Mage Ally decks have been around in the VTES tournament scene for quite some time, either featuring Nephandus, Talaq, The Immortal or Thadius Zho, or all in one deck, since these are cards from earlier expansions like Ancient Hearts or Sabbat, but with the 3rd Edition‘s Antonio d’Erlette and his special ability this decktype got quite boost. The deck is a toolboxy deck, since it can rush & intercept and bleed & block deck, and later in the game excels with strong permanents, with which it can dominate the table.
How to win with them
The deck is a somewhat typical ally deck, but with a twist due to Antonio d’Erlette’s special ability. Since the recruitment of the Nephandi is happening quite fast and cannot be blocked (if Antonio’s special ability is used) the deck is usually quite fast from the start.
Basically none of your vampire need to act, since recruiting the allies is not an action, and all of the work could be done by the Nephandi. Nonetheless you should either bring out two vampires at first, and then using Antonio’s special ability, since you need a mixture of both vampires and some Nephandi. If the chance of being blocked is low, you should (also) try to recruit the Nephandus manually. Either to save transfers early in the game, or to bring out two (or more) Nephandi later in the game.
The Nephandus is one of the most versatile allies in VTES. As for the basics, he can bleed (not a default for allies!), can strike for 1R and has 2 life. But then the specials kick in! Most importantly, he can reduce the damage from each source by 1, so a vampire using a .44 Magnum inflicts only one damage to the mage, and would need an additional strike to kill him in the same round. In addition he has a built-in press and finally the ability to gain life when burning a vampire in torpor (as a (D) action).
The same versatility can be found in the deck, which makes it quite strong:
- One of the offensive capabilities include a Rush combat package with several (D) actions to enter combat, and the use of Trap to torporize opposing vampires. Some deck variants even pack Molotov Cocktails to be equipped with in round 1, if no trap is played in the first round, or in a later round when a Trap has been played. This is done in order to first empty the opposing vampire from as much blood as possible, and then trying to burn him with a final strike using Molotov Cocktails.
- The second, equally important part is the bleed component which uses Computer Hacking for the allies, and if the path is cleared for unopposed bleed actions, the Tremere antitribu vampires bleed using Conditioning. Other versions of the deck replace the Computer Hackings by Empowering the Puppet King, which makes the damage done by bleed more unpredictable for your prey.
- The deck has some permacept with the Unmasking and usually one or two intercept locations, so it can block a number of +1 stealth actions per turn.
- Also the deck uses Magic of the Smith to (more or less) safely equip with a number of the strongest equipment cards in play, namely Heart of Nizchetus, Bowl of Convergence, Palatial Estate or sometimes Sniper Rifle, and even if the action is intercepted, the Mirror Walk (at superior Thaumaturgy) prevents that combat occurs.
- Later in the game, the Nephandi will do most of the work, while the vampires (supplied with a Blood Doll or Vessel) are mostly hunting, preferably while the Hungry Coyote is out, to establish a constant pool gain.
Another nifty trick is the combination of Antonio’s special ability and Heart of Nizchetus. While the Heart of Nizchetus puts cards under the library (in other decks then never to be seen again), Antonio’s search for a Nephandus let’s you shuffle your library afterwards and thereby puts the cards you might need in a turn or two back to the top of your library.
Prior to 2008 one of the deck’s strength was the ability to utilize Memories of Mortality. Either to bypass a potential blocker, when a Nephandus was bleeding w/ Computer Hacking or to attack the vampire with the Memories of Mortality and torporizing him in the subsequent combat. With the official ban of Memories of Mortality the decktype is considerably weakened. It is now much harder to withstand the onslaught of an opposing combat deck, for example a Rush Combat deck with Beast, the Leatherface or Enkidu, The Noah.
Deflection and other bleed bouncing cards based on Dominate are the decks primary defense. In need, the deck can also rush it’s predator’s minions and try to put them down with the Nephandus & Trap combo.
This is to some degree the deck’s weak point. This deck archetype plays a few Delaying Tactics and can intercept political actions if the stealth is not increased, but if the opposing deck is capable of attempting political actions at +3 stealth, the Nephandi are in trouble.
In the past times the deck relied on the Nephandus special ability to reduce damage and ultimately on Memories of Mortality, With the Memories of Mortality the deck has to reconsider its combat defense Pentex Subversion only partially helps since it is unique. Possibilities for adding extra value to the combat capabilities are Target Vitals and/or Glancing Blow. The biggest enemy for the Nephandi are combat decks damage dealing enough damage to easily overcome/bypass the Nephandus special ability to reduce combat damage, e.g. Potence and Animalism combat decks.
How to win against them
There are several weaknesses in the deck you can exploit. Due to the toolboxy nature of this deck archetype, it’s generally not doing extraordinarily strong in each of the three departments (combat/vote/bleed), so any dedicated deck shouldn’t encounter problem in its area. Decks on the other hand, which deliberately missed either bleed or combat defense will have trouble against the Nephandi.
For combat decks decks it is the first goal to kill Antonio d’Erlette early in the game, since he’s the heart of the deck. Without him recruiting the Nephandi takes considerable more time and effort. This task is more easily accomplished by rush combat than by intercept combat decks; since either Antonio d’Erlette uses his special ability for actions or uses Mirror Walk, he’s quite hard to battle when reacting only.
Stealing allies is always a good idea against ally decks, though you will usually need to perform the action at +2 stealth to be successful due the deck’s permacept. Overall, you a need a way to get rid or bypass the Nephandi, since they provide the muscles of the deck. This can be by combat dealing more 2 (or preferable 3 damage) per strike (or other damaging effect), by stealing allies or by making the player “paying” for the allies using Anarchist Uprising, Kindred Segregation, or the new Permanent Vacation.
- Antonio d’Erlette — the heart (and start) of the deck as he’s enabling the reliable recruitment of Nephandi.
- Nephandus (Mage) — the muscles of the deck fighting, bleeding and intercepting the opponents.
- Magic of the Smith — used for getting reliably the equipment.
- Memories of Mortality — after the ban of the card the deck has to find a somewhat adequate replacement, which will be hard to come by.
Notable Examples & Variations
In the time after the initial version of this article in 2008, the deck archetype has seen more variations than just the amount of bleed and combat cards. For example, a Tupdog & Nephandus crossover deck also become reasonably popular, or deck versions with Ashur Tablets for recursion have been seen as well. Another version you see from time to time, are deck which include Leech to give the Nephandus more life than the initial two (by other means than burning vampires in torpor).
- Mage Mafia by Emiliano Imeroni — basic bruise and bleed variant.
- The Alchemists by Paul Reid-Bowen — of the above deck with extensive use of Empowering the Puppet King and Molotov Cocktails.
- Mage Power by Michel-Étienne Fortin — pure combat variant, without any bleed actions/modifiers.
- Nephandus Swarm by Marcin Watras — very Master card heavy version using Ashur Tablets for recursion
- Nup’s’n Tup’s by Ville Kaijasaari — Tupdog & Nephandus mix, the Tupdogs beat opponents to torpor, and Nephandus can freely burn the torporized vampires (and bleed, of course).