Drafting can be challenging for newer players or for players who primarily play Constructed. Not many players realize that Limited a completely different game than Constructed. In Constructed, you're trying to do whatever it is your deck is trying to do, whether it's deal twenty damage as quickly as possible, control the board and then play a big haymaker, or assemble a game-ending combo. Over the course of a Constructed game, you will be playing your deck in a similar way each time.
Limited on the other hand is a whole different animal! Limited is all about resource management. Knowing when to trade creatures, knowing when to trade your creature for a combat trick, knowing when you are ahead and can afford aggressive attacks, things like that. Furthermore, all of your Limited games will play out differently, which is much different from Constructed! For these reasons, it's not always clear to Constructed players how to build a draft deck or what to pick out of a given booster pack.
Today I'm going to go over each of the color pairs in Shadows over Innistrad, explain what each color pair is trying to do, and give some examples of the most powerful commons and uncommons for each deck. We'll even have some examples of some of the decks from Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad last weekend! What better way to learn how to build and play a draft deck than from the world's best players?
In Shadows over Innistrad, each allied color pair is broken down by Innistrad's five tribes:
If you are in an allied color pair you don't want to draft too many synergy cards of tribes outside your color pair. For example if I was drafting W/U and open up a Bound by Moonsilver and Thalia's Lieutenant in pack two, I am probably going to want the Bound by Moonsilver. Thalia's Lieutenant is great in W/G but in W/U you are unlikely to have enough humans to make it work. Many players fall into the trap of taking the powerful rare even when it's not a strong card for the deck they're building.
There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. For example, Voldaren Duelist is a very powerful common that also happens to be a vampire. While it's great in a vampire deck, the card is so strong that you will want to play it in any deck with red.
Enemy color pairs in Shadows over Innistrad are much different from the allied ones. They aren't tied to tribes and it isn't always obvious what they do. They are:
W/B- Go-Wide Tokens
U/R- Spells matter
Color pairs are much less straightforward when they don't revolve around tribes, and usually require specific cards to make them work. The enemy color pairs use the A+B method of drafting. You need a thing (A), and another thing (B), to make the strategy work. For example, the U/G deck is Clues. You can draft a deck with a bunch of ways to make clues, and that is probably a fine strategy. However, to make this deck the best it can be, you want to draft ways to make clues (A), and ways to get rewarded for sacrificing clues (B). In our U/G clues example, the A cards are Briarbridge Patrol and Byway Courier, while the B cards are Graf Mole and Fleeting Memories. All of these cards work fine on their own, but their power is amplified when you're playing them together.
Now that that's out of the way, let's break down each archetype. Disclaimer- I'm not going to explain why you want to play cards that are obviously good like Bound by Moonsilver or Fiery Temper. We all know that these cards are good and belong in decks of the appropriate colors. The purpose of this article is to tell you about some of the more archetype-specific cards or not-so-obvious cards for each deck.
Werewolves is an aggro deck and the most straight-forward deck of the ten color pairs. You are looking for a strong mana curve and lots of efficient creatures. One interesting thing about werewolves is that you get rewarded for not playing spells on your own turn (because you will flip your werewolves). For this reason, this deck really wants as many instants as possible. You don't want to skip playing a spell because you will lose tempo, so as long as you have an instant or a spell with flash, you won't get blown out if you pass your turn to flip your werewolves and your opponent has a spell to cast on your end step.
Cards to look for: Howlpack Wolf, Solitary Hunter, Hinterland Logger, Pack Guardian, Howlpack Resurgence, Moonlight Hunt.
Pretty self-explanatory. You want your deck to have werewolves and fill out your curve. The above creatures do that nicely.
The latter two cards say "werewolves" on them, which gives you a clue that they are for the werewolf deck, but keep in mind that the reason why these three cards are great in a werewolf deck is because they are either instants or have flash. They allow you to pass your turn and flip your werewolves without taking a turn off from playing a spell.
Humans is your typical aggro deck. There are two things that make Humans stand out from the rest of the aggressive strategies: many of the cards reward you for playing equipment, and it does not rely on a go-wide strategy with tokens. The creatures in this deck are large enough where you really don't need to swarm the board. There are also plenty of ways to help your creatures win combat, like Intrepid Provisioner and Veteran Cathar.
Cards to look for:
Equestrian Skill- I normally hate cards like this because it's a strict two-for-one most of the time. However in this format I don't mind it as much. It's a great win condition if you enchant a Human with it, but the real reason why this card is reasonable is because both green and white have many ways to give you clues, so you will make up for the loss of card advantage very easily.
Shard of Broken Glass- White and green both want delirium but there aren't too many great ways to get it. You don't usually want to play cards like Fork in the Road or Vessel of Nascency in your aggro deck because they take away slots from strong creatures and removal. Shard of Broken Glass is a great way to get delirium at little cost, and you usually want an equipment in your deck anyway. You can also mill cards like Dauntless Cathar and Gryff's Boon for value.
Gryff's Boon- This card really shines in green decks. Board stalls happen when playing W/G, a color pair not exactly known for its removal. Gryff's Boon is a great way to break through stalls and your opponent must have an answer to your creature. The best part about this card is even if they have an answer, you can just return it to enchant a different creature.
Avacynian Missionaries- This card is great. Any white deck wants a Fiend Hunter but not every white deck wants equipment. W/G typically is the equipment deck so Avacynian Missionaries is more playable here than in other archetypes.
W/U Spirits should probably just be called W/U Skies because there really isn't very much spirit synergy; it's just a deck full of fliers. The basic strategy is to hold the ground with creatures with high toughness, remove relevant threats with bounce and removal, and win with flyers. W/U Skies has been around forever and appears as an archetype in pretty much every draft format.
Cards to look for:
Apothecary Geist- This is the only common spirit reward, but it does a great job at playing both offense and defense. It's great against most of the common flyers in the format and more importantly, Spirit Tokens.
Uninvited Geist- The W/U deck is all about evasion, and while it's easy to look for flyers, don't forget about abilities like skulk and unblockable. W/U is not a control deck, but rather an aggro or tempo deck, so you really want to be attacking. I'm less likely to be excited about this guy if my deck was more controlling.
U/B Zombies is a controlling card advantage deck with a madness subtheme. The great thing about the black madness spells, however, is that they are strong even if you don't madness them, like Murderous Compulsion and Gisa's Bidding. If you can madness them, you are getting extra value and that's never a bad thing.
Cards to look for:
Rancid Rats, Sanitarium Skeleton- U/B is slow, so you're going to need creatures to help you survive the early game. Both of these creatures do a great job with that. Rancid Rats trade with pretty much anything and Sanitarium Skeleton can chump block forever. Sanitarium Skeleton also combos really well with any madness outlet and milling it with Crow of Dark Tidings always feels pretty good.
Compelling Deterrence- If you've played Magic during Invasion block you may remember a common card called Recoil. Recoil was a very strong draft pick and Compelling Deterrence does a very similar thing and is not very hard to set up. Unlike Just the Wind and most other bounce spells, this spell can bounce any nonland which is super relevant.
Drunau Corpse Trauler- This card allows your tiny zombies to trade with bigger things and is pure value. Surprisingly, this is a prime target for Essence Flux, which is deceivingly disguised as a "spirit" card.
B/R is the color pair of madness and there will be no shortage of madness cards and madness outlets in this archetype. This color pair actually can do two things. You can play the aggro vampire deck and not care about madness and draft cards like Indulgent Aristocrat, Voldaren Duelist, and Olivia's Bloodsworn, or you can take the more controlling route and draft more Tormenting Voices and Mad Prophets. I've had plenty of B/R control decks and they've been great.
Cards to look for:
Insolent Neonate- This little guy is a great madness outlet and is capable of getting in 3-4 damage in if you play him on turn one.
Call the Bloodline- This is my favorite madness outlet. It's an instant effect, is reusable, helps you come back when you're behind, and prevents mana flood. That's a lot of stuff for a two mana card!
Stensia Masquerade- This card makes combat a nightmare, and an even bigger nightmare if you madness it out after blockers have been declared. This card can win a game by itself as long as you have creatures in your deck (spoiler: you will).
W/R Aggro is the color pair for cheap creatures and combat tricks. Like R/G Werewolves, this one's pretty straightforward. You're looking for creatures, instants that effect combat, and removal.
Cards to look for:
Magmatic Chasm- This deck is fast but has little reach. You can probably get your opponent to eight or less life but then they'll stabilize and you will have a hard time closing out a game. That's where Magmatic Chasm comes in.
Skin Invasion- I'm not a fan of this card in most decks but I love it in W/R. You can play this card in many ways. You can put your opponent under a lot of pressure and they will be forced to block, netting you a 3/4. You can also play this on your opponent's creature so they are out a blocker. It's also great with Insolent Neonate and a madness card.
Town Gossipmonger- This guy is the most aggressive non-rare in the set. It's also red on the back. It was practically made for this deck!
W/B is one of my favorite decks to draft in this format. There is just so much synergy in the tokens strategy and the white and black removal is some of the best in the format. W/B also uses delirium, and you don't really have to work very hard to achieve it in this color pair.
Cards to look for:
Unruly Mob- Unruly Mob is the payoff creature for this archetype. Your creatures are going to die in combat a lot, and as long as this guy is sitting on the battlefield, he's just going to get bigger and bigger. W/B also has a sacrifice theme going on with cards like Angelic Purge and Mercilous Evolve (unplayable in any deck but W/B), so you have options for growing Unruly Mob.
Inspiring Captain- You're going to want at least one of these as a way to make combat difficult and even set up a win with your flyers.
Pious Evangel- Pious Evangel is the reason to draft this archetype. It heavily rewards you for making creatures and sacrificing them. While it's great in pretty much any white deck, it really shines in W/B.
B/G Delirium is another straight-forward A+B deck. You are looking for cards that have delirium and ways to fill your graveyard. You also need a variety of card types so artifact creatures like Wicker Witch and enchantments that you wouldn't play in most other decks, like Vessel of Nascency, really shine here.
Cards to look for:
Crow of Dark Tidings- I'm not a huge Crow of Dark Tidings fan because it's terrible against 1/1 spirits, but in this deck you really want to mill yourself and this guy does a great job of that.
Fork in the Road- This card gets both a sorcery and a land into your graveyard and allows you to splash a color if you need to. I usually play one Fork in the Road if my deck heavily relies on delirium.
Crawling Sensation- This card is great in delirium decks. You are pretty likely to have other ways to get lands into your graveyard like Warped Landscape, Fork in the Road, or Merciless Resolve, so you can probably trigger this both on your turn and on your opponent's. There are also lots of synergies with self-mill, and Crawling Sensation is the only reliable form of it. Sanitarium Skeleton, Ghoulsteed, and Ghoulcaller's Accomplice reward you for milling yourself. The best part is that you can choose not to mill yourself if your library gets too low.
U/G Clues is a super fun deck to draft. Everyone loves to draw cards! There are tons of payoff cards for this archetype and I suspect that this will be a popular deck. There is even a mill subtheme with clues using the uncommon Fleeting Memories, so if attacking isn't your thing you have access to a really cool alternate win condition.
Cards to look for:
Confront the Unknown- This card is like an Aggressive Urge, quite playable in any deck but it really shines in U/G Clues. There are many uncommons that generate a lot of clues like Ulvenwald Mysteries, Ongoing Investigation, and Erdwal Illuminator. If you happen to get a few of those uncommons in play, Confront the Unknown becomes a win condition.
Graf Mole- There are many uncommons that obviously fit into a clue deck, but Graf Mole is one of the more important ones. U/G is slow to get off the ground and using two mana to sacrifice clues instead of playing more expensive spells can cause you to fall behind. Graf Mole does a great job at catching back up and it isn't uncommon to gain six like a turn with a Graf Mole in play.
U/R Spells is the hardest deck to draft because limited decks rely on creatures to win games, and U/R requires you to play a very low creature count because you need lots of instants and sorceries. However if you can get this deck to work the payoff for drafting U/R is huge.
Cards to look for:
Pyre Hound- Pyre Hound is a weak body on his own. If you cast one instant or sorcery he becomes reasonable. If your deck is full of instants and sorceries he becomes a serious threat. You're going to want at least one.
Mad Prophet/Reckless Scholar- U/R uses a lot of madness, and these guys provide a reusable madness outlet. Since the U/R deck is pretty slow, the fact that these guys let you madness for free is really important.
Rise from the Tides- This card is the reason to draft this deck and is the ultimate payoff card for the archetype. It's unplayable in any other deck, but in this deck it's an amazing win condition. I've made anywhere from seven to ten zombies with this card. If I see a Rise from the Tide early in pack one you can bet I'm switching to U/R.
Epitaph Golem- This is the unsung hero of U/R. You will draw through a lot of your deck and this guy helps you not only not lose to decking, but also Recycles you best spells so that you can use them again.
Drafting can be scary if you aren't familiar with the format and this article was an attempt to make it easier to understand. I hope I have provided some insight that you can use in your next draft! Until next time, may you open bombs in all your packs!
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