Shadows Over Innistrad Sealed Deck Is Slow, Play Silent Observers!
Plus Top 5 Most Underrated Shadows Over Innistrad Commons In Limited
The Shadows over Innistrad prereleases were just a week ago, and since then I have been cramming in endless hours of SOI Limited. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a format like this for some time now. Today I would like to pass on my knowledge and share my experiences of the format with you.
Before we begin, I need to clarify that Silent Observer is not the best card in the set for Limited, however it is much much better than what people are currently giving it credit for and I will go on to tell you why below. But first, in order for me to do so, we need to understand the format better and why it differs from previous sets– namely that the past few sets ran at a completely different pace; those formats were much faster and had more unbeatable bombs. This is certainly not the case for Shadows over Innistrad Limited. Here’s the breakdown…
The Pace of Shadows Over Innistrad Limited
To understand the foundation of any Limited format we always need to first look at the commons of that set, these are the majority of the cards and will represent how most Limited decks will look and work.
Let’s start by evaluating the creatures of Shadows Over Innistrad that are commons in rarity. There are 17 creatures with a converted mana cost 1 and 2, all of them are playable at least on some level and in some way, but none are really that impressive. 7 of these creatures have a higher Toughness than Power. Rancid Rats has Deathtouch and it’s normally looking to trade with a bigger creature, Unruly Mob on the other hand would rather stay back and watch during the early turns instead of entering the red zone. As such, we can presume that overall attacking with early creatures is not a reliable path victory, it’s still a valid strategy but it seems like blocking on turn 3 is easier than attacking for most of these creatures.
Moving forward to the three-drops we find a bunch of 3/2s and 2/3s. There is only one 3/3 at common level and that’s the only creature with a total Power + Toughness of 6. Most of these creatures have abilities to justify their “small size”, but these abilities are not necessarily helping the creatures attack, in fact cards like Farbog Revenant and Stitched Mangler mostly serve to stop our opponent from attacking you.
Once we move to the four and five-drops, we find a good mix of aggressive and defensive creatures. Voldaren Duelist, Inspiring Captain, Intrepid Provisioner and Hound of the Farbogs are all asking us to attack and be aggressive. On the other side, we have Inquisitor’s Ox, Silent Observer, Drownyard Explorers and Watcher in the Web, all of which are more interested in blocking than attacking. So just looking at the 4 and 5-drops we can presume that both blocking and attacking strategies are reasonable paths to take, however if we look back and consider what the one, two and three-drops were trying to do, you will realise that the board state at this stage will actually be quite crowded with creatures that haven’t really attacked much, and a high life total on both sides of the table.
Evasion in Shadows Over Innistrad Limited
So how do we attack and win in a format where the board is usually full of big toughness guys trying to block each other? Evasion has always been a path to victory and fliers are the most common form of evasion. OK, so let’s take a look at our fliers:
Niblis of Dusk and Crow of Dark Tidings are the only fliers for 3 mana with each of them having a 2/1 body. At four and five mana, we find Silent Observer, Apothecary Geist, Emissary of the Sleepless and Stormrider Spirit. All of these late game drops can block and kill the three-drops, and if you put them in combat against each other the only result that would end with a dying creature would be Stormrider Spirit vs Apothecary Geist.
If we throw Vessel of Ephemera and Dauntless Cathar into the mix as Spirit makers and Watcher in the Web as a blocker with Reach, you may once again notice how painful it is to try and attack in this format.
So, again… how do we win in this format!? The secret is in grinding out your opponent with resources. Making as many 2-for-1s as possible throughout the game will put you, eventually, in a position where attacks are possible and profitable.
Ghoulcaller’s Accomplice and Dauntless Cathar will make new creatures for you after they die; Macabre Waltz and Tormenting Voice will trade you two cards for two cards, but when games go long you won’t need the extra lands, and discarding a land will end up, in a way, being a 2-for-1. The same thing happens when you discard a spell with Madness that you can use; Investigate is another way to out-grind your opponent with resources, Byway Courier and Drownyard Explorers are both very good and even cards like Survive the Night could put you in a position to 2-for-1 your opponent. One thing to keep in mind however is that Expose Evil and Press for Answers are both tempo cards and won’t generate any card advantage, they may be good in some cases where all you need is that tempo swing, but ultimately you are not generating extra cards by playing these spells.
Shadows Over Innistrad Limited Summary
I would like to mention first that all the analysis we’ve just gone over are based on the commons of the set. There are uncommons, rares and mythics that will have a different impact in the games, but these are less frequent and most of these cards still follow the same defensive patterns as the commons. To put it into different words, the unbeatable bombs in this set are very few and far between, and they are mostly mythics. Shadows over Innistrad offers a lot of reward for good deckbuilding and good game planning.
Defensive creatures and a defensive overall plan is going to be more common in most Sealed Decks and present a more efficient strategy to victory.
Win conditions are going to be rare and games will stall very easily, so make sure your deck has a way to close the game. This means playing some cards you normally wouldn’t, just because your deck is already good at defending but still needs a way to win. If you don’t have any reliable win condition, maybe you should reconsider your build, maybe the aggressive Green-Red Werewolves is your best shot with the pool you received?
Don’t forget that the player not on the play gets to draw an additional card. That’s another way to generate card advantage. This is not a format where you should automatically chose to play if you win the die roll or lost the last game. That said, always keep in mind that should opt to play first if you know your opponent’s deck is very aggressive and you may not have the time to catch up if you are on the draw.
Examples of Good Shadows Over Innistrad Sealed Decks
Shadows Over Innistrad Prerelease Deck
This was the deck I built in my first Prerelease in the Magic Online Beta. Back then, I already had the feeling the format would be slow and I would rather be the slow, control type deck.
I was happy overall during deck construction, mostly because of Sorin, Grim Nemesis">Sorin, Grim Nemesis, but it was only after I played and won the first three rounds that I realised how good it actually was.
Angel of Deliverance was one of the last cards I added, mostly because I was short on playables and it would also allow me to play 18 lands (cutting two of the spells I was unhappy with). The Angel ended up being an all-star, games were always going long so I always had the time to cast it and win the game easily afterwards. The same goes for Behold the Beyond, an extremely slow card, but you’d expect it to be the last card in your hand by the time you play it. When you cast Behold the Beyond, the game is most likely yours if you get to untap (especially when Sorin, Grim Nemesis">Sorin, Grim Nemesis and Angel of Deliverance are two of the three targets). This is what a very good (ideal) deck looks in this format. 5 rares on colour, two of which are mythics. Once you understand that the pace of the format is very slow, you are not that worried about having 6, 7 and 8 drops in your deck.
Shadows Over Innistrad GPT Sealed Deck
This was the deck I built at the weekend during a local GPT. Once again I was worried about having hundreds of 5 drops, but once again I didn’t get punished because the pace of the format is so slow. I had some mediocre cards I didn’t want to play in Red-Black and a hole to fill in the 4 casting-cost slot. So I decided to splash the all-star 1/5 flier (yes, that was the main reason why I splashed, the Sleep Paralysis was a bonus).
Shadows Over Innistrad GPT Draft Deck
I went undefeated with the last deck and manage to test my skills at draft in the top 8. When drafting Shadows over Innistrad you have a better chance to end up with an aggressive deck, most likely Red-Green Werewolves or Red-Black Vampires, so it’s more important to be careful with the mana curve. I was very happy with this deck and it didn’t disappoint, I ended up splitting the finals of the GPT and keeping my undefeated record in the format.
The 6 cards on the side didn’t make the deck. I regret not playing the second Silent Observer instead of the Stallion of Ashmouth. I was worried I didn’t have enough ways to close the game, but the deck was really solid and most of the cards would out-grind my opponent anyway, closing the games wasn’t that much of a problem for this build.
OK, so with all of the above in mind, here is some bonus content!
Top 5 Most Underrated Shadows Over Innistrad Commons In Limited
To end my article I would like to do a Top 5 list, because everyone loves top 5 lists! Instead of the top 5 best commons of the set, I will offer up to you a top 5 list of the commons you probably didn’t expect to be good, but will actually turn out to be a lot better than you think. Here it goes…
Instead of forcing a Discard/Madness theme (where by the way you will normally end up with too many discard outlets and not enough Madness, especially good Madness spells) I like having solid cards that ask me to discard and solid cards that happen to have Madness. I love the 3/5 body and I would pay 5 for it without needing any upside. So giving this Madness makes it way better and the possible blowouts are limitless.
I rated this card as unplayable when I read the spoiler. 1-for-2’ing yourself is just not worth it for a removal spell, especially when it’s not at instant speed. But after getting some understanding of the format I realised sacrificing a land is sometimes more of an upside than a downside when Delirium around. Also having a no conditional removal for bombs is really valuable in this format. I rate it now as a always one-of and sometimes two-of.
In my first game of the GPT, I had at some point 2 lands in hand, a full graveyard and no board, the turn after I had 2 creatures in play and 2 more in hand (Hint: Geistblast was in my graveyard). Macabre Waltz has been printed multiple times, but it has never been as good as it is now. It’s so much value in this format and you should always try to draft one for your black deck.
This is as good at blocking as you’d expect it to be, but what you probably don’t know yet is how good he is at also attacking. Not many creatures can block it and you wouldn’t believe how many games this guy will deal 5-8 damage and gain you 5-8 life before finally eating your opponent’s removal spell.
Did you really think this guy would make the title of the article but not the top 5 of the list? Come on, you knew better than that!
I’ve played quite a lot of Shadows over Innistrad Limited in the few days that it has been out and I still have a lot to learn about the format. What has surprised me the most however is just how slow the pace of the format has been. Did you guys experience the same thing for your Prerelease and Release weekends? And have any of you grown to love Silent Observer yet, or is it just me?
Please let me know in the comments.
Thanks for reading,