One of my favorite Brawl decks that I’ve found in the Kaladesh to Dominaria era is Vona, Butcher of Magan. This particular list is sub $60 at time of this writing. It’s due to lose a few cards with the October 2018 rotation, such as Fatal Push and Gifted Aetherborn; so if you want to build this deck, you can leave out the Kaladesh, Aether Revolt, Amonkhet, and Hour of Devastation cards, which will make the list under $50 easily.
This Brawl deck list went 5-0 in a Brawl League on June 24, 2018 piloted by Delta.3000.
1 Vona, Butcher of Magan
1 Duskborne Skymarcher
1 Skymarcher Aspirant
1 Vicious Conquistador
1 Adanto Vanguard
1 Bishop's Soldier
1 Dusk Legion Zealot
1 Gifted Aetherborn
1 Legion Lieutenant
1 Martyr of Dusk
1 Oathsworn Vampire
1 Queen's Bay Soldier
1 Forerunner of the Legion
1 Inspiring Cleric
1 Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle
1 Sadistic Skymarcher
1 Skymarch Bloodletter
1 Voracious Vampire
1 Bishop of Binding
1 Paladin of the Bloodstained
1 Sanctum Seeker
1 Sanguine Glorifier
1 Champion of Dusk
1 Fatal Push
1 Cast Down
1 Queen's Commission
1 Call to the Feast
1 Vanquisher's Banner
1 The Immortal Sun
1 Legion's Landing
1 Radiant Destiny
1 Squire's Devotion
1 Cast Out
1 Ixalan's Binding
1 Concealed Courtyard
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Forsaken Sanctuary
1 Ifnir Deadlands
1 Isolated Chapel
1 Memorial to Folly
1 Shefet Dunes
1 Unclaimed Territory
White/Black Vampires seemed a deck that was poised to be a nice budget strategy in Standard with the release of Ixalan. The deck got better with Rivals of Ixalan, too. But the tribe, good as its cards are in the current Standard cardpool, hasn’t made huge waves in the meta, although with a skilled pilot it can win some duels.
Vona, Butcher of Magan is a really cool Legendary Creature. Already a 4/4 vigilant Vampire Knight with lifelink, Vona also has a powerful tap ability. Pay 7 life and you can destroy a target nonland permanent. While it can only be activated on your turn, you can do so after she attacks. She hasn’t quite caught on in traditional Commander, but I think she will at some point.
This deck is a great starting place for anyone who wants to play Vampires in Commander. Actually, this deck list reads as a who’s who of Vampires in Standard. Indeed, Brawl decks are meant to “feel” a bit like you’re playing a Standard deck. But as singletons, many cards become objectively more powerful, as we’ll see as we delve into this pretty sweet deck list.
The list begins with three strong Vampire one-drops: Duskborne Marcher, Skymarcher Aspirant, and Vicious Conquistador. The Marcher pumps another attacking Vampire by just +1/+1, but sometimes, that’s all you need. Aspirant is actually playable in decks outside of Vampires, and once you have the City’s Blessing, she’s a 2/1 flyer for one, which is really good. Getting 10 permanents in Brawl is not hard to do. The Conquistador is an above average one drop with a ½ body and the ability to make each opponent lose 1 life. Naturally, the Conquistador is much more powerful in multiplayer games.
The deck has a slew of two-drop creatures: Adanto Vanguard, Bishop’s Soldier, Dusk Legion Zealot, Gifted Aetherborn, Legion Lieutenant, Martyr of Dusk, Oathsworn Vampire, and Queen’s Bay Soldier. The Vanguard is effectively a 3/1 when attacking and you can 4 life to make the Vanguard indestructible. Paying 4 life sounds like a high cost, but when you have a lot of lifelink like you do in this deck, using that ability to win a combat against a good creature is worth the price.
Bishop’s Soldier is a fairly vanilla 2/2 for 2 mana with Lifelink. But Lifelink is an important part of this deck, so you play him with that in mind. Dusk Legion Zealot is a Standard playable so good he got printed in Masters 25. He draws you a card when he enters, so losing that 1 life is no big deal at all. Gifted Aetherborn is just a solid two-mana 2 / 3 with deathtouch and lifelink. The post-October 2018 version of this deck will miss him but not that much.
Legion Lieutenant gives other vampires you control +1/+1. This is important because it makes the already slightly above-average Vampires in this deck very much above average creatures. This is a lord creature that you play when you’re about to have the beatdown to apply extra pressure.
Martyr of Dusk is a 2/1 for 2 mana that makes a 1/1 Vampire token with lifelink when he dies. Creatures that replace themselves are always pretty good, after all. Oathsworn Vampire comes into play tapped, which sounds bad until you see you can cast him from your graveyard if you gained life that turn. Not terrible. Queen’s Bay Soldier is just a vanilla 2/2 Vampire Soldier, but… that’s some sick artwork right there!
Some of the three-drop creatures in this deck are pretty awesome. Forerunner of the Legion is a recruiter for Vampires, putting a Vampire of your choice from your deck on top. But his usefulness doesn’t end there! Whenever another Vampire enters the battlefield under your control, target creature gets +1/+1.
Inspiring Cleric just gives you 4 life when she enters. But a 3/2 body for 3 mana is perfectly acceptable and the lifegain is always welcome.
Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle was one of my favorite creatures in Ixalan. Whenever one or more of your Vampires attack, you create a 1/1 Vampire token with lifelink. It’s too bad you only get one token per combat, but he’s a nice little value engine.
Sadistic Skymarcher is a 3-mana flyer 2/2 with lifelink, which is pretty sweet, but you have to reveal a Vampire card from your hand or pay an extra colorless mana when he enters. Not terrible, and certainly playable. Skymarch Bloodletter is a bit better, a 2/2 flyer for 3 that drains an opponent for 1 life.
Voracious Vampire is the last 3-drop Vampire in the deck, and she’s a 2/2 with menace. When she enters, target Vampire you control gains +1/+1 and menace until end of turn. Forcing your opponent to block with two creatures is pretty good, and in certain circumstances, this gal facilitates 2-for-1 or even 3-for-1 combats.
Bishop of Binding is pretty terrible in regular Standard, BUT in Brawl that’s a whole different story. Only a 1/1 for 3W, his effectiveness depends on the creature that you exile with his enter the battlefield ability. He’s quite fragile, but the power and toughness boost he creates can be given to any Vampire you control, not just him. So, in the context of this deck, he’s both removal and a repeatable pump spell. That’s not bad at all.
Paladin of the Bloodstained is a pretty underwhelming 4-mana Knight that brings a 1/1 vampire token with lifelink when he enters. But what else can you ask from a common? Two bodies out of one card is pretty much always good, and this is pretty average. Likewise, Sanguine Glorifier is a 3/3 that gives a target Vampire a +1/+1 counter when she enters. Not great, but pretty good to throw on Vona.
The best non-Vona creature in the deck is easily Sanctum Seeker. He’s essentially Hellrider for Vampires. Whenever a Vampire attacks, each opponent loses 1 life and you gain 1 life. Note that it’s for each Vampire that attacks, unlike with Mavren Fein. He’s already good enough in 1v1 Magic. But, in multiplayer, this guy is just absolutely busted and can break the game wide open in your favor. This guy is one of your win conditions.
The last creature in the deck is Champion of Dusk. He’s really straightforward: he enters and you lose X life and draw X cards where X is the number of Vampires you control. Since you’re gaining a lot of life, you don’t care about the lifeloss. This guy helps you get back in the game when you’ve run out of gas. Also, he’s a 4/4, so he works for you on the field, too.
Unsurprisingly, this is a creature-heavy deck, since the Vampire tribe relies so much on its creatures. That’s why you play some underwhelming stuff. So there aren’t many non-creature spells. Duress is pretty basic hand control, but it’s one of the best control spells in the game, so it’s worth including. Fatal Push might be one of the best removal spells ever printed, and it’s gone with October 2018 Standard rotation. Still, it’s worth picking one up just to have, since it’s going to see play forever.
Cast Down destroys a nonlegendary creature. It’s a Dominaria card that’s going to be a Brawl staple for quite some time. Doomfall is a sweet card that’s pretty much a split card since you can choose one of two options. Either your opponent exiles a creature they control or you exile a nonland card from his or her hand. Either option is great for 3 mana, but sadly, it leaves Brawl with Hour of Devastation in 10/18.
The other two noncreature spells are token generators: Queen’s Commission makes two 1/1 vampires with lifelink for 3 mana and Call to the Feast creates three 1/1’s with lifelink for four. Both are great in this deck.
Artifacts and Enchantments
The two artifacts in this deck are extremely strong. Vanquisher’s Banner is a Tribal staple that many traditional Commander players still haven’t adopted, strangely enough. Not only does the Banner pump creatures of the chosen type by +1/+1, but also draws you a card each time you cast a creature of that type. It’s really a key card in this deck.
The Immortal Sun is just a Brawl staple all around, as long as you’re not playing any Planeswalkers. It’s a pretty ridiculous card. Spells you cast cost 1 less to cast, you draw an additional card each draw step, AND creatures you control gain +1/+1. Shutting down planeswalkers’ loyalty abilities is a plus in this deck.
Legion’s Landing is a one-mana Enchantment that brings a 1/1 Vampire token with it. When you attack with three or more creatures, you transform it into a Vampire-token creating machine. It can even tap for White mana. Radiant Destiny is another awesome tribal card, not only giving your Vampires (or any creature type you choose) +1/+1 but it can give you the city’s blessing once you have 10 permanents. With all the little Vampires you have in this deck, that’s pretty easy to do. Once you have the city’s blessing, all of your Vampires gain vigilance. This deck becomes really hard to beat at that point!
Squire’s Devotion is one of the more odd choices in this deck, in my opinion. It’s a 3 mana Enchantment that gives the enchanted creature +1/+1 and lifelink. It also brings a 1/1 Vampire token with lifelink with it. Not a bad card, and it really just feels like another token generator that you might stick on your Sanctum Seeker or Champion of Dusk.
Cast Out and Ixalan’s Binding are standard removal staples that are also Brawl staples. Not much to say about them except that Cast Out won’t be in Brawl much longer.
Not much to say about the mana base except that Concealed Courtyard, Ifnir Deadlands, and Shefet Dunes are all saying goodbye in October ‘18. Save yourself about $6 there, unless you need them for other formats. Memorial to Folly is a nice way to get back a creature card from your grave, like Sanctum Seeker or Champion of Dusk.
While many of the cards in this deck wouldn’t ever see Standard or traditional Commander play, in Brawl, they all work synergistically. Honestly, there aren’t any below-average cards in the deck besides maybe the vanilla creatures. But even they are important to this deck’s strategy. You just need to fill the board with Vampires and let your Sanctum Seeker go to work. Vona helps you keep the board clear of problems while leading the charge.
Really, the deck wins on pure Tribal synergy. The tribal boost cards really are what make this deck so deadly. You’re winning by swarming the board with creatures that suddenly become above-average to well above-average with just a couple of support cards. Many of your creatures come with a token attached, so you’re getting card advantage all of the time. Swarm decks have always been one of my favorite strategies and this deck is one that I’d play.
Magic 2019 gives the deck Vampire Sovereign. While a 5-mana 3 / 4 flyer isn’t all that great, the drain ability for 3 life is pretty decent, even if it only affects one opponent. It’s going to replace Gifted Aetherborn in the deck, which does mess the mana curve up only a little. But Magic 2019 also gives the deck Vampire Neonate, a one-drop that can tap to drain all opponents for 1 life for only 2 colorless mana. The Queen’s Bay Soldier can go to make room for it.
This is a great, very competitive deck in the KLD-DOM Brawl meta. M19 is definitely going to shake things up with the Elder Dragons, but this deck is tribal synergy at its finest.