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By: RexDart, Chris J. Wynes
Jun 25 2014 11:00am
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The Top 10 Vampires in Tournament Magic

...plus two bonus lists, by popular demand.

by RexDart

Vampires are now one of the most popular tribes in Magic, but this is actually a relatively new development.  They started out, alongside Demons, as the black equivalent to Angels or Dragons.  They were used sparingly, and when they did show up they cost a ton of mana and had effects designed to be big and splashy.  They've had a long hard journey to tournament playability, but have now solidified their place among the most powerful creatures in the game.  Still, there were a few missteps along the way...

THE WORST VAMPIRES IN MAGIC

3. Pulse Tracker

This guy is a real skill-tester in deck construction.  On the surface, he appears to do a reasonable impression of a two-power 1-drop, which is something a mono-black aggro deck wants very much to have.  But this illusion is shattered the moment your opponent played quite literally any other 1-drop creature that existed in that format.  Can it trade with Goblin Guide?  Nope.  Swing into Vampire Lacerator in the mirror match?  Nope.  Hedron Crab?  Brick wall.  God forbid you were on the draw, as once your opponent hit two mana every other top tier deck was playing either Overgrown Battlement or a certain juiced-up Squire we all remember.  Nevertheless, every single awful Vampire deck I ever saw at FNM was jamming a full set of these guys, trying to live the dream of attacking for "two" with their one drop.  Something they already could do, with the actually 2/2 Vampire Lacerator.  Redundancy in deckbuilding is nice when you can get it, but Pulse Tracker was too anemic to help the way you were hoping.  I do note that the card was occasionally played by competent pilots, as will be noted later in the article, but I stand by my assessment that it's a trap card and never lives up to what you want it to be.

2. Ravenous Vampire

Somehow the game developers got the idea that Serra Angel and Sengir Vampire were both too "powerful" for Type II, and they left the format after 4th Edition.  You could at least argue that Serra Angel saw real competitive play and was a good creature by the standards of the time.  Sengir Vampire was a card we all played in our black decks because there was little other choice for a castable finisher, but unless you were playing against a total novice, his neat-o ability to gain counters was not triggering all that often.  Still, out goes the iconic Sengir Vampire, and as with Serra Angel, a slew of pale imitators followed for the next few years.  This vampire from Mirage not only had lower stats but also a horrible Lord of the Pit clause requiring sacrifices to even use the thing.  You had to sacrifice one creature just to get to the point of it being even with Sengir Vampire's body.  You would probably play (Arrogant Vampire) from Portal before this guy, and Arrogant Vampire was just strictly worse than Sengir.

1. Irini Sengir

Good to know that by the time I reach four mana, my opponent's copies of Lifeforce and Wanderlust will now cost two more to cast.  Oh, were you going to slap an (Aspect of Wolf) on that (Timber Wolves)?  Well prepare to wait for your fourth land drop, guy.  Take that, bad 1995 kitchen table opponents!  But what if I wanted to fight Circles of Protection?  I'd be rather Gloomy if I had to resort to this.  


 

THE WORST VAMPIRES NOT IN MAGIC

Vampires enjoyed a surge in popularity during the late 2000's, with dozens of movies, TV shows, and young adult novels flooding pop culture with supernatural creatures.  Magic finally got on the bandwagon and embraced this trend during Zendikar block.  The tribe expanded once again in the gothic horror setting of Innistrad block, where the trend was towards vampires that are still firmly rooted in fantasy, but just a little bit more stylish and a bit less monstrous.  But there are a few vampires we should be glad were NOT the inspiration for the in-game tribe...

3.  Edward Cullen, Stephanie Myers' Vampire Story from a UseNet FanFic Group that was Accidentally Published for Some Reason

"Do I have enough hair gel in today?  I really want that mousy teenage girl to notice me.  Do high schoolers still like The Smiths?  Man, I hope so."

Edward is 100 years old, still lives with his parents, and can't father a human child -- all of which are fairly big turnoffs for any woman over 25.  So like many creepy loners before him, Edward dresses young and trolls the local high school for teenage girls.  Unlike most of the other guys in their school,  Edward is shiny and magic and, like, really mature for his age.  And oh my god, he's a vegetarian, that is so interesting!  Yet unlike most creepy loners trolling the high school for young girls, Edward is caring, protective, non-threatening, and never pressures his dates for sex.  Edward, I can't really figure out your game plan here.  Anyways, I hope you and Stephanie Myers' obvious Mary Sue stand-in have a long happy life together, though I have no idea if you will because I completely don't remember what happened in the last three movies which my fiancee made me watch.

There was something about a werewolf, and the use of fast food paraphernalia to determine the outcome of a love triangle.

2. Steve Newlin, HBO's the Adventures of Gaptooth Annie and the True Blood Gang

Steve is the co-founder of something called the Fellowship of the Sun, which co-exists as a paramilitary anti-vampire league and a Greek neo-fascist political party.  Since his church hates gays and vampires, naturally he turns out to be both of those things, because HBO reserves their more subtle social and political commentary for Bill Maher's monologue writers.  Steve is on a power trip because he got a lot of wedgies back in high school, and this was before the internet so nobody could start a Twitter campaign to help him.  He talks tough about killing the undead, but mostly lets everybody else do the heavy lifting for him, and at one point he is cuckolded by a were-panther who used to play high school football.

1. Vampire the Masquerade Live-Action Role Players, The Hallways of a Convention Center where You're Trying to Play Your Magic Cards, and Seriously Why Won't These Geeks Go Somewhere Else?

Naw, actually you guys go right ahead and have fun however you want.  Everybody's gotta geek out in their own way.  There's not really a Geek Hierarchy.  That's the kind of thing they'd make up for an episode of "Big Bang Theory".  But on that imaginary episode of "Big Bang Theory", just know that Magic players would be higher than you.  Don't take it personally, we're up pretty high, like right below those baseball fans who talk about weird statistics nobody's ever heard of.  What kind of people jump around hallways yelling "Fireball!" at each other?  I use a piece of cardboard to cast Fireballs, you're using your imagination, it's very obvious which of those things is more lame.


 

THE TOP 10 VAMPIRES IN TOURNAMENT MAGIC

10.  Olivia Voldaren

Always an absolute house in limited play, the first player to popularize Olivia Voldaren in constructed play was "The Innovator" Pat Chapin who used her to make Top 8 at the 2011 World Championships.  As is often the case, Chapin was on one of his trademark Grixis brews.  And as is also usually the case, nobody besides Pat Chapin was ever able to play that deck successfully.  

A year later, Olivia would once again rise to prominence in Innistrad/RTR Standard as part of the top tier Jund Midrange deck.  Using Farseek to accelerate into powerhouses like Thragtusk and Huntmaster of the Fells, the Jund deck ground the opponent out through incremental card advantage in the tradition of Rock decks through the ages.  Olivia played her part as a finisher that would dominate the board once you untapped with her.  During the early months of this deck's existence, Olivia was diminished a little by the version of the Legend Rule which still allowed opposing clones -- or opposing Olivias in mirror matches -- to kill both copies.  During her last few months in Standard, she was free of that restriction, and continued to see play until the end.  Reid Duke, popular MTGO grinder turned pro, used Olivia to take home 1st place at GP Miami with this list, typical of the archetype at that time:

 

 

9. Blood Baron of Vizkopa 

This card was met with a few yawns initially.  The second clause does rarely come into play, and feels more like a bonus for casuals and EDH tables.  But it turns out that, especially in an environment with a zillion multicolor and hybrid cards everywhere, protection from two colors is pretty darn nice on its own.  Immediately after the rotation of Innistrad block, Blood Baron saw play at the Pro Tour in an Orzhov midrange deck popularized by... Patrick Chapin again?  Man that guy loves vampires.  And other stuff we won't talk about.  But definitely vampires.

Orzhov midrange mostly fell out of favor since then, but Blood Baron has continued to see play in Esper Control and Junk Midrange decks.  It's been a good couple of years for midrange players, with great creatures like these, and favorable metagames to let them shine.

8. Kalastria Highborn

Whether on account of bravery or budgetry, a few players managed to successfully play Zendikar/Scars Standard without Jaces or Primeval Titans.  A sort of second-tier format pillar, Kalastria Highborn -- alongside another couple of cards higher up our list for different reasons -- was the juice that gave Vampire Aggro enough reach to have a shot against the control players.  The budget nature of Vampires during that era, especially in comparison to the other popular decks, made it enormously popular online.  The deck 4-0'd numerous dailies.  Highborn was key not only against control, but also in the mirror.  As the most critical card in an affordable deck, and being from an underdrafted set, it was highly in demand.  

Vampires was never quite as popular in paper, where the big money Jaces and Titans ruled the roost, but if it managed to sneak through the first few rounds of a $5K it was certainly capable of winning an event.  Matt Landstrom took down the Standard SCG Open at Indianapolis right after the release of Mirrodin Besieged with this list:

 

Note the set of Pulse Trackers.  In this incarnation of the deck, they could at least be sacrificed to Viscera Seer during the lategame and used to fuel a Kalastria Highborn trigger, or just chump attack to the same end.  They can also be sacrificed as part of the deck's infamous Demon of Death's Gate "Plan B" in post-board games, a plan that relied on having many one-drops early.  I still think they're terrible, and easily the worst card in this deck, and worse than even some other sub-par one-drop options such as Guul Draz Vampire.  But it's a sign of Highborn's power that she makes even those crappy guys part of a winning decklist.

7.  Falkenrath Aristocrat / 6.  Blood Artist

These two Innistrad block vampires will be forever linked in the minds of players for their joint role in 2013's popular aggro-combo deck "The Aristocrats".  

 

But both are pretty awesome cards independently.  Blood Artist is able to play the Kalastria Highborn role to punish control's sweepers or dominate a creature mirror. And in addition to "The Aristocrats", Falkenrath Aristocrat also saw play in my personal favorite aggro deck from recent years, Rakdos Zombies.  In that deck, typically you were just glad to have a hasty 4-power flier at a reasonable cost.  On occasion, you could use her sacrifice outlet to save her from a sweeper, or to burn out your opponent by sacrificing Geralf's Messenger to get a second bite at its enter-the-battlefield trigger.

5.  Mephidross Vampire

Premiering in Fifth Dawn, this is the oldest member of the tribe to make the list.  In combination with Triskelion, he wipes the board of any creatures you want to kill off immediately.  As with any two-creature combo, Tooth and Nail was the obvious route to go with this.  The combo didn't have enormous success in Standard, but appeared later in Extended as part of Tooth and Nail Rock variants, and dedicated ramp decks.  The combo made Top 8 at an Extended GP in Charlotte in 2005, alongside the similarly powerful combo of Darksteel Colossus and Kiki-Jiki.  As a combo, this has now been eclipsed by several better pairings, including Triskelion with Mikaeus, the Unhallowed, which improves upon the combo by allowing you to deal infinite damage directly to your opponent and not merely his creatures.

 4. Viscera Seer

The wildly successful Scry mechanic returned with the M11 core set.  Viscera Seer offered limited players a way to glean extra value off a creature dying to that format's many cheap and common removal spells, and enabled a fun fringe archetype in red-black involving Act of Treason and Fling.  But the reason it makes this list is for its role in Melira Pod, a role it inherited mostly by happenstance.  The Melira Pod deck in Modern works by using Birthing Pod to assemble the combo of Melira, Sylvok Outcast with any persist creature to infinitely recur the creature.  But to work, the trick needs a free sac-outlet.  If the Modern cutoff line had been drawn elsewhere, perhaps another cheap sac outlet would have taken its place.  But as it is, Viscera Seer is the best option.  Not to totally discount the actual ability, of course, as it can be very useful in the deck to dig for alternate win conditions or answers to troublesome permanents.

3. Vampire Nocturnus

Of all the vampires on this list, Nocturnus is undoubtedly the strongest in a dedicated vampire tribal build.  During his first run in Standard, he was a beloved build-around card.  Although M10/Alara/Zendikar Standard will always be known for the dominance of Jund, the Zendikar vampires provided a great tribal base for Nocturnus.  In a deck much more controlling than the post-rotation lists based around Kalastria Highborn and floods of one-drops, Vampires took down the a January 2010 SCG Open in Dallas, defeating two Jund decks in the process.

Vampires
Eric Palmerduca, 1st place, SCG Open Dallas, 2010
Creatures
3 Bloodghast
4 Gatekeeper of Malakir
3 Malakir Bloodwitch
4 Vampire Hexmage
4 Vampire Nighthawk
4 Vampire Nocturnus
22 cards

Other Spells
3 Disfigure
2 Grim Discovery
2 Mind Sludge
4 Sign in Blood
4 Tendrils of Corruption
15 cards
Lands
4 Marsh Flats
4 Verdant Catacombs
8 cards

Tendrils of Corruption

 

Similar Mono-Black Control builds of Vampires finished strong in MTGO dailies and premier events, and on other $5K circuits throughout the year.  Nocturnus' rotation from Standard was thought to doom the Vampire deck, though as we now know that was not the case.

2. Vampire Hexmage

There is so much to love about Hexmage.  First, the 2/1 first-striking body is really very reasonable for the cost, making it a legitimate beater aside from its other applications.  Second, it has the ability to kill a planeswalker on the opponent's turn, and was the only card that could do so at the time of its printing, not counting burn spells that would have depended on the number of loyalty counters.  But it was the combo with Dark Depths that truly pushed it over the edge, and which accounts for most of its tournament play today.  Beginning in Extended as part of the dual-combo "Thopter Depths" deck, then later appearing in Legacy, the Hexmage-Depths combo's ability to make an indestructible 20/20 flyer at instant-speed has kept it among the top tier of combo decks in either format.  Arguably, this has been somewhat obsoleted by the combo with Thespian's Stage, which unlike the Hexmage, cannot be countered.  Still, Hexmage typically retains a spot in the deck on account of being the cheaper option, and for sake of redundancy.  Either part of the combo can be fetched with Living Wish, for example.

1.  Bloodghast

With neither the sizzle of the Hexmage's combo potential, nor the raw power of Nocturnus, how does Bloodghast earn the top spot on my list?  Ask yourself, what was the constant between both Vampire tribal decks we looked at today?  Gatekeeper of Malakir and Bloodghast.  Gatekeeper is  obviously good removal, a 2/2 stapled to a sorcery-speed edict -- not much compared to Liliana of the Veil, but good enough for its time.  Bloodghast, however, provided the resiliency that both lists needed.  Like a free-to-activate Mutavault, it kept popping back up to poke through the last few points of damage.  Nor was it limited to Standard play.  As likely the best Nether Shadow variant ever printed, Bloodghast continues to see play in graveyard-based strategies across Legacy, from Aggro Loam to Dredge.  It supercharges Cabal Therapy.  It turned Undiscovered Paradise into a Legacy staple overnight.  Bloodghast has even turned up in Vintage, alone out of all the cards on this list.  It's a homerun of Magic card design, the perfect Johnny-Spike card, offering minor combo interactions for the type of incremental value plays that tournament Spikes love to make.

Honorable Mentions for Other Formats

Not making the list, but worthy of mention, is this pair.  Drana was an absolute beast in Rise of the Eldrazi limited: a big evasive flier with firebreathing that doubled as repeatable removal?  Yes, please.  That's like the Chili 3-way of limited bombs.  In a different world, one where Jace, the Mind Sculptor hadn't driven all midrange decks out of the format, this might have had a chance in Standard for much the same reasons that Olivia Voldaren made it a couple years later.  Nirkana Revenant, meanwhile, has been an all-star in Commander, where big-mana black decks are a popular choice.


Thanks for reading, I hope you liked the lists and my stupid jokes.  As always, let me know what you think in the comments, what creatures you would have included that I omitted, and why I'm totally wrong about Twilight.

3 Comments

*Gasp!!* take that back about by Paul Leicht at Wed, 06/25/2014 - 17:25
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*Gasp!!* take that back about Larpers!! grrrrr...

Hey, Steve Newlin is by Kumagoro42 at Wed, 06/25/2014 - 20:14
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Hey, Steve Newlin is hilarious!
I'm not sure he was ever homophobic, but the far-right leader of an intolerant religious movement being secretly gay is just stereotypical, and True Blood is all stereotypes, all the time. (And he was turned vampire as a punishment, by the way. And Jason is not a werepanther in the show).

On the more pertinent topic, man, you really hate Pulse Tracker. You need to deal with the truth: Tracker shows up in all the fast Vampire decks in tribal, and those won events in the past and consistently end 3-1.
And you're definitely missing its point, which is not stricly to have another 1-drop/2-damage guy. Try play against Pulse Tracker with a Wall deck, then you'll tell me if you'd rather kill the Tracker (that keeps damaging you regardless) or the Lacerator (that keeps killing your opponent). Or try using Maze of Ith on the Tracker. (And by the way, who ever blocks with Goblin Guide? If you keep your Goblin Guide behind because of my Tracker, I'm already +3 vs. you.)

If you judge geekiness by by RexDart at Thu, 06/26/2014 - 09:49
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If you judge geekiness by "how does this look to non-geeks", larpers are pretty geeky. That being said, at the gaming conventions I attended they were the ones most likely to have girls with them and beer in their motel room, so maybe I was just secretly jealous :-)

Kuma, unless things changed over the past year, and they may have since I've not been able to follow it like I used to, fast vampire decks had an overall bad win% in tribal wars, and were relatively weak compared to the more midrange and controlling lists. Basically, the tribal decks that look like the 2010 Standard deck did much better than the ones that look like the 2011 Standard deck. But my prior criticism in Tribal Wars articles was actually directed at Lacerator, which has (or had?) a similarly bad track record even though I at least think that's a real playable card.

I wasn't imagining the Goblin Guide blocking, obviously mono-red with Goblin Guide is the beatdown against mono-black aggro, but Lacerator could trade with him on defense which meant that he at least drew a burn spell. You wouldn't bother to burn a Pulse Tracker with anything but Searing Blaze, and only then if you had no other pressure to apply to the board that turn. My point in general was that *actual* p/t matters, and that Pulse Tracker is not as good as an actual 2/1 would be in most situations. Once your opponent cast nearly anything he turns into either a chump blocker or a future chump-attacker that will give you 1/6th the value of a Bump in the Night.