Vampire thoughts

Hey everybody!
It’s game day once again here at spalanz.com, and today I have something that I think is fairly interesting to share with you all: I’ve been thinking once more about Magic the Gathering, and have made some tentative steps into getting back into the game!

Remember at the back end of last year, when I tried my hand at a B/W Vampires sealed deck? Well I’ve been trying to do something more with that, making it more interesting while keeping it just within the Ixalan block rather than trying to be a full Standard experience. Well, I’ve been shuffling about with things, and while it might not be the best of decks out there, I thought it was cool enough that I wanted to share it here for game day!

Creatures
Bloodcrazed Paladin (2)
Anointed Deacon
Sanctum Seeker
Vicious Conquistador (2)
Skyblade of the Legion
Duskborne Skymarcher (2)
Legion Lieutenant (2)
Bishop of the Bloodstained (2)
Inspiring Cleric
Paladin of the Bloodstained
Skymarch Bloodletter
Elenda, the Dusk Rose
Vona, Butcher of Magan

Instants & Sorceries
Pride of Conquerors
Rallying Roar
Vampire’s Zeal (2)
Costly Plunder (2)
Call to the Feast (4)
Arterial Flow (2)
Queen’s Commission (2)

Enchantments
Raiders’ Wake
Mark of the Vampire

Artifacts
Pillar of Origins (3)

Lands
Unclaimed Territory
Forsaken Sanctuary (4)
Swamp (9)
Plains (9)

One of the things I really wanted to try with this build is making a ton of Vampire tokens, getting really aggressive with them, and if they die, then they just make Elenda bigger – or the Bloodcrazed Paladin, of course, if I can flash him in for a few +1/+1 counters. Having a lot of pump spells in there also should help to make those tokens more than just meh, and I particularly like things like the Sanctum Seeker and Bishop of the Bloodstained for causing direct life loss rather than having combat as the only way to win with an aggro deck.

I’ve built a lot of Vampire decks along the way, of course, and while I think I’ll always prefer B/R Vampires such as this deck from Shadows of Innistrad, I do like the way that Black and White plays in general, which is why so many of my decks over the years have been in these colours. I should also look into building a Mardu Vampires deck – along with building up this deck to a full 60 cards, I’ve had a number of thoughts on tinkering with the Edgar Markov Commander deck from last summer, too.

I think there is plenty that can still be done to this deck to improve it, and to that end I’ve got a few singles on order to help refine the play somewhat, including a second copy of Elenda. My first build of any deck tends to be a little bit wild as I try to jam in as many copies of interesting cards as I can, before finally trimming things down to more efficient methods. I mean, the aforementioned B/R Vampires deck ran like a dream, and I’d like to see if I could do the same thing with this build in B/W.

Crucially, I’ve had no opportunity to test this deck yet, so I’m hoping that I’ll have some further insights once I’ve managed to get in a few games. My time for Magic-playing has been almost non-existent for the past year, so I think I need to re-evaluate things and see if I can get back into game nights and whatnot!

Anyway, I think the fresh new look of Dominaria has gotten me intrigued enough that I’m once more buying Magic products and seeing what’s occurring in the multiverse, and I’m excited to see what’s coming up next in my deckbuilding adventures!

No longer Standard: Innistrad

Hey everybody!
There’s a distinctly horror-filled theme to game day blogs this month, as we approach ever-closer to Halloween and, today, I thought I’d share with you all a deck that I’ve built for Magic the Gathering that sees a lot of stuff I never thought I’d use in a deck! We’re headed to the plane of Innistrad, where vampires and werewolves prowl the night, and it’s all the people can do to invoke the angels to keep them from harm!

Innistrad

Innistrad block came out across 2011-12, and features the expansions Innistrad, Dark Ascension, and Avacyn Restored. As per usual, we had several new mechanics featured in the block, the most famous of which being the double-faced cards. These cards have no card back, but instead feature a day and night side, with text that describes the conditions under which the card turns from its day to its night side (and sometimes, night to day). The card never leaves the battlefield, so any auras or counters remain on that card after its transformation. The mechanic was predominantly used on human cards that transformed into werewolves, though there were a couple more instances (including a knife that turns into a demon).

This really serves to highlight the gothic horror theme of Innistrad, which is perhaps one of the most flavourful sets ever released for Magic the Gathering. There are predominantly five tribes explored over the cards in the set, each tribe belonging to an allied colour pair: the aforementioned werewolves in red and green; vampires in black and red; zombies in blue and black; spirits in white and blue, and humans in green and white.

Innistrad

Innistrad, as a horror-themed set, also featured graveyard mechanics such as Flashback (first seen back in Odyssey), as well as wider graveyard strategies in general. Morbid was a mechanic that granted creatures benefits if another creature died this turn. Dark Ascension continued the horror theme by giving us Undying cards, which triggers when a creature without +1/+1 counters on it dies, bringing the creature back with such a counter. Fateful Hour is an ability that triggers if your life total is 5 or less, often providing a last-minute boost for creatures in some way. Despite often being overlooked, I think this mechanic is one of my favourites purely for the theme!

Finally, Avacyn Restored brought more new mechanics, including Miracle, a card that could be cast for its Miracle cost if it is the first card drawn that turn – the card frame was changed slightly to show that the card was a Miracle card, and led to players doing that weird sliding the card across the playmat towards themselves to ensure the card didn’t hit their hand before they cast it. Soulbond allows you to pair a creature with another creature, and both of them get a specific ability as a result. Both mechanics featured across all colours except black, which saw a return of the Undying mechanic and an emphasis on controlling just one creature (as the opposite of Soulbond).

Innistrad block is widely said to be one of the best in Magic’s recent history, with many people praising the theme as well as the play environment. There are a lot of notable cards from the set, though perhaps overwhelmingly worth mentioning here is Liliana of the Veil, the second Liliana planeswalker card, and a card that is widely agreed to be the second most powerful planeswalker in the game.

MTG Liliana of the Veil

Sadly, I don’t have enough kidneys to sell to afford a Liliana of the Veil, so the deck I’ve been tinkering with for a while is centred instead on one of the Angel cards from Avacyn Restored: Bruna, Light of Alabaster.

Bruna, Light of Alabaster

Bruna is a blue/white angel who can draw all of the auras to herself from across the battlefield, graveyard and your hand whenever she attacks or blocks. It’s an interesting mechanic that I had originally given some thought to much earlier in the year – back when I was in my Commander phase, as it happens! I do like auras, despite the fact that you risk losing them all if the creature they’re stuck to dies, and have collected up quite a few across my collection. In addition to this, I wanted to try out making a deck that focuses on Humans, a tribe that I usually don’t bother with as I prefer the more fantastical creatures on offer! So, looking through my Magic collection at the Innistrad-block cards specifically, I came up with this deck as a sort of Angelic Humans blue-white aggro thing:

Creatures
Alabaster Mage
Bruna, Light of Alabaster
Captain of the Mists
Elgaud Shieldmate (2)
Goldnight Commander (2)
Goldnight Redeemer (2)
Gryff Vanguard (2)
Herald of War
Lunar Mystic
Nearheath Pilgrim (2)
Tandem Lookout
Thraben Valiant (2)
Veteran Armorsmith
War Priest of Thune

Enchantments & Artifacts
Angelic Accord
Call To Serve (2)
Divine Favor
Holy Strength (2)
Tricks of the Trade (2)
Scroll of Avacyn (2)

Instants & Sorceries
Break of Day (2)
Ghostform (2)
Glorious Charge (2)
Inspired Charge
Mass Appeal (2)
Skillful Lunge (2)

Land
Forbidding Watchtower
Glacial Fortress
Island (7)
Plains (8)
Seraph Sanctuary (2)

Bruna, Light of Alabaster

It’s nothing special, but there are some fun things going on there that make me happy, so I can’t complain too much! I do want to look at the mana base some more, and there are a few cards I’d like to include to further help the strategy (Champion of the Parish is top of that list!) But I thought I’d play with this thing first, and see where it takes me from there!

Innistrad is definitely one of those sets that has stood the test of time, with plenty of flavourful cards that I find myself coming back to time and again. Well, I do love me some vampires!!

Vampires!

Hey everybody!
So this weekend, I had one of the Commander 2017 decks delivered, Vampiric Bloodlust, and have spent a couple of days thinking about mixing it up a little with some of my favourite Vampire cards from recent memory!

Commander 2017 is the tribal-themed set, and while previous years have seen five preconstructed decks released around November time, this year we’ve got just four decks, and they’re out three months early! Colour isn’t a thing, so we have two-colour Cats, three-colour Vampires, three-colour Wizards, and five-colour Dragons! I kinda wanted them all, of course, but settled just on the Vampires right now.

Vampires is probably the tribe I feel most at home with out of all of them, having made a couple of decks that I’ve featured on this very blog with the bloodsucking brutes (you can see those decks here and here!)

Vampiric Bloodlust

There are five Legendary Creatures in the deck, two of whom aren’t actually Mardu-coloured so don’t really lend themselves to the deck as it stands. I wanted to use the front-man of the deck, Edgar Markov, as my Commander. The vampire theme is really strong with him, after all, and as I knew I wanted to go really into that here, I think he’s the best man for the job. His abilities, anyway, are rather marvellous:

Eminence – Whenever you cast another Vampire spell, if Edgar Markov is in the command zone or on the battlefield, create a 1/1 black Vampire creature token.

First strike, haste

Whenever Edgar Markov attacks, put a +1/+1 counter on each Vampire you control.

So not only do you get to create tokens, you also get to buff your entire team! Wonderful stuff. I say “entire team”, of course, because pretty much the whole damn deck is made up of Vampires! I’ve got a couple of cards in there from Tarkir block that will help to keep the theme going. So let’s take a look at the cards I’ve been fiddling about with!

Vampiric Bloodlust

First of all, I wanted to go with my old favourite of lifegain-and-drain, along with some of my favourite Vampiric buffs around right now. Stoneforge Masterwork is a particular favourite from Oath of the Gatewatch, which gives the equipped creature +1/+1 for each Creature type you control that shares a Creature type with it.

Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief is included in the deck, though for this particular deck really bounces with her latest incarnation from Battle for Zendikar, Drana, Liberator of Malakir. Suited up with Stoneforge Masterwork at the head of an army of Vampires, she could be doing some pretty decent damage! At least, I hope so!

Vampiric Bloodlust

Battle for Zendikar block, and Shadows over Innistrad block have both got some really terrific cards to use in a Vampire deck, of course, so I’ve been plumbing some of those depths! I mentioned it in a previous Vampires deck blog of course, but Stensia Masquerade is a really great card for this. The deck also comes with Rakish Heir, another favourite of mine for this kind of deck. Putting the counters on these cards is good and all, but then what, right? Well, that’s where Mer-Ek Nightblade comes in, making the counters count. Heh.

Edgar Markov is, of course, Sorin’s grandfather, so it’s pretty flavourful to get one of the Sorin Planeswalkers in there. I quite like Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, though Sorin, Grim Nemesis could be useful, and his -X should work well with the included Sanguine Bond. It’s quite annoying that we have Sanguine Bond but not Exquisite Blood, which would perhaps have been the more appropriate card to include. Not to mention, that card needs a reprint!

So anyway, I’m going to be taking a bit more time to go through the deck and sort it out so that it plays a bit more how I’d like. Stay tuned folks, it should be glorious!

Red-and-black for Standard!

Hey everybody!
Following my post a couple of weeks ago about getting back into Magic after a bit of a winter hiatus, I’ve been fiddling with building some decks for Standard, mainly because I found out my local store has a bit of a Standard thing going on on Sundays now. Of all the formats of Magic, I think I like Standard most because it feels so fresh and new – while people seem to pick a deck and just play that one all the time in Modern and/or Legacy, Standard forces you to re-evaluate your cards every so often that, while it can be both expensive and sometimes frustrating to see a combo you love rotate out, I think is nevertheless important to keep the game healthy and alive.

stensia_masquerade_mtg_soi_willmurai_910

I’ve talked about a number of decks on this blog since getting into Magic a few years ago, but I don’t think I’ve yet shared any of my favourite type of decks: red/black aggro! So let’s get to it now, with my first glorious return to red and black vampires!

Creatures
Olivia, Mobilized for War
Dusk Feaster
Markov Crusader (x2)
Dragonmaster Outcast
Markov Dreadknight (x2)
Ravenous Bloodseeker (x2)
Insolent Neonate (x2)
Spireside Infiltrator (x2)
Olivia’s Bloodsworn (x2)

Instants
Borrowed Malevolence (x3)
Fatal Push
Lightning Axe (x2)
Built to Smash
Shock (x2)
Grotesque Mutation (x2)
Essence Extraction
Rush of Adrenaline (x3)
Sure Strike
Uncaged Fury (x2)

Sorceries
Alms of the Vein (x2)

Enchantments
Stensia Masquerade (x2)
Pyromancer’s Assault (x2)

Land
Mountain (x8)
Swamp (x7)
Foreboding Ruins (x2)
Smoldering Marsh
Hanweir Battlements
Cinder Barrens (x2)

The deck tries to be very fast, with an abundance of instant-speed combat tricks that are the exact sort of thing I love to play. As per usual, I’d decided that I wanted to build a deck around a particular legendary creature, and as Olivia is the only red/black legend in Standard right now, she was the natural choice for me. Her ability to discard a card to give creatures a +1/+1 counter and haste when they enter the battlefield led me pretty easily down the route of making a Madness deck, however there aren’t that many cards with Madness that I wanted to include in the deck. All told, there are four cards with a Madness cost – two copies each of Stensia Masquerade and Alms of the Vein – but there are eight additional discard outlets all the same. However, these additional discard outlets aren’t just there to enable Madness; they work fine without ever triggering the ability, but if I can discard Alms of the Vein and get its effect for just one mana rather than three, the fact that this can also pump my Ravenous Bloodseeker and potentially cause a nine-point life swing isn’t going to be overlooked!

I said above that the deck mainly wants to work at instant-speed, and there are eighteen such cards in the deck – a full twenty if both copies of Alms of the Vein are cast via Madness. A lot of these cards are very cheap, as well, designed to work with Pyromancer’s Assault by causing two points of direct damage whenever my second spell is cast. If I can play out a Ravenous Bloodseeker for two, use the mana ability on Olivia’s Bloodsworn to give it haste, then pump the Bloodseeker by casting Alms of the Vein via Madness and get in there for a potential eleven-point life-swing on turn four or five, then that’s not half bad…

The majority of the instants are the usual direct damage or combat tricks, and in the main do very similar things. I try to go for as much redundancy as I can when building a Magic deck in general, due to the number of cards that can force me to discard/exile every copy of a named card throughout my deck. I’m not sure if there are a lot of those in Standard right now, though it’s just a habit that I’ve gotten into and, if there are two or three cards that do broadly the same thing, then I like the variety it gives to my deck, also!

I do want to mention some of the Eldritch Moon cards that are in here, in particular Borrowed Malevolence, which is not only a great name for a card, with wonderful artwork, but I like the fact that it can either be removal or a pump, or both. The versatility is really great, and the only real reason I haven’t included its red counterpart, Borrowed Hostility, is due to the fact there are plenty of other red spells that do the same thing already in the deck (plus the escalate cost seems much more expensive!) Borrowed Malevolence was in my pre-release pool, and I had been hoping to get some cool new mechanics to try there, but in the event drafted blue/white spirits, and it had no place. So I’m looking forward to trying that bad boy out once I get to playing with the deck!

Magic the Gathering red/black vampires

But wait, there’s more!

Remember my mono-black vampires deck, from back in the day? Well, I’ve been reworking that into something that I could also take down with me for these Standard Sundays! It’s a deck that I really love, with a focus on directly attacking the life total rather than combat, and while it lacks some components that a black/white deck could achieve, I’m still happy to keep it mono-black for the time being. Times may change there, of course!

Creatures
Drana, Liberator of Malakir
Defiant Bloodlord (2)
Drana’s Chosen (2)
Nirkana Assassin (2)
Bloodbond Vampire (4)
Kalastria Healer (3)
Vampire Envoy (2)
Markov Crusader
Guul Draz Overseer
Vampire Cutthroat (2)
Stromkirk Condemned (3)

Instants 
Grotesque Mutation (3)

Sorceries
Alms of the Vein (4)
Dutiful Return
Macabre Waltz (3)

Artifacts 
Stoneforge Masterwork (3)

Enchantments 
Retreat to Hagra (2)

Land
Swamp (16)
Mortuary Mire (4)
Ally Encampment (2)

As I said, there are a couple of things I’d like to tweak to make it a black/white thing, as I think Cliffhaven Vampire and Drana’s Emissary could be really useful here. We’ll see where the fancy takes me, though!

Stromkirk Condemned is a really exciting card, to me. Giving other Vampires +1/+1 for discarding a card is really useful in an all-vampires deck, of course, and having a playset of Alms of the Vein gives me four cards that I would be more than happy to discard for the effect! You know when you’re flipping through your collection to see what cards you have that could be fun to build a deck around, then see the card that you just need to include? Well, that’s what happened when I saw this bad boy in my collection at the weekend! So we’ll see what good stuff he can do for me.

imag6397

Shadows Over Innistrad

Magic the Gathering Shadows Over Innistrad

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!

Magic the Gathering Shadows Over Innistrad

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.

Magic the Gathering Shadows Over Innistrad

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.

Magic the Gathering Shadows Over Innistrad

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:

Creatures (21):
Drana, Liberator of Malakir
Defiant Bloodlord (2)
Drana’s Chosen
Malakir Soothsayer
Kalastria Nightwatch
Stromkirk Mentor
Nirkana Assassin (2)
Malakir Cullblade
Bloodbond Vampire (2)
Kalastria Healer (3)
Vampire Envoy (3)
Indulgent Aristocrat (2)
Heir of Falkenrath

Instants (5):
Grotesque Mutation
Unholy Hunger (2)
Touch of Moonglove (2)

Sorceries (5):
Alms of the Vein
Dutiful Return (2)
Bone Splinters (2)

Artifacts (2):
Stoneforge Masterwork (2)

Enchantments (7):
Shadows of the Past (2)
Retreat to Hagra (2)
Call the Bloodline
Tainted Remedy
Vampiric Rites

Land (20):
Swamp (16)
Mortuary Mire (4)

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!