Myth & Magic: Vampires, Werewolves, and a Bump in the Night
Lee is back with another take on the myth behind the Magic. Today he's feeling festive, looking at Vampires, Werewolves, and other things lurking under your bed just in time for Halloween.
The OG Bitey Boi
Okay, calling Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) the original gangster will raise the hackles of some readers, but let's use him in much the same manner as we did Tolkien's Orcs in a previous article.
It's taken for granted that Vlad the Impaler is the source character for much of Dracula's personality and habits – his reputation for cruelty, and a supposed, yet tenuous, link to the lineage of Attila the Hun. However, while vampires, at least in fiction, did exist prior to this, they never really had the same gravitas, the same enduring presence as this legacy of an Irish writer's mind. Without Dracula, it's fair to say that we would not have seen such memorable performances from the likes of Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman… We would not have had such terrible follow-ups to some of the greatest comedy of the 80s in the relatively abysmal Dead and Loving It. We would not have had the Twilight saga… We would not have had True Blood. We would not have had Max Schreck's Nosferatu, and indeed we nearly didn't, as Stoker's estate sued the producers of the movie and ordered all copies be destroyed…but some had already made it as far as America, and the story goes that the authorities there were either unaware of the court ruling, or just didn't care. Either way, the movie survived, and became one of the earliest cult movies, having no small impact on later TV and movie production. While Stoker's Count Dracula was somewhat debonair, traditionally decked out in a tuxedo or stylish evening wear, Nosferatu presented a darker, more sinister aspect to the now-combined legend. Stephen King's Salem's Lot took direction from both, as did the very recent, and utterly brilliant The Strain. 2000 saw the film Shadow of the Vampire, an account of the making of the original movie, with the premise being that Schreck, played by Willem Dafoe, was a vampire.
BUT! Even Stoker needed material to draw upon for his seminal work. That honour goes to one Johann Weikhard Freiherr von Valvasor, who penned the Glory of the Duchy of Carniola in 1689, two hundred years before Dracula's author completed his own work. It is from this work that the word 'vampire' originated, a work that tells the tale of a local man who was reportedly seen several times after his supposed death. Carniola is perhaps less known than Transylvania, but it is nonetheless worth considering for a potential holiday visit… although these days the region is more about bees and honey and less about vampires and revenants.
Vampires in the game of Magic are, much like the source material from which they come, a mixed bunch. 221 cards with the creature type Vampire (and one Vampyre). Sengir Vampire, first of his name, stands at the top of the heap, and what a flavor win. My colleague Gianluca has already dealt with, so we won't dwell too much on the specifics, but it is important to mention that, from the very start the game, Vampires had a seat at the table, and a clearly defined one - they get stronger the more they drain… at least for the senior characters; the lesser vamps work for the greater good (or is that the greater bad?).
Let's look at some decks:
Here's Wilson Hunter's 22nd place finish from Pro Tour Ixalan, a Mono-White build that looked to go wide as quickly as possible.
|15Plains||4Adanto Vanguard||4Oketra's Monument|
|3Scavenger Grounds||3Angel of Invention||2Cast Out|
|4Shefet Dunes||4Aviary Mechanic||3Ixalan's Binding|
|2Duskborne Skymarcher||4Legion's Landing / Adanto, the First Fort|
|4Legion Conquistador||1Thopter Arrest|
|3Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle|
|1Aethersphere Harvester||1Angel of Sanctions||4Dusk // Dawn|
|2Fragmentize||1Gideon's Intervention||4Glory-Bound Initiate|
The creatures on this list are self-explanatory, providing cheap, efficient bodies, often with useful effects. Oketra's Monument provides a discount, meaning your curve tops out at 4, while Angel of Invention and Metallic Mimic provide two differing 'Anthem' effects. It was a bold, but effective metagame choice. It rarely suffers fixing issues, in that it only had one color, and once on the board, the creatures (or infinite chump blockers from the Legion's Landing) had the ability to go toe to toe with many of the smaller creatures that made up the majority of Energy based decks. The Scavenger Grounds could either be copies 5 through 7 of Shefet Dunes, or the Dunes could act as graveyard hate when needed, should God Pharaoh's Gift be on the other side of the table.
More recently, at Grand Prix Copenhagen, Per Eckerberg might only have gone 5-3 on Day One, but he did win a Trial with this beauty.
|4Concealed Courtyard||2Adanto Vanguard||4Call to the Feast|
|1Field of Ruin||3Champion of Dusk||2Fatal Push|
|4Isolated Chapel||4Dusk Legion Zealot||4Vraska's Contempt|
|2Plains||4Gifted Aetherborn||2Heart of Kiran|
|1Scavenger Grounds||4Legion Lieutenant||1Legion's Landing / Adanto, the First Fort|
|2Shefet Dunes||2Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle||4Radiant Destiny|
|2Arguel's Blood Fast / Temple of Aclazotz||2Cast Down||4Duress|
|2Forsake the Worldly||1Profane Procession // Tomb of the Dusk Rose||2The Immortal Sun|
Great mana, value creatures, plenty of card draw, removal, and lifegain, and the sideboard can deal with Planeswalker decks and has the ability to win from behind a siege line once you gain the City's Blessing with Twilight Prophet.
Jumping back to television for just a second, and if only to provide a decent segue to the next section, it's worth your time watching Jermaine Clement's opus vampirus, What We Do in the Shadows, and which is soon to see life as a television series, alongside Wellington Paranormal and the rumoured We're Wolves, which deals with…
Werewolves were always one of the more accessible monsters growing up… The movies were rarely as 'terrifying' for a young child, focusing more on the poor human-form wolf struggling with their lunar curse. Its origins, like so many modern stories, lies in European folklore, although there are references to shapeshifting going far back into Roman times. Like so many aspects of our common and reasonably global folklore, lycanthropy, the ability to change into a wolf, was likely pushed by the rising Judeo-Christian church as being heavily linked to pagan cultures and therefore, at least to them, intrinsically evil. Whether this is also related to the imagined founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, who were raised by wolves, is something that can be answered by others who are more learned than I, but there's surely something there.
Like so many other creatures, many of the tales have disparate bases, ultimately merging into a more recognisable mythos. From Lycaon in Greek mythology (and from whence we take the term lycanthrope) to Bajan, son of Simeon I of Bulgaria, who reportedly employed magic to gain the shape of a wolf to similar tales from the East, where it was weretigers and wereleopards instead. This tells us more in a glance than any amount of research might produce in a short period, that the stories, like urban legends today, take more from the culture and fear of the 'now' than in any reality such as we would know it.
Hypertrichosis is a medical condition that may have had some impact on werewolf lore, but the frequency of sufferers would likely say otherwise. The more well-known afflicted often found themselves as part of some travelling carnival, their safety ensured by their value as a side-show.
This is Ross Kincaid's deck from an SCG IQ in 2016:
|3Clip Wings||2Hermit of the Natterknolls / Lone Wolf of the Natterknolls||2Moonlight Hunt|
|3Natural State||1Silverfur Partisan||2Spirit of the Hunt|
|1Ulrich of the Krallenhorde / Ulrich, Uncontested Alpha||1Uncaged Fury|
It's an old Standard deck, but it checks out. The creatures are all wonderfully costed, and you're never really concerned about needing to flip them so long as they're providing value for you. And especially since you can manually transform at least one, creating a massive target to draw removal spells away from other key components. Silverfur Partisan also triggers from your own Blossoming Defense, so you're getting double duty versus removal spells.
Our second list isn't a Werewolf deck per se, but does rely on one to help win from nowhere:
|1Dryad Arbor||4Birds of Paradise||4Lightning Greaves|
|3Forest||4Devoted Druid||4Chord of Calling|
|2Horizon Canopy||4Duskwatch Recruiter / Krallenhorde Howler||2Summoner's Pact|
|1Misty Rainforest||4Noble Hierarch||4Eldritch Evolution|
|1Plains||1Renegade Rallier||4Postmortem Lunge|
|4Razorverge Thicket||4Vizier of Remedies|
|2Temple Garden||2Walking Ballista|
|3Burrenton Forge-Tender||1Fairgrounds Warden||4Leyline of the Void|
|1Linvala, Keeper of Silence||1Magus of the Moon||3Obstinate Baloth|
This is a deck that our Modern readers will know quite well. The premise is simple, generate infinite mana using the Vizier of Remedies and Devoted Druid, then use Duskwatch Recruiter's ability to effectively search your deck for a Walking Ballista and win from there. Ta da! Easy as one, two, three… It doesn't ever need to use it's werewolf transformation though, which is unfortunate.
Bump in the Night
It would prove difficult to focus much on any one other creature type to conclude with, since Nightmares and Devils don't really crossover much with their real-world inspirations. Unsurprisingly, Kamigawa block took massive amounts from Asian lore, as you'd expect, choosing the very safe Spirit creature type to embody the majority of them. But, as evidenced from past articles on Celtic lore and Dragons, you'd be surprised just how similar many of them appear…
The Grootslang hails from South Africa, its name translating as 'big snake'. A cave dweller so it goes, it was said to resemble a lizard with an elephant's head. We can surmise that this may have arisen from hunter gatherers coming across deceased elephants, their bodies stripped of organs and withering away, perhaps appearing as if a giant serpent followed from the creature's head, or even perhaps there's some vague truth involved and some now-extinct anaconda relation bit off more than it could, digest, and died… or at best was effectively immobile, leading to terrified discovery.
With the return of the Doctor in recent weeks, it may be that this next creature seems familiar. The Ittan-momen is a Japanese legend not without some extended debate to be had. This is a sentient roll of cotton, capable of smothering you… much like The Remnants, which are featured in Doctor Who: The Ghost Monument. Ostensibly such creatures come into being as the result of spirits which original derived from foxes which had lived for over 100 years. Not a kitsune, which Magic players would be aware of, but something more akin to a focused poltergeist. The possessing spirit, a Tsukumogami, will enter a household object, and so you have many different types in legend; an Ungaikyō being a possessed mirror, a Boroboroton being a possessed futon.
And, as if the deep sea wasn't ominous already, there's the Bake-Kujira, Ghost Whale the most appropriate translation. Those who know urban legends well, will understand that such stories resonate most with the area from whence they come. Smog filled London and Jack the Ripper, the sundry 'monsters' of the Americas – either native or settler, most of which would seem easily dealt with if encountered elsewhere… So, it comes as no surprise to learn that a country with a history of whale hunting would have a whale haunting their coastal villages.
The story goes that the Bake-Kujira came near shore one evening, as it rained, and the fishermen from Okinoshima, a group of four small islands in the Sea of Japan, went out to investigate, only to discover, to their horror, that it was a whale skeleton, stripped of all flesh, yet still moving as if were fully alive. The waters below them were thrashing with thousands of unknown fish, and the skies were full of birds. They also saw a strange island in the distance, which was not one of theirs.
The whale retreated back out to sea, and the fishermen likewise beat a hasty retreat to the safety of shore. As quickly as it had begun, it was over. That one tale was all that was ever recorded, but it carried with it enough heft to stick with us. We'll deal with sea creatures in more details at a later date…
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