Shadows over Innistrad: Vampiric Thirst Review (Part 1 of 2)
Long considered a secondary tribe in the game, 2009’s Zendikar was a renaissance for the Vampire. Not only were they made one of the major tribes in the lore of the game- with the deluge of cards to follow- but they were also awarded an Intro Pack deck all their own. Rise of the Vampires was one of the better decks of the set, reflecting the speed that every Limited player knows was bound up in the Zendikar environment.
Worldwake’s Fangs of the Bloodchief took the Vampires tribal deck and tightened it even further. It sanded down some of the rough edges with better card selection, packed in some serious bombs as closers in the off-chance speed alone wasn’t enough, and gave its pilot a noncreature closer in Consume Spirit.
Although Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief was the premium rare card for Invading Spawn, a deck from the next set Rise of the Eldrazi, the storyline had shifted to focus on the Eldrazi themselves. Invading Spawn was an Eldrazi deck, with a lot of non-Eldrazi elements, but those hoping for another Vampire-themed issue wouldn’t have to wait long.
Three months after Rise of the Eldrazi, the next Core Set was released, Magic 2011. Reign of Vampirism raised the tribal banner once more, with a number of smaller Vampires built around its premium rare, Captivating Vampire. Alas, the quality from the previous tribal offerings had cratered, with a rather flimsy build-around win condition (the foil rare), some poor card choices, and a secondary color (Green) that offered nothing to the deck.
The tribe took a breather for the next block, Scars of Mirrodin- whose three composite sets contained exactly one Vampire each. But of course, the set following was Innistrad, and they were back in the spotlight. And now with our return to that benighted plane, the Vampires are back with a vengeance.
Muster for War
The deck opens with- fittingly enough- a pair of Vampires. The Indulgent Aristocrats are one-drop 1/1’s which have a couple of nice abilities. First, their lifelink can give you a little extra padding on the life total. It’s never an ability you want to build around (unless it ties into a win condition of some sort), but it always makes a nice bonus. It’s their second ability, though, that makes them solid- the ability to permanently pump up all Vampires on your side of the table. This isn’t a deck with loads of counters, or death triggers you can harvest- the loss of a creature isn’t pain-free here, but it makes a great outlet to throw something that’s already about to die anyway, and wring one last drop of utility out of it.
The two-drop slot is fairly dense, giving the deck a nice, somewhat aggressive feel that befits the tribe. Olivia’s Bloodsworn is an evasive 2/1 that can give other Vampires haste. Although it can’t block, that’s a minor inconvenience. You also get a pair of Sanguinary Mages, simple 1/3’s with that newest of evergreen keywords, prowess, and that all-important tribal connection.
The last card here is the Ravenous Bloodseeker, another 1/3 that you get two copies of. In return for throwing away a card, however, the Bloodseeker flips to become a 3/1 (assuming you haven’t buffed it in some way), which can be done at instant speed. It’s a nice way to push through some extra damage in combat if it’s not blocked, and if you’ve managed to grow him through +1/+1 counters, you might even be able to pull it off more than once. Although a card is a steep cost for a relatively modest effect, this is a madness deck- you want ways to throw cards away from your hand. This is the first mechanical enabler we’ve seen, but it’s far from the last.
Moving up to three-drops, there are only four cards occupying this rung of the mana curve. Two of them are Vampire Nobles, vanilla cards unremarkable except when compared to Scathe Zombies, as another reinforcement of power scale in the game from then until now. They are also Vampires, so even without bringing anything else to the table they can still benefit from some of the other onboard buffs and tricks at your disposal.
The other card here is the Bloodmad Vampire, our first out-and-out madness card. A 4/1 with the now-traditional “slith” mechanic, getting bigger every time it strikes a player, this Vampire is also one mana cheaper if played for its madness cost. Although brittle on the back-end, if you manage to pull it out at instant speed it can make for a very lethal two-mana blocker.
The four-drops also offer a few more options for clever play. The Voldaren Duelist “falters” an opposing creature when it enters the battlefield, and carries haste alongside to boot. The Stromkirk Mentor, meanwhile, carries a solid offensive punch, and has a tribal present in the form of a +1/+1 counter. You get two copies of each.
There’s also a miser’s copy of the deck’s only non-Vampire creature, the Mad Prophet. Although four mana for a 2/2 with haste is high, you’re not looking to this guy for his combat prowess. Rather, he lets you throw away cards to draw new ones, and thanks to madness this can be a horrifically efficient deck engine. Not only will you get to play many of your cards for less and/or at irregular times, but they’ll all cantrip, too. You’ll seldom be sorry to see the Prophet appear, he’ll do a lot of work for the deck.
We’ve now hit the top of the curve, and delightfully in a set where two of the Intro Packs carry obscenely-costed closers, nothing here costs more than five mana. Unless you’ve run into mana issues, you’re not going to be sitting on any card in your hand for long. The Twins of Maurer Estate shave off two mana when cast for madness, and make a wonderful surprise creature. Their 3 power is dangerous, and their 5 toughness means they can survive most of what your opponent can dish out if you bring them in as an instant-speed ambush blocker. It’s a great card for the deck, and having three mana up will make a canny opponent a little bit nervous sending beaters into the red zone.
Incorrigible Youths are just as discounted, but in Red rather than Black. Here you get an offensively-minded 4/3 with haste. The deck carries two of each. Finally, there’s the premium rare, Markov Dreadknight. It’s a solid evasive body that’s also a madness enabler, which makes itself significantly larger each time you activate it. This is a superb closer, easily able to swing for 5 or even 7 the turn after you summon it. It’s a superb inclusion, especially because the premium rare cards for some Intro Packs are there as much for style as substance.
An Old Family Recipe
The removal suite of the deck consists of five cards, but it’s a fairly formidable lineup. The wonkiest card of the lot is Sinister Concoction, given its intricate activation, but the card in every way is a flavor home run. From a gameplay perspective, it’s also very effective. The mana and life cost is negligible, the mill effect does nothing, and discarding a card gives you another opportunity for madness. Although this deck doesn’t use delirium, it’s also helpful there for getting an enchantment into the graveyard. A superbly-crafted card and a welcome inclusion.
From there, you have a copy of Murderous Compulsion, which destroys a tapped creature .It’s a sorcery, but thanks to madness you have the opportunity to play it as an instant. That’s it for the destruction effects, however- the rest of the removal is burn.
You get a pair of Fiery Tempers, a reprint from Torment that almost didn’t see a second round in Shadows over Innistrad. You’d be silly to say this is “just as good” as a Lightning Bolt, since it clearly isn’t, but with a number of discard outlets in the deck, it will often feel that way. You get two of these very solid cards, and the deck’s second rare in Burn from Within.
This X-spell has been called ‘the new Disintegrate,’ since it gets around persistent creatures (those with indestructible) in the way that Disintegrate sidestepped those with regeneration. It also exiles whatever it hits; a worthwhile consideration in this environment.
Treason-style cards have never really been considered removal, but in a sense they are- at least if you’re on the offensive. The deck has a pair of Malevolent Whispers, which not only lets you test-drive your opponent’s best creature, but it gives it a combat boost as well. These sorts of effects are usually sorceries, but thanks to madness you can even manage to steal a creature of your opponent’s on the defense. If you have a discard outlet, imagine stealing your opponent’s best creature, using it as a surprise blocker for to kill one of their other creatures- and then sacrifice it to the Indulgent Aristocrat to buff your side! You won’t have the perfect play line up all the time, but there are a lot of applications for this card, and you get two of them.
One of the fun things about madness, as illustrated a moment ago, is being able to play cards when you ordinarily couldn’t. Senseless Rage is a simple aura buff, but thanks to madness you can use it as a permanent combat trick. Alms of the Vein is a life-syphoning sorcery that becomes dirt-cheap if cast for its madness cost, and offers a six-point swing in life totals.
The final few cards in the deck are all discard outlets, helping you to hit your madness goal. Creeping Dread forces discard from you and your opponent, and if you’ve discarded the same type of card your opponent even loses a little life in the bargain. This may be less than ideal if your opponent is also playing a madness strategy, but even then that just means you have a state of parity- plus the life loss.
Tormenting Voice is a cheap card drawing sorcery originally from Khans of Tarkir, which requires you to discard a card first. That’s simple card filtering under normal circumstances, but can offer some solid card advantage thanks to madness. You get a pair of these, as well as one Macabre Waltz. The Waltz- with updated art featuring Liliana Vess- brings two creatures back to your hand from your graveyard- and then, yes, lets you discard a card.
Overall, Vampiric Fury looks as strong and fun as Ghostly Tide looked mediocre. This will be exciting one to play and see how well-tuned the madness/discard engine is. We’ll put it through its paces and report back, stay tuned!