Will Anje, Maid Of Dishonor Sink Her Teeth Into Innistrad: Crimson Vow Standard?

Can Vampires make a comeback in Innistrad: Crimson Vow? Dom Harvey looks to exploit the potential of Anje, Maid of Dishonor in the upcoming Standard and Historic.

People love tribal decks. As a player or designer, you want the fun stuff to be the good stuff where possible and tribal has a mixed record there. Zombies and Humans set the bar high on our previous visits to Innistrad, but Werewolves were an unfortunate flop in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Standard despite having no shortage of strong cards. Will Vampires suffer the same fate?

Falkenrath’s leading lady is an early cause of optimism:

Anje, Maid of Dishonor

For a card with a lot of text, its numbers are what catch your eye first. 4/5 is the perfect stat-line for a format dominated by 4/4s — Old-Growth Troll, Esika’s Chariot, and Faceless Haven are so difficult to block well that early Mono-Green Aggro❄ lists turned to Lurking Roper to break serve, and it’s safe to say Anje has a lot more going on there. On the other side of the format, the skies are ruled by Smoldering Egg, Goldspan Dragon, and Moonveil Regent, while other approaches to Izzet build towards Lier, Disciple of the Drowned as a nigh-unbeatable end-game.

Dragon’s Fire (keying off those same Dragons to deal four damage), Thundering Rebuke, Heated Debate, and Demon Bolt are all more popular and effective than they would have been in most other Standard formats. From the outside it’s hard to tell how predictable this breakpoint was and if Anje’s stats were chosen with it in mind but it’s no exaggeration to say that this fifth point of toughness may be the difference between Anje being a serious player in Standard or being relegated to the fringes with other tribal headliners. 

Innistrad: Crimson Vow Mechanics | MAGIC: THE GATHERING

The Blood token trigger is harder to gauge at a glance. As more and more creatures come with guaranteed value and this is increasingly necessary for them to see play — even the best Baneslayers are Mulldrifters these days — there has been a welcome trend towards more specific or unconventional means of unlocking this value. ‘When this enters the battlefield, draw a card’ is safe and boring. ‘When this enters the battlefield, investigate’ both asks more of you and opens up more possibilities. These widgets have taken many forms — Food, Treasure, and now Clue tokens were all worth having in your deck box in recent years — but Clues are the natural comparison and direct competition in this Standard.

Skyclave Shade

That isn’t encouraging for Blood tokens. You aren’t gaining actual card advantage and you only get virtual card advantage if you can find a reliable reward for discarding cards (the madness theme that fell flat for Vampires in Shadows over Innistrad/Eldritch Moon) or use your graveyard as a resource. Innistrad: Midnight Hunt is full of ways to hate on graveyard shenanigans that were never happening in the first place and Innistrad: Crimson Vow will need to explore those itself for those synergies to be worthwhile. 

Without strong recursive creatures like Scrapheap Scrounger or an on-theme tool like Bloodghast (rather than a generally stronger but contextually weaker version like Skyclave Shade), the tie-in between this discard sub-theme and Anje’s sacrifice ability is mostly hypothetical.

Voldaren Bloodcaster

We’ve already seen some rewards for just having Blood tokens, but I suspect these are a trap. If the rate on the card is mostly in its stats or other text, the Blood payoff is incidental; if the rate is in the Blood payoffs, the whole package has to be there to justify playing it and we only have a glimpse of that so far. I’d want to see other cheap sources of Blood tokens to be interested, ideally ones that are more broadly useful — Thraben Inspector, not Forsworn Paladin.

I expect to be sacrificing Blood tokens a lot but mostly to Anje’s final ability, which is a real attention-grabber. Anje breaks open any stalled battlefield and any random body is now put to good use. Rakdos Sacrifice has popped up in various forms in the last few formats; what if we view Anje from that perspective?

Anje does a bit of everything here. It helps to clog up the battlefield against other creature decks while letting you break that stall later; it’s cheap enough and big enough to do something against Izzet (compared to other top-end options like Lolth, Spider Queen); and it gives you another sacrifice outlet. Immersturm Predator is competition for Anje in one sense, but Predator has always been one of the main draws to this deck, and having more strong payoffs at that cost enables your best starts more often. 

Anje doesn’t require a lot of Vampires but does encourage it, so let’s indulge that now. Rakdos Vampires was absent from Standard before, but we knew we’d have to wait for Innistrad’s grand finale for it to reach its final form. Even now, it wasn’t as far away as you might think:

Paulo mentioned that a Rakdos Vampires list modelled on Kowalski’s was a serious contender for Magic World Championship XXVII and was written off because they expected more Mono-Green Aggro❄ (Paulo himself ended up as one of the few ill-fated green mages). Some new tools may help to fix that:

Dominating Vampire

There are few better ways to swing a race than Threaten effects attached to creatures. Dominating Vampire is an appealing one even if you don’t have Anje or Immersturm Predator around as a sacrifice outlet. It will always steal a token (against Ranger Class, Esika’s Chariot, or Old-Growth Troll) and it’s not hard to nab Werewolf Pack Leader or Old-Growth Troll itself against removal-light green decks. Going long, Agadeem’s Awakening and Nullpriest of Oblivion let you return Dominating Vampire with a friend to increase your Vampire count and with enough help it can target itself to gain haste in matchups where no good targets present themselves.

As Paulo mentions, this archetype really needs another good one-drop Vampire and there are none of those in this Day 1 drop. Knight of the Ebon Legion is a lot to ask for but the bar isn’t too high here. 

What if we broaden our horizons to a format where Knight is legal, along with the best Vampire payoff imaginable?

Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord

Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord is one of the best planeswalkers of all time… in a deck or format that has the tools to enable it properly. I expect Sorin’s stock to rise massively in Historic and Pioneer with just one good Vampire at either end of the curve — a one-drop to supplement Knight of the Ebon Legion or a four-drop/five-drop to cheat with Sorin’s -3 ability.

Vampires has failed to gain traction in Historic in part because of both of these gaps; you can’t curve out well without Knight of the Ebon Legion (which isn’t a fast card in its own right, whatever else it has going for it) and you don’t have a four-drop like Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet which enables the best Sorin draws while still being castable and doing good work by itself. Champion of Dusk is the curve-topper of choice, but it isn’t a card you’d want to play otherwise and is mainly strong in draws that already feature your best card.

Anje, Maid of Dishonor and other new red tools address these problems. Falkenrath Pit Fighter is a serviceable one-drop and helps Vampire Socialite to feed further aggression, while Anje and Immersturm Predator fill the traditional four-drop slot for a fast creature deck and are still excellent on Turn 3 off Sorin. 

Voldaren Estate

The mana for aggressive decks in allied colours is still below-par in Historic and Pioneer. Voldaren Estate sets up the Falkenrath Pit Fighter into Cordial Vampire / Gifted Aetherborn curve to make you less reliant on drawing exactly Blood Crypt.

Both Standard and Historic have no shortage of tribal decks that look exciting but underperform in practice. My expectations for Vampires are set with that in mind, but this early haul is enough to pique my interest and there are a lot of previews left to sink our teeth into.