Wheeling Commons In Innistrad: Crimson Vow Draft

When drafting, the cards you might get the second time you see a pack can influence what you take the first time around. Ryan Saxe shares a draft from Alex Nikolic where “the wheel” is crucial to the correct picks.

Kessig Flamebreather
Kessig Flamebreather, illustrated by Lius Lasahido

I’ve covered the dynamics of Innistrad: Crimson Vow Draft when it comes to how rares and your pool affect the decisions you make. But there’s one more fundamental thing to cover: the pack. While the commons in this format aren’t great, quite a few are high in synergy and only fit in particular versions of archetypes. This means these commons have a high probability of wheeling, and the fact that they may wheel can change what the correct pick out of a pack is.

This is a lesson I originally learned from Christian Calcano, and is the level-up that led me to start winning events and go infinite on Magic Online (MTGO). As an abstract example, you may open a pack with cards A, B, and C. Let’s say A is the best card in the pack. That doesn’t mean A is the best pick. If card C has a high probability of wheeling, it is possible that A + C is not as good as B + C, which makes B the correct pick as long as B is not significantly behind A in terms of power level.

Furthermore, understanding what cards might wheel informs future decisions. If I saw Ancestral Anger in Pack 1, Pick 1 and Pack 1, Pick 2, I may bias more towards Izzet because I believe those cards may wheel. The phenomenon Alex discusses in the Tweet above expands past an individual pack, and implementing this strategy is one of the best ways to navigate a draft into an open archetype.

Keep this in mind when looking at the following packs, as I believe it informs the correct decisions. Alex gave me this draft specifically for this article, so there’s no surprise it is a sufficient example of the lesson.

Pack 1, Pick 2

The Picks So Far:

Hero's Downfall

The Pack:

Geistlight Snare Packsong Pup Sanguine Statuette Blood Fountain Blood Petal Celebrant Chill of the Grave Doomed Dissenter Honored Heirloom Hungry Ridgewolf Kessig Flamebreather Lantern Bearer Sanctify Wolf Strike

The Pick:

Packsong Pup is significantly better than Wolf Strike in general, and it’s one of the few cards that will make me consider a green deck. I would be more interested in the Pup if my first pick were a red or white card, as I like Selesnya and Gruul much more than Golgari and Simic. However, starting with Hero’s Downfall, a premium black card, makes me want to pursue a nongreen path.

Blood Fountain is a solid black common, but it’s not a premium card. I know I have written about staying a single color, but the context of this draft doesn’t lead towards that plan for two reasons. First, my first pick is a good card, but not a bomb. Second, Blood Fountain is just too much worse than the other options in the pack.

Geistlight Snare is a solid playable in any blue deck, and a fantastic card in Azorius, but it’s all-around worse than Lantern Bearer. Even in Azorius, Lantern Bearer is a better card. Add in the fact that Bearer really helps Dimir Exploit, the most likely path given Hero’s Downfall, and the Bearer becomes an exciting pick. And maybe I’ll be lucky and wheel Doomed Dissenter, although this pack isn’t so good that I think that’s reasonable. Hence, I’m taking Lantern Bearer.

Sanguine Statue is a Rakdos gold card, and it’s not even fantastic in every Rakdos deck. However, Rakdos is one of the best decks in the format, and the best versions of Rakdos tend to maximize Sanguine Statue. This pack has quite a few red cards, so one could wheel, but none of the cards that will wheel out of this pack pair well with Statue. I think you could argue for taking the card, but I think Lantern Bearer is a better choice.

As for what will wheel, Kessig Flamebreather probably has a good shot of coming back around. It’s only great in Izzet, and there are three other red cards that are taken higher than Flamebreather by most players. I think Flamebreather is actually better than them in a lot of cases, but since most people disagree with that evaluation, I’m going to note that there’s a higher probability I can draft a copy of Flamebreather. This also bolsters the Lantern Bearer pick, and hopefully I can navigate the rest of this draft towards Dimir or Izzet.

Pack 1, Pick 3

The Picks So Far:

Hero's Downfall Lantern Bearer

The Pack:

Diver Skaab Undead Butler Chill of the Grave Desperate Farmer Flame-Blessed Bolt Rural Recruit Sanctify Selhoff Entomber Sporeback Wolf Steelclad Spirit Vampire Slayer Vampire's Kiss

The Pick:

Undead Butler is incredibly overrated. Yes, Hero’s Downfall is the best card in my pool, so my bias towards black is higher than for any other color. But Diver Skaab and Flame-Blessed Bolt are at least a full tier better than the Butler, hence I don’t think it’s prudent to take the Butler. It’s solid, but not great, in Dimir, and mediocre elsewhere. As a nice shortcut, Diver Skaab is significantly better in Dimir, and also significantly better elsewhere, so it’s hard to come up with logic that leads to Butler over Skaab.

I’m honestly not sure which card is better between Diver Skaab and Flame-Blessed Bolt. I think Skaab can take a blue deck up a notch, but I like red a lot better than I like blue, and efficient interaction is so important to have. I think this pick is a clear Diver Skaab if I didn’t think Kessig Flamebreather would wheel, but that fact makes it close. Think about it this way: if this were Pack 1, Pick 4, and I had a Kessig Flamebreather in my pool, I think I would be a real coin-flip between what is better.

Given that, I think the correct pick is Skaab. I’m not guaranteed to wheel Flamebreather, and with a good blue card in my pool and a black card, taking a strong blue uncommon that is maximized in Dimir makes a lot of sense. But I think this particular decision is a great example of how context related to the expectation of the wheel adjusts how you make decisions. It didn’t end up changing what was correct, but it made an otherwise obvious pick, well, not obvious.

Pack 1, Pick 5

The Picks So Far:

Hero's Downfall Lantern Bearer Diver Skaab Valorous Stance

The Pack:

Change of Fortune Witness the Future Ancestral Anger Chill of the Grave Courier Bat End the Festivities Fear of Death Ragged Recluse Reckless Impulse Witch's Web

The Pick:

I have gotten lower on Witness the Future over time. At the beginning of the format, I saw so many blue decks lose to running out of cards that I thought this card would be premium to help prevent that with a reasonable-rate Impulse. However, as decks have gotten more linear and archetypes solidified, running out of cards is less common. My pool has the strongest pull towards blue, and I wouldn’t blame somebody for taking Witness the Future here, but I no longer think it always makes my blue decks and hence I’m less into it as the pick here. I’ll note that if either of the blue cards in my pool were some bomb like Hullbreaker Horror, Witness the Future would be the correct pick by a significant margin.

Ragged Recluse is a fantastic black common. It’s always nice to have two-drops, and it’s not difficult to flip. While it’s maximized in Rakdos, every black deck has access to plenty of Blood. And, if I end up Dimir, which is the most likely situation if I take Recluse, I can pick up a copy of Selhoff Entomber pretty easily that works really well with both this Ragged Recluse and the Lantern Bearer in my pool. It’s also a good body to sacrifice to exploit once you have exhausted the Entomber’s value.

However, I think the correct pick is Reckless Impulse. True, I don’t have any red cards in my pool. True, my pool biases me most towards Dimir (zero white cards in this pack makes me hesitant to go into white for the Valorous Stance). The thing is, Ragged Recluse will likely be good in my deck, but it’s not going to be premium. Reckless Impulse, on the other hand, is a premium common in every single red deck, and maximized in Izzet.

This fact wouldn’t be enough to get me to pick Impulse. With all the information I have said so far, I think it’s close between Impulse and Recluse, but I would land on Recluse. However, given that I think Kessig Flamebreather will wheel and it’s relatively likely Ancestral Anger wheels out of this pack, I think it’s best to hedge towards Izzet. If the Flamebreather doesn’t wheel, then I can always change course, as I’ll only end up missing a pick or two.

And, as expected, both Ancestral Anger and Kessig Flamebreather wheeled. The draft converged on this pretty ridiculous Izzet deck that Alex took to a trophy!