Vantress Gargoyle Dimir

by Zvi Don't Worry About the Vase9 min read13th Dec 2019No comments

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Recently I decided to take Vantress Gargoyle Dimir seriously. While it remained legal, Veil of Summer rendered Dimir strategies unplayable. For one mana, green decks could and would stop anything you tried to do, from counters to discard to removal. Field of the Dead was also a nightmare. Since much of deck design is incremental, this neglect of Dimir strategies in general, and opponent-cards-in-graveyard-threshold strategies in particular, there is a good chance that any viable builds of Dimir decks would still not be found.

This, together with seeing Dimir decks do interesting things in Constructed Events, was part what motivated me to explore these strategies recently, despite their lack of success or even presence on the ladder or in tournaments. Dimir offered several cards that packed a very strong punch given their mana cost, if you could get cards into your opponents’ graveyard. Which seems like a thing that you can do most of the time without too much trouble. There were clearly a deck’s full of excellent cards to consider playing, so it seemed likely the deck could be good.

The core cards of the deck are the payoff cards for putting cards into the opponents’ graveyard: Vantress Gargoyle, Into the Story and Drown in the Lock. You get a two mana universal counter and removal spell, a draw four for four mana, and a two-mana 5/4 flyer, and the flyer can help fill up the enemy graveyard. To that we can add Thought Erasure, which is so good it is effectively a payoff card for being Dimir at all. We clearly want four of each of those four cards and at least 24 lands, leaving us twenty slots to round out the deck with some mix of counters, removal, card draw, ways to put cards into the enemy graveyard, and a true finisher.

I have been running three copies of Opt. That gives me the effective land ratio I want, and seems like the amount of card selection the deck can afford to buy without risking drawing too many without enough time to use them. Often you’ll be using all of your mana every turn starting with turn two until after the game is effectively all but over, and you also want to spend that one mana on Merfolk Secretkeeper or Fabled Passage, so drawing multiple copies of Opt seems bad enough that I don’t want the fourth. Then again, I don’t rule out that this is rationalization of not being able to find anything I’m willing to cut.

I’ve chosen three copies of Merfolk Secretkeeper as a pure enabler for the enemy graveyard, plus an incidental 0/4 that can come in handy. This is a very high variance card. When you don’t need it, it is effectively blank. There are many matchups where you want to sideboard it out, as the 0/4 body does not matter and there is plenty of time for natural accumulation of cards in graveyards. But when this enables a turn four Into the Story or turn two or three Drown in the Lock, it’s well worth it. I feel like this is the best ‘anti-aggressive’ card you can play, as it gets good use elsewhere while speeding up your plans when you need that – even if you consider boarding it out almost everywhere once you can board in more specialized cards to replace it.

The finisher is clearly Lochmere Serpent. You’re putting cards into their yard and will have a surplus by midgame if your deck is getting the first seven cards into the yard quickly and reliably, so you are able to reliably return Lochmere Serpent when it dies, which gives you a huge advantage in games that go long. Once you play with it for a few games, it’s impossible to imagine playing a different finisher. The question is how many copies you need. I settled on two, since you want to find one most games but can survive for a while without one, and the second one does not do much.

There are several reasonable removal options beyond Drown in the Loch. The strongest card available is Murderous Rider. It embraces the Dimir theme of ways to trade off while getting ahead, and being able to kill Planeswalkers means it’s never bad. The deck clearly wants four copies. You also have a very interesting expensive option in Enter the God-Eternals. The milling effect is perfect on top of everything else it does, but with the risk of being unwieldy or useless in the wrong matchups and situations. I settled on two copies, and can see anywhere from zero to three.

I chose not to run cheaper removal like Disfigure or Epic Downfall, because such cards carry too much risk of being dead or low impact, and you already have a lot of other ways to interact for two mana. But if there are a lot of aggressive decks out there that don’t care about Noxious Grasp, then having access to cheap removal to keep pace and start filling up their graveyard will become important.

The two sweepers available are Cry of the Cranarium and Ritual of Soot. Cry has the advantages of permanently killing cats and not killing Vantress Gargoyle. It has the disadvantage of not hitting a lot of creatures it is important to kill. You also are neither that scared of cats nor would you otherwise be that excited to cast Cry against such builds unless they run Paradise Druid. I have been much happier running only Ritual of Soot, but I can see running a mix.

The first maindeck counter the deck needs is Thought Collapse, to fill up the enemy graveyard. Since Didn’t Say Please exists, you get to have up to eight copies. Given curve considerations, I’ve concluded I like running four, but I wouldn’t be that averse to running five. Given how awful the name Didn’t Say Please is, and my dislike of its artwork relative to Thought Collapse, I’m retaining a 4/0 split despite the (very, very) slight game play disadvantage of not splitting the card evenly.

The other good counter you can run main is Quench. Given it can go dead you want to avoid relying on it too much, as your plan often involves games going long and you want to ensure that you don’t draw too much late game air. I like running two copies. I’d avoid the fourth, but I can see running a third. Negate and Mystical Dispute could also be considered if the metagame becomes more unbalanced, but for now I prefer to keep both of those in the sideboard.

Discard beyond Thought Erasure means Duress. I want access to a few copies for control battles, but you aren’t competing with anyone for this role so you don’t need to run too many and risk getting glutted with them at the wrong time. It’s always tough boarding more than a handful of cards out, and always you want a mix of cards that do a mix of things, so we don’t want to sideboard too many copies of any one card or card type.

 

This results in the following deck:

3 Opt

5 Swamp

3 Fabled Passage

2 Quench

4 Vantress Gargoyle

4 Watery Grave

4 Thought Collapse

4 Into the Story

4 Murderous Rider

9 Island

4 Thought Erasure

4 Drown in the Loch

2 Lochmere Serpent

2 Enter the God-Eternals

3 Merfolk Secretkeeper

2 Castle Locthwain

1 Castle Vantress

Sideboard

2 Noxious Grasp

2 Disdainful Stroke

2 Negate

2 Duress

3 Ritual of Soot

1 Enter the God-Eternals

2 Mystical Dispute

1 Disfigure

 

The common theme when sideboarding is that in most places you essentially have everything you want. You’re swapping cards for other similar cards to get marginal improvements, but the deck naturally is what it is and changing it much would not help matters, once you replace the handful of cards that don’t matter in context with other cards that do. Thus, if you did want to clear sideboard space for something, you can get it, because losing out on other swaps is not that big a deal.

You have a lot of good matchups in terms of how things line up, and do some powerful things. The reason this isn’t a top deck is that your powerful things aren’t quite up to the level of the competition, and being well-positioned doesn’t fully make up for it. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement, or for things to move in this deck’s favor.

Sideboarding and matchups:

Jeskai Cavaliers

This matchup is good for you. You have Thought Erasure to break up Fires of Invention and help stop Teferi, Time Raveler, and your cards meaningfully interact with their big creatures. Vantress Gargoyle costs only two mana and trades with all their blue flyers. Drown in the Lock trades with anything. Without a Fires of Invention, their deck is not fast enough to prevent you from reacting. Given time to react, you can easily overpower them, as they only have so many key threats and you can answer all of them and then pull ahead with Into the Story and Lochmere Serpent. Enter the God-Eternals can hit Sphinx of Foresight, so in practice it’s often quite good even though it seems out of place.

Sideboarding means having more discard and preparing for fighting against Mystical Dispute. Disdainful Stroke is in the sideboard because it is the best counter here. Games develop slowly and you’re putting in more discard, so you do not need Merfolk Secretkeeper.

In: +2 Disdainful Stroke +2 Duress

Out: -3 Merfolk Secretkeeper -1 Enter the God-Eternals

You can also bring in Mystical Dispute if you wish, but it is not required. Enter the God-Eternals can hit Legion Warboss or Sphinx of Foresight, so it’s fine to leave in. You’ll see the theme develop that you always have plenty of cards to bring in, and not much that must come out.

If you wanted to improve matters further, you could add more copies of Disdainful Stroke, which would be marginally better than whatever you cut, but mostly you’re already where you want to be.

Cats

This matchup also favors you. If they get their engine online they do get to pull ahead and dominate the game, but if they don’t establish it quickly the long game is yours and everything they do costs a lot more mana for what they get than everything you do. Them playing small ball doesn’t do enough to matter. You can trade off with and remove everything worrisome so long as they don’t get Trail of Crumbs going. If they do, then you have to rapidly pull ahead and close out the game quickly. You’re better at doing that than you look, but sometimes it isn’t possible. Don’t be afraid to use Merfolk Secretkeeper or Thought Erasure unless they have both Trail of Crumbs and Witch’s Oven but don’t have Caldron Familiar.

Exactly how to board depends on their version, but mostly you want to use Duress to shore up and ensure they don’t get a Trail of Crumbs.

In: +2 Duress +1 Noxious Grasp or Enter the God-Eternals depending on version

Out: -3 Merfolk Secretkeeper

You could board something specialized like Sorcerous Spyglass if you wanted to, or Cry of the Carnarium, but I don’t think those cards provide major upgrades to what you already have.

Simic Flash

Your worries are Nissa, Who Shakes the World and Nightpack Ambusher, since if they can establish either of those they can run away with things. Vantress Gargoyle and Thought Erasure are great ways to move first without lowering your shields, as are end step Lochmere Serpents. While I haven’t played the matchup since the deck was not popular when I was testing Dimir and I never ran into it, I like where we are here quite a bit. We start with this…

In: +2 Negate +2 Mystical Dispute +2 Noxious Grasp +2 Duress

Out: -2 Enter the God-Eternals -3 Merfolk Secretkeeper

And now we’re at 63 and love all our cards. What to cut? It seems crazy (for example) to not add Negate or cut copies of Thought Collapse or Vantress Gargoyle. But you have to do something that seems crazy one way or another. Think of this as building your deck during boarding, depending on how your opponent is playing, and what tools you think are most valuable.

If you wanted to make this matchup even better, you could board more copies of Noxious Grasp or even put in Chemister’s Insight, but again, what would you cut? So it wouldn’t make things much better.

Izzet Flash

The Izzet Flash mirror has been described as trading haymakers. This is more like trading tiny punches. You trade cards over and over and seek to come out on top after the trading is over, which you are well-poised to do. The only card that actually gets you into trouble is Gadwick, the Wisened, because he can pull them ahead, so you’ll want to do your best to rip it out of their hand or be ready to counter it – or at least, threaten to counter it so they can’t draw that many cards, then kill it later. Do that, and be mindful of your life total, and you should be fine. Vantress Gargoyle is rather annoying for them, as is the efficiency of much of your deck. They don’t have a game plan for Lochmere Serpent at all. If you resolve Into the Story it becomes very hard to lose and often the same is true for Enter the God-Eternals. Think about how they might tempo you out or put you into burn range, and make sure it doesn’t happen.

It may look weird to put in a five mana sorcery, but resolving it solves so many of your problems. If they don’t have a Brazen Borrower to clear the army, you’ve all but won the game on the spot.

As above, I’m fully aware you have to cut one more card, or leave a card in the board. There are a few reasonable choices, depending on how you expect your opponent to play. If you expect them to get aggressive, the third Enter the God-Eternals is good as well.

In: +2 Mystical Dispute +2 Duress

Out: -3 Merfolk Secretkeeper

Golgari Adventures

This is not one deck but several. They might be going for The Great Henge, they might be going for Lucky Clover, or going for neither, or some strange mix. Thus it is hard to give exact guidelines. Generally, they have a few key engines of card advantage, which you have to stop, and if you stop them and don’t get run over then you win. If you don’t stop them you have to do something impressive quickly or die.

By default we bring in Ritual of Soot and Noxious Grasp and take out Merfolk Secretkeeper, with other cuts depending on what you’re facing. For example, if they don’t have Rankle, Master of Pranks or Questing Beast, you can cut Enter the God-Eternals, but it shines against both cards. If this gets big, just add more Noxious Grasp – this is the matchup that makes that card worth sideboard space.

Gruul Aggro

This is tough. They are out to put you to the test, and you don’t have as many answers as we would like. Our sideboard does give us a lot more answers, and we still hold the long game. We don’t love discard in principle but Thought Erasure is such great discard and Embercleave is so crucial that I think we leave it in.

In: +2 Noxious Grasp +3 Ritual of Soot +1 Enter the God-Eternals +1 Disfigure

Out: -2 Lochmere Serpent -3 Thought Collapse -2 Enter the Story

Rakdos Knights

This is the same problem as Gruul but even worse in many ways, since we don’t get to use Noxious Grasp and their curve is lower, plus Spawn of Mayhem cheats around Ritual of Soot. Having more cheap removal would definitely help, but it would do very little elsewhere.

In: +3 Ritual of Soot +1 Enter the God-Eternals +1 Disfigure

Out: -2 Lochmere Serpent -2 Thought Collapse -1 Enter the Story

Azorious Control

You need to worry about them sticking Teferi. You really, really don’t need to worry about much else except maybe Chemister’s Insight pulling them ahead. This is the only place we miss not having our own copies of that all that much. You’ll have to cut one more card somewhere.

In: +2 Duress +2 Negate +2 Mystical Dispute

Out: -3 Merfolk Secretkeeper -2 Enter the God-Eternals

Those should provide a template you can use to figure out other matchups, and shows the most important use of each of the sideboard cards.

Again, don’t consider this the next killer deck or anything like that. But it is much more solid than it looks, has good matchups against the most popular decks out there, and provides a solid base upon which to innovate.

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