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Budget Magic: $100 (100 tix) Rakdos Madness Vampires (Pioneer, Magic Online)

Happy New Year, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! Before long, it will be time to start checking out some sweet new Theros: Beyond Death cards in Standard. But while we wait for the set to be released, we're heading back to Pioneer for a deck that's half tribal and half discard synergies: Rakdos Madness Vampires! Thankfully, the two halves of our deck nicely tie together since we have Vampires that allow us to discard cards and then Vampires that also happen to like to be discarded, most often because we can cast them at a discount thanks to madness. Plus, since our deck is overloaded with Vampires, we get to play a very powerful planeswalker in Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord, which doesn't directly do anything with our madness plan but can win games on its own by repeatedly throwing Lightning Helixes at our opponent's face or mowing down their creatures with damage. Can madness combine with Vampires to compete in Pioneer on a budget? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Rakdos Madness Vampires (Pioneer)

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The Deck

At its heart, Rakdos Madness Vampires is an aggro deck but with a couple of twists. While it isn't a full-on tribal deck, it does rely on Vampire synergies, and all of its creatures are tribe members. Meanwhile, it also uses the madness mechanic to turn somewhat overcosted finishers like Voldaren Pariah and Bloodhall Priest into undercosted threats. The easiest way to break down the deck is to look at it in three parts: discard outlets (to enable madness), madness cards (to benefit from our discard outlets), and Vampire stuff.

Discard Outlets

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Our two most important discard outlets are Stromkirk Condemned and Call the Bloodline since both cards offer repeatable ways to discard cards. While both are limited to just one discard per turn, they are quite powerful even with this limitation since we can activate them during our turn and then again during our opponent's turn to play our madness cards at instant speed. Stromkirk Condemned comes with the upside of pumping out Vampires, making it a weird sort of Vampire lord and allowing us to force through extra damage with our creatures. Meanwhile, Call the Bloodline creates lifelinking Vampire tokens, which not only benefit from Stromkirk Captain but also support some of our other Vampire payoffs like Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord

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Backing up our every-turn discard outlets are a couple of one-shot discard outlets in Insolent Neonate and Lightning Axe. Insolent Neonate gives us a one-drop Vampire to start our curve while also allowing us to discard a madness card by sacrificing itself, with the bonus of drawing us a new card. As for Lightning Axe, it's actually a very powerful removal spell, answering most of the common threats in the Pioneer format. Normally, it comes with the downside of discarding a card (or paying a ton of extra mana), but thanks to our madness cards, the discard downside is actually an upside in our deck. Often, we can use Lightning Axe to generate a two-for-one by casting it after our opponent attacks, to kill one creature and essentially flash a madness creature into play to block another attacker.

Madness Cards

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Voldaren Pariah is the perfect example of the madness mechanic's power. As a five-mana 3/3, Voldaren Pariah isn't very exciting, but when we can madness it into play for just three mana, it's an above-the-curve threat as a 3/3 flier. The real power of Voldaren Pariah, however, is its transform ability. While sacrificing three creatures is a high cost, we have ample fodder thanks to random Call the Bloodline tokens and Oathsworn Vampire. And then forcing our opponent to sacrifice three creatures is extremely powerful, often allowing us to trade some random 1/1s for three real creatures while leaving us with a 6/5 flier to beat our opponent down.

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Next on our madness list are two creatures that not only have madness but also actively reward us for discarding cards to the point where we end up empty-handed. Bloodhall Priest is similar to Voldaren Pariah, in that it's only okay when we cast it naturally as a 4/4 for four. But when we can madness it into play for just three mana, it's one of the best creatures in our deck. Then, if we can get empty-handed, Bloodhall Priest not only offers an above-the-curve creature but also some direct damage to shoot down small creatures or close out the game by going to our opponent's face. Meanwhile, Asylum Visitor gives us a pseudo–Dark Confidant, but only if we (or our opponent) get hellbent, offering a way to draw extra cards, find more action, and hopefully close out the game. Combine this with a madness-able 3/1 for two, and it's a solid addition to our deck.

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Our last madness card is Fiery Temper, which is mostly just a Lightning Bolt since we can almost always discard it and cast if for just one mana. Considering that actual Lightning Bolt isn't in Pioneer, being one of the few decks that can deal three damage for just a single mana is a huge boon to the madness archetype.

Vampire Stuff

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Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord doesn't directly work with our madness plan, but it's the best Vampire card in Pioneer, making it an easy inclusion in our deck. The first +1 offers a way to grow our random Vampires, while the lifelink is a great way to swing the race against aggro. The second +1 gives us a repeatable Lightning Helix that works incredibly well with both Oathsworn Vampire (more on that in a minute) and Call the Bloodline. In the late game, once we end up in top-deck mode, the floor on our draws is a Lightning Helix since no matter what we draw, we can discard it to make a 1/1 Vampire and then sacrifice that Vampire to Sorin to deal three damage to something and gain three life. Finally, the 3 doesn't actually come up all that often—we're more than happy to just keep +1'ing Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord every turn—but sometimes, we do use it to sneak something like Bloodhall Priest or Voldaren Pariah into play if we are pinched on mana. 

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Oathsworn Vampire is a classic example of a card that looks better on paper than it plays on the battlefield. In theory, Oathsworn Vampire has a lot of synergy with Madness Vampires. It offers a free discard since we can eventually play it from our graveyard after gaining life with a Call the Bloodline token or Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord. Speaking of Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord, Oathsworn Vampire gives us another infinite Lightning Helix combo since we can sacrifice it every turn to Sorin's second +1 and then immediately replay it from our graveyard. 

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In practice, Oathsworn Vampire coming into play tapped is really, really rough. We played against a lot of aggro decks and really needed to be able to block creatures like Bomat Courier, only for Oathsworn Vampire to leave us hanging. Next time I play the deck, I'm planning on cutting it. If you're willing to stretch the budget a bit, Knight of the Ebon Legion feels like an easy replacement, while Falkenrath Gorger is a solid budget-friendly replacement.


All in all, we finished our video matches 3-2, although we actually won an additional match against Temur Marvel. But I couldn't use the video due to an audio problem, making our total record a bit better. Both of our losses came to aggro decks where we lost the die roll, although we did beat Burn, so it's not impossible that we can beat aggro (and in reality, I don't even think aggro is a bad matchup for our deck since Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord is so insane in the matchup). 

As far as changes to make to the deck, the only card I really want to cut is Oathsworn Vampire, which we already talked about. Otherwise, the deck feels fairly competitive (and super fun) as is.

In the end, Rakdos Madness Vampire feels like a fairly solid budget option for the Pioneer format. While the deck is fun as is, it offers the additional upside of flexibility. Since Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord is the only expensive card in the deck, if you buy Rakdos Madness Vampires, you can switch into decks like Mono-Black Vampires or Orzhov Vampires without a huge additional investment if you get tired of the Rakdos Madness Vampires plan. If you enjoy tribal synergies or just like discarding cards for value, give Rakdos Madness Vampires a shot!

Nonbudget Vampires

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If you want to directly upgrade Rakdos Madness Vampires, it's pretty easy: you just need to fix the mana, primarily by turning Bloodfell Caves into Blood Crypt. Otherwise, the deck is solid in its budget form. On the other hand, if you want to play a more expensive Vampire deck, heading toward Mono-Black Vampires is likely the way to go. The deck takes advantage of some of the same cards we use in Rakdos Madness Vampires (especially Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord) but is more of a true tribal deck. In recent weeks, Mono-Black Vampires has emerged as a legitimate tier deck in the Pioneer format, which is nice since the money you spend on Rakdos Madness Vampires won't go to waste. You can have fun playing the budget build and eventually work toward upgrading into a tier Pioneer list, if you wish.

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There's really only one way to get Madness Vampires down in the $50 price range: cutting Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord. While losing Sorin hurts because it's a powerful Vampire card in a vacuum, the deck can still function without it, and the madness plan gets even more support with the addition of Olivia, Mobilized for War (as another powerful discard outlet) and Falkenrath Gorger (so we can madness in non-madness Vampires like Stromkirk Condemned and Olivia, Mobilized for War). Otherwise, we drop the disappointing Oathsworn Vampire (which becomes even worse without Sorin, if that's possible), but the rest of the deck basically stays the same.


Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at


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