sually, cards that can kill in one hit are given some kind of disadvantage that makes them easy to remove. A small body. Some kind of drawback. Something, so that, when it gets active, your opponent isn't just dead.
Dragon's Maze is anything but a usual set, though. It has ten guilds to support, Gates all over the place, legendary maze runners, and far more—not to mention Zac Hill worked overtime to fit a bunch of awesome cards into the set. Dragon's Maze is Zac's final development love letter to the world, and he made it a good one. It was time to end our second trip to Ravnica with a bang.
If you've been following along so far, you can imagine that today's Orzhov card can kill your opponent in one hit. And if the game isn't at a point where it can kill him or her in one hit, it does some good work toward getting you there.
Feast your eyes on today's offering: the mighty Blood Baron of Vizkopa!
So, how do you construct your deck to get into that kind of situation? Well, Mark Ian Alloso sent in a perfect deck to take advantage of the Blood Baron! Let's take a look at the deck we'll be covering today:
Mark Ian Alloso's Junk Midrange
The Battle Plan
To make Blood Baron of Vizkopa work optimally, it's not enough to just gain life or just deal damage. Your deck has to be able to do a mix of both, and at a similar pace—which makes it a perfect fit for a midrange deck like this.
Cards like Thragtusk and Centaur Healer gain you life, while also providing formidable bodies. Plenty of removal spells helps make sure your board advantage stays in good shape as the game moves onward. Beatdown decks are going to have a major problem cracking through the walls of this lifegain, midrange fortress.
However, the deck also provides reasonable resiliency to fight off control decks. Cards like Lingering Souls and Thragtusk provide you with multiple bodies in one card—virtual card advantage—while Liliana attacks the opponent's hand. Your creatures have a reasonable enough clock that you can drop control decks on the back foot reasonably fast. This deck can strike your opponent from nearly every angle!
Blood Baron of Vizkopa adds a nice new wrinkle. Sure, you might expect it's good against beatdown. After all, it's a huge lifelinking threat—and there's a reasonable chance it'll have protection from some of that player's creatures. What you might expect less is that against control it is also very effective!
A lot of time, the amount of life you gain against control decks doesn't matter, and they're willing to take as much damage as they need before Supreme Verdicting the board away. If they do that against a Blood Baron deck, they might be setting themselves up to just die to a Blood Baron that follows the board being cleared away. Most of their pinpoint removal will have trouble with it, and they will likely have taken enough damage that it turns on and becomes a game-winning threat. Pow!
The key in revisions is going to be lowering the curve a little and making this deck a tad more aggressive. Why? Well, this deck wants to deal enough damage early that your Blood Baron can turn on. Right now, the deck is stuck a little too much in the whimsical world of "Midrange Land;" it's a little too much in the center between aggressive and control decks that it plays a little schizophrenically. A lot of the changes will try and address this issue.
Let's go through each card in the deck to see how the deck can be better tightened—and accommodate the Blood Baron!
Centaur Healer is a perfect example of what this deck is trying to accomplish. A 3/3 for three is all right, and when you put on the lifegain—as well as the ability to reuse it with Restoration Angel—it becomes something that plays right into the game plan. It moves your life total up while simultaneously aiming to lower the opponent's!
While they don't fit the Blood Baron goal quite as well, I'd also like to add in a pair of Loxodon Smiters to provide some more brutal three-drops. There just isn't room for the full four copies, but they can help beat down early and chop off your opponent's life total. When you're playing with mana Elves, having plenty of potent three-drops is crucial, and Smiter adds a critical mass.
While these cards aren't that close in appearance (although they are both 5-power creatures for five that gain you life and are resilient to removal), I need to talk about them together because they share one thing in particular: the mana cost five.
With the addition of Blood Baron of Vizkopa, this deck can only really support so many five-drops. (Especially if we're trying to escape from
Witch Mountain Midrange Land.) Some of these will need to go; I probably don't want to play more than seven. The question is: which ones?
They both work toward the deck's goals in different ways. Thragtusk gives you a bigger boost on the life side, while Obzedat continually evens the odds on both sides of the equation.
Obzedat is usually better toward the goal of just turning on Blood Baron of Vizkopa. However, one huge issue that Obzedat has, which Thragtusk does not, is the mana cost. In a three-color deck, and one with mana Elves no less, asking to get in time can be a tall order. Obzedat is also legendary, meaning drawing multiples isn't quite as good as drawing multiple Thragtusks.
The step to take here is just looking at how many slots I have and figure out how to divide them. I'm fine with up to seven five-drops, and I want to play with three Blood Baron of Vizkopas. That leaves four slots left. Although it looks a little odd, the divide I like most is three Thragtusks, one Obzedat. Obzedat will be stronger in many situations when you can cast it, but Thragtusk is going to be more consistent a lot of the time. However, if you draw the one Obzedat you can craft your plan around it.
While it's an odd split, it's one I'm happy with. Three Thragtusk and one Obzedat it is!
In the move toward making this deck more aggressive, something crucial is that it can deploy its creatures quicker. Avacyn's Pilgrim is just the card to do that, and I definitely want to move up to four. I also want to add in four copies of Arbor Elf, for the same reason.
One problem some decks like this have with playing mana Elves is that it leaves you extra susceptible to a card like Supreme Verdict. When you have cards that cost four and five mana, eliminating your Elves could mean you not only lose your board presence, but you also lose your ability to cast things as well. However, once identified, you can keep this problem in mind while deck building and circumvent it.
How am I going to do that here? Well, I'm going to play twenty-five lands, meaning that the elves are mostly for acceleration and I should still be able to land my four and five-drops most of the time. The other end of the spectrum—mana flood—is also a concern with twenty-five lands and eight Elves... but fortunately, there are enough lands with strong effects in Standard that this deck can play some of those to have mana sinks as well. This kind of consistency is crucial to decks like these, but with enough careful attention to the mana base you can help prepare yourself for any problems that might arise.
Restoration Angel is an all-star Standard card, providing a strong flying body and the ability to reuse several of the enters-the-battlefield effects in this deck. Centaur Healer, Thragtusk, Obzedat—these all work well with the Angel. Mark originally had two, but I'd like to bump it up to three. I want to make sure the deck doesn't have too many cards sitting in the four to five mana range, but Restoration Angel is definitely worth the slots.
Angel of Serenity is certainly powerful—make no doubt about that. However, in an effort to bring the deck's mana curve down and keep it fairly lean, this seven-drop is one of the cards that fell in the process.
While 2 power for three mana isn't the most aggressive card out of everything in here, Lingering Souls does serves many great roles. First of all, it helps this deck be resilient against board sweepers and heavy amounts of removal. Second of all, it helps you race by creating plenty of blockers. Third of all, it can help break board stalls, allowing you to peck away for the few points of damage you need to turn on your Blood Baron. I definitely want to play all four.
While this deck's beatdown game is in pretty good shape, it's important to have enough tools against control decks as well. This deck does a pretty reasonable job, and Liliana goes a long way toward that.
The in the mana cost is a little rough because of how the mana works out to cast your Elves on turn one, so you won't always be able to cast her when you have three mana—but that's okay. She's still a plenty potent threat on turn four or five, whether your opponent is beatdown or control. Three copies of Liliana feels like just about the right number: you won't draw too many of them, but you will often find her when the game goes longer. (As control games tend to do.)
Four mana can buy you a lot in Standard, and this deck has plenty of cards that cost five. I want something reasonably high-impact and aggressive in this deck if I was going to pay four for it—and Sorin didn't really fit the bill. I think I'd rather have Garruk Relentless a lot of the time in this deck (even though the Sorin tokens do have lifelink), but even then, it didn't really fit the more aggressive deck I was looking for. Sorin and Garruk are certainly good cards, but if I was going to play a four-drop here I would probably favor Advent of the Wurm—and even that didn't make the cut!
In addition to Liliana, some pinpoint removal is crucial to help control the flow of the game. Our deck is already in pretty good shape against most of the beatdown decks, but some removal is warranted for any over-the-top threats they might have. I probably want about four additional removal spells total, meaning some of these will have to go.
I like Abrupt Decay a lot because it can hit cards in control decks too, like Detention Sphere or opposing Liliana of the Veils. Starting with two seems like a pretty safe bet. The other two pieces I'd like to be less conditional.
I'd look at Devour Flesh since you can target yourself to turn on a Blood Baron of Vizkopa, but I really want something here that will eliminate the big monster my opponent is planning to roll out. Additionally, in the late game I'm going to have plenty to do, so being cheap matters a lot.
I'm going to split the last two slots here with one Ultimate Price and one Orzhov Charm. Ultimate Price can hit most of the cards I'm worried about. Orzhov Charm dealing damage to myself when I want my primary targets to be the big over-the-top threats isn't great, but I also want my removal to be inexpensive and shut down the quick threats somebody might throw at me. Additionally, it has some other solid uses, like returning an Elf or bouncing a Thragtusk or Restoration Angel to use again.
While two one-ofs might seem strange, I like playing a mix of removal so if I draw multiples I can answer a variety of different threats. I'm happy splitting the removal in this way.
A little bit of card flow can be nice in a deck like this, where you're trying to find the right pieces. However, two black mana is going to be tricky to get early in this deck, and this deck has enough going on late game that I feel comfortable I'll have plenty to do. Plus, I'm adding some lands with abilities to give me action later in the game as well. I'd rather have more aggressive creatures than Sign in Blood.
However, the five-mana crunch is certainly a concern and Unburial Rites doesn't help this deck be a little more aggressive. While there are certainly versions that could go down that route, it doesn't fit as well in this newer version.
With all of those changes in mind, that brings the decklist to:
Gavin Verhey's Blood Baron Midrange
And there you have it! Your first look at Blood Baron of Vizkopa.
There are plenty of directions you could push this deck. You could go more aggressive with more Smiters and cards like Advent of the Wurm, eschewing this many five-drops and Rancoring up Blood Baron. You could drop back more toward the control angle and just use Blood Baron as a finisher. This gives you a reasonable start regardless of either angle you want to try.
Whether aggressive, or defensive, the Blood Baron definitely has a spot in Standard. Give him a try, and have fun!
Even though not every deck fit as well with Blood Baron, there were still plenty of great decks submitted this week. Let's take a look through some of them!
Baihai's Descent into Madness
EsperCraft's Extortion Contortion
Nick Packard's Peace of Grind
Brendan Harder's Estonian Air Force
Angelica's Esper Tokens
Tobias Wrammerfors's Angry Ghosts
John Eldis's BGW "Mean Curve" Midrange
William Thomas's Unholy Reckoner
Jason's Lich's Verdict
Takahashi Kazuyasu's Demonic Rising
Johnnie Alexandro's Junk Zombies
The Modern Maze
Next week, we're going to be looking at Standard with Dragon's Maze. But in two weeks, we're going to be taking Dragon's Maze and looking toward Modern! Let's take a look at the requirements:
Format: Modern (including Dragon's Maze!)
Restrictions: Send in a Modern deck built around your favorite Dragon's Maze card so far! (You may want to wait to submit until later, once more cards have been revealed)
Deadline: Monday, April 22, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time
Submit all decklists by clicking on "respond via email" below. Please submit decklists using the following template. (You do not need to adhere to the specific numbers below, but it's just how a general decklist should look when laid out.)
4 Other Spell
4 Other Spell
What Dragon's Maze cards excite you in Modern? Well, this is your chance to showcase them! Modern is a universe where the laws of physics were devised by the mind of a madman—I'm never quite sure what to expect. But that's part of the fun! I look forward to seeing what you all come up with!
In the meanwhile, feel free to send me any feedback or comments you have. You can either post in the forums below or send me a tweet and I'll be sure to check out what you have to say.
I'll be back next week with a look at Standard—using the complete Card Image Gallery, no less! Until then, may you always be above 30 life and your opponent always below 10.
When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he wanted a job making Magic cards. Ten years later, his dream was realized as his combined success as a professional player, deck builder, and writer brought him into Wizards R&D during 2011. He's been writing Magic articles since 2005 and has no plans to stop.