take, then immediately shipped the turn. Yeah, playing a land probably would have been a better play there. Luckily, that was the one game I did win during the match, so it didn’t end up costing me. The exact same thing actually happened to Sam Black, so I guess it is the kind of mistake that is something to watch out for (or we are both monguises).

Owen ended up losing in Top 8 to fellow Channelfireball author Ben Stark, and I fully expect both to be sending in reports shortly. All of us were happy we played the deck, and I don’t think any of us would make too many sweeping changes. Sadly, there are no more big Extended tournaments for me, though the PTQ season makes this deck still relevant for most of my readers.

Good luck in any PTQs, especially if you end up trying to Hawk everyone up.

On a side note, check out mtgstats.com. Designed by a friend of mine, Erik Landriz, it takes the publicly available Daily Event and Premiere Event data from Magic Online and provides all sorts of useful information about it. You can search by player or deck, and see overall win % by formats, as well as any lists that Wizards made available. If you look at my account (lsv), you can even see the list I played in my last DE, which was like 73 of the 75 we all ended up playing in Atlanta! The site may be a little slow, since the demand has been huge and it just launched, so be patient.



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