On Innistrad Limited
Today’s post is going to be radically quick, but I thought to at least say something, set I forget. Maybe I’ll follow it up with something better, but that’s preeettty unlikely.
There are few archtypes in Innistrad limited. often it will depend upon the Rare that you open. For the most part the Mythics are crazy-good (Past in Flames and Grimoire of the Dead aside) and the rares are solid.
In sealed, Werewolves take a big hit, as, in general, the most you’re getting is 6, and even then you’ve got to get lucky to pull that off. Most pools have 4-5 wolves, which, while good, ain’t great. Sometimes you’ll see a pool of 7-8, where someone got lucky and hit a couple of rare werewolves and every flips’ a wolf as well, but usually it won’t happen.
The werewolf deck, however, defines the format. Being able to hold down a T1 Reckless Waif, T2 Gatstaf Shepherd is critical to your survival. To hold them back you will generally want to be casting spells Turns 1-3 no matter what. You generally can’t hold off the wolves forever – unless you kill them, they will flip – but you can slow them down enough to keep in the game.
This is when you have to ask the question, well does each colour want to slow them down with while still enabling the archtypes? So I thought I’d talk about the commons and uncommons you need to survive the first three turns and enable your decks.
BLUE: Silent Departure, Think Twice, Deranged Assistant, Forbidden Alchemy, Civilized Scholar
Blue truly lacks a ‘great’ one drop, unless you manage to pick up the awe-inspiring 10 x Delver of Secrets, mucho-removal deck. You’ll never see it in Sealed, but you can manage it in Draft, and it is possible to outrace werewolves in it; possible, but still difficult.
As such, the only T1 play that you can gain any tempo advantage with, without losing card advantage, is Silent Departure. Even then, I’m not hot on this card. I’ve used it but not been happy with it, as while it’s slowing my opponent down, it’s not advancing my own agenda. Blue is generally in trouble against the T1 werewolf start.
Deranged Assistant is probably the best T2 play as it starts to immediately enable the bigger, fatter blue creatures, especially those that require a creature in the ‘yard. I’d tapped this guy for colourless mana, just to see what he pops into the graveyard, before determining the best line of play. Blue has a surprising array of fatties, and you really want to get one out in short order to shut down your aggro opponents. This guy is your best chance of doing so.
Stitcher’s Apprentice is a good man, especially if you have decided to go the Delver of Secrets route. For a small mana sink you can make infinite blockers, although the set-up time is oppresive, but as he also enables so many other things in the format (eg. Murder of Crows, Morbid, Gutter Slime) he’s a great T2 drop.
Slightly worse is Think Twice. This twice is nice as it starts to fill you graveyard up with goodies, but you’re not progressing your board, even as it replaces itself. T2 Think Twice opens yourself up to facing three creatures on your own turn 3, which can be hard to fight back from. I’d much rather get a body on the board.
T3 you get Civilized Scholar. He’s probably the best uncommon T3 play that’s not Claustrophobia and is more than a looter in Innistrad blue. He’s part of the engine you need to get your best creatures online, even if that means that he won’t loot for a turn because he looted away a critter. However, he’s not blocking anything that turn, something you really need to be aware of.
You also get Forbidden Alchemy. It’s a great card, perfect for enabling your Frankensteins, but again not progressing the board. If you go T1 nothing, T2 Think Twice, T3 Forbidden Alchemy, unless you’ve managed to find that Blasphemous Act you need, you’re likely a turn or two away from death. Creatures are super important in this format, and it’s the Deranged Assistants and Civilized Scholars of the world who are more than likely to make that happen.
WHITE: Doomed Traveler, Avacynian Priest, Unruly Mob, Elder Cathar, Fiend Hunter, Voiceless Spirit, Chapel Geist
While Cloistered Youth and Spectral Rider are great cards, you only want to play them in a truly aggressive deck. They are pretty terrible at shutting werewolves down, and not cards you want to trade with a werewolf anyway.
On T1 Doomed Traveler is just about White’s only play. You can ever guarantee getting a Champion of the Parish, and while Selfless Cathar is nice, you’d rather have the Traveler. Firstly, you’re happy to trade him away with just about any one-drop in the game, and secondly you’ll get a 1/1 flying token out of it, either to fog with then next turn, or to get in with when you get the chance. I realise that Marshall and Jon were pretty down on the Doomed Traveler as a card on the LR podcast, but he’s super-critical to keeping the werewolf deck at bay in the early game. Who wants to trade their waif with this guy?
T2 you really want Avacynian Priest. Yes, he’s a bit of a mana sink, but you’re happy to start tapping down your opponent while getting your flying engine online – and lets face it, you’re probably winning in the air, not on the ground. Unruly Mob is a nice follow-up to Doomed Traveler, especially if your opponent declined to trade, and Elder Cathar on T3 after the first two is brilliant. White has a very sacrificial theme to it – dying is just an means to an end – whether that be flipping a Traben Sentry, or getting two 1/1 flying tokens into play.
T3 you really want Fiend Hunter. Voiceless Spirit is okay, as is Chapel Geist, as they can both go on defensive duty, but Fiend Hunter is the nuts at this point. Suddenly you have one less werewolf to worry about and your opponent starts wondering how best to kill the Hunter instead of you. I can see how Voiceless Spirit is attractive, but bear in mind that it dies to giestflame, and if your opponent dinged your T1 play with it, then they will probably be flashing it back on T4 to kill your Spirit. You may prefer to have the Chapel Geist in this case.
BLACK: Dead Weight, Diregraf Ghoul, Typhoid Rats, Walking Corpse, Ghoulraiser, Markov Patrician
Vampire Interloper is nice, but he really can’t race the dedicated Werewolf deck, especially if you’re stuck with a bunch of Victim of Nights in your hand.
The best T1 play is Diregraf Ghoul and you’ll want at least 2 in your deck to make sure it happens. If your opponent doesn’t lead with a Ghoul I’d even consider not playing one until they start laying out Werewolves. Then, at least, you can stop flipping. If you find yourself with a super-aggressive start, these guys can make the switch and play out early, just be aware that if you dump your hand, you’re leaving yourself open to flipapalooza.
Typhoid Rats is the best defensive play. The only early werewolves to get past are Village Ironsmith and Gustaf Shepherd, so you’ll prefer a Dead Weight for those. But playing Typhoid Rats stops the switch, so Shepherd has to at least wait another round while the Ironsmith pings you for 1. Bump in the Night is bearable – just – but so much better at flipping your opponent’s werewolves back, if you can support the flashback cost.
Walking Corpse is an excellent T2 play, sad to say. Black’s commons and uncommons don’t support the bombs that well (to the point that I’ll happily take the Sever the Bloodline and splash it, rather than try to go into Black), so these little guys do a lot of work. Of course, backing up your Diregraf Ghoul and Walking Corpse with a Ghoulraiser is best, so you can trade your guy away for value. Markov Patrician is another option as it can radically stem the bleeding, allowing you to get your Bloodline Keeper online, but again it dies to just about everything (especially Geistflame) so beware. Screeching Bat is fine, but you have to consider flipping it and trading it off against a werewolf, which is the equivalent of time-walking yourself.
GREEN: Avacyn’s Pilgrim, Ambush Viper, Mulch, Darkthicket Wolf, Hamlet Captain
If you haven’t drafted Werewolves and you’re in Green you may be shit out of luck. That said, there are a few options open to you.
Firstly you really want to get down an early Avacyn’s Pilgrim. It stops wolves from flipping and allows you to ramp to the 3-4 drops that will stop the werewolf onslaught. Plus it splashes a colour, which is great because you clearly already have green, thereby allowing you to turn on White’s removal (pro tip – Bonds of Faith is a terrible play against most flip cards. Learn from experience, kids!).
Ambush Viper is a little trickier. To play him best you’ll need to let your opponent’s critter flip, and if they have two wolves on the board, that’s far worse than letting just the one your want to flip turn over. You may want to consider just playing him out if your opponent isn’t playing Black, as if they have the Giestflame you’ll be blown out anyway.
Mulch is one of Green/Blue’s better engines, in that it both fixes mana (sporadically) and fills the graveyard. However, like Think Twice, you’re not advancing your board, but you may be able to make those blue zombies, Boneyard Wurms and Splinterfights playable. UG is a deck, but you really need to get as many of the engine parts as possible to make it playable.
Darkthicket Wolf and Hamlet Captain are options, the only problem is they are far better on the offensive than the defensive. Darkthicket Wolf is actually my favourite offensive 2 drop in the game, and if you know how much I like Green in limited, you’ll understand how hard that is for me to admit. But there it is, a great card on the offensive. On the defense, however, you really need to recognise that for it to play best, you need to let your opponents flip, and you probably don’t want to be doing that. Keep in mind that you can always pump him then play Prey Upon, if you have the mana.
RED: Geistflame, Ashmouth Hound, Curse of the Nightly Hunt, Riot Devils, Rolling Temblor
If you’re in Red and you’re not playing aggro Werewolves, you better be in Aggro Vampires. Otherwise you’re in the much more tenuous Red Control deck and you need to recognise that immediately.
T1 you should be burning that Geistflame on their T1 werewolf. Don’t even think about it, just do it. You’ll get the ‘flame back later, and you won’t regret the massive amounts of damage you’ll save.
T2 on the defensive is pretty much Ashmouth Hound. He can kill a Village Ironsmith, as silly at that seems, or any 3-toughness werewolf (though there aren’t that many who’ll attack into him like that). If you can slow the board down just enough to start dropping 4-5 drops that matter, then he’s been worth it.
T3 you have a number of options. Curse of the Nightly Hunt is super interesting in both control and aggro decks, as you can suddenly clear a path that wasn’t, or you can force your opponent into some super-unfavourable attacks. I’ve won with this card before, cheerfully taking 18 damage when I knew I could race it out.
Riot Devils is a nice choice on the defensive, but usually underwhelming, Your best bet is Rolling Temblor, which has a terrible name but a great effect, taking out most Werewolves and other super-aggressive creatures with it (but not those dumb Spirit tokens. Another lessons learnt the hard way, kids!). The ability to flash it back is just gravy.
COLOURLESS: Blazing Torch, Traveler’s Amulet, One-Eyed Trouser Snake
Blazing Torch is an excellent card in the format and in a weak pack first-pickable. I’ll generally take up to three, as you still need a critter around to throw it, but it still works wonders. Traveler’s Amulet is not great, but the fact that it will generally push you to three mana and allow you to keep casting spells against werewolves makes it more than playable. Also helps with the splashes you’ll need if you’re playing Black. Oh Black.
One-Eyed Scarecrow is more a corner case. If your opponent is really fast it’s a do-nothing, so you may want to skip it, but it’ll happily trade off against various creatures and can really nuke a Spirit Token deck. If it’s in your board, bring it in if you need more 3 drops.
That’s a lot of words, more than I intended. But I will add this.
I’ve spoken a lot about engines above. There are key cards for the engines, most notably Deranged Assistant, Forbidden Alchemy and Mulch. These cards turn on a graveyard like nothing else, and it really does matter. Werewolves are very fast – probably faster than T1 Stormkirk Noble in Limited – and can pounce at a moment’s notice with Moonmist. So you need to get your engines online as quickly as possible if you want to race them.
Deranged Assistant and Forbidden Alchemy work wonders with the Blue Zombies, and Mulch is perfect for setting up Boneyard Wurms and Splinterfrights. Drafting a bunch of flashback cards with these is just gravy, as every flashback card milled into the graveyard is just like drawing another card to your hand.
Removal is really sparse in the format, no doubt this will improve as the block is released, but right now anything with 4 toughness or more is very, very hard to kill with removal. White has the most options (Rebuke, Smite the Wicked, Bonds of Faith), Red has the biggest and best effects (Brimstone Volley, Into the Maw of Hell, Geistflame, Blasphemous Act, Black’s removal is rather tempremental (Dead Weight, Corpse Lunge, Victim of Night), and Green is once again rather screwed, though Prey Upon is generally excellent (remember it doesn’t even tap your guy). Blue gets Claustrophobia, which the best removal forshutting down the bombs.
So rather than risk finding the removal you need, you really want to consistently get your engines online to allow for your late-game plays, regardless of what they are (flipping a Test Subject, creating an Army of the Damned, smashing with a thousand Essences). To do that you need to be aware of what will get you there and draft accordingly.
You won’t die in your first three turns of Innistrad Limited. But what you do during that time will dicate whether you die in the next three.