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Budget Magic: $99 (25 tix) Mardu Vampires (Modern)


สวัสดีครับ, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! A while ago, we played a Mono-Black Vampire deck in Modern that was surprisingly effective, especially for a budget deck. Since then, Ixalan brought with it a ton of new Vampires to buff the tribe, so we're going to give Modern Vampires another shot this week but with a twist. Rather than being a mono-black aggro build of Vampires, today's deck is Mardu, which allows the deck to overload on powerful lords. In fact, we have a total of 16 Vampire lords in our deck, which means more than half of our creatures pump all of our other Vampires! Does the combination of endless lords and some powerful new additions from Ixalan block mean it's time for Vampires to rise to the top of Modern? Let's get to the videos and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Mardu Vampires

The Deck

Mardu Vampires is pretty simple: we play a ton of Vampire lords along with a handful of non-lord Vampires. We back up our creatures with some strong removal in Terminate and Lightning Bolt and trust that our bloodsuckers can get our opponent dry before they manage to stabilize by finding a wrath or a ton of spot removal.

The Lords

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Vampire Nocturnus is an absurdly powerful lord. While four mana is a lot, it not only gives all of our Vampires +2/+1 but also flying, which makes it a sort of weird Vampire Overrun. Oh yeah, and it's also a 5/4 flier itself! Of course, this comes with a bit of risk: for Vampire Nocturnus to not just be a black Hill Giant, we need to have a black card on the top of our library. Thankfully, apart from a playset of Lightning Bolt—which is just too good to pass up—every non-land card in our main deck is black (or a gold card with black being one of the colors, which still counts as black as far as Vampire Nocturnus is concerned), which means odds are in favor of us having a black card on the top of our deck to power up Nocturnus. This means that Vampire Nocturnus is not only our best lord but our best finisher and even our best card when we are behind because as long as we have a few random Vampires on the battlefield, we are always one Vampire Nocturnus away from stealing the game.

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In the three-drop slot are two more lords, both with upsides. Captivating Vampire is usually just a lord, but every once in a while, the board gets clogged up, our opponent doesn't have removal, and we win the game by stealing all of our opponent's creatures (see: our game against Colorless Eldrazi). Meanwhile, Stromkirk Captain is very strong against creature decks, since it gives all of our Vampires first strike along with +1/+1; not only does this allow us to attack through blockers, but when things go poorly, having a wall of first-striking creatures is great on defense, letting us throw a bunch of smaller Vampires in front of one big Death's Shadow or Eldrazi to take it down. Most importantly, the combination of Captivating Vampire and Stromkirk Captain give us redundancy with our lords. The entire idea of our deck is to play as many lords as possible, and Captivating Vampire and Stromkirk Captain are an essential part of this plan.

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Our last lord is also our newest lord: Legion Lieutenant. While the Rivals of Ixalan Vampire lord lacks the upside of our other lords, it makes up for this by only costing two mana. If you look at the most popular lord decks in Modern, like Merfolk and GW Humans, one thing they all have in common is at least one two-mana lord. Because of this, the addition of Legion Lieutenant is huge for Modern Vampires, letting us get our lord plan started a turn earlier, pumping our one-drops to get in as much damage as possible, and allowing us to curve our lords from Turns 2 through 4, which is a pretty unbeatable start if our opponent doesn't have too much removal. 

Other Vampires

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The other huge new addition from Ixalan block is Dusk Legion Zealot, which is exactly what Modern Vampires needed. Elvish Visionary has long been a staple in Elf tribal decks because a random two-mana Elf that doesn't cost a card is actually really powerful in a deck overflowing with lords and synergies. Dusk Legion Zealot is exactly the same for our Vampire deck. While a two-mana 1/1 might not sound exciting in a format as powerful as Modern, the fact that we have so many lords means that Dusk Legion Zealot is often attacking for two, three, or four damage while cycling us through our deck to find more Vampires and removal. If things go poorly, Dusk Legion Zealot is also a fine chump blocker, allowing us to survive an attack from a huge creature without losing a more powerful creature like a lord to buy another turn in the hopes of drawing a Vampire Nocturnus to close out the game.

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Gifted Aetherborn is just a two-of, but it's really good against big creatures while also being helpful against aggressive decks thanks to the lifegain. While it isn't the fastest clock, the combination of taking down Death's Shadows and Reality Smashers while also keeping us out of the danger zone against Burn means that Gifted Aetherborn does some things that none of our other more beatdown-focused Vampires do. As such, the fact that it's really important in some matchups and relatively on curve (if unexciting) even in bad matchups makes Gifted Aetherborn a fine filler Vampire for our deck.

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Finally, we have our one-drop Vampires. Vampire Lacerator is basically our Goblin Guide as a one-mana 2/2. While losing life in the early game is annoying, thanks to our fast clock and the fact that most Modern decks take some amount of damage from their lands, it usually doesn't take too many turns to get our opponent to 10 or less life to turn off the drawback. Meanwhile, Vampire Cutthroat gives us another lifelinker, and thanks to skulk, it occasionally gets in for unblockable damage. Even though skulk doesn't work all that well with our lords (if we pump the Vampire Cutthroat, it's more likely our opponent will be able to block it), Vampire Cutthroat is still reasonable in our deck. Last but not least, we have a single Indulgent Aristocrat, which is actually very similar to Vampire Cutthroat, giving up the upside of skulk for the ability to pump our other Vampires. The problem with the anthem ability of Indulgent Aristocrat is that Mardu Vampires really wants to curve out, so if things are going well, we can't leave up removal to activate the ability. This being said, in the late game, it is nice to be able to sacrifice one of our Vampires that is targeted with a removal spell to get some extra value. 

Most importantly, the combination of these cards helps to make sure that we start playing things on the very first turn of the game, which is important to our plan. When Mardu Vampires is at its best, we're curving out from one mana to four mana and ideally killing our opponent shortly thereafter. Missing out on the one-drop and staring our curve on Turn 2 slows down our deck significantly, so having a reasonably number of one-drops—even if most of them aren't all that powerful—is important to Mardu Vampires functioning properly. 

Utility Cards

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Our removal package is pretty straightforward. Lightning Bolt is solid, despite its anti-synergy with Vampire Nocturnus, giving us a way to clear out blockers in the early game and then push through the last few points of damage by hitting our opponent's face in the late game. Meanwhile, Terminate is not only a black card for Nocturnus but the best Doom Blade ever printed. Killing anything at instant speed with no restriction is a great deal for two mana.

Wrap-Up

Mardu Vampires was a lot better than I expected. Not only did we finish 4-1, but we beat a lot of top-tier Modern decks along the way, including Affinity, Grixis Death's Shadow, and Colorless Eldrazi. The combination of good removal and a ton of lords seemed to be a pretty good way of winning games. Vampire Nocturnus was especially insane, coming down to close out games when were were ahead but also stealing some games that we had no business winning by giving all of our Vampires a huge buff and evasion. All in all, the deck felt really good, despite the clunky budget mana occasionally giving us problems.

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As far as upgrades to the budget version of the deck, I don't think there's much to change. The only real problem with the deck is the mana, but there isn't really a good way of improving the mana base while still sticking to the budget. Having fetch lands and shock lands would be especially helpful for Mardu Vampires because apart from fixing our mana, fetch lands give us a way to change the top card of our library to further increase the odds of Vampire Nocturnus being in lord mode. 

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The new Ixalan additions were amazing. Dusk Legion Zealot, while looking like one of our least powerful cards on paper, is the glue that holds the deck together, and being able to chain together Vampire into Vampire was extremely important in winning some games. As for Legion Lieutenant, having a lord that comes down on Turn 2 rather than on Turn 3 makes Vampires feel much more Merfolk-y, except with better removal and more reach. It's really amazing how a random common and uncommon can have such a big impact on a tribe as old and powerful as Vampires!

All in all, Mardu Vampires was great. The tribe got a huge boost of power from Ixalan, and the budget build actually felt like it could keep up with most of the best decks in Modern. If you like tribal decks or have the old Mono-Black Vampire build to upgrade from, Mardu Vampires is a great budget option for Modern and can get even better with some upgrades (especially to the sideboard and mana base). 

Unfortunately, it's pretty much impossible to stick with the three-color build and get the deck into ultra-budget range, so to get the price down into the $50 range, we cut red from the deck altogether, leaving us with a WB Vampire list. The biggest drawback of losing red is that we have to drop Stromkirk Captain, so in place of the lord, we increase the number of one-drops in the deck with more Vampire Cutthroats. We also lose Lightning Bolt and Terminate, which leaves us with a mixture of Doom Blade, Declaration in Stone, and Oblivion Ring as our removal. Otherwise, we drop Gifted Aetherborn (which is weirdly expensive because of Standard) for Vampire Hexmage, which is solid against planeswalkers and other random counters cards like Arcbound Ravager. The end result is a slightly less lord-heavy deck with somewhat less efficient removal but a relatively solid-looking WB Vampire list taking advantage of the sweet new Ixalan cards. 

The non-land cards in the main deck don't actually change very much when Mardu Vampires is upgraded to the non-budget version. In fact, the only additions are Bloodghast for Indulgent Aristocrat and a copy of Gifted Aetherborn and Fatal Push for Lightning Bolt. This leaves us with 100% black cards, which is important for powering up our Vampire Nocturnus. Meanwhile, the mana base gets a huge upgrade with fetch lands, shock lands, and fast lands. Otherwise, the sideboard gets a big boost of power with Rest in Peace, Stony Silence, and Fulminator Mage. All in all, the deck should play almost exactly like the build from the videos, just with more consistency thanks to the better mana and sideboard cards to help it fight a wider range of matchups. 

Conclusion

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 SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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