Once Scars of Mirrodin became legal, it became readily apparent that decks that played Primeval Titan as well as other green-based decks (Elves, tokens, etc) were going to be the decks to beat in Standard, although the format was surprisingly broad so that was a factor to consider. One can't really just decide "I'm going to beat green things" and realistically have a chance at doing well in Standard. After some discussion, some friends of mine and I came to the conclusion that black had the tools to beat those decks, it was just a matter of finding the right build(s) that did so while also having game against the other decks that were going to be around (Red Deck Wins, Boros, UW Control, Fauna Shaman decks, and Quest for the Holy Relic based decks). I decided to give Vampires a go, since I have long had a love affair with Gatekeeper of Malakir and the idea of stealing giant green monsters with Captivating Vampire made me giggle. After a fair bit of tinkering in the Tournament Practice room on Magic: Online, I came up with this list that I was going into the fray with:
4 Captivating Vampire
4 Gatekeeper of Malakir
4 Kalastria Highborn
4 Vampire Hexmage
4 Vampire Nighthawk
2 Malakir Bloodwitch
4 Sign in Blood
4 Doom Blade
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
2 Mind Sludge
2 Tectonic Edge
4 Marsh Flats
4 Verdant Catacombs
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Tectonic Edge
1 Mind Sludge
2 Haunting Echoes
2 Malakir Bloodwitch
4 Urge to Feed
There aren't a whole lot of hard to explain card choices here with the exception of Inquisition, and there are pros and cons for it over Duress. Duress gets Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Inquisition does not. Thats the big one....but the ability to get creatures (for the moment at least) is very powerful with Inquisition. You can steal Birds, most Elves, various White Weenies (to keep them off of their "Oops, I win" early draws), Joraga Treespeaker (which if left alone will almost always result in your demise), and even Overgrown Battlement if need be not to mention a lot of the same things you could nab with a Duress. While I'm not 100% sure of that decision, especially given that the format is very young and we have yet to see if Jace decks are going to have to be dealt with more proactively, but I feel comfortable with the decision overall. Also, I want to talk briefly about Mind Sludge. In the games you play it....its awesome. However, what this tournament experience taught me is that it may just need to be Sadistic Sacrament instead. Don't get me wrong, nailing their whole hand is always a plus. But Sacrament does have the added benefit of getting rid of Valakut (which would have been extremely helpful in round 3 as you will see) and may end up being awesome against these Elixir of Immortality decks where you just deny them the ability to go wild. Plus, Vengevine and Mana Leak are around and Mind Sludge isn't the best against those cards. I haven't tested it, but others I know and trust say Sacrament has been good for them.
The sideboard is a work in progress...so make of it what you will. Deathmark kills green and white things on the cheap...thats good. Urge to Feed is a nod to the Boros Landfall decks as well as Red Deck Wins (also good against Elves and White Weenie). Malakir Bloodwitch is awesome against things that play white (most of the time they just scoop to it if you are anywhere close to board parity or better). Haunting Echoes is funny in that it helps matchups like UW Control and, if you play the game for it, decks with Vengevine or Elixir because they stop drawing gas. Obviously don't play it if their Elixir is active, but it has been okay to good for me. Also, good against Pyromancer's Ascension. Anyways, on to the report. Not going to name names because I do plan on trash talking a little bit if my opponents were rude and/or stupid.
Round One against Green/red Valakut Ramp
This matchup showed me a couple things. One, how powerful the Ramp deck can be if left unmolested and two....how much that DOESN'T matter if you have an active Captivating Vampire. I kept an aggressive draw with Captivating Vampire and some other guys but with zero disruption. He goes and gets extra lands, does it again, and the during all of this I draw a second Captivating Vampire and am attacking at will. I get to 5 vampires but can't kill him yet...so I do not attack, just pass knowing that something large is about to hit the field that I can steal . He untaps and plays Avenger of Zendikar, which I steal with with the Plant token trigger on the stack so he can't make them bigger. He passes back and I attack which results in many Plant tokens dying painful deaths to my vampire army, which consists of two Vampire Hexmages and a Highborn...this will be important in a minute. I play a Nighthawk and pass the turn with some lands available in cause something wonky happens. He untaps and plays Primeval Titan to activate his Valakuts and he starts to kill my team with them. I respond by killing him with numerous Highborn triggers by sacrificing my Hexmages and then letting the Valakut triggers resolve. Game two was more of the same, except this time I didn't have to steal anything. 3 Captivating Vampires with friends plus a timely Mind Sludge for his entire hand resulted in an easy game win.
Round Two (1-0) vs. GUR Fauna Shaman
This matchup seemed like a disaster to me at first. He has a recurring threat that I can't permanent keep off the table (Vengevine), a two drop that if I don't kill it I will just lose (Fauna Shaman), a toolbox setup to make both of the aforementioned cards better (Trinket Mage), and he plays Mana Leak. Suffice it to say, I lose game one pretty badly. I had a window where if I had Sign In Blood-ed into two vampires I could have stolen one of his guys and maybe won over the next two turns, but I sadly only drew one and got ran over by Vengevine recursion. Game Two, he was reallllly mana light (only two plus some Birds) and I had the nuts. I just attacked him to death before his Fauna Shaman could really get going. Game three was fairly close. He played a Jace, the Mind Sculptor and when I had a couple of windows to kill him....he had 3 Mana Leaks which, again, resulted in me dying to Vengevines.
Round Three (1-1) vs. Mono-Green Eldrazi
Easily my favorite match (for me) so far, I get a fast start with Hexmage and Captivating Vampire x2 and he is ramping like crazy with Primeval Titan (which dies a painful death to Doom Blade) and Eldrazi Temples. I am at five Vampires, attack, and he hits Emrakul, the Aeons Torn on his turn. He takes his extra turn and attacks and I sacrifice all of my lands to the Emrakul, untap, steal his Emrakul which turns it a vampire and making him a 16/16, and he scoops, showing me a hand of all land. Game two was less exciting because I just dominated from start to finish. I Deathmarked his Treespeaker, Doom Bladed his Battlement, and Mind Sludged his hand. Wasn't close.
Round Four (2-1) vs. Green/red Valakut Ramp
This was a frustrating loss....but its to be expected considering that my only way to interact with Valakuts right now is Tectonic Edge. Game One, I Inquisitioned him and saw 3 Primeval Titans. I took his ramp card, thinking I would be in good shape if I could just get my board developed quickly. He procedes to draw Explore and Harrow and kills me with 4 Valakuts.....must be nice to draw that well. Game Two I win fairly handedly with Kalastria Highborn and Captivating Vampires just bashing him. Game Three is pretty anticlimatic. I get stuck on 2 lands for a turn even after a Sign in Blood which delays my Mind Sludge for a turn which would have nailed a host of goodies. Instead, he plays said goodies and bashes me to death with them.
2-2 isn't a bad record per se, especially considering that there are ways to improve the deck given the environment right now. I think Sadistic Sacrament may just have to go in. The games I lost were to very specific threats (Vengevine and Valakut) and the ability to remove them (or at least most of them) is appealing right now to me. One Valakut is very manageable (remember I am playing Tectonic Edge) but four is a good way to just lose. Thinking that I am going to replace the Mind Sludges for now (sorry buddy...but Mana Leak is bad juju right now for you) with said Sacraments and see if that helps with the disruption end of things. Hexmage is just about the only answer I see right now for the deck to Jace with the possible exception of dipping into red for Lightning Bolt or something to that effect. Overall, was a good time....but there is work to do!