Allies, Enemies, and Auras
Then I realized that it was actually Hybrid Week, and suddenly things came together.
I know I've said this a few times before, and I'm going to keep on saying it until everyone gets sick of hearing it and I get sick of saying it but, Shadowmoor is the first ever hybrid set. And, for me at least, the ramifications of that haven't completely sunk in yet.
Now that the set is fully available for viewing, I'm assuming that most of you have already looked through the set. If you haven't you should definitely take a trip over to the visual spoiler.
Get a chance to browse through the visual spoiler?
Now that we are all somewhat familiar with the contents of Shadowmoor we can start asking some questions about how the set functions.
The first big philosophical question that I asked myself about the set is: is it, generally, better to play an allied-color deck or an enemy-color deck?
My initial inclination was that it would be better to play an enemy-color deck.
I thought this because playing an enemy-color Limited deck will, theoretically, give you access to more spells then if you were going for an allied-color deck. Having access to more spells is obviously appealing because it means that not only will it be very easy for you to put together 23 playable cards (regardless of whether you are drafting or playing Sealed Deck), but you will also have access to an overwhelming amount of good cards.
All of these cards are attractive, with Kulrath Knight being the best of the bunch, and it would seem like it would be more than worthwhile to try to put together a deck where you can take advantage of all of them.
However, having access to more cards means less in this set than it might in many other sets.
The reason for this is pretty simple. There is an overwhelming amount of cards that are playable for every color.
By my count, 116 of the 281 unique cards in the set (not counting basic lands) are hybrid (including monocolored hybrid). Another 24 cards are artifacts and another 11 cards are lands. That means that 151 of the 281 cards in the set are not tied down to a specific color, and with that we find ourselves in a format where any two-color deck can, without splashing, access more than two-thirds of the set. That's a lot of cards to work with.
Combine that with the wealth of easy to access mana fixing such as Scuttlemutt, Pili-Pala, Elsewhere Flask, and Manamorphose and you can do pretty much anything you want to regardless of what colors you choose to play.
Once I went through this thought process I figured that it really doesn't make much of a difference if you are playing an allied-color deck or an enemy-color deck.
Then I thought about it some more and I realized that playing an allied color deck has a lot of upside. Let's take a look at some of the unique things that playing an allied color deck can do for you.
Perhaps the biggest reason to go for an allied color pair is that many of the best cards in Shadowmoor are hybrid-mana intensive. In order to utilize them to their fullest you will need to be playing both of the colors in the mana cost.
Everyone knows that Godhead of Awe is awesome, but if you are only playing white then you are going to have a ton of difficulty casting her in a timely manner.
While it's certainly possible to get very good mana fixing, it generally won't help you play your hybrid spells in a timely manner. And even if you do are able to wind up with awesome fixing, it's much easier to simply be playing the appropriate two colors.
Another strike against non-allied decks is that if you are playing a non-allied deck you will be less able to take advantage of the Duos, the cycle of hybrid creatures that get different bonuses each time you play a spell that shares a color with it.
Because of the increase in value that many cards get by being played on color, it turns out that you don't gain access to more good cards by playing a non-allied color deck. Sure you gain access to more cards that are technically playable, but the drop from maximum power that many cards take when they are played outside of their intended two color pair is pretty astronomical.
The important thing to keep in mind is that playable isn't the same thing as castable, it isn't the same thing as good, and it certainly isn't the same thing as great.
If you're playing a black-white deck with 9-10 Plains, Godhead of Awe goes from being called Godhead of Awesome to Godhead of Aweright I Guess I'll Still Play It.
Let's take one more look at the collection of hybrid spells that I presented as an argument in favor of playing a red-blue deck earlier in the article. Inkfathom Infiltrator, Curse of Chains, Kulrath Knight and Scuzzback Marauders. If you were playing a blue-black deck instead of a blue-red deck then you would be able to play all of these cards except for the Scuzzback Marauders. This is only a small loss, and it is almost made up for immediately by the fact that the Inkfathom Infiltrator will be easier to cast.
Another minor point to toss on the allied color scale is that it becomes marginally easier to pay the conspire cost on the hybrid conspirers such as Barkshell Blessing.
Moral of the story: While it will sometimes be right to, if you are going to play a non-allied color deck in Shadowmoor Limited, you better have a good reason.
Are You Coming Aura You Going?
The other general question about the set that I've had time to really analyze is: are the Auras worth it?
At the Prerelease I was too afraid to play any of the Auras that I got in my Sealed pool or pick up any of the Auras that I saw in my draft for fear of getting 2 for 1ed.
However, this had something to do with the fact that my Sealed Deck Auras were Fists of the Demigod, which I'm still not completely sold on, and in my draft, Helm of the Ghastlord, which I've since come to realize is quite good.
The first question to ask while determining how good the Auras in the set is this: what type of removal / bounce / tap effects exist that can devastate someone who invested an extra card into their creature?
At common there are only eight cards that can reliably take advantage of a creature being enchanted with an aura. Those are: Consign to Dream, Gloomlance, Burn Trail, Æthertow, Curse of Chains, Silkbind Faerie, Turn to Mist, and Torture (kind of...).
At uncommon there are once again only eight cards that can reliably lead to an advantage if used against an enchanted creature. Those are: Prison Term, Biting Tether, Corrupt, Flame Javelin, Glamer Spinners, Mistmeadow Witch, and Trip Noose.
(Note: Jaws of Stone doesn't count as Jaws' spray damage effect works just the same on an enchanted creature as it would on two creatures.)
Because there are so few ways to deal with them, Auras are particularly prime for play in Shadowmoor Limited. Add that to the fact that the Shadowmoor Auras are exceptionally good and you've got yourself a recipe for some enchanted evenings creatures.
With these minimal constraints in mind, let's take a look at each of the five hybrid Auras in the set.
Fists of the Demigod, as I've noted before, doesn't strike me as being particularly great. It will be worth it to play Fists of the Demigod more often then not if you have 5+ black-red creatures. However, even if you feel like you are on track to get that many black-red guys, I still wouldn't take Fists of the Demigod very early in a draft. At best I believe that Fists of the Demigod is a fifth- to ninth-pick quality card.
Steel of the Godhead is obviously awesome. In decks that can utilize it, it is strictly better than Armadillo Cloak, a card which was good enough to Top 8 Pro Tour–Chicago 2000, a Standard event, and help Raphael Levy to Extended Grand Prix wins in Dallas and Singapore. If you have, or are on track to get, 5+ blue-white creatures, then Steel of the Godhead becomes a first- to third-pick quality card.
Shield of the Oversoul is another awesome Aura. At the Prerelease I was talking to Rich Fein and he told me that he had just gotten thrashed in his first draft of the day by a player who opened on turn-two Medicine Runner, turn-three Shield of the Oversoul both games. In his very next draft, Rich drafted a Shield of the Oversoul deck and split with me in the Finals. I believe that Shield of the Oversoul is pretty similar in power level to Steel of the Godhead. Sure, Steel of the Godhead is noticeably better if left unmolested, but Shield of the Oversoul is literally twice as difficult to disrupt. So, like Steel of the Godhead, if you have, or are on track, to get 5+ green-white creatures then Shield of the Oversould becomes a first- to third-pick quality card.
I mentioned a little bit earlier that I wasn't looking to play Helm of the Ghastlord at the Prerelease. The reason for this is that I didn't think it was very good on first impression. I have since grown to appreciate it quite a bit. One hit with a Helm of the Ghastlorded guy and you are ahead. Two hits with it and you are waaaay up. I don't have enough experience with the format yet to make an educated statement about how high of a pick Helm of the Ghastlord should be, but I am pretty sure that it should be taken between fourth and seventh by decks that can use it.
Alright, now I'm going to make a bold statement here that could very, very easily turn out to be wrong.
While it might look a bit unwieldy at first, Runes of the Deus is the most powerful Aura of the bunch. If you put this on a relatively small Mudbrawler Raiders then your opponent is still dead in two hits. If, instead you put it on a Scuzzback Marauders or a Morselhoarder then you will often be able to finish your opponent that very turn. If I have, or am on track to have, 4+ red-green monsters then Runes of the Deus becomes the type of card that I am happy to take first or second.
Keep in mind that I've mentioned how high I would take these cards, not how high they will normally go. Because they require matching hybrid creatures to reach their full effect, these Auras will often go quite late relative to their power level.
Being able to pick up hybrid Auras on the cheap is a prime example getting a draft to go your way.
This Aura That Aura...
Imagine you are drafting a black-red deck and you have a couple of Scuzzback Marauders and Mudbrawler Raiders in your stack when you get passed a late Runes of the Deus. At this point you don't have to do anything to support the Runes perfectly in your red-black deck.
Sure it might seem more intuitive to play a Shield of the Oversoul in a green-white deck, but unless you have something like a Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers, you'd be just as well off playing your Shield of the Oversoul in your white-blue deck that has a couple of Safehold Elites.
Because Runes of the Deus, Steel of the Godhead, and Shield of the Oversoul are the best hybrid Auras, I believe that white-blue, green-white, and red-green hybrid creatures will / should generally be drafted higher than their black-red and blue-black counterparts.
So, if you're in blue-black and you have the choice between a Wanderbrine Rootcutters and a Barrenton Cragtreads, don't be at all afraid of taking the Barrenton Cragtreads. It might not seem right, but if you are in the first or second pack, the ability to set yourself up for a Steel of the Godhead is worth quite a bit.
Obviously this won't always hold true, like if your blue-black deck already has a couple of Gravelgill Duos, but you will be able to identify these types of situations easily.
I should also point out that this line of thinking goes out the window if you don't have any off-color Auras by the third pack. At that point just go for the double on-color cards; the fact that they are marginally easier to cast will be worth more then the value of trying to set yourself up for an enchant creature that you will, at that point, have very few shots at seeing.
Limited Tournament Watch
GP–Brussels is this weekend and I'm kicking myself because I can't go. I have just a little bit too much schoolwork to responsibly make the trip.
While I'm not going to make the trip, up and coming New York gamer Chris Calcano has decided to go. This will be Chris's first step in his bid to qualify for PT–Berlin. Chris came heartbreakingly close to qualifying for Hollywood a couple of times and, as evidenced by his booking a ticket to Brussels, he's appropriately decided to take those near successes as a source of encouragement. I wish him the best of luck this weekend. Hopefully he'll find himself traveling home with an invite to Berlin. Even if he doesn't get it this weekend, I'm pretty confident that he will have his invite before the summer is up.
Also of note, Shadowmoor Launch Parties are this weekend. So if you didn't get a chance to go to the Prerelease, or you are looking for a chance to play some more Shadowmoor Sealed, now's your chance.
May you have yourself an enchanted creature,