The Tupdog deck archetype has emerged after the Legacy of Blood expansion — containing the namesake of this archetype, the non-unique Gargoyle Tupdog — was released in late 2005. Since that time this deck archetype has won numerous tournaments including the South American Continental Championship 2014, the Italian ECQ 2013, and national championships in Brazil (2007 & 2013) and Norway (2007). The deck is a rush combat deck /w some added bleed capabilities based on the Tupdog vampire. It is quite a unique deck type, since Tupdog vampires burn after a round of their existence, and new Tupdogs need to be influenced out every turn to keep the deck’s main engine going.
How to win with them
The Tupdog is quite a unique vampire type. It can just act for a turn, but has several distinctive features:
- they are non-unique vampires, i.e. you can have multiple Tupdogs in play.
- they are burned at the end of the next minion phase. So they have one turn to act, and may block one (or more) time(s). On the other hand, for every Tupdog burned this way, another vampire is moved from your crypt to your ready region.
- they are Tremere antitribu slaves, i.e. they act freely (especially take directed actions only if you control a ready Tremere antitribu.
- they have both superior Visceratika and superior Potence, which is quite powerful for 1 cap vampire, and Visceratika cards costs the Tupdog one less blood to play.
- the Tupdog has a built-in Rush ability, so cards for attacking other minions (e.g. Frontal Assault, Bums Rush, Haven Uncovered, etc.) are usually not needed.
The Tupdog crypt engine works like this:
- Influence out one or more Tupdogs in your influence phase.
- Between your turns you may or may not decide to block with the Tupdogs. If you decide that you are blocking and the Tupdog loses a blood while blocking, then he is forced to hunt and cannot attack/bleed at all during your next minion. So your decision to block, immediately can decide whether the Tupdog can do anything useful for the rest of his lifetime (i.e. your next minion phase) or not.
- In your turn you should careful consider what to your to do with your Tupdogs, since this is the only turn they can act. Leaving them untapped for blocking is obviously a waste of time. The only reason for not acting is that you have neither a ready Tremere antitribu (so they can’t take any directed actions) nor you have any reasonable undirected action (other than hunting) your Tupdogs can take.
- At the end of your minion phase all of your Tupdogs are burned, but as a result for each Tupdog burned another vampire is moved from your crypt to your uncontrolled region. This saves you valuable transfers, and usually you should be able to move the same number of Tupdogs to your controlled region as you controlled in your minion phase.
It is debatable what the “correct” ratio of Tupdogs and Tremere antitribu in your crypt is. While some players prefer a rather high ratio of 4:1 or even 5:1 (Tupdogs to Tremere antitribu), while others go as low as 2:1 or 3:2. The two different motives are: “how reliable is my supply of Tupdogs during mid- and endgame” vs. “how reliable I want to have an Tremere antitribu in my starting crypt“. What helps with the first goal is adding additional transfers via Information Highway or extra moves from the crypt to the uncontrolled region via Effective Management or similar cards. Previously, Recruitment was a good card to help with the second goal in order to fetch a Tremere antitribu from the crypt to your uncontrolled region. With Heirs to the Blood, Wider View became the card of choice for both having a Tremere antitribu in your ready region early in the game, as well as keeping the flow of Tupdogs later in the game. Especially since you use one to three transfers to find a Tup Dog in your crypt and use the last transfer to move him to the ready region right away. Just perfect!
Personally I would recommend a ratio of 4:1 with a crypt size of 16 (with 12 Tupdogs and 4 Tremere antitribu. This only gives you the chance of 48% in your opening crypt, but with a Tupdog or two burned this chance increases dramatically to get one in the next one or two extra vampires from your crypt.
Another nice feature is that a vampire with superior Dominate (like Keith Moody) can use Govern the Unaligned to first put a blood on a Tupdog. Then you can transfer back two blood and still the Tupdog moves to the controlled region in the influence phase.
The rush ability needs, of course, some solid combat foundation which allows the Tupdogs to torporize or maybe even sometimes burn an opposing vampire or ally. The basic combat package consists of using Raking Talons for making the Tupdog’s hand damage aggravated and then using Immortal Grapple to ensure that the opposing minion cannot dodge or use “Strike: Combat Ends“. Everything is else is decoration, or let’s say, dependent of the combat opposition you are facing. The nice thing is that you do not need to think about a tight combat defense for the Tupdogs. The worst thing that could happen is that your Tupdog is burned in combat. But this only deprives you of an additional vampire moved from you crypt to your uncontrolled region. Useful additions of combat cards are Roll (maneuver), Crawling Chamber (maneuver/press/additional damage), Torn Signpost (add. damage), Earthshock (Ranged strike). Other cards one can think about including are Skin of Chameleon which can give +2 stealth to a Tupdog’s rush action, making sure you can enter combat with the minion you would like to battle and not some chump blocker. Remember that the Skin of Chameleon does not cost the Tupdog, since he pays one less blood for Visceratika cards. With White Wolf’s last official expansion Heirs to the Blood, the Gargoyles got two new great cards, which are also able to help the Tupdog deck, that is Dive Bomb and As the Crow. As the Crow gives the Tup Dog another possibility to rush with the added advantage that the rush is +1 stealth. But the card becomes real gold only when played together with As the Crow, which allows an minion with Flight to untap after a successful action. Therefore you can rush with the same Tupdog twice per turn. The only constraint is, that the Tupdog needs to remain ready and keep its one blood (or an alternative way to gain blood after the initial rush), because otherwise it will be forced to hunt after playing As the Crow.
The Tupdogs are subject to the Slave rules, i.e. they cannot take directed actions unless (in their case) a Tremere antitribu is present in the ready region.
Slave: Some minions are identified as slaves to a specified clan. A slave cannot take a directed action if his controller doesn’t control a ready member of the specified clan. Also, if a member of the specified clan controlled by the same Methuselah is blocked, the controller can tap the slave to cancel the combat and to untap the acting vampire and have the slave enter combat with the blocking minion instead. (from the VtES rule book).
On the other hand if a Tremere antitribu is blocked you can use the Tupdogs to enter combat instead, and the Tremere antitribu is even untapped alongside. The slave blocking rule should be used before the Tupdogs are acting, in order to deter other minions from blocking. It can also be a viable solution of circumventing a Secure Haven. The opposing vampire with a Secure Haven will think twice about blocking a Tremere antitribu while you have an untapped Tupdog ready to start combat with him.
The deck usually has two ways of ousting. The first is to use cards the same cards as any rush combat deck would use, like Fame and Dragonbound, in order to directly profit from the Tupdog’s combat capabilities. Using Tension in the Ranks is obviously a bad idea, since you would burn a pool each time a ready Tupdog is burned or goes to Torpor. Note that Tension in the Ranks never lets you pay twice for the same Tupdog, since you do not burn a pool for torporized Tupdog (that is burned at the end of your minion phase, for example).
The second way of ousting your prey is by bleeding. So the Tupdog’s goal is to remove any blocking or bouncing vampires, before the Tremere antitribu start to bleed and try to oust your prey. Since you want remove any obstacles before bleeding relatively few bleed cards (actions or modifiers) are included in the deck.
The deck is not as easy to play as it looks like, since there a couple of obstacles to master:
- The new Tupdogs cost pool each time you bring them up to the ready region. So you need a way to recoup the lost pool in the long term.
- Eventually you are running out of crypt and/or you’re stuck with Tremere antitribu in your controlled region. Both situations makes your deck vulnerable (the former more so than the later scenario), since alone the Tremere antitribu in this deck are quite weak without the Tupdog support.
- The deck has a bad reputation. Your deck is the aggressor at the table very early on, and your predator (naturally), your prey and even your cross-table “allies” may gang up on you. So you should try to consider keeping a low profile at the beginning of the game, maybe spending your transfers for moving vampires from your crypt to your controlled region, and bringing out the Tremere antitribu first. I have seen preys of a Tupdog deck refusing to move any vampires to their ready region, since they claimed “that it doesn’t make any sense” to do so.
As any other deck with weenie/small cap vampires w/ access to Dominate the deck relies on Deflection for bleed defense and Delaying Tactics. The deck is also capable of using Yawp Court to prevent unpleasant votes to happen, using an untapped Tupdog to enter combat with the vote calling vampire. With the combat package described above the Tupdog should be able to torporize the opposing vampire with some certainty. For overly aggressive predators you should always consider backrushing your predator’s minion. At the start of the game it would be good to start with a backrush in order to intimidate your predator enough, so that he thinks twice about attacking your pool hard.
Despite the fact the Tupdogs are quite fearsome, the deck still need some sort of combat defense, not for the Tupdogs, but for the Tremere antitribu support cast. Remember, if you do not have a ready Tremere antitribu left, the Tupdogs cannot perform any directed actions.
As “active” combat defense you could use some Mirror Walks (at superior Thaumaturgy) to prevent combat even if blocked. As passive combat defense two copies of Secure Haven should provide enough cover against minions rushing your key Tremere antitribu. A good idea is also to include some light combat defense, especially cards that require Visceratika and support the Tupdog’s actions in some way, and provide a combat defense effect at the outferior version of the cards. Examples for this are Crawling Chamber or Rockheart.
How to win against them
Being the prey of a Tupdog deck is obviously no fun, since he can torporize your minions quite easily, unless you play a dedicated combat or get out an early Secure Haven. First of all you need to coordinate bringing out new vampires with your grand-predator. Otherwise the Tupdogs will down first the vampires on one side (predator), and then on the other side (prey). Also you need to encourage and support your predator, so that the puts at least some pressure on the Tupdogs.
The most obvious rule is to remove the Tremere antitribu from the ready region. Without a ready Tremere antitribu the Tupdogs can only take undidrected actions, which takes away their main rush/offensive capability. This can be achieved by blocking the Tremere antitribu or rushing them directly. Also Banishment works well since the Tremere antitribu used in the deck are usually in the weenie to mid-cap range.
Convince your prey that you’re a good meat-shield against the Tupdogs, and make an alliance with your grandpredator/-prey to oust the aggressor. Help each other by rescuing your own vampires or that by your grand predator. Nothing is more frustrating for the Tupdog deck than the outlook of beating up the same minions over and over again.
As a predator of the Tupdog you need to convince the other players at the table that your prey is the table threat (always a good thing), but in this case you can to capitalize heavily on the aggressive nature and bad reputation of the Tupdog deck.
Also you need to put pressure on the Tupdog decks pool. The less pool he has the less Tupdogs he can put into play. Also try to remove your opponents decks pool gaining capability, e.g. removing the vampire with the two Blood Dolls which hunts for two blood every turn with the help of Hungry Coyote.
Good cards against this deck archetype are Tension in the Ranks, since it is this deck’s nature to burn its own vampires. This can backfire if your combat capabilities are trumped by the Tupdog’s abilities, so this can be a very difficult decision depending on the situation at the table. Secure Haven can be used to preserve the integrity of a key vampire of yours. Unfortunately Tupdog decks often has also a Secure Haven included, with the consequence that it is quite likely, that a contest will take place during which the Tupdogs then can attack the previously protected vampire.
The real killer cards against Tupdogs is Gran Madre di Dio and Scourge of the Enochians. Gran Madre di Dio removes the single blood that a Tupdog has and forces him to hunt the next turn, making him effectively useless unless you play As the Crow. Scourge of the Enochians is equally bad, because most the time all the other players at the table are inclined to burn one of your Tupdogs. This is one of reasons usually you need to put Uncoiling (and/or Not to Be) into a Tupdog deck.
- Tupdog — Need them. ‘Nuff said.
- Immortal Grapple / Raking Talons — the basic combat package of the deck.
- Dive Bomb / As the Crow — the combo which makes multi-rush easy for the Tupdogs.
- Graverobbing — steal vampires you have torporized.
- Wider View — the essential card for providing a steady flow of Tupdogs.
Notable Examples & Variations
- Top Dog by Martin Tremblay — this is the basic variant
- The Hand of Tupdog by Boris Zaretsky — less focused, more toolboxy variant using Hand of Conrad to move Tupdogs from the ashheap back to the uncontrolled region.
- Unnatural Disaster by Christoffer Arvidsson — basic variant w/ Unnatural Disaster as exotic extra for removing Secure Haven or Gran Madre di Dio, Italy.
- Wings and Shovels by Marc Desaulniers — stripped down version with Govern the Unaligned and Graverobbing as the only non-Master/non-Combat cards.
- Tupdog by Hugo S. Skarsten Larsen — more leaned towards Gargoyles in general w/ add. Gargoyle vampires in the Crypt and Create Gargoyle.
- Tupdog by Eduardo Kazan — large number of Tupdogs, but without Graverobbing.
- Tupdogs+Nephandi by Danilo Torrisi — a variant using a high number of Nephandus to be able to burn vampires in torpor more quickly and have late game bleed/oust potential (similar to the decklist below).
- It rains Cats & Dogs! by Enrico di Stefano — a variant leaning heavily towards using Rock Cats, and Tupdogs only as sidekicks and a mean speed up the recruitment of Rocks Cats.