Magic is a game of puzzles. Which deck do I play? What card do I pick? What's my line?
New Limited formats reward a player's ability to evaluate cards' power levels on the spot. Determining how good a card is within a format allows more experienced players to put together powerful Sealed and Draft decks with little prior knowledge.
Card evaluation is important, but new formats offer up new challenges. Some cards seem strong at first glance and end up playing pretty poorly; other cards may not jump off the page when we scroll through the Card Image Gallery, but are actually staples in a given Limited archetype.
I had the opportunity to sit down with No. 3–ranked Seth Manfield, the reigning World Champion, to talk about Shadows over Innistrad Limited. Manfield is known for his incredible ability to construct works of art in the 40-card realm. Last summer, we all watched as he went solidly undefeated through the Limited rounds of the World Championship with inspired decks that left the best players in the world scratching their heads.
When asked to broadly discuss the new Limited format, Manfield was quick to mention his restraints.
"It's hard to be more than two colors in Shadows over Innistrad Limited. The mana and tempo requirements are such that I really want to be sticking to a two-color combination. Each of the color combinations presents a strategy that we want to be committing to. For example, blue-red decks want a lot of spells and maybe a little madness synergy."
I pushed a little harder on the subject, asking which archetypes he'd found to be the most successful.
"Green-White Humans is very deep. All the cards are replaceable with other cards that do similar things. I've found it to be very strong and it's the type of deck that can work out even if there's another person drafting it nearby.
"Delirium decks can be very good, but they present some interesting problems of their own. The cards all become great once we have delirium, but that doesn't happen until we're later in the game. As a result, delirium decks need to be more defensive.
"I've had some success milling people with Green-Blue Clues, but that's the type of deck that you really need to force if you're going to do it.
"Personally, I've found the most aggressive decks, especially red-white, to be underwhelming. It's hard to push through with aggression in a format where everyone wants to trade.
"Red-Green Werewolves is exactly as it sounds. Howlpack Resurgence is the card I really want to get passed when playing this deck. It's a combat trick that sticks around as an Anthem!
"Black-Red Vampires can be very good if you get the right ratio of madness cards and outlets. It's hard to be aggressive in this format, but the Vampire deck can do a decent job."
Manfield likes Shadows over Innistrad as a Draft format. He feels that the packs are deep enough that it's rare for a player to end up with a deck that's not capable of winning any matches.
"Decks can be matchup- and play-dependent. In some formats it's easy to end up with a train-wreck draft, but this isn't one of them. Sealed Deck seems like it's more about building around uncommons and rares, but the Draft format is very much about building to synergies."
I've heard a lot of players talking about blue being bad. I decided to ask the World Champ his views on Shadows over Innistrad's least-loved color.
"Blue decks need to have a focused game plan. Blue creatures underperform and there's not as much depth to the color as there is elsewhere. I don't want to be fighting over blue cards, but it's very possible to have the best deck at the table as a blue drafter."
I'm always interested to find out which cards have over-performed for players in their early testing. Underdogs are the best kinds of cards. I asked Manfield which cards he's been more impressed with than he expected to be.
"I've really come to like all the one-mana combat tricks in the set; even Rush of Adrenaline—which I expected to be quite bad—turned out to play very well. A lot of creatures have similar power and toughness, and for one mana it's easy to net a much more expensive card. The inexpensive tricks are also a great way to flip opposing tapped Werewolves back into their less-threatening forms. I also like the cards that can be exiled from the graveyard for value. This format is all about trading, and the ability to get an extra card out of something after it dies or gets milled is often enough to push ahead after a lot of trades."
Manfield seemed to have a lot of drafting knowledge about a set that was only released a week ago. Will our reigning World Champion find glory once more at Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad? Be sure to tune in to twitch.tv/magic for all the live coverage as it unfolds in Madrid, Spain, this coming weekend!