Oh, forty-card decks. It’s been a while.
Over the last year or so, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to articulate a Limited philosophy imparted to me by the now-sadly-inactive Magician Ervin Tormos. Despite its relatively controversial reception, it has parlayed me into very solid Limited results at Nationals and at the World Championships, and contributed to a GP top-16 finish that I totally would not have deserved a year before. Given my complete ineptitude at the combat phase, I’m pleased with even minimal accomplishments.
The reason I bring this up is that my draft strategy is centered around mid-pack signals that indicate a disproportionate understanding of value between myself and my neighbors, and a corresponding willingness to abandon early color preferences far later than most other drafters in order to reap greater overall value throughout the draft. I found myself in trouble with Shadowmoor, though. As many authors have already discussed, the removal-light nature of the format made it difficult for me to figure out what those early picks should be. I didn’t have a catalogue of Lash Outs and Nameless Inversions and Oblivion Rings and Eyeblight’s Endings, or obviously-nuts tribal enablers like Lys-Alana Huntmaster or Silvergill Douser in the common slot to make the choice readily-apparent for me. No, Shadowmoor was a different animal, and it took me almost two weeks to catch up to speed.
I’ve always hated “pick orders,” because they’re often very arbitrary and many cards relate to one another in a tier-system, anyway. How do you qualify how much better (or worse) Oblivion Ring is to Eyeblight’s Ending in a manner that outweighs the simple factor of color preference? It’s not an easy thing to do. So I’m not trying to attempt in this article to list the absolute best commons in every color, things that you should windmill-slam onto the table as first-picks and assume a roughly equitable power level. What I am trying to do is enumerate the cards I’m looking for when I employ my own draft strategy, the cards that say to me “this is probably too good of a card to be present in the pack 4th-7th pick,” and indicate that I might need to move in on a color.
Sure, some of these cards are first-picks, and you might be able to get some utility just by virtue of hearing what cards I think are good, and why I believe as I do. Moreover, because Shadowmoor pick orders haven’t necessarily become standardized yet, you may not get as much value out of seeing one of these cards as a signal as you would simply because you’ve picked a good card. Finally, of course, the value of my strategy is not that I somehow have extra insight into figuring out what cards are good, as much as a willingness to switch colors later because of a pack’s power disparity. Nevertheless, after many Shadowmoor drafts, here are the commons that draw me into a color or combination of colors. These will simply be listed in alphabetical order. Afterwards, I want to spend a little bit of time talking about cards that, while not necessarily drawing me into a color combination, certainly are much more powerful in specific archetypes than their relative abundance in later picks would suggest.
People argue back and forth about this card. I tend to view it as a considerably worse Neck Snap, but Neck Snap was still removal and as such it tended to make my deck. I’ve also managed to conspire this more than Nick, Peebles, or Tom, and so I might value it a little higher as a result. But my Shadowmoor drafts – even U/W decks – haven’t been the lightning-quick affairs that I hear about from other corners of the Earth. My loose 2/2 or 3/3 duders have stared at a bunch of other loose 2/2 or 3/3 duders many times now. This card is absolutely busted in those situations.
As you’ll hear me repeat many times by the end of this article, bad removal is still removal, and if you have it while your opponent does not, you’re in a decidedly better position.
This guy is probably one of White’s best commons – and thank you David Glore for as far as I know being one of the first to point that out. In Lorwyn, a standard 3/3 dork wasn’t all that tight because you had all these Treefolk and Giants running around, as well as a bunch of 1/1 Elf or Merfolk tokens that could chump-block until well after the cows came home. 3/3 is much bigger now, and the fact that First Strike dodges Wither (in addition to its normal awesomeness as a combat ability more generally) makes this guy a man you really want to have on your side. If he’s there later than third, move in.
You’ll notice a dearth of Giant Growth effects in this format, and nobody sees this coming out of a W/x deck. I’ve yet to ever Conspire this, but (much like the removal in this set) the tricks that let you do more than trade are few and far between. Everybody wants these, so get them while you can.
This little pest is currently my favorite common in S/S/S. As evidenced by the position of a certain Sentry further on down, it’s extremely hard to come by good two-drops in this set. I’m frequently excited by Somnomancer, good ol’ tappsies, so a two-drop evasive man is just what the doctor ordered. Because there are so many three-drops in this set, it’s relatively easy to attack for two with this guy on the third turn. Nevertheless, I will confess that my favorite followup to a turn-2 Briarberry Cohort is a turn-3 Briarberry Cohort.
Listen to Sadin on this one. It’s all he says and more. Pick these up, splash them if you can. Yes, 3R 3 sorcery-speed damage is pretty good in this format, and there are typically enough Hybrid guys that you might even get to live the dream on the splash.
This one might surprise a few people, because 3/2 creatures for five don’t usually top people’s “Wanted!” lists. You have got to deal with this guy, though, and there’s just not a whole lot of removal that allows you to do so. I just haven’t seen all that many decks that are able to curve out effectively, and this guy can punish any hiccups the opponent might have in deploying threats. Moreover, the continuous source of -1-1 counters is extremely vital for the (typically U/B) -1-1 counter archetype that Blaine has been such a fan of in practice drafts. Getting this guy going with Leech Bonder sure is.
Regress was always fine but unexciting, and this has a huge upside to Regress. I actually figured this one would take longer than it did to catch on, but you’ve got to value this card very highly or you won’t be seeing it. Again, removal-light format etc.
I can’t summon up enough size-related adjectives to explain how big 4/4 is in this format, and 5/5 is just next-level. I don’t know whether the Trample on Fangren Hunter/Game-trail Changeling is better than the +1+1, but either way I value both styles of cards extremely highly. 4/4s for 5 have always been relatively high picks anyway, and the fact that in Shadowmoor they basically lock up the ground makes this little tree into a windmill slam.
We can’t all be Nekrataal. Still, having attempted to use Scarscale Ritual numerous times has taught me how much of a difference a seemingly-insignificant -1-1 counter can make, and the fact that this guy comes with a substantial body attached makes him a very high pick. Plus, he’s a sizable body in two colors that can use the beef. But turning off Persist, killing X/1s, and hedging combat in your favor all combine to form a card that I’m extremely happy with every time I draw it.
The illustration for this card should be replaced with a turtle on its back flailing around helplessly trying to upright itself. Every time I draw this card it’s more awkward than Adam Yurchick accidentally slinging water all over a large man who may or may not have had Mafia connections, or Brett Blackman repeatedly Facebook-messaging me about his uncanny love for tree-climbing. Still, removal etc., and it’s really not that bad on one of your own guys with an untap ability. Enchanting your own creatures is fine in this format.
Gloom Gloom Dolla, Shackalacka Gloom Gloom.
Whenever you hit a card with this it feels better than Miley Cyrusing an Ancestral Vision.
It was Richard Feldman who turned me on to this guy. I actually thought he was insane at the pre-release – too insane for R&D to print such an obvious beating in a comparatively-underpowered (for Limited) set, so I just assumed I was missing something. Nope, it turns out that Spriggles is just an Arrogant Wurm when you’ve paid the madness cost, and he’s a giant beating. Yes, in a format with -1-1 counters I understand he’s a little risky, but he’s basically an Ashenmoor Gouger at the common slot that can’t be chump-blocked.
I would also like to announce that I accidentally mistyped “common sloth” and laughed out loud. What is an uncommon sloth? Discuss.
This is another one I thought would take longer to catch on. This might be the second-best common removal spell (after Burn Trail) and I just had no idea until a couple of days ago. The “or blocks” part is huge, obviously. There are also a surprisingly high number of tricks you can do to make this happen, particularly with Scuzzlebutt, Lord of the Mountain, who misses this list only because he’s not really a commitment to any color.
Hold me, now. I’m six feet from the edge and I’m thinkin’. Maybe six feet ain’t so far down. Four life ain’t so far, either, to get a man out Out OUT of the game. Again, it’s good with some incidental use of -1-1 counters, but perhaps most notably it’s the only good way to get rid of a Silkbind Faerie before it really wrecks you.
Brian Davis initially disagreed with me on this card, but most sets have several obligatory 3/3 evasive critters for five mana, and this one does not. Moreover, the untap ability (any time that you can “turn it on” effectively by attacking) is actually unreal. They wove so many combos with it into this set – many obvious, like my next couple of cards, and many not – that you don’t really grasp intuitively until you’ve played with it. But there are very few ways to clock an opponent in this set and circumvent the inevitable ground stall, and it’s also nice that this guy happens to laugh out loud at Silkbind Faerie, Niveous Wisps, and Somnomancer.
Speaking of “Combos with the Q ability.”
OBViously if you’re doing something utterly ridiculous with this card then you need to put it into your stack as quickly as possible. What may be less obvious is that I’d still rank this as the second-best Red common after Burn Trail even if there was no Q in the set. Hard to kill guys, ergo hard to kill enchantments, etc. -1-1 counters make 1 damage even more relevant, etc. Also, I’ve finished off many an opponent with simple plinks just because my games tend to go so long, and it’s nice knowing that you can purchase inevitability for 1R at common. I’m going to rate this one an A+.
I don’t know who Gond is, but I sure hope he’s present at the next party I throw. This is one of the more annoying commons printed in awhile, but it’s excellent for the same reasons that the Power is. Take it highly.
Removal that neutralizes Persist. I mean.
This one I might have to talk about more, but I think it’s one of the strongest incentives to push R/B in the set. Undying Skizzik in a card that can manipulate counters relatively easily is a force to be reckoned with. In my years of playing Magic I’ve come to realize that Haste is one of the most fundamentally powerful abilities in the game, and in Limited formats it’s even more potent because it completely disrupts the combat math. Don’t underestimate this guy’s defensive potential, either, just because of the ratio of his power to his toughness. In sealed deck I’ve used these guys to fortify the ground more often than I ever would have guessed. Persist is a very potent form of card advantage on large creatures, as this guy’s still a house the second time around.
There aren’t a lot of common fliers, and this guy can survive a fight with any of them given enough mana. He’s also probably going to go later than he ought because G/W has been underdrafted in my experience, and oftentimes you can just swing with this guy twice, tap out, and hope they don’t have anything. There aren’t that many ways to kill this guy at instant speed in Shadowmoor.
I’m sure this’ll surprise people, and he’s a testament to how difficult it is to pick up quality bears in this format. I view this guy as a strong signal, though. I’m telling you, just start playing with the Untap symbol until you realize how fundamentally it alters the game. Your opponents will positively fear your otherwise-mediocre Resplendent Mentors, I’m telling you. But if you don’t take bears early, you’re not going to have any, period.
This is another bearl who took me quite a long time to appreciate. Persist really is that good, and it combines favorably with Trample. Mainly, though, hybrid creatures of all varieties are of the utmost importance with your Duos and God Auras – more on those later – and this guy’s a high-powered offense all by himself. They’ll have to trade with him twice, and they’re going to take damage in both of those exchanges.
If Briarbizzle is my favorite common, I’d say this guy is the best. He gets in there, blocks, neutralizes, and engages my favorite Duo all at the same time. And BOYS BOYS BOYS if you make this guy Exalted Angel with Steel of the Godhead…
It’s not elegant, but sometimes you just need a guy dead. The fact that it’s one of the few ways to advantageously off a Persist creature means that you’ve got to take it highly or those cards will give you nightmares. It’s going to cost you a good chunk of mana, but you’re not exactly upwelling with options.
Like Curse of Chains, this card is frequently awkward for me. Still, it does what you need it to do, and this is one card whose versatility tends to make for its lack of objective power. Again, if you don’t take cards like this highly, you’re not going to see them at all, and your options are going to be severely confined because you just have a bunch of your creatures running into a bunch of their creatures and not accomplishing much. It’s worth noting that I tend to like Niveous Wisps better than this card because I frequently use it offensively, but I’ll be covering the Wisps in a second.
Watchwing Scarecrow / Wingrattle Scarecrow
I want to cover these simultaneously because I think they’re similar cards. A lot of people look at the Scarecrows as filler, and I think that’s a flawed approach. Sure, both of these are blue cards. But if you cost them as such in blue, they’re amazing creatures. A Wind Drake that sticks around? An Azure Drake that can also block? These are signals, folks! Don’t let me see these lap around the table. That almost made my jaw drop!
Cool. Now we come to our cycles.
Wisps: Alright, I don’t have all that much constructive to say, except that you should actively be taking the Black and White ones highly and the rest are perfectly acceptable inclusions in a deck. Yes, everyone knows that Chatter loves to draw himself a card. But the effects are all substantial, and the color-lacing matters just often enough to make you curse yourself when you forget to do it when the opponent attacks with a Wanderbrine Rootcutters (or whatever) and you find yourself taking three damage.
The Hybrid/ “can’t be blocked” cycle
Okay. I’m going to go on record as saying this, and I very well might Just Be Wrong. But you’re going to have to take these very highly, like, much higher than any kind of Hill Giant should warrant. The reason is that I don’t think people have been exploring “color matters” to its fullest, and making the necessary sacrifices to accommodate a color base that’s conducive to your bombs. But do you understand how good the God enchantments are on Hybrid creatures? Have you ever given anything Haste with a Sootstoke Kindler? (who’s not on my list only because you get him uber-late). I think “Hybrid color” will be enough of an asset to make these all high picks.
Duos (not B/R)
I hate the Black/Red guy, but I love me a Tattermunge. I think these are huge grand slams both conceptually and flavorfully, and they also happen to rock in Morningtide Limited. These are one of the two predominant reasons to value on-color Hybrids so highly, along with…
God Enchantments (not B/R)
Again, I think the B/R one underperforms, but even it isn’t bad if you’re aggressive enough. Each and every one of these is a TREMENDOUS house if it starts working, though. Exalted Armadillo Angel Cloak is probably my favorite, but Runes of the Ball Lightning You has clocked me out of nowhere one too many times to make me forget about it. Take these highly. Built your deck around them. Otherwise, you may not get the chance.
Alright, that seven pages during exam week is enough for me for now. I take my last college exam ever tomorrow. Wish me luck!