Had a couple of games of Magic last week, using my usual small collection of decks against a few that used new Shadows Over Innistrad cards. Despite being really intrigued by the set back when it was announced, I’d actually not really paid much attention through spoiler season or (pre)release, though did pick up a fat pack when they came out so that I could at least have some of the cards to look at. But I didn’t look at them, either! It was all quite weirdly detached!
Since those games, where I mostly got my ass handed to me by werewolves, I’ve been looking to put together a mono-black Vampires deck for Standard, in the hope that I can also use it to play at FNM.
But let’s take a look at this set, because it’s shiny and I’ve been doing some research!
Shadows Over Innistrad is the 70th set for Magic: the Gathering, which kinda blows my mind to think about just how many cards that means are in this game, but anyway! Like Battle for Zendikar, it returns to a plane that has previously been explored (Innistrad block, from 2011), and features mechanics from that set along with some new stuff to keep the game fresh.
Transform is a fairly straightforward mechanic that involves double-faced cards: when a specific condition is met, you can flip the card over, usually into something much more frightening. This is like the flip-Planeswalkers from Magic: Origins, though the card stays on the battlefield rather than being exiled, so any counters or equipment on it stay on it.
Delirium is kinda nice, thematically, and reminds me of the Spell Mastery of Origins, though obviously not so specific. Basically, if you have four or more different card types in your graveyard, you can trigger a card’s Delirium effect. These vary wildly, usually exaggerating an effect already on a card (such as replacing or with and, you know the sort of thing).
Madness is, well, mad. It’s an alternative casting cost, that allows you to discard the card into exile, from where you can cast it by paying its Madness cost or discard it to the graveyard. I find the most interesting thing about this is that it allows you to play any card with Madness on anyone’s turn – so you can play Sorceries and Creatures on your opponent’s turn if forced to discard and you discard it with Madness. Yep, mad.
Skulk is a nice evade ability that prevents creatures with a greater power from blocking your skulking creatures. Skulking creatures are usually 1-power creatures with higher toughness, from what I’ve seen, meaning they can potentially peck away at you if you have high-power creatures out, though there are some interesting ways around it such as double- or triple-blocking, or using pump spells after you declare blockers – either way, you can potentially force your opponents to two-for-one (or worse) to deal with it.
Finally, there’s Investigate, which allows you to place Clue token cards onto the battlefield, which can be discarded to draw cards if you pay 2 mana.
So what about my Vampires?
Of all the tribal themes in Magic, Vampires is the one I’ve wanted to do something with the longest, partly because I have a black/red Vampires deck on the app and enjoy getting the combos together there. I’ve even gone so far as to buy a load of singles from the original Zendikar and Innistrad blocks to try and put something together for casual games. Given the plethora of Vampires in Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch, I started to put something together a couple of months ago, right before I lost interest in Shadows Over Innistrad really.
The main focus of this deck is to deal direct damage rather than relying on combat, and revolves around three cards that are pretty expensive to bring out, if I’m honest! The main guy is my Defiant Bloodlord. Seven mana is hardly a good card to hang a combo off, but I want this to work so badly, I’m willing to keep trying! The Defiant Bloodlord makes my opponent lose life equal to any amount of life I gain, and as soon as I saw how cool that card could be, given all of the lifegain shenanigans in black, I knew I wanted to build a deck around him!
The most reliable part of the combo, for me, is Drana’s Chosen and Vampire Envoy – use the Chosen to tap the Envoy, and gain one life, forcing my opponent to lose one life. If there was a way to untap creatures in mono black Standard, I’d love to get that in there, as I have three Envoys in the deck right now. But anyway, it’s still a work in progress!
Additional pieces for the Bloodlord come from Retreat to Hagra (I run 20 lands in order that, should I have actually managed a perfect draw for a turn-7 Bloodlord, I have a potential 13 more triggers for this), and two new cards from Shadows Over Innistrad: Alms of the Vein (causing 6 life loss for my opponent), and Indulgent Aristocrat. That last is essentially a filler card that is being used more for early-play Vampires that will allow for an anytime Stoneforge Masterwork to have more to count, though in the late game, I want my opponent to block my big threats, meaning he can potentially get in for 1 damage, and the lifelink will cause that to double. Additionally, Grotesque Mutation is a nice Instant to help buff another creature, the lifelink meaning damage will still occur to my opponent even if everything is blocked.
I’ve only tried the deck in two games, and didn’t have any of the Shadows cards in it at the time, but I was impressed at how powerfully it performed against my buddy Tony’s werewolves decks. Now that I have these additional cards in it, I’m excited to try it out again, and see how it can be improved upon during this Standard season!
As always, here’s a look at the deck for anyone curious as to what it involves:
Drana, Liberator of Malakir
Defiant Bloodlord (2)
Nirkana Assassin (2)
Bloodbond Vampire (2)
Kalastria Healer (3)
Vampire Envoy (3)
Indulgent Aristocrat (2)
Heir of Falkenrath
Stoneforge Masterwork (2)
So there we are! Like I said, it’s still something of a work in progress, and I need to make sure I can deal with some of the other Standard shenanigans going on right now. Some cards will certainly bear to be cut out of this – I particularly feel like I may need more Grotesque Mutations, you know? – but I have a lot of cards that pull creatures out of my graveyard to ensure, if something forces me to discard cards from my library, I can always pull back at least one Defiant Bloodlord if needed.
Anyway, that’s all for now, I’ll probably be back once I’ve tried it out some more with a status report or something, anyway!