Worldwake: Fangs of the Bloodchief Review (Part 1 of 2)
Last August we began our review of Rise of the Vampires, the Zendikar Vampires-themed Intro pack, by noting that the tribe was something of a last-minute addition to the set. “The model was successful enough,” we continued, “that Wizards would go on to recur it in Worldwake, which featured an updated version of the concept.” Rise’s strategy was precisely what you’d expect from such a deck- a fast, aggressively-positioned creature rush backed up by removal to blow your opponent away before they had a chance to solidify a board presence.
Perhaps they grew weary, though, after having the sand kicked in their face one too many times, for Worldwake’s Vampires headed to the gym to beef up a little before being boxed up and shipped. Make no mistake- there are far more similarities than differences between the two, but there are differences indeed and they are telling. Although we’ll be reviewing Fangs of the Bloodchief, we’ll also be exploring how this deck diverged from the last, for therein lies the message of Worldwake: things are getting worse.
Death at the Gates of Malakir
One needn’t worry overmuch- death still comes at the hands of the tribe, but it does perhaps come just a bit more slowly. Fangs has pulled itself back from the blistering opener, and instead looks to shore up the aggro strategy’s traditional weaknesses- namely, the transtion from mid-game to late-game and beyond. The deck didn’t really come equipped with your traditional closer assembly, instead relying on singletons Malakir Bloodwitch and a Zombie Goliath. That’s not to say it couldn’t get there otherwise, as it frequently could if a Vampire Aristocrat snuck through the defenses then feasted on the board to pump it up for lethal, a customarily Black tactic.
Worldwake indeed does give you that element, and the tools to live long enough to deploy them. Let’s examine the creature curves of both decks side-by-side.
A few things jump right out at you. Fangs will have a turn-1 play only half as often as Rise. Both emphasize the early-to-mid transition (seven 2-and-3-drops). Worldwake has a little more in the way of late-game bombs. That’s the macro, now let’s look at the micro.
Zendikar’s Rise wanted you out early with Guul Draz Vampires and Acolytes of Xathrid (the latter to chisel away at your opponent’s life if the midfield happened to get clogged up). From there it offered you twin Childs of Night as well as a Gatekeeper of Malakir (a 2-drop in name only, you’d seldom want to cast it without kicker).
Worldwake’s Fangs, on the other hand, gives you a brace of Pulse Trackers for that early damage, keeps the two Childs, and adds a pair of Ruthless Cullblades. The aggression is still very much evident, and indeed the loss of the Acolytes of Xathrid is a welcome one.
In the mid-game transition, you have a Vampire Nighthawk (sadly reduced from two in the previous deck), a Vampire Aristocrat (de rigeur in any Vamps deck of the period), and a Bloodhusk Ritualist. The Ritualist bears extra mention, for it can be a devastating card. At worse a 2/2 for three mana, the mono-Black character of the deck means that the only time you’ll be disappointed to draw into him is if your opponent has emptied their hand. Nasty card advantage at a very inexpensive cost, this is one of the deck’s stars.
The lone four-drop is a Jagwasp Swarm, picking up where the Heartstabber Mosquito left off. Almost entirely worse than the Nighthawk and not nearly as useful as the Mosquito, the Swarm’s lone redeeming feature is its three power. It’s not a great card, but it’s a moderate-power evasive. Still, it’s an easy and painless cut in any tuning you might do with the deck.
The Butcher doesn’t rate much mention. Sure, having a Grave Pact-effect fused with a dragonesque body is undeniably powerful. And if I had a card that cost 20 mana and said, “Reach over and swipe your opponent’s library off the table: you win the game. And the next one, too”, that’d be undeniably powerful as well. The problem isn’t in the effect, but rather it’s in the cost.
Generally speaking, if your deck hasn’t set up a win by the time you’ve managed to get to seven mana, something’s gone wrong or you’re going to lose anyway. Once in awhile you’ll manage to salvage victory from the jaws of defeat on the back of the Butcher, but it isn’t really something you can count on. Taking him out and adding another Vampire Nighthawk will win you more games.
Of course, nothing quite screams fun like, well, having a Grave Pact-effect fused with a dragonesque body.
Your real keeper here is Anowon. Five mana may not seem like a lot less, but on average in a deck with 40% land content it’s about five turns less. If you can get Anowon to stick, he pays for himself in your next upkeep, but you’ll want to be careful: the Jagwasp Swarm and the Zombie Goliath both are themselves susceptible to his effect. Anowon is brutal, and if you can afford to you might consider holding him out of combat for awhile if your opponent is playing a colour that can punish you for attacking (namely, any colour except Blue). Once you’ve managaed to get a soft lock on the board state, victory is all but assured.
A Little Dark Magic
Where Vampires Intro Deck 2.0 truly shines head and shoulders above its predecessor is in its noncreature support, particularly in the area of removal. Rise of the Vampires relied on a pair of Feast of Bloods and a Hideous End, supplemented by the Gatekeeper of Malakir (clumsy) or the Heartstabber Mosquito (expensive). Not only does Fangs pack in more, but the quality is higher as well.
Yes, there’s a Hideous End and a Feast of Blood (one, down from two), and beyond that there’s an Urge to Feed which pulls double-duty by pumping up your creatures permanently. Dead Reckoning and Brink of Disaster are somewhat clumsy as well, but have additional flexibility that (somewhat) offsets this. For Dead Reckoning, it’s the chance to return a creature to your hand (via a draw step), while Brink has the option to target a land. Make no mistake- we’d pitch both for something better in an instant if we were tinkering with the deck, but they certainly count for something here.
The real star of the removal, though, is the Consume Spirit. An X-spell that not only can take down almost anything on the board (provided you have enough mana for it), but it does what Rise of the Vampires really only could daydream about doing- throw direct damage to the face of your opponent to close them out. Their best shot- Blood Tribute– could damage but never kill. Consume Spirit gets you there.
Beyond that you have a nice little Black utility package: a pair of Mire’s Tolls for hand disruption, a Rise from the Grave to get another body onto the battlefield, and a Diabolic Tutor to get the card you need when you need it (so long as ‘when you need it’ is turn 4 or later). By way of a bookend, here are the full mana curves.
Rounding out the deck are a stack of Swamps and a pair of (*yawn*) Piranha Marshes, which have the luxury of being at least a little less stunting here than in Fangs by virtue of you having less turn 1 plays.
And that’s the deck! Be sure to join us next time when we report back on how Fangs of the Bloodchief performs in an actual battle-test. See you then!