Last updated on January 20, 2022
Edgar Markov | Illustration by Volkan Baga
I’ve always loved vampires as a tribe. I used to try to make decks in every format I played that allowed them to shine, with mixed results.
I was stoked when it was announced that we were returning to Innistrad this cycle! We also got a new vampire-based precon to work with. But I was a little disappointed when I actually looked at the precon.
I realize that the Commander precons aren’t meant to be overpowered and tend to show off new mechanics, Blood tokens in this case. My main disappointment was that the deck severely mismatched when it came to the themes in my playtesting and didn’t really highlight the best that Blood tokens had to offer.
I dreamt of a deck that primarily focused on the tribe as vampires-only and the mechanics that mattered most to them with exceptions only if necessary.
So I went to the drawing board to make a deck that was more suited to my liking. I found that some vampire mechanics work rather well together… and some don’t. But I really wanted a vampire deck that really took advantage of their potential, so I did what every other rational deckbuilder would do: I built two decks. In an effort to not completely break the bank I built one budget deck that’s as close to $100 as I could manage.
Are these decks perfect and refined? Heck, no! I can think of several changes I’d make with a higher budget and a narrow mechanic decision, but I liked the restrictions of using as close to 100% of the tribe as I could to show of the breadth of what it can do.
Are you ready to see these vampire-focused Commander decks? Let’s take a look!
Budget Vona Lifegain
Vona, Butcher of Magan | Illustration by Volkan Baga
Bishop of the Bloodstained
Blood Baron of Vizkopa
Cleric of Life’s Bond
Epicure of Blood
Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle
Nullpriest of Oblivion
Paladin of Atonement
Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose
The basic premise here is to amass as much life as possible and then use that as a resource for interaction and win conditions. This is quite aggressive (not aggro) in 1v1 matchups and viable in low normal table matchups but comes short against decks with a lot of interaction. This build also has ways to recur from the graveyard and draw your library for combo pieces.
I really like Vona, Butcher of Magan, both as a card and a commander. It can reliably attack and defend with vigilance and get that tasty life both times, which then allows it to use that activated ability for repeatable interaction. Sure, it’s at sorcery speed, but it can be used as often as you wish.
All of the beaters included are there to either get you life, trigger from getting life, use your life in a beneficial manner, or buff your other creatures to help them stick around longer. Let’s go over some notables before we move on.
You start the game at 40 life and will get your opponent down to 10 pretty quickly since a lot of the damage sustained will be non-combat based. Blood Baron of Vizkopa as a later game 10/10 for five with lifelink and some color protection is very nice.
Epicure of Blood, Marauding Blight-Priest, Defiant Bloodlord, Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose, and Cliffhaven Vampire all cause at least one of your opponents to lose life. Vito dings for every bit of life you gain.
Albeit a tad expensive, Dark Impostor allows you to exile as many target creatures as you have mana for. It makes up for the expense by hoarding all those cards’ activated abilities.
Marshland Bloodcaster lets you drop much larger bombs for two mana and a bit of life.
Silversmote Ghoul is a very nice repeatable card draw, if only once per turn.
Nullpriest of Oblivion and Veinwitch Coven allow you some graveyard recursion. Veinwitch gives you a chance to grab a creature every time you gain life for just . Given how many separate lifegain triggers happen at your upkeep, combat, and end steps, you may be able to get a lot back if you’re able to protect it.
Even if he’s playing second banana to a lot of your shenanigans, it felt wrong to not to have at least one Sorin card in here since the colors matched. So we have Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord.
Sorin’s main contributions are the passive lifelink effect to all your creatures (and Sorin) and for just existing and the card’s ultimate, which can help bring a big one back in a pinch. You might even be able to manage it more than once with the right board.
You aren’t going to provide much in the way of counters, but there is some targeted removal in here so that you to get rid of things that annoy you. Specifically Despark, Fracture, Light of Hope, and Mortify.
The Mana Base
Since this is 2-color deck and on a budget, I kept the mana base simple with no real notables for land. You have a few land tutors with Evolving Wilds, Myriad Landscape, and Terramorphic Expanse, the life lands (the black life land was cut for price reasons), Field of Ruin in case an opponent controls a nasty non-basic, and Rogue’s Passage if you want to get one of your buffed vamps through.
I’ve thrown a few different possible win cons in for you to work with. Felidar Sovereign is the only non-vampire creature in the deck. While I wanted this to be fully vampire tribal, Felidar allows for a possible turn 7 win if it somehow makes it.
It’s too good to not add at this power and price-point. More often than not, though, it’ll either win you the game later when you have things to protect, or after a lot of the main interaction has been played.
Like the big kitty, Aetherflux Reservoir allows you to put all that life you have to use. You just lay it down and go to town if nobody blocks you. All you need is at least 151 life.
My favorite way to get there is to play the expensive side of Revival // Revenge after hitting over 76 life, which turns out to be fairly quick with this deck.
Your final win con is Bishop of the Bloodstained after you’ve amassed your vampire army with Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle. I was able to get over 20 of the 1/1 vamps out after all the board wipes went through by repeatedly bum rushing them at my opponents, even taking out one opponent in the process. I dropped Bishop to take out one opponent once I had enough, destroyed it with Font of Agonies, and then activated Veinwitch Coven to bring it back to hand using the life I gained from its death to play it again.
It’s a 12-mana trick to pull off, but it’s so very satisfying when you do. And it’s not what people are expecting.
Mathas Secret Commander
Mathas, Fiend Seeker | Illustration by Joe Slucher
Anje, Maid of Dishonor
Bishop of Rebirth
Bloodlord of Vassgoth
Butcher of Malakir
Drana, Liberator of Malakir
Edgar, Charmed Groom
Falkenrath Pit Fighter
Florian, Voldaren Scion
Forerunner of the Legion
Kazarov, Sengir Pureblood
Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle
Olivia, Crimson Bride
Olivia, Mobilized for War
Patron of the Vein
Timothar, Baron of Bats
Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose
Zagras, Thief of Heartbeats
Geier Reach Sanitarium
Path of Ancestry
Rix Maadi, Dungeon Palace
Vault of Champions
I was initially skeptical of the Blood token mechanic. That is until I saw the “discard a card” cost of using them. They’re a madness enabler at their core. Instead of having to focus on other more expensive or non-recursive (at least during the same turn) methods of discarding, I now had a method that was cheap, I could use as many as I had available, and were fairly easy to get.
I took a look at a lot of madness cards once I realized this and found that all of them worked with the main themes of either color (e.g., noncombat damage in red, -1/-1 in black, etc.) or the main vampire mechanics. Since I wasn’t going for a lifegain deck this time, I left those ones at home and picked the best from the rest.
I had a bit of trouble coming up with a name for this deck. I thought about “Sorin Tribal” and “Anje Tribal” given its contents, but neither really captured the point. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept of “secret commander,” it’s when the commander you pick for the deck is a figurehead used more for the colors they provide rather than the ability and the actual commander is one (or in this case several) of your 99 cards.
This deck was built with the idea of madness and growth through damage. The basic game plan is to never hard cast anything with madness if you can manage it. If it’s in your hand and you can cause yourself to discard it, you should be. If you have a creature that doesn’t have madness, get it on the board as soon as possible and start swinging to win prizes.
Maybe I should have called this deck “The Carnival.”
Mathas, Fiend Seeker is… odd. It’s not exactly bad, but I wouldn’t call it a good example of either of the camps it fits in. It’s technically a group hug commander; it gives all but one of your opponents a card and two life.
If you’re pinging or milling them on card draw or when you gain life then that can be nice, but there are better cards to do that and in better parts of the color wheel. Even Mathas’ abilities are very typical color wheel abilities that feel very tacked together.
Honestly, unless you really need another vampire or just any old creature on the field, leave it in the command zone. If you want one that you’d actually use, are willing to drop more money, and lose the whole secret commander idea, you could trade it out for Edgar Markov or Licia, Sanguine Tribune.
With Mathas at the helm, you’re only using your commander for its colors.
The first creatures of note are your secret commanders, of which there are four. Why so many? For a few reasons:
- They complement and enable each other very well.
- Getting any of them out on the battlefield allows you to cause some real damage in a meaningful way.
- They can all be regenerated and count as the legendary vampire you control thanks to one of their abilities.
- Even if an opponent figures out that you’re doing secret commander, they won’t expect to see four different ones.
As for your secret commanders…
Anje Falkenrath is strictly a madness enabler, but debatably the best one out there.
Although Anje, Maid of Dishonor isn’t made of glass, you won’t be swinging with it. Anje’s job is to make sure you have a healthy supply of Blood tokens for your discarding and drawing pleasure. And you can also start pinging opponents for two if you have Blood tokens you aren’t using or creature tokens to spare.
Olivia, Crimson Bride will most likely be swinging every turn unless you either don’t need to regenerate something or you’re trying to make sure it survives. Olivia is the best regenerator you have since it puts the creatures directly back onto the battlefield.
Olivia, Mobilized for War is another madness enabler as well as a haste and +1/+1 generator. All on top of being a 3/3 for three. Much like Anje, you probably won’t be swinging with this Olivia unless you feel it’s safe.
These four cards should be your first picks when you have a choice of who to pull out of your library to regenerate since they’re needed to make the deck work at its best.
A fair number of the vampires you’ll regularly be swinging with (and two of your secret commanders) have mana values of three or less. Being able to bring at least one of them back with Bishop of Rebirth, if not more if Bishop survives, is great. It’s also a secondary regeneration target to continue this trend.
Bloodlord of Vaasgoth is great to drop any turn post-successful combat. Having your smaller beaters coming in bigger is always nice.
A lot of the creatures in here grow as they deal combat damage to a player, but Drana, Liberator of Malakir gives +1/+1 to each of your other attacking vampires if it hits a player. And that’s pretty straightforward since Drana is a flyer.
Kazarov, Sengir Pureblood grows whenever an opponent’s creature takes any damage. Yes, any damage. Use that how you will.
Patron of the Vein is not only targeted removal and makes your opponent’s graveyards into no creature zones, it also sprinkles +1/+1s on all of your vampires.
Vampire Socialite boosts all of your vamps in the same manner if it and future vampires are played post-successful combat.
Forerunner of the Legion is a pseudo-tutor, popping a vampire of your choice to the top of your library after shuffling. Coupling this with popping a Blood token and you have a possible regeneration target if you need something specific.
Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle continually makes 1/1 lifelinkers for you since you’re swinging with most of your board every turn.
Timothar, Baron of Bats is a very interesting protection for your other non-token vampires. It gives you a 1/1 to send to the wolves or sacrifice that then brings your original vampire back out to play. I’ve found combo-ing this with Bishop of Rebirth and Etchings of the Chosen to repeat his graveyard recursion works very well.
Zagras, Thief of Heartbeats is a card that you’ll sadly be paying full price for, but it’s worth it. Giving all of you vampires (both creature and planeswalker) deathtouch is pretty awesome and gives all of those 1/1s some teeth.
You’ll mostly be using Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord for its first +1 for what I feel are obvious reasons, and its -3 since some of these vampires are expensive. This planeswalker’s second +1 can come into play as an okay way to kill off Timothar’s 1/1 bat tokens and get some damage in at the same time.
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad’s +1 is okay, but it’s his -6 that you’re interested in. Being able to destroy multiple specific targets is nice enough but getting them for your own is even sweeter. I’d caution against using its ultimate with Patron of the Vein on the battlefield, though, since your opponent’s cards have to hit the graveyard before they become yours.
I don’t think I have to spell this one out. You want Sorin, Vampire Lord’s ultimate. Even if you only get to fire it off for one turn, you’ll most likely have enough vampires on the battlefield to take almost everything your opponents’ control. If there are enough still around from protecting it (this Sorin immediately becomes a target).
The interaction here comes in the form of targeted and mass removal. Since you’re able to bring a fair bit of your creatures back from the dead through several different means, the sweepers aren’t as detrimental for you. So don’t be afraid to drop Kaya’s Wrath or Blasphemous Act, and definitely don’t worry about casting Olivia’s Wrath since it won’t affect your board at all and can get rid of indestructible, too.
I found this in liberal use of Etchings of the Chosen to grant Indestructible to any creature I needed to. I typically had a vamp or bat lying around that I could easily part with to activate the effect.
The Mana Base
I tried not to throw many tapped lands in because of the deck’s aggressive style. This includes a set of the shocklands, check lands, and Battlebond lands in the Mardu colors, as well as two MDFC lands in Boros and Orzhov.
These partner along with the standard signets (Arcane, Boros, Mardu, Orzhov, and Rakdos), a Sol Ring, and Heraldic Banner, because why not! Given a predominately black creature selection, that would be my color of choice for the Banner.
The only lands of note are Karn’s Bastion to bolster up even more +1/+1 counters and Voldaren Estate for a pain land-esque mana value for vampires and a way to cheaply (or even freely) create a Blood token depending on how many of the little beasties you have running around.
This deck’s win condition isn’t one specific combo or card. The plan here is to have such an overpowering relentless board presence that not only makes you a prime threat but also causes your opponents to be unable to pick the worst one to target.
I had one test game where I was able to fish out two board sweepers over the course of two fairly early turns because I ended up with Drana, Liberator of Malakir, Olivia, Mobilized for War, and Vampire Socialite out, and I had Bishop of Rebirth and Call to the Netherworld in hand to do it all over again. Once I started running over one opponent, the others soon followed. I have a Modern deck that, while not fast enough for the current meta where I play, works very similarly. And when it works, it works.
There is one specific win condition that I should mention, but it’s kind of a perfect storm. Kazarov, Sengir Pureblood plus Blasphemous Act. Depending on how many creatures all of the players control, this can make an absolute beast out of Kazarov after giving it indestructible with Etchings of the Chosen. This resulted in the only time I ever cast Mathas, Fiend Seeker.
I killed the whole board with Blasphemous Act. Because Kazarov’s ability gives it +1/+1 every time the opposing creatures are dealt damage and it had indestructible, it stayed on with all of those counters. While this gave me a great bat to swing with, it left Kazarov with very little protection on subsequent turns.
After taking one opponent out, I cast Mathas and had it as standby in case I needed a sacrificial lamb for Etchings again if I needed it. It helped that I had Macabre Waltz in hand, but I ended up not needing either of them because nobody had an answer.
One final note about this deck before I finish up: don’t be afraid to turn the targeted removal on your own if you have Timothar as a backup. Especially if you have the sac outlet available for it. I did that to Forerunner of the Legion once to try and pull an Anje, Maid of Dishonor from the bottom of my library, but your use may vary.
Kazarov, Sengir Pureblood | Illustration by Igor Kieryluk
There you have it! Two (at the very least) decent vampire Commander decks that show off what the tribe can do. Could I have masterfully crafted a cEDH deck with Edgar Markov at the helm? Yeah, but so can almost 6,000 other people if EDHREC is anything to go off of. On the flip side, I wasn’t seeing much in the realm of a good Vona, Butcher of Magan budget deck or a secret commander deck that put them all to use like this.
Part of it may be the cynic in me, but I tend to see a lot of the same mechanics, commanders, and even decks making the rotations online and at the tables, and that doesn’t sit well with me or the way I like to play. I don’t want to just win; I want to have fun with my decks. I want to try and surprise my opponents and friends with ideas and interactions that they don’t see every day.
I love vampires as a tribe and was like a kid on Christmas when I got all of these new toys to play with. I especially loved that it worked nicely with the previous models.
What changes would you make with these decks? Do you agree with the best ways to use these cards and mechanics? How long do you think Olivia and Edgar’s marriage is really going to last? Let us know in the Draftsim Discord or in the comments below.
That’s all from me for today. Stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll see you in the next one!