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June 12, 2016

Shadows over Innistrad: Vampiric Thirst Review (Part 2 of 2)

by Dredd77

I found madness to be one of the more interesting mechanics of Shadows over Innistrad, and pairing it with tribal Vampires seems like a chocolate-meets-peanut-butter win. Of course, to get a sense of how the deck comes together, we’ll need to take it into battle. Joining me at the table is Josh, who’s piloting the Red/White Angelic Fury.

Game One

Josh is on the play for our opener, and he opens with a Stern Constable which I match with a Sinister Concoction. With a creature on the board, Josh is able to score first blood on turn 2 as I fall to 19 life, while all I can manage is a Mountain.

Now turn 3, he doubles down with a Cathar’s Companion, attacking for another point with the Constable. Over to me, I cast Tormenting Voice to draw cards, then discard Alms of the Vein. Discarding it lets me pay it for its madness cost, so I pull ahead in life totals, 21 to 17. Next turn, Josh drops down a Runaway Carriage after swinging with both of his creatures. My lead is short-lived as I fall to 17 life. Still, I frustrate Josh when I cast Malevolent Whispers on the Carriage, turning it sideways for 7. Josh falls to 10, and watches in dismay as his Carriage- having now attacked- gets sacrificed. Problem solved!

A second Stern Constable joins the first on turn 5, and Josh again sends his troops through the red zone to hammer at me. At 13 life, I summon the Mad Prophet, hoping to dig for something useful- thus far I haven’t found much. At the end of my turn, Josh snipes the Prophet with an Inner Struggle, so I use him once before he dies in response.

Now turn 6, Josh swings with the team and defenseless, I fall to 8 life. At the end of the turn, I then pop the Sinister Concoction to destroy Josh’s largest creature, the Cathar’s Companion. I lose another point of life, but here the tide turns- it will be the last point of life I lose for the rest of the game. Over to me, I summon an Indulgent Aristocrat, followed by a Stromkirk Mentor. The latter bestows a +1/+1 counter on the Aristocrat, making it a 2/2. Josh isn’t having it, though- a Lightning Axe smites the Aristocrat immediately after.

Josh replaces the loss of the Companion with a Devilthorn Fox on turn 7, while I answer with a Ravenous Bloodseeker before attacking for 4 with the Mentor. Josh falls behind for only the second time in the game, as he slips to 6 life.

Now turn 8, Josh swings for 3 with the Fox. In response to the threat, I discard my Twins of Maurer Estate to the Bloodseeker, letting me effectively flash them on to the battlefield thanks to madness. The Twins are all too happy to dine on Fox, and Josh again loses his best attacker. Playing from the top of his library, even his Constables are unable to help him. Back to me, I play a second Stromkirk Mentor, offering its +1/+1 counter to the first of its kin. I then swing for 9, with the Mentor, Bloodseeker, and Twins. Josh’s Constables go into chump-block mode, and Josh falls to 3 life. Drawing nothing, he scoops.

Game Two

Josh opts to be on the play again, and we trade land drops in the opening turn of the next round. Next turn, Josh summons a Devilthorn Fox, while I counter with a Sanguinary Mage– and we’re off to the races!

Now turn 3, Josh kills my Mage with a Lightning Axe, discarding the treacherous Runaway Carriage. This clears the attack lane, and Josh sends in the Fox for 3. Over to me, I replace my loss with a Bloodmad Vampire. Next turn, Josh casts Dance with Devils (main phase- tsk!), then swings for 3 with the Fox. I take the trade with my Vampire, and he ends the turn. I end mine after summoning a Ravenous Bloodseeker.

The buildup continues when Josh adds a Pyre Hound on turn 5. At the end of his turn, I pitch Alms of the Vein to the Bloodseeker, letting me play it for its madness cost as we essentially exchange life totals. My turn, sadly, is a blank beyond playing a Swamp. Next turn, Josh uses Magmatic Chasm to break the stalemate (and put a +1/+1 counter on the Hound), hammering in with the Hound and Devils for 5. My counterattack is rather feeble- a single point of damage- and we end the turn 15-16 in Josh’s favor

Now turn 7, Josh summons a Cathar’s Companion to his side, then going all in for another 5 points of damage. I use madness to cast Malevolent Whispers, stealing one of Josh’s 1/1 Devil tokens. I then shove the now-3/1 Devil in front of the Hound, which tramples overtop it to connect with me for 2 (alongside his other Devil, which gets through unmolested). When the Devil dies of his wounds, though, the last point of damage from its death trigger lets me finish off the Pyre Hound, too. Back to me, I counterattack with the Bloodseeker (pitching a useless land to pump him), connecting for 3. I then shore up my army with an Olivia’s Bloodsworn and Sanguinary Mage.

It’s now turn 8, and Josh deploys an Inspiring Captain. This lets him attack in for 6, with the Companion and Devil token, both buffed from the arrival of the Captain. I take it on the chin, and am cut in half to 6 life. Over to me, with the race on I swing in for 4 with all three of my creatures. Josh blocks the Bloodseeker with the Captain, so I pitch Incorrigible Youths to force the trade (and then cast the Youths for their madness cost to replace my loss). With Josh at  10 life, I summon an Indulgent Aristocrat and end the turn.

Next turn, Josh plays another Cathar’s Companion, but holds off on the attack. For my part, I do swing in, just just for 2 with the flying Bloodsworn before playing a Vampire Noble. With the red zone fairly congested, Josh simply plays a land next turn before passing, but I- pardon the pun- go for the throat. I send in the Youths, Mage, and Bloodsworn for 7. Josh blocks the Mage with a Companion, and the Youths with the remaining Devil token. For added excitement, I then sacrifice the  Indulgent Aristocrat to itself, making all of my Vampires bigger. Josh’s Devil dies, and he throws the damage at me. His Cathar’s Companion comes out the worse for wear with my Mage, who survives the encounter thanks to the timely +1/+1 counter. When the dust settles, Josh only takes 3 from the Bloodsworn in the air, but that sees us level at 5 life apiece.

The problem for Josh is, that’s the only place we’re level. His board is in tatters, while I have a solid army at the ready. After drawing nothing on turn 11, Josh bows to the inevitable.

Thoughts & Analysis

What can I say about Angelic Fury? Although nothing I saw here changes my mind about the deck’s inadequacies, the “good stuff” model does continue to hold its own here in the Shadows over Innistrad environment. Both of these games were fun and competitive, but in the end a lot of the edge I held over Josh came down to some of the trickiness of madness and Vampiric Thirst. 

Malevolent Whispers is one solid example. To be fair, stealing his Runaway Carriage is only really noteworthy because of the Carriage’s sacrifice trigger. If that was a normal creature, it’s a fine play to make but not nearly as effective. Of course, steal-n-sacrifice has been a hallmark of Black/Red decks for ages.

But it becomes especially nasty when you can use madness to play it at instant speed, bending the rules of the game to your advantage. Suddenly, using your opponent’s creatures to block their own attack can become especially devastating, thanks in no small part to the spell’s +2/+0 bonus.

The same goes for being able to flash creatures in out of the blue. Having a no-cost discard outlet like Ravenous Bloodseeker on board opens up a world of possibility for this deck, and certainly serves to put your opponent on notice. Mark Rosewater, Head Designer at Wizards of the Coast, has explained that R&D isn’t especially fond of on-board tricks (tricks that come from cards on the playing field rather than ones in your hand) because they increase board complexity while making your opponent susceptible to “feelbads” when they overlook what ostensibly is “obvious.” As a survivor of Lorwyn block’s Theme Decks, I can’t say I’m entirely unsympathetic to the view, but this is the right amount of complexity.

Overall, this is a very solid, very fun Intro Pack. Madness is a great returning mechanic, one that feels as at-home on the plane as flashback did the first time around. The constant interplay between discard outlet and madness maximization is a delight to play, and while the crux of it remains constant, the different reward levels (for instance, a Bloodmad Vampire versus Incorrigible Youths) and their applications makes it feel fresh. This deck has a lot of replayability, which sets it in contrast a bit to investigate in Unearthed Secrets.

Although I didn’t play it in the playtest, it’s also worth mentioning that Burn from Within is an amazing inclusion here. X-damage spells like this are not as common as they once were in this environment, but they are absolutely one of your top closers- especially in the land-heavy modern day preconstructed environment. It’s a joy to see.

Hits: Madness is terrific fun, with loads of strategic depth and replayability; very strong rare selection; removal is a little inconsistent, but deck has lots of ways to be clever about killing things (like flashing in large creatures, for instance)

Misses: It’s a funny (and somewhat sad) observation that including even a couple copies of an uncommon card would make the deck too strong for the SoI precon environment, but there’s a reason you don’t see Lightning Axe here (or at least one copy in place of Creeping Dread); many creatures on the weaker side, toughness-wise, so deck vulnerable to being overrun if you can’t get its engine to start

Overall Score: 4.60/5.00

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