Feature Article – Shadowmoor Draft: An Allied Color Overview

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Wednesday, July 2nd – With Eventide just around the corner, it seems an opportune time to examine the lessons taught by triple Shadowmoor drafting. Today, Stuart Wright brings us his thoughts on the format as a whole, and in particular the powerful and synergistic allied color pairings that are the key to success in this entertaining format.

This week, I’m going to write about something a little different to my normal Constructed fare. As you can tell from the title, I’m mostly going to talk about drafting with Shadowmoor… but I’ll throw in a little on Sealed play too. While I’m certainly better at Constructed Magic than its Limited counterpart, there are a number of high-level Limited events each year for which I practise heavily. To sustain top-level Magic play, you have to be more than a mere one-format “expert.”

When looking for success in Shadowmoor, there are only five decks you are likely to draft: one for each of the allied color pairs. While it is possible to draft other combinations, you do need a good reason, and only Blue/Red has enough synergy to make this worthwhile. You can, of course, draft a White/Red deck or similar if both such colors are underdrafted at your table, but in general I would start with an allied color pair unless you have a very good reason not to. You gain any three-colored-mana hybrid cards that are opened, as few other players will be able to take them early or highly and remain flexible. On the other side of the coin, you do have a slightly smaller pool in say, straight Blue/White as opposed to Blue/Red… your manabase is greatly improved, and there are some very powerful cards like Mistmeadow Witch.

In general, the format is reasonably fast, with aggressive decks finishing games quickly. There is also a shortage of good removal, so you need to be careful and save it for the really important creatures. This is particularly true against the powerful auras that each color pair packs, and I’m sure you’re aware by now. Most of these can very rapidly swing a game, so anything that can remove them is very powerful.

Drafting in General
This format can be very confusing to draft, and while picking your colors early is easier thanks to the proliferation of Hybrid cards, clearly sometimes you want to respond to what is opened in your draft by your neighbors. The most important thing to do is to work out the colors you are actually committed to, and the colors from which you only have Hybrids. You can easily fall into a trap by drafting five Blue/White cards early, and thinking you should stick to those two colors may see you waste a lot of picks. In fact, even if you switch over to Green/White or Blue/Black, you don’t lose any of those cards. This means it is even more important than normal to try and remember what you have drafted, in order to deduce how open you are to switching colors. Even after the whole first pack has been drafted, it is very possible that you can switch over to a more favourable color set. Think about what you have passed, and consider what might be opened in the second pack. I find in general that you tend to end up with too many playables in triple Shadowmoor, so switching over to a different color pairing has less risk attached to it that in a “normal” format. There are also cards like Flame Javelin, which is still a fine spell for six mana… and the added surprise value does add quite a lot.

Blue/Red and other weird decks
While you gain a lot from being in an allied color pairing, there is a powerful deck within the Blue /Red pairing, mostly based around Power of Fire. While other colors have a few of the “untap” creatures, blue has quite a few common and powerful examples of the mechanic. Silkbind Faerie, while powerful in other decks, very rapidly wins you the game when enchanted with Power of Fire. You can also draft an almost-combo deck with Pili-Pala, putting Presence of Gond or Power of Fire on it. Other than Power of Fire, these are all fairly late picks and the Pila Pala even helps with your mana. This type of deck mostly depends on how highly your fellow drafters value Power of Fire. While people at the GP were happily first-picking it, I have seen it come back 9th or later in other drafts. Another possible deck is the milling style deck. However, in the one draft in which I tried it, I was very unhappy with the end result. Despite not picking any of the cards highly and having four Memory Sluice and three Downer Initiate, I still couldn’t hold people off long enough to run them out of cards before their creatures just killed me. For more information on these fringe strategies, see the collected works of Nick Eisel.

This is my personal favorite of the allied color pairings, and for good reason. White has the most playable and powerful cards of any of the colors, and I feel it pairs better with Blue than Green. You already have a lot of quality creatures, and Blue provides good support spells. You also have the best card from a number of cycles here, such as Mistmeadow Witch (the best of a strong bunch). This Witch will totally dominate a game if not removed, and with enough mana it can protect itself. Remember that the Witch can remove your opponent’s creatures in their end of turn step, and they won’t come back until the end of your next turn, allowing you to remove a lot of their blockers over two turns for your alpha strike.

While there is some competition from the other auras, I feel that Steel of the Godhead is the most powerful. It is cheap, and almost impossible to race. You also have the perfect target for it: Silkbind Faerie. The Faerie is both the perfect target for an aura, and a good answer to other people’s aura-powered guys… in general, is a very high pick. This format favours fast aggressive decks, so drafting a large number of cheap White creatures backed up with Blue fliers and tricks can overwhelm people even when you don’t have Steel of the Godhead to win the race.

A card I feel that is very undervalued in general, and very powerful in this style of deck, is Barkshell Blessing. If you make a number of 2/2 creatures, your opponent will normally make a 3/3 at some point, and this format is pretty low on pump spells. This means you need something like Barkshell Blessing to allow you to continue attacking. Another undervalued trick is Inquisitor’s Snare, which, given the hybrid nature of the set, will normally have some juicy targets in every deck.

This is pretty similar to Blue/White, with the larger Green creatures replacing Blue fliers. While this is not an ideal trade-off, sometimes Green will be a lot more open than Blue. Seedcradle Witch is a very good reason to move into this color pairing, as it makes blocking very difficult, and if you are already ahead it can prevent them from even attacking back if you can afford to leave four mana open. White in general seems to have a lot of removal spells, so unlike normal Green/White it can deal with creatures. Curse of Chains and Prison Term are both answers to almost any creature, including anything with an aura on it.

You don’t have much of a plan other than attacking with large creatures, so combat tricks are even more important here than in Blue/White, and you need early drops so you don’t get too far behind in the early game. Devoted Druid in particular is very powerful, and playing five-drops out on turn 3 can put you a very long way ahead in the early game.

When drafting Shadowmoor, you’ll often be in the situation where you aren’t sure if you want to be Green/White or Green/Red. The biggest selling point for Green/Red is Runes of the Deus, which, although expensive, ends the game very quickly. It often wins even if they could untap and deal with it, as they end up taking fourteen damage the turn you play it on a Scuzzback Marauders. You also gain some quality Red removal in Burn Trail and Puncture Bolt.

I feel that Black is pretty terrible in general, so you do need a good reason to move into it. There are a lot of very good Black uncommons you can open as first picks, such an Incremental Blight or Kulrath Knight. While the other Black cards might provide slim pickings, the hybrid nature of this set allows you to draft mostly Blue cards and just pick up the very best Black ones. You do also have a few very powerful cards, as only you can play such spells as River’s Grasp, which is at worse a removal spell. Returning a cheap creature can effectively kill it, as they can’t replay it before it becomes irrelevant. For this type of deck you need to try and read the signals carefully. It is far more important to work out what people around you are going to do when you are in a weaker color, as even a few close players moving into that color is very bad for you.

This color combination is so weak as to be almost unplayable. You have the weakest cards from each of the cycles, and often fewer removal spells than the Blue/White deck! It can be easy to get sucked into Black when you open an Incremental Blight and then get passed a Burn Trail or similar, but I would strongly suggest you don’t draft this deck.

While drafting is important, there are a number of events that include Sealed deck portions, as we all know. While you might be a Draft master at an event like a Grand Prix, you also have to know how to build a Sealed pool. The most important point to consider in Shadowmoor Sealed, and where is differs from Shadowmoor Draft, is that often the right build will be a non-allied color pairing. You don’t get to select your pool, so you will have less chance to pick up loads of allied cards that work well together. By building White/Red you do gain a few extra cards over something like White/Blue (on average). Laying out your cards in a circle with the hybrid cards in between each color helps you to see which colors are strongest. You probably won’t have time to build all the possible color combinations, so you want to try and eliminate the weakest ones early on so you can narrow down the options somewhat. With Hybrid cards you have the ability to play more of your cards than normal, so Sealed decks tend to be more powerful. This means splashing is a bit different to normal formats. If you have a good deck then you don’t really want to slow yourself down by adding another color. However, if you think your deck is little weak, then you might need to add a third color.

Clearly a lot of this will change when the new set comes out, but you will still be drafting two Shadowmoor packs so I would guess most decks would still be an allied color… but clearly there will be a lot more benefit to drafting the other five options.

Stuart Wright