Lost Caverns of Ixalan preconstructed decklists have been revealed and with it comes another round of my precon upgrades. We’re going to do a thorough analysis of each deck, highlighting its goals and how well it accomplishes them, check out its deckbuilding fundamentals, identify its strongest and weakest cards, then use all that information to create an optimized $50 upgrade path!
You can find my other precon upgrades here:
Blood Rites is a White / Black Vampire Aristocrats deck: the goal of the deck is to flood the board with vampires (Oathsworn Vampire), sacrifice them for value (Master of Dark Rites), and get even more value from sacrifice payoffs (Blood Artist)! It wins through a combination of combat damage and life drain to finish off your opponents.
So if you’re a Vampire fan and want a sweet Aristocrats deck but don’t want to play Edgar Markov, then Blood Rites is the deck for you!
The Precon List
Before we talk upgrades, let’s take a look at the stock list to see what we’re working with:
Vampires are one of the oldest and most popular creature types in Magic and have shown up as supported archetypes in multiple Innistrad and Ixalan sets at this point (it’s even the third Vampire precon!), so this precon has a massive card pool to pull from. It would be hard not to fill a Vampire precon with good Vampire cards at this point.
Unsurprisingly, the precon designers didn’t disappoint: I count 36 vampire creatures (every single creature is a vampire even!), 3 more cards that create vampire tokens, and 14 cards that care about vampires. It’s a vampire deck, folks!
What sets this Vampire deck apart from the other two Vampire precons is its Aristocrats sub-theme which is a new-ish twist to the archetype, so how’d the designers do with that? I count 34 Aristocrat cards:
Choosing Our Commander
There are 5 potential commanders to lead the stock precon: Clavileno, First of the Blessed, Bartolome del Presidio, Elenda, the Dusk Rose, Carmen, Cruel Skymarcher, and Vona, Butcher of Magan. Here’s my pro’s and con’s for each one leading this deck:
- Clavileno, First of the Blessed is the face commander and most obvious leader for the stock list: he cares about sacrificing Vampires, slowly transforming your Vampires into sac fodder that draws you a card and leaves you with 4/3 flyers. You only corrupt a single vampire per attack though so the ability is slow/fair, but it’s good value for a 3-drop. Clavileno is the best commander for the stock precon and the only one that actually cares about the Vampire part of Vampire Aristocrats.
- Bartolome del Presidio is also a perfect fit for our Aristocrats theme, providing a perfect sac outlet in the command zone and growing as a nice payoff as well. Bartolome is most powerful as the leader of a combo deck, as he’s a combo piece for many popular Aristocrat combos — he pulls off any Viscera Seer combo except you start with part of your combo in the command zone. So if you’re looking to turn this precon into a combo deck, Bartolome is easily the best pick. If you just want to play Vampire Aristocrats for value without any combo kills though, I think Bartolome is still a fine commander but Clavileno provides better value.
- Elenda, the Dusk Rose is another excellent choice to lead a Vampire Aristocrats deck, as she’s a payoff for creatures dying and she herself becomes sac fodder. There’s even some combo potential with her as well, though less than Bartolome. Elenda often weaves in a Go Wide Tokens theme to the deck but the stock list doesn’t really support that.
- Carmen, Cruel Skymarcher is basically what you get if you merged together Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest with Guardian Scalelord. She passively gains you a bunch of life and grows into a Voltron threat while also repeatedly returning permanents to the battlefield, just tons of value. She’s an Aristocrats payoff but honestly is strongest if you ditch the Vampire theme and just focus on an Aristocrats / Lifegain theme.
- Vona, Butcher of Magan is the only candidate that I think is a bad option as the leader for the precon. Vona provides the least of the bunch for Vampire Aristocrats and instead wants to focus on Lifegain, untapping, and maybe even Lifeswapping.
If I had to start eliminating these choices off the island Survivor-style, I’d say Vona is obviously the first to go.
I’d be crucified if I turned a precon upgrade guide into a combo deck so Bartolome is out next.
Then Elenda is old so let’s focus on new options.
Now comes the difficult part: between Carmen and Clavileno I actually think Carmen has a much higher power ceiling, but to reach that ceiling you’d need to start moving away from Vampires and into more efficient sacrifice triggers (Pitiless Plunderer) and lifegain payoffs (Archangel of Thune). If you stick solely to Vampire Aristocrats like the precon promotes then I think Clavileno and Carmen are about the same power level where it boils down your own preferences and your own meta: Clavileno is cheaper and provides a slow but consistent payoff, whereas Carmen is more expensive but also more explosive and randomly becomes more powerful if you happen to play against decks that sacrifice a lot (fetchlands, treasures, other Aristocrats etc.).
Okay, so which is it, Tomer?! Clavileno or Carmen?!?!
Ah! Alright, if I HAD to choose my favorite commander for the deck, it would be … Carmen. But! Like I said, I think both Carmen and Clavileno are about equal in a Vampire Aristocrats deck. I just personally like Carmen a bit more, but you can run either one as the commander of my upgraded precon and they will work out roughly the same.
Analyzing the Precon & Identifying Weaknesses
Now that we’ve glanced at the stock list and settled on our commander, let’s take a closer look at the deck itself to identify what parts benefit the most from upgrades.
As I often explain in my Budget Commander articles, every time I build a rough draft of a deck, I make sure I have a certain ratio of mana, interaction, card advantage, etc. This gives me a reference point to compare to the deck and see which areas may need improvement. My general ratio is:
- 50 mana; lands and ramp, usually a 37–13 split
- 10 card draw; cards that net you 2+ cards in hand
- 8 targeted removal; split between creature / artifact / enchantment removal and countermagic
- 3 board wipes; creature-light decks might want one more, creature-heavy decks might want one less
- 2 graveyard recursion
- 2 flexible tutors; higher budgets I recommend more tutors
- 1 graveyard hate; since you need to keep Graveyard decks honest
- 1 finisher; something that can win games the turn you cast it without too much setup
That’s always my starting point, which is then tweaked to suit the individual deck’s strategy and further tweaked with playtesting. I always find it immensely useful to figure out some quick ways to improve the deck in question.
Let’s see what the rough ratios are for Blood Rites and how it compares. I count:
- 45 mana; 37 lands and Master of Dark Rites, Sol Ring, Wayfarer’s Bauble, Arcane Signet, Mind Stone, Orzhov Signet, Talisman of Hierarchy, Commander’s Sphere
- 9 card draw; Clavileno, First of the Blessed, Welcoming Vampire, Bloodtracker, Twilight Prophet, Champion of Dusk, Crossway Troublemakers, Village Rites, Pact of the Serpent, Heirloom Blade
- 6 targeted removal; Vona, Butcher of Magan, Patron of the Vein, Swords to Plowshares, New Blood, Return to Dust, Utter End
- 4 board wipes; Butcher of Malakir, Damn, Olivia’s Wrath, Austere Command
- 5 graveyard recursion; Bloodghast (self), Oathsworn Vampire (self), Redemption Choir, Bloodline Necromancer, Carmen, Cruel Skymarcher
- 0 flexible tutors;
- 1 graveyard hate; Bojuka Bog
The mana is the weakest part of the deck, as there’s not much of it and the options are underwhelming. The precon does have a low curve though so I understand the thought process I just wish we had better cards.
The other ratios are good though.
Disclaimer: Card prices are volatile and may be different at the time you read this article.
This upgrade guide assumes Carmen, Cruel Skymarcher OR Clavileno, First of the Blessed in the command zone. It’s up to you to decide whether you want a cheaper commander that draws cards and makes beefy tokens, or a commander that triggers lifegain payoffs, recurs, and voltron kills. There’s no wrong answer.
First and foremost we’re adding the final great Vampire Aristocrats: Vito, Fanatic of Aclazotz, Pawn of Ulamog, Vraan, Executioner Thane, Voldaren Bloodcaster, all are vampires that provide payoffs for sacrificing things. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is another vampire sac outlet that is devastating for your opponents to deal with, denying them their graveyards and giving you protection against wipes. Not a vampire but we’re also adding Skullclamp because of course!
You’ll notice that a ton of our vampires gain life, to the point that we might as well run lifegain payoffs like Amalia Benavides Aguirre, Veinwitch Coven, and Silversmote Ghoul. Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose acts as a win condition in our deck, and both it and Marauding Blight-Priest go infinite with Exquisite Blood in our deck (I avoided adding Sanguine Bond because I think Vito / Priest are superior for being cheaper and Vampires so more synergy).
It’s boring to keep bringing this up with literally all four precons, but the best “vampire” to add has got to be Roaming Throne: both Clavileno and Carmen have absurdly good triggered abilities that we’d love to double up on and our 99 is LOADED with Vampires that have strong triggered abilities, plus it also counts as a Vampire and has ward! It’s only $8 right now so I’d HIGHLY recommend picking up a copy as it’ll soon be a staple for most kindred decks going forward!
The other huge upgrade that isn’t a Vampire is, of course, Skullclamp, which if you’re lucky enough to find / stick on the battlefield will draw you all the cards you need to close out the game.
The cuts were incredibly difficult because there are SO MANY good cards in this precon: only a few cards were very easy cuts like Kindred Boon being too mana-inefficient and being a non-bo with our sacrifice theme, or Return to Dust for being too boomer. A lot of cards like Bloodline Necromancer or heck even Swords to Plowshares are great in this deck but I just needed room for even better cards.
If you’re sticking to the Vampire Aristocrats theme then the first cards I’d pick up would be Vampiric Tutor (finds Skullclamp and has Vampire in it!), Bloodletter of Aclazotz which doubles your drain / damage output on your turn absolutely wild, Bloodline Keeper provides sac fodder and a strong anthem, Legion’s Landing nice thematic ramp, and Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord thematic ramp and removal.
3 Down, 1 To Go!
I kept the usual formatting for this one, but for the final precon, Pirates, I will have the upgrades right at the top of the article. We’ll see how that affects views! Thanks for reading!