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Budget Magic: $92 (21 tix) Vampires (Modern)


Que pasa, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time again! Commander 2017 is released on Friday, and while none of the new cards in the set are legal in Modern (unfortunately), I've had Cats, Wizards, Dragons, and Vampires on the mind lately and have been wondering if, even without the help of the new Commander 2017 cards, any of these tribes could work in Modern on a budget. After a bit of experimentation, I landed on Vampires as the best option, thanks to some unique tribe members and one of the most powerful lords ever printed! As such, this week, we are heading to Modern to get aggressive with a mono-black build of Vampires. Do the bloodsuckers have what it takes to keep up in the efficient and fast format, backed by a ton of Vampire lords (and pseudo-lords) along with some good removal and discard? Let's get to the videos and find out; then, we'll talk some more about the deck.

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Vampires (Deck Tech)

Vampires vs. Merfolk

Vampires vs. RB Graveyard

Vampires vs. UR Storm

Vampires vs. Mono-White Hatebears

Vampires vs. Tron

The Deck

When it comes to building a tribal deck, it's very helpful to try to figure out the tribe's competitive advantage and ask, "what does this tribe do better than anyone else?" Then, after figuring out the tribe's competitive advantage, do everything possible to maximize that advantage. For example, Merfolk's competitive advantage is that it has the most two-mana lords, while the competitive advantage of a tribe like Goblins is that it has the best one-drops. So, what's the competitive advantage of Vampires? The tribe has the best lord, and our deck is built to maximize its power.

Competitive Advantage

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Vampire Nocturnus is an absurd Magic card and one of the most powerful lords in Modern. While four mana is a lot, its ability often ends up being close to a static Overrun, by not only pumping our Vampires but also giving them evasion. Picture this very common curve. On Turn 1, we play a Vampire Lacerator. On Turn 2, we attack for two (opponent to 18) and play a random two-power Vampire like Stromkirk Condemned. On Turn 3, we attack for four (opponent to 14) after playing a Gatekeeper of Malakir to kill our opponent's blocker. On Turn 4, we play Vampire Nocturnus and swing for at least 12 in the air, which means if our opponent used a couple of fetch lands (or if one of our Vampires further pumps our creatures), our opponent is dead on the spot. Even beyond this curve, Vampire Nocturnus is also one of our best ways of stealing games out of nowhere when everything is going wrong.

Of course, this power comes with a downside: we need to have a black card on the top of our deck for this plan to work. Because of this, apart from our lands, every single card in our deck is black, which means Vampire Nocturnus should be in lord mode nearly two-thirds of the time. While being mono-black does come with a cost—as we lose out on some good one-drops, various Olivias, and Stromkirk CaptainVampire Nocturnus is more than powerful enough to make it worth (slightly) warping our deck to harness its power as often as possible. 

Other Lords

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Fresh off a reprinting in Commander 2017 (which was actually pretty important for making Vampires possible on a budget, cutting nearly $15 off the the cost of a playset), our second lord is Captivating Vampire. While the primary reason we're playing Captivating Vampire is to pump our other Vampires, we occasionally get some free value from the second ability by stealing our opponent's creatures. While it might seem like a win-more ability (if we already have five Vampires, we're probably in pretty good shape)—and it often is—there are some situations where stealing a creature or two with Captivating Vampire wins us otherwise unwinnable games, such as by stealing big blockers like Tarmogoyf or various Eldrazi that are good at stonewalling our deck. While these situations are fairly rare, the second ability is pure upside because we want as many lords as possible to help with our beatdown plan.

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Stromkirk Condemned and Indulgent Aristocrat aren't true lords because they require a bit of work to pump our team, but they do often act like lords and help us turn our little Vampires into meaningful threats. While we don't have any real discard synergies, Stromkirk Condemned is close to on curve as a 2/2 for two, and discarding a leftover land to give all of our Vampires +1/+1 until end of turn often ends up equaling at least three and sometimes five (or more) extra damage, while also making blocking difficult for our opponent. Meanwhile, Indulgent Aristocrat is expensive and slow but takes advantage of the fact that there simply aren't a ton of good Vampire one-drops, with most being 1/1s with some sort of upside. Having lifelink is a nice bonus against aggressive decks, and in the late game, we can often use the sacrifice ability to fizzle a removal spell (by saccing a creature that was about to die anyway). Plus, Indulgent Aristocrat has some nice synergy with some of our other Vampires, like Kalastria Highborn

Other Vampires

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Kalastria Highborn does two really important things for our deck. First, with the help of Indulgent Aristocrat, it gives us a way to close out the game without attacking, which can be important when we don't have Vampire Nocturnus to give our team flying. Vampires are pretty good at getting in early damage, but being mono-black, we don't have access to cards like Lightning Bolt to finish off the game, which means if our opponent can play some blockers, there's a risk we end up just a few points of damage short of closing out the game. Kalastria Highborn helps solve this problem by draining our opponent's life total away whenever a Vampire dies, which means we can either sacrifice our team to Indulgent Aristocrat or even just recklessly attack with all of our Vampires (putting our opponent in a position where they die to combat damage if they don't block but die to Kalastria Highborn's drain if they do block) to finish the game. Second, Kalastria Highborn helps give us a bit of protection from wraths like Pyroclasm and Supreme Verdict, since as long as we leave up mana, we can make our opponent lose a bunch of life if they choose to sweep away our board. 

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Vampire Lacerator and Gifted Aetherborn are our beatdown Vampires. While they don't have any sweet abilities, they are important in filling out our curve and providing bodies to be pumped by Captivating Vampire and Vampire Nocturnus. While it might sound strange, Vampire Lacerator is likely the best Vampire one-drop, especially when the plan is to beat down. It's essentially the Vampire version of Goblin Guide, except instead of having the upside of haste, it has the downside of draining us each turn until we get our opponent to 10 or fewer life. Meanwhile, Gifted Aetherborn is a bit hit or miss depending on the matchup. Against aggro or any creature deck, the combination of lifelink and deathtouch is great, but against combo or control, Gifted Aetherborn is basically a vanilla 2/3. As such, we only have one in the main deck but another in the sideboard that we can bring in when the matchup calls for it. 

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Gatekeeper of Malakir is a bit like Gifted Aetherborn—great against creature decks but lacking against spell-based combo. The upside is immense though, since having a main-deck sacrifice effect gives us a chance to beat things like Bogles or Mirran Crusader that would otherwise destroy our deck. Gatekeeper of Malakir is also one of our best ways to force through damage in the early game. It's often hard to lose when we can curve one-drop into two-drop into Gatekeeper of Malakir with kicker to kill our opponent's first creature.  Plus, in a pinch (or when we're playing a combo deck), we can always run Gatekeeper of Malakir out as a 2/2 for two, which isn't great but is still another creature to benefit from our various lords. 

Other Removal

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Disfigure is our budget-friendly version of Fatal Push. While not nearly as powerful, it does do a good job of killing a Goblin Guide, Leonin Arbiter or Eidolon of the Great Revels at instant speed for just a single mana. Urge to Feed kills slightly more than Disfigure but has the additional upside of antheming our team. It occasionally leads to some huge blowouts where we can block, kill a creature, and then tap the blocking creature to give it a +1/+1 counter, allowing it to kill whatever it's blocking. Finally, out of all the two-mana removal spells in black, Victim of Night hits the widest range of targets, which makes it great in a deck that's playing 20 Swamps to make sure we always have the mana to cast it on Turn 2.

Wrap-Up

All in all, we finished our video matches 3-2 but lost an additional match to a Humans deck, bringing out total record down to 3-3. The deck felt solid, and a lot of its problems seemed to be self-inflicted. Maybe the biggest issue was Ghost Quarter. Since I really hate losing to Tron, I tend to try to fit Ghost Quarter into just about any deck possible, but in this case, we had multiple games that we lost because we couldn't cast our double- (and triple-) black spells on time thanks to the colorless land. When I play the deck again, I'll either cut Ghost Quarter (and essentially give up on beating Tron in game one) or—if budget isn't a concern—add in a couple of copies of Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to let our Ghost Quarters tap for black mana (in non-budget builds, there's also an argument that Mutavault may be a better colorless land, although we'd still want Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth).

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As far as the current deck, the main deck felt pretty solid, apart from the somewhat janky removal designed to keep us below budget. Kalastria Highborn underperformed a bit since we spent most of our turns tapping out, so we rarely had mana up to pay for the drain when a creature died, while Vampire Nocturnus was insane, winning us a lot of games that we probably shouldn't have won. 

In sum, I feel like the budget build of Vampires is fairly competitive but somewhat lacks consistency. While we typically did well in creature matchups or when we drew a Vampire Nocturnus, we can struggle against combo thanks to the limited number of discard spells, and when we don't have a Vampire Nocturnus, we spend the game playing a board full of 2/2s, which isn't especially scary in a format as powerful as Modern. This being said, the deck is good enough to win games on Magic Online or at FNM, but I'd want to do some upgrading before heading to a higher-level event. 

Getting Vampires into the ultra-budget range requires a couple of big cuts. Apart from changing up the sideboard and getting rid of the Ghost Quarters, the biggest loss is Inquisition of Kozilek, which makes the combo matchup even worse. The challenge with cutting Inquisition of Kozilek is that we don't really have a good replacement. Duress is good against combo but whiffs to too much in general to be a strong main-deck option, so instead of adding discard, we beef up our removal package. Second, we cut Kalastria Highborn, which wasn't all that impressive anyway. In her place, we get Asylum Visitor, which works well with Stromkirk Condemned and potentially gives us a steady stream of card advantage if the game goes long and we can empty out our hand. All in all, the idea of the deck is the same: play a bunch of aggressive Vampires, back them up with Captivating Vampire and Vampire Nocturnus, and close out the game quickly, so the ultra-budget build should play mostly like the deck in the videos, although it will be weaker against combo and slightly better against creature-based decks thanks to the additional removal. 

As for non-budget Vampires, we mostly add powerful black cards. In fact, the only Vampire addition to the deck is Bloodghast, which mostly fills in for Kalastria Highborn as our wrath-protection card and also synergizes with Indulgent Aristocrat (since we can keep sacrificing Bloodghast to anthem our team and then get it back by playing a land). Otherwise, we get Liliana of the Veil as a great all-purpose planeswalker, Thoughtseize to go alongside Inquisition of Kozilek for more discard to shore up the combo matchup, an improved mana base with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Mutavault, and Fatal Push as our primary removal spell. We also get to upgrade the sideboard with Leyline of the Void, Fulminator Mage, and Collective Brutality. Basically, we play like a more powerful version of the deck in the videos. While we're still looking to win the game with Vampire Nocturnus, we have a ton more tools to help fix bad matchups and a higher power level in general. Of course, this power comes at a cost, with the upgraded build jumping to nearly $1,000. If you are looking for more incremental upgrades, I'd start by upping the discard spell count with some Thoughtseizes before moving to the mana base and Fatal Pushes. 

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One last non-budget thing. It's probably possible to build Vampires in a few different color combinations beyond mono-black, with black-green and black-red being the most obvious. Going with green gives Vampires access to Collected Company, which is pretty much a cheat card when it comes to building tribal decks. The problem is that Collected Company doesn't really work with Vampire Nocturnus, which is already a cheat card, some I'm not sure it would be worth the trouble. On the other hand, there are some red-black vampires that could work well with Vampire Nocturnus, with Olivia Voldaren providing a great midrange threat and Stromkirk Captain giving us an additional lord. Plus, if we splash red, we could go with the Blood Moon sideboard plan, which is a great way to steal games from an unsuspecting opponent. While we'd still want to keep most (or all) of our non-land cards black for Vampire Nocturnus, a slight red splash could be the right direction to go with the non-budget build of the deck.

Conclusion

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


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