Black Magic – Innistrad Limited

Sam provides valuable insight into the Innistrad Limited format before GP San Diego, giving opinions on overvalued and undervalued cards, answering mailbag questions, and noting that, yes, the Curse of the Bloody Tome deck is real.

I’ve tried writing an Innistrad Limited article before, and failed. The problem is that I can’t figure out how to structure my thoughts. There’s too much to say. Writing about a single archetype seems pointless; there are too many. Ranking cards is beyond pointless, since values change too much depending on context. This is the deepest Limited format I’ve played by a lot, so it should be the one with the most to write about, but I just can’t figure out where to start.

I’m drafting in my 71st Innistrad Limited event on MTGO right now, and I’ve probably done around fifty physical drafts, but those are harder to count. It’s possible that I’ve done more drafts of this format than anyone else—at the very least, there are only a few people who might have done more than I have.

I think I’ve concluded that the best I can do to talk about the format is just to express random ideas for a while, so expect my transitions (which are generally lacking) to be close to nonexistent.

Evasion in this format is very limited. Gatstaf Shepherd, Invisible Stalker, and Spectral Rider are they only non-fliers with evasion. I think this is why I was impressed by Somberwald Spider, which I didn’t maindeck, but sided in every single round of the PTQ where I conceded the finals in Madison last weekend. Somberwald Spider has unimpressive stats and a casting cost that makes him compete with much larger creatures, but a 2/4 reach creature is very hard for a lot of decks to get through, and 4/6 is almost impossible.

Not every sealed deck will want him, not even every green sealed deck. I was playing the rare G/W control deck with a lot of removal. I could easily get to the late game, but sometimes I’d lose to Sprit tokens (though I had plenty of my own). My Spider and One-Eyed Scarecrow from the sideboard took care of those issues for me.

Despite Somberwald Spider’s role as a complete brick wall in sealed, in draft the card rarely performs. It’s too likely to get bounced, countered, or tapped, and generally too slow to be reliable. It’s one of the less playable cards in draft, which is probably why I left it out of my original build.

One-Eyed Scarecrow is amazing against white, however. It shuts down all their Spirit tokens, makes their two great flying three-drops relatively non-threatening, and even blocks Spectral Rider.

Drafting online is a great way to learn the format, but MTGO drafts do play out very differently from physical drafts because of the additional information in physical drafts. Online, it can be correct (enough) to force an archetype; physically, it’s harder to justify forcing G/W if you know the person passing to you first-picked Mayor of Avabruck. You’ll do a lot better if you use this information to pursue a different strategy. Online, you wouldn’t have that information, so you wouldn’t get punished for not using it.

What this means is that for physical drafts, it’s important to know how to draft a variety of archetypes so that you can take full advantage of the information available to you about what colors other people are in to properly position yourself.

I like to try to move into a color if I’m roughly on the opposite side of the table from someone who opened a card of that color. If someone to my left first-picks a green card, and there are two equally good cards in my pack, one of which is green, I’d rather cooperate and give them the green card so that I can have a good pack two. If they’re two spaces to my left, I don’t really worry about it. If they’re to my right, there’s almost no chance I’ll go into the same color as a card they took, even if they’re two spaces to my right. On the other hand, if they’re three or four spaces to my right, I might actively want to go into that color, knowing that the people to my immediate right will want to stay out. This kind of thinking is how you should use this information to position yourself.

You can say as much as you want about how Cloistered Youth underperforms relative to some expectations in this format, but it can still be correct to take over slightly better white cards to make the statement about which color you’re in.

This format has fewer completely unplayable cards than any other because there are so many different ways to use cards. The following is a comprehensive list of Innistrad cards I haven’t played in Limited yet:

Heartless Summoning — I can’t imagine playing this card. It’s theoretically possible, maybe, but I don’t think it’ll happen.

Rooftop Storm — I once drafted a deck where this would have been awesome if I’d had a single Disciple of Griselbrand or Grimgrin, since I had four Ghoulraisers and a ton of other Zombies, but again, I wouldn’t be surprised if I never end up playing it.

Infernal Plunge — I can actually imagine this one, but again, it’d take a really weird deck. It would probably have to have two Balefire Dragons and a lot of morbid triggers or something. I played against it online once. My opponent used it to cast Charmbreaker Devils. I wasn’t overly impressed.

Past in Flames — In the decks that would want an effect like this, most of the spells already have flashback, and it’s hard to imagine getting enough mana to take advantage of it.

Intangible Virtue — I’ve played against this and been impressed once. It’d be nice to get the deck where I want to play it, but it’s very hard.

Nevermore — I’ve had this sided in against me, and it can be very good, but it’s extremely narrow

Stony Silence — I’m looking forward to shutting down a lot of equipment with this, really.

Graveyard Shovel — Just not seeing it.

Witchbane Orb — I have a lot of these online because I draft them aggressively to avoid losing to them when I’m milling people out, but I’ve never had one while playing against a mill deck.

That’s it. There are some really bad cards that I’ve played with, like Curse of Oblivion. Seriously, you never know.

The fact that there are so many different ways to approach this format means that it can be really hard to have an answer to everything. Also, decks can do very powerful things in directions you might not expect. Because of this, the tried and true approach of “be extremely aggressive” tends to be particularly successful in this format.

Ari Lax has inspired me to join him in touching on cards that I believe are over- or undervalued at the moment.


Claustrophobia: It’s hard to get a lot of value out of a three-mana sorcery-speed removal spell. You’re not getting the two-for-one you sometimes get from instants by doing something like blowing out a pump spell or double block, and you often use it on creatures that cost a similar amount of mana or less. Failing to take a creature out of play can be a significant problem in the case of something like Falkenrath Noble. This card in particular sets you up to get blown out by Village Bell-Ringer and doesn’t deal with Galvanic Juggernaut or Grimgrin. I also hate the double blue in its casting cost. It’s a passable removal spell, but I think some people consider it to be one of the best blue commons, while I barely see it in packs and often cut it from my decks. I might underrate it a bit, but it’s definitely not a draw for me.

Blazing Torch: I almost never draft this card because I’m not willing to take it anywhere near as early as other people are. In aggressive decks, you have to use an attacker to kill a blocker, so you give up damage. It’s slow; it’s expensive; it requires a creature to be in play, and it doesn’t kill anything big. It’s certainly playable, but you can do a lot better. I don’t feel bad about leaving this one out of a deck.

Bloodcrazed Neonate: For some reason, this card creates a desire to try to make it work. It doesn’t seem that hard to get it going. If you can get it through a few times, it can get out of hand. You can play it and kill their first blocker, or maybe play a Crossway Vampire, and do something else, and maybe this will get out of control. Yes, sometimes I take damage from Bloodcrazed Neonate. I’ve even lost to it, but more often than not, it just kills itself. I’m disappointed if I have to trade any card for it, and I can almost always manage to do that at worst. Even in the deck with all the right support, I’d still probably rather have a Village Ironsmith or an Ashmouth Hound.

Abbey Griffin: That body’s just embarrassing.


Selhoff Occultist: Ari mentioned this, but I have to reiterate. This guy’s just awesome. His stats are very good, and the mill ability is remarkably awesome; also, “Human” is a great ability. Creature types are weird in this set. Some do nothing, like Spider; others give protection from Victim of Night and vulnerability to Slayer of the Wicked. Wolf and Spirit are all upside, but Human is the best creature type to be. It grants benefits with equipment and immunity to Spare from Evil and Avacynian Priest.

Falkenrath Noble: I wouldn’t mention him except that Ari called him overrated. I’m not sure it’s the best uncommon. Murder of Crows, Slayer of the Wicked, Fiend Hunter, and some others are very good, but seriously, Falkenrath Noble is insane. I don’t like the other cards Ari mentioned with Falkenrath Noble, but the Noble is about the ability, and I’ve recovered from some horrible board states because of it.

Silent Departure: Another place I have to agree with Ari. This card is the real deal. It does everything and is probably the best blue common in the set, but it’s a weird question because the different blue commons do such different things.

Curse of the Bloody Tome: Curse of the Bloody Tome the deck is a real thing. Any time I’m blue, I take these in the middle of pack one in case it happens to come together. Worst case, I’m stopping a deck that probably would have beaten me from coming together.

Ghoulcaller’s Bell: The secret to the Curse of the Bloody Tome deck.

Gnaw to the Bone: It took me a long time to realize that this card is playable, but even when you’re not aggressively milling yourself, it can gain enough life to significantly impact some matches. I don’t play it main unless I’m really making it great, but it’s a good card to pay attention to.

Invisible Stalker: This is a stupid card, and I’d like to be above needing to try to get free wins through totally non-interactive games, but the payoff of putting anything on this guy is high enough that you should take him over most cards early in the draft. Spectral Flight isn’t embarrassing if you have to put it on something else, and you were probably happy to play that Dagger anyway.

Delver of Secrets: This is another high variance card that can just win games without too much cost. Not nearly as good as Invisible Stalker, but I definitely respect it more than I did when I first started drafting the format.

In general, I think whining about flip cards is pretty absurd. The information is an interesting, minor change to the dynamic of drafting, and playing with the cards is relatively non-intrusive. All the drafts I’ve done (at various enforcement levels) have gone smoothly, and higher enforcement levels actually make the draft work better.

There are two very different ways that I usually pick my archetype. The first is by drafting around the cards that work best with my first few picks. This is the most traditional way to draft. The other way is by paying attention to narrow key cards for certain archetypes that are likely to table. If the first card tables, I assume the rest will and move in. If they all come back, I know no one else at the table is going for that archetype.

This second system is most clearly illustrated with Curse of the Bloody Tome, Ghoulcaller’s Bell, and Dream Twist. If I can table three of those total in pack one, I’ll probably be trying to find ways to mill my opponent. I continue trying to table Bells and Twists, but I can’t risk a Curse, and I’m almost never passing a Selhoff Occultist.

Another example might be with something more narrow like if I table two Boneyard Wurms or two Unruly Mobs; I might start drafting the U/G graveyard deck (avoiding stitched creatures) or B/W Dead Humans (Elder Cathar and Altar’s Reap). I won’t give up my entire first half of a pack to move in on something like this, but I might half-draft toward these things to begin with if I expect them to happen based on cards I pass early, and know to abort the plan if they don’t come back.

Some questions from Twitter:

The most common question I got by far what “what are the best archetypes?”

This is a slightly dangerous question to be asking, because it can imply that you’re looking for focus a little too narrowly, but I like most aggressive decks: G/W, R/B, and U/W especially, because their allied color flashback spells (Travel Preparations, Feeling of Dread, and Bump in the Night) are all very well suited to that. Regrettably, I haven’t been keeping notes of what archetypes I’ve been drafting and what my record has been (seriously, that information would be really nice).

@Brandonbroast: “best color = blue, right? And do you see Invisible Stalker/Cleaver unfair”

Personally, I think white is the deepest, but blue is also very good. Yes, Stalker with basically anything is unfair, and games involving him are rarely fun. Take him early, and any time your opponent plays him, just give them credit and bring in Naturalize for the next game.

@Vinceisg0d: “Trouble with my curve, most notable the three drop. Drafting U/W for example. Infinite good three drops. How do I Prioritize?”

Curve is very important. I’d say you should learn to watch for cards at other costs that could be good in your deck. Stitcher’s Apprentice can be really good in U/W, especially with Thraben Sentry. Neither of those cost three. To generalize further, yes, your curve is very important and should be a priority.

@Nexistential: “If I were to try to force a color combo, which color combo would be best to force?”

Seriously, don’t. Especially in live drafts. If you have to, I guess blue and white are the deepest colors, so they’d be the safest to force.

@KillGoldfish: “…Do you first pick cards that fit in one narrow archetype eg burning veng?”

If there’s nothing good in the pack, sometimes, but in general, I prefer to try to table cards like that and move in if it works. Testing the waters.

@mtgjedi: “what’s the best INN common in draft.”

Brimstone Volley

@EternalBlueMage “What cards in each color motivate you highly to splash the extra color?”

Spider Spawning, Unburial Rites, occasionally Forbidden Alchemy or Rally the Peasants, but not as often. If you were asking which cards I’d often want to splash if they were completely off color for my deck, Blasphemous Act is the most obvious, sometimes Sever the Bloodline; in Sealed, more things like Slayer of the Wicked and Brimstone Volley

@TheMagicMongol: “how far are you willing to go to splash awesome rares/unc in sealed? How early do you take fixing in draft?”

The important thing in sealed is to make sure your mana works. If my demands are high, I’ll try to find a deck that doesn’t require a splash; if I can get away with it and have powerful cards in another color, I’ll play them. I take fixing over average filler cards if I don’t have anything to splash and more aggressively if it’s late in a draft, and I need it.

@Baldwink517: “P1P1, Slayer, Claustrophobia, or Volley.”

Slayer >> Brimstone Volley >>>> Claustrophobia.

I’m not sure what else to say about this format. It’s great. If you have a pet archetype that’s been working for you, stick with it; it’s probably real, especially if other people don’t seem to be doing it. In a vacuum, I think the G/W Travel Preparations deck is the best deck, but it’s known, and it’s beatable, and it’s not that big of an issue if several people are fighting over it.

Aside from that, today seems to be the day to write about the Organized Play changes/the destruction of Worlds as we know it. First and foremost, Wizards continues to embarrass itself by announcing unfinished policies and by announcing that Worlds will be fed by Grand Prix that have already happened—an announcement which may have impacted several players’ travel plans if it had been made in time. This wouldn’t be as problematic if the system were different, but attending every event is extremely important because point payouts are so flat.

Aside from the announcement itself, the content was essentially to remove Worlds and reinstate the Invitational with a $100,000 prize instead of the invitational card. Clearly, creating a card isn’t worth $100,000, so this is a “better” tournament, but for me, that’s just because the prize for the invitational is all for first place. I think most spectators would rather follow the tournament with the cooler prize, and I’m still not completely sure I wouldn’t rather play in the old Invitational.

If winning this tournament is supposed to be the ultimate Magic achievement, can’t we get an invitational card attached to the first-place prize in addition to the money? It’s still a lot less than they were spending on Worlds, and without that, the accomplishment isn’t really complete (yes, it bothers me that it’s impossible for anyone else to ever win that prize at the moment).

That’s all I have for this week. Forgive the scattered formatting.

Thanks for reading,

@samuelhblack on Twitter