What’s good, Spirit Squad!

Today your Friendly Neighborhood Kindred Expert(™) is gonna help y’all understand just how one of Pioneer’s most underrated decks has made a huge comeback thanks to a new toy. By “huge comeback”, I mean this deck straight-up won the Murders at Karlov Manor Pro Tour!

For anyone who already knows, this is no surprise. But for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, Rakdos Vampires is not only not a meme… it’s one of the best decks in all of Pioneer. The deck was already a thing, but its resurgence is due to a sweet new toy from Murders at Karlov Manor:

Vein Ripper is a LOT better than it looks, especially in a Rakdos shell. Having a Ward cost of sacrificing a creature is pretty huge when you’re also a deck that’s playing a ton of creature removal. Cards like Fatal Push, Go for the Throat, and even the activated ability of other Vampires like Bloodtithe Harvester make it pretty hard for opponents to just have a spare creature handy to be sacrificed.

Opposing decks like Rakdos Midrange, Izzet Phoenix, and Izzet Artifacts can certainly kill Vein Ripper with cards like Go For the Throat, Lightning Axe, and Shrapnel Blast, but each of those decks has creature combat as their win condition. So even when they can deal with the Ripper, they’re setting themselves back from their own plan to do so. The decks that play the most creature removal like Azorius Control and Five-Color Niv to Light don’t generally have more than one creature in play at a time, so Vein Ripper may as well have Hexproof against those decks.

OK, so the Ward is good. But my brother in Christ, it’s a 6-drop.

Oh, my sweet summer child. It’s *technically* a 6-drop, yes. But with the way the deck’s made, and the way the Pioneer format is set up, this isn’t a problem at all for a few big reasons:

  • Rakdos provides players with the best tools available for slowing games down, aside from the dedicated control decks. The combo decks don’t appreciate Thoughtseize and Duress, the creature decks don’t appreciate Fatal Push and Go For the Throat, and most decks in between don’t enjoy dealing with how proactive you are.
  • Most 6-drops are unplayable because they’re easy to counter by Blue opponents. With the introduction of Cavern of Souls to the Pioneer format, this is an all-but-solved problem. Decks like Azorius Control and Spirits will have to find a new way to deal with this relatively huge problem.
  • Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord exists. This 3-drop Planeswalker lets you put any Vampire from your hand into play, which means your Vein Ripper doesn’t necessarily have to wait until Turn 6 to be played! What’s even more unreal is that, on the very next turn, you can give it Lifelink and start attacking with a 7/6 using the same Sorin’s first +1 ability! Aggro decks have almost no solution to this “combo”, so uhhhh good luck solving that.

(Doctor Who fans, is that a Weeping Angel?)

So there’s two good cards. What happens if you don’t draw them?

While it’s true that Sorin and Vein Ripper are absolutely the reason to play Vampires, it’s not like those are the only good cards in the deck. In fact, the whole point of the Rakdos decks in Pioneer is to have cards that can all function on their own. Here’s the decklist Seth Manfield used to win the Murders at Karlov Manor Pro Tour:

Rakdos Vampires

by Seth Manfield

4 Bloodtithe Harvester
4 Vein Ripper
4 Fable of the Mirror-Breaker
3 Preacher of the Schism
2 Dusk Legion Zealot
2 Smuggler’s Copter
1 Sheoldred, the Apocalypse

4 Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord

4 Fatal Push
4 Thoughtseize
2 Duress
1 Bitter Triumph

4 Blackcleave Cliffs
4 Blood Crypt
4 Mutavault
3 Cavern of Souls
2 Blightstep Pathway
2 Sulfurous Springs
2 Hive of the Eye Tyrant
2 Swamp
1 Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance
1 Takenuma, Abandoned Mire

Sideboards can be seasoned to taste, so we won’t be talking about that today.

But look at just about every card in this deck. It’s really more of a “best of everything” than a Kindred deck. Every threat in your deck provides more value than one card should generally be allowed to. Smuggler’s Copter is so good that it was banned for years, Fable of the Mirror Breaker is an absurd card that sees Legacy play, Preacher of the Schism fades both Fatal Push (without Revolt) and Fiery Impulse from Izzet Phoenix decks, even with Spell Mastery. Even the lowly Dusk Legion Zealot replaces itself and can be used to crew a Smuggler’s Copter!

The Black instants and sorceries this deck gets to be play are unreal. Thoughtseize and Duress are legacy staples, Fatal Push is the best removal spell Black has ever seen, even when you factor in the fact that fetch lands aren’t legal in Pioneer. Even Bitter Triumph’s additional cost isn’t that bad, since Vampires is a deck that doesn’t have much trouble gaining life.

As for the mana base, it’s got a little bit of everything. Rakdos-colored lands are a known-to-be-good thing, since we’ve had close to the same mana available to Rakdos Midrange for years. This deck gets to lean into the Vampires theme by playing all four copies of Mutavault (which can be pumped by Sorin or sacrificed for the “Lightning Helix” mode) and three Cavern of Souls, but otherwise this is the same fare we’re used to from Rakdos Midrange.

Cool, but every vampire has a weakness right?

Kind of. While there’s not exactly a stake to the heart like Auriok Champion or a good Bogles deck available, there are a few decks that Vampires players absolutely do not want parts of.

  • Azorius Control is one of the most-played decks in the format and has both counterspells to make sure a Sorin has to work hard to resolve and sweepers like Supreme Verdict and Farewell to get around Vein Ripper’s Ward ability.
  • Five-Color Niv to Light and Enigmatic Incarnation decks are both extremely good against Rakdos decks, and the upgrades to Vampires from Midrange don’t change the dynamic of these matchups. A resolved Enigmatic Incarnation is effectively a handshake, since Rakdos colors don’t really have much against resolved Enchantments (Feed the Swarm exists, but that’s almost literally it).
  • Combo decks like Hidden Strings and Quintorius Combo do their thing so efficiently that, a lot of the time, they don’t care about your discard effects. A wise man once said “you can’t Thoughtseize the top of the deck”.
  • Finally, it’s time to mention Spirits (you knew this was coming). We not only have cards that do well against Rakdos as a whole, like Wedding Announcement that embarrasses 1-for-1 removal and counterspells like No More Lies and Spell Pierce to make sure a Sorin can’t resolve, but also Katilda, Dawnhart Martyr is a Spirit that conveniently has Protection from Vampires. Take that, Team Edward!

Should I buy this deck?

Honestly, I think Vampires is one of those decks that isn’t super-hard to play, but very much rewards you for making good choices. Thoughtseize, Fatal Push, Duress, and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker are all so good that they see Legacy play, the creatures are all at least reasonable, and if you’re in a big tournament with a long day of play you can reasonably expect to have time for food and water in between your rounds.

The biggest downside is the price tag. This deck is about $1,100 CDN ($800 USD), which is a LOT of money to ask for one Pioneer deck.

If you can afford this deck, I actually do think it’s a pretty good choice for both experienced pilots and people who are looking for an easier-to-play experience. But now that we know about Pioneer’s newest old deck, hopefully y’all now know how to either attack the format with it or attack it with your favorite deck. Either way, I’ll see y’all on the next one!

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