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RB Vampires vs. CawBlade - The Vampires Perspective

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Adam Koska
Adam Koska

About Adam Koska

Adam is an experienced player from the Czech Republic who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:

  • 9th at Worlds 2009
  • 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • 44 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Top 32 GP Vienna 2008
  • Top 64 GP Krakow 2007
  • Three times Czech Nationals Top 8

RB Vampires vs. CawBlade - The Vampires Perspective

Hey everyone! It’s time for another episode of Battle School. This time I played the R/B Vampires vs. CawBlade matchup with fellow Czech player and a good friend of mine, Petr Brožek. My task was to examine the matchup from Vamps‘ point of view.

First of all, allow me to briefly explain the card choices and the general idea behind the deck.

Here’s the decklist I used:

RB Vampires

Tags: 
Black
Red

This deck forms part of my feature article:

RB Vampires vs. CawBlade - The Vampires Perspective

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Batterskull
Versions:
New Phyrexia (Foil)

As you can see from the list, we adjusted both decklists for the post-NPH standard format, but as you have also probably noticed, this doesn’t change Vampires all that much – apart from the two Batterskulls in the sideboard, the deck doesn’t run any cards from New Phyrexia at all. This might be a bit controversial, as there are a number of cards that could work well with Vampires in the new set, but I firmly believe that it is the right decision at the moment. The two best cards from New Phyrexia that have the potential to be adopted by Vampires are Lashwrithe and Phyrexian Obliterator. Lashwrithe is a powerhouse and I do believe that it will spawn some mono-black deck that will become a legitimate Standard contender, but I don’t think it will be Vampires and I especially don’t think it will be in the current metagame, because red is very important to the deck against the present threats. If you run a mono-black version of the deck, you’re too vulnerable to Sword of Feast and Famine, for example. Vampires with red can get rid of an equipped creature with a timely Lightning Bolt, but without the access to burn spells, there’s nothing you can do once they equip the Sword – they can even move it around, hitting you and leaving a blocker back that you have no way to kill.

As for the other card that could potentially go into Vampires – Phyrexian Obliterator – I respect its power-level and believe that we will see this card in Standard, but it doesn’t belong into Vampires. This time, it’s not even about color commitment, because even though the decklist that I run has two colors in it, all lands produce black mana, so the quadruple-black in the upper right corner is no big issue. However, the deck doesn’t need a four mana 5/5, even if it’s virtually unblockable. The main strength of Vampires is its speed and four mana is too expensive against control decks for a creature that will sit around until your next turn, waiting to be bounced by Jace.

This leaves Batterskull as the only card from New Phyrexia in the deck. It probably won’t come as a surprise that Batterskull singlehandedly crushes most aggro decks and I think that it is very good also in Vampires (even though the deck doesn’t run Stoneforge Mystic), because Vampires don’t have any artifacts maindeck, so people will not be bringing in artifact removal against you.

So that’s it for cards from New Phyrexia, now let’s talk about how the deck works. The core of the deck is pretty self-explanatory. The maindeck is a mix of cheap aggressive creatures and burn, which can either clear the way for your assault squads or burn the opponent out once they’ve stabilized, giving the deck a bit of reach. The singleton Hero of Oxid Ridge is there to add a little mid-game power and to help you break through against an opponent who is trying to stabilize with Squadron Hawks, Mortarpod tokens and Stoneforge Mystics. Because Hero costs four, which is the peak of the mana curve against non-aggro opponents, you never want to draw multiples, so one Hero is just fine and will help you mise your way out of a losing situation every now and then.

The sideboard contains cards against specific decks and threats that pose the biggest problems for you. Demon of Death's Gate is there primarily against Valakut, but also against any other fast „combo“ deck that can’t handle the Demon, like against mono-green Eldrazi Ramp, for example. In the post-NPH world, these decks have access to Beast Within, so it might be a wise idea to abandon the Demon plan, but then again, the big black flying monster is the only target for Beast Within in your whole deck, because apart from the Demon, Beast Within actually upgrades all of your creatures, so maybe the big green decks won’t even want to side the card against you, leaving you with the old „Demon plan“ available. It seems like a guessing game and right now, I’m not sure what the common plan in that matchup will be.

Another card that works well against Valakut is Duress and while New Phyrexia gives us Despise as the third addition to the „cheap discard triangle“, I still think Duress is the best here. The cards you generally want to discard against Valakut are Pyroclasm and Slagstorm and unfortunatelly, Despise can’t nab either of those. Inquisition would be fine, but it falls short against Batterskull, which is another very important card you will be aiming your discard spells at.

Mark of Mutiny is in the board mainly against big dumb creatures like Titans (which can then be sacrificed to Viscera Seer), but the improved Threaten also works very well when fighting Precursor Golem. RUG and Valakut are the two decks you want to be sideboarding this against the most.

Dark Tutelage is a card that is lacking good opponents at this time and could be replaced altogether, but it performs very well against U/B control, which is a deck that can still be seen in Standard from time to time, so I left it in the board for now. However, it is the card that could probably be cut in case more space is needed in the board.

And finally, Manic Vandal is a very important card against CawBlade and a must-play. I’ll get to the details later when talking about the post-board games, but for now, let’s just say that three is the absolute minimum you want to be playing.

Sword of War and Peace
Versions:
New Phyrexia (Foil)

The Matchup

Pre-Board

While Vampires’ maindeck configuration didn’t profit at all from the addition of New Phyrexia, CawBlade got two nice equipment presents from the new set – Batterskull and Sword of War and Peace. Both of these equipments are supposed to humiliate aggro and since Vampires run zero artifact removal in the maindeck, I was expecting to find myself on the wrong end of some pretty savage beats due to these two cards. However, the real situation is actually quite different. The thing is, Batterskull is only frightening if it hits play on turn three and this requires Stoneforge Mystic to live – not an easy task against a deck with 4 Lightning Bolts, 2 Arc Trails, 2 Burst Lightnings and 4 Gatekeepers of Malakir (on the play). If the CawBlade player goes for Batterskull, they’re risking having a blank in their hand until they hit the fifth land drop, which is a luxury that a fast deck like Vampires won’t grant them that often. For that reason, a skilled CawBlade player will often go for Mortarpod instead and the „Batterskull threat“ won’t even be a real issue all that often. In addition, Vampires can get around the lifegain ability by sacrificing the blocking / blocked critter to Viscera Seer. Since Batterskull has vigilance, this obviously won’t be a permanent solution, but it is nice in a final alpha strike and makes Batterskull somewhat less frightening.

Sword of War and Peace is also a bit troublesome, but again, it is rather slow and CawBlade won’t often be able to risk spending five mana to equip a creature and swing, especially against your open red mana. Surprisingly enough, this leaves Mortarpod as the most dangerous equipment against Vampires, which is a nice thing to find out, as many CawBlade decks are dropping the two mana equipment in order to make room for the shiny new toys.

A card that can cause you a lot of trouble is Gideon, but fortunately, the R/B deck has Vampire Hexmage as a supreme answer and since you run a full playset of the BB planeswalker-killers, CawBlade won’t be able to rely on Gideon to absorb your alpha-strike, because they might find they’re dead after you play and sacrifice your Hexmage. This leaves the most common line of plays in the matchup to them trying to defend with Squadron Hawks and get Batterskull into play before you can swarm them with your cheap creatures and you burning away their blockers and trying to kill them before they stabilize at a healthy life total. Some versions of CawBlade play Day of Judgment, but most of them don’t, so I would advise not to play around it, unless you are so far ahead that you can afford to keep some creatures back. Probably the most important thing pre-board is to be able to kill their Stoneforge Mystic, because there is no way you can beat a turn-3 Batterskull. The matchup also depends a lot on who’s on the play, because if you’re on the draw, Gatekeepers are too slow to contain their turn 2 Mystic, whereas on the play, you can curve out nicely, killing their Batterskull-enabler and adding more pressure to the board. This means that on the play, you’re actually favored against CawBlade and on the draw, you’re an underdog, but the matchup is still very much winnable. Overall, the pre-board matchup is about 55/45 in favor of CawBlade.

Sideboarding

Sideboarding improves the matchup quite a bit, as you get access to a lot more answers to Batterskull. Even if you don’t kill Stoneforge Mystic right away, you can still discard the Skull from their hand with Duress or hit it in play with Manic Vandal (although this plan usually also assumes killing the Mystic first, because otherwise they’re going drop the Skull into play EoT and then keep mana available to bounce it). The „what to side out“ riddle is also rather easy here, because the 1/1 creatures are very mediocre in this matchup, dying to Mortarpod and not attacking very well into their Squadron Hawks and Stoneforge Mystics. I’m not entirely sure about siding out all Pulse Trackers and in some games, I took out two Burst Lightnings instead, in order to keep a high number of fast creatures, and this is something that requires more testing. However, Burst Lightning was never a dead card, whereas Viscera Seers and Pulse Trackers would often not be able to attack profitably and just be all-around awful.

While Vampires smooth out their biggest weaknesses post-board, the CawBlade player also has good tools against Vampires for games two and three. Most U/W lists will increase the number of Days of Judgments and add more removal like Oust and Condemn and with Vampires also gaining access to more (artifact-) removal, the post-board games often resemble an attrition war rather than a quick rush. A war of attrition is something that CawBlade is generally better at, so you should still aim at pushing damage through and burning them out while you can, but with a decent amount of artifact removal and discard, you don’t flat out lose to their trumps, so you can at least play a fair match in the mid- and late-game. However, another card that is pretty hard to beat from the CawBlade player is Sylvok Lifestaff, especially in combination with Mortarpod and Squadron Hawks, so drawing your artifact removal goes a long way towards victory. Because of that, I would consider upping the number of Manic Vandals in the board to a full playset and maybe even adding a Shatter or two.

Overall, the matchup is about even post-board, maybe with a slight advantage to Vampires, because the R/B deck has better and cheaper creatures and also cheap answers to threats from CawBlade. It is important to mulligan correctly post-board – generally speaking, keeping a hand with no removal or Manic Vandal is a mistake, because CawBlade has tools to fend off your creature rush and also Preordains to get access to their good cards with a high consistency. If both decks have an above-average draw, then the outcome of the match depends on who’s on the play. However, Vampires will be the deck capable of a “break” more often, because when CawBlade loses its key piece of the puzzle to a timely discard spell or removal, Vampires will be able to simply walk over CawBlade before it has time to reload.

R/B Vampires is a fine deck in the current Standard field and a very good choice for those that don’t have access to a playset of Jaces. While many people claimed aggro to be dead with the release of Batterskull, my testing with Petr suggested something else – Vampires are fully capable of fighting the Batterskull menace and are still a powerful Standard deck.

That’s all from me for today, thanks for reading and don’t forget to check out Petr’s article later this week!

Adam Koska

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