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Looking at Grixis Vampires

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One of the decks I was most interested to explore after last weekend's Set Championship was Grixis Vampires.

For one thing, I was quite surprised that Ob Nixilis, the Adversary strategies were either so unpopular or at least so unsuccessful in Streets of New Capenna. As you probably know, I've had a lot of success with specifically the Oni-Cult Anvil build of Ob Nixilis. Grixis made the Top 8 in the hands of celebrated Pro Mike Sigrist; which was notable in that it was the only Rakdos-adjacent deck to do so... And because it played no copies of the powerful Planeswalker.


Which is kind of odd, at least at first blush. Grixis Vampires shares not only many spells in common with Ob Anvil... But even numbers! Both decks play four copies of Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki (which, I suppose is not so surprising); but four copies of Bloodtithe Harvester, the maximum number of Voltage Surges, and a pair of Tenacious Underdogs.

Rather than leaning into the artifact synergies of Ob Anvil, Grixis goes the other way... Counting how many triggers it can get with its Vampires various! Most of the Vampires do something cool when they enter the battlefield; but in a couple of cases, they either do more than one cool thing, or multiple cool things when combined with another Vampire. There are two new Blue ones from Streets of New Capenna that are really worth talking about:

Corpse Appraiser

This card is one of the deck's workhorses. A 3/3 creature for three mana, Corpse Appraiser is quite the Gnarled Mass. But on top of a body that out-classes a Cat token on the battlefield, both its 187 abilities are also quite relevant. First, the ability to exile a creature can be a complication (if there is no target, you might not want to play the Appraiser) but can also prove to be super valuable. For instance, against Boros or Naya Reanimator, you can punish an opponent who dumped Velomachus Lorehold early, gobbling up that giant Dragon before they can get it back with Invoke Justice. It also takes a little bit of the edge off of trading with an opposing Tenacious Underdog early. Rather than being ground out by a domino you set in motion, Corpse Appraiser can just zero the Underdog out of the equation.

It would probably be pretty cool if Corpse Appraiser just let you draw a card at this point, but the selection + self-mill is so much more powerful. Of course, getting to choose one of your top three cards is more valuable than just whatever was directly on top of your deck... But the fact that the other two go into your graveyard can end up pretty saucy. For instance, you can flip your own Tenacious Underdog, which is like drawing a second card. Or, you can set up a key instant or sorcery for Bloodthirsty Adversary a turn or two down the line.

Evelyn, the Covetous

I think that if you choose Grixis Vampires, it's at least somewhat because you want to play with Evelyn. Your low end expectation on Evelyn is to play two extra cards (one of yours, and one of your opponent's); but of course all the other Vampires - including the 2/3 token off of Sorin the Mirthless - provide more and more looks. How you play Evelyn is extremely context-driven. Sometimes you want to sacrifice Treasure to play her as quickly as possible, and on your own turn, even if you'll be tapped out... Other times you'll revel in patience, drop her during your opponent's combat, and devour a Jukai Naturalist. In any case, Evelyn has enormous toughness and makes a good blocker generally. Evelyn performs best against decks with lots of instants; they double her free spell access beyond your own main phase.

Grixis Vampires plays a ton of "value" creatures. Fable of the Mirror-Breaker is two creatures across three chapters; Corpse Appraiser is a two-for-one generally, and Evelyn is a three-for-one. Even Bloodtithe Harvester, with its Blood token, is one-and-a-half-for-one.

As such, this deck tends to fare best against creature decks playing fair. Games against White aggro decks seem to be among some of the easiest. Not only does Grixis Vampires have a good array of cheap removal, but in the middle turns, the opponent will eventually be buried under your simple volume of material. I think I would go so far as to say it is the best anti-Mono-White deck I've ever played. Better than a Mono-Black deck with four copies of The Meathook Massacre and four copies of Blood on the Snow, even!

Unlike a Black control deck, Grixis Vampires has a lot of not only cheap cards, but cheap creatures. Therefore, it is far less lock-able by Reidane or Elite Spellbinder. Or Thalia, for that matter!

So, I was very surprised at how vulnerable the deck seems against aggressive opponents who put your life total under pressure directly. Mono-Red, Boros, and Rakdos Anvil have all been challenging opponents in my testing. I've found both Oni-Cult Anvil and Ob Nixilis, the Adversary next to impossible to race; and Thundering Raiju an absolute nightmare.

The other type of opponent you don't want to see with this deck is anyone who is just explicitly bigger than you. Conventional Izzet Goldspan Dragon decks can be super problematic. One reason is just that - unlike Ob Anvil - Grixis doesn't have an overabundance of fuel for Voltage Surge. If you don't get a free swing in with your first Fable of the Mirror-Breaker token, you might just be stuck with a sub-Shock level Surge. Which isn't killing any Dragons.

Needless to say, fancier Goldspan Dragon decks (e.g. the set championship winner with Hinata, Dawn-Crowned and Magma Opus) and Body of Research one-shot combo decks are even worse. Though, it is worth mentioning, the singleton spoilers like Duress and Spell Pierce can create some beautiful chaos.

So where do you want to be Grixis Vampires?

Again, the deck is the best ever against White weenie. It can also grind the bejeezus out of Naya Runes. The deck is great in most situations where you can load up a Corpse Appraiser as a two-for-one inside of the fourth turn.

The most obvious cases tend to be disrupting the opponent's forward momentum with a Voltage Surge or Infernal Grasp, then untapping and setting up a two-for-one 3/3 (which is often just bigger than anything they have naturally, anyway.

Contrast this with an Izzet Dragons variant... Because the opponent tends not to play cheap creatures for you to trade with, you'll often find yourself sitting on a Corpse Appraiser that would feel like an ace in another matchup. Perhaps one of the skills in mastering this deck is just sucking it up and running out a 3/3 vanilla to put the opponent on a clock, even if it means missing out on card draw.

The one card that I found to be really impressive in Grixis Vampires was - believe it or not - Kaito Shizuki. In fact, I think this is also the best Kaito deck I've ever played. If you asked me last month, I probably would have said I thought Kaito overrated at best in almost every deck that featured him. The pre-New Capenna Esper in Standard was just kind of... Bad. Bad to the point that it probably should never have existed!

But in the current Standard, just having a lot of creatures - including aggressive 3/2 2-drops ahead of Kaito - creates a different context. You're not wasting a turn making a stupid Ninja. You both have bodies to surround Kaito defensively, and attackers that kill keep the cards flowing. Most shockingly, the Ultimate is also pretty good! In the Neon Dynasty era, Kaito often felt like he had nowhere to go. Even in a deck that played Blue for almost no other reason but to play him, Kaito felt like he didn't quite belong. But in the current Grixis Vampires, I'm shocked by how often I can land the Ultimate!

Older Kaito decks tended to be creature-poor, if not creature-less. They attacked with tokens like Kaito's own Ninja, or Lolth's Spiders. In Grixis Vampires, it is not uncommon to connect with, say, three attackers the turn you cash in the [-7]. The cool thing at that point is actually finding three creatures in your deck that you would actually want to put into play. If the opponent hasn't already conceded, leading with Evelyn, then pairing her with any other Vampire is sure to inspire fear and panic. And after a trigger or two? Most likely that missing scoop.

LOVE

MIKE


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