Once again it’s that wonderful time where I try to figure out what everybody else is going to do with the newly printed cards—and then figure out how to beat them! Two things I can count on are (A) that people will build aggressive decks, and (B) that people will try to make use of the new mechanics from Shadows over Innistrad.
With that information, our first post-rotation deck to beat is BR Vampires.
With the rotation of Monastery Swiftspear and a handful of important players in Atarka Red, there’s an empty throne where Standard’s best aggro deck used to sit. An RG Tokens deck might still exist, or perhaps you’ll see a return to dedicated burn decks using Exquisite Firecraft. But I find it just as likely that BR Vampires will pick up where red aggro left off.
There’s plenty of variation possible within a BR Vampires shell. You can go deeper or more shallow when it comes to the madness theme. You can go deeper or more shallow when it comes to Vampire Tribal synergies. And of course, you can be as small and aggressive or as big and powerful as you please. Where my suggested deck list had a pair of Zurgo Bellstrikers, I wouldn’t be surprised to see BR mana curves stretching all the way up to cards like Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, Goblin Dark-Dwellers, and Chandra, Flamecaller.
That said, I believe that the above deck list is a good place to start. It falls on the aggressive side of things, but still puts plenty of the Vampire and madness synergies to the test. I also have a lot of 1-, 2-, and 3-ofs in order to test out as many new cards as possible.
This deck is capable of the traditional fast curve-outs that you’re used to—easily able to attack for 9 damage on turn 3. But it also has some control over the battlefield with removal spells and flying creatures. Asylum Visitor offers card advantage and staying power in a stalled game. Finally, it can use cards like Indulgent Aristocrat, Drana, Liberator of Malakir, and Olivia, Mobilized for War to set up some giant attack steps.
If you’re not going to be on the Vampires side of things, what should you do to be prepared?
What to Do
- Kill their creatures. One thing about BR Vampires is that it blows through its resources very quickly. Sure, sometimes things will line up perfectly with madness cards, but other times, the Vampires player will wind up using Olivia, Lightning Axe, and Heir of Falkenrath the hard way, by putting cards from their hand into their graveyard. If you can keep your life total high and keep Asylum Visitors from triggering, you can probably weather the storm and hope they run out of gas.
- Emphasize instant-speed removal. Vampires can unload a lot of haste damage, and taking a hit from each creature before you kill it is going to be a losing battle. Remember also that madness allows them to put creatures into play at the end of your turn before untapping and crashing in. Surge of Righteousness seems like one of the best sideboard cards.
What Not to Do
- Don’t be too slow. This is not a deck that’s going to wait around for you to set up your sweet late-game combos. Make sure you’re defending yourself straight away from the early turns of the game, and make sure you’re hitting your stride by turns 4 and 5. Dedicated control decks and slower versions of ramp are going to have a hard time against decks like this.
- Don’t try to block on the ground. Many of the hardest-hitting Vampires have flying anyway. Plus, black and red are removal colors, and it’s possible that your opponents will have substantially more than the 8 removal spells in my suggested deck list.
There’s a lot of possibility in Shadows over Innistrad Standard, and a wide range of directions players might go. That’s exactly the reason why a fast, brutal aggro deck like BR Vampires is likely to be a popular and successful strategy in the early weeks of the format. Be sure to include it in your gauntlet!