Limited Lessons – Shadowmoor Drafting: Where To Begin

Meet Magic artist John Avon at Grand Prix Indianapolis!
Tuesday, June 10th – While Shadowmoor has been the draft delicacy of choice for some months now, it appears it’s only just being brought to the sumptuous Magic Online table. With a menu of options so mouth-watering, how does a discerning mage judge the first fifteen cards in any given draft? Today, Nick Eisel takes us through three Pack 1 Pick 1 dilemmas, and highlights the analysis and the flexibility required for success in this tempestuous format.

I’ve been providing strategy guides nearly every week, ever since the release of Shadowmoor. My hope has been that this will help you wade through the environment and have a better understanding of the inner workings of each different archetype.

Lately, I’ve realized that while the strategy guides are excellent for someone who knows where they’re going in a draft, they don’t really help you with the beginning few picks. Coupled with that, most of the questions I’ve received of late concern what archetype is best, or what signals should tip you off to head into a specific strategy.

This format is rather odd once you start to play it a lot. When you first start drafting, you think “Oh, this is cool, I can play all of these cards.” Then you draft it a lot, and you start to realize a lot of little things… stuff like the fact that Crabapple Cohort, while being a mono-Green card, is really only good in GR; UB isn’t really very good unless you’re planning to mill; and Silkbind Faerie is the nuts in pretty much every deck. You get the idea… lots of little things start to jump out at you and alter the way you draft.

This week I decided I would crack some packs and talk about how you should start planning for the rest of the draft as early as pick 1 by anticipating what you’ll do if you get passed certain cards, and also which cards fit best in which archetypes. I remember when I first started drafting this format. I felt lost, as it seemed there were a million directions in which you could go, and it was very difficult to determine the best approach just by drafting. Now that I’ve done a lot of drafts, it feels like the “seas have parted,” so to speak. I’m able to see the path more clearly.

For this exercise, I’m going to assume this is Pick 1 Pack 1 of a draft. These are merely packs that I opened at random, so it’s not like I went through and found the most difficult picks you could face in the format. I wanted this to be as realistic as possible, and since the set isn’t online for drafting yet I couldn’t just log in and do a draft.

Draft 1 – Pack 1, Pick 1

Sootstoke Kindler, Faerie Macabre, Curse of Chains, Helm of the Ghastlord, Thistledown Duo, Juvenile Gloomwidow, Drowner Initiate, Bloodshed Fever, Manamorphose, Turn to Mist, Power of Fire, Puresight Merrow, Flourishing Defenses, Fossil Find, Wheel of Sun and Moon

Alright, so taking a quick look at this pack revealed a few things. First of all, the uncommons and rare are all pretty bad except Puresight Merrow (which we’d never take here), so we can just forget about them and focus on commons. Second, this pack has one of the concepts I was hoping to address in this article; Power of Fire versus another good common early in the draft.

I’ve done a lot of theorizing with other good players over AIM, and had a lot of late-night conversations with my roommate, and I’ve come to the conclusion that Power of Fire is my pick for the best common in the set. I know a lot of people prefer Burn Trail or Silkbind Faerie, but the fact of the matter is that while all three are very good cards, Power of Fire is the only Flagship among them. I can’t tell you the number of games I’ve won or lost because Power has come down on an Untap creature and been left unchecked, even just for a turn or two. There are also plenty of archetypes where you can combo up with Power, and you don’t necessarily have to force The Gun archetype I detailed a few weeks ago. If you really think long and hard about the format, I think you’ll come to the same conclusion I have. The resolution of Power of Fire wins lots of games, and it also has the added flexibility of being very splashable.

I think if you polled a random grouping of Pro players, most would take Thistledown Duo from this booster. That being said, I personally don’t think the pick is very close as Thistledown is a pretty narrow card (only being great in UW, which everyone knows is good nowadays), and Power of Fire is not only a stronger card, but it offers more options.

I don’t want people to think “Oh, great, Nick is just on another rant about Power of Fire.” I assure you I’m not. This is a very important concept in triple-Shadowmoor, and it changes the way things would work if the card just didn’t exist. So to answer all of the emails I’ve received in the past month regarding a question similar to this, I prefer Power of Fire over any other common in most situations, and by a large margin.

After taking Power here you should plan to move into something that has Untap creatures (duh, right?). You could also be looking to get into GR, depending what comes in the next few picks.

The rest of this pack is pretty unexciting as far as noting things goes. Had I taken a Blue card, I would certainly note that there was a Drowner Initiate in this pack so that I could plan on moving into the deck if I saw more mill cards going around. Curse of Chains and Turn to Mist are two of the more interesting cards in the pack, because both have odd places in the format. As I mentioned last week, I didn’t even like Turn to Mist at the beginning of the format, but it’s a card I’ll always happily play as a one-of now that I understand the necessity to kill Auras. Curse of Chains is also proving to be the best “lockdown” enchantment for Limited in quite some time, and I definitely like it a lot more than I did Melancholy or something similar.

Draft 2 – Pack 1 Pick 1

Raven’s Run Dragoon, Chainbreaker, Silkbind Faerie, Consign to Dream, Oona’s Gatewarden, Runes of the Deus, Scrapbasket, Strip Bare, Scarscale Ritual, Intimidator Initiate, Safehold Elite, Jaws of Stone, Raking Canopy, Corrosive Mentor, Thistledown Liege

This pack is a bit more interesting, even if there really are two cards that stand out again. A lot of people like to do the “what would you take in this situation” question gambit via AIM. Jaws of Stone has been by far the most frequent card to come up in these situations, and I suspect that’s because it’s very strong but also very hard to evaluate early in a draft when you’re unsure how you’ll end up. A nice thing Jaws (and the others in the cycle) have going for them is that Elsewhere Flask is at common and could potentially allow you to splash the card in a deck that couldn’t even cast it naturally. The other biggie in the pack is, of course, the Liege, who isn’t exciting except for the fact that he’s a Liege, and UW is one of the top decks.

Okay, so he’s pretty exciting. You got me.

This is yet another decision based largely on commitment and options, and these cards have similar amounts of both elements. Thistledown Liege is only really going to shine in UW, but will still be playable in GW or something like UR (I really, really dislike UB, so I’m not even giving it the satisfaction of being an option here). I think this pick ends up coming down to color preference a lot of the time, since you can make a good argument for either card. Personally I’d go with the Jaws of Stone here because it is slightly less committing and fits better in multiple archetypes. After taking it, I’d be looking to head into GR or BR most likely, or else pick up a couple of Elsewhere Flasks to allow for some kind of crazy splash deck.

The rest of the pack is pretty strong too, with Silkbind Faerie, Consign to Dream, and Safehold Elite being the highlights. Obviously the Faerie is the best of these cards. The beauty about a first-pick Silkbind Faerie is that you have a world of options in terms of archetypes you can go into.

Draft 3 — Pack 1 Pick 1

Scar, Boggart Arsonists, Presence of Gond, Briarberry Cohort, Safehold Sentry, Consign to Dream, Thornwatch Scarecrow, Rustrazor Butcher, Safewright Quest, Aphotic Wisps, Woeleecher, Tattermunge Witch, Grief Tyrant, Spiteflame Witch, Heartmender

When I first opened this pack I thought it looked like total garbage, until I analyzed it further. It turns out that this is actually a pretty interesting booster to start out a draft with because it offers lots of temptation and it’s tough to determine the right pick on the fly. I’ve had a couple of sick GW decks with a few Persist guys and Heartmender, so it’s possible I overvalue him a bit. All three uncommons are also excellent.

When you really get down to it, the best options in this pack are Briarberry Cohort and Grief Tyrant. The other cards are all narrower options, in that they will usually only be good in one archetype or possibly two at best. Yeah, both Witches are great, but they’re narrow for a first pick. If it was the UW or possibly GW Witch, this pick could be a bit harder as I rate those ones higher on the overall scale, and the UW Mistmeadow Witch is basically a bomb. Anyway, I was able to narrow this pick down pretty quickly simply by thinking in terms of future options in the draft, which is something you should start practicing on your own.

Let me quickly outline my thinking for the relevant cards in this pack.

Scar: Solid but not good enough here.
Boggart Arsonists: Meh, worse than Scar and definitely not a first pick.
Presence of Gond: Only really great in The Gun or GR, and there are better options here. You can see hopefully how this differs from Power of Fire, which I would instantly take from this booster.
Briarberry Cohort: Excellent flier, good in multiple archetypes, a definite contender.
Safehold Sentry: Good in multiple archetypes but there are better options here.
Consign to Dream: One of my favorite cards in the format, but the Cohort is simply a better Blue pick.
Witches: Both of these take two colors of mana to activate, so they will be very restrictive. Neither is that great as a reason to instantly commit to an archetype too, especially when there are more flexible options available.
Grief Tyrant: Flexible, strong card, multiple archetypes, contender.
Heartmender: Narrow.

If you can do an analysis like the above very quickly, while keeping the entire format in mind, you should be in good shape in this format.

I decided I would take the Briarberry Cohort from this pack, as the format is very aggressive overall and I also like Blue a little better than the options Grief Tyrant provides. I certainly couldn’t argue too much with anyone who took the Tyrant from this pack, but I really think the Cohort is just a better all-round pick.

I hope this article was a nice change of pace and also helps you to think more broadly about your picks during a draft. Unfortunately I’m unable to attend Grand Prix: Indianapolis because of a vacation that was scheduled about a year ago. I feel like I have a strong handle on the format overall, and I’m pretty annoyed that I can’t attend, but I guess I’ll have to remedy that by long days of doing nothing but enjoying the time off. Good luck if you’re going, and hopefully this helps anyone who is testing a lot.

Nick Eisel
[email protected]