How Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord Is Bringing Vampires To Core Set 2020

New Planeswalkers are always something worth trying to find a home for in Standard, and Abraham Stein has Vampires on the mind thanks to Core Set 2020 and Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord!

Between War of the Spark, Modern Horizons, and Core Set 2020, it’s been a veritable monsoon season of previews over the last few months. We’ve found ourselves caught in a constant downpour of new card after new card… not that I’m complaining.

There have been some murmurs of people feeling that the constant churning of new cards coming out has started to become exhausting, but I can’t say I share that sentiment too much. Sure, Core Set 2020 isn’t going to be groundbreaking in the same ways that War of the Spark was, nor will it be as nostalgic and powerful as Modern Horizons, but just because it isn’t the most exciting doesn’t mean it isn’t good.

I’m a bit of a Core Set apologist in this regard, as I really appreciate a lot of the simpler things in Magic and by and large the Core Sets deliver on that axis. I like that once a year we get a straightforward meat-and-potatoes set with cards that lay the foundation for things to come or provide a bit of closure to those we have.

While cards like Gods Willing, Disfigure, and even Thrashing Brontodon aren’t really worth talking about, that’s kind of the nature of foundational cards in Standard. That’s also why we don’t really talk about them that much, they’re not stylish and chic, and spoiler alert: that won’t change in this article.

Rather, I want to talk about the new roof coming over our heads instead of the new roads we’ll be traveling. A rug to tie the room together, not just another table or chair. Not just another member of a supporting cast…

The star of the show!

I have no doubt that some of you think I must be absolutely crazy to try and argue that this card is any good. Before I let you peg me as some sort of deluded fool, I just need you to answer one question for me.

Why is this card not good? And no, “Because you need to play a lot of Vampires” isn’t an acceptable answer. Convention says that’s not a bad line of thinking, after all; Liliana, Untouched by Death and Nissa Revane aren’t cards that put many players into Top 8s but Sorin might be a little different.

It should go without saying that since the release of War of the Spark just about everything in Magic has been different. Planeswalkers have traditionally been the premier sources of card advantage, but with the saturation of them in War of the Spark planeswalkers have been asked to fill different roles. Some like Sarkhan the Masterless are purely threats on the battlefield while others like Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner are enablers, and this kind of specialization is inherently why Sorin is good.

As strange as it sounds, this Sorin is good because it’s not a planeswalker focused on card advantage.

These two big flops in Tribal Planeswalker design seem to stem from the same problem, and that is that they are at odds with what you want to be doing with a Tribal deck. A good Tribal card rewards you for having a density of cards of a creature type, not require that density, and it has to be adding an effect that you actually want in your deck.

Elf decks don’t really want to look for another 2/3, Zombie decks would rather make some Zombies than mill themselves for three, but do you know what Vampire decks want? For their creatures to not get outclassed, and maybe a bit of reach. Exactly what Sorin is bringing to the table.

“Dude, you like aren’t even a Vampire, and like – there haven’t really been any Vampire decks in Standard so how do you like, know what they want?” Well, strange surfer dude my psyche wrote into existence, why don’t you sit down and shut up because we don’t have to go back that far to find some Vampires in the wild.

I gave some very high praise to the deckbuilding exhibited by Joe Soh in his amazing finish at the first Mythic Championship when I highlighted it in my article following the tournament, specifically about Judith, the Scourge Diva.

Judith and to a lesser extent Venerated Loxodon both provided a way to capitalize on the natural strength of Vampires, namely their tokens and their one-drops. Judith especially was a card that played all roles, pairing well with all aspects of the Vampire deck while covering holes like Kaya’s Wrath in the process.

Unfortunately, while Judith was an incredible addition it wasn’t exactly perfect. Adding a third color of mana will shake up your consistency, and while she is a powerful card when left uncontested she is rather fragile in the face of removal. However, these weaknesses are exactly where Sorin has his strengths.

Planeswalkers are a bit sticky once they’re on the battlefield, especially ones with five starting loyalty. Double especially to ones that start at five loyalty and cast a Lightning Helix. And not only does Sorin cast a Lightning Helix when he hits the battlefield, he gets to do it every turn! Ajani Vengeant wishes he could come close to that level of damage output, but Sorin and the rest of the Vampire tribe are absolutely embarrassing him on the metrics.

Of all his abilities, Sorin’s -3 is probably the hardest to make good naturally because it’s a little at odds with the rest of what his abilities are trying to accomplish. The best thing I have been able to come up with is putting in Champion of Dusk, which might be worth exploring as an option. Even if you only ever use two abilities on the card, though, it’s likely good enough. My rough draft for the archetype so far looks like this:

When it comes to deckbuilding, I like to be pretty straightforward and this deck is a prime example of that. At its core this deck will function a lot like Mono-White Aggro does, swarming the battlefield with one-drops and putting pressure on the opponent. When you get one of your big payoffs like Sorin, Mavren Fein, or Legion’s Landing going together you have an entirely new dimension to your plan. Excess Vampire tokens can be thrown at your opponent or any of their creatures that stand in the way, your more expendable one-drops like Vicious Conquistador can start to size up or get cashed in – Sorin is the real deal here.

One of my biggest fears for this deck is actually that without Sorin it’s not able to do enough to be worthwhile, and if that isn’t a hallmark of a good card then I don’t know what is. At only three mana, Sorin makes the game all about him, like a Teferi, Time Raveler that kills the opponent rather than shuts them down or a Saheeli, Sublime Artificer that’s harder to clean up after. If Sorin is allowed to play his game, it’s lights out for the opponent.

Martyr of Dusk Oathsworn Vampire Pitiless Pontiff Elenda, the Dusk Rose Vona, Butcher of Magan Twilight Prophet

Probably one of the most promising things about Sorin is that the deck I made doesn’t even scratch the surface of the potential Vampires have as a tribe. All of the above cards are Vampires that I could see registering in various strategies that don’t have to be purely Vampire tribal. Much like the Judith build from before, you aren’t forced to limit yourself to just Vampires… but for Sorin to be effective you don’t want to stray too far.

Oathsworn Vampire is a card that especially piques my interest as a deckbuilder, singlehandedly fueling Sorin and having amazing synergy with cards like Pitiless Pontiff and Cruel Celebrant. While it’s not exactly a Gravecrawler, having repeated access to creatures every turn is certainly abusable. Who knows, maybe building towards a higher land count to include some more mana-intensive synergies could be worthwhile, or splashing another color; there’s an enormous amount of potential there to be explored.

Ultimately, that’s what excites me the most about Core Set 2020 and Magic in general, the potential for all sorts of new cards to have their moment in the limelight. One of my favorite Standard decks I’ve ever played was Mono-Black Zombies following the release of Amonkhet, where Liliana’s Mastery and a handful of new Zombies paved the way for Cryptbreaker, Diregraf Colossus, Relentless Dead, and Dark Salvation to stand atop Standard. While that deck has come and gone, the writing appears to be on the wall:

Vampires could be next.