The vampires of Magic: The Gathering straddle a strange line. Sometimes they are bloodthirsty, violent monsters that appear from the grave to suck the bodies of their enemies dry. Other times they are beautiful creatures that capture opposing minds and convert them to elegant nocturnal hunters. They’ve been the big bad enemies of some Magic stories, and they’ve been a one-off included card. No matter where they appear, vampires are always at home in the multiverse of Magic, and the past year has seen a real vampire theme emerge in both The Battle for Zendikar and the upcoming Shadows Over Innistrad sets.
If you’re not in the know, each Magic set takes place on a different world, and each of those worlds have radically different denizens. Those on the plane of Mirrodin, for example, are often made of a biological metal. Creatures from the plane of Lorwyn are the fairies and boggarts of folktales, and each of them are fiercely tribal. Each world contains different conditions of life that creates different kinds of beings. Vampires are everywhere. They live in the secret societies of Ravnica. They haunt the swamps of Mirrodin, and they stalk the sacrificial altars of Tarkir.
Zendikar, and Innistrad in a couple weeks, are chock full of vampires. When you play the game in a competitive environment like a Standard tournament, you will have access to a couple dozen vampires that do everything from chest bursting an eldritch token to convincing their allies to help them summon zombies to do battle for them. However, from a storytelling perspective, these vampires are radically different.
The vampires of Zendikar are the product of a corruption that spread from the Eldrazi horror named Ulamog. The disease seeped into the bodies of creatures that lived near the place where Ulamog erupted from its sleep in the earth, and the vampires became a species of living batteries who would suck the life out of other creatures so that Ulamog, in turn, would be able to consume that life force by proxy. After the Eldrazi were sealed away, the vampires divided into houses led by vicious bloodchiefs who were always in competition with one another. In Battle For Zendikar the Eldrazi awoke again and turned many vampires into mindless thralls, and many of the vampires from that set are, from a mechanical perspective, either following the will of the Eldrazi or desperately fighting against it with their entire being.
Innistrad’s vampires are radically different. Instead of being the byproduct of a Lovecraftian control mechanism, these vampires were created thousands of years ago by a man named Edgar Markov in order to combat a famine. Turning people into blood-hungry nocturnal monsters certainly solves the problem of simple domestic farming, and Innistrad has a complex relationship web of aristocratic vampires who rule their Transylvanian analogue of Stensia. You can see some more information from this Paste exclusive from the Shadows Over Innistrad art book:
Shadows Over Innistrad continues the original Innistrad set’s tradition of big, bombastic vampires that are full of flavor, and I have two really unique vampires that I want to show you. The first is Stromkirk Mentor.
The way that vampires have traditionally worked in Magic is through stealing the life force of the dead. Sometimes they have to deal damage to get bigger, and other times the witnessing of death is enough to make their species work. Here the Innistradian vampiric aristocracy is in full force. They aren’t merely interested in getting stronger through killing and sucking blood. Sometimes you get stronger just by learning how to sword fight a little better. This card is going to be excellent in Draft or Sealed formats where you just need to get your cheap vampires a little bigger to deal the damage you need in the mid game.
However, if that doesn’t seem exciting to you, there’s always the opportunity to discard Stromkirk Mentor in order to make your Markov Dreadknight bigger and deadlier.
We know from a few different sources that Markov Manor, the ancestral home of planeswalker Sorin Markov and an extensive coven for other vampires, has been destroyed by the vengeant planeswalker named Nahiri. While we don’t know much in the way of details about this event at this point in the storyline, it is very clear from the flavor text of Markov Dreadknight that having your home blown up by a wizard who does stone magic is the perfect way to get angry as all hell. This card seems like it will have a lot of great synergy with other vampire cards that have been revealed at this point. The “Madness” mechanic is front and center in Shadows Over Innistrad, and having a creature that gets bigger every time you discard a card could be a huge boon for both Standard and limited decks.
Vampires are some of the most exciting creatures in the history of Magic, and we have gotten some of the weirdest and most exciting vampires in the game’s history over the past couple months. I’m certainly excited to put a deck together with some of these new vampires so that I can yell “I VANT TO SUCK YOUR BLOOD” at as many unsuspecting opponents as possible. Bleh!
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com. His latest game, Epanalepsis, was released on May 21. It’s available on Steam.