The holiday is particularly important for all of us to talk about during Vampire Week here at magicthegathering.com – because Hallmark tells us so, and they want to sell lots of Valentine's Day cards and "cute" teddy bears and suck our money away like the evil undead. No, wait, that's not it. It's important for all of us to talk about because I told you so, and my wife writes modern romance books featuring vampires. No, wait, that's not it either! Here it is. It's important for all of us to talk about because Wizards sells cards with vampires on them, and vampires are romantic figures in most modern mythology.
Here's how it works. While vampires are undead demons, some have seductive exteriors. (Okay, Magic cards are a poor guide here. Maybe not stuff like Ravenous Vampire or Moroii…but perhaps Krovikan Vampire; or Shauku, Endbringer, if you squint. Hmmm. Better bets to make my point might be Kate Beckinsale or David Boreanz.) We, the unsuspecting living, fall in love with these predators, let them trick us into going to see Underworld 2: Evolution, and then just as the movie ends, bang! We've gotten ourselves a free neck peck to go with our sense of massive disappointment.
We tell ourselves we should have known better, but who are we kidding? The forceful glare, the polished leather, the flashy preview reels – it all looked too good to be true. Once the moment is over, the seductress is gone, and you're kicking the back of the theater seat in front of you while you press a butter-flavored-oil-soiled napkin to the base of your throat, you have plenty of time to ask yourself: How can I trick some of my friends like this?
Vampirism is, after all, mildly contagious. And maybe some of the following formats are, too – though I imagine you'll find them more fulfilling than an onset of heavy blood loss.
In Praise of the Letter V
I don't know if any of us at magicthegathering.com are ever going to get the chance to write about Vampires on-theme for Valentine's Day again – or for that matter, write about any topic X, where X = a letter that starts off both the theme week name and the name of a widely-practiced holiday. (Yes, I know – your country and/or new-Goth image and/or pet doesn't observe Valentine's Day. Please, go on. I swear I'm listening.)
For that reason, I was going to do a whole article in praise of the letter V in Magic. For example, did you know that the game of Magic has produced 195 cards that start with the letter V (out of 8,135 so far, or 2.397 percent)? And, did you know that the last of those 195, when listed alphabetically, is Vulturous Zombie, which is my new favorite creature? And, did you know that no other Magic card besides Venomous Vines has nothing but V-words in the card title (also, no other Magic card has more V's in that card title, though plenty have two as well)?
I could have gone on like this for, I don't know, an entire article. Probably longer than the one we ended up with here, and I didn't skimp. But I ultimately chose another path, for at least three reasons. All of which start with V.
Reason #1: Venom. There are at least five really ornery tournament jockeys out there – probably the same five every week – who keep clicking on my "Serious Fun" column expecting high-level tournament strategy. Then they complain, either on the boards or via email, to tell me what the market really wants. You know, because they're the experts. I find this exasperating, but I take solace in the knowledge that they probably wasted more time reading my article (heck, reading this sidebar!) than I wasted reading their nasty little missives. Who sucks more time out of the other's day? That's right – I do. No small feat, since I'm outnumbered. But it doesn't matter. I'm ahead, dudes, and there's no catching up!
Still. You can get overconfident. So I passed on the sillier article approach, so as to get fewer angry emails; and I stuck with the valentine-vampire format thing, which allowed me to adopt a literary transition out there you may have noticed, using…
Reason #2. Vixen. Kate Beckinsale may have not been able to resurrect the horrific sequel to Underworld, but let's give her a break. That was bad writing. Really hot actresses should not be held accountable for the misdeeds of some schmuck with a typewriter. (There are entire sub-genres of the film industry dedicated to this proposition.)
Anyway, I wanted her (and her bad movie) in this article, and I could only make it work in the article format you see outside the confines of this sidebar. That meant taking the "clever" super-V idea and putting it in…
Reason #3. The Vault. You think amazing ideas like this come to me naturally? No sir. As these muse-like butterflies flutter past, I capture them in my mental net and store them in an Article Idea Vault, where they die. Once their tiny little winged corpses have ripened, I pull them out and seal them in jars filled with formaldehyde. Then, when something extraordinary happens – like Halloween falls on Helionaut Week, or 4th of July falls on 4-Color Deck Week – I pull them out and put them into marginally relevant sidebars. Like this one.
Okay, I think we've bowed down long enough to this rather pedantic alignment of the linguistic stars. We should all straighten up and get back to the main article.
There are six suggested formats, because six is a number that means absolutely nothing to vampires. Unsurprisingly, Black decks will likely do well in most of these formats! But the more creative among you will probably see openings I've created for other colors.
Like the wine list at that fancy restaurant where you'll be taking your date tonight, each choice has a distinctive label. Choose something with a nice aftertaste. If you're a more experienced group, consider graduating to the more refined version of each listed format.
Six Vampiric Formats
#1: THE SENGIR.
What is this fellow all about – the 4/4 stats for ? They're fine, but hardly the stuff of a new format. The growth ability? Nice, but we can cover that elsewhere.
No, this is all about the name. After all, I haven't even used the full card title yet, and all of you know which one I'm talking about. There are darn few cards Magic players know as well as Sengir Vampire. Like Serra Angel, this is a creature named after another character in Magic mythology – yet when you say "Sengir," far fewer people think of the good Baron than his numerous protégés.
So a vampiric format that focuses on names? Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn't it?
The format: Each player builds a deck using vampiric terms in the card title, type, rules text, or flavor text. You may use multiples of a given card. Every time a permanent with a vampiric term goes to the graveyard from anywhere, all other permanents with that name somewhere in their title, type, or text gets the controller's choice of a +1/+1 or charge counter on it. Plurals and variants count – so after Tooth and Nail resolves, your Razortooth Rats and Carnivorous Plant both get +1/+1 counters.
For more experienced groups: Ban the words "vampire" and "blood". Make other sensible adjustments, if your group tends to gravitate toward uncreative solutions like "vampires are demons, so I'll just build a demon deck!"
#2: THE STALKING BLOODSUCKER.
Unlike most other Magic vampires, the Bloodsucker doesn't get mileage out of other dying creatures. Instead, it gains strength when its controller gives up other resources.
While cards in hand is the obvious place to go, I thought I might propose something that allows for more flexibility, so that other colors might have a better chance at thriving if your group chooses to try this format.
The format: Start with any plain format your group is used to, as long as each deck contains at least 10 creatures each, without defender, and totaling at least 30 power. During play, any player may play the following abilities any time he or she could play an instant:
, Discard a card: Target creature you don't control gets +2/+2 and flying until end of turn. Then, if you have more than six cards in your hand, remove your hand from the game and remove all other copies of this ability from the stack.
, Pay 5 life: Target creature you don't control gets +2/+2 and trample until end of turn. Then, if your life total is greater than 20, reset your life total to 1 and remove all other copies of this ability from the stack.
, Put the top ten cards of your library into your graveyard: Target creature you don't control gets +2/+2 and first strike until end of turn. Then, if you have more than 35 cards in your library, put all but the bottom five cards of your library into your graveyard.
The "then, if you…" clauses are each there to prevent easier abuse of the abilities. The creature restrictions in the first paragraph are there to prevent people from playing creatureless or non-attacking decks. Adjust the parameters further if you need to.
This format is meant to give players lots of incentives to gang up on each other. In a way, it's an antithesis to last week's article. (Vampires don't necessarily play fair.)
For more experienced groups: Each deck must contain exactly 20 creatures, each with at least 3 power, and none with any continuous or activated abilities (so no flying, or double strike, or protection, or regeneration), nor any triggered abilities that go off as part of combat ("when this creature becomes blocked…"). Think big, dumb guys smacking each other around. That's where you wanna go.
#3: THE MEPHIDROSS
There are two things going on with the Mephidross Vampire – the way it changes all your creature types, and the +1/+1 ability. In an effort to avoid stupid Triskelion tricks, let me suggest small tweaks on each of those.
The format: Start with a format that encourages creatures. Each creature has the following two abilities:
When this creature comes into play, choose a creature type. All creatures target opponent controls become that creature type.
Whenever a creature of the chosen type attacks or blocks, choose another creature type. All creatures of the (second) chosen type untap and get +1/+1 until end of turn.
On a rules note, the first (type) ability overwrites any past types that opponents' creatures may have had.
Unlike the previous format, this format is likely to result in a lot of fairly shy armies. You can help that (or at least help yourself) with some creatures playable at instant speed, and with some combat tricks.
For more experienced groups: You need a solution to mass removal. Add the rules:
Whenever a creature without a warning counter leaves play, remove it from the game. At the end of turn, return it to play with a warning counter.
(Actually, that last ability is my own little Valentine to Wizards. On an efficient but fragile creature, I think it would make a fine addition to the game. It adds a bit of fuel aggressive decks that die to mass removal, inspires control decks to be a bit more creative, and may even result in a combo deck I won't hate to death. Trifecta!)
#4: THE SOUL COLLECTOR
The Soul Collector is all about surprise. (Well, that and chained hoods. Happy Valentine's Day!) Capable of attracting a few dudes as disciples, she works best on her first combat as a vanilla 2/2, when no one's expecting her pretty face – or teeth – to emerge.
The format: All creatures have "Morph: Pay X-2 and X-2 life, where X equals the converted mana cost of this creature." So yes, one and two mana creatures morph for free. But the main point is, every creature will be a surprise! Good times.
For more experienced groups: Ban creatures with comes-into-play drawbacks (like Phage the Untouchable or Eater of Days). Ixidor, Reality Sculptor is also banned, as would be any other permanent that triggers off of morphing.
One More Vital Thing…
I know I said before that I was all done with this "V" approach, but I couldn't hold this in. Plus, that Soul Collector format was easier than I expected to generate, so I've got a little time.
There is an overused word that begins with V that I have not used in this article. I'm pretty proud of that, because it's hard to write articles like this, which use lots of descriptive terms, and avoid it. Quite hard. Really, really hard. Extraordinarily hard, you might say.
First one to the message boards wins!
Thus ends the celebration of V.
#5: THE LORD OF SECRETS
Szadek, Lord of Secrets doesn't actually do any damage to players. He does pound on creatures, though, if they get in the way. It seems right to focus on player-to-player contact. Just like vampires, and valentines.
The format: All decks have zero creature cards.
For more experienced groups: Ban all direct damage, direct life loss, card drawing, and milling. Think hard, and you'll figure out how you can still win. (Hint: creature cards are not the only way to generate creatures.)
For more experienced groups that want everyone to have the same card as a win condition: Add to the above restrictions – no player dies as a result of having zero life or zero cards in library. This should get everyone down to a single possible (and fairly old-school) card as their only possible win condition. If I don't see the answer emerge on the message boards, I'll provide it next week.
#6: THE SKELETAL
We've saved the most recent vampire for last. This fellow doesn't look too romantic, but we'll forgive him since he can generate an endless stream of pink, heart-shaped, tissue-paper valentines for you to hand lovingly to the light of your life. Wait, did I say "pink, heart-shaped, tissue-paper valentines"? I meant to type "bats". (I always get those two mixed up. Surprisingly, my wife's still with me.)
The format: Start with any plain format. Add the following two abilities, which any player may play at instant speed:
Sacrifice a non-bat creature or discard two cards: put two black 1/1 bat tokens into play.
Sacrifice three bats: put a 4/4 black vampire token with flying and trample into play.
I've underpowered the bat-making ability and added the vampire-building ability because otherwise, you'll just end up with the sky full of 1/1 bats swinging uselessly at each other. This way, you can have a vampire swinging, bats come out of nowhere to block, and then the vampire turning into bats (and the bats turning into a vampire) after combat damage has been assigned!
Hey, be nice to me. It's Valentine's Day. And you can do some cool things with a creature-formation ability like that, so experiment!
For more experienced groups: Add to the above, whenever a permanent would be put into a graveyard from play remove it from the game instead. This should disrupt some of the nastier combos I've allowed with the original format. (Gleancrawler is only the beginning.)
Writing A More Appropriate Valentine
For those of you who don't celebrate Valentine's Day, I do recommend finding another day at your leisure where you can thank your family, close friends, and maybe even the light of your life for how they make your life special. (Now, don't roll your eyes at me, young man! Remember what I told you about the armadillos. Besides, I could still be talking about the letter "V". Is that what you want?) Without those warm and fuzzy feelings, it wouldn't be so much fun to ditch them all and act like crazy, dark, brooding, screeching vampires while you're playing Magic with your buddies.
Happy Valentine's Day, and Happy Vampire Week!
Anthony Alongi loves his wife, MaryJanice Davidson.