My Kind Of Vampires

There’s more than one way to battle with Vampires, and Sam Black has traditionally built decks his own way. What does he have planned for the tribe that’s brought him success in the past? See just how deep you can go here!

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease April 2-3!

Shadows over Innistrad contains Magic’s first 2/1 for R without a drawback, and it’s a Vampire with synergies with other Vampires. I guess we know where to start with our Vampire decks, right?

Not so fast.

I’ve seen Stromkirk Noble before. It’s a fine aggressive Red creature in Standard, but that doesn’t make Vampires an aggressive red deck. Did you notice that there’s a literal Aristocrat in this set?

Indulgent Aristocrat may not let you sacrifice creatures for free, but at least you get something worthwhile when you pay for it.

Okay, maybe I’m getting too precise here without explaining what I’m about. Let me back up.

My first impression is that the Falkenwrath Gorger / Olivia, Mobilized for War decks look really bad. I don’t think they’re fast enough to get under people, and I think too much of what they’re doing is just less powerful than what other decks are capable of. I believe that if Vampires are going to succeed in Standard, they’re going to have to go deeper on synergy than discarding Asylum Visitor to flip Heir of Falkenrath.

Also, I think the best three-drop for Vampires isn’t even a Vampire.

It’s Liliana, Heretical Healer.

It all starts here:

This one almost snuck past me. It doesn’t let you sacrifice other creatures, but it does let you trigger Liliana on turn three for no additional mana. Sure, you could already do that with Hangarback Walker, but this is a creature that you’ve already gotten some use out of, and it just hangs out and threatens to flip Liliana at any time, so you can cash it in to flip right away, or you can save it and just play a normal game with Liliana, but your opponent can’t use a removal spell on Liliana because you’ll just flip it in response.

Not only that, but it’s even a pretty good card to return with Liliana’s planeswalker side, as it only requires -1, and it can block for Liliana while looting for you, which your madness deck can probably make use of. Speaking of madness, let’s not forget that Liliana is an outstanding madness outlet.

Indulgent Aristocrat may not be quite as great at flipping Liliana, but it’s not exactly bad at it, so it offers a pretty solid backup plan.

Personally, I want to start my Vampire decks with four Insolent Neonate, four Indulgent Aristocrats, and three to four Liliana, Heretical Healer.

Now, Indulgent Aristocrat is an interesting one to build with. It’s clearly better the more Vampires we have, but it can sacrifice anything, and sometimes Vampires aren’t the cheapest creatures around to sacrifice, so if the plan is to sacrifice something else to pump your Vampires, it doesn’t matter too much what the something else is. I recommend Hangarback Walker.

Hangarback Walker is a great card, and it’s obviously best when you have ways to sacrifice it. It also offers you the option to flip Liliana immediately if you want to and you don’t have an Insolent Neonate.

The next card I like with Indulgent Aristocrat is Call the Bloodline. This is the cheapest we can make Vampires, and putting +1/+1 counters on an army of lifelinking vampires is outstanding.

If you want to play with Call the Bloodline, you need to make a serious commitment to madness, but that’s okay. Vampires are well positioned to help you out with that. While I think Asylum Visitor is somewhat overrated, it plays perfectly with Call the Bloodline, as it lets you turn cards that are stuck in your hand into Vampires to make Asylum Visitor give you more cards, and the lifelink can make up the lost life.

It would be easy to just fill out the deck with Vampires that have madness, but I think that’s the wrong approach.

Call the Bloodline takes time, and if you fill your deck with random small creatures, you’ll lose any game where you put in the time to invest. What we’re building needs to be an attrition deck.

Here are some options:

We’re playing smallball, so we need to make sure our opponents do too. I don’t generally like Transgress the Mind as a maindeck card, but I think it’s needed here. I’d like to get some actual card draw in here, but I don’t think the options are good enough, and the package we’re working with is pretty tight, so we’ll have to lean on Asylum Visitor.

Evolving Wilds over Cinder Barrens in a two-color deck is a little questionable, but it helps with delirium on Pick the Brain in sideboarded games and it helps Smoldering Marsh enter the battlefield untapped. The singleton Drownyard Temple isn’t great here because you don’t have that many uses for extra mana, but I think there’s a lot of value to the first one. It’ll always be the last land you play, and if you ever want to discard a land, you now have the option to get it back, which can help with casting multiple spells off Asylum Visitor, going big with Hangarback Walker or Avacyn’s Judgment, or just activating Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet or Indulgent Aristocrat more.

Free lands are good. The reason I don’t love it is that the opportunity cost is high. Westvale Abbey is outstanding in a deck that can make a lot of tokens, and playing only one feels terrible, but the color requirements are also stiff. I can imagine that the correct approach might be to play more Evolving Wilds or Cinder Barrens and more Westvale Abbeys.

I really want Painful Truths, but that requires splashing another color. I’m not sure that Hangarback Walker is the way to go. It depends on how hostile the format is for it. If people play a lot of Declaration in Stone and Reflector Mage, it’s not so good. Here’s a version with a light white splash to get Painful Truths that moves away from Hangarback Walker.

I’m not sure if Nearheath Pilgrim is good enough to replace Lingering Souls, but Lingering Souls was way over-the-top, so I’m willing to experiment with the toned-down version. It’s really nice to be able to discard cards for value when you don’t have any mana up to use them, and it makes things like sacrificing Insolent Neonate to flip Liliana on turn 3 a lot more profitable.

I expect the raw card draw of Painful Truths to go a long way toward letting us line up our madness spells and our discard to maximize synergies, just by giving us more chances to find all the right combos. The mana here is quite a bit worse, but the more we focus on being an attrition deck, the less tapped lands hurt us and the more we benefit from adding Shambling Vent.

Now, I’m not tied to Vampires. I think the real boon here is noticing how much the printing of Insolent Neonate helped Liliana, Heretical Healer. Another direction this opens up is Grixis Madness Planeswalkers.

Sidisi’s Faithful and Mindwrack Demon are both outstanding with Liliana. Sidisi’s Faithful we’ve seen before; it lets you flip Liliana, and then it gives Liliana “-1: Return target creature to its owner’s hand.”

Mindwrack Demon might be even better. In general, four-mana creatures are great with Liliana because after you use the +2 ability once, potentially discarding the four-mana creature, you can put it onto the battlefield without losing the Liliana. Mindwrack Demon is the perfect creature for this. It protects Liliana well as a giant flier, and it also loads up your graveyard for more things for Liliana to do later. It also happens to play really well with Jace, letting you flip on turn 4 no matter what else has happened and finding spells to flash back.

Jace is a little light on spells to flash back in the main deck because I wanted to keep diversity of card types high for delirium for Mindwrack Demon. This deck has three artifacts, three enchantments, five sorceries, eight instants, nineteen creatures, and four Evolving Wilds. I suspect delirium will be very easy to hit with this mix, especially given that Insolent Neonate; Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy; Liliana, Defiant Necromancer; Oath of Jace; and Lightning Axe all let you discard whatever card type you want, so you should always have a land and a creature in the graveyard after casting Mindwrack Demon, and then you just need any other two. Assuming you have an instant, you have eleven cards to get the fourth type.

Ghoulsteed and Drownyard Temple are cards you want to discard whenever possible that spice up Mindwrack Demon a bit. You could play Prized Amalgam over Ghoulsteed, which returns itself whenever you return something else with Liliana, Defiant Necromancer, but I think Ghoulsteed is a little better. If you want to add more of that effect, a mix is certainly the way to go.

Of course, you can also play this up and get more of a Grixis Zombies deck.

With only six instants, five sorceries, and one enchantment, Mindwrack Demon is riskier here, but the payoff is that it’s more likely to hit cards that are active from the graveyard. I don’t expect the format to be about grinding on the ground enough to want to play this deck over the other Grixis deck.

Let me leave with one last stab at an Aristocrats deck without Insolent Neonate:

This is a weird one. The idea is to “Blood Artist” people out with Zulaport Cutthroat and Wayward Disciple, but Pious Evangel makes me want to try to staple a Demonic Pact engine in, and Angelic Purge is a reasonable fit anyway. One big advantage of this deck is that it makes excellent use of both Shambling Vent and Westvale Abbey.

At this point, I’ve strayed entirely from Vampires, so it’s probably time to wrap this up for now. I will conclude by mentioning that I love this set so far. The density of exciting cards that I want to try playing with is just through the roof, and I’ve had a lot of fun working on Standard these last few days.

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease April 2-3!