Pioneer Deck Tech: Mono-Black Vampires

Magic: the Gathering

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Pioneer Deck Tech: Mono-Black Vampires

In today's article, we dissect the Vampires, Pioneer deck that has been making occasional results in this past month's Challenges.

By Romeu, 08/17/21, translated by Romeu, with help from our readers

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Who doesn't like Vampires? I know, there are many people who don't like them, who think it's too mainstream, considering it was overrated during the 2000/2010 years, and there are those who just never liked the change over the decades, where more and more an imagery was created where Vampires are not wild and bloodthirsty creatures, but rational beings, often extremely sociable and inviting. In Magic, Vampires have been portrayed in many ways, ranging from bloodthirsty savages (as in Vampire Neonate), to creatures that hide in the swamps preying on unsuspecting adventurers (as in Pulse Tracker), aristocrats with their own hierarchical system and refinements of elegance like the vampires seen in Innistrad and also as colonizers, as we saw in Ixalan.

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In particular, Vampires are my favorite Magic: The Gathering tribe, and this has a lot to do with affective memory, as Vampires was my first Standard deck in 2009 during the Alara-Zendikar cycle, and I am able to remember each card on the list to this day without having to do any online consultation of what the format was like at the time, and how the most optimized lists used Fetchlands, but I, as a high school student, didn't have enough money to buy them.
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Vampires, in fact, was my gateway to the introduction of several concepts such as the mana curve and the optimized use of an archetype called Midrange. The combination of Vampire Hexmage on turn 2, Gatekeeper of Malakir on 3, Vampire Nocturnus on 4 and Malakir Bloodwitch on 5 brings back the most diverse good memories to this day. Nostalgia aside and looking to the present, for a long time, a Vampires deck wasn't competitively viable outside the casual tables and the ever-present Edgar Markov Commander, but with the arrival of Pioneer and the recent success Orzhov Vampires were having at the same time in Standard as one of the natural predators of the Field of the Dead decks, the archetype had some potential to emerge in the game's competitive landscape with recent additions of cards like Knight of the Ebon Legion and Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord. But Pioneer is a format that has changed a lot in recent years, going through weekly banlists and then a significant predominance of Combo decks, which left little room for fair decks to compete when they had to deal with three types of different combos that attacked from different angles. With the ban on these Combo decks, Pioneer has become one of the most diverse formats in Magic today, with new additions and a significant range of diverse decks making results in Challenges almost every weekend. And in this diversified format pattern, Vampires finally found their home by putting together all the pieces that were always there, making occasional results, like that of the player fingers1991, which reached the Top 8 of the Pioneer Challenge with the archetype.

The Deck

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Pioneer's Vampires is a Midrange deck, which tries to scale its curve between increasing cost threats coupled with disruptive effects, removals and card advantage, offering a game plan that manages to put pressure on the opponent while also managing to grind games and keep ahead by accumulating card advantage with Champion of Dusk and Castle Locthwain. In addition, the deck also counts as its main pillar with Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord, a Planeswalker capable of both increasing the power of your creatures, as removal and means of cheating in mana, which can enable a Champion of Dusk still on turn 3. This list is pretty straightforward and bets a lot on the value of its individual creatures, to the point that you don't even need to resort to a lord or a way to increase their power because most of them are great on their own and/or interact very well with the rest of the deck. On the other hand, it's clear from the Maindeck's choices that the main purpose of the archetype is to deal with Aggro decks, which makes sense, as the format is now more geared towards creature decks and creature interactions, so it can dedicate Sideboard slots to play against the Control decks and the Combos present in Pioneer today. That said, let's analyze how each card operates in the deck:

Maindeck

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Knight of the Ebon Legion is the ideal one-drop for any black deck looking to attack with creatures, and it's even more ideal for Vampires because it interacts incredibly well with the rest of the deck. This card will always deal the first points of damage to the opponent, and it isn't a bad topdeck in late-game because it has one of the best mana sink abilities in the format, becoming gigantic with just one activation and trading favorably against most of the format's creatures, while also being a huge threat on an open battlefield.
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The archetype's mana cost 2 creatures function much more as a bridge to the next turns than necessarily as threats. Dusk Legion Zealot is a creature that has an expressionless body, but adds an extra body to the board while replacing itself in its controller's hand, allowing you to draw a card, while increasing the number of Vampires to Champion of Dusk and serving as a valid target for Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord's abilities. Gifted Aetherborn is a creature that trades well with most creatures of the format, offers extra life against aggressive decks, and is a threat that needs to be answered by archetypes such as Burn to prevent it from taking over the game, significantly delaying turns for a deck focused on dealing as much damage as possible in the least number of turns.
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Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord is the pillar of this archetype, and the deck probably wouldn't exist without its inclusion. Sorin gives the deck a flexibility that no other tribal of the format has in just one card: He's a permanent pump for your creatures, increasing the clock, he's removal or extra range when needed, sacrificing your creatures to deal a Lightning Helix and is a mana accelerator by allowing you to play for free higher cost creatures like Kalitas, Traitor of Geth and Champion of Dusk This flexibility makes Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord exactly the card you need and the main card you want to use on turn 3, as it will have an immediate impact on the board and will usually be putting even more pressure on the opponent while makes a difficult to remove threat by traditional means without having already created some impact.
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A set of Kalitas, Traitor of Geth probably seems a bit much and most lists only use three copies, but this card is the best creature in the deck by a significant margin, especially against aggressive decks. Kalitas offers a relevant body with Lifelink, and an ability that benefits significantly of destroying the opponent's creatures, creating Zombie tokens every time an opponent's creature dies, in addition to exiling these creatures, a relevant ability against decks that use Lurrus of the Dream-Den and decks such as Mono-Black Aggro, Izzet Phoenix and Jund Sacrifice.
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Champion of Dusk is your Card Advantage engine coupled with a 4/4 body and will usually be the card you want to use with Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord's ability, but which can also be cast during turn 5 to add more value, or if you don't have a Sorin available at the board. Its weakness, however, is that a 4/4 creature for 5 mana that draws a card is just a larger version of Dusk Legion Zealot, and therefore the card requires some board position to be useful enough throughout the game. Fortunately, the deck has no difficulty getting other Vampires on board, and a Champion of Dusk to draw two cards is often enough for the card to have some value.

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As a Midrange, the best turn 1 play this deck can have is to gain access to the opponent's game plan information, while removing an important piece from their hand that could be problematic in the short or medium term. Thoughtseize fits this role very well, as it is the best discard spell available in the format today, and it is also the main means of interaction the deck has in maindeck against Control decks and Combo decks.
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The removals. Vampires is a deck that seems highly focused on interacting with creature decks, and therefore makes significant use of removals to interact with those creatures. Fatal Push handles most threats from decks that might try to play "under" Vampires like Ensoul and Burn decks, while playing very well against decks like Rakdos Pyromancer. The deck also has some means of enabling Revolt to kill higher cost cards like Omnath, Locus of Creation because of Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord's interaction with your Vampires. Heartless Act essentially destroys everything that Fatal Push doesn't resolve, such as Niv-Mizzet Reborn, Bonecrusher Giant, Spell Queller, and more.
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Its other (and possibly main) form of Card Advantage: Castle Locthwain gives the deck the ability to maintain its late game steam with little or no early game penalty, allowing the archetype to recover from bad situations where the opponent has resolved its main threats, or try to catch up in the war of attrition against the Control decks.
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Manlands remain an important means of protecting yourself from sweepers and keep the pressure flowing when your opponent manages to resolve your threats. Mutavault is activated for a low cost, is a Vampire (thus interacts well with Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord and Champion of Dusk) and has a body relevant enough to pull some damage to the opponent at any stage of the game. Hive of the Eye-Tyrant is a new addition straight from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, and despite not being a Vampire, it has a relevant body in Late-Game and gives the deck a much-needed maindeck hate against graveyard decks such as Izzet Phoenix, Rakdos Pyromancer, Mono-Black Aggro or decks with Torrential Gearhulk.
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Finally, we have the utility lands. Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx allows the deck some extremely explosive turns with a full board, generating a significant amount of mana that will usually symbolize more Knight of the Ebon Legion activations or plays including Champion of Dusk and any other cards drawn with it. Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth essentially allows the archetype to use colorless lands and other utility lands without necessarily losing their use in generating black mana as it turns these lands into swamps.

Sideboard

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Despite being a deck aimed at dealing with creature decks, Vampires doesn't have enough means to always be able to establish a higher board position than the opponent, so means to perform 2-for-1 effects or better against the opponent's creatures are necessary. Crippling Fear is the ideal sweeper, as it can destroy all of your opponent's creatures (or most of them) without removing any creatures from your side. Legion's End is very useful in occasions where the opponent plays multiple creatures with the same name, or to deal with creatures that return from the graveyard, such as Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger, as well as dealing with tokens produced by cards such as Young Pyromancer.

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Graveyard decks are a thing in Pioneer, and Grafdigger's Cage is a great option for dealing with these decks as it prevents creatures from these decks from coming back into play and spells that can be reused from the graveyard via cards like Dreadhorde Arcanist and Torrential Gearhulk. Go Blank, on the other hand, looks like a card more geared towards interactions against decks looking to keep their hand full or have more responsive resources, such as Izzet Phoenix and Rakdos Pyromancer, as well as being a useful element in matchups against Control decks.
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Speaking of Control, the best way for a midrange to deal with this post-sideboard archetype is to include some disruptive elements, especially those that can be used repeatedly, like Liliana, Waker of the Dead. Finally, Duress operates as a fifth copy of Thoughtseize, giving the deck more access to cards that can remove problematic threats like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria or efficient responses like Supreme Verdict.

Conclusion

That was my analysis of Vampires, a Pioneer deck that has shown occasional good results in the Challenges. Pioneer continues to prove to be an extremely diverse format, with several archetypes having some space within the Metagame and without, until then, the absolute predominance of an archetype in particular. 2020 was a very difficult year for Pioneer, and I truly hope that between 2021 and 2022 Pioneer can bounce back and become again a competitive format that gets the attention it deserves at big events and for Wizards as well. Thanks for reading!
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Romeu

Writer and translator for Cards Realm. Plays virtually Magic: The Gathering competitive formats. Pauper Masters' Organizer.

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