by Phoenix Desertsong, Old School Duelist
With the release of the Ixalan set in Magic the Gathering, Mono-White Vampires became a competitive deck. Previously, Vampires had been in Black and Red, with the occasional Black/White Vampire. Ixalan released a number of mono-White Vampires, including the Legendary Creature Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle.
Mavren’s ability gives you a 1/1 Vampire creature token with lifelink whenever one or more of your nontoken Vampires attack. While one token doesn't seem like a huge deal, the incremental advantage adds up quickly. The added ability of lifelink on those tokens also makes it much harder for your opponent to wear you down over the course of a game.
It also helps that available to those Mono-White Vampire decks was Anointed Procession, a token-doubling Enchantment. Add to that early Mono-White Vampire decks often played Angel of Invention which pumps all of your other creatures by +1/+1, suddenly making those tokens suddenly twice as scary!
With Vampires being a popular tribe in Magic the Gathering, there's also a lot of casual demand for Mavren Fein. Vampires are a huge deal at the kitchen table, and Vampire Tribal Commander decks also want Mavren. A few select decks play the Dusk Apostle more than others, including decks led by Edgar Markov, Vona, Butcher of Magan, and Elenda, the Dusk Rose.
While Mono-White Vampires didn’t become a long-term contender, Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle is still a good card. Especially in Commander where Vampires love creating tokens, the additional tokens from Mavren are a great complement to an already powerful tribe in the format. The only downside is that many Vampire decks don’t play White, but those that do are happy to have Mavren Fein around to help press the attack.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Old School Duelist
Gaining life is a very popular thing to do in Magic the Gathering. While most life-gain specific cards don't become widely adopted in competitive play, they are a huge part of casual "kitchen table" Magic. However, there is a lot to like about Sanguine Sacrament, an instant from the Ixalan set. Not only can this card gain you some life, but you even have the chance to reuse it over the course of the game! Let's break it down.
Sanguine Sacrament is an instant that costs XWW. This means you must have two White mana and enough mana to pay for X to make it worth casting. Already, this seems like a fair investment, as later in the game, you can pump quite a bit of mana into this card. Being at instant speed means you can potentially use this card gain yourself enough life in order to not be dealt lethal damage. Best of all, you gain twice as much life as you pay for X.
Now, to make this card "worth" casting, you need to be able to invest quite a bit of mana into X. However, there is one thing about this card that makes it potentially valuable: when you cast it, you put it at the bottom of your library instead of putting it in your graveyard. That's actually a really big deal. Because this card is an instant, you can use it early in the game when you may not otherwise have a play in order to gain some quick life, even if it's only 2 or 4 life. Every point of life matters in Magic.
While this card wasn't going to see much play in Standard nor Modern, there is the possibility that this card may still see play in a semi-competitive combo deck. A deck that can produce a good deal of mana can make great use of this card. The real place for Sanguine Sacrament to shine is in Commander (EDH), where life-gain is not only useful, but can be an asset. There are many win conditions in Magic that involve having a certain life total, and this is one way to potentially gain yourself enough life to satisfy them.
There's Felidar Sovereign, for example, which lets you win the game if you have 40 or more life at the beginning of your turn. Sanguine Sacrament being at instant speed means that you can cast this card at the end of an opponent's turn. It can be a quick and dirty way to gain enough life to let the Sovereign win you the game. It's not the only way to win with this card, but it's one of the more popular ones.
In EDH, there's also a popular creature called Rhox Faithmender that doubles any lifegain effect that you may have while he's on the battlefield. Also, a popular enchantment called Sunbond gives its enchanted creature as many +1/+1 counters as points of life that you gain. Sanguine Sacrament definitely belongs in any MTG deck that runs those cards.
Sanguine Sacrament is worth keeping an eye on because it does something that's popular in casual Magic, and casual Magic players make up the majority of the player base. It can fit into a wide array of strategies, and while it's not a primary card to enable a strategy, it does complement them. Lifegain is always going to be good in Magic. Also, since it has the ability to either keep combo decks alive with its effect or even win the game by increasing your life total beyond a certain level, it's always going to have some demand.
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