Magic 2012: Vampire Onslaught Review (Part 2 of 2)
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and with Vampire Onslaught our time with Magic 2012 has finished (until next season’s Preconstructed Championships, that is!). As mentioned in our final review of Illusionary Might, the M12 Event Decks have proven to be quite popular in our house, and Jimi quite reluctantly stepped aside this time to give Sam a shot with them. Although Blue isn’t usually one of Sam’s preferred colours, the idea of cheap and aggressive beats is right up her alley. On the other side of the table, I am piloting Vampire Onslaught. Here are the notes from our three games. Game One
Sam goes deep into the tank as we draw our opening hands, and in the end decides to keep. She leads off with an Island, then plays a Phantasmal Bear. For my part, I have a Viscera Seer as my opener. Next turn Sam swings with the Bear, plays a second- but misses her land drop. A one-land keep? Certainly having a pair of Bears to begin with saw Sam take the gamble, but it remains to be seen whether or not it will pay off. Back to me, I play a second Viscera Seer and pass.
Now turn 3, Sam comes in for 4 with both Bears, but has nothing to play. The tides turn as I play a kicked Gatekeeper of Malakir and attack with both Seers, downgrading her position and leaving her at 18. Sam maintains the offensive, attacking with her remaining Bear and I decline the trade. I’m now at 12 life. Over to me, I have no new play, but attack with the team for 4, leaving Sam not far behind at 14.
Sam finally lands her second Island on turn 5, but it avails her little. She attacks for 2 and passes. I play a Mimic Vat, then strike back for another 4. Sam attacks next turn with her all-star Bear, taking me to 8. At the end of turn, I pop one of my Seers to itself to scry for 1, then imprint it under the Vat. Now back to me, I create a Seer token with the Vat, attack in for 4, then pop the Seer token to itself to scry once more. I follow up with a Vampire Lacerator and pass.
Sam seems much happier with her hand this time, and keeping is no gamble. She opens with another Island-Bear tandem and passes, while this time my one-drop is a Vampire Lacerator. Next turn she summons the Lord of the Unreal, then attacks for 3 with the newly-buffed Bear. Matching rare with rare, I follow with a Kalastria Highborn and 2-point attack of my own. Sam swings for another 3 next turn before Preordaining, while I attack with the Lacerator (who’s been munching on my own life total these last two turns) and follow with a Viscera Seer.
Now turn 4, Sam attacks again with the Bear. I block with the Seer, sacrifice it to itself to scry, then trigger the Highborn’s syphon ability. After she summons her follow-up Porcelain Legionnaire, Sam is at 12 life with me at 15. Back to me, I play a kicked Gatekeeper of Malakir, compelling Sam to sacrifice her Bear. Next turn sees Sam play a second Legionnaire, going down to 10 life for the privilege. With her defenses quickly becoming insurmountable, I’m happy to switch gears and engage the deck’s combo engine. I play a Mimic Vat, then send in the Vampire Lacerator on a suicide mission. A Legionnaire faithfully dispatches him, and I imprint him onto the Vat while triggering the Highborn’s syphon. The game now stands at 8-17, and it seems the Vampires have things firmly in hand.
All Sam can manage on turn 6 is a Glimmerpost (+1 life) and a 3-point attack with a Legionnaire. Next turn I use the Vat to make a Lacerator token, and repeat my suicide cycle, draining Sam for 2 and gaining 2 more life. Sam tops up her life a little with a second Glimmerpost next turn, attacks with her Legionnaire for 3 and passes. I pull the Vat-Lacerator-Highborn trick again, and we end the turn at 7-15.
Things start to go pear-shaped for me on turn 8, however, when Sam breaks my combo engine by Mind Controlling my Kalastria Highborn. Another 3-point attack from the Legionnaire puts me at 12. I play a Pawn of Ulamog and pass. Next turn Sam Mind Controls the Pawn, stealing it away as well. Rightly sensing vulnerability, she swings with the Legionnaires and my own hapless Highborn. I create a Lacerator token to trade with the Highborn but still end up taking 6, cutting me directly in half. Back to me, I play a kicked Gatekeeper of Malakir, but all it does is compel Sam to sacrifice the 0/1 Eldrazi Spawn token she’d made from my stolen Pawn when stolen Highborn died. In desperation, I play Vampire Outcasts without the bloodthirst.
Sam dutifully Mind Controls the Outcasts too, and I know I’m doomed. She swings in for another 8, and I gang-block one of her Legionnaires with my Gatekeepers, imprinting the Legionnaire onto the Mimic Vat. It’s a fine idea, but not enough to save me. I die shortly thereafter, a lonely Viscera Seer my final contribution.
A slower start this time sees neither of us with a one-drop, but I open turn 2 with a Bloodghast. Sam, alas, has the Procelain Legionnaire and gladly trades 2 life to play it. Next turn I have a Pawn of Ulamog out, while Sam deploys a Spined Thopter after sending in the Legionnaire for 3.
Now turn 4, I kick my deck up a notch with a Blade of the Bloodchief, which I then equip to my Pawn. I then play a Bloodthrone Vampire and then attack for 4 with the Bloodghast and Pawn. Over to Sam, she counterattacks for 5 with ther Legionnaire and Thopter, then bounces the Bloodghast with an Æether Adept. She follows up with a Preordain to set up her next couple of turns and passes. Next turn I replay the Bloodghast, then send in the Pawn and Bloodthrone for 3, leaving Sam at 11 life (I’m at 12). Sam returns fire with everything, and I trade my Bloodghast for her Adept. With two creatures off to the graveyard, the Pawn gets four +1/+1 counters thanks to the Blade. I also get a 0/1 Eldrazi Spawn token, though I am down to 7 life. Sam ends with a Phantasmal Bear and passes.
I kick a Gatekeeper of Malakir on turn 6, forcing the loss of Sam’s Spined Thopter. I then attack with the Bloodthrone Vampire and 8/8 Pawn. Sam chumps the massive Pawn of Ulamog with her minty-fresh Bear, and I sacrifice the Gatekeeper to the Bloodthrone Vampire for some extra damage (as well as extra counters for the Pawn and another Spawn token). The second Spawn token means I have exactly enough mana available to follow up with a Vampire Outcasts, with their bloodthirst trigger letting them come aboard as a 4/4. Back to Sam, she plays a Glimmerpost to net another point of life, and ends with a Phantasmal Dragon.
Turn 7 sees me play a second Pawn of Ulamog before Dismembering Sam’s Dragon. The 12/12 Pawn of Ulamog, 4/4 Vampire Outcasts, and 1/1 Bloodthrone Vampire eat up Sam’s remaining chump blocks, and after drawing nothing she folds.
Thoughts & Analysis
Having now played with both decks, I have little reservation in declaring this one the more fun to play. Some time ago I wrote a piece on how after the initial experience for Mirrodin Besieged, Wizards learned that building a focus on aggressive, early plays was the most reliable method to bridge the quality gap between the “competition-ready” Event Decks and the actual meta playing out in FNM’s. Tucked twoards the bottom was this little nugget:
Is it possible that they’ll build a viable combo Event Deck? If the archetype works, it certainly seems possible. At a certain point Wizards is going to want to offer some non-aggro strategies, otherwise the product line will become too stale. Vampires is another intriguing option. With Innistrad speculated to be a “Gothic horror” set, the odds may seem good that we’ll see some monoblack aggro as well.
It looks like we got our wish with Vampire Onslaught, and I couldn’t be happier. Although I love the straightforward beats-n-burn strategy of the RDW archetype, having a number of cards that synergise well with one another makes for added layers of nuance and enjoyment. Being able to set up an engine as I did in game two (albeint once that Sam managed to break), chaining Mimic Vat, Viscera Seer, and Kalastria Highborn- was a blast and gave the deck some welcome depth.
The amount of controversy that has surrounded these Event Decks in one way is a welcome sign- it shows the players actually care about them. Whether the issue is how balanced they are with regards to power or value for dollar, or how appropriate it might be to release a deck so filled with Zendikar block cards within spitting distance of rotation are all valid questions, and have provided much fodder for debate on sites, blogs, and Twitter alike. to be certain, there’s precious little Magic 2012 content in Vampire Onslaught, but then that really isn’t the point. Unlike Intro Packs, Event Decks don’t have a primary objective of showcasing a set. The question they answer isn’t “what is this set capable of adding to Standard,” so much as “given the card pool available to us right now, what would a competitive deck look like?” And in that regard, these decks are solid value.
Hits: Great tribal synergy between cards gives the deck a surprising amount of depth and reach; the “all-stars” approach gives players the opportunity to play with a lot of very strong cards; book value of cards well in excess of MSRP for the Event Deck; overall tremendously fun to play
Misses: This deck has a short shelf life, as most of it will be retired from Standard upon rotation; high value of cards means that dealer markup may make the deck prohibitively expensive or scarce for some
OVERALL SCORE: 4.85/5.00