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 found Neal Oliver, one of the best Limited minds in the world, (US National Team Member, multiple Grand Prix Top 8s [including a win at the staggeringly massive Grand Prix Las Vegas]) and tried to pick his brain in hopes of learning more about Shadows Over Innistrad Limited.
I started by asking about archetypes that have been working well.
“When drafting,” Oliver said, “I really like Green-White Aggro and Blue-Red Spells.
The Green White deck isn’t trying to do anything fancy. The creatures in those colors are better than anywhere else for their costs. Pump spells also play very well in the format. The best part of Green-White is that all the cards are interchangeable. It doesn’t matter which pump spells we’re playing. We can have any pile of playable creatures as long as we have a good curve. The deck just seems to play very well.
Blue-Red Spells is a very different animal. It’s the type of deck I’ll be drafting when it’s open and I’m not lucky enough to open powerful cards in other colors. Rise from the Tides is a key piece. If we’ve been casting a lot of instants and sorceries, then it’s capable of making an army big enough to win the game on its own. From there, we’re looking for the Prowess mechanic and draw spells like Pieces of the Puzzle. The deck seems very powerful when the lane is open in a draft, but it’s hard to make it happen when someone else at the table has a similar plan.”
Oliver was quick to point out the power of rares when I asked what cards Oliver was hoping to open in his first pack of a Shadows Over Innistrad Draft, “There are a lot of very good rares in this set that anyone would be happy to open. Once we start looking at uncommons then we want cards like Bound by Moonsilver, Duskwatch Recruiter, Lightning Axe, or basically any of the Black uncommons, which are all awesome. Blue is more of an archetype color and there aren’t any uncommons that I would be happy with taking right away.
When it comes to commons I’d be happy to first pick cards like Dead Weight, Fiery Temper, Angelic Purge, or Solitary Hunter. Again, Blue cards aren’t what I want to be doing with my early picks. I want to open Black, Red, White, and Green decks. I want to get passed Blue decks by the people drafting around me.”
I asked which cards had over and underperformed for Oliver in early testing of the new Limited format.
“Sanitarium Skeleton has been pretty good in the decks that get to abuse the graveyard. The card is amazing with cards like Mad Prophet and other Madness outlets and works nicely in the Delirium decks too. One power does a lot more in this format than it has in the past. There are a lot of X/1s and it’s not hard to get some nice value out of Sanitarium Skeleton.
The other card that’s over performed by a lot is Thraben Inspector. Again, one power gives the card trading power. The Clue gives us something to do with our mana and because we’re able to trade with Thraben Inspector it’s often like we’re getting a two-for-one trade.
The card that’s been most underwhelming for me thus far is Devilthorn Fox. As a 3/1 for two mana it seemed like it would be great. Unfortunately, cards like Thraben Inspector and Sanitarium Skeleton make it pretty bad. All of the other two drops in the format can also easily trade with Devilthorn Fox if they so desire. What’s worse is that this format’s creatures tend to jump quickly from two to four toughness. It’s hard to trade up for a more expensive card. Three power just isn’t what it normally is.”
Neil Oliver is a master of Limited that’s eager to learn as much as he can about new formats. Check out his Limited Columns on ChannelFireball.com where he breaks down all the color combinations in Shadows Over Innistrad Limited and talks about the inner working strategies therein.
There’s still a lot to learn about Shadows Over Innistrad Limited. Get out there and find a Draft at your local game store or on Magic Online!