How To Pivot Positively In Innistrad: Crimson Vow Limited

Pivoting is a vital skill in MTG Draft, and especially with Innistrad: Crimson Vow. Ryan Saxe shows how to pivot with a tough draft that led to a trophy.

Halana and Alena, Partners, illustrated by Jason Rainville

Last week I wrote what I believe is an extremely important article to read in order to succeed in Innistrad: Crimson Vow Limited. Today’s article takes this to the next level. This set has two fundamental properties that modify how to navigate the draft:

  1. There are an incredible amount of bomb rares.
  2. The commons have a relatively flat power level.

I covered the first property in last week’s article to demonstrate how to maximize the probability you can play your first pick bomb. But the second property introduces interesting micro-decisions around building your deck and pivoting in Pack 1. Navigating the early parts of the draft in most formats is about identifying the best cards in the pack in a vacuum, but when the commons have such a flat power level and bias to your first pick is so high, it’s easy for the context of your pool to shift the way you prioritize commons in meaningful ways. And these shifts are much more than “taking a worse card in the color of your bomb.” 

The pack below presents a common variant of these subtle shifts in priority at common.

Pack 1, Pick 3

The Picks So Far:

Halana and Alena, Partners Flame-Blessed Bolt

The Pack:

Catapult Fodder Lantern of the Lost Alchemist's Retrieval Ceremonial Knife Diregraf Scavenger Grisly Ritual Kessig Flamebreather Mulch Piercing Light Ragged Recluse Repository Skaab Wedding Invitation

The Pick:

Between the three black cards, Diregraf Scavenger is the best card. I have Scavenger as the second-best black common, and Ragged Recluse as the third. Catapult Fodder is a key card for Golgari, but Golgari is my least-favorite archetype in the format. I’ll draft Golgari if something like Catapult Fodder or Ancient Lumberknot goes quite late, but I’m never taking them early.

Given what I’ve said, you probably think I like Diregraf Scavenger here, but I actually don’t. Yes, Scavenger is a better card than Ragged Recluse, but Recluse is much better than Scavenger in Rakdos. Given that I don’t like Golgari and I have a red bomb rare and one of the best red commons, I think Recluse is the better black card to take. But do the other cards compete?

I’m higher on Ceremonial Knife than most. Blood tokens are among the best Limited mechanics of all time. I’ll play Ceremonial Knife in almost all of my non-green decks, and green is also the worst color, so I play it quite a bit. That being said, I do have a green bomb rare, which makes me less inclined to take it here. It’s a flexible pick, but it’s not good enough with respect to Ragged Recluse to make me take the pick for flexibility.

The only reason I have Mulch and Kessig Flamebreather as options is because they are the only red and green cards in the pack. This gives me the opportunity to send a very strong signal that either green or red is not open. This is because there’s always at least one common of each color in each pack. I very rarely recommend using this logic to make a pick, but with a card as good as Halana and Alena, Partners, it’s important to consider.

Kessig Flamebreather is better than Mulch, red is better than green, and my pool has a stronger bias towards red than green. If I were to try to cut a color to maximize the probability I can play Halana, it would be red, at least at this junction in the draft. But it’s not the correct pick here. The black commons are too much better than Kessig Flamebreather to pass up for such marginal value.

I believe the correct pick is Ragged Recluse. And Pack 1, Pick 5 presents a similar situation with slightly different context.

Pack 1, Pick 5

The Picks So Far:

Halana and Alena, Partners Flame-Blessed Bolt Ragged Recluse Dawnhart Disciple

The Pack:

Adamant Will Binding Geist Courier Bat Cradle of Safety Lightning Wolf Sanctify Scattered Thoughts Vampire's Kiss Witch's Web Wretched Throng

The Pick:

Here, we have a similar situation: non-premium commons in colors that don’t overlap with my bomb rare, and two pretty bad commons that do overlap colors with my bomb rare. The main differences are: 

  1. I have another green card in my pool, further pulling me towards Halana.
  2. The card quality in this pack is even lower than Pack 1, Pick 3. Basically, no matter what card I take out of this pack, I believe it has less than a 10% probability of making my final deck.

Courier Bat and Scattered Thoughts are certainly the best cards in this pack. Courier Bat is only guaranteed to be played in Orzhov, and is most often in the sideboard for other black decks. Scattered Thoughts is a good card, probably the second-best blue common. However, it’s pretty clunky and I often cut the second copy depending on what my curve and density of card advantage looks like.

Additionally, blue is not a color I want to draft from this seat. If I’m forced into it by the end of this pack, I’ll draft it. But in order for that to happen I need to be wheeling cards like Scattered Thoughts, not speculating on them. I’ll end up blue if all these amazing blue cards fall into my lap, which means that taking an unexciting one doesn’t make much sense, even if it is the best card in the pack. Part of this is because, next pick, if I’m presented with a mediocre red or green card, I’m going to take it over most blue cards. While it’s certainly odd, this pick is unlikely to matter at all. No matter what card I take, the probability it makes my deck is minuscule. 

In this rare scenario, I legitimately believe it is correct to cut a color. Both Witch’s Web and Lightning Wolf are poor cards in their color, and I almost never play them. They are worse than the other options. But when the other options give you almost nothing, you might as well flip a coin that says, “Somebody downstream has a lower probability of drafting the same color I am.” This pick comes down to whether I would rather cut red or green. I think Lightning Wolf is a better card than Witch’s Web, but remember, I’m probably not going to play the card regardless.

While red is a better color than green, and the red card in my pool is a bit better than the green card in my pool, this pick is all about maximizing the probability I play my rare. Green is the best color at splashing, so I would rather cut green here. While I think most people will disagree with me, I stand by taking Witch’s Web.

Pack 1, Pick 7

The Picks So Far:

Halana and Alena, Partners Flame-Blessed Bolt Ragged Recluse Dawnhart Disciple Witch's Web Falkenrath Celebrants

The Pack:

Biolume Egg Aim for the Head Cradle of Safety Gluttonous Guest Honored Heirloom Persistent Specimen Repository Skaab Stitched Assistant

The Pick:

Cutting green and red is not looking so great given the color distribution of this pack. The best card is Biolume Egg, but Egg is only great in Dimir and highly specific versions of other blue decks. Repository Skaab and Stitched Assistant are solid blue cards in many blue decks, but nothing special like the Egg. Hence, if I’m taking a blue card, it should be Biolume Egg.

Honored Heirloom is a bad card, and I avoid playing it even if I’m splashing. However, a card as good as Halana and Alena, Partners will get me to look at bad ways of splashing, especially when the signals at the table are telling me that I’ll need to splash my rare. I still think the card is too bad to take, but I can see a world where it’s the correct pick out of this pack.

This pick comes down to Biolume Egg and Gluttonous Guest. As I’ve mentioned, Blood is one of the best Limited mechanics we’ve seen. Guest is not a fantastic card by any means, but it’s an underrated black common. For example, if Gluttonous Guest were in the previous pick instead of the Bat, I would have taken it rather than Witch’s Web because Gluttonous Guest has a much higher probability of making my deck. That being said, it’s still much worse than Biolume Egg, and the signals here may mean I am likely to pivot away from Halana and into Dimir, in which case I would sorely miss Biolume Egg. And Egg can still be a solid card in non-black blue decks.

I think this pick is relatively close, and I ended on Biolume Egg, but I’m still not sure what is correct. The main takeaway from this pick is that, for the rest of the draft, I really need to be meticulous to discern where I need to pivot to. It’s very unlikely I end up Gruul, but I still want to play Halana.

The end of Pack 1 pushed me into blue (that Scattered Thoughts from Pack 1, Pick 5 even wheeled!). Pack 2 solidified red as my secondary color, and I prioritized Evolving Wilds to play Halana.

Pack 3, Pick 4

The Picks So Far:

Halana and Alena, Partners Flame-Blessed Bolt Ragged Recluse Dawnhart Disciple Witch's Web Falkenrath Celebrants Biolume Egg Lantern Bearer Dawnhart Disciple Reckless Impulse Kessig Flamebreather Massive Might Scattered Thoughts Repository Skaab Flame-Blessed Bolt Evolving Wilds Stensia Uprising Evolving Wilds Stitched Assistant Abrade Pyre Spawn Wandering Mind Ceremonial Knife Fearful Villager Pyre Spawn Reckless Impulse Daybreak Combatants Ceremonial Knife Alluring Suitor Evolving Wilds Lantern Bearer

The Pack:

Geistlight Snare Lunar Rejection Aim for the Head Belligerent Guest Binding Geist Bleed Dry Doomed Dissenter Heron-Blessed Geist Mindleech Ghoul Syncopate Witch's Web

The Pick:

In a vacuum, Lunar Rejection is the best card in this pack by a significant margin. But the context of this pool makes me want to take a counterspell. In my experience with Izzet so far, access to countermagic is vital because blue doesn’t offer any hard removal, and the red removal only kills small creatures. While I would take Lunar Rejection above Syncopate and Geistlight Snare earlier on in a draft, now that I know I’m Izzet without access to countermagic, priorities shift.

Generally, Syncopate is better than Geistlight Snare outside of Azorius, but does the context of two copies of Lantern Bearer change this? No. However, if I had a few more good blue disturb cards, I could see Snare becoming the correct pick. As is, I believe the best pick in the context of this pool is Syncopate.