Deconstructing Constructed – Examining Shadowmoor

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Tuesday, April 22nd – Sealed with Shadowmoor ranges from the ‘worst ever’ when playing against creatures like the Lieges, Rhys the Redeemed, or Godhead of Awe, to pretty fun when you get to play the traditional G/R Aggro against slower control. The traditional baits and trickery occurs, and hybrid allows you to play more good cards then you usually could while presenting interesting mana exercises.

We finally have the full set of Shadowmoor and many of you (including me) experienced the set first-hand at the prerelease this last weekend. I cracked a solid pool which you can see below, and otherwise spent a decent amount of time watching other matches during the final round when I finally got a quick win in instead of going to time. Sealed with Shadowmoor ranges from the ‘worst ever’ when playing against creatures like the Lieges, Rhys the Redeemed, or Godhead of Awe, to pretty fun when you get to play the traditional G/R Aggro against slower control. The traditional baits and trickery occurs, and hybrid allows you to play more good cards then you usually could while presenting interesting mana exercises.

I really would like a handle on what makes a good sealed deck in this format simply because a lot of the options that look appealing at first glance just end up being worse than seemingly less powerful options that involve the keyword abilities. Anyway, here’s the pool:

2 Somnomancer
2 Aethertow
2 Mistmeadow Witch
2 Steel of the Godhead
Thistledown Duo

2 Gravelgill Axeshark
Torpor Dust
Memory Sluice
Dream Salvage
Inkfathom Witch
Drowner Initiate

Consign to Dream
Cerulean Wisps
Merrow Wavebreakers

Runed Halo
Mistmeadow Skulk
Strip Bare
Niveous Wisps
Safehold Sentry
2 Barrenton Medic

Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers
Shield of the Oversoul
Safehold Elite
Rhys the Redeemed

Foxfire Oak
Devoted Druid
Crabapple Cohort
Viridescent Wisps
Hungry Spriggan
2 Howl of the Night Pack
Nurturer Initiate
Toil to Renown

Bloodshed Fever
Blistering Dieflyn
Intimidator Initiate
Wild Swing

Fossil Find
Vexing Shusher
Guttural Response

Torrent of Souls
Murderous Redcap
Fists of the Demigod
Emberstrike Duo
Cultbrand Cinder
Poison the Well
2 Sootstoke Kindler

Incremental Blight
Sickle Ripper
Ashenmoor Cohort
Polluted Bonds

2 Pili-Pala
Blight Sickle
Wingrattle Scarecrow
2 Umbral Mantle
Rattleblaze Scarecrow
Elsewhere Flask

Time to think…


And my deck…

2 Somnomancer
2 Aethertow
2 Mistmeadow Witch
2 Pili-Pala
2 Gravelgill Axeshark
2 Steel of the Godhead
Consign to Dream
Cerulean Wisps
Torpor Dust
Safehold Elite
Niveous Wisps
Safehold Sentry
Thistledown Duo
Blight Sickle
Merrow Wavebreakers
Rhys the Redeemed
10 Plains
8 Island

Although I liked the removal that the B/R combination would give me, the combination of W/U gave me some ridiculous blowout cards in Aethertow, Steel of Godhead and Aethertow. In addition it also had enough playable spells that running only 13 creatures never truly bit me in the butt. Obviously Rhys living, which happened quite a bit due to the lack of permanent removal in non-Red, gave me an overwhelming advantage in the mid and late game. Mistmeadow Witch also took control of many boards by turning every combat situation into a potential nightmare and severely slowing opponents relying on one or two large creatures. Aethertow may be the biggest blow-out ever invented when you hit with Conspire, not only resetting the board, but crippling the opponent’s future development.

Some of the lesser cards like Pili-Pala and Blight Sickle ended up being useful in their own ways, the former for being a cheap flyer and occasionally chiming in a white mana and Sickle for turning my small minions or elves into Scar. Sickle is a bit of an investment, but against many decks in sealed you have the time to do so and make your men awkward to block. The ability to effectively shut off a Persist creature from using his ability is a huge boon for a deck that normally has no Wither effects. Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers is probably the biggest omission, but I had tried running it in multiple games and found that getting WWW just wasn’t happening often in the first six turns.

Speaking of the hybrid cards, there was a lot of bemoaning for those that could actually play the uncommon and rare hybrid menaces. Many of these guys heavily slant the game state once they hit the board and even if you were lucky enough to open some of the better ones there’s no guarantee it was enough in your colors to play. Getting triple colors of a second color can be tough with little mana-fixing, now try hitting quad costs or more and the chances of doing so are pretty slim.

As far as the speed of the format goes, I’ve seen decks range from blazingly quick to simply trying to last until turn 10 and taking over. Depending on who you talk too from the PR, you can get a wildly varied viewpoint of what it actually feels like. Part of the blame falls on what hybrid colors the opponent happened to crack the most of, the B/R decks are almost all pretty speedy and Sootstoke Kindler makes every deck with red in it fly out of the gates. I never knew how obnoxious every single creature having haste could be until I had the joy of playing against it.

To sum it up, I went 3-0-1 with it; feel free to post what you would’ve run in the forums, though as Sealed isn’t something I take particular interest in, typically.

As for Standard, a number of cards are coming into the format that could severely warp the current metagame. For me the biggest impact card isn’t Swans of Bryn Argoll or the filter lands or even Tattermage Maniac. Rather, since I’m a Red player, my biggest concern is toward one of the cards with possibly the worst (though fun to say!) names ever: Kitchen Finks. Playing against this guy with a red deck is the equivalent to breaking your hand punching the wall and then slamming your head into it for good measure. There’s approximately two good ways to get past it, Blood Knight and Boggart Ram-Gang, otherwise you basically have to give up a creature and a burn spell if you expect to deal any damage via the ground. Even Aven Riftwatcher could be negated via Lash Out and a winning clash; there’s no good cheatyface* in Red for Finks…

* Fine, so I could resort to running Puncture Bolt, but I really don’t want too.

… Except maybe Murderous Redcap. A slight stretch to be sure, but Redcap has really surprised me with the amount of versatility you get from him. Yeah, it’s only a 2/2 for four mana, but as Paskins pointed out, the guy can take out a lot of small men while being useful in other situations. Oh, and if you ever play Redcap with Ashenmoor Liege then the game is pretty much over. Redcap may not be the new hotness for red like Countryside Crusher was, but it wouldn’t surprise me to start seeing this guys pop up in numbers, especially if creature-heavy variants of R/B, R/G or mono-Red begin to show up.

Augury Adept and Sygg, River Cutthroat are both the respective Ophidian / Dark Confidant replacements for Standard, and both have sizable issues that’ll force some thought into abusing these guys in any way. Sygg may survive the smaller burn spells, but it still bites it to the omnipresent Nameless Inversion and other commonly seen burn spells. At the moment there seem like three obvious spots to try the new Sygg in, Merfolk, Rogues and some sort of B/R burn concoction.

With Sygg, Merfolk obviously wouldn’t mind having another way to see more cards on the cheap, but is somewhat ill-equipped to abuse the ability in the early game except against other blue decks. Forcing through damage without Islands around isn’t exactly easy with a host of one and two toughness creatures. Rogues has an easier time getting damage through and even has Morsel Theft as a non-creature based weapon, but where does Sygg really fit on the curve? Finally there’s the possibility of just running a straight B/R burn deck in the same vein as what we have now, but with a bit more reach with Sygg and Bitterblossom. A sample build could look something like so:

Burning Blossom

4 Flame Javelin
4 Rift Bolt
4 Incinerate
4 Shard Volley
4 Shock

4 Sygg, River Cutthroat
4 Keldon Marauders
4 Mogg Fanatic

4 Bitterblossom
1 Threaten

4 Gemstone Mine
4 Sulfurous Springs
4 Graven Cairns
11 Mountain

Obviously this is just a simple test list and the numbers would need to be tweaked. However, this is the kind of deck that can not only use Sygg the most, but also play it the easiest without disrupting any sort of natural curve like in Faeries or Merfolk. You can feel perfectly comfortable playing this on turn two or three over a burn spell in many cases. In addition, access to Bitterblossom similarly helps the offense against a slower deck which has to focus it’s resources against BB rather than the burn itself or simply Forcefield against aggressive decks giving Sygg time to do it’s job.

Meanwhile Augury Adept has the possibility of appearing in U/R Counter-Burn decks along with Swans of Bryn Argoll or maybe in midrange Kithkin deck abusing Ballyrush Banneret and Kithkin Zephyrnaut. Of course I’m personally holding out hope for a deck that lives the dream and plays Steel of Godhead on Augury getting a 4/4 lifelinked and unblockable Ophidian for their trouble. The Adept is harder to place due the color schemes W/U hybrid mana tends to fit into along with the stipulation of the board needing to be clear to force damage though with the small 2/2 body. This makes it likely that if a Counter-Burn deck does exist and wants to work more draw in with Ancestral Visions this could be next in line.

Although the current decrepit state of Magic Online Version 3 means we won’t see Shadowmoor for a while; or any real functionality at all for a while with the terrible user interface, there is a silver lining. It means I won’t have to deal with every other deck in the tournament practice room or 8-mans kicking around Dream Salvage Rack decks, because thousands of people simultaneously how sick the card is with Augur of Skulls. Yes! You too can live the dream of going turn two Augur of Skulls, turn three activate plus Smallpox or Thoughtseize, Ancestral Recall er… Dream Salvage. If red and aggro in general somehow gets beaten up to the point where this deck could just pick on mana ramp and combo decks, I’d give more worries to a possible resurgence of discard with this or Sygg, but until then I still have at least a few weeks before fearing discard online.

Scarscale Ritual is a card I’m sure will find a niche somewhere in some format. Drawing two cards for two isn’t a bad trade at all, and Black and Red have a number of dorks that don’t mind the -1/-1 counter, Nether Traitor, Sygg and Dusk Urchins all come to mind for Black. As for Red, throwing one onto a Keldon Marauders that’s going to bite it next turn, a Tattermunge Maniac that was going to swing to its death anyway or a Mogg War Marshall doesn’t strike me as a terrible trade. In fact exchanging one of my 1/1 gobs later in the game for two cards almost always would be a nice option to have.

Speaking of which, Tattermunge Maniac, Vexing Shusher, Boggart Ram-Gang and Ashenmoor Gouger along with the existing red creatures really makes a strong case moving back toward a creature-heavy red deck. This is an even more enticing possibility if you want to go the extra mile and play the G/R or B/R Liege’s or Demigod of Revenge. Sure you lose the better than improbable possibility of ripping burn three turns in a row, but having an offense that stays consistent turn to turn may become a must with the current life-gain options.

As for the epic-ness of Mirrorweave, I can’t be the only one that wants to see this cast on Wilt-Leaf Liege in a W/G aggro or Elf deck. Swinging with three or more 10+ power guys strikes me in that amused sort of way. I’ll also accept having many Bitterblossom tokens in play and casting this on Scion of Oona. Sure, Overrun is probably better most of the times for a swarm deck, but you can’t blame somebody for trying… or casting it in block.

We have a new Time Walk effect in Savor the Moment and this one actually seems balanced, of course that means we just have to take advantage of the extra turn without being handicapped by lack of mana. I think there’s some real potential to work around with here since gaining an extra turn in a format like Standard can just put you miles ahead of the opponent development wise. There are plenty of ways to break the synergy with Scryb Ranger, Wall of Roots, and the biggie: Garruk Wildspeaker. Here’s a sample list for some ideas.

Savor & Force

4 Scryb Ranger
4 Wall of Roots
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers
4 Spectral Force

4 Ancestral Vision
4 Savor the Moment
4 Rune Snag
4 Garruk Wildspeaker

8 Forest
5 Island
4 Yavimaya Coast
3 Vivid Creek
3 Reflecting Pool
1 Pendelhaven

Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers is the one concession I made to running Savor with the rest of the deck consisting of solid cards you’d play without the potential for abuse with Savor. Spectral Force and Scryb Ranger along with any sort of extra turns is an obvious beating, but Garruk and Savor just demolishes any sort of symmetry the card supposedly has. Casting a Savor with a Garruk in play means you get an unmolested turn with Garruk already powered up to Overrun status or a chance to make multiple Beasts. And haven’t you always thought Ancestral Vision took a turn too long to come out of suspend? Savor itself may not be the greatest, but with a few pieces around it, the Time Walk can become back-breaking.

With any luck you’ve had a chance to see what the set is made of and have some ideas for where to go from here. Shadowmoor has opened a lot of potential design space for deck builders so take advantage of it while you have the chance. The power creep may have given some obvious additions to already good decks, but it also means that a few cards are waiting to be put in a good home and create new archetypes to use.

Until next week.

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom