Greetings fellow Methuselahs!
I recently returned to this game after a lengthy hiatus, and I quickly noticed that while the game is still loved and played by many people (my local playgroup is only a tiny bit smaller than when I left), and there are still a lot of tournaments world-wide, there isn’t very much new content being written about the game. Personally, I know that my excitement in a game depends partially on my ability to think about and interact with the game between matches, and I assume this is true for others as well. While I contemplated this observation, and lamented the lack of new content, I realized that I am not the new player I once was, and that I actually have enough experience with the game to have some (semi) reasonable things to say about it, and that these thoughts might actually be of interest to others. Ralf has been kind enough to offer to host these thoughts. I’ve always thought that VTES ONE is an amazing blog, and it’s incredible how much amazing content is available on this site. I am very pleased to be able to contribute to it in a small way. You can expect occasional articles from me to appear on this site in the future.
Before I discuss my first topic, let me briefly introduce myself. I discovered VTES just after the release of Camarilla Edition, but while I purchased a few starter decks, I didn’t really do much with the game. Mostly I remember the enthusiasm with which our designated Tremere player would announce that he was using Eagle’s Sight to block random actions and pressing to the second round of combat with his Hawg — second round combat was no joke to us in those days! But I didn’t really start playing until 2011, shortly after all the Heirs to the Blood had sold out. I was taken in by the fantastic players of the San Francisco Bay Area play groups, and was even given a large and generous starter collection of cards, for which I am eternally grateful. I played frequently until the end of 2013, when my work schedule suddenly prevented me from attending the weekly game. I participated in a number of tournaments, got into the finals a few times, and even won a 20 player event with a Tzimisce Vote Deck.
And that brings me to my topic for today. I’ve been going through the Tournament Winning Deck Archive (TWDA) and separating it according to clan. It’s been a long process (I’ve only gone back as far as 2009 so far), but it’s proven to be a treasure trove of fascinating information. You can check out the my Clan Breakdown of the TWDA here. One of my interesting observations is Clan Tzimisce — the old lords of Eastern Europe. They’ve done amazingly well for a Sabbat clan. Indeed, looking at the numbers from 2009 to the present (as of the date of writing), Clan Tzimisce has racked up 48 total wins, making them the second highest winning Sabbat clan. Indeed, few clans from any sect can claim to have more victories (the list includes the Giovanni, Malkavian, Tremere, Toreador, Ventrue, and Ventrue Antitribu).
But the thing that makes the Tzimisce especially interesting is the crypt composition of the winning decks. While most clans favor certain crypt groupings over others, the Tzimisce take this to an extreme: 45 of those wins either use group 2 alone, or combine group 2 and 3. Only three decks use any group 4 vampires, and there are no decks in the archive that utilize group 5 to any degree. That’s rather stunning, and begs the question of what makes group 2 and 3 so special, and what makes group 4 and 5 so crappy.
My first hunch was that the difference could be at least partially ascribed to the number of vampires in each group. The Sabbat clans have remarkably few vampires – far fewer than any Camarilla or Independent clan. They might not be at bloodline levels, but they aren’t all that much better off, and before Danse Macabre was released by VEKN, each Sabbat clan only had 2 vampires in Group 5. Slim pickings, indeed! But it turns out that the number of vampires isn’t really all that different (the data is summarized in the table below). Group 2 and 3 together have 24 unique vampires (and 2 advanced vampires who can’t really be considered on their own), while group 4 and 5 have 22 unique vampires. Clearly group 5 still has some growing room, but the numbers aren’t really that different.
|Group 2||Group 3||Group 4||Group 5|
|AUS||0||1 (5)||1 (8)||0|
|VIC||1 (4)||2 (5, 5)||1 (4)||0|
||3 (5, 7, 8)||0||1 (7)||0|
||0||1 (10)||3 (6, 8, 10)||0|
||2 (6, 8)||1 (7)||1 (6)||1 (5)|
|ANI AUS VIC
||5 (6, 8, 8, 9, 10)||3 (9, 9, 9)||5 (8, 9, 10, 10, 11)||4 (7, 8, 9, 11)|
So let’s actually look at these vampires. The chart shows the number of vampires with a specific spread of superior in-clan disciplines and the capacities of these vampires in parentheses. On the surface groups 2 and 4 (the groups with the largest number of Tzimisce) look pretty similar. Both have 5 unique vampires with all superior clan disciplines, and both have 5 more vampires with two of those disciplines at superior. Admittedly, group 4 has some odd-ball vampires like Radu Bistri (an 8 cap with only one superior clan discipline), and the only Tzimisce with a disadvantage (Jane Sims is a 4 cap with the disciplines of a 5 cap, but she pays an extra blood for any card she plays outside of combat), but otherwise, the numbers seem pretty similar.
The differences arise in three key ways. The first is the prevalence of superior Auspex. In my estimation, the majority of Tzimisce decks in TWDA fit into one of two categories: politics-focused (which I will discuss below), and blocking-focused. And the group 2 crypt is very well suited to blocking –- every vampire with at least 2 superior in-clan disciplines has AUS. That’s 10 unique vampires to chose from! Better yet, group 2 doesn’t have to use high capacity (9 or above) vampires to get its AUS –- with eight unique vampires (and an advanced vampire) of capacity 8 or less to choose from, the mid-cap blocking deck has some significant options. Group 4’s options aren’t nearly so extensive because most of it’s vampires with two superior clan disciplines don’t have AUS.
The capacity of the vampires is the second key difference between groups 2 and 4. While both groups possess 5 unique vampires with all superior clan disciplines, the average capacity of these group 2 vampires is only 8.2, while the average of the group 4 vampires is 9.6. This trend continues throughout the groups –- group 2 vampires with two superior disciplines have an average capacity of 6.8, while group 4 vampires have an average capacity of 7.4. This means that to get the same sorts of abilities, you have to play with vampires of ~1 higher capacity. That might not be a dramatic difference, but it is certainly a factor pushing people into playing group 2.
So, why the higher capacity? Well, for starters, group 4 vampires have many more out-of-clan disciplines than their group 2 counterparts (I’ll discuss this more below), but part of the problem is that almost all Sabbat group 2 vampires are a little cheaper than their group 4 counterparts. The formula for deciding the capacity of a vampire was clearly changed around the time that Camarilla Edition was released. I can only assume that these group 2 vampires were so good because the costing formula used to build them was overcompensating for some of the problems suffered by the over-valuing of certain abilities in the original group 1 vampires (like Strength bonuses costing as much as Bleed bonuses).
The final major difference between groups 2 and 4 is their titled vampires. Group 2 is blessed with 5 of them -– two Archbishops (one of whom can turn into a Cardinal when merged), one Cardinals, and two Prisci. Their capacities are also relatively low with an average of 8.6, or about 3.31 capacity per vote. Compare this bounty to group 4, which features only three titled vampires with an average capacity of 9.67. Their capacity per vote is greatly aided by the presence of the Regent, and it comes in at 3.22.
|Group 2||Group 3||Group 4||Group 5|
|Capacity per Vote
|Archbishop||2 (8, 9)||1 (9)||1 (10)||1 (9)|
|Cardinal||1 (10)||1 (9)||1 (8)||0|
||2 (8, 8)||0||0||1 (8)|
With higher capacity, less AUS, and fewer titled vampires, its hard to see what group 4 is good for, and I assume that these three disadvantages are exactly why group 4 remains overshadowed by the group 2 crypt. I suspect that when most players sit down to make a Tzimisce deck, they go through an abbreviated version of what I’ve just gone through, and they come to the inescapable conclusion that group 4 is inferior, and they leave it at that. But a strict comparison between groups 2 and 4 doesn’t tell the whole story. After all, each of these groups can be paired with at least one other group.
And groups 3 and 5 are particularly interesting because of how they interact with the primary groups. Group 3 provides very few new capabilities to group 2 (which already seems to have it all) – the group is dominated by high capacity vampires who do nothing to help with the mid-cap block and fight deck, and who don’t really do all that much to help with a political deck. Sure, group 3 contains a Cardinal and an Archbishop, but how many titled vampires do you really need for a single crypt? I’m not suggesting that group 3 is useless, just that it only provides Group 2 with vampires who fulfill mostly the same roles as the group 2 vampires already filled.
But group 5 is marvelously important, because it provides so many of the vampires needed to make group 4 better. Let’s look at the three major differences I discussed above (AUS, capacity, votes), but I’ll now compare groups 2+3 with groups 4+5:
- Group 2+3 has a total of ten unique mid-cap (capacity less than 9) vampires with AUS; Group 4+5 has eight.
- Group 2+3 has eight unique vampires with all superior in-clan disciplines with an average capacity of 8.5; Group 4+5 has 9 vampires with an average capacity of 9.22 (which decreases to 9 if you ignore the fairly useless 11 capacity Dracon).
- Group 2+3 has 7 titled vampires (but two Prisci) with an average capacity of 8.71 and a capacity-per-vote ratio of 3.39; Group 4+5 has 5 titled vampires with an average capacity of 9.2, and a capacity-per-vote ratio of 3.29 (!).
For each major difference, group 5 helps narrow the gap between group 2 and 4, and in some cases makes it questionable how significant the difference really is. I think it’s important to point out that the group 5 vampires that actually help out are entirely the creation of the Danse Macabre design team. The two vampires designed by White Wolf do very little to help out, and mostly reinforce the weaknesses of group 4. It’s actually quite impressive how well the Danse Macabre design team was able to pinpoint the weaknesses of the Tzimisce and address them with only three crypt cards.
Ok, so group 5 helps salvage an otherwise unimpressive group 4, but how can group 4+5 manage to replicate the successes of group 2? Well, any group 4+5 deck that wants to focus on the intercept/combat angle is going to end up relying on fantastic 7 and 8 capacity vampires like Ludmijla Rakoczy (who pays one less for Animalism cards), Lady Zara Slatikov, Rightous Endeavor, and Count Vladimir Rustovitch (who lets you draw an extra card to replace combat cards). From here, you can pretty much lean towards whichever combination of the in-clan disciplines you like best. ANI AUS has Laika, ANI VIC has Adhiambo and Darvag, and AUS VIC has Dr. Morrow, and Duality (who lets you draw an extra card to replace vicissitude cards). I think that the AUS VIC deck could be actually be pretty effective — block with AUS, fight with VIC, and you have two vampires who will double replace your vicissitude combat cards.
Group 4+5 politics could get very interesting – you have Sha-Ennu as Regent with +2 bleed, and Terrifisto, who can inflict 2 damage on a vampire who votes against referendums that he calls. The one questionable choice of the 5 titled vampires is Radu Bistri whose only in-clan superior discipline is AUS. He also has superior DOM, but this isn’t shared with any of the other titled vampires in groups 3, 4, or 5. He is a Cardinal, but his discipline spread is pretty terrible for this deck. But if you double up on all the other titled vampires, and include a single Radu Bistri, that’s 9 pretty solid titled vampires. Of course, there are other vampires like Malgorzata and Mistress Fanchon who have a very similar discipline spread, so perhaps there is a good political deck somewhere in there.
So, maybe 4+5 can block and do politics, but what can it do that group 2 can’t? Well, I honestly am not sure, but to partially answer that question, I want to take a look at the out-of-clan disciplines possessed by each group. Group 4 has a capacity problem partially because most of its vampires feature out-of-clan disciplines (often at inferior). Is there a way to turn this to your advantage? Below is a chart of every out-of-clan discipline possessed by unique Tzimisce in each group. The numbers represent the capacity of the vampire, and an asterisks indicates that the vampire has that discipline at superior:
|Group 2||Group 3||Group 4||Group 5|
|Celerity||8||5, 9, 9*||10, 10*|
|Dominate||6, 8, 10*||6, 10*||8*|
|Fortitude||9, 9||5, 10*, 10*||5|
||8||5||4, 7, 8*, 10*, 11|
||8||7, 9||6, 8||11*|
||6, 10||5*, 9*||8, 10|
||9, 10*||4, 8, 9||9*|
||8*||10*||6, 8*, 11*
Unlike the rest of the article, I don’t have a detailed analysis on this information. But here are my few thoughts on the out-of-clan disciplines:
- Both group 2+3 and 3+4 can splash a little Presence into the mix relatively easily, which can be an effective way to bolster political decks through Voter Captivation. The key vampire in both combinations is Velya in group 3. Groups 2 and 4 both have one titled and one untitled Tzimisce with inferior presence. Group 2 could also pick up Matteus, Flesh Sculptor, and group 4 could pick up Malgorzata (who only has inferior presence). But in either case, there aren’t enough vampires to do more than add a few Voter Caps to an already functional deck.
- Group 3+4 have a fair amount of Celerity open to them, but it’s hard for me to imagine what you would do with this other than gain additional strikes for your Horrid Form’ed vampires. And it’s hard to imagine that you would want to use 9 and 10 capacity vampires for such a task.
- Group 4+5 has a clear focus on Obfuscate. Indeed, in addition to the 5 Tzimisce in group 4, there are 12 other vampires with this discipline combination. While that’s a good number of vampires, you don’t get any with both disciplines at superior until capacity 8 (then a couple of 10’s and an 11). So you need to be using very high capacity vampires to effectively use both disciplines. And the real question is – what do you get by combining these disciplines? Obfuscate is highly focused on stealth, while Vicissitude is a toolbox-type discipline which has a little stealth, a little bleed, and a little combat. So when you combine these together you get … super stealth? Admittedly, one advantage you get from both disciplines is the ability to play Soul Decoration which (at superior) gives you the ability to negate an Auspex card once each action. That’s pretty powerful (especially if you’re stopping Telepathic Misdirection), but it mostly reinforces the idea that Obfuscate + Vicissitude is just lots of stealth. Perhaps you could bleed with Fiendish Tongue and Changeling, and use the obfuscate to stealth these bleeds and cancel Telepathic Misdirections. While that doesn’t sound bad, it’s hard to imagine that you would want 8+ cap vampires to do nothing more than stealth bleed for 3.
- Group 4 has a core of vampires with Fortitude, including two ten caps with superior FOR. This opens up the tantalizing possibility of multi-acting. Unfortunately, only one of these vampires is actually titled, and it’s hard to find many vampires with FOR VIC, so the only use I anticipate for this is to tool-up, and then act. Which is nice, but perhaps hard to justify using 10 capacity vampires for.
- Group 4+5 have an interesting number of Tzimisce with Protean, most of whom also have Animalism, so they would mix well with Gangrel. There are also a few other vampires in this crypt grouping with PRO VIC, so a deck could possibly be made with those disciplines. But since they are both toolbox / support disciplines, it’s hard for me to imagine how you would effectively combine them. But there may be some interesting possibilities here – Homunculus, if nothing else.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this analysis of Clan Tzimisce, and while group 2 may yet reign supreme, I hope that that I’ve been able to convince some that the addition of the new group 5 vampires makes group 4+5 viable. I’d love to see these new vampires get into TWDA – they certainly deserve it. Do you have an innovative idea on how to use the Tzimisce? Maybe an interesting discipline combo that I’m not seeing? Then please comment below — I’d love to get a conversation going about how best to use these vampires!
Until next time, may your bleeds never be bounced, and all your referendums pass!
Edit: Robert Scythe brought to my attention the fact that I was double counting Sascha Vykos Adv as a titled vampire for group 2. She’s an Archbishop who (when merged) becomes a Cardinal. It really wasn’t appropriate to count her twice, and so the article has been updated to reflect this. Thanks Robert!