Ever since I started playing Magic years ago, I have always wanted vampires to be a deck. When I first started playing, I fell in love with all of the vampire cards, their arts, their abilities, the flavor of them (I’ve always been a fan of victorian era things). But, alas, whenever I attempted to make a Vampire deck in any format, EDH, Modern, Legacy, it never seemed to work that well. The deck was always way too fragile to ever make much of any impact, and other aggro decks were just simply better and faster.
But that all changed when the Rivals of Ixalan attacked…
Once there were no vampires, and now there are many. Okay, well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration… Anyways, while most of the vampires in Ixalan are lackluster at best, there are a few that I believe will turn Modern Vampires into a playable deck. A deck that can actually have a fighting chance against the other top decks in the format. I don’t necessarily think that these cards will completely break the deck (in fact it probably won’t even be as powerful as Merfolk), but I do think that they have the capability to bring the deck new life, and definitely make it more playable.
To begin, let’s review some older vampire cards that were originally in our toolbox.
Most of the okay one drop beaters previously available to Modern Vampires are actually not too bad. Some of them, dare I say, are pretty good. However, the issue doesn’t lie within the one drops, it lies within the cards following the one drops.
Every decent one drop beater-pire has a relevant ability, a decent power and toughness, or the combination of the two. They all have the ability to hold their own, and they advance the board state fairly well. The vampires, it seems, are off to a really good start.
Our first vampire for consideration is Vampire Lacerator. Being a 2/2 for only one black mana provides a substantial boost to the board state. This creature is comparable to a goblin guide without haste. However, the downside of losing a life every turn can actually have a significant affect on the game in the long run. Especially in Modern, plus this card has a functional reprint that was just released in Ixalan. So, while I think it is an alright option, it is not my first choice for a vampire list — especially after the Ixalan release.
Vampire Cutthroat is a very unique one drop. With the previous suite of vampires, it is not amazing, but it is not bad. The lifelink ability pairs well with the vampires that drain the player of life, and skulk is an added bonus. Especially since a lot of decks in Modern like to play efficient high power creatures. However, I believe with the newer cards being released, Vampire Cutthroat may be worth considering more.
This card is great. Like actually really, really great! But… It dies to removal… Has no evasion… and is basically just a vanilla creature. Unless you are playing against a humans deck, it’s first ability basically does nothing either. Don’t get me wrong, Stromkirk Noble can get really out of hand. But this is Modern, and removal runs rampant in Modern.
Shadow Alley Denizen is not bad, but it is not stellar either. In mono black lists it can be pretty good, because intimidate is a fairly relevant ability to give to creatures. But Vampire lists are not gonna usually be playing lots of vamps every turn in my experience.
Why hello there. Welcome to the party, I assume you’re here to compete with Vampire Lacerator, no?
Vicious Conquistador doesn’t have the exact same stats as Lacerator, and it won’t pose the exact same threat to your opponent’s own creatures. However, if unblocked, it still does the same amount of damage as Lacerator, without the downside! Not to mention, this card gets pretty good with our new friends in Rivals.
Another fairly solid one mana vampire that gets larger the later in the game it is. Since we are playing Modern, most people will get down to ten life fairly easily because of fetch and pain-lands. Which makes Guul Draz Vampire that much better.
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The rest of the normal beaters with only combat abilities, are not bad. However, a lot of them just feel lackluster. They have abilities that can be very, very powerful, but they don’t have the ability to stay around, or are too high costed to really be worth it. There are only a few exceptions to this.
Markov Blademaster is a fairly good beater. However being a 1/1 for three mana is not the best. While it does get extra power whenever it deals combat damage to a player, and it has double strike, it still has the exact same problems that Stromkirk Noble has.
Bloodghast is a very effective card. It is competitively played in a lot of decks all the way from Modern to Legacy, and has solid stats. Generally, I would say this card is very good. However, in a vampire list, I actually would not necessarily play it. It costs BB, doesn’t synergize with any other vampires, has no relevant combat abilities, and is basically just a 2/1 with recursion that can’t block. While I do think it could be considered as a nice filler option, I don’t think it is the best choice we have available.
Gifted Aetherborn and Vampire Nighthawk are almost the same cards. With Vamp Nighthawk costing one more colorless to cast and having flying. These two cards may be the best options that we have when it comes to powerful beaters. Having both lifelink and deathtouch is not something to underestimate, and Nighthawk’s bonus of being able to fly is really good. However, playing both of these cards in the same list may be a bit overboard, and could dilute the deck. So the choice becomes: Do we want a card that has lots of evasion, but costs one extra? Or a card that can come down quicker but doesn’t have flying?
After considering this question a lot, I have decided, at least personally, that I would rather play Gifted Aetherborn. Because Deathtouch is evasion enough in my opinion. While Vampire Nighthawk is cute. The three mana casting cost is very slow, especially when compared to the other cards we have to play. It dilutes our deck with too many three drops. Which, in fact, is probably the biggest problem that vampires has had throughout its time as a deck. It is very slow and mana hungry.
Vampire utility creatures are very interesting. They all have incredibly unique abilities, which are not really seen very much on other Magic cards. They add some spice to any decklist, and provide some cool tricks that can help get out of lots of situations. The only issue is that a lot of them are either incredibly mana hungry, or do not effectively deal with enough situations.
Bloodcrazed Paladin doesn’t seem that good on the surface. However, it actually plays very nicely with board wipes. Not only can it be flashed in after an opponent plays a board wipe against us. But it can also be flashed in, after we play our own board wipe. It can effectively turn all of the creatures removed from a board wipe into one super creature. The downside, is that it has zero evasion, and can be removed by Abrupt Decay.
This card is very different. It plays pretty well with a lot of the Madness package (more on that later), as well as synergizes with Viscera Seer (below). It allows us to gain an advantage, and punish opponents for removing our precious vampires (and they are very precious. At least in old lists. Clunk CLunk CLUNKY Decks arE Clunky).
Gatekeeper of Malakir is most notably played in the Legacy Monoblack deck know as The Gate. It is very effective at removing pesky creatures, however, it doesn’t do much otherwise. In Modern it has some use, but not as much as it does in Legacy. Additionally, being forced to play BBB for it is very difficult, especially in a multi color deck. (Yesssss Vampires in mono black does work. BUT, it is much less effective in my experience.) Also, this card has anti synergy with Aether Vial.
Monestary Mentor is a really good card… Oh uhhh.. I meant that Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle is a great include to any vampire deck! All jokes aside, it is basically Monestary Mentor, but as a vampire. I haven’t tested with it yet. But I really feel like this card can get out of hand very, very quickly. Not to mention, it’s casting cost is easy on the lands.
Viscera Seer is great. It allows much needed card advantage, as well as lets you get triggers off of cards like Blood Artist and Highborn. We just have to be very careful about what cards we sacrifice to it, and when. Because it is very easy to screw ourselves over if we are not.
Blood Artist is also another very powerful include to a vampire list. Its ability can get out of hand in a ton of games, and it is also easy on the lands to cast. With our lords, it can even turn into a pretty good beater later in the game.
The Madness Package
The Madness Package is cool, and it seemed very promising at first. However, it proved to not be enough to really push vampires into playability. For one, vampires doesn’t really have enough card advantage to consistently gain value off of madness triggers. And two, vampires are too clunky to really make this work well outside of limited and standard. It is a cool idea, but in practice, the deck is just too clunky for it to work as a flush build.
All the madness cards available to vampires are fairly powerful, but they still just don’t really get past the core issues of vampires’ clunkiness, and inability to be streamlined for some reason.
Madness can be good at times, and it can really throw an opponent off guard. In fact, there are some games where it will gain you a significant advantage. But it just doesn’t have enough high impact cards to push the deck to the next level.
Vampire lords are very powerful in a vacuum. They all have very relevant abilities, and buff vampires in very powerful ways. However, most of them suffer from the main issue with vampires, and that is inefficiency, clunkiness, and overall situational function.
Captivating Vampire is very, very good, in a vacuum. It buffs other vampires similarly to how merfolk lords do, and it allows you to tap vampires to gain control of opponent’s creatures. However, the main issue with this guy, is that not only is the card three mana (slow), but it also forces you to tap vampires to get anything much of value out of it, other than the buff. And tapping vampires for any other purpose than attacking does not really fly.
Vampire Nocturnus is great, that is… when it actually works. In fact, when it does work, it is basically a game win. Giving all vampires +2/+1 and flying, essentially closes out the game that turn. However, costing four mana to cast, and requiring a top card of the library to be a black card can be difficult at times. This card can be an incredibly powerful game winning card, or it can be a complete dud. It has both extremes, and that makes it a risky choice.
Bloodline Keeper, and its flip side, Lord of Lineage, is also a very powerful vampire in a vacuum. It can create tokens, and also buff other vampires with +2/+2, which is nothing to take lightly. However, the fact that it can’t really come online until turn five, and also costs even more mana to actually transform, really hinders this card’s usefulness.
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Drana is a very good card. However, the fact that she is required to deal combat damage to a player to do much of anything other than be a pseudo Vampire Nighthawk is frustrating to say the least. While she does permanently buff our other vampires, even if she is removed, she still has some major downsides. Her evasion helps deter blocks, but it doesn’t make her as good as she could be.
Sanctum Seeker is similar to Vampire Nocturnus, without the flying and the top card of library clause. It effectively turns every vampire swing into an additional two point swing. While gaining life in Magic is not necessarily as powerful as dealing damage to an opponent, this life gain is very difficult to deal with, and the damage is hard to prevent. So, unlike Nocturnus, where the damage can be prevented with blockers and removal spells, Sanctum Seeker makes it so all vampires, whether they are blocked, removed, or otherwise, will always deal a two point swing when they attack.
Stromkirk Captain may be the best of the old lords available. Giving all vampires +1/+1 and firststrike is really, really powerful. This card, coupled with other cards, has the ability to swing games in your favor in an instant. It is a very solid choice, and possibly the best lord for vampires. First strike makes our vampires superior to almost all other creatures in Modern.
Now, let’s go over some brand new Ixalan cards, and talk about which ones I think will make the most impact!
Oh man. Rivals of Ixalan brought some spice to the old vampires cards. It brought with it some cards that I think have the ability to change the face of vampires completely. There are specifically three cards which I think will do this. Now, all of these cards do require vampires to switch to a Mardu strategy. However, I don’t see that as being much of a problem, seeing that vampires already basically had to be a multi-color list before anyways. So, without further ado, let’s discuss them!
Drum Roll Please…
The first card on this list is none other than Paladin of Atonement. The card itself, is not incredibly exciting. However, I feel like it does something for vampires which no other vampire has yet to do. It is easily castable. Can very, very easily become a huge creature, and has a plus side to being removed! Its plus side is actually a huge plus side in Modern especially, due to the aggressiveness of the format. Overall, Paladin of Atonement is a solid card, one which I feel fills a slot that vampires desperately needed filled.
As Legacy Death and Taxes has shown us, creatures that search for other creatures are very good. In fact, this card has the ability to search for much needed vampires in a cinch. While Forerunner of the Legion is probably the weakest of the three cards on our list, I still feel like it deserves a mention, and has the ability to be pretty good in some lists.
This card… This card is what vampires very desperately needed! A two mana vanilla lord. Even though it does nothing other than buff other vampires, that doesn’t matter. It is the two mana cost of it that I feel will push vampires into new light. Vampires’ biggest problem has been the clunkiness (as mentioned before), and this card solves so, so, so much of that. I honestly feel like this card might be one of the best vampire tribal cards printed. It pairs phenomenally with Stromkirk Captain, and it is easy to cast.
Example of a Possible New List
Now, on to an example list. This is by no means a completed deck. It is just an example of what I think could work moving forward. Due to this, and since all the card explanations are up there, I will not be going over every card, nor will there be a match up or sideboard analysis. However, I will discuss some of the reasons I put the cards in it that are there, and what vampires needs in order to work decently well.
4 Legion Leiutenant
3 Blood Artist
2 Viscera Seer
3 Gifted Aetherborn
4 Stromkirk Captain
4 Vicious Conquistador
3 Paladin of Atonement
4 Aether Vial
4 Thought Seize
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Kolaghan’s Command
1 Liliana of the Veil
***Please note that this list also does not have a completed mana base. For that I recommend using a standard Mardu mana base, putting an emphasis on fetchlands and fast lands.***
Vampires has traditionally been an incredibly mana hungry deck. Which has never paired well with the tempo style of play that it always tries to pull off. This being said, I attempted to fix this problem in the new list. I selected low to the ground, easy to cast cards, that all have fairly high impact on the board state and synergize with each other. I believe that this is really the only way to play a vampire list at this time. A lot of the cards mentioned above are worth experimenting with, but if too many high costed cards (above 3 cmc) are put into a list, vampires becomes very difficult to get working.
Additionally, due to the fact that the list is so tight with how many and what types of vampires we can play, I had to flush it out with removal and protection. Thoughtsieze, Terminate, and Lightning Bolt, as well as Liliana of the Veil, all provide very powerful affects, while also flushing out the deck’s overall curve.
Aether Vial is not necessarily a must. However, in a tempo style creature based list, I feel it is one of the best artifacts to be running. It allows the deck to have explosive turns, and completely overrun the board at times. This was also one of the previous problems of old vampire lists. They could never effectively run Aether Vial, while maintaining a powerful core set of creatures. It was either choose one or the other.
Overall, I believe that the new cards released in Rivals of Ixalan have the ability to turn vampires around and make it a fairly powerful deck. While it won’t necessarily be a top tier Modern deck, I do think that it will at least be playable at FNM, and I’m excited for what is to come regarding vampire tribal in general.
I hope this article was helpful to you in some way! If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to leave them in the section below.
And as always, happy gaming!