Making Vampires Work

Maybe it’s just because he has his own Vampire token. Maybe it’s because he knows a lot of you really want Vampires to work. Whatever the case, The Boss is going to do his best to assemble a blood-sucking brew for #SCGCOL!

If you’ve been following my Versus videos the past couple of weeks, you know that I’ve been working trying to find a viable Vampires deck using the upgrades Eldritch Moon has to offer. The Vampire cards are quite pushed and it’s clear that Wizards of the Coast wants something to happen with them, even if they don’t end up being a Tier 1 tribal strategy like Humans.

Vampires were heavily themed in Shadows over Innistrad, but the power level just wasn’t there.

Brad Nelson and I tried the Humans vs. Vampires matchup. The Vampires deck got run over by a very untuned Humans deck. That was the last time I touched Vampires until Eldritch Moon.

This is what I started with in this new Standard season.

And this is where I am now with Mono-Black Vampires.

The more I tweaked Mono-Black Vampires, the further I went from playing to a Vampire theme and more towards basic synergy. No Drana, Liberator of Malakir. Only one Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. The one-drop Vampires like Vampire Cutthroat or Indulgent Aristocrat are replaced with some very strange-looking Sanitarium Skeletons.

I started with low numbers of Haunted Dead, Voldaren Pariah, and Liliana, the Last Hope before deciding that’s what I wanted the deck to be doing. I’ve called Voldaren Pariah the black Avacyn because of the ability to destroy the opponent’s battlefield and make a 6/5 flyer, and Haunted Dead fuels that plan well.

Let’s go a little deeper on the card choices.

The Creatures

The last real “Vampire” card left in the deck. Pumping your team is a bonus, but not currently a selling point for the deck. Stromkirk Condemned is here is as an efficient creature that enables madness and graveyard shenanigans.

The real card to build around here. Voldaren Pariah will cost three mana more often than not. It also lets us skimp a little in the removal department with its activated ability. There are design constraints of:

  • Needing to run a healthy number of discard outlets.
  • Having a reasonable expected number of creatures in play to sacrifice.
  • Being able to consistently make triple black mana early.

The last selling point for Voldaren Pariah is its true casting cost of five. This gets around Spell Queller on key turns and offers a huge discount to Distended Mindbender out of the sideboard, allowing for enough mana for another play on the turn you emerge it.

Basically a solid creature. Asylum Visitor won’t always be awesome in combat but there are times where you’ll be beating down for three. It’s really here as another use for discard outlets. Drawing cards happens with enough frequency with the ability to quickly deplete your hand if the occasional calls for it.

Similar to Stromkirk Condemned, Heir of Falkenrath is a role-player that can sometimes hit for sizeable chunks of damage, but you’re not too worried if that plan doesn’t work out. Often you’ll be presenting attackers with some Vampires and force your opponent to deal with them. If they can’t, great! If they do, you shift into another plan, whether Voldaren Pariah or grindy card advantage.

Obviously Haunted Dead would be better as Haunted Bloodsucker, but we are still very welcoming of the Zombie in this deck. Haunted Dead really smooths out draws in Mono-Black Vampires by filtering extra lands into creatures in the late-game. The real reason is as a discard outlet from the graveyard at instant speed and as multiple creatures for Voldaren Pariah. Haunted Dead has quickly become one of my favorite cards from Eldritch Moon.

Honestly, just here for value. Sacrificing Vampires and Zombies is decent, especially since Haunted Dead is a Zombie. Kalitas has some good synergy here like being a follow-up to Liliana, the Lost Hope to kill a creature. Of course Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet can screw up a wealth of cards and strategies, most notably Hangarback Walker and Cryptolith Rite decks focusing on sacrificing creatures.

I wanted some one-drops in the deck that weren’t embarrassing 1/1 Vampires. Now, a 1/2 isn’t something to write home about, but it is something to write a section in an article about! I was torn over maindeck Duress or Dead Weight for a while. Basically I wanted something to do early, preferably something that interacted with fast aggro like W/R Humans. I also wanted something that’s good in late-game situations or against creature-light decks. Sanitarium Skeleton can come down early to block while fueling some Haunted Deads later in the game. The lowly Skeleton is a “pitch and forget” creature most of the time until it’s rebought around turn 6 or so.

The Spells

I originally had a split between Grasp of Darkness and Ultimate Price. Then I stared at Ultimate Price while getting beat down by Spell Queller, Needle Spires, and Thought-Knot Seer.

Grasp of Darkness is the best removal going in black and can team up with other toughness-reducing effects like Liliana, the Last Hope or Collective Brutality to take down something bigger if needed.

Collective Brutality is a wonderful modal spell that helps with madness. The modes are super-efficient and I like Collective Brutality mostly as a maindeck card that gets improved or complemented by either the Duresses or Dead Weights. Also, a little bit of burnlike reach never hurt with its “lose two life” mode.

Liliana is another card that I started with only a couple of before moving to the full four. I consider Liliana, the Last Hope to be the “black Jace, Telepath Unbound.” The +1 ability of -2/-1 to target creature helps with the other minus effects the deck has. The -2 ability gains selective card advantage in the mid- to late-game. With four Haunted Dead and two Sanitarium Skeleton, there’s some chance you flip over some value for free.

With so much graveyard stuff going on, it’s a shame that there are no delirium cards to sideboard in. Pick the Brain is possible but not too impressive in my opinion. Ishkanah, Grafwidow is the most impressive delirium card in the format, albeit in a whole other color. Perhaps it’s possible, though…

The deck kinda wanted more lands anyway. Hissing Quagmire is just more value that can be sacrificed to Voldaren Pariah, even if it’s tapped. Since Ishkanah, Grafwidow wants delirium, I lean a little more towards getting it with a couple Evolving Wilds and an enchantment in Oath of Liliana.

I’m pretty sure that Iskhanah, Grafwidow is literally good against everything. People have been considering Iskhanah to be the most underrated card in the set, to the point where it’s actually well-hyped now. I think it’s very good and needs to find the appropriate home. I think the “barely Vampires” shell is a welcome home, and likely a suitable one.

Conclave Naturalists in the sideboards get the nod over something like Natural State, as you can find it off Liliana, the Last Hope some percentage of the time.

Now for the younger, more reckless breed of Vampires.

I tried and tried to make a R/B version of Vampires but just hated ever drawing Smoldering Marsh or Foreboding Ruins. Or Swamp with red cards in my hand. Or Mountain with black cards. The mana was a stumbling mess (by my standards, probably silky smooth by Bant Company standards) and I wanted to punish such stumbles. I don’t believe that splashing cards of the other color are worth it. The only outlier is Bloodhall Priest, which I feel is legitimately good. Not good enough to splash solely for it, though.

The Creatures

The second-best Vampire printed in years, next to Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Insolent Neonate is seeing play in Modern and a touch in Legacy as well. Insolent Neonate is a cheap discard outlet that comes with a few possible points of damage tacked on. Menace is hard to block early in the game, especially when burn spells for creatures are taken into account. Insolent Neonate is practically impossible to remove too if you have mana open, since you’re highly likely to use it for value in light of their removal spell.

The red Savannah Lions of our time. Falkenrath Gorger needs a lot of cooperation with the rest of your deck to be a playable card. Certainly Expedition Envoy and Dragon Hunter wouldn’t be playable cards without a critical mass of redundant cards also filling up the Humans deck. Now, with Furyblade Vampire and Stromkirk Occultists, there are enough surrounding cards to make something resembling a real deck.

Not all of the Vampires have madness naturally, so your Insolent Neonates, Furyblade Vampires, and other Falkenrath Gorgers get extra value as discard outlets.

A much better upgrade to Ravenous Bloodseeker. Four is a ton of power and trample is great against any number of existing Standard blockers.

Furyblade Vampire triggers at the beginning of combat, so you need to be clear about going into combat, much like with Goblin Rabblemaster. As soon as you leave your first main phase, the discard ability will go on the stack. A statement like “Go to combat?” will work. Once you do, you’re able to discard a card to Furyblade Vampire whether you want to attack or not. This can come up if the opponent has reasonable blockers.

A weak card, but a decent one to have exactly one copy of. The singleton Ravenous Bloodseeker acts as Furyblade Vampire number five and it the only permanent, instant-speed outlet to discard through. Don’t expect too much here; it’s a filler because I really didn’t want another three-drop in the deck.

Incorrigible Youths takes a lot of support surrounding it to be playable and there’s just enough here for me to be happy running it. The Vampire subtype doesn’t matter too much, as the only real “Vampire” thing going on is the deck is Falkenrath Gorger to make Incorrigble Youths optionally cost five to madness.

This is the card you want to be casting on that key Spell Queller turn against U/W Spirits and Bant Company.

The most powerful card for the archetype to come out of Eldritch Moon. The previous best option was Bloodmad Vampire. While Bloodmad Vampire hit harder, it does everything else much worse than Stromkirk Occultist. Trample, an extra toughness, and the “Abbot of Keral Keep” temporary card draw all add up to a card on a power level that I’m happy with.

The Spells

Very often a Lightning Bolt with upside. The best spell in the deck and the main reason to play discarding spells at all. Happy to draw as many as possible every game.

Part Volcanic Hammer, part Pillar of Flame, Incendiary Flow is the burn spell that red decks have been needing since the departure of Lightning Strike. You’ll nab sweet things like Hangarback Walker or Matter Reshaper from time to time, but the core utility here is to remove any old creature from the battlefield or to finish off the opponent.

The closest past relation we have to Collective Defiance is a more expensive Searing Blood that hits harder and better in the late-game or for one specific task. You’ll tend to want to hold excess lands after about the fifth one in hopes of drawing Collective Defiance. Added versatility never hurt a linear deck.

Exquisite Firecraft is raw power in a burn spell. Your deck can’t have too much versatility, else you’ll fall too far behind. The spell mastery clause will come in handy against countermagic.

The most situational of the spells, as it doesn’t go to the face and needs both a creature to kill and a madness spell in hand to use effectively. However, Lightning Axe is extremely potent when those conditions are met, enough that a few copies are worth it. Even if Lightning Axe is a dead card, there’s always another way to convert a card into value in the deck.

Stensia Masquerade doesn’t work great in multiples, so there’s one here. If you can land it mid-combat and get a card’s worth of value from it, that’s basically the dream scenario. Everything past that is gravy. Particularly useful with Stromkirk Occultist when they block with a 2/2 and you haven’t yet played a land.

The sideboard is fairly self-explanatory. Removal when appropriate. Malevolent Whispers against huge things. Lupine Prototype in matchups where you both expend resources very quickly. Pia and Kiran Nalaar against removal as a stickier threat.

Last, my current build of W/R Humans that I’m considering for #SCGCOL, complete with Eldritch Moon updates. Hope this answers any questions.