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Magic players love aesthetics. From foils, to special frames, to that special basic you use for all of your decks — completeness and visual satisfaction resonate among much of the player base. Tribal decks represent perhaps one of the most aesthetically pleasing archetypes — every card matches the rest, and often the color schemes are similar. There’s also an emotional connection to tribal strategies that we rarely see elsewhere — most people find it easier to latch onto a tribe like “Goblins” or Elves” early on in their exploration of Magic, rather than a “Doom Blade” deck.

We see this same sort of connection with color combinations, though often what it means to be Orzhov changes from player to player. In this article, I’ll be running through one of the recent Tribal decks to hit the competitive scene — Vampires. I’ll be discussing card choices, the roles of each card, and we will even have a Sideboard Guide to help you make that climb to Mythic.

The Payoffs

Legion Lieutenant | If Magic’s history has taught us anything with regards to tribal decks, it’s that two mana lords tend to be powerful. Legion Lieutenant is the best Vampire payoff in the format, and supplements the aggressive cadre of Vampires perfectly. Multiple Legion Lieutenants also protect your board from Cry of the Carnarium or Massacre Girl, though often those decks will have to remove the Lieutenant immediately. With a suite of one drop Vampires available to fully utilize both Legion Lieutenant and Legion’s Landing, this uncommon holds its own in a format filled the absurd late game engines.

Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord | While not a Vampire lord, Sorin is a powerful Vampire payoff that almost singlehandedly brought the deck from fringe FNM deck to serious contender. Sorin gives the deck nearly every effect it wanted — reach, removal, and a “combo” of Turn 3 Champion of Dusk to reload on cards. Additionally, Sorin can allow even small creatures to grow outside of Cry of the Carnarium range, making Adanto Vanguard an exceptionally brutal two drop.

Icon of Ancestry | With Radiant Destiny still legal it may come as a surprise that a colorless version is so powerful, but Icon has one huge upside over Radiant Destiny — it draws you cards. As with most decks playing twelve one drops, running out of gas is a problem. With Sorin and Legion’s Landing, Vampires is an exceptionally mana efficient deck, and Icon of Ancestry is both a proactive play and a card advantage engine. Many games are ended by activating Icon to continually find fuel for Sorin, but even finding a Champion of the Dusk is a huge play. Four copies is the defaul amount, and I would only trim them to make room for main deck removal.

Sanctum Seeker | A flex vampire payoff, Sanctum Seeker is effectively a lord that gives a crucial amount of reach. In this new, Elemental oriented meta game, board stalls are bound to ensue. In these situations, both decks rarely play removal, making Sanctum Seeker a huge threat in uncontrolled boards. Two copies feels like an excellent distribution, but I would cut them in favor of removal if needed.

Champion of Dusk | Perhaps the most powerful payoff, Champion of the Dusk is set to rise to prominence when combined with Sorin. While playable in Vampire decks before, five mana was always a tough ask for an otherwise low to the ground deck. When combined with Sorin’s -3 or Legion’s Landing, putting a Champion of the dusk into play and drawing three or more cards is often trivial. With this many payoffs, most decks won’t survive a resolved Champion, letting vampires play a protracted game.

The Vampires

Skymarcher Aspirant | While one mana 2/1s have been a frequent statline for White creatures, Skymarcher Aspirant breaks the mold by being one of the few with a huge upside — flying. Ascending can be quite easy in a deck with Sorin, Dusk Legion Zealot, and Legion’s Landing as ways to put multiple bodies into play, and being a huge flying threat is the perfect incentive for preserving creatures.

Knight of the Ebon Legion | A recent pickup from M20, Knight of the Ebon Legion is perhaps the most powerful threat in the deck. Snowballing early with even average draws, Knight gives Vampires a powerful mana sink and an easy way to fight through even large creatures. It also plays well with Adanto Vanguard, getting a counter as early as Turn 2.

Legion’s Landing | A constant player among White aggressive decks, Legion’s Landing works perfectly with a host of one drops, and serves as an additional piece of “ramp” for our curve-toppers. It also provides an endless stream of bodies as fodder for Sorin, and is one of the best ways to climb back into a game.

Dusk Legion Zealot | While aggressive decks are ordinarily not in the market for two mana 1/1s, Dusk Legion Zealot smooths out draws and acts as card advantage in most matchups. Ensuring a continual stream of bodies is what makes Vampires so successful, and having a threat that replaces itself is perfect for synergy decks.

Adanto Vanguard | Seldom does a high power two drop come attached to an indestructible body, but Adanto Vanguard’s unique set of abilities have made it the scourge of many decks. When combined with Sorin, Adanto Vanguard gain lifelink and can quickly grow larger than what Cry of the Carnarium can handle. This curve is brutal, and can guarantee a victory against many of the slower decks.

The Sideboard

Duress | Hand disruption is always a powerful tool, and Duress is the most efficient way to beat board wipes like Cry of the Carnarium or Kaya’s Wrath. While it does little to prevent the opponent from drawing these cards, the information allows the cast to outmaneuver interaction from the opponent.

Devout Decree | The first color hoser in the sideboard, Devout Decree is a powerhouse in the mirror, but can act as a nearly unconditional removal spell against Red decks. It removes both Arclight Phoenix and Rekindling Phoenix cleanly, while slowing down Gruul’s Domri starts. Two copies is sufficient for now, but just adjust as the metagame changes.

Noxious Grasp | Color hosers are both a popular and a powerful piece of sideboard hate, and Noxious Grasp hits much of the format right now. From Nissa to Lyra, the applications are both broad and powerful. Most Black decks should be packing a few copies of this card.

Tocatli Honor Guard | Elementals is proving to be a successful archetype, and Wildgrowth Walker is showcasing just how powerful the explore package is. For as long as players want to gum up the board, we’ll be playing Tocatli Honor Guard to shut down their deck. While it does not interact favorably with Champion of the Dusk or Dusk Legion Zealot, the upside is well worth it.

Gideon Blackblade | Slower decks tend to struggle with this iconic planeswalker, and dodging both Kaya’s Wrath and Cry of the Carnarium earns Gideon a spot. With Gates making a bit of a resurgence, having a threat that dodges nearly every removal spell cannot be understated. He also acts as another Soring with Adanto Vanguard, and can make creatures unblockable to help push through even more damage.

Oath of Kaya | An unorthodox choice for a Vampire sideboard, Oath of Kaya gives the deck that extra bit of reach while shoring up other aggressive matchups. Additionally, Oath of Kaya can marginally gain extra life with Sorin, but its primary purpose is as a bigger Moment of Craving. Cast Down could go in this slot in more Green heavy metagames.

Sideboard Guide and Philosophies

Elementals (Temur Explore) Mirror
3 Noxious Grasp, 3 Tocatli Honor Guard, 2 Gideon Blackblade
In Oath of Kaya
2 Sanctum Seeker, 4 Dusk Legion Zealot, 1 Champion of Dusk, 1 Icon of Ancestry
Out 1 Adanto Vanguard
Elementals (Red Version) Rakdos Aggro
2 Devout Decree, 1 Oath of Kaya, 3 Tocatli Honor Guard
2 Devout Decree, 1 Oath of Kaya, 3 Tocatli Honor Guard
4 Dusk Legion Zealot, 1 Icon of Ancestry, 1 Champion of Dusk
4 Adanto Vanguard, 1 Icon of Ancestry, 1 Champion of Dusk
Gateshift Esper Walkers
In 4 Duress, 2 Gideon Blackblade In
4 Duress, 2 Gideon Blackblade, 2 Noxious Grasp
2 Sanctum Seeker, 2 Icon of Ancestry, 1 Champion of Dusk, 1 Skymarcher Aspirant
4 Skymarcher Aspirant, 2 Sanctum Seeker, 2 Icon of Ancestry

Elementals (Temur Explore)

There are two main ways that you lose this matchup:

  1. Wildgrowth Walker snowballs, and you can’t remove it. This will invalidate your whole board and make you unable to burn them out with Sorin or Sanctum Seeker.
  2. Risen Reef catches them up and they resolve a huge Hydroid Krasis, or chain a bunch of elementals.

Both of these plans are slowed down with either Noxious Grasp or Tocatli Honor Guard, so having one of these on the draw (or a Sorin plus an expendable vampire) is necessary. Don’t be afraid to mulligan slow, clunky hands.

Elementals (Red Version)

They are an aggressive Red deck, and should be treated as such. Tocatli is mostly just a road block, but Devout Decree and Oath of Kaya are your best cards. Try to trade as much as possible, and sit behind a four toughness threat.

They may board into a slower control deck with the three drop Chandra and Lava Coil. If they do, you want the other Champion of Dusk and Duress instead of Tocatlis and some small threats.

The Mirror

  1. There isn’t much play in this matchup, as a light amount of removal spells means both players are trying to race each other. If you’re on the play try to mulligan for higher impact cards. On the draw you want curve out hands or Sorin hands.
  2. If you have high impact hands, try to trade off as much as possible.

Rakdos Aggro

This deck is one you’ll no doubt play against on the way to Mythic, as someone recently hit Rank 1 Mythic with it. Treat it like Mono Red, but they can board up and play better removal. You want interaction, but don’t mulligan too heavily for it — just trading guys off is going to matter, and Dusk Legion Zealot lets you jump up on cards a bit.

Esper Walkers

Tempo matters in this matchup, and while a fast start might be enough to win the game it’s less likely than a slower, resilient hand. Try to pace your threats so they only get to Kaya’s Wrath for a small amount, and try to jam Sorin + Champion of Dusk into play leading into their Teferi turn.

The sideboarding philosophy recognizes that they’re going to board into Cry of the Carnarium and a ton of removal. Tribal payoffs are less good in postboard games, and Icon gets the axe due to Gideon replacing it as a 3 drop.

Thanks for checking out our Vampires Deck Tech, and let us know what you see on your way to the top.