by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
Recently, we delved into the first of two Magic 2012 Core Set Event Decks, Vampire Onslaught. Now, we will be looking at its brother, Illusionary Might. The mono-blue counterpart to the mono-black Vampire Onslaught deck, Illusionary Might dpesn'tt have the “money” cards that its Vampire cousin does. The Vampire deck is easily the better value overall. That being said, as a deck you can still find unopened in 2018 at $25, there are some interesting cards still in here even now.
In 2011, the Illusionary Might deck actually was probably the better buy for newer players, believe it or not. The reason for this lies in the editions of the cards. The Vampire deck had a great many cards from Zendikar, Worldwake, and Rise of the Eldrazi. That Fall’s Standard rotation meant the end of those cards being playable in Standard. This deck doesn't have that problem.
The Illusion cards, however, were all from Magic 2012. Most of the other cards in the deck were in the Scars of Mirrodin block, which followed Zendikar block and was staying in Standard for another full year. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a card that was cycling out with the next Standard rotation. The only notable one was the playset of Preordain, which was in the Magic 2011 Core Set. But, that card would gain value for a different reason in the future and was actually useful in many other ways not long after its exit from Standard.
But, if you were looking to win in Standard at that moment, the Vampire deck gave you the better shell to start from. Long-term, however, this deck actually was the better choice for players who wanted to play the deck. Most players, after all, weren't concerned with hanging onto what would be the few money cards in the deck long-term: one Verdant Catacombs, the 2 Bloodghast, Kalastria Highborn, and the 4 Dismember.
One thing that Wizards was doing with these event decks was providing one deck that can pretty much win out of the box with minor changes. This was the case with the Stoneforge Mystic deck, which turned out to be a major marketing mistake upon the aforementioned broken card’s banning in Standard. The other Event Deck for that set could usually be had for much cheaper, though they have identical MSRP’s according to Wizards).
The second deck would contain cards that would not be rotating out of Standard for at least a year. That was obviously quite on purpose, but it would end up back-firing sales-wise and hobby stores ended up with a crap-ton of the “other deck”. Most of the time they’d sell them off for super cheap: $10 or so. This deck actually has a couple cards that make that price tag actually reasonable, including Phantasmal Image.
While the New Phyrexia Infect deck was undoubtedly under-powered (and Stoneforge Mystic of course regained some value for its play in Legacy and EDH) the Illusion deck is actually not. Granted, it could use a couple more copies of the key cards. But when you break the deck down, especially by the value at the time, if you were to buy the deck from Star City Games, who had it at $14.95 vs the $34.95 of the Vampire deck, you were going to make all of your money back just in single card value.
Let’s look at the deck list:
You could perhaps build a deck that features Blade Splicers vs Porcelain Legionnaires, and do fairly well - but you’d need the 4 Glacial Fortress and perhaps a couple of Seachrome Coast to make it consistent. Still, the Golem provides you with a couple of directions to go with this deck. Running the one copy certainly isn’t too bad, as there’s some synergy especially with the Images being able to get serious value from copying him.
The most interesting ability that was often overlooked by players back then is his Ratchet Bomb -like effect. By paying X mana, you can destroy all non-land permanents of a player that was dealt combat damage this turn. This is actually better than Ratchet Bomb, which hits you as well, whereas this is very one-sided. While this sort of removal is a bit niche in nature, it can win you games out of nowhere. And it did for me... once in Standard and many times in Commander.
This is a guy you’d want a couple more copies of to make this deck competitive. He's generically powerful, even with his drawback. But without a doubt, he was designed for the Illusion deck, and it's clear how powerful he becomes when he's Hexproof, too.
It’s too bad I quit Standard not long after buying this deck, due to a bevy of reasons. I wish I’d made a deck with 4 Images and 4 Lords at the core, with the Grand Architects to complement them. I think Illusions could have actually done something, at least at FNM and Local Game Shop events.
Other spells (11)
Mana Base (24)
If you add up the value of the 60-card deck, you would’ve easily regained the $15 USD in value that this deck sold for at the time – which was well below MSRP, of course,.
Now on to the sideboard, which doesn’t have money cards, but very playable cards that should indeed be in your sideboard.
Clearly, this was a very good, playable deck, with some inexpensive additions. All you would need are a couple more Lord of the Unreal and Phantasmal Image and this deck can pick you up a lot of cheap wins. Wizards actually offered some good tips for improving the deck on their announcement page.
I especially like the Wurmcoil Engine idea, as it works with Steel Hellkite also being in the deck. The Engine also gives you a second target for Treasure Mage. Caged Sun works well if you stay mono-blue, as well - and is a third Treasure Mage target. Their suggestion of a single copy of Frost Titan wasn’t too shabby, either. I actually used all three of these cards in the deck when I played it at a small Game Day event and came in second.
It wasn’t the worst deck for its MSRP of $25 USD, but you could guarantee to be able to purchase it for between $15-20. Even in 2018, you can find them sealed for $25-30. For quite awhile, you were better off just buying the separate cards yourself. But after all these years, the playset of Preordain is north of $15 based almost entirely on Pauper play, the Image is north of $8, Glacial Fortress is $4, and the Grand Architects are $3 a piece. So, the deck is actually still worth buying as sealed product!
With a core of 4 Bears, 2-3 Dragons, 4 Images and 4 Lords, plus the Grand Architects, the Illusion deck can be a nice little casual Modern deck. The deck also gained Jace's Phantasm in Magic 2013, which is a 1/1 flyer that becomes a 4/4 if there are 10 or more cards in an opponent's graveyard. Even though it's an Illusion, it doesn't have the drawback of having to be sacrificed if it's targeted. I'd love to build an Illusions deck someday, even if it's not incredibly competitive.
At the time, if you were looking for a cheap deck that only needs minor tweaks to win, and you were playing on a budget, this is the deck for you! There was potential here. If only Wizards had made this deck better out of the box, Illusions would’ve probably been a lot more popular.
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
The Vampire Onslaught Event Deck from the Magic 2012 Core Set may be one of the best event decks Wizards has ever released! Its Magic 2012 Core Set counter-part, Illusionary Might, was not a bad buy for newer players, as it formed the basis of a fun Illusion-based deck that with some tweaks was a playable FNM deck. But card for card, Vampire Onslaught is the far superior deck.
At the time, though, Vampire Onslaught actually got a lot of flak. This is because besides a handful of cards, this deck was only Standard-playable for a few months. Keep in mind that Modern didn't exist yet. So, calling this an Event Deck rubbed a lot of Standard players the wrong way. But Vampire Onslaught was, and still is, easily the best money deck of the two. In fact, it may be the best money deck ever put together as a pre-constructed release by Wizards of the Coast.
Why is this? It has a Verdant Catacombs in it. As of July 2018, it’s still a $50 card.
Let’s take a look at the list, which is actually pretty solid even beyond the fetch-land.
Bloodghast is a great card that was long a Vampire deck staple. A card that can come back from the graveyard any time you play a land is pretty ridiculous. In Modern Dredge, he’s a fantastic card. Back then he was about $7 a copy. Even with an Iconic Masters reprint, he still sells for roughly $12 a copy today. Two copies of this in a single deck is fantastic.
4 Bloodthrone Vampire
The Bloodthrone Vampire was a good playable Vampire, too. But it was in Magic 2011, and not in the 2012 Core Set. Fortunately, for those looking to play this deck in Standard, Bloodthrone Vampire would in fact reprinted in Magic 2013, after a short Standard hiatus. It combos very well with other cards in the deck, as it gains +2/+2 each time you sacrifice a creature. It’s not bad when you see how many cards work off of sacrificing creatures in the deck.
4 Gatekeeper of Malakir
The Gatekeeper was one of the best uncommons out of Zendikar, second only to Vampire Nighthawk. He’s a 2/2 for 2 black mana, but it’s his kicker effect of one extra black that makes him so good. It makes your opponent sacrifice a creature. On turn three, when this guy was ordinarily played, that is a major setback for your opponent, especially against a quick swarming deck like Vampires. Basically, you only ever play him as a three-drop. Then, he becomes expendable for your Bloodthrone or Viscera Seers, which we’ll get to shortly.
As of August 2011, a playset of these could cost as much as $10 USD on the secondary market. Due to a reprint in the Sorin VS Tibalt Duel Deck, his value isn't quite that in 2018. But, despite little Modern play, he's still a good card that sees tons of casual and Commander play. You can still pay $5-6 for a playset.
1 Kalastria Highborn
One of my personal favorite Vampire cards, the deadly Kalastria Highborn has held her value quite well over the years. Whenever one of your creatures goes to the graveyard, you may deal 2 damage to target player or creature and gain 2 life. It’s the dealing 2 damage to a creature that’s most deadly. With how many expendable creatures you have in this sort of deck, the Highborn can get ridiculous.
Securing a second copy of the Highborn for this deck was a pretty darn good idea at the time. She used to sell on the secondary market for about $5 USD. After falling to $2-3 for awhile, she’s a $7 card in 2018. The full art Game Day promo sells for $30 or more, due to the continued popularity of the Vampire tribe in Magic.
4 Pawn of Ulamog
The Pawn of Ulamog isn't a card you see very often, but this uncommon from Rise of the Eldrazi certainly isn’t bad. Any time a non-token creature of yours goes to the graveyard, you may get a 0/1 Eldrazi Spawn token, which can be sacrificed to give you 1 colorless mana. It's probably not the best card choice for competitive Vampire decks. But with this particular build, there are advantages to having these tokens.
1 Vampire Hexmage
At the time, it seemed a bit silly to only run one Vampire Hexmage. She’s pretty darn good, as she can one-shot kill planeswalkers and remove all the counters from any card. Plus, she’s a 2/1 with first strike, and that’s always good, especially for 2 mana. There are 3 copies in the sideboard. At the time, two mainboard copies seemed better, but at this point, the other three are best kept in the sideboard until you have a match-up that needs them.
4 Vampire Lacerator
The Lacerator is a solid little one-drop that used to see tons of Standard play. He’s a 2/2 for one mana. But, if your opponent has more than 10 life, you have to pay 2 life during each of your upkeeps. The sad part about this is that it’s not an upkeep cost, you can’t choose not to pay it. This isn’t really that bad, though. Most of the time, you’ll be ahead in life anyway. Vampire decks could gain life back in a hurry and deal a lot of damage before many other decks can get set up. So, running 4 is perfectly fine to keep an aggressive board presence.
2 Vampire Nighthawk
There’s probably no excuse not to run full play-set of Vampire Nighthawks in a Vampire deck. Three mana (1BB) for a 2/3 Flyer with lifelink and deathtouch makes for a very strong creature. The Nighthawk helps you both gain back lost life,hold the air, and hold off opponent’s larger creatures. It’s just an all-around spectacular card playable in any format. Even now, I'd be pushing three or four copies into the maindeck just because this is still a great creature even in 2018! After a short standard hiatus, the Nighthawk would return in Magic 2013.
3 Vampire Outcasts
Here's the issue with this Event Deck. Vampire Outcasts are one of the TWO Magic 2012 Core Set cards in the entire deck. It's the only card of two cards in the maindeck that would be legal in Standard past October 2011. (Although, Vampire Nighthawk and Bloodthrone Vampire would return later in Magic 2013). Vampire Outcasts costs four mana (2BB) to cast and is a 2/2 with Lifelink and Bloodthirst 2.
Now, a 4/4 with Lifelink is certainly not too bad. But, you could easily swap these out for 2 Nighthawk and a second Kalastria Highborn and have a far better deck, not to mention a lighter mana curve. It's just not too good a card outside of Limited, and not worth being in this deck.
4 Viscera Seer
Viscera Seer is a 1-drop 1/1 with the ability to sacrifice a creature and scry 1. Scrying 1 is like drawing half of a card, as the pros say, as you can decide to put a potential bad draw onto the bottom of the deck. But sacrificing a creature seems far too high a cost to just see what your next card is, right?
Actually, this deck doesn't mind sacrificing its creatures. With Kalastria Highborn and Pawn of Ulamog in the deck, sacrificing a post-kicked Gatekeeper or a Vampire Lacerator that’s already swung for damage or outlived its usefulness certainly isn’t too bad. Most good Vampire decks only run a copy or two of the Seer, which is probably good enough. But as we'd see later in some very powerful Modern decks, if you can prevent -1/-1 counters from dropping onto your creatures with Persist... well, sacrificing doesn't seem so bad!
The Seer has become such a staple in Modern combo decks surrounding Kitchen Finks and Vizier of Remedies that it's one of the more sought after commons at more than $1 a copy.
Non-Creature Spells (7)
2 Blade of the Bloodchief
The Blade isn't a bad rare from Zendikar. It would actually be a pretty popular Equipment for casual Vampire decks, and a reprint in Commander 2017 would put a big dent in the value of what would become a $4 rare.
Still, it's very playable in a Vampire deck. It’s a good equipment, but equipment in Vampires probably isn’t the greatest play. Still, gaining a +1/+1 counter every time a creature hits the graveyard (including token creatures), and gaining two counters if it’s a Vampire, is certainly a lot of fun. It’s perhaps the crux of this deck’s strategy, hit for a ton early on. In my short time playing Vampires as a Standard deck, I played just one and it did actually do some work.
Without a doubt, Dismember is one of the best removal spells, ever. While they no longer sell for about $5 USD a copy as they did in 2011, a play-set of Dismember is still quite valuable. While Fatal Push is probably the more efficient removal spell in 2018, the fact that Dismember doesn't actually destroy is actually better in some cases. Being able to pay four life and a colorless mana is pretty handy, too. It's one of the fairest Phyrexian mana cards, honestly.
Dismember also was the other card that wasn't saying goodbye to Standard in October 2011. That made it the main card in the deck people were after.
1 Mimic Vat
Mimic Vat is a really fun rare from Scars of Mirrodin block. It was powerful in Limited, no doubt about that. The Vat was also good in some Standard decks, too. It would even pop up in Modern from time to time. Whenever a creature would go to the graveyard, you exile it instead and imprint it to Mimic Vat. You can do this any time you want, but each time you do, the card that was imprinted before goes to its owner’s graveyard. You can then pay 3 and tap Mimic Vat to create a token copy of that creature. The token gains haste and is exiled at the end step.
But, honestly, why would you use mana in this way for Vampires? It just doesn't seem like a good use of resources. It’s a good card, yes, but it shouldn’t be in a Vampire deck. Sure, it can copy a really good creature of your opponents, but it’s still quite an investment of mana. Granted, you could use the Spawn tokens from the Pawn of Ulamog and combo with your Viscera Seers and Kalastria Highborn for some cheap damage, lifegain, and deck manipulation. But this isn’t really the best tactic. It’s a silly card that really doesn’t belong in this deck, but it's $3+ and a card that does work in a number of formats - especially Commander.
1 Verdant Catacombs
If you could get this deck back in the day at its MSRP, you already had made an incredible investment. Alas, I sold my four Verdant Catacombs back when they were worth about $15-20. Yeah, I technically still profited from the deck. That was back in 2011. Modern hadn't quite been announced yet. Oops.
But wait, there’s a lot more in here that is pure value.
The SECOND of two Magic 2012 Core Set cards in the deck, Distress actually saw a fair amount of play at that time. Double black sounds like a bit much for a discard card, but it can discard any of your opponent’s non-land cards. There are situations you may want to board these in, perhaps against combo decks. It's a useful card. I still prefer the original Kamigawa/Tenth Edition artwork. The new one’s too creepy for me. With no Duress or Inquisition of Kozilek in sight past October 2011, it wasn't a terrible option.
2 Go for the Throat
Go for the Throat is a very solid removal card against any deck that doesn’t run artifacts. It helps you kill a lot of whatever Dismember can’t. While it's been outclassed over the years in Modern, this is still a card that sees enough Commander play that it's still $1.50 in 2018!
Skinrender was actually a Standard-playable card back in 2011. It serves as decent removal with its ability to put 3 -1/-1 counters on target creature. It is mandatory, however. Still, 4 mana is certainly worth it, and he’s a 3/3 creature. But he is a Zombie, and not a Vampire. He’s not a bad card. Certainly hold onto your playset, but he’s far better in a Zombie deck.
3 Vampire Hexmage
At the time, the Hexmage was a great sideboard card against mono-red, which had cards like Shrine of Burning Rage, Koth of the Hammer, and Chandra the Firebrand. Removing all of their counters would make them very sad. At the time, I played two mainboard, and they were good enough just for first strike.
2 Vampire Nighthawk
These should be in the mainboard. ‘Nuff said.
Improving the Deck
In the “How to Play the Deck” pamphlet that Wizards always include in these sorts of product, it was suggested to add Bloodlord of Vaasgoth to the deck. As a one of in a dedicated Vampire deck, that card was never too bad. I ran one at some point, but it rarely saw Standard play. The Flying and Bloodthirst 3 were pretty good, though, and when you could give your other Vampires Bloodthirst 3, that was a fun time! But at five mana, people just didn't really want to play him, despite the value he could give you.
The trick with Vampires has always been to keep a low mana curve and swarm the board. Malakir Bloodwitch is another suggestion from the pamphlet, and unlike the Bloodlord, she was adopted by some players in the sideboard. Despite also being 5 mana, her protection from White was very important.
For example, she could stop Gideon Jura from getting through for damage as a creature. The OG Gideon was a very popular card back then, and while he was indestructible when you turned him into a creature, the Bloodwitch could simply block him. You also couldn't hit her with White removal, which is pretty important. But besides also being a 4/4 flyer, she had a sweet little drain ability that would make each opponent lose X life for each Vampire you control and you gain X life. The fact that it's each opponent has made this a pretty decent card in Commander, too.
Overall, this deck was a fantastic value for the money. As far as “Bang for Your Buck” was concerned, you would have probably get about $60 market value per deck, at a typical cost of $25-$35 a deck, even back in 2011. It was a no-brainer buy. They’re obviously very rare now.
In 2018, the deck now has a retail value of about $130 and you’re probably not going to find them for any less than that. Unless you can find these collecting dust somewhere under $50, I probably wouldn’t worry about picking it up sealed. But if you just like collecting old sealed product, anything under $100 is still a good deal, as some of these cards are going to hold or even increase in value.
If there’s any pre-constructed deck or even a Top Constructed deck from the past you’d us like to review, let us know!
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