A while ago, I wrote an article about what each tribe would need to compete in Standard. Now, with the full Rivals of Ixalan spoiler already out, we get to see how they fared. This will be a series of four articles, one on each tribe, where I go over the tribal cards from Rivals of Ixalan and try to analyze what the best build of that tribe will be, and whether it can compete in Standard.

Merfolk
Pirates

When I wrote about Vampires, I said they were lacking in incentives to dedicate to them. There were plenty of good Vampires and many ways to swarm the board, but almost no payoff for doing so. In this area, Rivals of Ixalan delivers.

New Vampires

Bishop of Binding

I’ve seen people playing this in their Constructed decks, but it doesn’t seem great to me. 4 mana is a lot to pay for a Fairgrounds Warden, and it’s even easier to kill—it dies to Shock or to Fanatical Firebrand. In return, you get a relevant creature type and an attacking bonus if it lives. Perhaps this can see play in mono-white decks that have no alternative for removal, but I’m skeptical.

Skymarcher Aspirant

This card is great. 2/1 for W with a relevant creature type is what the Vampire Weenie decks were looking for, and it even gets evasion in the midgame. It shouldn’t be too hard to get ascend in your Vampire decks, and this can deal a lot of damage with all the pumps.

Radiant Destiny

While not necessarily a Vampire card, Radiant Destiny feels the most at home here. You naturally have a lot of tokens, which makes it easy to get ascend, and you also have plenty of lifelinkers, which gives you an extra benefit from the pump. I imagine almost all Vampire decks will play 4.

Arterial Flow

Blightning was a great card, and this is similar. The main difference is context—when Blightning was great, you had Bloodbraid Elf to cascade into it, and you could also use it to kill planeswalkers. On top of that, I think most of the good Vampires are white, so it’ll be hard to cast a 1BB card, especially if you rely on Unclaimed Territory to fix your mana. But if there is a black-based Vampires deck, this card will probably see play.

Champion of Dusk

This is a powerful effect, but 5 mana is very expensive. Sometimes you can’t cast it because you don’t have 5 mana, sometimes you can’t cast it because it’ll kill you, and sometimes you don’t want to cast it because it won’t do enough.

The ideal scenario for Champion of Dusk is that you’re playing an attrition war, and your opponent has killed all your big creatures and left you with a lot of tokens. Then you can play Champion and draw 3-4 cards, hopefully winning the game shortly after. Overall, I think this scenario is too rare to make up for the times where you can’t cast this, so Champion of Dusk is probably not worth it.

Dusk Legion Zealot

Vampire Visionary is a pretty good card. You’re not going to just play it for value, but if your deck specifically wants bodies, then this is as close to a free one as you’re going to get. Elvish Visionary, for example, gets played because it combos with Wirewood Symbiote or because it taps for mana with Heritage Druid. With Dusk Legion Zealot, your best synergy is probably just pumping it and turning it into a 2/2 or 3/3, which isn’t bad, but not nearly as exciting.

Legion Lieutenant

This is one of the cards Vampires has been waiting for. It’s very simple—just a 2/2 lord for 2—but when you add in the other pump effects, and the fact that Vampires are good at creating tokens, then it becomes very powerful.

Elenda, the Dusk Rose

This card is strong, and what I like about it is that it scales well with pump effects. Imagine you have a lord in play. If you play Elenda and they kill it immediately, you get 4 power worth of lifelinkers instead of 1. If you have two lord effects, you get 9 power. That’s a lot of lifelinking, and that’s if she dies immediately, without having time to grow.

That said, 4 mana is a lot, and she’s vulnerable to a few cards in Standard. Magma Spray gets her, Cast Out gets her, Settle the Wreckage gets her—even Moment of Craving gets her. It is very annoying to spend 4 mana just to get your card Magma Sprayed.

I certainly don’t think she’s worth splashing for, but perhaps if you already have a B/W build (possibly with a sacrifice outlet, like Yahenni), then she can be good.

You can build Vampires in three different ways: Mono-White, Mono-Black, and B/W. They’ll all be similar in how they operate with a bunch of tokens and some lords.

The build I think is best is straight Mono-White. The new 1-drop is very good, and I want to maximize my ability to play multiple 1-drops. Now that Rampaging Ferocidon is gone, I don’t think there is any creature that you absolutely must be able to kill, so you can just focus on your own game and doing it the best you can.

This is the core I believe you should play:

Mono-White Vamps

This is 52 cards, which leaves you with 6 slots.

The first option is the Legion Conquistador/Oketra’s Monument combo. I don’t love it, because both cards are mediocre on their own. You play more like a weenie deck that happens to have tokens than a token deck per se, and you definitely don’t want to hold creatures back because you have Monument. The combo does add a lot of resiliency to your deck, though, and is great against removal-heavy decks or Wrath decks because it provides basically infinite creatures. If you don’t have it main, I’d consider having it in the board.

For the Monument/Conquistador combo, you probably want 7 slots: 4 Conquistadors and 3 Monuments. I’d probably  cut 1 Martyr of Dusk for it.

Mono-White Vamps

Even if I don’t love the combo, it’s probably the best one you can play, and realistically your only shot of beating a Fumigate deck, since you can rebuild easily after they’ve cast it.

Another alternative is to leave resiliency by the wayside altogether, and go for maximum speed with a combination of Trial of Solidarity and Cartouche of Solidarity. Cartouche is actually quite decent with your many lifelinkers, and also OK on Adanto Vanguard. It’d look like this:

Mono-White Vamps

The last alternative is just to play removal. Baffling End and Cast Out are both OK, and then you can round it out with a couple of Oketras. It’d look like this:

Mono-White Vamps

The next possible build is B/W. I think the best way to go about it is to have a light black splash, strictly for Vampires. You have to rely on Unclaimed Territory to make it work, which makes it hard to even cast a card like Duress out of the sideboard. Perhaps you have to go with Freebooter instead, knowing that you can name Pirate with Unclaimed Territory if it comes to that. This build should be a little more resilient to sweepers, as cards like Yaheeni and Elenda can protect you.

B/W Vamps

The last alternative is Mono-Black. The Mono-Black deck won’t be nearly as fast, and will instead be a lot more grindy, with life drain and creatures that come back from the graveyard. It should be worse against any matchup where you have to kill them quickly, but better against removal and sweepers.

Mono-Black Vamps

I am not sure if Arterial Flow is actually good enough, but if I have a Mono-Black deck that can turn it on and that can really use the 2 damage, then I’m going to try it.

Verdict: I think Vampires is a powerful deck, but each version has its own problems. The Mono-White deck is short about 6 good cards, and it is vulnerable to sweepers. You’re not just dead to them since you have cards like Adanto Vanguard and Legion’s Landing, and you can play the Conquistador/Monument package, but it’s not going to be easy.

The B/W version has more powerful cards, and more resiliency, but the mana is a problem. I don’t think you can afford to play more than 4 Swamps, which means that you have 12 black sources for Vampires and only 8 for other spells.

The Mono-Black version is sort of a wild card. It’s slower, but more resilient. Your sideboard will probably be a bit better, too, since you have access to better removal and discard spells.

If the metagame ends up having a lot of control decks with Settle the Wreckage and Fumigate, then you probably don’t want to be playing Vampires. You’ll just be a worse version of an aggro red deck. If those decks aren’t popular, and other aggro decks are instead, then Vampires can be a good choice because you’re fast and you have a lot of lifelink, which makes racing pretty easy.