On the Cusp of Greatness: Vampires

Briger, a humble researcher, takes a look at the history of Vampires in the Pioneer format.

Greetings and Salutations, My name is Briger, and I am writing to you at this dire time, hoping sincerely that it is not too late. I am but a humble researcher. It is my job to catalog niche, strange decks and findings in the Pioneer format and condense the information so that others might understand them. In recent days, I have come across a collection of cards so dreadful, so dastardly, so eerie, that it cannot be talked about in front of the faint of heart. 

Prithee, exercise caution going forward, for the vampires are near. 

A Timeless History

Vampires are one of Magic’s oldest tribes, with origins dating back to Alpha by way of Sengir Vampire. The tribe didn’t have any synergies until about two years later with the release of Homelands’ Baron Senger. Over the years, Wizards of the Coast has shifted to treating them like a real tribe by giving them more and more support, which eventually enabled the first legitimate build in 2009 with the release of Zendikar. Oleskii Antonenko, a competitor at Worlds 2009, chose to run such powerful vampire enablers as Maliker Bloodwitch and Vampire Nocturnus backed up by some of the strongest uncommons in Standard at the time in Vampire Nighthawk and Gatekeeper of Malakir. Throughout Zendikar Standard, vampires was run commonly as a go-big aggressive deck with more reach than the other aggro builds like Tokens and the Wild Nacatl decks of the time. After Zendikar Block’s rotation, the tribe wouldn’t retake the limelight for several years.  Though one of the major themes of a soon-proceeding block, Innistrad, was the Vampire Scourge, that block just had too much else going on for the relatively low powered tribe in that block to keep hold above the FNM level.

A Common Ancestor

The tribe would then take a back seat for several years until 2017 with the release of one of the most memorable vampire sets Ixalan, where the decision was made to feature the tribe primarily in White Black rather than the traditional mono black or black red. While Vampires were relatively niche in the beginning, the deck would soon find a tremendous shot in the arm with the release of Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord in M20. This extremely strong enabler allowed for some devilish play in standard, and was the core component in the Pioneer adaptation of the archetype that still sees play today.

Warring Factions

Vampires as an archetype has seen many different iterations, and this flexibility extends to Pioneer where the deck can take several shapes and sizes. 

Mono-Black

Mono Black Vampires
Pioneer
Buy on TCGplayer $449.65
6 mythic
29 rare
7 uncommon
18 common
0
1
2
3
4
5
6+
Planeswalkers (4)
Instants (6)
4
Fatal Push
$19.96
2
Heartless Act
$0.78
Sorceries (4)
4
Thoughtseize
$87.96
Lands (25)
15
Swamp
$5.25
4
Mutavault
$35.96
4
Castle Locthwain
$11.96
60 Cards
$456.64
15 Cards
$66.61

The original build of the deck in Pioneer came in the form of Mono Black, which was the first variant to really take off. Its combination of early aggression via Knight of the Ebon Legion, defensive walling of Gifted Aetherborn, and heavy interaction suite featuring Thoughtseize and Fatal Push created a stable core for the unfair portion of the deck to rest on. Lead by Sorin, the deck takes the midgame to cheat out some larger threats ahead of curve, cheating on mana and creating huge advantage. Being mono-colored, the deck also had access to something that a lot of other aggressive decks at the time couldn’t facilitate, being a full creature land suite with Mutavaults and Faceless Havens, who ensured that the deck never ran out of things to do.

Orzhov

Orzhov Vampires
Pioneer
Buy on TCGplayer $465.77
7 mythic
39 rare
6 uncommon
8 common
0
1
2
3
4
5
6+
Planeswalkers (5)
Instants (6)
4
Fatal Push
$19.96
2
Infernal Grasp
$2.58
Sorceries (4)
4
Thoughtseize
$87.96
60 Cards
$496.1
Sideboard
3
Noxious Grasp
$1.05
4
Go Blank
$9.16
2
Crippling Fear
$0.50
3
Damping Sphere
$8.97
15 Cards
$65.85

The first big iteration to the Vampires shell was the addition of White to the Mono Black shell. This variant took the central core, and dipped into White for some stronger midrange threats such as Edgar, Charmed Groom and Blood Baron of Vizkopa. Edgar proved to be an unstoppable value engine over the course of the game with its tendancy to never die, while Blood Baron played into the meta game a bit by being a thorn in the side of the mirror as well as the rest of the Thoughtseize dominated meta at the time. These inclusions helped solidify the deck’s place as the defacto midrange deck of choice for several months. 

Grixis

Grixis Vampires
Pioneer
Buy on TCGplayer $652.08
7 mythic
40 rare
12 uncommon
1 common
0
1
2
3
4
5
6+
Planeswalkers (5)
Instants (4)
4
Fatal Push
$19.96
Sorceries (7)
4
Thoughtseize
$87.96
2
Dreadbore
$14.98
Enchantments (4)
Lands (24)
1
Swamp
$0.35
1
Haunted Ridge
$19.99
2
Shipwreck Marsh
$9.98
1
Steam Vents
$19.99
2
Watery Grave
$39.98
3
Xander's Lounge
$25.47
3
Blood Crypt
$59.97
60 Cards
$669.78
Sideboard
2
Noxious Grasp
$0.70
2
Duress
$0.50
3
Go Blank
$6.87
2
Damping Sphere
$5.98
1
Alpine Moon
$3.99
15 Cards
$73.51

The final and current iteration on the archetype is the Grixis Vampires deck, which deviates pretty far from the norm established in earlier versions. The Maestros from Streets of New Capenna offered a lot to the tribe, with such winners as Evelyn the Covetous and Corpse Appraiser setting the stage for Sorin and Kalitas to take over the game. This version relies fairly heavily on some of the strongest standard-legal cards in the colors with Bloodtithe Harvester and the ever-present Fable of the Mirror Breaker as well, who can absolutely demolish an underprepared opponent, especially when working in tandem. Some players have attempted to use Sorin to cheat Lord Xander, the Collector into play, though this was relatively short lived as he proved to not be worth his while even when he only cost 3 mana.   

So What Happened?

Vampires has certainly struggled in the last few months to maintain a solid footing in the Pioneer metagame. The deck seems to be lacking something to make players gravitate toward it like they had in the earlier days, and after chatting with some of my fellow PlayingPioneer teammates, I think that that missing aspect is consistency. The deck plays a decent fair game, but if it isn’t able to make the Sorin mana cheat play on turn three, it can definitely struggle to close out games or recover quickly enough against the onslaught of other powerful decks that it’ll face in this format. Whether that’s an additional effect to cheat out these mid and late game creatures or a stronger form of interaction to rely on when Sorin is absent, the deck could definitely use some new tools. I think that the deck is quite close to being good enough, and certainly has some strong draws that can take down and dominate on a local level, but it’s missing that special something to let it keep up in the highly-competitive scene. 

Dearest reader, 

Seeing you make it through that has given me hope in humanity. Many wouldn’t dare learn about the monsters of the night, and I commend your bravery. Thank you for making it this far, and I implore you to come again next month to discover more about these ancient relics of the Pioneer format. 

Best regards Briger Smith- Deck Anthropologist, Playing Pioneer.

  • Author

    Briger has been losing games of Magic since Gatecrash. On a good day, he can be found huddled up in his cave playing Elden Ring, and the rest of the time he can be found listening to and making Pioneer podcasts!

Liked it? Take a second to support PlayingPioneer on Patreon!