Pro Tour 25th Anniversary gave Modern some kick. While the majority of what we’ve come to expect was played out at the PT, Modern also has a sort of predictable unpredictability.
The card pool is so large and so strong that new decks and strategies will always sprout up like weeds between the established slabs of concrete in the sidewalk. Even a tree starts off as a sprout, and today I’d like to focus on one such exciting vine that is growing strong in Modern.
B/R Vine was one of the breakout decks from the Pro Tour. If you were wondering why many of the Modern graveyard cards spiked significantly in price, this deck was responsible:
Brandon Nagro, 7th place at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary
Now this is a Zombie deck I can support!
I think the deck is well built, tuned, and designed. I made the following changes to my list after playing Jacob’s list for a few days.
I cut a Hangarback Walker for a Collective Brutality. Hangarback is one of my favorite cards ever, but it is by far the most niche inclusion and I wanted another way to dump payoffs into my graveyard that get clogged in my hand.
I cut a Bitterblossom for a fourth Thoughtseize. I want to feel like I’m doing my part to beat Rest in Peace. Since I’m so narrow and so vulnerable to hate, I want to bring in Seize often so that I can take the best card and see how to best leverage my combo bursts.
I cut a Blood Crypt for a basic Swamp. There are a lot of Field of Ruins and Paths floating around. It’s also a black source that can be fetched up without taking a Shock. Blood Moon is also a thing. It felt like a lot of upside.
My initial reaction to the deck was skepticism, but you’ve got to respect a deck that can get to the Top 8 of a Pro Tour. Still, it was a team event and so it’s difficult to actually evaluate the deck on that metric alone.
I did the only reasonable thing and decided to check the deck out for myself. I jammed FNM with a couple of friends who helped secure me a physical copy of the deck and lived a very Rakdos weekend.
What is R/B Vengevine?
The deck is strange. Let’s start there. It’s sort of a neat hybrid of a combo-aggro deck that runs through the graveyard.
There’s basically zero interaction in the main deck, which means that the deck is roped into doing its thing better than the opponent. Luckily, the deck is pretty good at doing its thing.
The deck generates powerful bursts of synergy that impact the board efficiently for the mana and card investment. Essentially, you are hoping that you can make enough meaningful bursts of value to overcome whatever the opponent can do.
Let’s take a look at the “bursts.” The obvious one is a quick Vengevine (for which the deck is named). It is not that unreasonable to start the game with a turn-1 Vengevine. The most common opening that makes a turn-1 Vine is:
On the first turn you play Neonate and sacrifice it to pitch Vengevine. You then play a 0-cost artifact creature to trigger and return Vengevine to play. A 4/3 haste is very difficult to maneuver against when it hits play on turn 1!
The deck cannot make green mana or cast Vengevine the fair way. It is a brick in the hand.
Column A: Enablers
These are the “setup cards” that help you create powerful bursts of value. The majority put cards into the graveyard (either from the hand or library) and Gargadon is a reusable sacrifice outlet.
Column B: Payoffs
These are the cards we are trying to get into the graveyard so that they can be brought back to the battlefield for value.
Essentially, all of these cards have interactions with one another: whether they are sending cards from one zone to the graveyard, creating synergy in play, or creating the condition to return a card from the grave to the battlefield.
The Many Synergies of B/R Vine
On the one hand, the deck doesn’t really draw a ton of cards or have great selection. The deck has Faithless Looting, which is by far the card you will want to draw the most often, but it relies heavily on playing what it draws, which means that you’ll have to identify which synergies are present and decide how best to use them.
Luckily, there are many mini-combos or bursts to choose from and they are all potentially deadly. Let’s check them out:
I’ve already gone through why Vengevine is good. The fact that it can reliably come down and start pressuring on the first or second turn is a big game. It is such an over-the-top-way to die that I understand why the deck carries the Vine label. But the Vengevines are just part of a multi-tiered attack.
The Vengevine might be the most obvious OP burst, but it is the Bridge that truly brings this deck together and there are a lot of combos that run it.
Sacrifice Gravecrawler, trigger Bridge, and replay the Crawler from the graveyard. Rinse and repeat until you have a Zombie army.
The Bushwhacker is another way to leverage generating lots of tokens in the same turn by not only giving them haste, but also increasing their power.
I love free stuff as much as the next mage, but the true power of this deck lies in the Bridge and exploiting its potential. Free Bloodghasts and Vines are cool, but they are even better when you are able to continuously sacrifice them for value to generate Bridge triggers and recur them again for free.
One of the biggest challenges of the deck is learning all of the wacky interactions that come up. It’s important to be aware of these types of interactions because they matter, a lot.
Protect the Bridges
The first one is to protect your Bridge from Belows. I would say that I’ve played against Bridge more than most because of Vintage, but it isn’t a card I see often outside of Eternal. It’s a weird one.
The most important thing is to make sure that you get value out of Bridge before your opponent can get rid of it, since an opponent’s creature dying will exile your Bridges.
Don’t trade creatures unless you have to. It’s often better to simply chump block or not attack than to have your opponent lose a creature to take out your Bridges. You can always wait another turn and simply make more Zombies.
Even random things like Sakura-Tribe Elder can knock out Bridge from Below, so be careful about when you put them into the graveyard. Sometimes it’s better to be less mana-efficient to ensure that you get a bigger Zombie burst on the turn you dump the Bridge(s) than to risk having them exiled before they have a chance to reach their potential.
Gargadon, Max Value
There are a lot of neat ways to get value out of Greater Gargadon in the deck. I love the way the card is a sacrifice outlet that my opponent cannot interact with, and has the upside of creating a 9-power haste creature.
There are little places to get value, such as sacrificing Bloodghasts and returning them to play in the same turn. Or, if you have a fetchland, make sure to sacrifice the Bloodghast before popping it to remove a suspend counter.
Another cute interaction with Garadon is that when it comes off suspend, it counts as playing a creature, which triggers Vengevine if necessary.
One of the most common plays in the deck is to play a Goblin Bushwhacker and with the haste/pump trigger on the stack to sacrifice creatures to Greater Gargadon and generate Bridge Zombies that will get the pump from Bushwhacker’s trigger. You can even upgrade the Bushwhacker into a Zombie token with the trigger on the stack.
Another weird interaction that may not feel intuitive is to throw away Ballistas and Hangarbacks by casting them for 0 to generate Bridge from Below triggers.
It’s often a great play to simply play them with X=0 so that they enter the battlefield and immediately die (because 0/0 power and toughness) but still trigger Bridge. It’s often a very powerful play to use 0-cost Walkers to generate Zombie tokens and haste them up with a Bushwhacker.
Is the Deck Actually Good?
So, the deck is undeniably cool and very fun to play, but is it actually good?
The biggest complaint I have about this deck is how hard it loses to graveyard hate. Unlike Hollow One, which has some nice countermeasures to a Rest in Peace or Leyline of the Void, B/R Bridge really suffers and can’t do a ton about it.
Rakdos can’t even remove these enchantments and so it really becomes an issue where “if they draw it, you probably lose…”
The upside is that because Hollow One is the default graveyard deck and can play through these enchantments, their numbers are a little suppressed right now. If people are playing lots of graveyard hate, this is a gutsy deck to choose.
The biggest issue with the deck is that it has one heck of an Achilles heel against graveyard hate enchantments that lock off the graveyard.
The other issue I have with the deck in terms of being a real contender for the top tier of the metagame is that it has a rough U/W Control matchup. Path and Terminus are quite good against your creatures that come back from the graveyard and having a Gargadon is really important.
After sideboard, it is difficult to kill a control deck before they can shut you down with Rest in Peace.
Those are the biggest weaknesses I felt the deck had. On the other hand, there are a lot of good reasons to give this deck a try.
First, it’s very powerful in terms of simply doing things that have a lot of value and is very consistent about executing these powerful bursts. It has a lot of keepable hands and they are all pretty solid. It doesn’t play reactive cards, which means that it is very focused on doing its thing.
Secondly, outside of being a good deck that does powerful things, it’s also a fun deck to play. It’s easily one of the most fun decks to pilot that I’ve played in the past three months. It has tons of little nuances and places to get value if you play tight. You are constantly sacrificing things and creating new triggers.
It’s kind of a bummer that the cards all spiked so hard after the Pro Tour, which makes building the deck a little more daunting, but it is certainly a very cool deck to take for a test drive if you are able to cobble it together. Even simply playing it in a couple of events or watching a few videos will give you a good idea how to play against it and what it is capable of doing on a turn-by-turn basis.