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Josh Silvestri – Vampires in Standard

With the results from the Indianapolis SCG Open in it’s time for a bit of instant analysis! Let’s jump right in, shall we?

The world is a vampire

Matthew Landstrom, 1st – SCG Open Indy

Matthew Landstrom was content to bring stock Vampires to the party and came away with victory at the end of the day. Beating a pair of Valakut decks in the top eight was impressive, especially with one packing maindeck sweepers. One interesting question that I’ve had over the past few days was if Vampires was going to have enough juice to hang around in the post-Besieged format. For the most part, every other deck in the format made some gains while Vampires only received a token upgrade from Doom Blade to Go for the Throat. While I’m sure killing Grave Titan is a nice bonus, it isn’t exactly the game changer that cards like the Zenith’s, Signal Pest and Contested War Zone looked to be.

Regardless Vampires showed it still had some oomph left in it and was actually reasonably well-positioned for the tournament. Multiple writers, including myself, had espoused on the potential in decks like Kuldotha Red and the rise in popularity that may follow. B/R Vamps happens to be one of the few decks with a valid game one gameplan against the Goblin hordes without being driver to specialist cards. The removal trifecta of Lightning Bolt, GFTT and Arc Trail in the maindeck, as well as the ability to gain life and consistently play creatures is certainly not what a goldfish deck wants to see. Unlike normal RDW which could ride an early life-lead into a victory just off burn, Kuldotha Red has too many creatures to make that a realistic option pre or post-board.

Vamps already had a good match against control strategies and gaining a removal spell that could kill everything UB could throw down didn’t hurt. I still think the Valakut match is shady and against normal red decks I don’t like my odds, but the performance of Matthew is something to take note of. I don’t really like the lack of hand disruption, but that could be a byproduct of skewing too far against Valakut with [card]Slagstorm[/card]. This performance could be a flash in the pan, but it also shows the benefits of sticking with an old favorite.

Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage…

Christoffer Andersen – 4th SCG Open Indy

 

Everybody knew Kuldotha Red was coming and anyone who bothered to spend a handful of games testing it knew it was the real deal. In playing with it more and more the deck felt like Dredge, a very powerful deck that could manhandle the majority of decks in the field on speed alone. However the glaring flaw was that it was incapable of standing up to cards dedicated to beating it and that the percentages of the deck dropped dramatically against a prepared opponent in games two and three. While the combination of Jinxed Idol and TukTuk the Explorer could give it a better shot, it remains a weakness practically any deck in the field could exploit.

Despite this, two Kuldotha Red still made top 16 and was the talk of the tournament and the coverage (to an obnoxious extent actually) and is definitely a deck to keep an eye on. Some decks have to sell out to beat this deck and the cheap cost combined with such explosive starts is going to get a lot of people on-board. Still to keep people from going too nuts, here are some cards that can potentially cripple any explosive starts from the deck.

White: Perimeter Captain, Choking Fumes, Kor Firewalker

Red: Pyroclasm, Seismic Shudder, Slagstorm, Arc Trail, Forked Bolt

Black: Shrivel, Marsh Casualties, Black Sun’s Zenith

Green: Dudes that can block into Obstinate Baloth

Blue: Ok you got me here, but at least you can still use Ratchet Bomb

I wrote about the general composition of the deck last week and I really only feel the need to talk about two cards. The first is Chimeric Mass a card which I underrated in my initial builds of the deck. Originally I just considered it a worse Ornithopter / Memnite, but after trying it out more, I find setting it at a single mana is far more useful than previous iterations of the deck. It remains a cheap attacker that ducks sweepers and capable of dishing out real damage with the addition of battle cry and Contested War Zone. Additionally with the flat curve of the deck, a single Mox Opal activation can be absurdly good and the Mass as additional artifacts helps that goal.

Next up is Goblin Chieftain and why everyone decided to cut the former best Goblin in the deck. The problem with Chieftain is paying for the +1/+1 ability just isn’t worth the extra mana, at R or RR which all the other pump creatures and lands enable it’s fine, but at three it just feels unreasonable. Throw in the fact that now the deck has all the 0cc artifact creatures and Signal Pest as blanks for the Chief and suddenly it’s the worst creature in the deck; not close.

The future of this deck will be one of varying success depending on how many people come to respect it. I doubt it’ll see much play at the Pro Tour simply because of the nature of the deck, but the number of people underestimating it should be small in number.

All my cool and cold – like old job

This deck actually just blows my mind and is something I would normally only see for an ‘ideal metagame’. One with the assurance of only seeing a small number of aggro decks and banking on playing control mirrors and Valakut all day. It features 11 counters and maindeck Inquisition of Kozilek, while still finding the space to keep in Preordain, Jace TMS and even a full set of Jaces Ingenuity. This kind of specialization would be what I’d expect to see at Paris, setting yourself up in a superior position against spell decks and playing in such a fashion that you almost never have to tap down without protection of some sort. It’s certainly the closest to a true draw-go deck we’ve had in the format.

Despite not being a big fan of blue decks in general, this one I really like and have no real complaints with the listing. Sure it can’t ever beat a Vengevine and it’ll be hard-pressed to beat a good red hand on the draw, but that seems like a small price to pay. Even better is that those are actually fixable, since bringing in another Grave Titan or a pair of Wurmcoil Engine out of the board isn’t unreasonable and the same with any other cheap removal. While other UB decks used Vampire Nighthawk, it favors a tap out approach that doesn’t seem exceptional in a fight where each side is throwing haymakers. It feels reasonable against the type of aggro expected at Indy, but another week of refinement will likely make the card miserable outside of Kuldotha Red match-ups

Really the only thing I have an issue with is the lack of win conditions and the vulnerability of them. Sure you can eventually set-up a situation where you can protect them, but it feels a lot like the Psychatog mirror of old where if people know what’s up, they can just run you out of threats. A pair of Grave Titan isn’t exactly the toughest thing to deal with, even in the UB mirror, and Tar Pits or Jace single-handedly getting the job done doesn’t make for a consistent plan. Jaces Ingenuity as a 4-of just feels so clunky that I’d honestly be surprised if that was the ‘right’ number for the deck. Could be wrong, but the feeling of wanting just a few more ways to win an end-game is overwhelming.

Tell me I’m the only one
Tell me there’s no other one

Drew Levin, 2nd at SCG Indy

 

Valakut was another big winner this weekend, it failed to take down the tournament, but had five in the top 16 and nearly all of them were showcasing the Mirrodin Besieged bounty of Green Suns Zenith, Slagstorm and Thrun, the Last Troll. Only one Valakut build failed to run Green Sun and it didn’t even bother running the full Summoning Trap package, making me wonder what exactly it was trying to accomplish. Everyone else either had full sets or a 2-2 split and while I’m firmly on the side that GSZ is the nut, I can at least understand why some people are slow to give up the Trap. Still the added consistency to the deck instant to be underrated and a version like Julian’s in the top 16 takes it a step further with the addition of maindeck Birds of Paradise and Joraga Treespeaker at GS targets.

To me this is the deck to beat going into Paris, simply because it’s the default deck that everyone has a decent list of and has proven to be the most powerful deck in the format. Really this is the one deck that feels like it’s doing unfair things even against decks prepped to stop it, with the one drawback being the number of loose opening hands it gets compared to control. I’d easily recommend Levin’s deck if you didn’t expect a heavy Kuldotha field or if you felt comfortable just ducking it. Even against control decks that supposedly have a good match, a combo of Thrun, Koth and Summoning Trap in the board should handle it without too many issues. Like I said, the biggest issue with the deck largely comes from the natural variance of playing a mono green deck with 15-16 mono red sources.

Oddly enough the RGx deck I thought would be rather favored didn’t even show up in the top 16 and was barely mentioned the whole weekend. RUG Life which won the San Jose Open was nowhere to be seen despite getting its own set of upgrades and arguably being the best control deck in the field. The lack of RUG decks I think largely comes down to the popularity of red decks on the weekend and short time span to refine the deck with Besieged cards. While I personally like running a pair of Slagstorm, Green Suns Zenith and Thrun in my RUG build, I know many people are still testing to see what individual cards they like let alone any serious combinations of them.

Speaking on control decks in general, and I touched on this earlier, the move to artifact creatures in control decks to dodge Go for the Throat isn’t entirely unreasonable. Wurmcoil Engine is the early favorite for obvious reasons, but creatures like Precursor Golem and Myr Battlesphere should also see some future consideration. The quality of artifact threat has gone up a great deal and it doesn’t shock me to see people running them to dodge the premiere removal spell in the format. Consider that if your creature is immune to throat slitting and Lightning Bolt, that you’ve effectively reduced the number of commonly played answers down to Jace bounce who has his own set of conditions attached. Molten-Tail Masticore is another guy I expect to see more of in midrange red decks and possibly green, even though people don’t seem to like the Core too much.

Uninstall, Uninstall…

Brian Boss – 16th SCG Open Indy

If I was going to make a midrange green deck I’d start here simply because it reminds me of W/G Quest if you took out the Quest combo. Not having Squadron Hawk is somewhat vomit inducing and the idea of running some of these awful singletons over a 2nd Stoneforge Mystic while running multiple pieces of equipment is bad. Despite these flaws, the concept of the deck isn’t horrendous and the effectiveness of the deck really comes down to how much control you anticipate versus Valakut. W/G Quest had a pretty insane control match and that was before room got cleared out for a real Stoneforge package including tutorable Mortivore and Thrun, the Last Troll.

The next step I’d take is seeing if I could fit in Tectonic Edge, the deck really wants more than 22 land here and trading in some Llanowar Elves for them doesn’t strike me as a bad deal at all. Combined with boarded Leonin Arbiter it just might give a reasonable anti-Valakut package in the short term. Heck even Leyline of Sanctity looks a little more impressive when you have Vengevines and shroud creatures. Staying on focus though, after throwing in Squadron Hawk, another Stoneforge or two and a few more land I’m definitely interested in seeing how a true midrange deck fares.

That’s it for now, next week we’ll have Paris to look at and more PTQ results to sift through, seeing if Besieged has an impact or just some creative decks pop up now that the season has been in full swing for 6 weeks. Good luck to anyone attending the Magic Weekend in Paris.

Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

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