I have to admit it… I was wrong.
Last week I was pretty unexcited about Shadowmoor and thought it looked pretty bland on paper. It just so happens that the set is actually very deep for Limited play and quite possibly one of the most skill intensive Sealed Deck formats ever. Sealed has always been a difficult format to balance in terms of how a set is designed because it’s very easy for bombs to just take over or for the decks to build themselves. While the bombs can certainly take over in Shadowmoor at times due to the lack of good removal I think that the games are very deep in terms of strategy and a lot of the card pools are close to impossible to ever settle on a correct build. I definitely think we all owe Wizards a pat on the back as far as Shadowmoor Limited is concerned.
This week I want to highlight some initial thoughts on the format as well as a bunch of cards that stood out. Before I start though I want to get some feedback from you guys on the format I’m planning on using in coming weeks. It seems to me that the best way to break the set down for closer examination is to look at the color pairs as archetypes and also discuss splashing options from other guilds. If anyone has a better idea in terms of format feel free to suggest it in the forums.
I’m gonna start with a card that probably looks pretty mediocre on paper. Once you’ve played the format, you’ll realize that this guy isn’t really meant for color-fixing, he was born with greater intentions.
Allow me to introduce you to the new machine gun of Limited Magic. Attach a Power of Fire to this little guy and he effectively becomes a Fireball divided as you choose every turn. Since he makes mana it only costs one mana per shot after the initial activation. This will work pretty well on any creature with the Untap ability, but Pili-Pala has the added bonus of a cheap cost for untapping. There is also Presence of Gond in the common slot which will allow you to rapid fire out some Elves. This is the stuff that Mistform Wall and Lavamancer’s Skill are made of, and in all likelihood Pili-Pala and Power of Fire make that combo look juvenile. This makes Power of Fire an even higher pick than it normally would be and our small friend the Scarecrow a high pick if you have any chance of ever assembling/casting the combo.
Consign to Dream
One of the first things I noticed about this set is that there are a ton of Auras that are very playable in the common slot. All of the Shields are pretty strong, and there’s Power of Fire, Presence of Gond, etc. The natural reaction to this situation is that bounce spells go up considerably in value. This particular bounce spell is amazing in the format because of the high number of hybrid cards. I haven’t gone through the spoiler, but you should be able to put at least half of the creatures in the format on top of their owner’s library, if not more. At first glance this may look like another Venser’s Diffusion, Regress, or ordinary bounce spell. I assure that it is so much more, and definitely something to prioritize if you’re in Blue.
I overheard a number of conversations about this card at the prerelease. Some people were saying it wasn’t great in draft because the format seems aggressive and you want to be casting a creature on turn 2 instead of something that doesn’t really affect the board. While this type of thinking may have merit, I don’t really agree with it at all. If you’re under pressure you can always wait to play this later when you have spare mana.
This card does so much, for basically no investment. You pay two mana, it cantrips, and then it helps you out later. It turns on the entire Corrupt cycle to get maximum value out of Flow of Ideas or Jaws of Stone. It allows you to splash with ease. Hybrid bombs like Godhead of Awe, which can be tough to cast if you’re not in UW, are suddenly coming out on turn 5 every time you have this. This allows you to splash cards with double color in their mana symbols as well, and it doesn’t take drawing two fixers to be able to cast them. I love this card and strongly suggest you try it out for yourself.
Speaking of a card that does literally everything… This is a three mana 2/2 that acts as both a Birds of Paradise and a Tidal Visionary, both of which are amazing in this type of format. The beauty of Scutts is that he lets you accelerate early in the game and then stays useful in the late game by turning off any color effects that are on board. You can turn off the “3/3 unblockable by X” color cycle, shut down the Auras, and power down the Cohorts. I’m sure I’m missing plenty of other applications, but the idea is that a Tidal Visionary effect is very desirable in this format, and this one also allows acceleration and color-fixing which is pretty much the entire package.
This guy was an absolute house for me in the prerelease. While I don’t expect he will be as amazing once people have played with the set more often, he will still remain very strong just because of the set’s huge amount of emphasis on -1/-1 counters. At the prerelease this guy picked off three Sickle Rippers and a Rustrazor Butcher simply because my opponents didn’t realize that Wither wouldn’t do anything against the Kite. This is essentially the nut card against a BR deck since they need a Puncture Bolt to really get rid of it, and a lot of their creatures have Wither.
I want to take this time to discuss my thoughts on the Wither mechanic. I feel like more often than not you’d rather have regular damage than Wither because there are a lot of creatures in the set that make Wither a liability rather than a benefit. The only situation where I really like the mechanic is with first strike or if you’re in a chumpblocking mode… and let’s be honest with ourselves, if you’re chumpblocking you’re either racing with evasion for the win or you’re probably in a lot of trouble. There are also a number of creatures that remove -1/-1 counters from any creature, and that will go against any longterm effects Wither might otherwise have.
This card was played on me a lot at the prerelease and I really think it’s pretty awful. I was never a huge advocate of Runed Stalactite in the past and I think this card is much worse as far as mediocre equipments go. I really don’t think this is playable in Sealed since you shouldn’t be hurting for playables due to all of the guild mana cards. I am also certain that this is just awful in draft unless you have some crazy combo with it.
Shield of the Oversoul
This is the best of the cycle of guild Auras, granting both flying and indestructibility. There are also a few excellent GW two-drops like Safehold Elite and Medicine Runner that can go to the air on turn 3 and be very difficult to stop. Godhead of Steel is also excellent in UW, and all of the Auras are playable if you have enough double colored creatures to armor up. The mere existence of Shield of the Oversoul could make GW a very difficult archetype to beat.
I’m not sure about the BR Duo as I haven’t seen it in action, but all of the others were excellent while in play. I especially like the GR and UW versions. I’m sure you guys already know that these are excellent creatures, but the point is that they should be picked very highly as they can enable some sick starts, and they play well with a lot of the set’s mechanics.
I saw someone cast Torture on this at the prerelease, and it was rather humorous. This guy is deceptively strong for a bunch of reasons. He smashes Wither creatures with ease, as well as allowing some late game splash cards. My roommate drafted a GR deck that was splashing for Swans of Bryn Argoll and Windbrisk Raptor off a couple of Elsewhere Flasks and a pair of Morselhoarders. Don’t be afraid to manaburn during combat to keep this guy alive.
This is a cycled Choking Tethers that also has the ability to turn off some color-based effect in a pinch. This card is just amazing for UW or GW aggro, and by far the best of the Wisps. It may look like just another cantrip on paper, but when you combine this with Somnomancer in an aggressive UW build you have the tools to keep the pressure on without even spending a card.
I saw this completely destroy an attack step when someone attacked with a creature enchanted by Shield of the Oversoul and it came crashing to the ground. Tidal Visionary was considered garbage when Invasion came out, and I suppose it will take some time but you really should start valuing these guys early and get practice in with them as the applications can be a bit tricky. There really are so many things you can do with a card like this to generate some kind of board advantage.
In Sealed, this is an insta-maindeck. In Draft I feel like you can maindeck it a lot too, but I’m not as sure. I think it will depend on how many Shield of the Oversoul/Godhead of Steels you saw, or if there were other good targets. If you’re unsure and have plenty of playables then you should probably just leave it in the board until you see a reason to bring it in. I certainly couldn’t fault anyone for coming prepared with this maindeck in a draft.
I figured I should also list my Sealed from the Prerelease that I piloted to a Top 8 finish. I’m not going to list the sideboard for a couple of reasons. First, I honestly think this was one of the easier decks to build in comparison to the average card pool. All of the best cards were in Blue, and the other colors didn’t have a ton to offer except for a Spawnwrithe. I also think it’s really hard to build these decks just by looking at the card names on paper and that you actually need the cards in front of you to try all of the options. That being said, I probably would’ve built it a card or two differently at the end of the day after learning more about the set.
2 Silkbind Faerie
Consign to Dream
Torrent of Souls
Ghastlord of Fugue
This is basically mono-Blue with all of the hybrid cards, and I’m splashing for Torrent of Souls, Boggart Arsonists, Burn Trail, and Cinderhaze Wretches. I had a Smash to Smithereens (the new Shatter, deal 3 damage) in my sideboard that I boarded in almost every round, and it’s likely I should’ve played it maindeck. Just about everybody has Scarecrows in Sealed, and there are also some good Uncommon Artifacts to kill. Ghastlord of Fugue essentially was a big Covert Op as his ability doesn’t usually do anything unless he comes down on turn 5. Silkbind Faerie is also far better than the average tapper in most situations, which probably isn’t too surprising.
My initial impression of the format is that more than ever before in draft you need to be developing a plan with each pick you make. If you take card X, what paths does that open up? What archetypes are likely best for this type of plan? What cards can I expect, and what should I be prepared for? Every pick should be part of some bigger plan once we learn the format, and there is certainly plenty of room for improvising as well as for error. I’m looking forward to doing a lot of drafting and starting my series on archetypes next week (or possibly the week after if I want to get some more practice in). Hopefully this article gives you a taste of the new format that we’ll be exploring in the coming weeks.