Tribal Unity – Vampires

Hello there Counts and Countesses, and welcome to another segment of Tribal Unity! I’m still very much in a Commander 2017 mood this week, so let’s have a look at the vicious tribe of Vampires!

The Tribe

We’ve seen vampires sporadically through Magic’s history; one of Magic’s oldest tribes, Sengir Vampire can be tracked as far as Alpha! Since then we’ve been to plenty of planes with vampires; Dominaria, Ravnica, Alara (Particularly the shard of Grixis (Blood Tyrant)), Zendikar, Innistrad, Kaladesh (a little birdy tells me we’ve got some interesting ones in Ixalan, too) – it’s a reasonably deep tribe with a lot of space to draw from, with reasonable popularity to boot.

Over the years vampires have been four colours (all but green), szadekand that makes sense; time and again though, we see them come back to the Red-Black colour pairing. Sometimes they’ve leant towards blue (Szadek, Lord of Secrets), or white (Tithe drinker) but for every blue or white vampire, I could name five more black/red ones. Interestingly, while the streak of red Is a thick one, they could also function fully well as mono black (although this comes with problems that I’ll deal with later). Because of these factors combined, vampire decks have traditionally been Rakdos or Grixis in colour, but with the recent commander sets (and a strong desire to finally include Sorin, Lord of Innistrad in a vampire deck), the Mardu combination is picking up speed fast!

Tribal Focus

So, we’ve got our horde of ravenous bloodsuckers, how do they characterise? Vampires in magic have always cared about the same things, mechanically:

1) First things first, vampires suck. Figuratively of course; a lot of Magic’s vampires drain the life force from players, manifesting as a life drain effect. This can involve the gaining of the stolen life of the victim (Bloodrite Invoker), or just the life loss (Blood Seeker), or even just life gain (Blood Host), or even as an additional cost to keep the creature around (looking at you, Moroii) – but one thing is for certain, vampires are nuts for life totals, and anybody playing with or against them should expect them to be… fluid. This fascination also manifests itself in lifelink, with a lot of the tribe having the keyword. In fact, new kid on the block Licia, sanguine tribune really cares about life gain and nothing else to satisfy her bloodthirst.

rakish2) Throughout Magic’s history, vampires have also thrived in combat. In a combat environment, successful predators get stronger and live to fight tougher foes, manifesting in +1/+1 counters. This can be seen as early as alpha with Sengir Vampire, but has an underlying theme across the years with highlights such as Mirri the Cursed, Rakish Heir, and even up till new vampire staples Edgar Markov and  Patron of the Vein. This is a very satisfying side of the vampire tribe in my opinion, and watching the little blighters grow and become intimidating threats gives a pleasing feedback of your progress in annihilating any usurpers to the vampire throne.

3) While moderately new (going back to original Innistrad block), I feel that it’s pertinent to talk about Wizard’s dabbling in the vampire trope of turning vampires, characterising itself in a small mind control subtheme. Permanent mind control is a powerful thing, and while it only appears on a few cards (Captivating Vampire being a huge one) it is something to be aware of when putting yourself out to fight, or lead, a horde of vampires. If your enemies try to go over your head, take something they love and use it as a blocker. Turn their titan into a vampire. Make their combo piece work for you (can lead to hilarious counter combo scenarios versus creature based combos such as Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker with Pestermite). Veteran vampire players will no doubt join me in singing the praises of Olivia Voldaren, one of progenitors of the effect, who has also been the powerhouse at the head of the tribe ever since her printing.

Lords and Synergy Picks

So, we have our focuses, varied they may be – what’ll we have to supplement them?

First, let’s tackle an absolute powerhouse that demands respect: bloodline keeperBloodline Keeper/Lord of Lineage. Once online, this guy can easily pump out tokens to be used as sacrificial fodder for nips and bites with Blood artist, aerial domination, or buffing with Edgar Markov. It’s worth noting that the transform ability doesn’t require tapping, so can be activated the turn he enters for a huge buff to your evasive (Or first-strikey) team. Once transformed, he begins pumping out 4/4s over the significantly less awkward 2/2s, demanding to be dealt with the premium removal or he will take over the game. As the controller of said monstrosity, this is incredibly appealing. As one of the few vampires that can take over a game by himself, you’d be batty not to utilise his talents.

Next up is one lord that I touched upon earlier; Captivating Vampire. This guy requires more work than the Bloodline Keeper (though granted the keeper does some of the work for you); though, the upside is super impactful, and requires proper captivatingrespect from your enemies. Once you’ve achieved a critical threshold of bloodsuckers, you can take control of any creature at instant speed, which seems ridiculously good at winning the attrition war (not only do you remove their bodies on board, you generate more vampires to activate him). That said, the static +1/+1 to your vampire team also has it benefits in your attempts to pressure those control abd combo decks. This is an incredibly snowbally vampire with a slower clock than the previous lord, but is well worth the autoinclude. As a special mention on this subject, I’d like to mention New vampire staple New Blood. While a one shot spell with additional cost, it is a 4 mana permanent mind control with no large downside to speak of (compared to Kefnet’s Last Word, for example) and offers a lot of upside in the tribal war. An enemy staring you down with a handful of slivers may feel a bit sore when you take their Sliver Hivelord or Sliver Queen, but even something smaller like Bonescythe Sliver (Or something like Drogskol Captain or Timber Protector, to mention other juicy non sliver victims) can produce one he’ll of a super swing in your favour when the opportunity presents itself.

If you ask me my favourite vampire, while the answer may vary by day nocturnus(and if I momentarily forget Blood Artist or Viscera seer are vampires), the answer would be Vampire Nocturnus. While he probably doesn’t fit in every vampire deck (the new 3 colour ones might be indifferent to him, but Olivia and the mono black options eat him up). He asks one thing, and one thing only; that your top card is black. If it isn’t (a land, for example), he’ll do nothing. A 3/3 for 4 (including a painful triple black cost), no more. But the second you hit a black top card (Which should be easy in monoblack/black splashing red), he and your field go berserk. To not only grant +2/+1 as an aggressive static effect, he also grants your field flying, enabling the real ability to delete a player who had you previously walled off. A truly terrifying card who brings new meaning to the phrase Feast or famine, this isn’t for every vampire player, but gets my vote for one of the most intriguing designs with an impressive presence to back it up.

Sowing Salt – Top 3 Vampire Commanders

And without further adieu, let’s dive into the top commanders for the tribe! After checking out feedback on last week’s segment which felt that the top 3 left much to be desired (mostly in colour representation, but also reminding me of a commander I now feel had his place stolen), I will be looking into more diverse (within reason) commanders, with more options for colours and strategies!

anowon3) Anowon, the Ruin Sage – while this one may be contentious (there are a few vying for this spot, but for overall vampire synergy I chose him over mono black options like Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet), Anowon is incredibly supportive of the mono black Vampire deck. The commander himself is a grindy machine, forcing The Abyss onto your opponents (and just your opponents if you’re playing to the vampire theme) through hexproof and indestructible, allowing you to pick at their resources and remove their blockers for free while building your own board to mop up the remains. Two things may tilt me slightly towards mono black in the case of this deck: it allows for the big mana plays through Cabal coffers/Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth much more easily (this is still available to two colour but is a much earlier possibility in mono black, only needing the coffers and only wanting urborg to convert utility nonbasics); this allows him to take advantage of expensive vampires early on, such as Skeletal vampire or Patron of the vein. Similarly (if you’re this way inclined) he’s by far the most consistent activator of Vampire Nocturnus. This combined with his ability draws me to a more staxy, grindy vampire deck; utilising the token generators heavily (Lord of Lineage, Call the Bloodline, Kalitas, Bloodchief of ghet) alongside black stax pieces such as Smokestack, The Abyss, or Larceny to deplete your opponents’ resources, before coming in for the Haymaker with anthems like Lord of Lineage or Bad Moon. And being mono coloured, Anowon also fits very snugly into the other decks mentioned as a potent piece that most vampire decks will want to snatch up.

2) Olivia Voldaren – an old favourite,olivia this little lady has terrorised tables since she hit the shelves way back when. She’s easily the most powerful choice for straight Rakdos vampires, and for good reason. First, her colour identity is fairly wide but narrow enough to remain focused; she allows the splash of red to open flexible build paths – RB being the aggressive lair that it is; you could play an easy vampiric aggro deck, a madness value build (though Olivia, Mobilized for War may suit that better), or even something a bit more controlly, focusing more on Olivia’s splendid suite of abilities – speaking of which though, those abilities! Her first ability synergises nicely with her already chunky flying form, disrupting mana dorks and even perhaps bigger threats at instant speed. The fact that she grows at instant speed also allows her to use it aggressively as a combat trick, proving a heady adversary to block and an incredibly risky proposition to multiblock. This ability is also one of the best uses of Braid of Fire in the game in my eyes; the mana can only be used during your upkeep, but without an actual tangible cost to keep this active you can just keep growing it, allowing Libby to unleash a torrent of flame and death before you even need to untap a single land! The type change, while it seems like flavour text, is incredibly relevant for her second ability; the ability to turn vampires to your side instantly. These two abilities combo together to steal any non-hexproof creature for 7 mana. At instant speed. This is absolutely ridiculous, especially when fuelled by Olivia staple Braid of Fire – but even without, once you have 7 mana or more, you become a deck which not many decks can deal with easily. A well fed Olivia messes with combat deftly, dragging blockers from other players, forcing a freshly attacking creature to block one of its fellows, or removing blockers while she’s on the offensive. All of these things combine to make Olivia an extremely hard working lady that is difficult to beat on, for example, a top 3 list…

edgarmarkov1) Edgar Markov – …well, I’ll be. Though the jury is still very much out on whether Baron von Markov can steal the Voldaren crown, I’m a firm believer that he can do it rather easily. While less flexible than Olivia (she can rather easily operate without as many vampires), Edgar brings a LOT to the table that can push the traditional idea of a vampire deck over the top. First, let’s talk about the colour White. Easily one of my favourite colours in magic, white is one of the premier support colours in deckbuilding. When a deck gets white swirled in in commander, it gains access to the game’s most powerful disruptive tools – exile removal like Swords to Plowshares, hate cards like Stony Silence or Rest in Peace, or the most premium resource denial, such as Armageddon, Final Judgment, and Wrath of God. Adding these tools to the aggressive Rakdos pairing make for some of the most overbearingly destructive decks in magic, and Edgar is unafraid to lend himself to that. With his Eminence ability, he can quickly create board out of nowhere, guaranteeing that a fistful of vampires rebuilds after destruction quicker than other tribal decks. This newfound resilience also makes me more inclined to run a better wipe suite; Kindred Dominance is well and good, but can leave too many survivors. Exhausting resources through quick, efficient removal plays will make Edgar difficult to outlast. His eminence ability also enables deft and quick combos with vampire mainstays such as Captivating Vampire or Malakir Bloodwitch. It doesn’t take many additional enablers to make either of these cards severely dangerous prospects to fight against, and only get worse as the game goes long. His attack trigger is also super relevant with this in mind – When you summon him, he comes out of the gates right away (being a First Strike Haste body, he will almost always have somebody to hit), and pumps your entire team! The haste is fantastic with this ability, allowing you to choose the opportune moment to pump your vampires for an alpha strike, instead of casting him to warn your enemies that they need to remove him. This also synergises incredibly well with his first ability, as there will be no shortage of bodies for him to shore up. Overall, Lord Markov is a aggressive, hard to keep down threat, which offers a variety of build paths, and is active from the command zone (and if Oloro didn’t set a precedent, I don’t know who will).

That just about covers me for this installment of Tribal Unity! What do you think guys? Is Edgar good enough to make the cut? Does he leave something to be desired? If you feel I could do anything better or have a request, don’t forget to let us know! If you’d like to be kept fully up to date with Rain of Salt content, be sure to drop us a like on Facebook! Until next time, Unmistakable out!

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