Peebles Primers – Shadowmoor Limited in Action

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Wednesday, April 23rd – It seems that the new set has everyone’s pulse racing, and Benjamin Peebles-Mundy is no exception. Today he shares his prerelease experience, with no less than three Sealed Deck cardpools and a couple of drafts for us to pick our way through. He also shares some of the more successful strategies he’s had of late, and highlights some cards and tactics of note for the format going forward.

The end of last week was one of the best times to be a Magic player at CMU. Not only was the Prerelease coming up, we got Thursday and Friday off for the annual Spring Carnival. While I’d usually be in class all day on Thursday, instead I found myself getting ready to relax, hang out with friends, and see where the drink might take us.

Most of us managed to get out of Carnival unscathed, but one of my roommates was not so lucky. When we returned early from FNM to get a little bit of fun in our veins, we found him playing Rock Band much more enthusiastically than usual. At first we thought that he was simply really into the game, but as the night progressed it became clear that he had pre-gamed with intensity.

My other roommates and I had ourselves a good time, relaxing on the porch with a hard-won pizza and a couple of reasonable beverages. The last roommate, though, was running up and down the streets barefoot, hugging cars, and spending his free time hurling books at our front window. We managed to get him settled down, wearing not much beyond a bath towel, at around three in the morning. The rest of us retired an hour or two later.

I woke up the next morning without needing my alarm. This would be strange on any day, but it was even stranger given that we’d been having a good time the night before. One of my roommates was shouting from the front porch; he’d been locked out while on a bagel run to the Bruegger’s up the street. When I went to let him in, I found the adventurous roommate still in quite the state on our living room couch. In addition to looking clearly worse for wear, the room around him showed plenty of signs of his hard times during the night.

Stomach problems are nothing to a die-hard Magic player from CMU, though, and he managed a herculean effort and was ready to roll out the door at 8:50, ten minutes ahead of schedule. News of his antics the night before had spread across Pittsburgh as he slept on our couch, and when we arrived at the tournament site, he was presented with a strawberry cake as a token of appreciation for brightening everyone’s day. His first-round opponent was a child of maybe eight years who had absolutely no idea how anyone could look so tired at noon.

Spring Carnival antics aside, the Prerelease went very well for CMU. Four people that regularly play on campus made the Top 8 of the main event, while two people we know from a nearby store also made it in. We looked over each other’s sealed decks, and spent our free time the next day running some drafts.

Here is everything I know about Shadowmoor Limited.

Shadowmoor Sealed Deck

My Sealed Pool

At the time I sat down to register a sealed deck, I thought that the format was going to be all about the control decks. I looked over the spoiler and saw all sorts of amazing bombs like Incremental Blight and Jaws of Stone that could take out someone’s entire team, and figured it would be about who could get their one guy to stick in play. It also seemed like a lot of the two-drops were weak, and that control decks could use the Persist mechanic to double up on an aggressive deck, buying plenty of time for the big cards to take over. By the end of the day, though, I was thinking just the opposite.

When I opened this pool, there were a handful of cards that really caught my eye: Prison Term, Repel Intruders, Biting Tether, Gloomlance, Jaws of Stone, Wort, and the two Rhys. Unfortunately, my Black cards didn’t run too deep, so Gloomlance was the first that I gave up on. I went back and forth over Jaws and Wort, but my Red was similarly shallow and the Green cards that I really wanted to play were hybrid Green/White.

Not only did playing Blue/White give me access to the great GW Hybrids, it gave me some solid evasion and the highest concentration of good spells, even if the best of them was not on the same level as something like Jaws of Stone. Plus I had plenty of bombs in these colors; it was pretty hard to feel bad about leaving Jaws on the sidelines when I had Biting Tether and two Rhys in my deck.

I spent a few minutes during deckbuilding trying to decide how many of the Hybrid enchantments I wanted to run, and I was leaning towards not playing them until I managed to read them and found the word “indestructible” on the Green/White one. I knew that I still risked running into things like Turn to Mist, but the idea of an unstoppable Griffin Guide that could also save my Rhys from a lot of the best removal was too much to pass up. I decided not to run the Blue/White one because I didn’t want to push it; the idea of drawing a hand of two auras, one creature, and four lands frightened me.

My Sealed Deck

2 Rhys the Redeemed
1 Somnomancer
1 Medicine Runner
2 Safehold Elite
1 Plumeveil
1 Augury Adept
1 Raven’s Run Dragoon
1 Knacksaw Clique
1 Kinscaer Harpoonist
1 Merrow Grimeblotter
2 Merrow Wavebreakers

1 Niveous Wisps
1 Barkshell Blessing
1 Prison Term
2 Shield of the Oversoul
1 Repel Intruders
2 AEthertow
1 Biting Tether

10 Plains
7 Island

This deck played in essentially two modes. My primary route to victory was simply to fly over the top, either by suiting up a Safehold Elite and swinging for four in the air on turn 3 or by going the fair route with my Blue creatures. My secondary gameplan was to enter Rhys token-swarm mode; I won two matches by swinging with thirty-two Elf Warriors in the late game.

Interestingly, at least to me, this was the first sealed deck I ever built that I chose to play with. In all other formats, I’ve gone with the power build, splashing my best cards, playing eighteen lands, and drawing first. I thought that I had an offensive monster on my hands, and I did. I did lose some games, but my deck felt massively more powerful than my opponents’ decks over the course of the day.

At a certain point, I realized that I might have been very wrong about how the format was going to play out. All of the sealed decks at the top tables were aggressive. Sure, they had some “control” bombs in them like Order of Whiteclay, but they were widely being used to press offensive edges. The first game that I lost on the day featured my opponent curving out with Nurturer Initiate, Safehold Elite, Boggart Ram-Gang, Witherscale Elves, and more. Everywhere I looked, the guy coming out of the gates fastest was the one who won.

Kevin’s Sealed Pool

Kevin’s best cards are almost certainly Prison Term, Biting Tether, Incremental Blight, and Rhys. He felt like he couldn’t get away with Red or Blue cards in his deck, since those colors just didn’t offer him enough to really build a full deck.

Kevin told me that he felt he needed to play Green for his creatures, leaving him looking at either Green/Black or Green/White. He also really wanted to play White for the Prison Term and two Inquisitor’s Snares. After all, we’d heard from the event staff that the most popular decks in the early flights was Red/Black. I think that it’s hard to justify leaving the Incremental Blight on the sidelines, but the new format can make things hard to consider correctly. When you look at a deck that contains cards like Rhys the Redeemed, Mercy Killing, and Barkshell Blessing, it’s hard to avoid defaulting into Green/White, even when you could easily play those cards in Green/X.

After the event completed, Kevin said that he wished he’d built his deck as Green/Black. While he’d be giving up three solid removal spells, he would gain Incremental Blight and Gloomlance, which I agree more than make up for the loss of the White cards. Kevin also expressed interest in running Blowfly Infestation, especially given the Incremental Blight and multiple Wither cards he could play. I like the idea of the Infestation, but I haven’t gotten a chance to play with it, so I don’t have a solid evaluation of it one way or the other.

Steve’s Sealed Pool

Steve spent a large portion of the day bemoaning his deck’s weak creatures and weaker spells. While this pool includes some bombs in Jaws of Stone and Furystoke Giant, and some solid spells like Power of Fire and Mistmeadow Witches, it didn’t have nearly as much power as most of the decks at the upper tables. You never like to see Worldpurge and Enchanted Evening taking up your rare slots.

Because of this, Steve decided that the best way to win matches would be to run people over as fast as he could. At the beginning of the day, this sounded somewhat foolish, but by now you can probably tell that I think that this is nothing out of the ordinary. He felt that he couldn’t get away from his Red bombs, and that they were best paired with the small guys that Black offered. He managed to run his underpowered deck into the Top 8, though, so it was hard to feel too bad for him.

Shadowmoor Draft

With four boxes in our hands after the main event completed, how could we do anything but draft? Early drafts are always very interesting to me, because they put me in a situation that I’m not necessarily sure I can handle, and because they let me see how everyone else evaluates the new cards before they’ve become set in their opinions.

We did two drafts, one eight-man and one three-versus-three. I usually find myself very far behind when a new set comes out; one of my biggest weaknesses as a Magic player is that I overvalue new cards that eventually turn out to be marginal, so I can easily waste my early picks on cards that aren’t worth spending my time on. While there is evidence of this in the two drafts following, I also found myself experiencing quite a bit of success. In the same way I talked about the three sealed pools above, I’ll quickly cover my draft decks, why I drafted what I did, and what I liked and disliked about each.

My First Draft

1 Safehold Elite
2 Briarberry Cohort
2 Somnomancer
1 Puresight Merrow
2 Ballynock Cohort
1 Leech Bonder
2 Thistledown Duo
1 Silkbind Faerie
2 Rune-Cervin Rider
1 Raven’s Run Dragoon
1 Wanderbrine Rootcutters
1 Watchwing Scarecrow
2 Merrow Wavebreakers
2 Niveous Wisps
2 Barkshell Blessing
9 Plains
8 Island

The draft itself was not that strange for me. My first ever Shadowmoor pack was not very exciting at all, and I found myself first-picking a Scuttlemutt so that I could keep my options open. The card that I would have taken had I not decided on Scuttlemutt was Safehold Elite, and when I realized that I was considering first-picking a Grizzly Bear, I decided to just wait and see what the second pack would tell me.

I decided that Briarberry Cohort was a good reason to move into some sort of Blue deck, and the Thistledown Duo that came after it put me solidly into Blue/White aggro. In retrospect, it wouldn’t have been so bad to take the Safehold Elite, but I think that it made sense to keep my options open.

After a relatively uneventful first pack that gave me some solid aggro men and a few more flyers, I opened Grim Poppet in the second pack. While I think I’d usually quickly pick the Poppet, my deck at the time didn’t look like it was heading to a point where I was going to be able to play the Poppet most of the time I drew it. Instead, my deck featured primarily two- and three-drops, and only one four-drop, so I decided to take the Poppet’s little brother: Leech Bonder. Both kill opposing guys with -1/-1 counters, but I figured that it was much more likely I’d be able to actually get some use out of the Bonder than the Poppet.

After that, everything went smoothly. I continued to pick extremely aggressive cards, even going so far as taking Somnomancer over Curse of Chains simply because one of them would let me keep up the relentless attack while the other was “just” a removal spell. If the Curse tapped the creature when it came into play, I probably would have picked it, but the Somnomancer was going to activate my Cohorts and let me swing unmolested.

I would have preferred to have more early Hybrid drops, just to make sure that both flavors of Cohort always had friends, but this deck wound up being quite strong. I quickly rolled over a Red/Black deck that managed to steal a game with Knollspine Invocation and a last-turn topdeck to burn me out, but in the other two games I just never let him get off the ground. The next match was quite similar; my Blue control opponent couldn’t do enough in the early turns, and when I was able to punch through Oona with a Conspired Barkshell Blessing, the match was over. The last round featured my first aggressive opponent, but he was Green/White, and so he was slightly slower and had less evasion. Unfortunately for him, this meant that I was able to just run over him with the blue Cohort, Thistledown Duo, and Rune-Cervin Riders.

After looking at a main event filled with aggressive sealed decks, the two most aggressive draft decks in our pod met in the finals. I am fairly confident that this is not just coincidence; Shadowmoor Limited is defined by the aggressive decks. You either need to be able to keep pace with your creature drops, or you need to be able to handle someone consistently coming out of the gates at blistering speed.

My Second Draft

1 Sickle Ripper
1 Somnomancer
1 Inkfathom Witch
1 Silkbind Faerie
1 Leech Bonder
1 Wasp Lancer
1 Gravelgill Duo
1 Wingrattle Scarecrow
1 Kinsbaile Harpoonist
1 Knacksaw Clique
4 Wanderbrine Rootcutters
1 Gravelgill Axeshark
1 Isleback Spawn
1 Scar
1 Curse of Chains
1 Scarscale Ritual
1 River’s Grasp
1 Gloomlance
1 Biting Tether
1 Dire Undercurrents
9 Swamp
8 Island

Unlike the previous draft, I was quite happy with my first-pick Leech Bonder. The pack wasn’t too deep, and I later found out that the opponent to my left had second-picked Somnomancer out of the pack. The only other card in the pack that I had my eye on was Helm of the Ghastlord, but it failed to find its way back to me. My second pick was Blowfly Infestation, which Kevin had been talking about since reconstructing his sealed deck. I figured that if there was ever a time to make it work in draft, it was second-pick after taking Leech Bonder first. My third pick was a Dire Undercurrents that I wanted to try out; you don’t get many opportunities to experience rares, so you have to take them when you do.

The rest of the draft proceeded normally. I took removal spells extremely highly, even over the best creatures I could expect to get (like Gravelgill Duo), as good removal is rare in Shadowmoor. The two difficult picks I had to make in the second and third packs were Biting Tether versus Furystoke Giant and River’s Grasp versus Gloomlance. For the first decision, I wound up taking Biting Tether, as Persuasion is an absolute bomb, and the -1/-1 counters could easily be managed by Leech Bonder, or at least combo with the Infestation. I knew that the Giant would go into my opponent’s deck, and the hate-draft was certainly defensible, but I figured that a bomb for me was worth a bomb for them. For the second decision, I went with River’s Grasp for two reasons. First, it’s cheaper; four mana is quite a lot less than five. Second, I think that its added utility is better than Gloomlance’s. Gloomlance snags an extra card against three of the five two-color pairs, but River’s Grasp can bounce a problem and steal an even stronger card from the opponent’s hand. It will always return the biggest problem on board to their hand, and then get rid of the biggest problem they’re saving for later.

By the end of the draft, I was really wishing I’d seen more two-drops. I wasn’t exactly upset about the four Wanderbrine Rootcutters and two four-drop flyers I had, but I would have greatly preferred to have some bears to start the beats earlier. That was not to be, though, and I didn’t mind it too much.

I wound up not playing the Infestation or many of the cards that could combo with it (such as two copies of Torture) because I didn’t think I could find the room for them. I wasn’t willing to cut any of the spells in the above decklist, and I didn’t think I could handle cutting out enough creatures to fit in all the cards I would need to really abuse the Infestation. I did play the Dire Undercurrents, though I ended up sideboarding it out in two of three matches, as it was just too slow to risk having it clog up my hand. In those cases, I brought in Memory Plunder to piggyback my opponent’s removal spells. I always like to test-drive rares, and Memory Plunder did not disappoint.

The games were not too informative. My first match was against a Black/Red control deck, and the first two games were one-sided affairs for one of us, while the other sat there and did nothing. In game 3, I cast River’s Grasp on his Hybrid bear enchanted with Fists of the Demigod, and took Incremental Blight out of his hand, which essentially won the game right there. My second match was against a Green/White aggressive deck that just completely outclassed me with creatures like Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers while I tried to get something going with Gravelgill Duo. My last match was against a Green/Red fat deck that used Devoted Druid and Farhaven Elf to accelerate into one of his handful of enormous men. Unfortunately, I had approximately one removal spell for each of his fatties, and his mana accelerators couldn’t match my actual creatures.

All in all, I really enjoy Shadowmoor Limited. I have heard from other people that they believe that the format is slow and controlling, which I certainly would have believed three days ago. Now, however, my main point of advice is that you need to watch out for the second and third turns of the game, because you might win or lose the game then and there without realizing it until a few turns later. All of the successful decks the CMU players have seen, across multiple sealed and draft events, have been aggressive. I’m sure that competitive control decks exist, but they don’t work the same way we’ve come to expect.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the forums, via email, or on AIM.

Benjamin Peebles-Mundy
ben at mundy dot net
SlickPeebles on AIM