Ecology of the Vampire

A little while back, I wrote an article called “Ecology of the Kor.” Inspired by similar articles that used to grace the pages of old Dragon magazines, “Ecology of the Kor” was a deep dive into what it meant to be a member of Magic’s unique race. Today, I will continue that series by taking a closer look into the vampires inhabiting Innistrad, a plane that will be central to our adventures in the upcoming block. I present to you the Ecology of the Vampire (Innistrad Edition).

With today's installation, you may notice a single, stark difference between my previous ecology article and this one, in that today’s in-depth look will only be focusing on the vampires of innistrad, as opposed to vampires across all of Magic’s planes. My reasoning for this is twofold.

  1. Unlike the kor, vampires have been a part of Magic since its inception and have been featured on countless planes. To review them all in a single article would either be exceedingly long or would not do the different vampires proper justice.
  2. Innistrad’s vampires in particular are broken into various sub-lineages that each has unique social structures, beliefs, and abilities to understand.

With that out of the way, let's dive in and explore the vampires of Innistrad.

Vampire Interloper by James Ryman

A History of Vampirism on Innistrad

Vampirism on Innistrad can be linked back to a single man, a single demon, and a single angel at a particular point in the plane's history.

Edgar Markov, progenitor of the Markov bloodline and grandfather to everyone’s favorite angel killer, used to be an alchemist of Innistrad thousands of years ago. Rapidly aging (as humans tend to do), Markov became obsessed with finding a way to preserve what youth he had left. Enter the demon Shilgengar. The ancient demon convinced Edgar to start experimenting with blood. After trapping and exsanguinating the angel Marycz, Edgar created a concoction in his laboratory out of the angel’s blood. That concoction would grant Edgar the immortality he so desperately sought after, at the price of an eternal thirst for fresh human blood. With that act, the famed Markov bloodline of vampires were created.

So let's just be clear on that chunk of info for a second. Before Edgar, vampires did not exist. Edgar Markov willfully drained all of the blood out of an angel, created a potion from said blood, and drank it to become Innistrad’s first vampire. Sure, Shilgengar orchestrated a famine that made Edgar feel that he had no other choice, but still . . . 

Vampiric Fury by Matt Stewart

At some point after Edgar Markov himself became a vampire, he established an additional eleven bloodlines (twelve, including his own) that would go on to sire vampires across Innistrad.

The method by which Edgar created these new vampire progenitors is one shrouded in myth, but I believe the ancient alchemist may have created different concoctions from the blood of other angels to create each new lineage (accounting for the subtle variations in the abilities of each lineage). Of the twelve bloodlines created by Edgar, three have since died off completely. Five of the bloodlines are relatively minor, having sired very few vampires. The remaining four, Markov included, have gone on to become major bloodlines of the plane. Each of these four bloodlines has its own unique social structures, abilities, and strategies, and each will be outlined separately in the subsequent sections of this article. The four major remaining bloodlines are:

  • Falkenrath Whose progenitor was an unnamed falconer
  • Voldaren Whose progenitor is the deadly Olivia Voldaren
  • Markov — Whose progenitor is the ancient Edgar Markov
  • Stromkirk whose progenitor is the high priest Runo Stromkirk

Eventually, vampires (along with other monsters) caused the number of living humans on the plane to dwindle. Seeking to balance the scales (and ultimately save his own people), Sorin created the archangel Avacyn, much to the dismay of the races he saved.

Exquisite Blood by Cynthia Sheppard

Physiology of Vampires on Innistrad

All vampires on Innistrad are not undead in the same sense that an animated zombie or skeleton is considered undead, nor are they immortal in a sense that they cannot be killed. Vampirism is also not a curse or disease, but a “condition of the blood” that persists through magic alone.

The easiest way to tell a vampire apart from a normal human of innistrad is by way of the eyes. A vampire's sclera is pitch black, as opposed to a normal human's white version. The irises of a vampire also differ in that they are commonly gold, silver, or other colors not typically found among humans. Vampires have skin that is cold to the touch, with hair ranging from black to deep purple, dark magenta, burgundy, or dark blue-green. Also notable are a vampire’s canines, which are found to be slightly pronounced at all times. When preparing to bite a victim, those same canines will extend roughly an additional quarter inch. Adding to their somewhat feral and vicious appearance, a vampire’s fingernails are often long and slightly curved.

While vampirism offers the benefit of an ageless body, and enhanced physical strength (twice that of a human), it comes at a cost. According to “A Planeswalker's Guide to Innistrad,” vampires have the following vulnerabilities:

All vampires inherit a set of weaknesses linked to the ritual that created their race. First, although they can be harmed or killed by any weapon, weapons of living wood have special efficacy—this is the so-called Dryad's Legacy (dead wood is inert, no more effective than stone or steel). Second, a vampire can't cross running water in which the moon is reflected, because of the link between water as the source of human food and the moon as the source of angelic power. Third, Avacyn herself can enchant water with the power to burn vampires like acid by touching it. But this water is scarce and becoming scarcer with each passing day.
Grim Flowering
Wooden Stake

So make sure that wooden stake is fresh; otherwise, your makeshift weapon is no more potent than any other similarly pointed object.

Vampires must also continuously consume fresh human blood—or else otherwise starve to death in one full cycle of Innistrad’s moon. The vampire must drink at least the amount of fresh blood that a human contains (roughly five liters) within that timeframe, and the blood must come from a living human or it doesn’t count.

Tribute to Hunger
Vampire Interloper

Other than these basic qualities, vampires of Innistrad are pretty similar to the average human: ten fingers, ten toes, and a couple fangs to bite you with.

Concept Art by Steve Prescott

Psychology of Vampires on Innistrad

Vampires of Innistrad do not see their condition as a curse, but instead approach it as a “cleansing” of their blood that results in a higher state of being. Psychologically, all vampires wish to hold onto their youth forever. It is because of this fact that silver has an interesting effect on the creatures, according to “A Planeswalker's Guide to Innistrad”:

Because of the connection between Innistrad's silver moon and its angels, and because the ritual that created vampires required the drinking of angel blood, silver has special properties vis-à-vis vampires: it causes them to see how they would have been in normal, mortal life, ignoring vampire glamer and reality alike. Because of this, vampires go to great lengths to avoid mirrors (glass backed with a coating of silver), because mirrors reflect their mortal images rather than their actual ones. This is also the reason why vampires can't cross running water in which the moon is reflected. Although silver weapons aren't particularly deadly to vampires, the presence of silver unsettles them, putting them at a disadvantage.

Paraselene by Ryan Yee

I find it fitting how eternally youthful beings that drink from veins could be so vain. Speaking of vanity, vampires consider themselves above their human “food” in just about every way. A vampire wholeheartedly believes it took on the “burden” of vampirism in order to save lesser humans unfit for the task. Vampires treat humans the way the 1% treats the rest of the world.

Falkenrath Noble
Falkenrath Aristocrat
Heirs of Stromkirk
Night Revelers
Stromkirk Noble

Vampires tend to act in manners similar to our real-world rich and glamorous social circles, holding grand balls and parties while constantly trying to one-up each other in displays of dominance and prestige. Occasionally things can become rather heated; vampires are creatures of passion, after all.

Blood Feud by Winona Nelson

This self-pride leads vampires to demand only the finest things in life, donning only the highest quality clothing, arms, and armor available. This inherent appreciation of the finer things has led to a vampiric society of regality and nobility, one which treats the fresh blood of a human the way you or I would a vintage ’96 Barolo.

Bloodflow Connoisseur
Exquisite Blood
Markov Patrician

Did you think all the blatant wealth-flaunting stopped at vampire’s clothing and blood selection? I didn’t think so. A good vampire needs a place to rest a weary head, and many vampire families sport gaudy estates across Stensia’s mountain ranges.

Stensia Bloodhall by John Avon

Falkenrath Castle Falkenrath is a meticulously maintained, towering, gothic masterpiece of a structure home to many vampires of the Falkenrath lineage.

Voldaren The Voldaren Estate is known for its lavish parties, thrown by none other than the bloodline’s progenitor herself, Olivia.

Markov — Close to Gavony and overlooking Thraben Cathedral lies the famed Markov Manor. Unlike most vampire family estates, Markov Manor is relatively simplistic in its construction. Still, a manor is a manor. Well, used to be anyway.

Stromkirk Unwilling to be a part of the twisted vampire family politics, the Stromkirk lineage decided to concentrate their power in Drunau, a port town of Nephalia, as opposed to the more common Stensia.

The most psychologically disturbing facet of Innistrad vampires lies in the nature of siring a new vampire. Unlike the bite of most vampires, being bitten by a vampire from Innistrad will not result in vampiric transformation for that individual unless the vampire biting the person willfully introduces its own blood into the bitten victim. Because of this selectiveness, vampires will only choose those humans they deem “worthy” to join their ranks, creating a self-limiting social circle that believes it consists of “the best of the best.” Whether they were selected for their strength, beauty, intelligence, or some otherwise impressive feature, only the most remarkable humans will become vampires.

Bloodline Keeper
Chosen of Markov
Markov's Servant

Interestingly enough, vampires are not always in calm, cool, collected mode. Vampires be gettin’ mad-hangry and are prone to fits of rage when presented with the opportunity to enjoy some exquisite blood. This inability to control their desires seems to be more common among the younger vampires, and it can be controlled (to a degree) with age and experience.

Bloodcrazed Neonate
Vampiric Fury

Last, and most psychologically disturbing of all, is the tendency for vampires to exhibit rather unique . . . indulgences. These unspeakable acts range from painting with the fresh blood of an exsanguinated victim to a vampire dancing with his latest meal to far darker pleasures.

Blood Artist
Havengul Vampire
Falkenrath Torturer
Rush of Blood
Nearheath Stalker
Rakish Heir

Innistrad Vampire Weapons, Magic, and Tactics

As mentioned earlier, vampires will don only the finest arms and armor when preparing to do battle. Their exquisitely crafted weapons often have a lot of sharp edges and prongy bits that are great for releasing all that blood trapped beneath the surface of your skin.

Concept Art by Steve Prescott

When you live for thousands of years, becoming an accomplished swordmaster doesn’t seem so insurmountable.

Markov Blademaster
Trepanation Blade
Markov Warlord

Aside from swords, daggers, and the occasional axe or crossbow, vampires will not hesitate to make use of a combination of their enhanced strength and their claws and fangs in battle.

Talons of Falkenrath
Traitorous Blood
Uncanny Speed

Often, a more deceptive approach is required, for which some vampires are known to don disguises (such as wigs to hide the colorations of their hair) or magical quasi-illusions known as glamers to move among humans undetected.

In addition to their ability to cast illusionary magics, all vampires are able to create a two-foot-wide aura of silence about their persons at will—perfect for sneaking into bedrooms through open windows or among creaky floorboards.

In addition to these base forms of magic, the different vampire lineages are known for mastering particularly unique forms of vampiric magics that may either manifest themselves or be learned given enough time such as flight, psychic abilities, and transformation magics. Certain bloodlines exhibit a particular affinity to some of these more rare forms of vampiric magic.

Falkenrath Falkenrath elders are more likely to master flight thank other vampires.

Falkenrath Marauders by James Ryman

Voldaren Voldaren lineage vampires are known to have an affinity for transformation magics, particularly when used to take the form of animals such as the bat, rat, or cat.

Markov — Markov vampires exhibit a particular talent for psychic magics.

Sorin Markov
Mental Agony

Stromkirk Stromkirk elders have mastered the strange art of transforming their bodies into mist.

In addition to these base magics and bloodline specialties, some vampires have been known to wield dark forms of fire magic and to bind the souls of humans to suits of armor to serve as guards. Olivia Voldaren in particular has stated that Stensia wolves have been domesticated by vampires, bred to hunt and kill ghouls. Some Stensian vampires have even been known to encourage spiders to lair near their homes as added traps for human prey.

Fires of Undeath
Haunted Guardian
Past in Flames
Russet Wolves
Somberwald Spider

Notable Vampires of Innistrad

Anje Falkenrath

Quoted on the card Aggravate, Anje appears to be a particularly volatile vampire from the Falkenrath bloodline. Flakenrath’s progenitor was a famous falconer who has since died. Perhaps Anje is one of the vampires vying to be top dog, er . . . bat?


Uta Falkenrath

Quoted on the card Ambush Viper, Uta is another named Falkenrath vampire. This one seems to be more level-headed, having a particular interest in poisoned snakes. Will we see a rivalry play out between Uta and Anje? One can only hope.

Ambush Viper

Olivia Voldaren

Progenitor of the Voldaren bloodline, Olivia has made a name for herself for throwing the best parties. This eccentric vampire seems to take particular joy in torturing and demeaning humans. She went so far as to create a three-day holiday known as the Court of the Vampire King/Queen, which, according to “A Planeswalker's Guide to Innistrad,” has the following festivities:

Court of the Vampire King/Queen. This disturbing three-day holiday was invented by Olivia Voldaren. A human is identified, kidnapped, and brought to a large vampire estate or castle, where they serve as "King or Queen of the Vampires" for the duration of the event. The mock king/queen, always utterly terrified, of course, is served the best food and drink and is theatrically supplicated. The vampires will follow any order the king or queen issues, except any attempt to abdicate the "throne." At the end of the three days, the king or queen is killed and all present share the blood.
Olivia Voldaren
Human Frailty
Victim of Night

Runo Stromkirk

A high priest in life who worshiped a pre-Avacynian god of the sea and storms, Runo Stromkirk is the progenitor of the Stromkirk bloodline. It is because of this (and the fact that most Stromkirk vampires make a life in Nephalia) that Stromkirk vampires have a particular affinity with the coast.

Edgar Markov

Former alchemist and current progenitor of the Markov bloodline, Edgar Markov is the “man behind the madness” and is responsible for the creation of vampirism on Innistrad.

Sorin Markov

Grandson of the famed Edgar Markov, Sorin is a planeswalking vampire of the Markov bloodline. Sorin’s Planeswalker spark ignited during the process of becoming a vampire under his grandfather’s bloodline. Sorin has a mixed past with both Innistrad and the vampires residing there, having created Avacyn as a means to keep the vampires in check.

Tinfoil-Hat Speculation Time

I am extremely excited about Shadows over Innistrad. (Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that already. I'm not sorry.) One thing in particular that has piqued my interest as of late is this image, which was part of the puzzles solved during the #SOIKickoff weekend.

As I have already covered in extensive detail, there are four major vampire bloodlines on Innistrad, and all four are shown here with a corresponding gem. Why then, is there a fifth?

I believe that, this time around, we are going to meet a fifth bloodline that has risen to contest with the other four for dominance. When describing Stensia and the surrounding lands, “A Planeswalker's Guide to Innistrad” outlines the following area:

The outer valley is divided into eight pieces by terrain, three of which are noteworthy: the human village of Shadowgrange, the abandoned Maurer Estate, and the human rancher community of Lammas. Shadowgrange and Lammas are strange places populated by humans that are fiercely passionate about their lifestyles but also paranoid and fearful. Few other humans of Innistrad ever see these distant places.

Could this abandoned estate be an ancestral home of a thought-to-be defeated vampire family? Only time will tell . . . 

I hope you enjoyed this deep dive into the vampires of Innistrad. Make sure you follow the madness on twitter by checking out the #Vorthos and #MTGSOI hashtags.

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