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Decknology: Sleeving up Swamps

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, FNM, Standard

Editor’s Note: Welcome to Decknology, a weekly series with two Standard decks you can sleeve up tonight for Friday Night Magic. We hope to feature some Tier 1 decks and some spicy brews, but need your help! For a chance to be featured, submit your decklist with accompanying article (about 1,000 words) to editor@legitmtg.com. For best results, focus on what makes your 75 stand out from the crowd.

Previously on Decknology: Hellrider and Quirion Dryad; Naya and RG Aggro.

UB Vampires by Peter Lane

Twin Cities deck brewer Pete Lane is better known by those online as “pandafarmer.” Playing Magic since 1996, Pete grew up a board gamer and took this natural love of gaming to a new level as an adult by being a playtester for Fantasy Flight Games classics including Doom, Descent, Twilight Imperium and Arkham Horror. Not one to chase Pro Tour dreams on his own, Pete enjoys offering sage advice to rising local players.

This deck started as a hastily slapped together monoblack Vampire deck to play around with for fun once M13 was released. After a few plays against other postrotation decks, it became obvious Vampires might actually be worth considering in a new metagame. Monoblack was not the path, however, because the deck ends up heavy in four-drops without much early-game action. That can make all the difference in an aggro-heavy environment where it can come down to who recovers from a Bonfire of the Damned without a blink.

BR seemed like an obvious choice because of cards like Bonfire of the Damned, Stromkirk Captain and Falkenrath Aristocrat really helping the Vampire subtype. But after a few plays, the deck seemed really bland and did not fix the problems of a purely monoblack build. Being a control player at heart, I wanted to put on a permission hat as early as possible. Cavern of Souls was an issue for Esper players wanting to clutch our Mana Leaks.

I soon realized that it wasn’t counterspells I wanted. Something a bit more aggressive was needed, and a little card named Despise jumped out. Instead of waiting to counter a theat, I could just pick apart their hand until I could start dropping my own threats. Nothing is more satisfying that a starting hand of Duress, Despise, Swamp, Swamp, Vampire Nighthawk, Bloodline Keeper, Go For The Throat when you saw their hand was prepped for a Turn 3 Sword equip.

The late game was still an issue however, and neither build seemed to do anything beyond obvious plays. As I sat drawing “too little, too late” answers, I found myself instinctively wishing for Snapcaster Mage to appear. Then it clicked. I didn’t need a lot of blue … but anything to help replace clunky cards like Sign in Blood picked up the pace while allowing for a more controlling feel. I didn’t have to worry about “wasting” removal and could use discard spells in a more debilitating manner. In tandem with Liliana of the Veil, it isn’t uncommon to force someone to discard three cards stranding them to topdeck an answer. It’s not as efficient as a Bonfire, but it’s a “scoop-worthy” situation in some cases.

Creative card choices

Human Frailty is quite amazing. Many decks run a large number of Human creatures, and my opponents never expected it despite playing around Tragic Slip. It’s obviously not very good against Zombies or a control deck, which is why there are only two maindecked.

Surgical Extraction isn’t such a shock to see, but adding it to the maindeck is a sneaky trick. With all the ways you’re throwing things into the graveyard — discard spells, plenty of removal, and Liliana — it is hardly ever a dead draw.  It also allows you to protect against reanimator tricks during Game 1 while being much more effective against hexproof creatures.

Thought Scour became my draw spell of choice. You can “reset” the top card of your library for Vampire Nocturnus and create more options to strip with Surgical Extraction. An instant-speed spell for one blue mana also means you can invest less into the card, and it seems to play much better with the deck than PonderSign in Blood tended to hog turns when it’s much more interesting to play Duress or Despise before then following up with a creature or saving a removal spell. The life loss is also an issue without sticking a Vampire Nighthawk.

Inkmoth Nexus is a nasty little trick.  Not only can it be a “pinger,” but in tandem with Liliana of the Dark Realms, you can make him a true threat. It’s a trick I have used post-Mutilate to win games.

This as a fun FNM deck you can tweak and experiment with. The manabase is no perfect, but I wanted to have as many swamps as possible without straining the blue splash. It might be worth adding Evolving Wilds (helps shuffle for Vampire Nocturnus as well), Cavern of Souls or Darkslick Shores. I see many people trying Vampires in monoblack and BR forms and hitting many of the same stumbling blocks I did. This should encourage people to think out of the box and see other synergies that exist.

— Peter Lane

Monoblack artifacts by Peter Schreier

Peter Schreier has been collecting Magic cards ever since his cousin gave him a bag of cards in 1998. While he’s only played competitively for the last three years, he’s an avid player and deck builder.


This is supposedly the “Green Summer.” We’ve seen the reprinting of Rancor and many people feel it’s a season of a hexproofed +2/+0 tramply Dungroves. But the image in my head of a “Green Summer” is blue skies and lush forests. This is a problem because FNM happens at night, and the darker creatures come out to play when sun goes down.

The original inspiration to play monoblack was the reprinting of Vampire Nighthawk, which is removal on a stick. It can cancel a Strangleroot Geist by killing it once, then trading with it later while gaining you fou life in the process. I didn’t want to play vampires, however, because I’ve always had a soft spot for control.

The initial artifact free list was a big mistake because it only used Sign in Blood as my draw engine. This lack of draw power left me with two options: Add blue, or find another way to draw cards. Some players were using artifacts and Phyrexia’s Core to draw cards and that allowed me to play other favorites like Buried Ruin and Wurmcoil Engine. Who doesn’t like recurring a Wurmcoil after casting a Mutilate to leave your board with two 3/3 tokens and a 6/6 lifelinking, deathtouching monstrosity? Not playing blue also helps avoid being mana-screwed because I consistently want the option of a Turn 3 Nighthawk and didn’t want to play with counterspells with so many Cavern of Souls in the metagame. And who wants to shell out more money for Darkslick Shores this close to rotation?

The Plan

The general plan is to lock down the board, then play your threats and continue to bash until your opponent is dead and buried. Phyrexia’s Core lets you continuously sacrifice your artifacts, gaining you a life and often letting you draw a card with synergies like Solemn Simulacrum. Black Sun’s Zenith, Mutilate, Doom Blade, Go for the Throat and Tribute for Hunger let you lock down the board to play your finishers. Postboard, you can add in Barter in Blood to further deal with hexproof creatures. Once you feel comfortable looming over the rotting corpses of your opponent’s creatures, you can play a fatty like Grave Titan, Wurmcoil Engine or Batterskull to lock down the game. The Vampire Nighthawks prevent those agrgo decks from ripping apart your life total. Despise is in the main board because creature decks are all the rage, and paying 1 to get a Primeval Titan or Geist of Saint Traft on Turn 1 is too good to pass up.


The worst matchup is the traditional UW Control deck. Counterspells will halt your attempts to clear the board, and all you can really hope for is that they let you keep your Nighthawks. The match gets much better postboard when you bring in Duress and Sorin Markov and Duress. UW Delver is hard to play against Game 1 because of Geist of Saint Traft, but it gets much better postboard with Barter in Blood and by replacing a Grave Titan with Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis, which is important because of its flying.

When facing GR Aggro, you want to kill their mana dorks early and kill Thragtusk before laying waste to their board with a Mutilate. Nihil Spellbomb is used to remove Strangleroot Geist before Graffdigger’s Cage is added in sideboarding. Against human decks, Turn 3 Nighthawk will let you regain board control after a Turn 2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.

Birthing Pod is a very hard matchup because it can play as a creature-oriented ramp deck, a midrange Naya deck, or just cheat a bomb like Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite into play. Before boarding, just hope to be on the play. If you have a hand with some spot removal, you can delay Birthing Pod a turn by zapping Birds of Paradise. If you are able to slow down the pod, then just hold onto those Mutilates until key moments such as when they low on cards in hand.

Don’t forget

The deck is often a grind and many games will go close to time. Trading Post really helps this deck excel in a grindy control matchup. You can do some broken stuff, like sacrificing a Solemn Simulacrum to bring back an Ichor Wellspring and draw two cards. Next turn you can sacrifice the Wellspring and draw two more cards. I’ve also topdecked Mutilate to turn the game around against Goblins while sitting at two life. This deck is able to come back from the brink of death against the fastest aggro decks simply because it has so much lifegain.

I’m more than excited to see you play this at your own FNM. Sleeve up this deck and enjoy slaughtering your opponent’s creatures.

— Peter Schreier

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