Breaking In: Moving from Casual to Standard by Andrew Quinn

Back In Black, MBC in Standard by Gaz Hirst

Breaking In: Moving from Casual to Standard

So, one question that I’m asked quite often is, how does one move from being a casual player to being a competitive one? Well, there are many competitive formats of Magic to play, but by far the easiest one to enter into is Standard. Legacy format uses ALL sets in the game and it requires a much more comprehensive knowledge of the game and the associated card pool. Standard is a lot more helpful for new players, having around a tenth of the card pool and this also applies to players being new to how to play competitively, as they learn the many aspects of tournament magic.

So, what is Standard?

Well, this is a particularly important question. What exactly is Standard format? First of all, we should note how each expansion set released within one year is collectively known as a ‘block.’ For example, Zendikar, Worldwake and Rise of the Eldrazi, together, form the Zendikar block. Scars of Mirrodin is currently the only set in the Scars of Mirrodin block and Mirrodin Besieged will join it when it is released in early February. Standard format is made up of 2 blocks of sets along with any of the core sets that are released in the same time frame. Standard ‘rotates’ every October when a new block begins and is added to the format. When this happens, the oldest block of sets and the oldest core set will no longer be legal in standard. This means that at any one time, there will only be 5-8 expansion sets legal in the format. Also, whenever a new set is released, the format gets a complete overhaul, making it an incredibly vibrant and interesting format to be playing in.

The current standard format only has 5 sets in it, making it the smallest possible card pool for the format. It is also a very wide-open format right now with no fewer than around 7 different deck types fighting it out for the top spot. One of the myths surrounding standard is that it is far too expensive to play, due to the existence of expensive rares and mythics such as Fauna Shaman, Vengevine, Titans and the infamous Jace, the Mind Sculptor. This is, however, not always the case. A number of cheaper decks have also been making a very big showing in major tournaments around the world, including Vampires, Red Deck Wins and Argentum Armor White Weenie. In this article, I’m going to take you through the thought process of building a Vampires deck for Standard, looking at all of the options currently available and how we can make this deck appropriate to play in the current standard format.

So then, firstly, how do we build Vampires today? Now, Vampires were a semi-competitive deck a few months ago, when Vampire Nocturnus was still around in standard. Now that it’s left Standard however, a lot of people have written off the deck completely as a viable choice for tournament play. How exactly can a deck type full of mediocre creatures that barely get bigger than a 2/2 compete with the likes of Baneslayer Angel, Frost Titan, Vengevine and the like? Well, remarkably, we have been given the answer in the form of a somewhat overlooked common from M11. Viscera Seer. Right. I bet you expected it to be a bit more impressive than that, right? I didn’t believe how good it was at first. My experience with the card was limited to drafting it in M11 Limited and combining it with Reassembling Skeleton in order to dig through my deck and find whichever bomb creatures I had drafted with them. Strangely enough, the deck I’m going to show you will use pretty much exactly the same combination to great effect. Now, take a quick look at the other 2 cards that make this little 1-drop guy one of the best new commons printed in M11. Bloodghast and Kalastria Highborn.

And so, here we have an extremely powerful combination of creatures. Sacrifice Bloodghast to use Viscera Seer‘s ability, pay 1 mana to have Kalastria Highborn drain an opponent for 2 life, play a land to get Bloodghast back, then rinse and repeat. If we combine this really neat little combo in with a typically aggressive Vampires shell, then we can have a potentially explosive deck that a lot of decks will have trouble with. Let’s take a look at a deck list. With this exact deck list, I went 2-2 in our most recent standard tournament at Manaleak and I hope to improve the deck list further for our future tournaments.

Creatures (31):

4x Viscera Seer

4x Vampire Lacerator

4x Pulse Tracker

4x Kalastria Highborn

4x Bloodghast

4x Bloodthrone Vampire

3x Vampire Hexmage

4x Gatekeeper of Malakir

Other Spells (7):

3x Blade of the Bloodchief

4x Doom Blade

Lands (22):

4x Marsh Flats

4x Verdant Catacombs

14x Swamp

Sideboard (15):

4x Disfigure

4x Duress

3x Memoricide

1x Vampire Hexmage

3x Vampire Nighthawk

So, what makes this deck so powerful? Well, I’ve included 4 copies of each of the cards I listed above to maximise the number of times we see them. I’ve also added in 4 copies of Bloodthrone Vampire, which can work as a substitute for Viscera Seer that can also pack quite a large punch without Kalastria Highborn active. 4 copies each of Vampire Lacerator and Pulse Tracker mean that in a majority of games that we play with this deck, we’ll be able to play a pretty strong creature on turn 1 and begin attacking right away on turn 2. In addition, Gatekeeper of Malakir gives us a powerful removal option whilst doubling up as a 2/2 body and Vampire Hexmage is a powerful first-striking creature that is also a removal option for planeswalkers such as Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

The Spell line-up is very short but effective. Doom Blade is quite possibly the best removal spell in standard right now, taking out everything from Baneslayer Angel to Frost Titan and Primeval Titan before they can deal too much damage. The only problem creature it can’t handle is Grave Titan which is very difficult for this deck to take care of, but hopefully the deck will be able to win before Grave Titan becomes too much of a problem. Blade of the Bloodchief is a powerful equipment that can turn smaller creatures such as Bloodthrone Vampire into a permanent threat. However, I’ve been finding through testing that the card is just unnecessary in a lot of matchups and I am currently looking to replace it, probably with Sign in Blood but I shall update the deck after testing a bit more. There are also other removal options, depending on the sorts of decks that may be more prevalent at your local tournaments. Take a look at cards such as Vendetta, Consume the Meek, Consuming Vapors and Grasp of Darkness, all of which are viable removal options against different deck types.

The lands are fairly simple too. 4 of each black ‘fetch’ land and 14 Swamps. The fetch lands in here serve the purpose of getting additional landfall triggers from Bloodghast so that the combo with Kalastria Highborn and Viscera Seer is more effective. However, I understand that these lands are quite expensive. Hence, if you can’t afford them, the deck should work just as well without them and you can just play Swamps in their place, or even 4 Terramorphic Expanse and 4 Evolving Wilds.

Now, the most important aspect of deck building in my opinion, is having a very clear game plan for taking on each deck that you expect to come against in a tournament. Hence, we have a sideboard for making a lot of our matchups easier to handle. This is how we expect to use our sideboard against some of the top decks of the format:

RUG Control

This is a new deck that has recently been making a bit of a splash at major tournaments. The basic idea is to control the board using counter spells, burn the opponent with Lightning Bolts and ramp into big win conditions using Lotus Cobra, Oracle of Mul Daya and Explore. This is actually a very favourable matchup. Before sideboarding, the deck has a lot of difficulty taking out multiple creatures, as their only removal options kill single creatures at a time. They plan on winning the game using a Titan of some sort and our 8 removal spells, if saved for these Titans should stop them from winning that easily. After sideboarding however, they gain such cards as Pyroclasm and Arc Trail which are big problems for this deck. There’s not much we can do against this sort of removal, so we have to hope they don’t draw too many copies of it, but our sideboard does also give us some more options to make the match more favourable.

-4x Pulse Tracker

-3x Blade of the Bloodchief

+3x Disfigure

+1x Vampire Hexmage

+3x Vampire Nighthawk

Pulse Tracker is just a bad one-drop in this matchup as it dies all too easily to the deck’s removal. This slot is better suited for our fourth copy of Vampire Hexmage to help take out the planeswalkers that this deck plays and our 3 Vampire Nighthawks which are immune to all of the mass removal options that the deck has whilst it also trades with their Titan creatures and helps us gain even more life. What’s not to like? Disfigure is a nice way of dealing with the little Lotus Cobra and Oracle of Mul Daya ramp creatures that give the deck a lot of its speed and hence slow it down.

Red Deck Wins

RDW is a very common deck across every format. It specialises in attacking and burning you to death very quickly. This is in fact another favourable matchup. We are also very fast and aggressive, whilst also having Kalastria Highborn to gain us potentially large amounts of life, which is a red deck’s biggest weakness. Post-board however, they also gain the mass removal options of RUG Control. Our sideboard looks like this:

-3x Vampire Hexmage

-3x Blade of the Bloodchief

-1x Doom Blade

+3x Vampire Nighthawk

+4x Disfigure

In this matchup, the key things to make use of are removal and life gain, hence these options provide us with faster removal spells (the Disfigures) and additional life gain in the form of Vampire Nighthawk. These help us stem the flow of damage that is constantly sent our way from Goblin Guide, Plated Geopede, Kiln Fiend, Kargan Dragonlord and more, all of which die to Disfigure.

Valakut Ramp

The name says it all. This is a deck that aims to win by getting out Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and playing lots of mountains. The deck is made hugely better by Primeval Titan and that is our key to helping us win the matchup. After sideboarding, we have:

-3x Vampire Hexmage

-3x Blade of the Bloodchief

+3x Memoricide

+3x Vampire Nighthawk

The main card in this matchup is Memoricide. Ideally, we want to use this to take out Primeval Titan so that the deck can slow down to the level that we can control it. However, this deck is still going to be a very tough match. Memoricide can also take out such cards as Avenger of Zendikar and Pyroclasm if the Titan has already done its job.

Eldrazi Green

Once again, the name says it all. This deck ramps up in the same way as Valakut Ramp does, but the win condition is typically the big Eldrazi creatures: Kozilek, Butcher of Truth, Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. In this matchup, Gatekeeper of Malakir is our friend, as it’s the best way of taking out Ulamog and Emrakul. Similarly, they revolve around using Primeval Titan to ramp out quickly and so that will be our main target. Our sideboard will be exactly the same as for Valakut Ramp, as our primary plan is to stifle the rate at which they can ramp into an Eldrazi creature, and hence taking out the Primeval Titans will be our first objective. This will quite simply be a difficult matchup, so all we can hope to do is to weaken them as much as possible using some early beatdown and hopefully using a Memoricide or two to kill of their ramp.

UW/UB/UR Control Variants

Control is always a force in the metagame. The simple idea is to combine counter spells and removal spells with enough draw power to draw into more counter spells and removal spells as the game goes on, then win using some sort of large win condition, usually a big creature of some sort or a land that can become a creature. There is no change in this strategy as every control-based deck will be sporting a full suite of 4 Mana Leaks, their own choice of removal (Oust for White variants, Doom Blade for Black, and so on…), some sort of draw power (usually Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Preordain) and of course, a win condition (Worldwake man-lands, Planeswalkers and such).

These decks are in fact another good matchup for Vampires, as we get moving very quickly and control decks can struggle to stabilise in early turns without a really good opening hand. The removal options available to control decks also work in our favour. Doom Blade is a completely dead card against us, meaning black variations have little or no removal before sideboarding. White variations can only slow us down with copies of Oust and possibly Condemn and Day of Judgment is too expensive to be hugely effective, especially against such cards as Bloodghast and Kalastria Highborn. Counterspells can of course hurt, but against Vampires, your spells will usually outnumber their counter spells. Vampire Hexmage also gives us a huge advantage against the variety of planeswalkers we’re likely to see. My sideboard plan looks like this:

-2x Gatekeeper of Malakir

-3x Blade of the Bloodchief

+1x Vampire Hexmage

+4x Duress

ALSO, swap out Doom Blades for Disfigures against Black Variants.

Duress gives us a huge advantage, allowing us to see what the opponent has planned for the coming turns as well as allowing us to take out key spells such as the aforementioned Mana Leak and Day of Judgment. Removing Gatekeeper of Malakir is simply a logical choice based on how the majority of creatures in the decks, are in fact lands during our turns and Gatekeeper won’t be able to kill them. Against Black variants, Doom Blade is obviously quite bad against decks with lots of black creatures, hence Disfigure is better, taking out Creeping Tar Pit. However, you may wish to keep some of these removal spells in your deck based on which win condition you see in game one, as Frost Titan can be very difficult to get rid of after these changes. This is where personal discretion will come into effect.

So, that’s my version of Vampires. I’d just now like to briefly say what it is I’d like to write about in my articles. Ideally, I would like to help readers to improve their game as much as I possibly can. I love playing Magic and I’m always learning new things about it. If you have any questions you would like to ask me or have any requests for deck lists you might like to see in my articles, then please post a Comment reply here. I will be happy to answer any Magic-related questions and help you with deck ideas and anything else you might have problems with in this game.

Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing,


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