by John Tuvida
Let me just say this once and get it out of my system: I LOVE vampires!
Uh….maybe not these ones
They were always an interest I had, both drawing my attention and terrifying me as I grew up. So when I picked up Magic: the Gathering a little over a year ago and learned of all the formats available in the game, I steadily became interested in building a Commander deck around one of my favourite vamps: Olivia Voldaren. But rather than build a deck with my best black and red cards in it, I opted to build a Commander deck that was vampire themed, a Vampire Tribal deck if you will. A deck that adhered to the lore of the vampires, where they stripped their opponents of resolve and resources and then bled them dry. Building this deck took several months of research online and was also slow going due to not having a huge budget. But as time passed, the deck became stronger … so much to the point that amongst my friends I’m usually the first one they move to take out of the game. While I believe this deck can still become much stronger with some tweaks and dropping more cash into it, the deck is already fun to play and plays to the vampire theme pretty faithfully. … did I mention I LOVE vampires?
Choosing Olivia as your commander does mean she’s going to be the target of removal or counterspells (unless someone else is playing a lower-costing and/or more annoying commander… Zur comes to mind). For me, it was a no-brainer with the theme I was developing. Afterall, best way to kill off a coven is to slay the leader right? Her first ability can be abused to the point where if she goes uncontested, your opponents will have to deal with a flying commander who could be swinging for a ton of commander damage (I’ve actually gotten her up to 25 power once). Biting opponents’ creatures also leaves them open to Olivia’s second ability where she beckons them to cross over to the dark side… or in this case, your side of the field. Of course, these two abilities don’t normally warrant concern from most commander players, but an Olivia wearing a Basilisk Collar or swinging a Quietus Spike is definitely cringe-worthy. Granting the vampire queen deathtouch turns her first ability from a simple ping to a shotgun blast to the face! Of course, that’s IF your opponents let Olivia live long enough to go bat s*it crazy. Luckily for her, she’s bringing some backup to the battle.
There are 25 creatures in this deck, and all but one are vampires. Let’s see what each creature brings to the party:
Chancellor of the Dross
Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief
Mirri the Cursed
Olivia’s Elite Guard
The big guns of the coven. Basically, the guys that will beat faces in. Amongst these vampires, those who do not grow in strength carry other nasty abilities.
They all grow larger when they kill (Baron Sengir and Sengir Vampire) or deal damage to opposing creatures (Mirri the Cursed). This makes them effective blockers that grow bigger and bigger until they start flying in for big damage. Necropolis Regent adds to this growth by placing +1/+1 counters onto creatures that deal damage to players. Falkenrath Marauders grows on its own, but also has haste, so it can fly in immediately. Chancellor of the Dross is a HUGE Flying Lifelink creature at 6/6, but having him in your opening hand will immediately strip 3 life from each opponent and give it to you at the start of the game (probably painting a target on your forehead from the get go). Rounding out the lineup are big vampires with additional abilities. Falkenrath Aristocrat, another one of my favourite vampires, is a 4/1 flying haste creature that can be difficult to kill when she has friends around. Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief has the ability to grow bigger while simultaneously shrinking (and potentially killing) another creature. Malakir Bloodwitch, while being pro-white, can steal life from other players. With a big enough of a party of vampires and enough opponents, the Bloodwitch can net you a ton of life points. And finally, Vampire Nighthawk‘s versatility as an attacker or blocker comes from his built-in Deathtouch ability.
Utility and Removal
Pawn of Ulamog
Bloodlord of Vaasgoth
Butcher of Malakir
Grul Draz Assassin
Gatekeeper of Malakir
Anowon, The Ruin Sage
After the Elite Guard comes the Acolytes, and while smaller than their bigger and more powerful brethren, these vampires provide the Elites with nasty bonuses versus their enemies. Bloodline Keeper in its flipped state, Lord of Lineage, continues to pump other vampires while being able to drop more vampires every turn with a simple tap. Then there’s Rakish Heir, who applies Falkenrath Maurauder’s ability to ALL vampires you control. Bloodlord of Vaasgoth pumps himself via his Bloodthirst 3, but also bestows Bloodthirst 3 to other vampires coming into play. And to round out pumpers, Stromkirk Captain and Captivating Vampire both give other vampires +1/+1, while the Stromkirk Captain has the added bonus of granting First Strike to other vamps. Captivating Vampire along with four other bloodsuckers can steal an opponent’s creature.
Butcher of Malakir, Guul Draz Assassin, Gatekeeper of Malakir and Anowon the Ruin Sage all provide varying levels of creature removal. Sangromancer and Blood Seeker both drain life from opponents when they try to play cards or lose cards. Rounding out the Acolytes is Pawn of Ulamog, who turns creatures you control into mana-producing Eldrazi tokens when they die(ensuring their demise was not in vain). Vampire Hexmage can sacrifice itself to remove all counters from a target permanent, perfect for dealing with cards that need quest counters and planeswalkers. And finally, Bloodhusk Ritualist‘s kicker can strip an opponent of their hand if you have mana to burn.
She is saddened to learn that there is no Dark Depths in this deck
The last creature to discuss is that one sole creature who is not a vampire: Dread. Think of this elemental incarnation as a strange pet of Olivia‘s that hangs out in Voldaren Manor. With Fear built in and 6/6 stats, it’s already a threat on the board. But when it ALSO says “whenever a creature deals damage to you, destroy it” and “if its destroyed, shuffle it back into its owner’s library”, its quite clear that Olivia‘s idea of a pet is NOT a fluffy little chihuahua named Bubbles. Dread makes your opponents think a little more before sending attacks your way, whether or not Dread is tapped. Definitely something you’d want to have around when other creatures start swinging.
The removal package probably doesn’t need any explaination, so I’ll skip over describing any of them as their purpose is simply to blow stuff up. The same applies to the mana ramp spells, card draw spells, revival and tutors. Let’s look at some of the utility spells and what they add to the deck’s flavor.
Shattering Pulse can destroy artifacts for one red and one colorless, but you can buyback it for and additional three mana. Pretty useful with the amount of artifacts that show up in a common game of Commander. Curse of the Cabal will put your opponents into a bit of a bind, forcing one of them to sacrifice their permanents in one of two ways. The first is playing it for its suspend cost and each opponent has the option during their upkeep to sacrifice a permanent to place two more suspend counters onto it. Of course, some players may opt to just let it resovle, which leads to its actual ability of forcing a player to sacrifice half their permanents! This can also be done by hardcasting it, which would be more of a late game play but the option to suspend its effect adds the ticking time bomb feel to it. That is definitely pretty cool.What vampire themed deck wouldn’t be complete without life-draining spells? Firing off a huge Exsanguinate will definitely save you and annoy your opponents to no end. The second of these life-draining spells is Blood Tribute, which can slice an opponent’s life in half with the option of kicking it by tapping a vampire you control. Doing so adds the life your opponent lost to YOUR life total! Why is this relevant? Well, that’s what the enchantments in this deck are for… and where the real fun begins.
Of the five enchantments, four of these cards are part of some combo that will cause massive chaos in any game you play. These four cards are the reason I become a target amongst my circle of friends when we sit down for a game of Commander. Let’s focus on Exquisite Blood and Sanguine Bond. Each card does the same thing, but each in a different order. This makes certain attacks and plays much more deadly. For example, remember when I mentioned Blood Tribute? Having Sanguine Bond out while kicking it won’t just slice an opponent’s life in half, it will outright kill them! Sanguine Bond in this deck is absolutely brutal as many of the creatures already have lifelink or have abilities that gain you life. But if both Sanguine Bond and Exquisite Blood are ever on the table at the same time and nothing could be done about either enchantment, the game is over. The same effect but different order of those drain and gain abilities means when either one fires off, the other one will as soon as the first enchanment resolves, triggering an infinite loop as they go back and forth. And as is the case in this deck, sometimes you don’t have to do anything to fire off the combo, as some effects that trigger life gain for you or losing life for an opponent are static… they WILL happen regardless of what they do. Bloodchief Ascension can trigger this loop when its active, but it can also cause havoc just by being out. With all the removal and discards this deck is packing between its spells and creatures, your opponents are often bled out and wondering what went wrong. And if Painful Quandry is active on the board, opponents must then choose between losing life or discarding everytime they play anything. There are so many ways to play these enchantments out, and the ones mentioned are my favourite scenarios. They definitely have the vampire’s theme of sucking the life out others while sustaining your own, and are a key reason I enjoy playing this deck so much.
Blade of the Bloodchief
Sword of Feast and Famine
In the artifacts department, the coven has plenty of bright and shiny things to play with. This deck only runs 35 lands which means sometimes you need a little ramp and that’s where Caged Sun and Extraplanar Lens come in. All equipments in this deck can make any one vampire a powerhouse, but even more so when Olivia is wearing them. The trio of Gorgon Flail, Quietus Spike and Basilisk Collar in particular need mention here. All three of these grant Deathtouch to an equipped creature and, as I mentioned before, Deathtouch on Olivia is a pretty scary thing. Things get even more dicey when Olivia has Heartstone out as it reduces the cost of activated abilities by one. This means that to see how many times Olivia can bite comes down simply count how red mana sources you have. Lastly, the inclusion of Venser’s Journal is yet another way of gaining life, potentially triggering Sanguine Bond.
12 x Swamps
7 x Mountains
As I mentioned before, there are only 35 lands in the deck. Many lands tap for both red and black mana, but most of them come into play tapped. While most of the deck is black, having many red sources means Olivia should never have trouble biting creatures, which is one way of justifying all of these ‘enter the battlefield tapped’ lands. The lands that bear mentioning here, however, are Kher Keep and Rogue’s Passage. Kher Keep will be a source of tokens that you could use for blockers, tributes or even sacrifice fodder. Falkenrath Aristocrat will have a source to keep herself alive, while Olivia herself will always have something to ping and keep growing. Rogue’s Passage is here to take any big creature and send it in unopposed. Sure the deck has mostly flying attackers, but sometimes you want to make sure the hit gets through (Eespecially if you managed to make a giant Olivia Voldaren). So what’s next for Olivia and her coven of vampires? Probably some changes and additions now that Theros has been released. I also would like to add Sorin Markov to this deck, as he is THE vampire planeswalker and haven’t gotten my hands on him yet. As I have said before: I love vampire lore, and this deck is truly a guilty pleasure to play when I have Commander games with my friends. If you enjoy tribal decks with a theme then give this deck a spin. It may lack a lot of the force behind other great Commander decks, but its definitely a fun way to play. Having fun with the game is pretty much why I picked up Magic a year ago in the first place.
Happy gaming people!