Tribal Attractions: Vampires
With its four-faction setting, Ixalan has been a very tribal block, and then Dominaria doubled down on the approach. Even with Guilds of Ravnica stopping the trend, it's still a good time to have fun with Modern concoctions in the tribal flavor. In this installment: the suckers that so rarely suck.
In the past twenty-five years, Vampire has been one of the most dependable creature types in Magic: The Gathering, as well as the third standard-bearer of black after Zombie and Demon. Starting with a straightforward, popular finisher in Limited Edition Alpha, the deadly undead were given star treatment on several occasions, like with the savage vampires of Zendikar or the classic Gothic ones from Innistrad. But even when they weren't a big part of a given setting, they still represented enough of a fantasy horror trope to show up in almost every block.
As a result of this large population, one that lacks the functional variance of Human, Zombie, and Shaman or the clear pecking order of Elf, Merfolk, and Goblin, the act of choosing a lineup for a Vampire tribal deck presents us with a number of good choices. One isn't inherently better than the other nor do they lead to many specific strategies. Generally speaking, Vampires lend themselves to either fast aggro or midrange builds. The former style is sustained by high-pressure one-drops like Vampire Lacerator, Stromkirk Noble, Pulse Tracker and its strictly more functional reprint Vicious Conquistador, or the newcomer Skymarcher Aspirant.
The midrange approach has had a longer history with the tribe, whose noteworthy members essentially cap at five mana. (Among the Vampires that go beyond that point, we remember only a handful of Commander types, like Nirkana Revenant, Necropolis Regent, Butcher of Malakir, and the combo-oriented Mephidross Vampire.) A degree of linear development was provided by the anthem lords from Dark Ascension and Ixalan, provided we're fine with branching out to red and white, and by the sleeker Captivating Vampire from Magic 2011.
Let's have a look at a sample list belonging to the first Vampire genre; then at one resulting from the second; then at one that tries and does a different thing entirely. Always remembering that, as mentioned, there are a plethora of great Vampires in Modern, so these must be seen simply as tasters. For instance, none of these lists feature Vampire Hexmage, which is undeniably one of the best cards in the tribe. A personal favorite of mine, Falkenrath Aristocrat, is something you may want to play in a Human shell where she'll keep eating Bloodsoaked Champion, but not in a Vampire shell.
Let's emphasize Vampire speed first, but with a bit of linear reach rather than just maximizing the one-drops.
|4Cavern of Souls||4Vampire Lacerator||4Fatal Push|
|4Marsh Flats||4Vampire Cutthroat||4Thoughtseize|
|2Blood Crypt||4Dusk Legion Zealot|
|2Godless Shrine||4Gifted Aetherborn|
Here, the vamp team starts with the classic turn-one opening Vampire Lacerator, paired with skulking Vampire Cutthroat, which is also meant to offset the Lacerator's life hemorrhage. Then on turn two, it's either a matter of boosting our one-drop vamp via Legion Lieutenant, playing the self-replacing Dusk Legion Zealot for further board presence, or landing the very powerful Gifted Aetherborn onto the battlefield, which in a build like this is, for all intent and purposes, a swifter Vampire Nighthawk.
From this point on are all lords with Stromkirk Captain boosting some more, while Captivating Vampire offers some interaction for the late game. The four-mana Vampire Nocturnus may not be the must-include that it once was, what with its effect not being a surefire thing on every turn, but it's still able to engineer a devastating alpha strike. This said, a good replacement for its slots could be Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle to go wide. There's also Drana, Liberator of Malakir to boost your bloodsuckers in a more permanent way while also supplying a little evasion, which is otherwise entirely missing in this list – at least until the Nocturnus shows up and does its thing. There's also a case to be made to include a few copies of Legion's Landing, although it's a worse one-drop than both Lacerator and Cutthroat and doesn't interact with Cavern of Souls.
If you're a prospective vamp player who's not afraid to extend the tribe's reach and is required to hit CMC four and five consistently, this list might be the right one for you.
The first Vampire that catches the eye here is definitely Blood Baron of Vizkopa, one of the greatest and most resilient finishers you can find within the tribe. And even if it's far from necessary to get his last ability online, the deck still tries to gain as much life as it can, while damaging the opponent in the process. Sanctum Seeker is another good finishing move on a populated board. At the same point on the curve, Bloodline Keeper / Lord of Lineage is the ultimate token factory, both before and after the transformation, after which is just as lethal as Vampire Nocturnus.
The singleton Indulgent Aristocrat is an interesting card, as he's meant to make good use of leftover Gatekeeper of Malakir's bodies. The latter is the tribe's primary removal on legs and when paired with a strong removal suite, like in this case, it makes a Vampire tribal build more control-oriented than one may think. Drana's Emissary is also a surprisingly solid creature, capable of a steady influx of free life-draining even on a stalling position. Compared to the more traditional three-drop Vampire Nighthawk, she's able to hit for one more point of damage in the air (if we factor in the upkeep trigger), while still procuring one life to her player.
Finally, here's a Vampire deck that combines some very unusual tribal members.
What this list attempts to do is transform both its two signature cards, Heir of Falkenrath / Heir to the Night and Voldaren Pariah / Abolisher of Bloodlines. Flipping the Pariah gives you amazing board advantage in the form of a big flyer and a decimated opponent's battlefield. (Admittedly, this is all devised to battle against other tribal decks, so the triple sacrifice almost always matters). The Heir does a decent Delver of Secrets impression and can swing as a 3/2 in the air the turn after she drops. Interestingly, as early as turn three you can pitch the Pariah to the Heir and cast the former for her madness cost, which is good synergy between these two obscure cards.
Other ways to transform the Heir is by dumping Bloodghast and Oathsworn Vampire on her, aiming at returning/casting them from the graveyard later, just in time to also help transform the Pariah. The recursion clause of Oathsworn Vampire is gaining life, so that's where Gifted Aetherborn and Vampire Nighthawk come in. (This build could actually use some Drana's Emissary, but I wanted to keep it mono black for the sake of simplicity.) Both can also act as a makeshift removal when needed. Indulgent Aristocrat is another source of life that exploits Bloodghast and Oathsworn's expendability.
More fuel for the Pariah's transformation comes from Bloodline Keeper and Westvale Abbey / Ormendahl, Profane Prince's tokens (the latter also working as a similar win-con). Sanctum Seeker and Malakir Bloodwitch are strong late game alternate win-cons that also bring the Oathsworn back, as does the one "Vampires matter" card featured in these lists – Feast of Blood.
There are actually a few cards in the game that care about Vampires, like Urge to Feed, Blood Tribute, or Vampiric Fury. However, none of them are particularly good (including, I'm afraid, Feast of Blood itself). I think I would give New Blood a try if it were Modern-legal, though.
A red splash in the list could allow for Falkenrath Gorger, so everything pitched to Heir of Falkenrath may end on the battlefield thanks to madness. I don't think that's worth seriously complicating the mana base, but it's an option, and yet another interesting Vampire you don't see played often.
In summation, Vampires are a great black/Mardu tribe. They sport pretty wicked mid-game potential and, unlike their counterparts from pop culture and folklore, they don't have too many weaknesses – at least not of the kind that you would actually risk meeting during a competitive game of Magic.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.
TRIBAL ATTRACTIONS ARCHIVES
Do you want to play Tribal? Come join the free Tribal Wars tournament on MTGO every Saturday at 5 PM UTC. Modern Tribal Wars is on the third week of each month. (The pool for the first and the fourth week is Legacy; for the second week Standard.) The Discord channel is here.