In our last review, we took Reign of Vampirism out for a spin, and it performed admirably in no small part to the strength of drawing the premium foil, Captivating Vampire, early and often. Of course, being a singleton it’s hard to rely on such fortune, but it’s useful to break down the rest of the deck and see what results can be expected with consistency. As we’ll see, the deck is solid in that particular regard, but has some gaping flaws in its design.
As discussed in yesterday’s opinion piece, Vampires have been retooled and reconfigured for Magic starting with M10 and Zendikar. No longer the occasional bomby rare, they have shoved past Zombies and claimed the mantle of Black’s tribal champions. That said, they occupy a similar place on the ‘food chain,’ of sorts, now recast as fast, aggressively costed and typically smallish creatures designed for an aggro rush, and Reign of Vampirism showcases this to good effect.
Party of Five
To take advantage of Captivating Vampire’s steal-a-beater ability, five Vampires need to be in play, and Reign nudges the odds in its favour with a wide array of them: 65% of the creatures selected are Vampires. Revealingly, if you exclude 4-drops and above, the percentage spikes to just over 81%. Fine math, but what does it mean? Let’s take a look at the curve chart:
Reign leads off with a trio of Viscera Seers, one-drop Vampires whose ability- requiring the sacrifice of a creature- should almost exclusively be used in conjunction with the pair of Reassembling Skeletons. But it’s at the two- and three-drop slots that the bulk of the creature swarm is located.
Consistency is unusually valued in this deck: witness the three copies each of Bloodthrone Vampire (another synergy with the Skeletons), Child of Night, and Barony Vampire. These aren’t the ultra-aggressive Vampires of Zendikar (think Vampire Lacerator), but they’re fast if fragile and should be able to get you out ahead early.
The last two early creatures are more utility-based. In addition to the aforementioned Captivating Vampire, there’s also a Royal Assassin who’s as much a deterrent as anything. There are not a lot of big beaters in the deck, and it works best with an early Swarm strategy. The Captivating Vampire’s requirement, though, means that you’ll be handling Weenie creatures with greater than usual care. Trades are typically not to your benefit, and you may need to let your life total run down a bit avoiding losing your precious Vampires to blocking.
Assisting you in that regard are the few reasonable beaters the deck offers: two Howling Banshees, a Giant Spider and a Spined Wurm. The Giant Spider- typically somewhat of a defensive choice- isn’t necessarily out of place here, as a four-toughness blocker can thicken up the red zone, buying you precious time to find the Captivating Vampire and bring four additional Vampires online.
Once you do, the game should be ending very quickly in your favour.
Towards That End…
Unusually for Black, Reign’s suite of noncreature spells is a bit light on the removal, but for the most part does seem to have been selected with some care. Almost everything is in support of your Vampire-centric strategy, and should be used accordingly. The lone Giant Growth, for instance, makes the customarily fine combat trick (and ersatz removal), but often can serve a nobler purpose of keeping your Captivating Vampire safe from Lightning Bolts, Last Kisses, and anything else that threatens his ability to make a living. Should he succumb, a Nature’s Spiral and two Rise from the Graves ensure that the cause is not lost. And should drawing into him elude you, a pair of Diabolic Tutors give you ways to find him.
As for the removal suite, use them with care- there aren’t many. Two Doom Blades are the only instant-speed kill the deck boasts, while a pair of Quag Sicknesses and Corrupts round out the package. Corrupt is a welcome addition due to its ability to serve double-duty as direct damage to your opponent, though its effectiveness is somewhat hampered by the fact that Reign is a two-coloured deck. Corrupt is a very greedy spell which works best in mono-Black.
Quag Sickness, too, suffers from the same limitation, though it occupies a curious design space. Given the nature of the spell, it may well linger for a time on an opponent’s beater until you’re able to reach enough Swamps to make it lethal. On the upside, it gets around the limitation of Doom Blade, as it doesn’t care about the colour of its target. On the downside, it’s less effective against Green, White, and Blue (the first two because of enchantment removal, the latter because of bounce). Naturalize and Cultivate offer a splash of customary Green utility.
The deck’s lone artifact, Sorcerer’s Strongbox, is dreadful but can be a rationalised by the fact that Weenie decks tend to blow through their cards early, so even a run of bad luck with the Strongbox isn’t as painful as it might be for other decks. It is, however, still dreadful.
When taken together, the deck’s curve fills out a little bit more:
Because of the high amount of card repetition relative to other preconstructed decks, Reign of Vampirism should offer a reasonably consistent playing experience. Dump a swarm of Weenies out early for some quick damage, retrench and use selective removal to stagnate the board, all the while looking to get out four Vampires and the Captivating one, either through direct draw or by tutoring. Steal creatures, and bring the game to an end.
This is Reign’s most effective win condition, but backups exist in the form of the larger creatures and the Corrupts. If things are going pear-shaped, hope to draw some removal and kill something you can then animate. It should go without saying, though, that the deck’s odds are considerably diminshed if the Camptivating Vampire long eludes you.
If there is a grievance I have with the deck, it is with the colour selection. Reign really wants to be mono-Black, and there’s very little Green offers it here: two whole creatures, a trio of lesser utility cards and a nifty combat trick neatly summarise Green’s contribution, while at the same time it throttles out the growth potential of Black’s removal suite like a weed in a garden. Whenever Wizards releases a preconstructed deck utilising opposing colours, I always sit up and take notice, because such combinations can lead to fun and unusual combinations. In this deck, it feels like a forced tack-on to avoid making a mono deck (not an unreasonable desire, given that both Zendikar and Worldwake had mono-Black offerings), which is probably what it was. Compare this to the Ears of the Elves deck, which was the inverse (Green splashed with Black) and by contrast felt very well integrated both thematically and mechanically.
Pros: Consistent play though use of multiples; solid synergy (multiple sac effects with Reassembling Skeleton, strong Vampires presence for Captivating Vamp’s special ability); mana curve ensures ease of deployment; stealing things is fun
Cons: Removal cards underperform in multi-coloured environment; Green feels “tacked on”; Captivating Vampire’s ability forces possible overcommit of forces which can be vulnerable to sweepers; removal a bit weak; Sorcerer’s Strongbox
FINAL GRADE: 3.5/5.0
Just when you thought it was safe to tap out after dark, Magic 2011 brings us yet another Vampire-themed preconstructed deck in the Black/Green Reign of Vampirism.
Both Zendikar-block Vampires decks (Rise of the Vampires and Fangs of the Bloodchief) relied on fast, Black Weenie-style tactics with low casting-cost critters to overwhelm the opponent before they established board position, with a couple aces for the endgame to break through a stalemate (such as Anowon, the Butcher, Zombie Goliath, and Blood Tribute).
Vampires in the Zendikar world were a carefully-crafted tribe with a deep backstory and vital role to play in the world’s lore. By nature the Core Sets are devoid of such placement, and exist more or less on their own. To see how M11’s Vampires fared, I suited up for battle against Sam, who was piloting Power of Prophesy, the set’s U/W theme pack.
With turns one and two passing with nothing but land to show for it, I’m growing worried that I’m off to a slow start. This favours Sam, whose deck needs a little time and space to get going, but is an omen of doom for mine. Sam’s on the play and her turn 2 drop is a Blinding Mage. I have no answer.
The Mage attacks on turn three and draws first blood, but I’m able to hit that third land drop that enables me to play a Barony Vampire. She’ll be able to tap it down for attacking, but it’s a start. Sam returns with a Visions-reprint Cloud Elemental.
The Elemental can only stand by uselessly as I drop my foil premium rare, Captivating Vampire. The +1/+1 is greedily welcomed by my attacking Barony Vampire, and just like that I’m ahead, 16-19.
Now entering turn 5, Sam draws, attacks with the Elemental, and passes. I keep the pressure on with a Viscera Seer and Child of Night. Although her next turn play is solid- the foil Conundrum Sphinx, I draw into a Bloodthrone Vampire and just like that I’ve got five Vampires on the board for the Captivating Vampire’s special ability. The Conundrum Sphinx is ‘persuaded’ to join the winning team, and Sam’s prospects for victory are rapidly diminishing.
A turn 7 Sleep buys her a little more time. My play is the detested Sorcerer’s Strongbox, which I can’t activate this turn having only 5 mana available. Sam stalls again with a Wall of Frost, which I also relieve her of. A Quag Sickness takes care of the pesky Blinding Mage, and Sam’s fate is soon sealed.
An early start this game sees me with a Viscera Seer and Bloodthrone Vampire in the first two turns, while Sam looks to gain card quality advantage through a Crystal Ball played on turn 3. My take is a risk- a solid start, but I have expensive cards in hand (Diabolic Tutor, Corrupt), and the Captivating Vampire I again find myself with is stuck for lack of one more mana. With the Crystal Ball filtering her draws, I know I don’t have the luxury of time.
I’m further set back on turn 4, when Sam’s Aether Adept bounces the Bloodthrone Vampire to my hand. My Vampires have done a little damage to Sam, but I can barely afford the regroup. I recast the Bloodthrone and hope for the best.
Sam keeps her momentum going with an Augury Owl, the new Sage Owl variant, but I hit a bit of luck and draw a Forest. The Captivating Vapire comes down, and my newly-pumped minions rush in for 4. Sam’s now at 13 life, I’m in good shape with 18.
A Water Servant complicates matters when Sam casts it on turn 6. With the ability to pump in either direction (to a point), it can easily hold off my smaller Vampires though the threat of an attrition I cannot afford. I enchant it with Quag Sickness, and with two Swamps in play it’s now a 1/2- much more manageable. Not to be outdone, Sam drops a fresh Water Servant the next turn, and I’m back where I started. Still, I drop a Barony Vampire, my fourth on the table.
Turn 8 arrives, and Sam draws into a Solemn Offering. Just like that, my Quag Sickness is undone, and her next attack sees me to 11 life. Again, though, I break her back when my 5th Vampire is played- a turn 8 Barony Vampire, and in quick succession I steal my way through to win, with a final Giant Growth seeing the job done.
“I wouldn’t worry,” I say to Sam as we begind drawing our opening hands, “I doubt I’ll even see the Captivating Vampire this time, I’m already ahead of the odds getting him off twice.”
And for three turns, I’m actually right. I draw him on my fourth turn, having already played the game’s only critter thus far, another Viscera Seer. Sam’s turn 3 play is a Wall of Frost, and things start to look like a repeat as I cast a Barony Vampire and the Captivating Vampire the turn following. Looking at the arsenal in my hand, I suspect Sam’s in for a quick loss.
But Sam’s had some time to finagle with her deck, casting an Augury Owl, Foresee, and Jace’s Ingenuity to filter and refresh her hand. The turn 7 Sleep is a lifesaver, which she follows up with a Scroll Thief. She Sleeps me again on turn 8, netting a free card from the attacking Thief (alongside the Owl, who’s now pecked me twice). All I can do is lay down a Socerer’s Strongbox, but I catch a break and crack it on the first try.
But the damage has been done. Sam’s stalling has robbed me of the overwhelming momentum I had in the midgame, being one attack away from certain victory. And now she’s put some defenders in place: Maritime Guard, Water Servant, and a Cloud Elemental now stare back across at me. While Sam’s at 6 life, she’s well-entrenched, and my best recourse now is either to wear her down with waves of attacks, or find another way to her. When I draw a Diabolic Tutor on turn 9, I know it’s now my chance. I cast it, and go fishing.
Turn 10 sees more stalling from Sam as she plays another Foresee and drops a Blinding Mage down. I surprise her with a Howling Banshee. The 3/3 body is welcome but not all that helpful; her enters-the-battlefield ability, however, is. Now clinging to three life, Sam throws out an Air Servant, but has no answer when I untap and cast the Corrupt that I tutored for, for four damage. Just like that, it’s a sweep.
A Little Bit of Luck
I certainly was the beneficiary of good fortune in these three games, I don’t want to give the idea that the Power of Prophesy is a cakewalk, but having the Captivating Vampire out for each of the three games (while she drew into her Sphinx just the once, and promptly had it stolen) lends to a one-sided appearance. Still, as we’ll see in the next post, the deck is indeed designed to get the Captivating fellow out early, and is built around him. Join me in just two days as we break the deck apart and see for ourselves!