It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to see a Vampire deck in Commander 2017 and the Vampire theme in Ixalan and realize that Wizards is going to give us a few cards that are bound to make the Vampire deck better. I decided that I would take a look at what Ixalan offers to the deck. I didn't make any changes to the original deck before starting, so there are some cards that most agree are fairly weak that can easily come out in favor of something better from our new favorite set!
I've gone into a bit of depth with a few of them, then ended with a list of cards I added from Ixalan and removed from the Vampire deck. For the purposes of the article, I've chosen Edgar Markov as the commander. Lucia, Sanguine Tribune and Mathias, Fiend Seeker are both great cards and certainly aren't getting cut, but neither of them really promote the "Vampire" aspect of the Vampire deck. Either of them could have a deck built around them that doesn't include a single Vampire. The additions I'm making are for cards that really push that theme or at least benefit from what Edgar Markov is trying to do.
Let's start with the original deck list and go from there.
While this doesn't look like an exciting addition, this is one of my favorite cards in the set! Land is a very easy way to improve most decks. Too many players don't take enough care to make sure their mana base is everything it needs to be to handle the demands of the deck, while others simply ignore lands altogether, cobbling a mass of basic lands and calling it a day.
Unclaimed Territory doesn't belong in every creature-themed deck. You want a critical mass of the themed creatures or this land will spend too much time not providing any color. However, it enters the battlefield untapped without any conditions and that is extremely rare for a land that can tap for more than one color these days. Three, four, and five-color theme decks should be rejoicing over this card and thrilled to have such a great addition. I think this is a viable land for two-colored decks as well, assuming the creature type chosen completely dominates the deck.
The Vampire deck is three colors and the mana base is seriously lacking. Unclaimed Territory is an upgrade to several of the lands currently in the deck.
A two-mana artifact that gives me mana of any color to cast creatures on theme? That seems like a great plan! Roughly half of the spells in the Vampire deck are Vampires, so it will go a long way to giving you the flexibility you want.
On the other hand, half of the cards in the deck get nothing from this mana rock. Your X spells are blank. Your activated abilities are going to have to find the mana elsewhere. In this deck, I think the card is worth it, but you'll want to watch it in other decks where the theme isn't so prevalent. You will also want to Think Twice when looking at theme decks that involve only two colors or less. There are plenty of other cards that offer better options for those decks than a mana rock that is only good for half of the cards in your deck. Fellwar Stone can be unpredictable, but in a multiplayer game, it really only takes one deck running a Vivid land or something that can get you every color to make it far better than the Pillar.
The only question this card offers is, "can I afford the seven life?" A vigilant 4/4 Vampire for only five mana with lifelink would be pretty close to making it in this deck without any other ability. As far as the ability goes, you'll rarely find anything more useful. While white and black can handle any permanent on the battlefield, having a creature that can repeatedly destroy permanents offers a great piece of card advantage!
When you look at the ability you are left to wonder how many times will I be able to afford to use it. Ignoring everything else in the deck, if Vona attacks every turn, you'll be able to use the ability every second turn without any net loss of life! With this being multiplayer, it seems like there will most often be someone to attack who offers a minimal risk of losing Vona.
This is all without any help from the deck. Licia, Sanguine Tribune offers a smaller life gain subtheme that works really well with her. When you look at the deck you'll find over 10 ways to gain life. It seems like the Butcher of Magan will get to activate more often than once every two turns if you are dedicated to making that happen.
The only real downside is remembering that Vona isn't really vigilant. I know if says so on the card, but if you are using the ability, you need to tap it on your turn, so unlike most vigilant creatures, Vona won't likely be around to block very often.
Personally, I recommend using Vona liberally. It is amazing how many players will ignore the player with the lower life total, especially if they have ways of defending themselves on the battlefield. Enjoy the life gain but don't flaunt a high life total in front of opponents. They'll be happy to help you with that before you can get the chance to get the benefit.
When this card first came out, I panned it. I suggested that it be a terrible commander since there are so few white Vampires. Now that the whole set is out, I haven't changed my view at all. There still aren't enough white Vampires to try to build a deck that could be interesting. A Vampire theme deck that doesn't include black is simply an exercise in proving that you can jump through ridiculous hoops. If that is fun for you, go ahead. I'll pass.
Where I really like this card is as part of the 99, and he is solid cog in the machine that is the Edgar Markov deck. Edgar Markov wants your Vampires to attack so Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle fits right in. Adding another Vampire to the attack means another creature that gets a +1/+1 counter. Adding another creature with lifelink means that Vona, Butcher of Magan is even better. Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle works so well with so many of the cards in the deck, he was clearly meant to be there. I don't see adding a creature that makes a single token creature on your turn to be a mindblowing addition to a deck, but for this deck, it is a wonderful utility creature that deserves to be there.
Theme decks – outside of the major creature types (Goblin, Elf, Zombie, etc.) – are cute ideas that let players try something different. I enjoyed playing a Knight deck, but knew that the deck would be hard-pressed to go toe-to-toe with most Commander decks that were built around an idea that wasn't constrained to so few cards. The minor themes are fun have limited power.
Vanquisher's Banner changes all of that. This is a game changer. Every theme deck just got significantly better. This has practically nothing to do with the +1/+1 to your creatures of the chosen type. The bonus is nice, but this card alters the balance of your meta by being a card drawing machine. Every time you play a creature, you now draw a card to replace the card you lost from your hand! This ups the power level in most theme decks by a significant margin. Even in decks with only 30 creatures, if you play this on turn six, you are likely looking at around four creatures at worst, and that doesn't really consider how many more creatures you'll play from the cards you've drawn because of Vanquisher's Banner. In a deck like the Vampire deck, this is probably what you are looking at, making Vanquisher's Banner well worth it.
Now consider decks with creatures that have a smaller casting cost. Elves and Kithkin tend to show up more in the two through four-mana creature slots, meaning there will be plenty of turns when you'll be able to cast two or more of them from your hand in a single turn. And yes, I'm being conservative and assuming you aren't running as much ramp as you probably are. With smaller creatures, it has always been difficult to get the final points of damage in. You tend to run out of cards, or you are desperately looking for something better than a two-mana 2/2 creature late in the game.
Vanquisher's Banner makes those smaller creatures bigger, and will get you even further into your library. I am going to be hard-pressed not to include this in most creature theme decks. And when you consider the ways to Copy Artifacts, or simply play multiple copies if you are playing 60-card casual theme decks, this card becomes ridiculous!
So, which cards from Ixalan made the cut and which cards were dropped?
Huatli, Warrior Poet
Bishop of Rebirth
Pillar of Origins
Vona, Butcher of Magan
Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle
Curse of Disturbance
Curse of Vitality
Crimson Honor Guard
The new list fights a little more fiercely:
I know Sanguine Bond will raise some eyebrows, but the it was a personal choice. Huatli, Warrior Poet, Sanctum Seeker and Bishop of Rebirth were additions that weren't discussed. Each offers an addition that fit perfectly with Edgar Markov.
Are there other cards in Ixalan you think should have made the cut? I'd love to hear your reasons and what card you would cut to fit it in the deck in the comments!