Gruul Isn’t About Werewolves In Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Limited

Innistrad: Midnight Hunt is a set based around red and green Werewolves. Yet that’s not what Gruul is supposed to do in Limited? Ryan Saxe has some explaining to do!

Shadowbeast Sighting, illustrated by Piotr Foksowicz

Last week, everybody was hating on red in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Limited. So much so that, at least on Arena, it’s open almost every draft. I didn’t expect the adjustment to happen so quickly because a lot of the Arena population doesn’t consume a ton of content. However, it seems like they are this time around because Dimir is rarely open and the red and green cards flow. Because of this, I took it upon myself to explore red for the sake of science. Is the color really that bad or is there some secret to making it work. I was particularly interested in Gruul, as it’s the worst performing deck at the intersection of the worst two colors.

So far, I’ve found red to be really solid. All of the creatures at common are bad except for Festival Crasher, which basically means that heavy red decks need to lean into the spells in order to have good decks. Luckily, lots of spells are better than they look, therefore the quality of red commons aren’t actually that low.

Neonate’s Rush, for example, is just a great spell. Worst case, it’s a cantrip, but there are quite a few one-toughness targets running around, and three mana to destroy a creature and draw a card is backbreaking in Limited.

Electric Revelation is much better than most people think. It’s more of a Divination than a Tormenting Voice. While it has the text of Tormenting Voice, the flashback component actually makes it card advantage. You discard two cards to draw four card, and only use one piece of cardboard to actualize that. I’m very happy to have one in my red decks and I’m often pretty happy to play multiples.

When you add all of this together, my top three red commons are Festival Crasher, Moonrager’s Slash, and Neonate’s Rush. However, I take Burn the Accursed over Neonate’s Rush because Neonate’s Rush wheels all the time and Burn does not.

Festival Crasher Moonrager's Slash Neonate's Rush

I covered the details of Izzet in my article last week, and today I want to explain how this extends to other colors:

  • Rakdos: Don’t draft an aggressive Vampire deck. Instead, draft a midrange deck that can pressure with Festival Crasher. Black provides a density of premium and cheap removal, and unlike other colors, does not have any premium four-drops (e.g. no Organ Hoarder, Shadowbeast Sighting, or Gavony Silversmith). This makes Rakdos the perfect home for Ardent Electromancer. Electromancer doesn’t make your best Gruul, Boros, or Izzet decks, but I’m happy to have multiple in my Rakdos spell decks.
  • Boros: Unlike the other spell decks, Boros can only play the aggressive role. Izzet, Rakdos, and Gruul are inherently midrange decks that use Festival Crasher to facilitate explosive starts when possible. Boros, on the other hand, should be looking for a density of two-drops, and leverages Crasher through combat tricks like Blessed Defiance.
  • Gruul: is not about Werewolves, even though that was the intended design. This is because the Werewolves just aren’t good cards. Sure, there’re some great uncommons that you’re happy to play in your Gruul deck, but don’t build around them. Kessig Naturalist is a great card, but it’s purpose is to pressure the opponent and cast Turn 3 Shadowbeast Sighting, not to function as a Werewolf lord at night. Like all the other red decks, Gruul is a spells deck, and it has a bit more going on than Boros and Rakdos due to the way the green commons contribute.

The two best green commons, Eccentric Farmer and Shadowbeast Sighting, are what gives most green decks their “oomph”. Gruul is no different. Seize the Storm doesn’t get as big as quickly in Gruul because neither red nor green provide one-mana instants or sorceries at common like blue does. However, Farmer helps keep Seize’s sizing reasonable. Casting Electric Revelation or Eccentric Farmer on Turn 3 into Shadowbeast Sighting on Turn 4 often yields a reasonably sized token from Seize the Storm on curve.

Eccentric Farmer Shadowbeast Sighting Harvesttide Sentry

Additionally, the hardest hitting two-drop, after Festival Crasher, is a green card: Harvesttide Sentry. While Sentry isn’t a spell synergy card, it still plays similarly to Festival Crasher in that it can hit card and trade up. Like most historical Gruul archetypes, Gruul is about getting on the battlefield early and hitting hard. It doesn’t actually feel like a spells deck when you play with it, which is why I think many are confused about the archetype. And Shadowbeast Sighting is to blame. Sighting is a chonky creature that hits hard, but it’s also a sorcery, meaning the best Gruul decks that are great at curving out are also the only red decks in the format that can have both a density of creatures and a density of spells!

As I said at the beginning of this article, the good red cards are the spells, not the creatures. Hence, Gruul is the only red archetype that can play a normal Limited gameplan while maximizing the best red commons in the format. The main concern I hear regarding red spells in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt is “what if you draw the wrong half of your deck”? It’s a very real concern. Sometimes you don’t have a creature for the first five turns of the game because, in order to maximize all the cards in your deck, you can’t play more than ten creatures. This is a real disadvantage to the spells archetype. Once I realized that Gruul can leverage all the great red spells without having this particular weakness, I began drafting Gruul decks leaning on spell synergies, and I started winning!

Gruul isn’t the worst archetype, it’s just very unintuitive to build correctly.

Pack 1, Pick 3

The Picks So Far:

Primal Adversary Morbid Opportunist

The Pack:

Covert Cutpurse Defend the Celestus Diregraf Horde Famished Foragers Gavony Silversmith Locked in the Cemetery Plummet Shadowbeast Sighting Siege Zombie Stuffed Bear Tapping at the Window Tavern Ruffian

The Pick:

At the beginning of this format, I thought Covert Cutpurse was much better than Diregraf Horde due to the potential of a three-for-one and the lower mana cost. I was wrong. Horde is one of the best black commons, and is just a higher impact card than Cutpurse. It’s a great card to follow Morbid Opportunist, since the Opportunist works so well with decayed Zombies. While I wouldn’t fault anybody for taking Diregraf Horde here, I think it’s a mistake.

Shadowbeast Sighting is a worse card than Diregraf Horde. But Primal Adversary is a better card than Morbid Opportunist. When you put those facts together, it makes this pick extremely close. What tips everything over the edge for me is the probability black will be open with respect to the probability green will be open.

Looking at the data, the top ten black commons are, on average, taken fourth in a draft. The highest taken green common is taken around fifth in a draft. This means that green is open way more often than black on average. Now, it’s still incredibly important to read signals, and black can still be open, but this leads me to enter every draft with a pretty strong bias away from black. People are taking Hobbling Zombie and Vampire Interloper above Shadowbeast Sighting. If I know I live in that world, and I start with a broken green rare, I would rather stay green than move into black, even if it means taking a worse card. To be honest, I wouldn’t take a significantly worse card, but Shadowbeast Sighting is close enough to Diregraf Horde that I believe it’s correct to take the green card.

Pack 1, Pick 6

The Picks So Far:

Primal Adversary Morbid Opportunist Skaab Wrangler Eccentric Farmer Shadowbeast Sighting

The Pack:

Join the Dance Abandon the Post Bat Whisperer Consider Duel for Dominance Immolation Lunarch Veteran Novice Occultist Secrets of the Key

The Pick:

Secrets of the Key is a Izzet gold card, as Simic has so much to do with the mana that, even with flashback synergies, I don’t care to play Secrets in that color combination. If I were to take a blue card, I’d rather take Consider, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to take a blue card here, even with a Skaab Wrangler in my pool.

Join the Dance and Lunarch Veteran are interesting options to push me towards a Selesnya deck. If I take Veteran to move towards Selesnya, I could put a player I’m passing to into Selesnya. I honestly haven’t drafted Selesnya much, so I’m not sure which of these white cards is better. I’d guess they’re pretty close, and if I were to take one, I would take Join the Dance to cement myself into that lane and not pass the gold card.

Novice Occultist and Bat Whisperer are below filler black creatures for Golgari. While I understand that Morbid Opportunist is a pretty big pull to black, I’m not a fan of Golgari and I’m not going to take a below filler card over above filler cards in other colors.

Duel for Dominance is a card I have been liking more and more lately. particularly as I’ve been exploring Gruul spells. It works beautifully alongside the common package of Festival Crasher and Shadowbeast Sighting and it’s really solid in Selesnya too thanks to that archetype being very good at turning on coven. While I’m not huge on it in Golgari or Simic, it’s still the option that keeps me the most open.

This pick is between Join the Dance and Duel for Dominance. I ended up taking Join the Dance, but I did regret it, as my final deck would have been very happy to have access to the Duel for Dominance. Upon reflection, I still don’t know what the correct pick was. I’m still leaning on Dance as correct, but the more I play with Duel, the more I think I may have been wrong.

Pack 1, Pick 7

The Picks So Far:

Primal Adversary Join the Dance Morbid Opportunist Skaab Wrangler Eccentric Farmer Shadowbeast Sighting

The Pack:

Croaking Counterpart Burn the Accursed Candlelit Cavalry Component Collector Diregraf Horde Mounted Dreadknight Timberland Guide Unblinking Observer

The Pick:

Timberland Guide and Candlelit Cavalry are solid filler green cards. But Burn the Accursed, Diregraf Horde, and Croaking Counterpart are all above par. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: don’t take below-par filler just because it’s in your main color. You won’t miss these cards and it’s best to speculate on your second color. Candlelit Cavalry has overperformed, but not enough to make it above-par.

While I like Burn the Accursed, and this article is about Gruul, my pool currently contains a fantastic blue uncommon and a fantastic black uncommon. With that context, taking a red card is a mistake, especially one that isn’t better than the other options.

I think Croaking Counterpart is underrated. It does so many different things and is splashable. While Diregraf Horde, commonly referred to as “Grave Titan at home”, is a fantastic common, it’s overrated. I think a lot of people would take Horde here, and again, I think it’s a mistake. Both for the reason I said earlier where black is unlikely to be open — although I’ll admit seeing a Horde Pack 1, Pick 7 does increase that probability by enough for me to notice — and for the reason that I don’t like Golgari. At this point, it’s going to be almost impossible to take me off of green. It’s possible I wheel all the blue and black cards and end up Dimir, but the probability of that is slim-to-none. I would rather take Croaking Counterpart because I would much rather be Simic than Golgari, and I think Counterpart and Diregraf Horde are close in power level (with Horde being slightly better).

Pack 2, Pick 1

I’m still in the exact same spot: I only know I’m green, and I can be any green archetype. I basically have lots of great green cards, two good blue cards, two good white cards, two good red cards and two good black cards. With that in mind, what would you take out of this pack?

The Picks So Far:

Primal Adversary Croaking Counterpart Join the Dance Join the Dance Kessig Naturalist Morbid Opportunist Skaab Wrangler Voldaren Ambusher Abandon the Post Burn the Accursed Eccentric Farmer Shadowbeast Sighting Shadowbeast Sighting Siege Zombie

The Pack:

Smoldering Egg Nebelgast Intruder Phantom Carriage Rite of Oblivion Baithook Angler Blood Pact Eaten Alive Electric Revelation Falcon Abomination Geistwave Pestilent Wolf Search Party Captain Stuffed Bear Timberland Guide

The Pick:

Between the blue cards here, I can honestly see an argument for all of them. Falcon Abomination lines up nicely with Skaab Wrangler. My curve currently needs help, which would lead me to want Baithook Anger. I’m low on interaction, which makes Nebelgast Intruder more enticing. And Phantom Carriage is the most powerful card, especially since I have multiple flashback cards to get already. I think the correct pick, if I were to take a blue card, would be Phantom Carriage. Part of this is because, if I really do need a two-drop, one of the green two-drops in this pack will wheel and there’s still plenty of time to find interaction and reasonable three-drops. However, I will say that I’m not ecstatic to take the Carriage here anyways, so I’ll likely look for a different option.

If I haven’t voiced my aversion to black enough, let this be the nail in the coffin. If I had taken the Diregraf Hordes, I would happily take Eaten Alive here. But I didn’t do that. And you might be reading this banging your head against the wall thinking I would have had a great black deck. I wouldn’t have. While you don’t know this from the examples I gave, there were multiple packs in Pack 1 where, when the pack wheeled, three black cards were missing. There are many black decks at this table, and I’m not even looking at this Eaten Alive.

Search Party Captain is the safe pick. With two copies of Join the Dance, I’m set up to have a great Selesnya deck, and this card is one of the only white commons that actually pulls me towards white. I think if I didn’t know that Gruul Spells was a real archetype, I would take Search Party Captain and finally commit to Selesnya. However, I have a strong start for Gruul Spells, and Gruul seems open since I wheeled Kessig Naturalist, Burn the Accursed, and Shadowbeast Sighting in Pack 1. Therefore, the correct pick is Smoldering Egg.

Smoldering Egg is one of my favorite rares in the set, and it’s particularly good in Gruul. With two copies of Shadowbeast Sighting and a Burn the Accursed, transforming the egg in a reasonable curve is not particularly difficult. One of the downsides of Smoldering Egg is that, if you draw it late, it may not do anything. However, this isn’t actually the case in Gruul. The flashback on Shadowbeast Sighting is seven mana, which transforms the Egg all by itself! This leads Egg to be one of the best rares in the entire set for Gruul and is a slam-dunk pick here.

That’s why it’s so important to know how to draft each deck, particularly when the optimal build deviates so far from the expected build. I think a lot of people would miss Egg as an option here just because they only think of Gruul as a Werewolves deck. Don’t make that mistake. Lean into spell synergies when you draft Gruul.

I ended up getting six copies of Shadowbeast Sighting because they kept wheeling, and took this draft to a trophy on Arena! You can see the deck, and the complete draft log, below: