The Scent of Blood

Posted in Serious Fun on October 20, 2009

By Kelly Digges

It's Vampire Week here at! In pop culture, vampires are suave, predatory creatures of the night built up in myth, legend, and airport bookstores.

In the good old days of Magic, Vampires were big fat flyers, usually for five mana, nearly all in the vein (hah!) of the original Magic bloodsucker, Sengir Vampire. And as flying fatties, they were pretty satisfying. I still have my copies of Sengir Vampire from Revised, and Baron Sengir himself was one of the few rares I opened from Homelands. I don't remember whether I ever put him in a deck, and I certainly didn't try to build a dedicated Vampire deck. He costs eight, and most of the other Vampires cost five, and I was a little gun-shy about tribal decks based around creature types that tend toward the expensive following the disastrous failure of my Griffin / Elephant deck. (No, I don't know why either. Move along.)

But still ... Look at the guy. Vampires are just ... cool. And they're at their coolest when, like the Baron, they are suave, sophisticated predators.

That's why I was quite happy to see that Magic 2010 and Zendikar cast Vampires as a humanoid race instead of a monster type—in other words, as small, easily castable creatures with class types and even tribal effects. We still get the occasional awesome Vampire fatty, and the phrase "Vampire deck" makes a lot more sense these days.

    Old Blood

A number of Vampires from before M10 were already among my favorite multiplayer cards. I already talked about my adoration for Baron Sengir, and since the days when I was opening Homelands boosters, I've discovered Elder Dragon Highlander—the perfect venue for huge legendary creatures, especially the ones that beg for a deck that never quite come together.

My most recent encounter with Ascendant Evincar—printed as a "Legend" but now, like the Baron, properly granted Vampire status—was in the "Zombie Empire" Planechase deck. While I'd seen the card in action before, I was newly impressed by it. All my creatures bigger? Check. All of yours smaller, or dead? Sweet. As a 3/3 with no defense, he'll seldom stick around long, but in the meantime, he'll kill most token hordes to death and make it pretty hard for nonblack creatures to tangle with black ones. Now, I'm most frequently the owner of the aforementioned token hordes, but I have been on the evil side of that equation, and there is a dark pleasure in wiping all those little Saprolings or Soldiers or whatever off the board. Oh, and a fun trick: If there are two Ascendant Evincars out, the "legend rule" immediately sends them to the graveyard—but not before they give everything -2/-2 for juuuust long enough to take any nonblack 2-toughness creatures to the graveyard with them.

(Hmm ... With a kicked Rite of Replication targeting the Evincar, you could give all nonblack creatures -6/-6. There is, of course, another legendary creature that costs that's even more ridiculous to target with a kicked Rite of Replication ... but this is Vampire Week, after all.)

Skeletal Vampire is another one I've grown to love. It hits the battlefield with two Bats, makes more Bats, and is incredibly difficult to kill ... as long as you have Bats. Also Bat-related and absurdly sturdy is Time Spiral's Sengir Nosferatu, which is one of those cards that causes people to tear their hair out as they realize that, no, that's not going to get rid of it either. Because exiling the Vampire to make the Bat and sacrificing the Bat to bring back the Vampire are costs—and thus can't be responded to—the shields are only down when there's no mana up.

If you've got the red mana to activate it, Vein Drinker from Shards of Alara can really rule a board. It steps on small creatures, gets bigger, steps on bigger creatures ... Good times. Speaking of getting bigger, I've already written a lot about Blood Tyrant, the Grixis-colored, multiplayer-screaming slugger that adds trample to the very successful model of the ever-growing flying monster. Also in Grixis colors is Garza Zol, Plague Queen, who's the most popular blue-black-red EDH General as far as I can tell. And with good reason—haste, the "Sengir Vampire" ability, and the "Thieving Magpie" ability all go well on a 5/5 flyer.

    Fang Ten

The crew of (mostly) smaller, sleeker Vampires from Magic 2010 and Zendikar bring some exciting new options to the table. Some of them are awesome for a Vampire tribal deck, or for a "10 life or less" deck (which you'd be morally obligated to call "Half Life"). Others just look awesome for multiplayer in general.

Since Magic 2010 came out, I'll admit, I've been scratching my head a bit over what to do with Vampire Nocturnus. It gets its own bonus, so it's a sometimes 5/4 flyer for four, and that's cool and all ... but with Child of Night and Vampire Aristocrat being the only (non-Goat) Vampires cheaper than it, I didn't feel like I was doing anything all that special. Now, though, there's a whole team of little beaters with sleek stats, lifelink, and/or first strike, waiting to get the bonus—Vampire Lacerator, Guul Draz Vampire, Gatekeeper of Malakir, etc. (Don't want to keep them waiting? There's always Painter's Servant to paint your lands black as well ....)

There are also some Zendikar Vampire helpers that, while not Vampires themselves, definitely warrant a look for a Vampire tribal deck. Blade of the Bloodchief is pretty fun in multiplayer anyway, and it's especially hot equipped to a Vampire. Feast of Blood is scary spot removal that only hangs with Vampires, and a kicked Blood Tribute (getting the theme here?) seems like a fun thing to do to your area's Mr. or Mrs. Life Gain.

At the top of the Vampire tribal food chain is Malakir Bloodwitch, which bears those magic words, "each opponent." Even as your only Vampire, it's a good-size pro-white flyer that pulls a mini-Syphon Soul when it hits the board. With lots of other Vampires? Man, that sounds fun! Oh, and did I already use up my one allotted Rite of Replication shout-out per article? I did? Nuts.

Bloodghast is one of those obnoxious creatures that just ... keeps ... coming ... back. Unless somebody hits it with a Path to Exile or similar, or plucks it from your graveyard with a Withered Wretch type card, you're going to have a 2/1 attacker more often than not—sometimes a hasty one. At some point, I'm going to cast Damnation or Mutilate or whatever, play a land, and attack with Bloodghast. And that's going to feel pretty good.

I dismissed Blood Seeker at first—it's just 1 life per creature, right? But Blood Seeker, like Ascendant Evincar, is a fine foil for that one guy who always puts a million Saprolings into play, known among my circle of players as "Kelly."

I've played Vampire Nighthawk in Limited, and it's a good feeling. Here's this little 2/3 flyer nobody wants to block even if they can; you get in for 2 a couple of times, not really thinking about it much, and suddenly you notice that your opponent's at 12 and you're still at 20 even though you've both been attacking the whole time.

One more Zendikar bloodsucker I want to call out: Vampire Hexmage. It got competitive attention this past weekend at Pro Tour–Austin for its Timmy-Johnny combo with Dark Depths, but that's not all this little 2/1 has going for it.

Granted, Dark Depths is one of the few cards of its type that counts down rather than up—Helix Pinnacle and Darksteel Reactor both go the other way, for example—and suspended cards aren't permanents, so it doesn't work with those either. So what is this mini-Æther Snap on legs good for besides freeing Marit Lage from her icy prison? Let's see here ....

    Thematically Appropriate

In addition to all the cards that actually say "Vampire," as in the creature type, on them somewhere, there are lots of other cards that evoke the same feel of sucking away your opponents' vitality to feed your own.

Black is packed with "Drain Life" effects, and that's a fine place to start. Corrupt, Consume Spirit, Tendrils of Corruption, even Psychic Drain (which is a pretty weird card, when you think about it) play into black's philosophy that the best way to gain something is to take it from someone else. My personal favorite of these is probably Polluted Bonds, which is just ridiculous in multiplayer.

There is, in fact, a whole class of "Drain Life" cards that are especially hilarious in multiplayer, because they inflict damage (or life loss) on each player—or each creature, or both—and then give you that much life. I'm thinking Syphon Soul, Agent of Masks, and, yes, Kokusho, the Evening Star, but there's also the less obvious Brightflame, not to mention putting Lifelink or Spirit Loop on a creature that damages everything, like, I dunno, Bloodfire Colossus. Oh, and bona fide Vampire Malakir Bloodwitch is a fine one here as well, and Tainted Sigil can be absolutely huge.

Lifelink (and similar abilities from the past) became primarily white at some point, taking on this namby-pamby puppies-and-rainbows flavor, but it didn't start out that way. The first creature with an ability like lifelink was black: El-Hajjâj, all the way back in Arabian Nights. More recently, with white-black hybrid cards thirsty for overlap in Guildpact and Eventide, and now Vampires thirsty for blood in Magic 2010 and Zendikar, lifelink in black is making a comeback.

All that makes me want to build a white-black deck centered around life gain—and, more specifically, around gaining life for inflicting harm, vampire-style. Cards that seem downright cuddly over there in white—like Knight of Meadowgrain and Changeling Hero—suddenly start looking a little sinister when they're prowling around beside Child of Night and Vampire Nighthawk.

Life gain starts looking really evil when you're actively hurting people because of it. The all-star here is the explicitly blood-themed Sanguine Bond, but Searing Meditation has this feel as well. Ageless Entity and Cradle of Vitality both convert life gain into beatings indirectly—and then back into more life gain, if there's lifelink involved.

I don't have time to build it right now, but that really sounds like a deck. I might build the 60-card version, but given the number of cards that play into this theme, I'd be tempted to build the 100-card Elder Dragon Highlander version. Life gain matters less in EDH because of the General Damage rule (if you take 21 points from a single general, you are D-E-D dead), but it's still a fine plan.

The deck's general would probably be Ghost Council of Orzhova (what's black and white and drains all over?), but I could also see going white-black-red with Oros, the Avenger. That gets Brightflame and Searing Meditation into the mix—along with Brion Stoutarm, Lightning Helix, and Scourge of the Nobilis—and Oros is a very fine creature to saddle up with Lifelink or Spirit Loop. Boom! Heheheh.

Oh, and laying aside the life gain angle, there's one last card I want to make sure I point to: Bloodchief Ascension.

In multiplayer, this is going to wind up so fast, and hit so hard—and that's even if you don't do anything special to make it happen. If you're actually working to take advantage of it? Craaa-zy!

    Stepping Up to Bat

That's all for today's, but there's one more thing to cover before I go. You may have noticed last week that I ran part I of a retrospective / reference guide to my run on Serious Fun so far.

The reason I gave for this was entirely true; my articles really do have useless titles. But there's another reason I chose to do my retrospective at this particular time, and now I'm able to announce it to you. Next week, dear friends, will be my last column as the weekly author of Serious Fun.

As an author, it's with great sadness that I hang up this particular hat. I have thoroughly enjoyed writing this column and hearing from all of you, and I have played more—and more fun!—Magic over the last year than probably ever, in large part because of my ongoing quest for awesome games to write about.

As you may know, "author" isn't the only hat I wear around here. I'm also the Daily MTG editor, it is and always has been a little weird that I'm writing a weekly column on the site that I theoretically edit. Coverage Manager Greg Collins and frequent Wizards contractor Bill Stark have been game about doing the editing for Serious Fun (because editing your own writing is kind of like doing a trust fall exercise by yourself), but at the end of the day, that's my job, not theirs.

So as an author, as I said, I'm sad to be leaving. As a human being who likes to sleep occasionally, I'll certainly appreciate getting these hours of my week back (to play more Magic, naturally). As an editor, I am of course disappointed to be losing such a skilled, handsome, punctual author.

But as an editor, I am also thrilled to announce that there's a skilled, eloquent, and enjoyable writer taking up the Serious Fun mantle. And while you may or may not have heard of him, I predict that you, like me, will rapidly become a fan. Please welcome casual writer Adam Styborski to the Serious Fun family!

Next week I'll wrap up my retrospective piece and say my goodbyes, and the week after that, Adam will take over the column. I won't vanish, but I'll fade into the murky shadows, where any good editor—like any good vampire—feels at home.

I hope you'll join me in welcoming Adam and continuing to have some Serious Fun. Because that, in the end, is why we're here.

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