“To make you a vampire they have to suck your blood. And then you have to suck their blood. It’s like a whole big sucking thing.” Buffy Summers
Day three of Commander 2017 spoiler week leaned heavily into vampires starting off in the wee hours of the morning with our first Mardu bloodsucker legend. As someone who tried Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter, Olivia Voldaren, Garza Zol, Plague Queen and Anowon, the Ruin Sage as vampire tribal commanders before settling on Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief, I was really looking forward to seeing if C17 was going to offer me an option to tempt me away from Big Mana Drana. Let’s get started!
“Okay folks, let’s make us some rad Mardu vampires.”
“We could do that, but remember boros is part of Mardu.”
“Oh hell, that’s right. Well then, what if Karador, but terrible?”
So let’s start with the good stuff first. Licia, Sanguine Tribune has some pretty fantastic art, and could potentially cost three mana for a 7/7 if you have some type of lifegain on board. That means your commander can be protected with a zero-cost Not of This World in colors that don’t traditionally have access to countermagic, and when you swing it puts opponents on a three-hit clock. He also might play nice with Retribution of the Ancients or Cradle of Vitality or Sunbond. That’s not nothing, but it’s not a lot either, particularly in colors that already have Zurgo Helmsmasher as the go-to aggro beater.
So how about the bad stuff? When you dig deep, Licia has a surprising lack of synergy with his tribe. Not counting any yet-to-be-revealed Commander 2017 bloodsuckers there are only 14 vampires with lifelink, and about half are nearly unplayable draft chaff. That leaves Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Chancellor of the Dross, Kalitas, Tratior of Ghet, Tithe Drinker, Vampire Cutthroat, Vampire Nighthawk, and Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter. That’s not exactly an inspiring list, and once you start looking away from tribal vampires and towards commanders with general lifegain interaction, he seems to pale next to Oloro, Ageless Ascetic and Karlov of the Ghost Council (and really most of the Orzhov lifegain legends.)
There also isn’t a lot of +1/+1 counter interaction; you have no access to Doubling Season or Hardened Scales-type effects, other than overcosted things like Gleam of Battle or go-wide effects like Cathars’ Crusade, and, despite the historical tendency of vampires to utilize +1/+1 counters, they really don’t do so in an synergistic way other than making it way easier for someone else’s Olivia Voldaren to steal your Licia.
In the end Lucia isn’t bad, really. He’s just the kind of bland, uninspiring combat-based beatstick design that has become the hallmark of Boros commanders except a black mana symbol pasted into the casting cost.
Dat art, tho.
Speaking of Olivia Voldaren, meet her new pal Hasty McBuffovich. A continuation of the might-be-a-cycle that began with 2016’s Bastion Protector, Bloodsworn Steward grants commander creatures you control haste and +2/+2. This feels like a near auto-include in any vampire tribal deck featuring red, and I would imagine it’ll pop up in more than few decks with red commanders, period. A solid inclusion to the commander cannon.
SO. THAT. HAPPENED.
First things first; I really, really, really hope this is a hint that Teferi is coming back in this spring’s Dominaria set. He’s one of my favorite lore characters.
Still, phasing. Huh. I did not see that coming. We haven’t seen phasing as a keyword outside an Un-set since Ertai’s Familiar and Tolarian Drake in Weatherlight in June of 1997. This will be the only non-old border card with phasing that has ever been printed.
Teferi’s Protection is kind of the ultimate Fog. You can’t lose life or take damage, and your permanents can’t be destroyed. It’s basically Angel’s Grace stapled to an anti-Jokulhaups spell to save you and your stuff from imminent mass destruction. See also Teferi and a couple of entire continents back on Dominaria.
A fantastic multi-use toolbox card. I love it.
Now we’re talking. We’ll do this backwards from Licia and start with the bad first: six mana for a 4/4 isn’t ideal. Six becomes eight becomes ten pretty quickly in colors reliant on artifact ramp, and Edgar is absolutely going to be a huge removal target. He also only gains half of the benefit of Bloodsworn Steward.
Now the good! You make 1/1 chump blockers/ Skullclamp fodder whenever you cast a vampire spell, regardless of whether or not Edgar is in the zone or on the field. He also has first strike and haste baked in, both of which enable his third ability set: whenever Edgar Markov attacks, put a +1/+1 counter on each vampire you control. So those little vampires you make with Edgar’s emminence ability, or via various Sorin Markov variants, all get perma-buffed simply by swinging with Edgar.
He’s not particularly innovate or groundbreaking in any way, but he’s a very solid Mardu vampire commander. More excellent art, too.
Goad is back, baby! Like creating chaos? This is for you. Until your next turn all creatures you don’t control attack each combat if able and attack a player other than you. I’m not sure what deck is really screaming for this, but it’s going to almost always make people do things they might not want to do, and that’s generally a good thing.
Punishment for Oloro and eminence, or for people who just don’t cast their commanders very often. I like it. Maybe not enough to run it given how niche the ability is, but I like it. Plus a 4/5 trample body can be useful, too.
I’m not sure what Ravi from I, Zombie did to generate this kind of mystical retribution, but it certainly appears someone took issue with him. One thing worth noting is that for this curse cycle the owner of the curse gains the triggered benefit as well as the attacker. I like that in theory, but in practice I could see it discouraging attacks. It’s one thing to be guided to attack a specific party; it’s another thing entirely to simultaneously help the person doing the guiding. That might entirely be a me thing, though. As we’ll see in my Mathas write-up I do NOT like helping my enemies.
But hey, more curses! This puts us up to 28 curses which is absolutely enough for a curse-themed deck.
A six mana Splinter Twin for all your dudes seems nice. That’s a lot of enter the battlefield (etb) triggers and combo potential in one package. Purphoros, God of the Forge players are probably salivating, as are those with Krenko, Mob Boss decks. As is standard with these kind of effects Sundial of the Infinite gets around the exile clause as well.
At three mana Mathas, Fiend Seeker is the most aggressively costed of the Mardu vampire legends. Like Licia before him, though, I’m not sure he really does much as a vampire tribal commander. Menace here isn’t terribly exciting, and his ability, while technically political, could easily have the opposite effect.
I personally hate helping other people in my pod, and this feels way too much like I’m helping other people. Sure, I can put a bounty counter on that scary creature next to me and maybe encourage someone to kill it, but then my opponents draw a card (for a net of two cards to people I have to eventually beat) and I only draw one. Yes, one person is down a scary creature, and someone spent a removal spell, but that’s still not amazing math to me. Plus, if a bounty counter can encourage you to make decisions, I feel you’re probably not a player whose decision-making process is going to present me with a lot of in-game problems in the first place.
Conversely, if someone across from me is playing Mathas I don’t know if his ability accomplishes much, either. If a creature needs to be removed, I’m removing it. A bounty counter isn’t going to make me kill one I wouldn’t otherwise kill, and at times it would do the opposite. I’d second-guess removing a target with a bounty counter on it just because I only get one card and my opponents get two. It would be a disincentive for me to kill a creature more than an incentive.
On top of that, the bounty doesn’t trigger on enchantment removal or exile spells. Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile are the top two most played instant removal spells, with Chaos Warp, Anguished Unmaking and Utter End in the top ten. Oblivion Ring is in the top ten most frequently played enchantments. The bounty also doesn’t trigger off of Cyclonic Rift or any bounce spell.
All that said, not everyone hates helping other people as much as I do. A couple of other writers offered up the following:
“Another way to look at is to help guide newer players in their targeting.”
“It’s a flavorful way for Mardu to draw cards, if nothing else, and that’s pretty neat.”
Those are fair points. Also, he’s much better in 1v1 duals or at the end of the game where the only person gaining advantage is you, but I’m still not going to be playing a commander who helps my enemies, and absent larger threats I’m going to be killing the one who is.
New Blood is a Ritual of the Machine without the color restrictions on what you can take, where you tap a vampire instead of sacrificing a creature. Ritual is only in 184 decks, but a lot of that is probably obscurity since it was last printed in Alliances. One nice thing here is that unlike Control Magic you can’t get your stolen creature back with a simple Naturalize.
You can also change the text on the card of the creature you control to read vampire. Grabbing an Immerwolf? He now buffs vampires instead of werewolves.
You’re probably not running this outside vampire tribal or a non-tribal deck with access to a vampire commander that isn’t attacking every turn like (Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter, Anowon, the Ruin Sage, or Shauku, Endbringer , but it’s an excellent card. I like it and will be hard-pressed not to include it in my vampire deck whatever shape it takes.
The easy comparison here is Noxious Gearhulk at the same CMC. The Gearhulk has menace while Patron has flying and it has one more power, but both destroy creatures upon entering the battlefield. But for that one less power Patron of the Vein is in a much more relevant tribe, it exiles creatures your opponents control that die, and it puts a +1/+1 counter on each vampire you control for each death. Grave hate and your guys get buffed, too? Very solid stuff.
We also got the first of our Grixis Wizards in Inalla, Archmage Ritualist. Inalla is pretty simple in that whenever a non-token wizard enters the battlefield under your control you may make a token copy of that wizard for one colorless mana. The token has haste, and is exiled at the end of the turn. You may also tap five untapped wizards you control to cause target player to lose seven life.
The shenanigans here are fairly straight forward; run wizards with ETB effcts, and copy those effects via making a token. You can save the tokens past your turn with Sundial of the Infinite, or sacrifice them to something like Ashnod’s Altar, etc. I haven’t had time to drill down for wizard combos, but there are certainly plenty that will be found.
We’ve reached the Iron part of our review. While Heirloom Blade can technically go into any equipment deck, it most wants to hang out with our kitty friends where being an equipment can serve additional duties such as hitting requirements on cards like Nazahn, Revered Blacksmith, Balan, Wandering Knight or Kemba, Kha Regent. Still, that 1 equip cost is decent for a +3/+1 buff and having the creature replace itself can be useful.