Drawing Dead at the Innistrad Prerelease with Adam Barnett

Drawing Dead at the Innistrad Prerelease with Adam Barnett
Hello everyone!  

I hope everybody had an enjoyable weekend at the Innistrad preleases.  I managed to play in two sealed events and two drafts over the weekend and I feel I’ve learnt a few things about the format.  My combined record for the weekend was 13 wins, 2 draws and 2 losses so I’ve hopefully accrued a good number of Planeswalker Points as well ;)

Seeing as there are 4 tournaments to dissect, let’s dive right into the first deck I built for the Saturday Sealed:

1 Army of the Damned
2 Tribute to Hunger
1 Victim of Night
1 Village Cannibals
1 Vampire Interloper
1 Typhoid Rats
1 Night Terrors
1 Falkenrath Noble
1 Walking Corpse

1 Ambush Viper
1 Kessig Cagebreakers
1 Festerhide Boar
1 Mulch
1 Villagers of Estwald
2 Somberwald Spider
1 Moldgraf Monstrosity
1 Essence of the Wild
2 Ulvenwald Mystics

1 Blazing Torch
1 Geistcather’s Rig

1 Shimmering Grotto
8 Swamp
8 Forest

BOMBS!  Look at those HUGE FATTIES and…  13 ZOMBIES!  So I crushed, right?  Nope!  I finished this event at 3-2, picking up my only 2 losses of the weekend (spoiler alert!  Whoops).  

So what went wrong?  Put simply, I think I punted the build of this deck.  My inner Timmy wanted to make as many zombies as possible and bullied my Spike side into justifying it by pointing out the three removal spells.  I was also under the impression that this format would be slow and I could happily take my time and cast a game breaker on turn 13.  

Time to learn some lessons!

1.  The black removal spells in this set kinda suck.  Dead Weight is probably one of the best as it’s cheap and can cripple a big creature even if it doesn’t kill it.  Corpse Lunge needs some setting up and can sometimes be really underwhelming, and Victim of Night‘s text often seems to read “Destroy target irrelevant creature” (although it does a great job of killing demons, angels, horrors and spirits which are usually pretty awesome guys).

2.  You can’t just sit around and do nothing.  While this is a slower format than M12, you still need to be developing your board position.  Thankfully, they haven’t made every rare wrath the board (see Scars of Mirrodin) so this sort of play does seem to be encouraged.  Having said that, it does mean the ability to wipe the board gets a lot better.

On this note, I will now show you the red cards I could have included (all of them are listed, but obviously some deck building would be needed still):

1 Riot Devils
1 Night Revelers
1 Into the Maw of Hell
1 Tormented Pariah
1 Kessig Wolf
1 Skirsdag Cultist
1 Feral Ridgewolf
1 Rolling Temblor
1 Blasphemous Act
1 Heretic’s Punishment
1 Kruin Outlaw

I intentionally left the best till last on that list.  Also, my card pool was insane making the 3-2 performance all the more embarrassing.  For some reason, I chose not to run a Wrath in a set where such a card would be amazing.  Kruin Outlaw, which has amazing synergy with the Werewolves in my card pool, was somehow passed over.  Also, I hear repeatable removal is pretty good.  Especially when it’s on a hard to remove enchantment.  

The above is terrible and a lesson to examine your card pool and always squeeze the most out of it.  I saw so many bombs and my brain melted.  Those bombs got those 3 wins, and my awful building got the 2 losses.

Moving on!  Here’s my draft deck following this sealed:

2 Angel of Flight Alabaster (!!)
1 Mentor of the Meek
1 Gallows Warden
1 Village Bell-Ringer
1 Cloistered Youth
2 Voiceless Spirit
1 Smite the Monstrous
1 Slayer of the Wicked
1 Chapel Geist
1 Avacynian Priest
1 Bonds of Faith
1 Fiend Hunter

1 Moon Heron
1 Invisible Stalker
1 Battleground Geist
1 Curiosity
1 Claustrophobia
2 Grasp of Phantoms
1 Ludevic’s Test Subject

1 Butcher’s Cleaver

+ some lands

Time for another PRO-TIP!

When opening Angel of Flight Alabaster, make sure you are being passed to by someone who also opens one but is forcing Werewolves.  Ding!  I actually managed to get a perfect score in this draft, with scores of 2-0, 2-0, 2-0 and my opponents ending the draft 2-1, 2-1, 2-1 in 2nd, 3rd and 4th.  

Looking at the cards I drafted now, I notice I had a second Bell-Ringer in my sideboard.  I’m certain that should have earned a maindeck slot over something, as a 1/4 creature is exactly what this deck needs to gum up the ground.  Add in the Flash and Untap abilities and you have a surefire way of winning races.

At its heart, this deck is a UW Skies deck filled with very strong cards.  Both the Grasp of Phantoms tabled back to me (I took Angel over one, Test Subject over the other) and that is simply wrong.  I’ve never been disappointed to draw it and I reached the flashback cost surprisingly often.  

This draft deck made me really like the white cards in this format.  It has really solid removal in the forms of Rebuke, Bonds of Faith and Smite the Monstrous while still having solid, if slightly small, creatures. It seems to have great cards at all the rarities, many of which I happen to be showcasing in the above deck.  At the moment, I would rank Blue and White as the two best colours in Innistrad.  This might just be a case of being biased by my awesome results with blue cards in this format.

Okay…  still two more events to go!  Let’s chalk that one up to prerelease drafts being a bit loose and assume we won’t see anything that good again (foreboding…).  Another sealed and, amazingly enough, I opened another Army of the Damned.  Could I resist its groaning, siren call?

2 Ambush Viper
1 Caravan Vigil
1 Festerhide Boar
1 Grizzled Outcasts
1 Lumberknot
1 Mayor of Avabruck
1 Orchard Spirit
1 Tree of Redemption
1 Villagers of Estwald

1 Armored Skaab
1 Claustrophobia
1 Delver of Secrets
2 Deranged Assistant
1 Dissipate
1 Grasp of Phantoms
1 Stitched Drake
1 Sturmgeist

1 Sever the Bloodline
1 Butcher’s Cleaver
1 Cobbled Wings
1 Mask of Avacyn

7 Forest
7 Island
3 Swamp

Spike wins!  Sure, it’s a slightly greedy Spike who wanted to include enough swamps to flashback Sever the Bloodline…  but he beat Timmy this time!

Sharp-eyed readers will notice the Delver of Secrets in my list despite the fact that I had a whopping 4 cards that would cause him to flip.  My reason for playing him is that he actually works well with 6 cards in my deck; the 4 sorcery and instant spells plus the 2 Deranged Assistants.  It’s a small trick, but it seemed to keep on coming up every game I played.  In your upkeep, the Delver sneaks a peek at the top card of your library.  Once that ability has resolved, you now have a chance to use the Assistant to flip that card into your graveyard and filter your draw step.  

The other plus point for the Delver is that he’s a cheap spell for preventing Werewolves from transforming in the early game.  I’ve played a few games where I declined the turn 1 Delver play just to make sure I had something to play on turn 2.  Of course, I was probably better off just running another Island in his place and being happy that I could reach my Flashback cost for Grasp of Phantoms more easily.

For this event, I managed a result of 4 wins and a draw.  One of those wins was a bye, though.  I picked up the draw in my second round and was paired down until the finals.  Effectively, I was paired as if I had lost the second round (so into a “softer” bracket), but still managed to win the event by defeating the only other undefeated player in the finals.  

Some quick observations from this deck.  

Tree of Redemption was amazing for me all day and often reminded me of Wall of Reverence from Alara.  While the Wall of Reverence is generally going to be the stronger card (flying plus a better life gain ability), the Tree’s massive toughness held off some huge creatures in the matches I played.  In the finals, my opponent transformed his Grizzled Outcasts into a 7/7… and I couldn’t have been happier!  In his human form he had been able to gain 7 life a turn thanks to the Butcher’s Cleaver he was holding.  Now he was just a pathetic 10/7 creature.  Whatever!

Did Wizards really have to put the creature type Werewolf on both sides of the card?  It always makes me smile when something like a Bonds of Faith is attached to a Werewolf and the players’ priorities shift.  Sadly, we are unable to do the opposite!  Maybe you know your opponent has a Slayer of the Wicked in his hand so you want to leave your Instigator Gang in human form.  Nope!  Dude be dead – he’s a Werewolf.  I get that they wanted to key off the Werewolf type for tutoring and other effects.  It even makes sense flavour wise (as they are always a Werewolf, even in human form).  It just makes me sad I can’t hit a Reckless Waif with Victim of Night before she rips my arm off.

Errmm…  Lumberknot was pretty awesome on the day, although you might not have time to really abuse its growing ability in a draft.  You probably will though.  In the right deck.

Which is exactly what Innistrad Limited is all about.

How good is Harvest Pyre?

Is Rage Thrower playable?

Should I play Armored Skaab or Village Bell-Ringer in my UW deck?

Have a quick think about those questions.  Give it a good mulling over – this is the important bit.  Have you got your answers ready?  Honest?  Good.  How long were your answers?  If you used fewer than 5 words for any answer, Innistrad might not be the set for you.  

I have seen Harvest Pyre blow away a 7/7, but I’ve also seen it rot in a player’s hand unable to kill a 2/2. I had written off Rage Thrower as unplayable until I saw a board stall blown open by it.  The relative power of Armored Skaab and Village Bell-Ringer can only be determined by the contents of your deck so far.  How many Stitched Drakes have you picked up?  How many ways do you have to fill up your graveyard already?

It’s something you’ve probably heard before: a pick order is not set in stone, but depends upon what your deck needs.  Innistrad has pushed this to an extreme, but has done it in a very interesting way.  There are very few Imperious Perfectss in this set.  In Lorwyn draft, if you were making the Elves deck and saw an Imperious Perfect, you could slam it safe in the knowledge that it was awesome.  In Innistrad, if you’re drafting the UB Zombie archetype, you might really want to take that Skaab Goliath, but the right pick could be the Deranged Assistant sitting next to it.

Despite my limited experience with the set so far, it already seems like a very skill intensive and rewarding format.  The disciplined drafter who is taking into account all the small synergies in his deck will be rewarded.  Even something as straight-forward as the Werewolf archetype is looking for particular cards to really shine (namely instants and mana sinks allowing the player to “take a turn off” to transform his guys at no penalty).  

One result of this is that sideboarding is extremely relevant in this format.  A Dissipate may be a strong card in the abstract, but do you really want to draw it when your opponent has been curving out Werewolves?  Maybe that innocuous Think Twice should come in instead, as it’s a cheap source of “two spells” and can be used at the end of your opponent’s turn when he decides to go for the transform.  

Of course, this is something that will take practice and some trial and error to really nail down.  I’m not claiming to have broken the format already, but I know I’m going to enjoy trying.

Oh…  and you should probably maindeck a Naturalize.  There are a lot of targets for it.

Still here, huh?  Okay, okay…  

Here’s my last draft deck.

2 Armored Skaab
1 Claustrophobia
1 Delver of Secrets
1 Deranged Assistant
1 Dissipate
1 Forbidden Alchemy
1 Grasp of Phantoms
1 Makeshift Mauler
1 Moon Heron
1 Murder of Crows
1 Mindshrieker
1 Mirror-Mad Phantasm
1 Sensory Deprivation
1 Silent Departure
2 Stitched Drake

1 Boneyard Wurm
1 Orchard Spirit
1 Mayor of Avabruck
1 Kessig Cagebreakers
1 Tree of Redemption
1 Creeping Renaissance

10 Island
7 Forest

How did I end up with this monster of a deck?  A bit of luck and some blatant signals.  I opened my first booster and found a Mindshrieker as the best card in the pack.  As first picks go, it’s a really nice one as it keys into a couple of archetypes while being an extremely strong card by itself.  The player to my right first picked a Hanweir Watchkeep and the pack he passed contained fairly mediocre cards and a Moon Heron.  Again, this keeps my options open as well as being the strongest card present.  Both cards are good fliers and both happen to be Spirits, a supported tribe.

I continued to pick up blue cards, and I felt I was drifting towards the milling aspect quite heavily.  The first surprise of the draft came during my sixth pick when I discovered a Tree of Redemption still in the pack.  I remembered Tom Lapille’s recent article regarding the development of the off-colour archetypes to draft; UG was meant to focus on milling their own deck for fun and profit.  I took the Tree and decided to be on the lookout for cards that would fit into the strategy.  Despite this, I couldn’t help but notice the very strong black cards that were also drifting my way.  I picked up 2 Tribute to Hungers and a Victim of Night incredibly late.  UB Zombies was still an option, although I was still disliking black as a colour and wanted to pursue UG if given the chance.

Fate smiled upon me when I opened my second booster.  Kessig Cagebreakers!  I had visions of milling a bunch of creatures and then cackling as my wolf army devoured my opponents.  I was then passed Mayor of Avabruck (the person passing to me had taken Liliana).  What could be better than an army of wolves?  An army of wolves that was 50% bigger!  Woof!  This pick was followed by Creeping Renaissance which gave me another way to “go off” with a stocked graveyard.  When my 4th pack(!!!) contained Mirror-Mad Phantasm, I knew my deck was going to be pretty special.

The rest of the draft was spent filling in the gaps in my deck.  Forbidden Alchemy even though I can’t flash it back?  Sure.  Double Armored Skaab seems pretty good.  I later found out someone else had been taking Deranged Assistants, so it was for the best that I prioritised the one I did see.  12th pick Grasp of Phantoms?  Paul Bremner, who was both passing to me and had been on the wrong end of my Grasping earlier, actually had to declare to the table that they were all wrong for leaving that card in the pack for so long.  Thankfully, he needed to take another card for his deck and resisted the hate draft.

Did I mention he also opened a Garruk when he wasn’t playing green?  Instead of passing it to my already sick deck, he decided to splash it into his WR deck.  Can you imagine how gross my deck would have been with a Planeswalker?  I was able to extract justice later when his deck gave him two forests but only one mountain. Traitorous Blood sat in his hand as a Mindshrieker went to work on his life total.  With my life total a paltry (lol… poultry) 9, stealing my bird would have likely sealed my doom.

After a 3-0 performance in this 4 event, my opponent offered an Intentional Draw in the finals.  While I normally decline such an offer, this event had 2 planeswalkers available (we redraft the rares to prevent people rare-drafting them, while making winning the event much more appealing).  The fear of losing out was too much and I succumbed to the dark side.  We played for fun, but everyone else finishing quickly meant we stopped at 1-1 (with my loss being caused by an unfortunate event with a Mirror-Mad Phantasm resulting in a lack of library after one activation).

At a length half that of my first article, I shall sign off.  If you enjoyed the article, please hit up that like button and send more people towards mtgUK :)



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