Vampires in Ixalan Standard

Feature Article from Craig Wescoe
Craig Wescoe
9/29/2017 11:01:00 AM
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Never thought I would see the day, but it looks like Vampires are the new white creature tribe in Standard! I'm pretty happy about this though because they seem really sweet creatures with very useful abilities. And black as a support color allows us to play some very effective removal and discard spells, in addition to the black vampires. And the lands are good enough to make it work just fine. There are a couple of different ways to build the deck, so let's first start with my current list.

The biggest question is whether to be base white or base black. The mana doesn't really support an equal mix. The tradeoff is basically whether you want Gifted Aetherborn and Walk the Plank or whether you instead want Legion's Landing. Given the lack of one-drop Vampires available and the otherwise aggressive bent of the tribe, I feel as though the white base is more important.

I'm not super high on Legion's Landing, but it definitely fits into this deck. It provides a one-drop, which the tribe is otherwise sorely missing. Then if we curve out, it transforms to give us an additional land to cast Sanctum Seeker or Vona, Butcher of Magan. That afterwards it can pump out tokens whenever we don't have something else to do. In conjunction with Metallic Mimic these tokens can be 2/2 lifelink vampires.

The next best one-drop is Vicious Conquistador. We're able to cast it reliably on the first turn despite black being our support color because of Unclaimed Territory. So even though we have four more white sources than black sources, the territories provide the extra four black sources to cast Vicious Conquistador. Thus, in total we have 12 ways to cast Vicious Conquistador and 12 ways to cast Legion's Landing (since you can't cast an enchantment off the territory). The Conquistador isn't anything special, but it triggers all the Vampire abilities of our other Vampires and allows us to curve out more reliably than we otherwise would be with only four one-drops.

Adanto Vanguard is a really cool card that I'm excited about. It's very resilient and is excellent at attacking. Given the amount of life gain in the deck, being able to fuel the indestructible ability should not be a problem except against Ramunap Red decks. And given its resiliency, it will reliably trigger Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle, Sanctum Seeker, and Legion's Landing every time. The card doesn't block especially well, unlike Gifted Aetherborn, but I suspect that won't often be an issue since we are more aggressive than just about any other deck in the format except Ramunap Red. But we have life gain to catch us back up in that matchup.

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Metallic Mimic works great in this deck since we have so many Vampires and can also make quite a few additional Vampire Tokens. Making all our creatures larger is a huge boon for the deck since the bodies will otherwise get outsized in the midgame. This deck looks to inch out points of damage and this is a perfect way to enable that. You can also play it on the second turn and follow it up with Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle and immediately attack. This sequence leaves you with a 3/3 Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle, a 2/2 Vampire Token with lifelink, and a 2/1 Metallic Mimic entering combat. I'm even okay with this sequence if it means trading away the Mimic since we're left with so much value.

If we suspect the opponent will have a blocker for our two-drop, we may want to lead with Adanto Vanguard on the second turn and follow it up with the Apostle since we can then make the token without losing our attacker.

Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle also works especially well with Sanctum Seeker. By making a bunch of tokens, Sanctum Seeker allows us to drain the opponent down pretty quickly, even from a relatively high life total. It's also not legendary, so we can play back-to-back Sanctum Seekers to double the life drainage.

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Another way to amass a board of bodies is by playing Legion Conquistador, aka the new Squadron Hawk, and searching out all the other copies from your library. I am a pretty big fan of this type of card. It's just a Grey Ogre, which is pretty unimpressive, but it has the upside of potentially drawing you three additional Grey Ogres, all of which trigger all the “Vampires matter” cards. The downside is drawing multiples because each copy gets worse the more you draw. We have enough ways to get incidentally use out of the bodies though to make it worth it. We also can sideboard in Oketra's Monument and Vanquisher's Banner against the slow decks to get a ton of extra value off this card.

Vona, Butcher of Magan is the big five-mana bomb payoff in the deck. If unchecked, it will completely take over the board. Since it has vigilance, you can attack and also use the activated ability. And since it has lifelink, you gain four of that seven life back each combat. And if you don't need to use the ability, you can threaten to block with your 4/4 lifelink creature instead. This doesn't even account for all the other life gain effects in the deck either, which all work great with the activated ability. If it's killed immediately, you don't gain any value, and that's the one big downside of the card. Otherwise it is very potent. Given the amount of other creatures in the deck that will require a removal spell, Vona will survive a lot of the time and be able to do its thing. Bishop of Rebirth is a reasonable card in the deck, especially for getting back Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle, but overall I think it's less powerful than Vona and we don't need a lot of five-drops in our aggro deck. So it just didn't quite make the cut.

For the removal spells in the deck I like Fatal Push and Cast Out. Fatal Push is cheap and efficient at taking care of an opposing blocker or utility creature while being able to play another threat the same turn. Cast Out is more expensive but is also more versatile, able to kill bigger threats such as dinosaurs. It can also kill planeswalkers or problematic artifacts or enchantments, including giant artifact boats. It also cycles, which can be useful in an aggro deck running 24 lands that also has four-drops and five-drops.

Vraska's Contempt is an option besides Cast Out and the two life loss is relevant, but I like the versatility of being able to cycle it when I'm bottlenecked on mana. It's also not extremely easy to get double black in this deck, especially for casting a non-creature spell. Cast Out is much easier to… cast (out).

The lands are mostly straightforward. Once you decide to go with Legion's Landing over Gifted Aetherborn, the rest of the mana mostly works itself out. Given that we only have six one-drops in the deck, we can afford to play for copies of Forsaken Sanctuary to fix our mana. We can also play Shefet Dunes in the deck, which works great in here because our plan is to generally go wide while squeezing points of damage as the game progresses. Shefet Dunes can be big game at this, especially as a follow-up to Sanctum Seeker to generate a big attack. I find it to generally be best to hold your Shefet Dunes as long as possible in order to disguise your plan of activating it. That way the opponent might not see it coming.

Sideboard

2 Bloodcrazed Paladin
4 Duress
2 Gideon's Intervention
2 Oketra's Monument
1 Vanquisher's Banner
1 Arguel's Blood Fast
3 Inspiring Cleric

Bloodcrazed Paladin comes in against decks with sweepers that don't exile the creatures. For instance, Fumigate or Bontu's Last Reckoning are otherwise good cards against us. The Paladin helps a lot against that type of strategy while also being serviceable as an end of turn play if they do not wrath the board.

Duress comes in against any spell-heavy deck, especially control decks. It shows us what to play around and can usually at least take a removal spell or planeswalker. People will generally bring in additional removal spells against us, which makes Duress better in post-board games. I would play it main except I suspect some of the tribal decks will be creature-heavy and spell-light, at least in pre-board games.

Gideon's Intervention is a great combo with Duress since you will know what to name before they play it or you can name a card that's already on the battlefield – or both! It can also double as a pseudo-removal spell against decks where we want more answers to creatures. It's also our best plan against Glorybringer.

Oketra's Monument and Vanquisher's Banner come in against slow decks where we expect the games to be grindy. People will bring in removal spells against us, which this plan is great against as long as they are not going over the top of our grind plan with something that invalidates it. Just be careful not to side out too many creatures when you bring in this plan. Some number of Legion's Landings can come out since they don't count as casting a creature spell.

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Arguel's Blood Fast is another grind card that is especially good against decks where racing is not a major concern. For instance, against Torrential Gearhulk decks, we can use Duress to take their Glimmer of Genius, then use Gideon's Intervention to preemptively stop all their Gearhulks, and then we can draw a bunch of cards with the Blood Fast to pull ahead in the card economy game. Then if we draw ourselves too low on life, we can transform it and threaten to gain some life back to stay out of burn range. It's mostly just a discounted Greed, though.

Inspiring Cleric comes in against Ramunap Red. It's a reasonable body that fits into our curve and triggers all our “Vampires matter” cards while also doing a fine Kitchen Finks impression, gaining us four life immediately. It may also come in on the draw against some other decks if we expect racing to potentially be a concern. For instance, depending on how the mirror match plays out, if it is tempo-oriented, this card could be worth a spot. If it turns into a grind fest, the life could still be relevant for activating Vona, Butcher of Magan and Adanto Vanguard.

Are Vampires the Real Deal?

Vampires feel a bit less powerful than Zombies were pre-rotation, but I think there will likely be a place for them post-rotation. It's unclear at this stage what the best Dinosaur and Pirate decks look like. Vampires seem a bit more straightforward. So I would expect Vampires to over-perform this weekend and then taper off as the season goes on, once everyone figures out the best Pirate and Dinosaur configurations and cuts all the cards that don't belong in the archetype that they will show up with this weekend. We also won't know how the control and midrange non-tribal decks will look since it's hard to predict the metagame early on after a rotation. And even Ramunap Red has to adapt quite a bit since some of its key cards rotated. So even though I think Vampires may only end up as a tier 2 deck, I think this weekend is a great time to play them. I think this Vampires list is closer to optimal than most of the configurations of the decks your opponents will be playing.

TLDR = When have I ever steered you wrong with a deck like this?

Craig Wescoe
@Brimaz4Life




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