Creativity. With ever new set release it sparks my creativity and reignites my passion for the game. In every set there are a few cards that stick out and start my gears turning. Cards that are powerful and interesting, that need to be played. Here is the first one.
This innocent little four mana creature… wait, what? You would think that statement might actually be true by reading what some authors have to say on the topic of this particular card. The Obliterator certainly has received a lot of press because players have been talking about him. What this card has not gotten is much positive feedback. Usually the conversation goes something like, well sure this card is amazing but Jace, the Mind Sculptor just dominates him by continuing to bounce him. I am here to tell you that this is not the case.
As you may well know, the deck I have been playing and advocating is B/R Vampires. A couple of weeks ago, I said I would be updating the deck list I have been using for post New Phyrexia Standard. That is what we will take a look at today!
The first thing I always do when a set comes out is to evaluate any type of new strategy that could drastically affect the format. I don’t think any such strategy exists or is easily seen. A new tier one deck may be discovered, but I have not found it yet. Once I am finished looking at the set from that perspective, next on the agenda is developing a list of cards that may impact the deck I have been playing. As far as the Vampires deck goes, the list of possible inclusions is as follows.
At least for Standard, this is one of the best discard spells we have ever had access too. Certainly Thoughtseize was better but beyond that, there are not many other discard spells that compare. Honestly this is one of the main reasons that I want to continue to play Vampires because this card is so powerful. There are few threats in Standard right now that cannot be solved proactively with this card. Valakut, a tough match up in my opinion, swings drastically in the favor of Vampires due to the fact that Despise can make them discard Primeval Titan. That same logic goes for RUG as well. I expect both of those decks to drop off in popularity but they are solid decks that will make a comeback before Standard rotates. The great thing about Despise against those two decks mentioned is that you do not even have to play it early in the game. You can play creatures early to get some pressure on them and then turn three or four use your Despise to strip the Titan away. If you have more discard than just Despise you can use that to take their acceleration, further hindering their tempo.
In a deck that has black mana this card becomes so versatile. The ability to cast this card for one, two, or three mana depending on your needs is amazing. A deck should not solely rely on this card for removal since it does not deal with a Titan, but as we have said, Despise does excel at that.
The power level of this card astonishes me. At first when I was reading over reviews of the reverse Phyrexian Negator, they had me convinced that this card would not see play because Jace, the Mind Sculptor has its claws spread throughout the format. The more I thought about comparing the two cards, the more I realized that players were being mislead. I think at first, it was assumed that the only decks capable of playing it were either Mono Black Control or Blue Black Control. With Dismember and Go for the Throat in the format though, I don’t think that Phyrexian Obliterator is going to match up well against Jace. So, in a sense I do agree with the assessment of this card. However, what if we paired him with more aggressive creatures? That way, either your opponent deals with your early aggression or they lose. If the Obliterator is the top of your curve, you should be able to just overwhelm your opponent. Also, if your opponent is relying on Dismember to deal with your finisher, you can force them into a checkmate position where their back is up against a wall from your early creature rush and they cannot afford the life loss of using Dismember. This thought process leads me to believe that the Obliterator will be a force to be reckoned with immediately.
I am becoming less and less a fan of this card. Sure it is good, but it is just as good as an Extirpate that just happens to be able to be cast for two life instead of the one black mana. Surgical Extraction may deserve a place in the side board but that decision is still unresolved for me. Seeing the benefit of extracting the Primeval Titans from Valakut or the Deceiver Exarchs from the Splinter Twin deck is easy, the hard part is determining if that is really necessary or not. My initial impression is that this card will not be needed due to the amount of discard the deck will have, but it will always be a card to consider including as long as it is legal in Standard.
Unplayable. That is my opinion of this card currently. All the arguments about why Phyrexian Obliterator should not see play right now apply here. I suppose you can think about Lashwrithe as having haste, but that is not really true. First of all, if you equip it right away, you are losing part of what makes this card so powerful, the creature that comes with it. The card advantage of it being a creature then an equipment is its strength in my opinion. The other problem I see with this card right now is Squadron Hawk. Everyone is well aware that this card is flying around all throughout Standard right now. Lashwrithe matches up quite poorly against a seemingly never ending stream of 1/1 flyers and usually a Tumble Magnet to back them up. Also, a creature equipped with Sword of Feast and Famine will block all day for your opponent, leaving you without the ability to win the game. When you add the Mortarpod factor of trying to equip the Lashwrithe the turn it comes into play, you start to see why I think this card should not be played right now. Finally, making your deck only one color is a drawback even if the only thing you are running the second color for is Lavaclaw Reaches or maybe even Creeping Tar Pit. Let me clarify here for a moment, I do not think Lashwrithe is a terrible card, far from it. My opinions of the card are just based on its current playability in Standard. I like the card and with a fresh Standard in about six months it will certainly be a card to keep our eyes on. For now, I don’t think it is a good direction to head in.
Mark of Mutiny, Act of Treason, and even Traitorous Instinct exist in Standard so why would I even consider this card? Well the first reason is that it is an instant. Being an instant does give it more versatility. It could be a reasonable choice against another fast deck as well as accomplishing the same thing the Mark of Mutiny would have. The real reason to consider Act of Aggression over these is to utilize the phyrexian mana. This card allows us to cast it without red mana, a thought worth considering. Being able to cast Despise means we do not necessarily need a card with the Threaten type effect. Act of Aggression does give a new ability to a variety of colors so it is also worth remembering.
Five damage is a lot, even for four mana. The ability to sacrifice a Bloodghast to deal five damage is enticing because you can just play another land to bring back your creature. The four mana requirement is a lot though and that does limit how good this card can be in my opinion. I don’t think this will make the cut but it is worth considering.
There are no cards that stand out in blue but I mention it because the color as a whole is worth considering adding to the deck.
Putting it all Together
Overall there are not very many cards to consider but they are all quite good. This set does provide some high power level cards that might be added to the deck. In my opinion, Despise and Phyrexian Obliterator are the two cards that automatically get included. They are a good reason to be playing a deck like this. Next, I spent a long time debating what the second color should be. As stated above, I do not think Lashwrithe is good in the current environment so we have no reason to stick to just Swamps. Adding a second color does not hurt us in anyway so we should either include the standard red or think about blue as a second color.
What is the difference between red and blue as second colors in this deck? With red we get cards like Lightning Bolt, Burst Lightning, Arc Trail, Staggershock, Mark of Mutiny, Shatter, and Hero of Oxid Ridge. Those are all cards that have been in successful B/R Vampires lists. In all seriousness, I do not think those cards are necessary in this deck right now. Though it has been noted before, one of the main differences between using red and blue mana is the difference in power level of the manlands. We all know that Creeping Tar Pit is an upgrade compared to Lavaclaw Reaches. Another good reason to include blue mana would be things like Preordain, Mana Leak, Into the Roil, and Flashfreeze. Both second colors have good things to offer but initially, I believe the blue mana will serve the deck better.
So, what do we know we definitely want in the deck? Phyrexian Obliterator and Despise seem too powerful to ignore and we most likely want four copies of each. We want early pressure to further enhance the effectiveness of the Obliterator so four Vampire Lascerator and four Bloodghast. Kalastria Highborn will still act as our combo kill so four of her seems correct. We need a way to sacrifice our vampires and while I have been liking Viscera Seer less and less lately, the tech I mentioned last week, Mortarpod, will shine in this new version. We will start with two copies of the equipment but maybe move to three if testing determines that is the correct number. Gatekeeper of Malakir seems like an auto four of in this deck because it is such an amazing tempo advantage. We will also need some more creature kill in the nature of Go for the Throat and maybe Dismember. I think most likely Inquisition of Kozilek will make the cut also because it helps what this deck is trying to do, protect Phyrexian Obliterator, as well as slow your opponent down. All these pieces amount to the deck list below.
Vampires 2.0 (U/B)
There are a few cards that I want in the deck that did not make it into this first version. Originally I thought I would include one or two copies of Into the Roil because bouncing a troublesome permanent and then using one of the discard spells can be pretty solid removal. Also, Into the Roil can temporarily solve any problem like bouncing a Batterskull to swing for the win or a titan they somehow managed to resolve. It also works for breaking up current combo decks like Pyromancer's Ascension, even once they achieved the necessary counters to make it active. If it does not find its way main deck, I think Into the Roil should be included in the sideboard.
The other card I wanted in the main deck was Dismember. I mentioned how versatile it is in a black deck and I think a deck like this could utilize it well. The only problem now is finding a place for it.
It is possible that we could cut one of the twenty five lands and a Phyrexian Obliterator to fit in some other cards but I am not sure that is correct. I always like twenty five lands in Vampires because you never want to miss a land drop. Even with such a low mana curve, you don’t mind having lots of lands because it allows you to attack with your Creeping Tar Pits, sacrifice all your creatures to end the game, and even just making sure to recur the Bloodghast every time will win you many games.
The only way to make these final adjustments is to test more games with the deck, which I will be doing over the next couple weeks. Unfortunately my schedule won’t allow me to attend any major events until June but I think this deck could serve many players well at a large scale event or just your local FNM.
Onto the side board.
Please keep in mind that this is just a tentative sideboard for the deck, but if I were playing the deck tomorrow, this is what I would go with. If you are considering playing this deck, I always advocate testing the sideboard choices to see if you like them for yourself. When I am playing a deck, I always develop particular sideboard plans for specific matchups.
Tips for playing this version of the deck:
There are some major differences between this deck and the previous black/red version. The first main difference it the necessity to leave mana open on your opponents turn. With this version, unless you have a Kalastria Highborn in play or a Go for the Throat in hand, you will find yourself tapping out more often. The reason for this is because most of your removal is preemptive. With the majority of your removal being discard, you have to use that on your turn instead of reacting to what your opponent plays. That does not mean, however, that you cannot bluff Mana Leak. Leaving up mana that includes blue is a signal for potential cards you might have in hand just like leaving up red in the previous version. You might just be leaving up mana to use Kalastria Highborn’s ability but they don’t know that and might play around Mana Leak if you are lucky. Another really important concept about this deck is when to play your discard. If you do not have a Vampire Lascerator , Inquisition of Kozilek, or Creeping Tar Pit to play on turn one you can play your Despise there but be careful about what you take with it. Honestly I think that Despise reads target player discards a card named Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Gideon Jura, or Primeval Titan. I think the best time to play Despise is going to end up being on turn three against most decks. If you play it then, you can get the Jace they are about to cast or the Gideon they were planning on taking over the game with. It also lets you see if they actually have Day of Judgement or more removal in hand.
Vampires is still going to be a force in the metagame. The traditional black red version has had some small amount of success mainly due to its ability to kill just about any creature your opponent plays. One card that you have to worry about more in the black red version is Batterskull. If that card resolves you might just lose the game or at the very least you need to kill the first germ token and win that turn. I like what some other players have done with the black/red version. Let's take a quick look at a recent build.
A Standard Magic deck, by Matthew Landstrom
4th place at a StarCityGames.com tournament in Louisville, Kentucky, United States on 2011-05-22
Taking a look at this deck list we can see a few key things. First of all, he lowers his mana curve by not including any four drops. If you are planning on playing the typical red black version, I think this is a great idea because it allows you to play early threats to put pressure on your opponent and have mana open for your removal as well.
Another key difference is the inclusion of four main deck Duress, aka Batterskull removal. They play Stoneforge Mystic searching for Batterskull, you play Duress and strip it from their hand. That, of course, works for whatever equipment they search for. Duress also allows the deck to take out any Day of Judgments or problematic planeswalkers. For much of the time I have been playing the deck Duress was a mainstay in my sideboard. Landstrom takes it one step further by putting them in his main deck. Duress also happens to be good against the other popular deck, Splinter Twin Combo. You should not have a problem finding a target for your Duress against any deck in standard.
Finally, the third main difference between this deck and the version I had been previously been playing is the inclusion of the other one drop creatures again. Viscera Seer and Pulse Tracker have been extremely terrible to play against decks that had Mortarpod and Squadron Hawks. With some Caw-Blade decks not even running Squadron Hawk and basically no deck running Mortarpod, these creatures become effective again. Before, it was a complete waste to have them in your deck because they would just get taken out by a measly germ token, but that is just not the case anymore.
Whichever version you prefer, both have good matchups. It might be correct in your metagame to run the Mana Leaks main deck in the blue black version instead of some discard. I have not tested that change yet so I say it as a possible suggestion and not one I necessarily recommend. Mana Leak is always good though, so if you make that change I doubt it would be bad but the discard might just be better.
Until next time, may your discard always clear the way for Phyrexian Obliterator to Unleash its Force on the game!
P.S. For those of you interested in my article on the Bant deck my friends and I took to the National Qualifier, check out my friend's article about how he qualified for nationals with it!