Last updated on August 9, 2022
Sorin the Mirthless | Illustration by Martina Fackova
From the moment WotC spoiled that Crimson Vow’s main theme was vampires, I’ve had my eyes on Sorin and the other Pioneer staple vamps. But it took a few weeks to transition from the Pioneer staple of mono black vampires to the newest iteration: Orzhov () Vampires.
This deck took five of the top eight challenge slots the day before the MOCS Showcase Challenge on Magic Online and sent at least one player into the MOCS Showcase Qualifier. So what makes the second color worth it in a deck that had won multiple challenges, PTQs, and other events with just a single color?
In Pioneer, mono black vampires had fallen on hard times with the rise of Izzet () Phoenix, Winota, Jund Citadel, and various other decks that could answer their threats, grind them out, and take over with consistent card advantage that vampires lacked. Crimson Vow changed that with Edgar, Charmed Groom.
Gaining a recursive threat that helps strengthen your midgame, profitably trades against aggressive decks, and mitigates its legendary downside by having one copy transformed and one un-transformed helped vampires overcome its worst matchups in Pioneer.
Now let’s dive right into this deck!
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet | Illustration by Todd Lockwood
Fatal Push x3
Previous iterations of this deck attacked the format by playing aggressive creatures that stood their ground against other creature decks while using Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord, removal, and Thoughtseize to round out the deck’s method of attack. Not only has Edgar, Charmed Groom joined the ranks of the undead in Orzhov Vampires, but Sorin the Mirthless also adds some more midrange elements. It’s in the sideboard where the second color really becomes clear.
White has some of the best sideboard cards in Pioneer and this deck leverages a few to help fight some tougher matchups. Blood Baron of Vizkopa helps in the mirror as well as against Niv to Light and other spot-removal-heavy control decks. Many players add a second copy or split copies to handle the adapting metagame.
The premier 1-drop creature in vampires since its printing in Standard. While a 1/2 looks odd on its face in an aggressive deck, the other text on Knight of the Ebon Legion help make it stand out.
While the pump ability costs three mana, gaining +3/+3 and deathtouch counteracts any thoughts of using burn, profitably double blocking, or favorably trading. With the card gaining counters whenever a player loses four or more life before the beginning of your end step, this creature can quickly close out the game in the midgame and outsize similarly-costed creatures early.
Elvish Visionary sees play in Legacy Elves, and Dusk Legion Zealot is your version of Visionary. While it costs a life you have excess life to work with in a deck with several lifelink threats plus Sorin to bolster your life total.
Zealot is perfect fodder to trade with aggressive creatures or stall a board, solid sacrifice fodder for Sorin’s second mode, and a way to create early velocity. This is a card that feels like it shouldn’t be a required four-of but absolutely smooths the power and synergy aspects of the deck.
Deathtouch is a powerful ability in a world with large green creatures. Lifelink is a powerful ability in a world with aggressive red decks floating around. Now what if your 2-drop could attack both styles of decks while ensuring you have protection for our potential 3-drop planeswalker?
Gifted Aetherborn isn’t a uniquely powerful card, but it plays an important role in getting you towards your midgame power spike just like Dusk Legion Zealot. Don’t be afraid to board this card out in midrange or control matchups since it’s the least threatening 2-drop in your deck.
Murderous Rider is a good card that can answer anything in a deck that sometimes feels light on removal. The 2/3 lifelink body can help in some matchups but you just need flexible main deck answers to large creatures or impactful planeswalkers. While I don’t love having cards in the main that don’t contribute to the synergies of the deck, you don’t have a better or more flexible answer.
Edgar, Charmed Groom is the latest addition to this list and the main reason to move from mono black to Orzhov. Edgar’s front-half acts as an anthem to outsize your opponent’s creatures and win combat. You get a difficult to interact with artifact that creates an army in a can that Edgar pumps when it flips back to the front side if it dies.
While a 4/4 shouldn’t change too much about the deck, the anthem and the continual recursion help to ensure a stronger mid and late game against some of the more controlling decks in the format. You can also trade aggressively without recourse against aggressive decks since Edgar just creates more blockers to stall the game, even if it dies.
Edgar adds enough to the deck to call for a second color and opens the door to plenty of options moving forward.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet can take over the game versus aggro decks, especially decks like Burn that have a hard time clearing it off the board without giving you two or three cards worth of value. You immediately become favored in most games against aggro decks where you manage to play Kalitas.
But Kalitas is one of your worst cards in midrange matchups unless you can outgrow the opponent’s board. I often cut it for more target answers post-board versus any deck not running 10+ 1- or 2-drop creatures.
Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord plus Champion of Dusk is a 3-mana draw X cards combo that can bury any fair deck. Not to mention in the midgame where you can add counters to your Knight of the Ebon Legions, draw five or more cards, and threaten to attack with a 4/4. Champion does it all once you’ve reached the midgame.
While Champion is one of the many higher cost threats that can clog your hand, it revitalized the archetype in Standard with Sorin and was the main starting point for vampires in Pioneer. Drawing cards in your midrange aggressive deck is good, but doing it on a discount while fueling other powerful synergies? That’s a pairing that moves this deck’s overall power level into a place that can compete in Pioneer.
What more can I say about Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord? In a deck where nearly every creature is a vampire, Sorin is one of the best planeswalkers still allowed in Pioneer. The first plus ability allows you to outsize and attack through creature decks and race aggressive decks. The second plus ability lets you trade your low-powered cards like Dusk Legion Zealot for Lightning Helix to deal with opposing creatures, planeswalkers, or your opponent’s life total.
Like many of the 3-mana planeswalkers from War of the Spark-era Standard, Sorin lacks an ultimate. But instead it has one of the strongest abilities in Pioneer. The minus three ability lets you put a vampire from your hand onto the battlefield. Un-counterable. No recourse. No cost limit. You can cheat in free creatures and that remains an incredibly strong effect in Magic.
Pairing Sorin with Edgar, Charmed Groom, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, Champion of Dusk, or Blood Baron of Vizkopa allows you to immediately out-tempo your opponent since they need to answer your creature and planeswalker right away. The game feels over if you minus Sorin and then untap, and that’s one of the most compelling reasons to play this deck.
The latest Sorin in a long line of playable vampires, Sorin the Mirthless adds a nice midrange card to this deck that can attack aggressive strategies with a 2/3 flying lifelink creature or attack control through a Dark Confidant-like ability. Given access to both abilities, it’s hard for Sorin to ever truly lack a successful mode.
But don’t be afraid to lean into it in matchups where there’s only one good mode. I usually just make two vampires against aggro decks if they don’t manage to kill Sorin. Even though 4-mana for two 2/3 flying lifelink creatures over two turns seems like an underwhelming effect in Pioneer, the versatility and flexibility ensures that you want your copies in main.
Fatal Push is the premier 1-mana removal spell of Pioneer. You need some removal to make sure that cards like Thing in the Ice and Winota, Joiner of Forces don’t win the game solo. Along with enabling Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet for one mana against other creature decks.
Thoughtseize is still a staple of black decks in Pioneer. Cheap disruption that can protect your key spells or limit combo deck’s speed is invaluable to a midrange aggressive deck like this. This is one of my first cuts when playing matchups where both decks might have discard. Chances are high one of you is wrong if both players have discard in post-board.
Go Blank is one of the main deck flex spots. Given the prevalence of Izzet Phoenix, this sorcery is the go-to answer to clear graveyards and limit your opponent’s hand. This is one slot you want to swap for more removal, recursive threats, or other ways to challenge meta decks with other matchups coming into relevance.
In 2-color decks, Pathways are always the color you need. They’ve overperformed in most decks I’ve played them in thus far and Orzhov is no exception. Brightclimb Pathway is almost always a Swamp, but it’s nice to have access to four other white sources with little to no downside when you need to play your Edgar, Charmed Groom or your sideboard cards.
Castle Locthwain draws cards at a reasonable mana cost, but the life points add up quickly in most decks. the deck can pay for many cards without losing in a deck like vampires with several lifelink creatures and ways to gain life.
Shocklands are great, especially in 2-color decks. You’d expect four copies of Godless Shrine given that, but you don’t need to max out on shocklands to manage your colors with access to the Pathways and only a few white cards.
Hive of the Eye Tyrant is a solid creature land with evasion that can manage opposing graveyards. Having a mix of threats from your mana base can cause your opponent to mismanage their answers and die.
The traditional creature land for tribal decks, Mutavault draws an extra card for Champion of Dusk, can sacrifice to Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord to deal three damage, can gain Sorin counters, and gets +1/+1 from Edgar, Charmed Groom.
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth allows the deck to run colorless lands and play multiple spells. A staple of black-centric decks in multiple formats.
Voldaren Estate is the newest land for vampires. While it’s not as impactful to this archetype as a card like Unclaimed Territory was to humans, having access to black and white mana for your vampires helps. You can pay less mana to create a Blood token if you reach a board stall.
Like Crimson Vow limited, having Blood tokens lets you filter poor draws into more effective threats to close out the game. You can use Estate for a Blood token, use Castle Locthwain to draw an extra card, and then loot for a better card which quickly out-card-advantages most decks.
Tips and Tricks
Go Blank | Illustration by Wylie Beckert
- You can play your second copy of Edgar, Charmed Groom and sacrifice it to have one copy transformed and one flipped. This gives you a 2/2 lifelink vampire each turn until the Coffin flips back and you can reset the counters on it by sacrificing one of your Edgars.
- Activate your Mutavault by tapping itself to net an extra card off Champion of Dusk.
- Knight of the Ebon Legion triggers off either player losing four life which can happen from Thoughtseize, shocklands, or Champion of Dusk.
- Blood Baron of Vizkopa can’t gain counters from Sorin since it has protection from black and white. This means it can only become a 5/5, so watch out for opposing Mutavaults that can trade with Blood Baron in matchups where the protection matters.
- Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet can sacrifice zombies or vampires to gain counters. Keep that in mind when evaluating board states. Mutavault can stand itself up like with Champion of Dusk to sacrifice to Kalitas.
- While you have a good midrange gameplan, you’re the aggressor in most matchups. Consider mulligan-ing hands with too high of a mana cost. The main exception is that your first 5-drop will only cost three mana if you have Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord.
- Most mediocre sevens would be better as sixes with a curve, discard, or Sorin.
- Grafdigger’s Cage prevents you from transforming Edgar, Charmed Groom and creating the Coffin. Be aware when boarding in Cage that Edgar loses important value.
Deafening Silence is one of the premier answers to decks like Izzet Phoenix, Lotus Field Combo, and Jeskai Ascendancy. While no card can shut down these decks alone, Silence can slow them down and enable you to kill them if backed up with reasonable pressure.
The final copy of Fatal Push helps against other creature matchups like Burn.
Grafdigger’s Cage helps slow down the Arclight Phoenix draws of Izzet, stops Collected Company, and stops Winota, Joiner of Forces. Like Deafening Silence, Cage won’t beat these decks alone, but it can help slow down the draws that beat you easiest.
Legion’s End can hit tokens and low drops like Thing in the Ice or Llanowar Elves while catching more copies. It’s a medium sideboard card acting to help contain Izzet’s best card against you while also slowing down aggressive decks.
Noxious Grasp is an incredibly efficient answer to large green or white threats. Hitting cards like Niv-Mizzet Reborn, Omnath, Locus of Creation, and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria makes this a flexible sideboard card even in matchups where Fatal Push lacks meaningful targets.
Go Blank works to help manage the midrange matchups and the Izzet matchup. It’s still a staple of all black decks in Pioneer to attack spell-based combo decks, graveyard decks, and midrange decks like Niv to Light.
You need a sweeper to clear up any board stalls in creature matchups and that’s what Crippling Fear is here for. Especially against green decks, you can set up advantageous attacks that force chump blocks even if you can’t kill their whole board. Be careful of the few creatures in your deck that aren’t vampires like Murderous Rider. Learned that one the hard way.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet serves as secondary recursion hate especially with cards like Edgar, Charmed Groom joining the meta. A 3/4 lifelinker can immediately take over the board against aggressive decks and it becomes incredibly difficult for your opponent to recover their lost tempo if you get to eat one creature or create one zombie. If you have removal in hand and can wait, turns where you play Kalitas and a Fatal Push to immediately get a zombie can swing some lost board states.
Liliana, Waker of the Dead
A reasonable planeswalker that can disrupt spell-based combo decks or mitigate aggressive decks is a solid addition to the deck for several matchups. I’d consider changing Liliana, Waker of the Dead into an additional Blood Baron of Vizkopa or Sorin the Mirthless, but you need some disruptive and flexible card in this slot to attack fellow midrange decks post-board if you’re expecting a slew of removal for your creatures.
Blood Baron of Vizkopa
Blood Baron of Vizkopa singlehandedly dominates the mirror. Blood Baron can put your opponent in a position where they lose on the spot if you can disrupt their double blocks or answers to it against decks like Niv that rely on black removal or various red and black decks that lack four-damage red spells.
Most lists moved towards two or three copies of this card to help with the mirror. While there aren’t many better cards for the matchup, be aware of large Mutavaults double blocking or sweepers like Extinction Event to wipe up your trump card.
How to Beat Orzhov Vampires
Voldaren Estate | Illustration by Richard Wright
Orzhov Vampires struggles against two styles of decks: tempo decks that can protect their gameplan, and Yorion, Sky Nomad decks that have sweepers, counterspells, and hard-to-answer threats like the Indomitable Creativity Splinter Twin deck.
Vampires has aggressive starts, but the deck is a midrange deck trying to cheat two mana on turn 3 and grind out long term advantages at its core. You’ll run them out of gas if you can mitigate the importance of combat or go far enough over the top while interacting with the few cards that snowball the deck.
Decks like Bant Spirits attacks Vampires by putting together aggressive strategies that it can’t trade with or block to slow down the game. And with the few pieces of interaction, cards like Spell Queller, Rattlechains, and Selfless Spirit can end a game by protecting one important creature from interaction. Two of my losses in the Pioneer showcase were to Bant Spirits, and the fast starts attacking in the air are often too hard to fight through.
Several lists that top-8’d the Pioneer Challenge added extra copies of removal like Infernal Grasp and Vraska’s Contempt as well as extra copies of Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Deafening Silence, and Crippling Fear to attack various predicted metagames.
I don’t think there’s a lot of room to change the main deck, but the sideboard gives good players a lot of room to make small upgrades to the numbers and plans depending on what you expect to face. You’ll rarely feel too bad playing a stock list of Orzhov Vampires, but expect players that craft slightly better plans in the sideboard to float to the top of the standings in bigger events.
Add a 25th land to this deck. Especially if you’re playing six or more 4- and 5-drops. Don’t be greedy; you draw plenty of cards with this deck and the most common way to lose is to die with several powerful cards trapped in your hand. Play more lands.
Edgar, Charmed Groom | Illustration by Volkan Baga
Vampires was a top tier deck in the past and it has once again risen to the top of the metagame over the past few weeks. Dominating challenges and often appearing in leagues, even if other decks come in to dethrone it, this deck will continue to have a presence in the Pioneer metagame.
The future of Vampires is Orzhov. This is an evergreen deck that can always float towards the top of the standings thanks to the power level of cards like Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord, Thoughtseize, Fatal Push, and Edgar, Charmed Groom. In a format with a limited card pool, having access to the best of both synergy and power level is a recipe for success, and it’s no shock that the vampires of Innistrad have risen from the grave in Pioneer once more with Crimson Vow.
With that I hope you enjoyed this deck guide on Orzhov Vampires! Let me know what you think of Pioneer’s hottest in the comments deck down below, and be sure to check out Draftsim’s Twitter and the blog for other deck guides.
That’s all from me for now. Stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll see you in the next one!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: