Hullbreaker Horror has to be the largest instance of the Magic monkey’s paw curling, right? We didn’t want Alrund’s Epiphany decks to dominate, and I suppose we got our wish. Now it’s Hullbreaker Horror’s world and we’re just living in it.
The single solitary bright side is that it bodes well for black decks with Infernal Grasp. Aggression, card advantage, and spot removal can stop the Hullbreaker Horror decks from gaining any traction and they have very little they can do about it. I imagine that could change with some deckbuilding choices, but for now, black decks are viable again. Of the various options, I am very into Rakdos Vampires at the moment.
Why? Voldaren Epicure changed everything.
If not for Voldaren Epicure, I wouldn’t think much about Vampires. When a tribe’s biggest payoffs are Vampire Socialite and Florian, Voldaren Scion, you need more than Falkenrath Pit Fighter to get the party started.
Even though it isn’t an overly aggressive one-drop, Epicure serves many purposes. Any one-drop is important for triggering Vampire Socialite early and snowballing. It can trigger Socialite once the battlefield gets clogged, provides Blood for Falkenrath Forebear and Bloodtithe Harvester, and helps finish the game with chip damage.
With Voldaren Epicure in the mix, I had a shell in mind. Imagine my surprise when I saw Gabriel Nassif streaming something similar (and also crushing everyone).
Every single Vampires decklist I saw was light on one-drops except for Gab’s. Staying low to the ground is the key to maximizing Vampire Socialite and Florian, Voldaren Scion. He was building the deck correctly and it was paying dividends.
In a different world, Vampires could look much different. However, the current metagame consists of fast aggro decks and blue decks with Fading Hope and Divide by Zero, so the best choice is to play without four-drops. Honestly, we’re lucky enough to live in a world where that’s an option. With so many powerful four-drops and aggro decks scaling up to four mana and beyond these days, it’s easy to forget that aggro decks used to only include a single four-drop, if any.
Even though all of these four-mana cards are powerful in their own right, they’re matchup-specific and line up poorly against commonly played cards. If I were to play any of them, it would be in the sideboard and only for the matchups where I absolutely needed them. For the most part, you can get away with being a good aggro deck with some interaction. Look at Vampires like it’s a variant of Mono-White Aggro❄, except with stronger creatures, better interaction, and plentiful sideboard options.
Except better, of course.
- 1 Valentin, Dean of the Vein
- 4 Vampire Socialite
- 4 Falkenrath Pit Fighter
- 4 Florian, Voldaren Scion
- 4 Voldaren Bloodcaster
- 3 Falkenrath Forebear
- 4 Bloodtithe Harvester
- 4 Voldaren Epicure
Initially, I was low on Bloodtithe Harvester, but I’ve come around quickly. It attacks just fine, and if it’s going to lose in combat, you can usually cash it in to remove whatever would be stopping it.
Voldaren Epicure helps with the Blood count in the obvious way, but don’t forget you can activate Harvester with Voldaren Bloodcaster on the battlefield and get the Blood token, and Harvester will check on resolution.
Playing Harvester means you get to potentially skimp on removal, at least in theory. In practice, you want plenty in this Standard format. There aren’t many options for recursion, although that would be a cool angle for Bloodtithe Harvester. Agadeem’s Awakening has its moments, but rarely, which is why I’m only playing a single copy. Overall, a bunch of tiny things lead to Bloodtithe Harvester being a mainstay in the archetype.
Even though the deck doesn’t lean on Blood synergies, it has several ways to take advantage of them. Voldaren Bloodcaster is both an enabler and a payoff, plus is a solid attacker in its own right. Transforming it happens rarely, but it’s often fueled by a combination of cards sticking and the games lasting until Turn 8. That means creature matchups light on removal like Mono-White Aggro❄ and Mono-Green Aggro❄, which are conveniently where having an army of flyers is a massive boon.
Falkenrath Forebear is one of the biggest disagreements I have with Gab’s list. While it’s mediocre in the creature matchups because it can’t play defensively, it’s an absolute must against any control deck. Without it, decks with sweepers were able to clear the battlefield and take over. Having a recursive threat changes all that.
Reckless Impulse is a fine card, although not one I’ve felt like I needed. With such a low mana curve, it has the potential to play well. Between the creature-lands, Blood tokens, and Florian, I haven’t felt the need for extra gas.
Alchemist’s Gambit is interesting. The games against Izzet and other blue decks can vary. Sometimes all you want is that extra turn to get the last few points of damage in, but I find it hard to believe it would ever be better than a discard spell.
I tried copies of Dread Fugue maindeck and I’m not sure if it’s better than Duress. Playing two or three copies of either is a fine choice, but they tend to take the slots currently occupied by spot removal. At the moment, the removal is more important.
The Removal Suite
I’ve slowly added more removal spells over the course of my testing. Standard is full of creatures, even in the control decks. Infernal Grasp is the best removal spell in the format, even with its diminishing returns. Don’t be surprised if you see me playing the fourth copy at some point.
Abrade is another possibility, but it doesn’t kill enough things. If you’re already using Play with Fire because you want one-mana removal, you can’t afford to play additional narrow removal spells. Esika’s Chariot is the obvious Abrade target, although those numbers have waned recently. Plus, the black removal spells cover it just fine.
I could see Gift of Fangs taking over for Play with Fire. Turning a semi-useless Shock into a potential Shock with buyback against control decks is potentially more versatile. If I were inclined to try that swap, I would still probably play Bloodchief’s Thirst as a way to kill Smoldering Egg instead.
I cut all the four-drops and I’m still playing 25 mana sources. Three DFCs, four creature-lands, and Voldaren Estates give you plenty of ways to use excess mana. Blood tokens can mitigate mana flood as well.
There is a massive need for red and black mana on Turn 2. Unfortunately, you also need to be able to cast your removal spells in a timely manner. If not for the various interactive spells, I’d happily play four copies of Voldaren Estate. Regardless, there are diminishing returns on Estates. Unless you have a massive need for creature mana-fixing, you’re not getting much utility from having two copies on the battlefield.
If the format shifts and you wanted to play Edgar, Charmed Groom off Pathways and Estates, that would certainly be doable.
One of the best things about Vampires is its simplicity. There are no complicated sideboarding plans here. Your plan of disrupting your opponent and winning races is all you need.
Duress and Go Blank are, as always, the answers to blue decks. Hopefully Duress can nab a sweeper and Go Blank mitigates the impact of their flashback cards, including Lier, Disciple of the Drowned. If they try to stabilize behind a big creature, Infernal Grasp has you covered.
Ray of Enfeeblement might be overkill in the Mono-White Aggro❄ matchup, probably the Vampires deck’s best matchup, although that’s because you have the tools to pay it ample respect. If you skimp on those tools, the matchup can get difficult. Still, those slots might be better devoted to something more versatile against large creatures in order to recoup percentage points against Mono-Green Aggro❄ and Goldspan Dragon.
Sorin the Mirthless is narrow in use, but one of the best cards you can have access to against the various control decks. I’ve seen variants of Dimir and Esper. Sorin is your strongest card against both.
I wish Cemetery Gatekeeper were good enough. Izzet is split between instants and sorceries, plus they can often load up on Cinderclasms. If you want help against blue decks, there are much better options.
VS Izzet Epiphany
The Izzet matchup is almost entirely reliant on whether or not they can find a sweeper by Turn 5 or 6. Fading Hope and Divide by Zero buy them time, but they’ll eventually lose unless they can wipe your entire battlefield.
Another option is for them to transform Smoldering Egg and ride that to victory. With the recent rise of Hullbreaker Horror-based Izzet decks, Smoldering Egg has fallen out of favor, both of which bode well for Vampires. If you’re seeing more Smoldering Eggs than I am, feel free to change the maindeck Power Word Kill to an Infernal Grasp. Experimenting with a Bloodchief’s Thirst instead of a Play with Fire is probably fine too.
Your goal is to be as mana-efficient as possible. Put them under pressure and try to maneuver into a position where you can punish a sweeper by returning a Falkenrath Forebear or killing them with a creature-land. Filtering your hand with Blood is tempting at times; be careful to save an Infernal Grasp for a threat or when you need to keep them around for Forebear.
Sideboarding is mostly the same against both Izzet Epiphany and the Izzet Control decks featuring Hullbreaker Horror, except you also want Sorin the Mirthless against the controlling versions. Unfortunately, the Epiphany decks go over the top of Sorin, invalidating the card advantage.
And Izzet Dragons? Well, why play Goldspan Dragon when you can play Hullbreaker Horror?
VS Dimir Control
Despite this being a control matchup, it still revolves around creatures. You can easily get run over by Sedgemoor Witch; Lier, Disciple of the Drowned; or Hullbreaker Horror, so it’s important to have Infernal Grasp at the ready. Depending on how creature-heavy they are, you might want the Power Word Kills as well.
Their reliance on creatures makes Duress less effective as well. I still like Go Blanks as a way to get some card advantage and attack their graveyard though.
VS Mono-White Aggro❄
Mono-White Aggro❄ is the simplest matchup. They’ll usually have initiative early, but a well-timed Vampires’ Vengeance should put you in the driver’s seat. Save a big removal spell for Adeline, Resplendent Cathar or something that’s gotten pushed out of range by Luminarch Aspirant and you should have no issues. Note that their Faceless Havens are Vampires, so you can’t trade up one of your creatures for it when you’re casting Vengeance.
VS Mono-Green Aggro❄
Having a couple of copies of Vampires’ Vengeance to clean up Ascendant Packleaders and Esika’s Chariot tokens is nice. Drawing too many of them can be a liability, so I usually only bring in two, although I’d consider a third on the draw. Overall, this matchup is fine as is, but I wouldn’t mind shoring it up somehow.
People need to be playing more Rakdos Vampires! It’s a great deck that has the capability of beating anyone, especially with some fine-tuning. You can customize the deck to fit any needs, which we haven’t been able to do with the monocolored aggro decks. It completely bullies Mono-White Aggro❄ and the Hullbreaker Horror decks while being solid against everything else.
There’s nothing I’d rather play in Innistrad: Crimson Vow Standard right now than Rakdos Vampires.