Today we will step back from mid range strategies and go back to basics with aggro strategies. The recent 304-player tournament in the Philippines over the weekend was trumped by a mono Black aggressive deck that used extremely cheap creatures that pack a lot of damage very early. Coupled with the resiliency that these creatures come with, no wonder it got through with 1 defeat after 9 rounds of Swiss.
Another element worth mentioning is that though the deck is concentrated on dealing as much damage early in the game before the opponent can stabilize, it has a subtle life gain deck that allows it to hover above opposing aggro decks that don’t have life gain like Ramunap Red.
The deck runs Aethersphere Harvester which turns out to be a great way to keep your life points up allowing you to keep attacking instead of holding your troops to block. It’s also a great roadblock for Glorybringers, and can sneak above ground troops to damage Planeswalker.
Amazingly the deck also runs the formats best sorcery removal. Almost non-conditional, Walk the Plank can kill practically anything in the meta today while no one runs a rogue Merfolk deck. Never is another card that’s great from the hand and remains relevant from the graveyard.
I had my fair share of matches against this archetype and its damage potential must be respected. The only problem with the deck is that if the opponent is able to draw up a hand that can deal with your threats card-per-card, then it becomes difficult to turn the corner while the opponent is getting to their 5-6 drops and you’re stuck drawing 1 drops or lands.
Today I want to apply the lessons I learned and funnel them into a BW Vampire Shell that’s competitive for FNM, but has the potential to be large-tournament-ready.
Let’s talk about the 1-drops.
Vicious Conquistador has received equal amounts of love and hate. Love because he is essentially a 2/2 for 1 black and survives most early blockers because of his 2 toughness. Hate because he sucks as a top deck mid through late.
Legion’s Landing gives an aggro deck limitless supply of attackers or blockers if needed. Turning it around is also fairly simple with a weenie deck like Vampires. Another thing to note is that it turns to a land so we can somewhat bring down our mana base slightly.
Duskborne Skymarcher I think is the best 1-drop Vampires can get from Ixalan. She is great at both attacking and supporting attackers. Her +1/+1 ability may look weak but it can screw your opponent’s math. The additional power also makes your lifelink creatures more effective.
Let’s now take a look at the 2-drops.
We’re quite light on the 2-drop slot but we have one of the best 2-drop aggressive creatures in our colors. Adanto Vanguard is built for attacking – you will commit the biggest sin if you use Adanto to block. Do not worry about paying 4 life to keep it alive because the next 2 drop will help you gain those life back.
Gifted Aetherborn began as a $0.85 card which rose to 2.00 thanks to the dominance of Ramunap Red. Even with Rampaging Ferocidon getting printed, it has only made this card more relevant because emphasis is now given to his Deathtouch ability. Bristling Hydra with 9 energy? No problem. 6/6 Longtusk Cub? Sure. Not playing Gifted Aetherborn is just crazy.
Now on to 3-drops.
Yahenni, Undying Partisan looks underwhelming but her built-in abilities are quite useful in an aggressive deck. Haste to trigger a Legion’s Landing on turn 3 is awesome. The ability to grow bigger permanently is also good, and giving her indestructibility makes her great against sweepers.
Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle gives us a go-wide angle, generating 1/1 lifelink vampires that stay behind to block after sending our dudes to combat. He is another great addition to a sound offensive/defensive plan without decreasing our threat count.
Lastly we have Legion Conquistador. This card basically says “When Legion Conquistador enters the battlefield, draw 3 cards (named Legion Conquistador)”. It’s a great way to refill the hand with threats in case the opponent starts running out of removal. And it’s also a great deck thinner which allows you to draw the card you need more reliably.
Lastly, the 4-drop slot. This would be our highest curve.
This slot is reserved for our instant-win condition. Sanctum Seeker, in my opinion, should not be played as a threat, but rather as a way to close the game. We would play this card only if we can deal a significant damage the turn it enters the battlefield. Playing it with no threats to take advantage of his abilities is a crime. Unless necessary, I wouldn’t play this card on an empty board.
Imagine this line of play where Sanctum Seeker is used as the win condition.
Turn 1: Play , done.
Turn 2: Play and , attack with 1st VC to deal 1 damage and trigger 1 life loss. Enemy at 18.
Turn 3: Play , swing with 3 dudes to deal 3 damage and trigger 2 life loss . Generate 1/1 token. Enemy at 13.
Turn 4: , swing with 5 dudes, deal 5 damage and trigger 2 life loss from VC and 5 Sanctum Trigger. Enemy down to 1.
This is an ideal situation. This won’t be the case 99.9% of the time, however I want to illustrate the behavior of how Sanctum Seeker should be played.
Like any aggro deck, we need some form of removal and combat tricks to help us win tight matches.
We will play Fatal Push because it’s a cheap way to get ride of blockers early. Revolt can be useful as well with so much 1-drops dying or trading in combat.
Supernatural Stamina is our premier combat trick and Sanctum Seeker Insurance Policy. On the turn we cast Sanctum Seeker, the opponent would normally respond before we attack by killing Sanctum Seeker to deprive the life drain. But if we cast Supernatural Stamina on the Seeker, he immediately comes back tapped which allows us to trigger his ability in the same attack phase. Sweet isn’t? Yes we lose the +2/+0 but it doesn’t matter if we can drain the opponent for 5 life or more. The +2/+0 can be useful when cast on lifelink creatures as well like Gifted Aetherborne.
I tried to play Ruid Raider in the deck for some card draw but I wasn’t impressed. We already have a high density on the 3-drop slot which makes Ruin Raider a bit painful compared to its performance in the Mono Black shell where 80% of the deck 2CMC or below.
I chose to play Dusk // Dawn because we have no way of going tall. We don’t pack any 5 or 6 drops, or any naturally 4-5 power creature. A resolved Bristling Hydra can become a problem sometimes and I don’t want to get caught without an answer in the mainboard. Playing some copies of Dusk allows us to level the playing field and take advantage of going under the sweeper.
Dawn is our “draw X cards where X is equal to the number of creatures not named Sanctum Seeker from your graveyard”. We can practically re-draw our entire graveyard because all our creatures are 2 power and below except for Sanctum. What better way to rebuild than to get all our dead creatures back.
So here’s my BW Vampire List.
4 Vicious Conquistador
4 Duskborne Skymarcher
4 Adanto Vanguard
4 Gifted Aetherborn
4 Legion Conquistador
3 Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle
2 Yahenni, Undying Partisan
4 Sanctum Seeker
4 Fatal Push
2 Supernature Stamina
4 Concealed Courtyard
2 Unclaimed Territory
2 Shefet Dunes
3 Ixalan’s Binding
2 Lost Legacy
2 Crook of Condemnation
1 Supernatural Stamina
The sideboard leans heavily on dealing with the control match-up. Duress and Lost Legacy are auto-include to help us deal with sweepers, removal, Planeswalkers and even strip them of large creatures our Fatal Push can’t deal with.
Ixalan’s Binding helps us deal with any permanent they top deck but it’s mostly for GPG and Planeswalkers. Occasionally there might be some creatures that are worth muting like Glorybringers or Whirler Virtuoso.
As additional removal we have Never to deal with both creatures and Planeswalkers. I initially wanted to use Vraska’s Contempt but the cost is quite heavy for a 23 land deck. Aside from that, the Return half of the card is great against Scarab decks. Crook also helps out in ensuring dead cards stay dead (e.g. embalm, eternalize, Gearhulk targets, etc.)