Good Cards, or Good Decks?

Posted in Limited Information on December 6, 2011

By Steve Sadin

There are many Limited formats where taking the best card out of every pack (with respect to color and curve considerations) will allow you to consistently put together powerhouse decks. However, Innistrad is not one of those formats.

It's extremely important to draft a deck, not just a collection of abstractly powerful cards, in Innistrad Limited.

Brimstone Volley | Art by Eytan Zana

You may be able to start out your draft by taking the best card, in the abstract, out of every pack. After all, you can't go wrong with a Brimstone Volley and a Geistflame regardless of what deck you're drafting. However, it won't be long before you need to make some tough decisions about the direction that you want your draft to take.

Brimstone Volley

For example: Rolling Temblor is awesome in blue-red control decks, giving you a way to turn your opponent's aggressive starts into dust (while leaving your fliers, and defensive ground creatures intact) but awful in an aggressive red-black deck full of 1- and 2-toughness ground creatures. On the opposite end of the spectrum you find Crossway Vampire. It gives you an excellent way to punch through damage while developing your board, and it may even be the start of a vampire subtheme in an aggressive red-black deck. Nonetheless, it's fairly ineffective in a red-blue control deck.

If you're presented with a choice between Crossway Vampire and Rolling Temblor, which one should you take?

Rolling Temblor
Crossway Vampire

The answer to that depends on what you want to draft and what you've passed so far.

If I was fairly confident that the player to my left took a Murder of Crows and a Silent Departure second and third pick, then I would almost certainly opt to take the Crossway Vampire. But if I think that the player to my left took a Falkenrath Noble and a Dead Weight second and third, then I wouldn't hesitate to take the Rolling Temblor.

What Deck Are You Trying to Draft?

Because of the way that cards shift in value depending on your deck's game plan, figuring out what archetype you are drafting can be even more important than figuring out what colors you are drafting. Different cards work well in different archetypes, so it's important to understand the implications that each of your picks will have on the direction of your deck.

Mulch | Art by Christopher Moeller

Mulch, for example, can go from being a mediocre way to fix your mana and gain a marginal amount of card advantage to being an absolute all-star that enables everything that you want to do for only two mana. Its power level depends on whether you're playing red-green Werewolves or a green-blue-black mill-yourself deck that plans to win with a big Spider Spawning.

Spider Spawning

Sure, there are some cards like Slayer of the Wicked, Geistflame, or Darkthicket Wolf that work well in almost any deck that can cast them.

Slayer of the Wicked
Darkthicket Wolf

Then there are other cards, like Hanweir Watchkeep and Spider Spawning, that shine in specific situations but have plenty of applications. When Hanweir Watchkeep is accompanied by Werewolves and Moonmists or a bunch of instant-speed removal spells, it becomes pretty fantastic. But even if you don't have the right complementary cards, Hanweir Watchkeep is nonetheless a reasonable inclusion in any deck.

Spider Spawning is at its best in dedicated mill-yourself decks, but it's still very strong in aggressive green-white decks that are loaded up with creatures.

Feeling of Dread | Art by John Stanko

There are also cards like Feeling of Dread that work extremely well in completely divergent archetypes. Feeling of Dread is an awesome card to have on hand in your aggressive white-blue decks, as it allows you to steal wins seemingly out of nowhere by leaving your opponent helpless for a huge turn or two. You can craft your whole game plan around Feeling of Dread, allowing yourself to (seemingly) fall behind in the race while you punch through oh-so-critical points of damage.

Feeling of Dread

While Feeling of Dread is pretty mediocre in white-blue control decks that don't have any good ways to dump cards into their graveyards, it again becomes excellent in dedicated mill-yourself decks. Once you can reliably put it into your graveyard, you'll get to use Feeling of Dread as a virtual Time Walk—without spending a single card!

Then there are cards like Rolling Temblor, Unruly Mob, or, to use an even more extreme example, Burning Vengeance, that only really work in specific archetypes that are designed to take advantage of them.

Unruly Mob

So as soon as you take a card that has specific applications—be it a Cloistered Youth, an Armored Skaab, a Vampire Interloper, a Burning Vengeance, or a Travel Preparations—you're going to need to keep that pick in mind while you're making your subsequent picks.

Travel Preparations

Sure, you might find that you don't want to draft an aggressive white deck, and consequently you might end up leaving Cloistered Youth / Unholy Fiend in the sideboard of your evasion heavy white-blue control deck. Or you might not end up getting the flashback cards you were hoping to get, and you abandon Burning Vengeance entirely. But that doesn't mean that you can forget that you took them (especially while you're making your next couple of picks).

Diff'rent Strokes

Because of the extreme dissimilarities in how players drafting different archetypes value cards in Innistrad, you can get along with your neighbors even if you're fighting over a color (or two), so long as you are drafting different types of decks.

Burning Vengeance | Art by Raymond Swanland

I could be drafting an aggressive blue-red deck behind someone drafting a traditional blue-red control deck or a Burning Vengeance deck, and things could work out very well for both of us. Why? Because, despite being in the same colors, we're going to be looking for very different cards. Plus, we'll get the added benefit of the fact that our combined efforts will (likely) cut off red and/or blue for several seats to the left.

Burning Vengeance

I might want Spectral Flights, Crossway Vampires, and Bloodcrazed Neonates, while the player to my right is picking up Rolling Temblors, Fortress Crabs, and Hanweir Watchkeeps. Sure, we'll still fight over top cards such as Brimstone Volleys and Silent Departures, but there will still be plenty of opportunities for me to get the cards that I'm looking for late.

Spectral Flight
Bloodcrazed Neonate

While I won't get passed that Rolling Temblor sixth pick if the drafter to my right is putting together a Burning Vengeance deck, that same player is going to have no problem passing me the Bloodcrazed Neonates and Spectral Flights that I so desire... just as I won't even look at that Fortress Crab that will act as a key blocker for my neighbor's controlling deck.

Shifting Gears

If you notice that you aren't getting the flashback (or the mill yourself) cards you need to make your Burning Vengeance deck work, or you aren't getting the aggressive creatures that you need to supplement those two Vampire Interlopers that you took early, then you may find that you need to shift gears in order to salvage your draft.

Think Twice | Art by Anthony Francisco

How do you do this? By keeping an eye open for archetype-specific cards that are coming around to you late, and by remembering what cards are likely to table.

If your first seven picks are a messy mish-mosh highlighted by a couple of Vampire Interlopers, a Think Twice, and a Spider Spawning, and you get passed a Mulch eighth pick, then it will often be in your best interest to take it and focus your attention on drafting a dedicated Mill Yourself deck.

Vampire Interloper
Think Twice

Alternatively, if your blue-black control deck just isn't coming together the way you want it to because it's clear that your neighbor(s) to your right are cutting you on blue control cards and you see a Crossway Vampire come around eighth (and you remember that there was a Bloodcrazed Neonate in the pack that you opened that will probably make its way back to you), then you should probably jump on that Crossway Vampire and see what you can do from there.

Will these types of shifts always work out? No, not always. But remember, the reason why you decided to take that risk was because things weren't going well for you up until that point. And it's always better to give yourself a chance to draft a very good deck than it is to resign yourself to mediocrity (at best).

Complementary Cards

Once you have a sense of what archetype you are trying to put together, you should look at packs in a completely different way than you would at the beginning of the draft.

You shouldn't be thinking about first picking a Bloodcrazed Neonate out of anything but the worst of packs. But if you get to pack 3 and you're drafting an aggressive Red-Black deck that already has four Crossway Vampires, but not a lot of two-drops, then suddenly Bloodcrazed Neonate could be the pick over Into the Maw of Hell.

If you are drafting a blue-black mill deck, then you will of course want to pick up as many copies of Curse of the Bloody Tome, Ghoulcaller's Bell, and Dream Twist as you possibly can (so you can actually kill your opponent). But that's not all that you should be doing.

You are also going to want to pick up a bunch of ways to stall out your opponent. I don't usually want to maindeck Sensory Deprivation, but if I'm playing a blue-black mill deck I will happily run four of them.

If you're willing to make adjustments according to what you want to draft (and what you've already drafting), rather than subscribing to a predetermined pick order that you follow mechanically according to "which cards are good," you should be able to put together some very good Innistrad draft decks.

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