Here we are once again, a week or a so into a new format and I’m back to deliver the details on the Chrimson Vow’s winners and losers! As always with these articles, I’ll try my best not just to point out some underrated and overrated cards but get into the details of why the cards are performing the way they are to give you a better understanding of the format as a whole. Let’s start with the overperformers of Crimson Vow draft.
It’s a bit odd to start with such a broad category of spells but I think it’s important to do so to paint a picture of what the format is about. “Removal spells are good in limited” isn’t exactly a revolutionary statement, but pinpointing exactly where in the pack you should prioritize them ebbs and flows format to format. In the past few years of limited, I’ve generally advocated for valuing removal spells below the good creatures and synergy pieces. It’s often been the case that the good creatures in a format either straight up outperformed the removal spells from a power level perspective or have ended up being the scarcer commodity in the draft.
Innistrad Midnight Hunt was a good example of this dynamic. Even though the quality of the common removal was above average for what we usually get from common removal spells, you often didn’t want or need to prioritize them too early in the draft. Not only was there was a ton of interaction in the format so you’d often pick up enough, but a deck full of too many removal spells could get punished by the numerous value creature in the format like Organ Hoarder and the disturb creatures. It was often better to prioritize archetype payoff cards like Bladesstiched Skaab or the value creatures over removal spells because those were the scarce commodity and arguably contributed more ultimately winning a game.
There was also a secondary dynamic at play here where many of the cheap creatures like Ecstatic Awakener did a good job of remaining relevant late into the game and could tussle with the four and five mana creatures. This meant that instead of needing a removal spell when your opponent played a five drop, you could generally engineer some sort of favorable exchange with your opponent’s expensive creatures and your early creatures.
But everything changed when the Vampires attacked.
It’s almost comical just how different the creature and removal dynamic in Crimson Vow is compared to Midnight Hunt; almost everything I described when talking about Midnight Hunt has been inverted in Crimson Vow.
The level one analysis is that Crimson Vow is a bomb heavy format and you need to prioritize removal spells in the draft so that when your opponent lands a Bloodvial Purveyor, you don’t just lose on the spot.
The second level is that unlike in Midnight Hunt, good removal is a scarce commodity and there’s often isn’t enough of the good stuff to go around at a given draft table. If you want five or six good removal spells in your deck, you need to take them early or you often just won’t get them.
Related to this, while there are a few exceptions, the common creatures in this set are largely interchangeable and are rarely a priority. There are no Organ Hoarders or Diregraf Hoards, and the synergies in general are fairly subdued in this format. Unlike in Midnight Hunt, I’m basically never taking common creatures early with the hopes that they’ll be the foundation of my deck. That foundation largely comes from higher rarity cards so when the higher rarity cards are gone from packs, there’s not a lot of competition with the removal spells and I just take them.
The third level is that most of the cheap cards are relatively weak, get invalidated quickly, and don’t scale with the game like they did in Midnight Hunt. The two drops in this format are fine but largely unexciting, and line up quite poorly if you’re trying to use them to interact with the more expensive creatures as the game progresses.
The flip side of this is that the expensive creatures are quite good and often require some form of interaction to deal with. A six mana 6/6 is just massive, cards like Falkenrath Celebrants and Bloodthirsty Socialite are a nightmare to block, and even something as innocuous as a Heron of Hope demands a removal spell in most games. What this means is that removal spells are pretty much required in order to keep playing the same game your opponent is playing as you move into the later turns.
As a side note, my go to answer for bomb heavy formats where the expensive creatures are good is often “draft aggro decks,” but I think traditional aggro decks struggle somewhat in this format. There’s so much incidental life gain running around that decks leaning hard into cheap creatures and combat tricks suffer in my experience. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t build your decks proactively, in fact I highly recommend that still, it’s just to say that “going under” your opponent isn’t a clean solution to tackling the format or a way to skirt around the need to prioritize removal.
All of this is to say that I’m prioritizing removal spells much higher than I usually do, and willing to first pick the good ones over good creatures and am aiming for about six or seven of them by the end of the draft. If you don’t pick up the good ones like Abrade and Bleed Dry, settle for the lesser ones like Lacerate Flesh and Grisly Ritual, this just isn’t a format where you can get by without interaction (trust me, I’ve tried!)
While I’m sure most who have played the format have caught on to this by now, blood tokens (like most of its artifact token predecessors) have been a great. With varying degrees, I’m happy to play pretty much anything that makes blood both for it’s baseline use of filtering your draws but also to feeding to any blood payoffs you might have. Giving all of your cards cycling makes it so that you just don’t flood in the late game, and provides decks that use blood a level of consistency that a green/white deck could only dream of.
Most of the creatures that make blood are just good and I’m happy to prioritize them, but they get even better once you’ve picked up one of the mana A-level bombs in the format so that your can find my bombs or lands to cast them more often.
A small blood related aside: I’ve been happy to play a copy of Aim for the Head in most of my black decks. Not only are Mind Rots good in formats with expensive bombs, but the main knock against Mind Rot effects of “your opponent can just discard lands or cards that don’t matter” doesn’t apply when what they really care about is the raw pieces of cardboard todiscard to blood tokens.
Lastly I want to call out a few blood cards that have either been exceptional or that I think are underrated.
This is my vote for the set’s mythic uncommon and is currently the 10th most winning card in the set according to 17lands.com. Yes, card, not uncommon. This one kind of just does it all, it’s a cheap undercosted body that makes a blood and doubles as a removal spell. What’s not to love!
I think a lot of players look at this card and go “it’s a 1 mana 1/1, that’s too low impact” but I think the better way to look at it is “this is an extremely cheap creature that makes a blood token, that’s just good and the body does enough in context.” This is more of a synergy card that a card I want three copies of in any deck, but as soon as I have enough blood, exploit, vampire, or recursion synergies, I really want a copy or two of this card.
It’s just Mulldrifter. I see this one go close to last pick a lot of the time and it’s much better than that. The body is a pain to deal with, and even more of a pain is knowing that your opponent won’t be flooding for a while or will be attacking for a lot of damage with their Bloodcrazed Socialite for the next few turns. This is one of the top performing commons in the set and is one of the few common creatures I’d be happy to take early in the draft.
This is an interesting one, and one that if you’re just looking at the aggregate winrate of the card on 17lands.com you won’t get the full story for. Pointed Discussion is one of the best commons in white/black lifegain, essentially acting as a better Sift when the life loss doesn’t hurt you. It’s so good there in fact that it’s driving up the aggregate winrate of the card across all decks to almost seem like it’s just a good card everywhere, comparable to some of the set’s removal spells. However, if you filter by archetype, you’ll see that this isn’t true, and outside of black/white, the card is quite poor. Prioritize this one in your black/white decks, you can do better otherwise though.
I really love this card, it’s the glue for so many decks and holds off aggressive creatures really well. I’ve seen a lot of players shy away from drafting the card in their red/black decks with the thought that they don’t want a 1/4 in their aggressive decks, but I’ve found the good version of the decks aren’t so far on the aggressive end of the spectrum that they don’t still appreciate what this card has to offer
I’ve been really impressed with all these cards but especially Traveling Minister, my take for the to white common. The combination Heron plus Minister makes it really hard for your opponent to kill you and gaining life on demand is big game when it comes to a deck full of lifegain payoffs. These cards are obviously at home in a black/white deck, but I’ve been happy with them pretty much anywhere. I’d extend this to say that anything like Diregraf Scavenger and Flourishing Hunter that incidentally gains life has been great to give you time to find your best cards, stay alive against aggro, and give you time to crack blood tokens.
Pretty much across the board, the werewolves in this set are just good! There’s no Silverbolt or Midnight Ambush to keep them down and are overall just better cards than the werewolves we saw in Midnight Hunt. I want to call out Ballista Watcher and Infestation Expert in particular as premium uncommons that I think still go a little bit too late, Grave Titan and Goblin Sharpshooter are good cards, who knew!
Even something like Fearful Villager (yes, the strictly worse Shady Traveler) has been totally fine for me. Have no hesitation when it comes to the green monsters in this set, they’re just good cards!
I only have one class of cards that over underperforms hard and that’s the training cards. If you never put an uncommon or common training card in your deck for the whole format, I think you’d be just fine. Across the board, these cards are understatted, don’t have abilities that are good enough, and just take too to long turn into creatures your opponent has to card about. Apprentice Sharpshooter is a fine card if you want a good defensive creature in your deck, but other than that I haven’t been impressed.