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Luck, Skill, Victory – A Final Draft of Innistrad

For most of you, I’m actually writing this article from the future. I took a delightful 16-hour flight to Melbourne, Australia last week, and have been enjoying the hospitality of the Land Down Under for the past five days. Coincidentally, I’ve also been practicing a good amount of Limited, since the Grand Prix this weekend is indeed Sealed, and I’d like to improve on my last GP Melbourne performance (8-1 day 1, 1-5 day 2).

First, a couple sweet pics from the trip:

This is only here because it’s one of the weirdest animals I’ve ever seen, up to and including the backwards facing claws on it’s rear foot. Only in Australia (and wherever else Echidnas are found, since they might be all over the place for all I know).

The first thing I thought of when I saw the pack of sleeping kangaroos at 2pm was that it was an animal equivalent to Team CFB. I’ve named them Owen, Conley, BenS and LSV.

This is a picture of my Rav block draft deck, and I apologize for the blurriness. Here’s the decklist:

[deck]3 Skarrgan Pit-Skulk
1 Elves of Deep Shadow
1 Simic Initiate
1 Transluminant
1 Gruul Guildmage
1 Simic Guildmage
1 Squealing Devil
1 Shambling Shell
1 Golgari Brownscale
1 Trophy Hunter
1 Gruul Scrapper
1 Sporeback Troll
1 Bramble Elemental
1 Streetbreaker Wurm
1 Gruul Nodorog
1 Battering Wurm
1 Seal of Fire
1 Taste for Mayhem
2 Riot Spikes
1 Golgari Signet
1 Twinstrike
1 Golgari Rot Farm
1 Gruul Turf
1 Swamp
8 Forest
5 Mountain[/deck]

After losing to Isaac Egan round 1 and winning round 2, I found myself playing none other than Jeremy Neeman. Unsurprisingly, he was the victor.

The Dreaded Tier Discussion

Innistrad (with Dark Ascension, but for ease of writing I’m just referring to it as Innistrad) is a great draft format, but it might be a little less open than it appears at first glance. It’s definitely a 2-color format, with some notable exceptions (my last draft video springs to mind), but not every color pair is created equal. Of the ten potential color combinations, there are a few that are just about unplayable, a few that are fine, and a few that are consistently good.

From the top down:

UW Fliers
WB Humans
RB Vampires
RG Werewolves

These are what I’d consider the Tier 1 archetypes, which doesn’t mean that they are always better than the others, but that they are better more of the time. There exists a nut version of every deck, but it’s pretty hard to go wrong while drafting one of these combinations; they are open more often, and better when they are open.

WG Aggro
UR/UG Durdle

These color combinations are draftable, but difficult to end up in. It’s hard to go WG just because green is wildly unplayable in the first pack, with [card]Wild Hunger[/card] really being the only great common, and it requiring red mana. If you do end up WG, the deck is fine, but there are fewer and fewer reasons to do so now, since you can pair white with black or blue and get a whole first pack instead of just part of one.

Blue-green and blue-red are both fairly strange decks, and while the rewards are definitely there when they are open, I can’t in good conscience recommend that you go into the draft looking for them. As fun as it is to cast [card]Faithless Looting[/card], [card]Burning Vengeance[/card], [card]Tracker’s Instinct[/card], and [card]Spider Spawning[/card], all that nonsense is so unreliable now that Dark Ascension is the first pack drafted. When you don’t even know if the most important card in the deck is going to be in the draft ([card]Burning Vengeance[/card] and [card]Spider Spawning[/card], respectively), it’s quite the gamble to just go for it. The blue-based durdle decks are also the most likely to be 3+ colors, but most other archetypes really shouldn’t.

Lastly, you have

UB
WR
BG

I really hate these combinations, and basically never draft them. The colors just don’t synergize at all, and in some cases (UB, I’m looking at you), they directly fight. You have these fast black zombie/beatdown cards, and all the blue cards are just slow and durdly. Once again, this isn’t a strict rule (I present video evidence of TSG crushing with RW), but the vast majority of decks in these color combinations just don’t work very well. Every now and then you might start with [card]Diregraf Captain[/card], pick up some [card]Highborn Ghoul[/card]s and a [card]Stormbound Geist[/card], and draft a legitimate UB beatdown deck, but more often than not you will end up with a pile of [card]Think Twice[/card]s and Forbidden Alchemies to go with your 2-drops. I will note that I’ve never seen a BG deck win a match of Magic, so take that how you will.

Draft!

So, given that these are the decks I like, how do I approach draft? What it really boils down to is avoiding blue and green, as loathe as I am to avoid blue. If you refer back to the top four archetypes, red, black, and white all appear twice, while blue and green only appear once. By starting with the colors that have multiple good and viable paths, you put yourself in a way better spot for most drafts. It isn’t even much of a stretch to avoid green, since besides Briarpack Alpha at uncommon and Wild Hunger at common, I don’t see how you are starting with green anyway.

White is the best and deepest color, and UW and WB are my two favorite decks, so I try and start by drafting white as often as I can. I’ve ranted against pick orders often enough, mainly because you shouldn’t get married to them, given that they become almost irrelevant once you have a couple cards in your pile, but here is where I’m currently at with white:

[card]Burden of Guilt[/card]
[card]Loyal Cathar[/card]
[card]Niblis of the Mist[/card]/[card]Elgaud Inquisitor[/card] (see, the pick order is already starting to break down)
[card]Silverclaw Griffin[/card]

Niblis of the Mist is better in UW and Elgaud Inquisitor is better in WB, though Niblis is slightly better overall. If you know you are WB, I’d take the Inquisitor, but the Niblis is the safer pick.

Once you factor in the black and blue cards, here is what my pick order looks like for each deck.

UW Fliers

Unless you open [card]Dungeon Geist[/card]s, [card]Drogskol Captain[/card], or [card]Niblis of the Breath[/card], you shouldn’t really go into blue until the middle of the pack, when you see something like a 4th or 5th pick Stormbound Geist. This is reflected in the pick order, with the white cards generally being a better place to start:

[deck]Burden of Guilt
Loyal Cathar
Niblis of the Mist
Stormbound Geist
Nephalia Seakite
Elgaud Inquisitor
Griptide
Silverclaw Griffin
Chant of the Skifsang
Bone to Ash[/deck]

The interaction between [card]Nephalia Seakite[/card], [card]Griptide[/card], and [card]Bone to Ash[/card] is pretty awesome. By playing around any one of these, your opponent will directly walk into some or all of the others, and once they know you have more than one of these, they are in an impossible spot. None of the cards are particularly exciting, though Seakite is pretty good, but in combination they are very effective.

Going into Innistrad is where this deck really shines. The pick order is very malleable, and besides the premium removal ([card]Silent Departure[/card] and [card]Bonds of Faith[/card] being the best, with [card]Claustrophobia[/card] not too far behind), you are just looking to fill out your curve with appropriately-costed fliers. [card]Voiceless Spirit[/card], [card]Moon Heron[/card], [card]Chapel Geist[/card], [card]Battleground Geist[/card], [card]Gallows Warden[/card]; they are all fairly close, and which you take will totally depend on your manabase and curve needs.

[card]Feeling of Dread[/card] is also a special case, since it’s awesome in your deck and unplayable for just about everyone else. I usually try and wheel it when I see it in the first couple packs, but take it later than that. It will wheel more often than not, but it is important enough that you won’t always want to risk it. When you have a good curve, this card is nigh-unbeatable.

[card]Stitcher’s Apprentice[/card] is another card I’ve been very impressed with recently. It combos very well with [card]Stormbound Geist[/card], is decent with [card]Elgaud Inquisitor[/card] and [card]Mausoleum Guard[/card], and just having it in play is worth quite a bit of value. You don’t have to pick him highly, but I really like having one in most of my UW decks.

WB Humans

This deck is almost completely synergy-based, which I will admit makes it somewhat dependent on certain cards being opened. That being said, there are a fair amount of cards that make the deck tick, and I’ve rarely gotten screwed when I’ve gone into the deck.

[deck]Tragic Slip
Burden of Guilt
Loyal Cathar
Death’s Caress
Elgaud Inquisitor
Undying Evil
Niblis of the Mist
Falkenrath Torturer
Silverclaw Griffin[/deck]

It’s quite easy to start BW, since both black and white have a ton of good early picks. The most (un)common reason I go into BW is [card]Skirsdag Flayer[/card], which is obviously one of the engines that really makes this deck tick. [card]Lingering Souls[/card] is also a reason to start BW, and by “a reason” I really mean “the best reason”.

[draft]lingering souls[/draft]

Aside on Lingering Souls

The more I play with this set, the more I become convinced that Lingering Souls is unpassable. The only card in the set that I’d take over [card]Lingering Souls[/card] is [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card], and that does even include Sorin. Yes, it’s that good.

BW takes a bit more explanation than UW, since it’s strength is also what makes it difficult to draft. Unlike UW, you aren’t just jamming your deck full of on-curve creatures with a few removal spells, but actually trying to build an engine. As mentioned before, [card]Skirsdag Flayer[/card] is the best example of this in Dark Ascension, with [card]Butcher’s Cleaver[/card] being the best card in Innistrad to really build around.

Here are the two main categories of cards for the deck:

Cruel and Demanding Gods

[deck]Skirsdag Flayer
Butcher’s Cleaver
Falkenrath Noble
Thraben Sentry
Unburial Rites
Unruly Mob
Altar’s Reap
Falkenrath Torturer[/deck]

Sacrificial Lambs/Burnt Offerings

[deck]Loyal Cathar
Mausoleum Guard
Elgaud Inquisitor
Doomed Traveler
Black Cat
Selfless Cathar[/deck]

What you are really trying to do is combine the good cards from the top category ([card]Unburial Rites[/card] and up being the cream of the crop) with the good cards from the bottom ([card]Doomed Traveler[/card] and up). The less optimal cards on each list are useful filler, but not nearly as high a priority. Besides these cards, you obviously want good removal and other random creatures, Humans being the most important.

The games are long and grindy (no wonder I like the deck), and full of cool interactions. The deck isn’t particularly aggressive, and really makes use of equipment ([card]Wolfhunter’s Quiver[/card] is very good in this deck, especially with [card]Midnight Guard[/card] or [card]Typhoid Rats[/card]). This is a deck I would recommend a fair amount of practice with, since drafting it isn’t as simple as trying to have a good mana curve. You need to balance the two categories above, and try and construct an entire deck. Sometimes you will have to take [card]Doomed Traveler[/card] over [card]Thraben Sentry[/card], and until you’ve drafted it a fair amount, it won’t always be obvious.

RG Werewolves

This deck doesn’t need Werewolves in particular, but ends up with a bunch of them naturally. Unlike WB, it isn’t really a synergy deck, and is more just an aggressive RG deck based on a curve plus pump/removal spells. The easiest way to end up here is when you take [card]Immerwolf[/card] or [card]Wild Hunger[/card], since the green commons are abysmal and even the solid red ones aren’t that exciting. [card]Immerwolf[/card] (like the other captains) is pretty sick, and seeing one 3rd-4th is a solid signal that the deck is open.

[deck]Fires of Undeath
Pyreheart Wolf
Wrack with Madness
Wild Hunger
Kessig Recluse
Scorned Villager[/deck]

Yeah, the commons pretty much end there, with the rest of the cards being random dorks that are very interchangeable. [card]Hollowhenge Beast[/card] may look great, but 5-drops aren’t really in high demand, so I’d usually take [card]Hinterland Hermit[/card] and the like over him. If you notice, [card]Fires of Undeath[/card] is high on the list, and that does push you to RB, but splashing the flashback isn’t really that tough. What will usually happen is you take Fires, then another red card, then end up taking [card]Wild Hunger[/card] 3rd, having not seen any black cards (and concluding that it isn’t open).

I know that [card]Pyreheart Wolf[/card] isn’t common, but he is that good, and nobody seems to respect him. Conley actually broke him in our test group, and after slaying us with him over and over, we all admitted that the Wolf was an awesome card. It just does a ton of damage, and isn’t easy to deal with.

There really aren’t any cards of note to look for in Innistrad for this deck; take the good removal spells over creatures, the green werewolves over the red ones, and try to make sure you have as many 2-drops as possible.

[draft]moonmist[/draft]

This is the one “combo” card you really have access to, unless you are lucky enough to get an [card]Immerwolf[/card], and it isn’t very complicated. Once you have 8+ good werewolves, Moonmist becomes a great trick, and at 10+ you will play multiple ‘Mists. Nobody ever wants this card, so you can float it absurdly late, which is one sweet thing about the deck.

This deck is simple, but wildly effective when it comes together (and besides the premium removal, all the cards go pretty late).

RB Vampires

Once again, the name is a bit of a misnomer. Much like RG, this deck isn’t really based on Vampires unless you get [card]Stromkirk Captain[/card], but it naturally ends up with a bunch most of the time.

[deck]Fires of Undeath
Tragic Slip
Death’s Caress
Wrack with Madness
Highborn Ghoul
Nearheath Stalker
Horrible creatures[/deck]

Yeah, that sums it up. As it has always been, RB is a spell-based archetype, since it has all the good removal and none of the good creatures. This deck can either be aggro or control, just based on the quantity of removal you get and the types of creatures you draft. I really like [card]Nearheath Stalker[/card] in the control version, but he isn’t as exciting if you are trying to curve out and beat them down.

Much like in RG, all you want out of Innistrad is removal, with creatures being a complete afterthought. The super aggressive versions of this deck start playing cards like [card]Bump in the Night[/card], [card]Nightbird’s Clutches[/card], and [card]Traitorous Blood[/card], but I try to avoid all that if I possibly can.

The only reason this deck isn’t higher on my list is that it really depends on getting the cards people always take early, namely, removal. All the other decks can cobble together great versions of themselves without seeing that many premium cards, but RB is really dependent on seeing the high-pick commons that are, oddly enough, picked high. This might be the best possible deck when it’s completely open, but it won’t happen as often as with the other decks.

Other Archetypes

As I said before, I don’t like the bottom couple decks, so I’m not really going to go into them, and I’m going to save a discussion of UG/UR for another article, if people seem interested. WG hasn’t changed substantially since Innistrad (which is why it’s so much worse; DKA added nothing).

If this kind of look at drafting was useful, let me know, since as difficult as it is to explain an entire Limited format, by breaking down the way I approach it, I have hopefully made it a bit simpler.

LSV

Sample hand from Isaac Egan’s winning Rav Block draft deck:

[draft]blockbuster
Carom
Petrahydrox
Gobhobbler rats
Swamp
Swamp
Swamp[/draft]

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