Innistrad Limited: First Impressions

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The letter T!his past weekend I played in the Innistrad Prerelease at Jim Hanley's Universe (JHU) in Manhattan, and I had an absolute blast. I'm looking forward to going back there for some Saturday afternoon drafts as soon as the set gets released.

It's interesting to go from playing Magic 2012, where players would jump through hoops to be able to block and trade with creatures early because of bloodthirst, to Innistrad, where players are incentivized to go out of their way to keep their opponents' creatures alive because of morbid (and because of cards like Stitched Drake that require you to exile creatures from your graveyard).

Stitched Drake | Art by Chris Rahn

Over time, players will certainly adjust to this new reality, but at the Prerelease a lot of players still seemed to be in Magic 2012 mode, where they would take any reasonable trade that they could make (provided it would prevent them from taking any damage that turn).

Yes, it's still important to protect your life total, but you'll be able to earn quite a few extra wins if you are conscious of the fact that many of your opponents are going to actively want their creatures to die so they can summon bigger, and better, replacements.

How Fast Is It?

While I don't think it will end up being as fast as Magic 2012 Limited was, Innistrad Limited is faster than you probably think it is. Werewolves punish players for missing early drops. Vampires like Bloodcrazed Neonate can grow to abnormal sizes if you don't have a way to deal with them quickly. Darkthicket Wolf can take huge chunks out of your life total if you don't deal with it fast. You've got creatures like Stitched Drake that are absolute all-stars for their costs. And to top it all off, you've got cards like Brimstone Volley and Rally the Peasants that can allow you to close out games in a hurry.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to keep a close eye on the speed of the format. Will slow control decks have the tools to thrive? Or are the tools for aggressive decks so strong, and the penalties for not casting spells (and consequently turning on opposing Werewolves) so high, that players will need to fill their decks up with cheap creatures in order to remain competitive?

Steve's Innistrad Prerelease Sealed Pool


84 cards

Abbey Griffin
Cloistered Youth
Divine Reckoning
Elite Inquisitor
Fiend Hunter
Ghostly Possession
Mausoleum Guard
Midnight Haunting
Rally the Peasants
Smite the Monstrous
Thraben Sentry
Village Bell-Ringer

13 white cards

Armored Skaab
Back from the Brink
Battleground Geist
Deranged Assistant
Dream Twist
Forbidden Alchemy
Frightful Delusion
Hysterical Blindness
Memory's Journey
Spectral Flight
Stitcher's Apprentice
Think Twice

16 blue cards

Bump in the Night
Curse of Oblivion
Dead Weight
Ghoulcaller's Chant
Gruesome Deformity
Maw of the Mire
Night Terrors
Reaper from the Abyss
Victim of Night
Walking Corpse

13 black cards

Bloodcrazed Neonate
Brimstone Volley
Desperate Ravings
Feral Ridgewolf
Furor of the Bitten
Hanweir Watchkeep
Heretic's Punishment
Infernal Plunge
Kessig Wolf
Night Revelers
Rakish Heir
Rolling Temblor
Scourge of Geier Reach
Skirsdag Cultist
Vampiric Fury

17 red cards

Ambush Viper
Avacyn's Pilgrim
Darkthicket Wolf
Festerhide Boar
Gnaw to the Bone
Grave Bramble
Grizzled Outcasts
Gutter Grime
Hollowhenge Scavenger
Prey Upon
Ranger's Guile
Somberwald Spider
Spider Spawning
Ulvenwald Mystics
Villagers of Estwald

19 green cards

It didn't take me long to decide that I was going to play green, and that I was not going to go with blue or black. Green had a ton of good creatures to fill out my curve with, plus Gutter Grime (which is particularly strong in Sealed). I very briefly looked at a white-red version of the deck, but it just didn't have anywhere near as good of a creature base, or a curve, as the green-white or red-green versions of the deck did.

The only thing left for me to do at this point was to decide if I wanted to go with my white or my red as my support color, and then to trim down to 22 or 23 spells.

After a bit of deliberation, here's what I wound up playing:

I finished the tournament 3-1 and was very happy with the deck's performance.

While my opponents were choosing to draw first and expecting that they would have plenty of time to get their three colors of mana and eventually close out the game with six- and seven-mana bombs, I was busy killing them.

My two copies of Rakish Heir were absolute all-stars for me. There were games where I would use my removal to clear a path for my Vampires, and they would gradually grow to unmanageable sizes. Then there were other games where my opponents would trade with my Rakish Heir at the first opportunity, and this would enable me to cast a 5/5 Festerhide Boar.

I don't suspect that Rakish Heir should be that high of a draft pick, but as far as morbid enablers go it's pretty great. Your opponents need to deal with it immediately (and turn on morbid), or else watch it grow, and grow, and grow.

Without a good number of early threats like Darkthicket Wolf, Ambush Viper, Villagers of Estwald, Kessig Wolf, and my two copies of Rakish Heir, I would have had a deck with a bunch of uninspiring creatures at the middle of my curve (like Festerhide Boars that I would have a lot of trouble powering up, and Ulvenwald Mystics that I would have had trouble transforming) and an insufficient amount of removal to deal with opposing bombs.

Building Your Sealed Deck to Beat Bombs

If your Sealed Deck pool doesn't have bombs and/or multiple good ways to deal with opposing bombs, then you need to build your deck so it's aggressive enough for you to win before your opponents can take over the game with their game-breaking cards.

My white was initially appealing thanks to the fact that it had a strong removal package including Fiend Hunter, Smite the Monstrous, Rebuke, and Divine Reckoning, but the green-white decks that I put together all wound up being fairly unimpressive.

While the white version of the deck would have been stronger against decks that relied heavily on their bombs, it was noticeably slower than the red (2 Rakish Heirs and a Kessig Wolf drastically improved the odds that I would be able to make a 5/5 Festerhide Boar on turn four). The white version also didn't have any finishers that would allow me to take over stalemated games in the same way that Heretic's Punishment would.

I sideboarded into the white once, and I immediately regretted it. While it was better at dealing with individual bombs than the red-green version of the deck was, my green-white deck just wasn't powerful enough to compete with a barrage of good (but not necessarily great) cards.

While having a couple of all-purpose answers in your deck is certainly good, if the rest of the cards in your deck are just weaker than the cards that your opponent is going to be throwing at you, then it won't matter that you can kill any given creature that they play.

The Importance of Being Human

When Avacynian Priest was previewed, I didn't even stop to think about it. I saw a good tapper, and just kept looking. However, the fact that Avacynian Priest can't tap Humans actually winds up being a huge limitation.

While Avacynian Priest and Bonds of Faith are certainly good, they're nowhere near as versatile as I thought they would be before I actually played with the set. If you're playing against a base white deck, Avacynian Priest might not be able to tap anything.

Even if you don't have any cards that directly benefit you for having Humans, you're going to want to prioritize Humans over non-Human creatures whenever you get the chance (unless you have other tribal synergies going for you). Doing so will minimize the effectiveness of opposing Avacynian Priests and Bonds of Faith. This is especially relevant for cards at the top of your curve—the cards that you really want to attack with.

Avacynian Priest | Art by Greg Staples

What Types of Decks Are You Looking to Draft?

I'm going to be using some Prerelease prize packs to do a couple of drafts this week, and I know that I'm going to try to put together aggressive green-red morbid decks and slightly more controlling blue-black graveyard decks.

What decks are you looking to draft?

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