Convertible Commander: Anowon, the Ruin Sage

Vampire Nocturnus
Way back in the day (think Zendikar/Scars of Mirrodin Standard), there was this Mono-Black vampires deck which saw some fairly high level play. It used cheap, resilient threats with great utility and a 4-drop top end in Vampire Nocturnus. See, to manipulate the revealed card the deck would run the on-color fetch lands, which were legal thanks to Zendikar. You'd lay out your Nocturnus and flip over your top card. You'd often see a Swamp on top, which isn't a Black card, so it wouldn't trigger the Nocturnus. You'd crack your fetch specifically to shuffle, giving yourself another shot at a Black card on the top of your library, then you could alpha strike with your little dudes, now suddenly much stronger and air-borne.

That was also around the time when Wizards offered the first Commander set and the general public was really getting into Commander. EDH had been around for a few years, and hardcore players knew about it and were playing, but walking into an LGS back then did not mean everyone had a Commander deck in their bag. I was moving away from Standard anyway, and I had all these vampire cards, and I love playing Mono-Black . . .  so when I opened a copy of Anowon, the Ruin Sage, it seemed like a perfect fit. I jammed together a bunch of older vampires with all my new ones, added a ton of great value Black cards, and called it a deck.

Since then, a few things have changed. First, Scars of Mirrodin brought Sheoldred, Whispering One, moving me away from vampire tribal and into good stuff. And then came Innistrad, and Olivia Voldaren came along as the new leader of the vampires . . .  adding Red. Sorin Markov started to show his personality and became {W}{B}. Things certainly started to move in a Mardu ({W}{B}{R}) direction, then Commander 2017 came out with the vampire deck in those colors. Our upcoming visit to Ixalan puts the vampire explorer/conquerors firmly in Sorin's {W}{B}. For those of us interested in building a vampire tribal deck, we've now got lots of op-tions.

But all those sets which included the bloodsuckers still have Mono-Black cards. And since it's been a while since I've seen anyone explore the old-school vampire master, let's take a look at a strict tribal build with Anowon. Do note, Ixalan spoilers aren't completely up as of the writing of this article, so it's possible the perfect card will be spoiled after the article is written but before it's published — if that's the case, feel free to point it out in the comments!

Anowon, the Ruin Sage — Commander | Mark Wischkaemper

Commander (1)
Creatures (34)
Planeswalkers (1)
Instants (8)
Sorceries (7)
Enchantments (7)
Artifacts (2)
Lands (40)
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The nice thing about vampires having been around for a while now is we've got lots of options, and as long as we consider the suicidal nature of some of Black's abilities to be on theme, we can do most of the things we want to do.

We mostly top out at five mana — we've got a couple of 6-drops and a seven — so we don't need much by way of ramp. That said, we are running Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Cabal Coffers, which can be quite helpful, and can win the game with a massive Exsanguinate. We've also got Thespian’s Stage and Vesuva to copy the Coffers if we need it. Mostly, though, our lands give us chances to shuffle or draw for Vampire Nocturnus. We can crack a Terramorphic Expanse or a Marsh Flats, or we can cycle a Barren Moor or an Ash Barrens, or even play a Mortuary Mire. That said, don't be afraid to crack early if a Swamp is needed, and cycle later to dig for action if the mana isn't needed. Also, a fair amount of money gets poured into this mana base; the deck doesn't require most of it to work, so if you're saving some pennies, just jam what you can and run basic Swamps in their place. (As a side note, something like Greed can let you drop mana — mana and life if you want to go all technical — into draws until you reveal something good, and Liliana Vess's -2 ability picks a card and puts it on top of our library, so other options exist.)

We need to pay life to draw, for two reasons. First, that's kind of how {B} rolls, and second, it's how we're justifying it to be on theme. Sign in Blood, Night’s Whisper, Succumb to Temptation and more let us get a few extra and push through the deck. Phyrexian Arena is more or less a staple in a deck like this; since we're really an aggressive crea-ture deck, an inexpensive way to get some extra cards is huge. Underworld Connections is similar. Dark Prophecy helps Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx out and pays us back when a wrath hits us, which is good, because getting wiped will hurt us. And we’ve deliberately passed on some obvious top-of-library manipulation like Sensei’s Divining Top or Crystal Ball because they don’t fit the vampire theme.

Bloodline Keeper
Every creature we run is a vampire. That means as long as Anowon is out, we won't be sacrificing anything while everyone else will have to sac a creature every turn. We've got a bunch of lords like Captivating Vampire and Bloodline Keeper, plus the nasty Vampire Nocturnus. We've also got some fun things which add counters, like Bloodlord of Vaasgoth or Patron of the Vein, which nicely doubles as removal. Anointed Deacon and Bishop of the Bloods-tained can both be wicked to opponents. The biggest problem we have is we're not really playing out of our graveyard the way Black wants to (there's actually a tribal argument that once a vampire dies, it's really, really dead). So we're going to have to be careful not to overextend; play some threats, throw a little damage around, but don't dump the hand unless a win is most likely on board. Oh! And Exsanguinate can just win out of nowhere, so keep it for that moment when the wooden stake is headed toward your heart.

We do get to have a lot of fun with point removal, though. Mostly we're running cards which just straight up kill creatures and sometimes Planeswalkers, like Hero’s Downfall or the new Vraska’s Con-tempt. Malicious Affliction can double up, and Sudden Spoiling is a trick which really ruins a bunch of players' days. Victim of Night is just too appropriate.

We've also got a bunch of synergistic pieces to play with. New Blood, for example, is a new Enslave, but cheaper and vampire specific. Boneyard Parley, too, is an opportunity to grab the best of the best from graveyards; who cares we only get one pile when everything is a bomb? Sorin Markov is old-school; we almost always want to lead with his -3 ability. Tainted Remedy seems like a vampiric ability, and completely hoses Oloro, Ageless Ascetic players or anyone running Trostani. Bloodchief Ascension should be easy to trigger, and once we do, we're pulling off a four-point life swing every time our opponents do just about anything. Shadows of the Past is similar, and has the added bonus of letting us scry away cards for the Nocturnus. Palace Siege, set on Khans, is one of two ways to gain back our creatures from the graveyard, but it's worth pointing out in a slow game with something like Tainted Remedy out, the Dragons setting may be the correct choice. Mortuary Mire gets something back once, too.

The key thing missing from this deck is the Exquisite Blood/Sanguine Bond combo, which is notable. Both cards are completely on-theme, but it sort of feels like it's just . . .  expected, y'know? The deck wants to win with vampires in the red zone, not with a two-card combo which is effectively impossible to disrupt once it’s active.

Then again, there's one lady who's happy to win with said combo, and will lead a team of vampires into battle — though she's a lot more interested in making sure they win. Here's our optionboard:

Sheoldred, Whispering One
We're going to drop Anowon into the 99 and put Sheoldred, Whispering One at the helm. That means we need more mana, so we've added in a few mana doublers like Crypt Ghast and Caged Sun, plus an Expedition Map to get us to Coffers/Tomb faster. We can take out a bunch of our point removal for board wipes, because we'll be able to rebuild with Sheoldred plus make it far more difficult for our opponents to recover from the same wrath. Or, of course, we just name Vampire with Kindred Dominance and swing the team. We add in the lords which don't care about tribe and a Profane Command; giving all our bloodsuckers Fear can end a player quite quickly. Finally, we do bring in the enchantment combo, plus a Diabolic Revelation to search up both pieces at once.

This is a much nastier deck. The tribal version is kitschy and shouldn't feel unfair. In fact, it will probably be outclassed on the regular. But it will certainly be very themey, and every once in a while Nocturnus will slam down and everyone will start doing quick math to see who will die if the top card is a Black one, and that's great fun. Post-optionboard, though, we take a much more controlling approach and try to make it so our opponents don't get to do any of their fun stuff. There are stronger ways to build Sheoldred, but pretty much any deck which plans to use her will likely not be any fun for the rest of the table.

What would you run in your vampire tribal deck which I skipped? I'd love to hear — creatures, non-creature spells, whatever. Please let me know in the comments!

That's two tribal decks in a row for me, but they'd be fun to have; with the two of them, we could relive the Underworld movies at our kitchen tables! That said, we're going to keep exploring different limitations beyond just the color identity of our commander. Hope that's okay. In the meantime, get out there and rep the Mono-Black , or just dress up like Lestat for your next EDH night!

Ixalan is now available for Preorder! Pick up sealed product and singles as they're posted!