Rise Of The Vampires

Zombies? Humans? Spirits? Werewolves? Which tribe will conquer hardest in a few weeks when Shadows over Innistrad descends upon Standard? Chris Lansdell is laying his money on the blood-suckers and their terrifying leader!

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease March 26-27!

People in horror movies are stupid. They kind of have to be in order to advance the plot, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Oh, you heard a noise in that dark, dilapidated old mansion that people call The Murder House? Better go investigate! It might be…well, uhhh…actually, there’s literally no reason to go and investigate it, but you’re going to anyway, aren’t you? Yes, there you go. You blithering buffoons.

Are Magic players any better, though? Every year at rotation time, the midrange decks lose a lot and the aggro decks seem to gain even more, but top players are constantly being taken by surprise by those aggressive decks and are showing up ill-prepared to face them. Then of course they lose to said decks, and we once again act surprised at how good aggro is for the first couple of weeks.

Shadows over Innistrad is doing a great job of getting me hyped up to play some aggressive undead. The Zombies are looking pretty good with Relentless Dead and Diregraf Colossus poised to join Risen Executioner, but they’ve had their moment in the sun. I’m looking first at the tribe that literally cannot have theirs.

A Touch of Vampirism

We’re barely a week into preview Season and already it is obvious that the R/B Vampires deck is going to have some teeth. The madness mechanic lets us break a fundamental rule of Magic in that we get to pay two costs with essentially one card. The sticking point on that has traditionally been the correct number of enablers, but this set seems to be giving those to us in great numbers while also making them aggressive beaters.

Chief among them is Olivia, Mobilized for War. With her at or near the top of your curve, every creature we cast after her can be bigger and have haste for very minimal investment.

Combine her with the extremely powerful Falkenrath Gorger and we have a serious engine. Consider this sequence: untap on turn 4, play your land, cast the Gorger, discard Heir of Falkenrath, pay 1B to cast it with madness, discard Fiery Temper to transform the Heir, and pay R to cast that with madness. Combat? I know I had to re-read Olivia to notice that the +1/+1 was a counter and not a temporary buff, which is of course way better and probably worth the card we would discard to get it.

Although I don’t want to fall into the old “Tribal deck means only Vampires” trap, I think we have enough of them to keep our deck focused in that area. We are also losing a lot of the more powerful aggressive options in red and black to rotation, so at least initially I am focusing on the pointy-toothed ones. The minor concern is that, outside of Shadows over Innistrad, the Vamps are mostly B/W, expensive, defensive-minded, or multiple of the above. We do have one notable, glaring exception who is staking a claim for her slot in the list:

There she is. Quite apart from being a Vampire, we also get to buff our entire team repeatedly. In the event we can cast her after Olivia, she enters the battlefield already out of range of several removal spells and will get out of Grasp of Darkness range right away. If we really can keep our curve down so that three is the top, Drana will have quite the team to pump up.

Also asking for consideration is Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. I am loath to stretch to four mana but Kalitas is a solid reason to do so. With Rally the Ancestors rotating, his exile ability might be less relevant, but this is Innistrad and the graveyard is probably important. Oh, and we might be able to find a Vampire or two to sacrifice to his insatiable hunger. I also don’t hate having lifelink. Ever.

In that vein, I also really like Indulgent Aristocrat. A 1/1 lifelinker for B might be on the lower end of playable, but it does give us a way to get a creature on board if we have no untapped red sources on turn 1, and later in the game it can help consolidate our power by sacrificing away the unneeded or obsolete creatures to feed the rest of the team.

Madness Radness

It’s rare that a mechanic fits the setting of a plane so perfectly, but here we are on Innistrad with Vampires and Angels going crazy. How convenient.

Plenty of words have been written on this site and many others about the interaction between Heir of Falkenrath, Incorrigible Youths, and your opponent’s face. This start is what initially drew me to R/B Aggro of some sort, being both horribly powerful and perfectly on-curve. Any start that involves a turn 2 Heir is going to leave our opponents terrified of the seven-damage turn 3, and it’s not like they can easily play around it. I love that Heir to the Night has evasion too, giving our deck some ability to continue beating down once the opponent has a chance to stabilize on the ground.

Ravenous Bloodseeker is distinctly less powerful than the Heir, but we’re going to want those creatures too as additional discard outlets. Apart from anything else, it will be better when we have the Gorger but no Olivia, as the discard is repeatable. That pump ability might look innocuous, but remember that we are playing at least two ways to get counters on here, which will allow a significant bite out of the opponent’s life total.

I’m relatively certain we want some number of Lightning Axe in the deck, as we’re not going to get a better cost-to-damage ratio. That it enables madness is icing on the one-mana cake. The departure of Siege Rhino might make the ability to deal five damage slightly less important, but Avacyn, the Purifier says otherwise. Along with Fiery Temper and an Ultimate Price or two, we have a robust removal suite that also synergizes nicely with our game plan.

It’s possible we want Twins of Maurer Estate as another creature we can cast with madness, and the body is relatively large, but it feels a little clunky in the deck. Depending on the rest of the set, how much we end up being able to discard and what the commonly-played removal looks like, the creepiest kids since Blessed Spirits will ride the pine.

One problem with madness is that we will empty our hand very quickly. What’s that, you say? It’s actually not a problem? Oh, right. Asylum Visitor is exactly the card this deck needs to stay fueled up. Three power, the ability to cast it with madness and the fact that it triggers on each player’s turn all add up to a very powerful option at the two slot.

Lost in the Mist

Although Tom Ross also built this deck earlier this week, I have the benefit of more cards being previewed and plan to use it. Asylum Visitor in particular is a nice addition. Here’s my starting point for a list:

Our manabase has to be careful not to run too many lands that enter the battlefield tapped, as we want to come out swinging hard and quickly. The sideboard is of course a wild guess right now based on the expectation of ramp, mirror matches and B/W midrange.

If we get any more aggressive creatures in these colors they will of course warrant consideration. One cycle I would love to see reprinted is the uncommon lord cycle from the original Innistrad, if only because Stromkirk Captain would slide directly in to this list. We’re not currently playing all the cheap Vampires (Kalatria Healer and Olivia’s Bloodsworn have been excluded) but there are some cards that could easily be cut or trimmed if something better comes along. The first place I’d look for that would be the Bloodseekers, and we might not need ten removal spells and 4 Indulgent Aristocrat either.

Elusive Tormentor is very close to being in this deck. It’s possible we want it in the sideboard against the removal-heavy midrange decks, but I don’t want more four-mana spells clogging up our main deck when we only have 23 lands. The card is very strong, however. Similarly, Markov Dreadknight is just too expensive for where I envision the deck to be heading. Even the madness-enabling activated ability costs three mana.

I’m excited to build this in a couple of short weeks and sink my teeth into some aggressive action.

“But Lansdell! Don’t you have lousy luck playing aggro? Don’t you detest the way the decks feel? Didn’t you swear off them the last two rotations? Didn’t Goblin Piledriver leave you scorned at the 0-3 altar?”

Hush, child. I have to go investigate that weird noise up at the old Murder House on Vampire Hill. As always, thanks for stopping by, and until next time…

Brew On!

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease March 26-27!