Ideas and notes for full-block Shadowmoor draft.

Keeping Up with Eventide

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The letter I!'ve been drafting a lot of Shadowmoor / Shadowmoor / Eventide lately, most recently at U.S. Nationals in Chicago. Here are some of the things I've found.

To Serve Man

Painter's Servant is a lot of fun now that Eventide is in the mix. It can turn all of your hybrid Auras on, it can help you make your Mimics big every time you play a spell, it can make your 6/6 Hatchlings get up to full speed really quickly, and it can even make your Lieges absurd.

Unfortunately, it can also lend your opponents a hand with all of these things.

I witnessed a match last week where a player played a turn-two Painter's Servant naming blue, then his opponent promptly played a Riverfall Mimic in his mono-red beatdown deck and proceeded to attack for 3 points of unblockable damage every turn. Not that there were many more turns, as the red deck proceeded to maul the Painter's Servant's controller in a matter of minutes.

Even the best servant can turn on its master.

Most Eventide Hybrid Cards Can Actually Be Treated as Either Color

Shorecrasher Mimic is a fine card. It's always a 2/1, and if you play a green-blue spell, it becomes a 5/3 trampler for the rest of the turn. So, it's only natural that Shorecrasher Mimic would be better in a green-blue deck than it would be in a blue-black deck or a red-green deck.

Only it isn't.

There is little to no functional difference between playing a Mimic or an Eventide hybrid aura, such as Favor of the Overbeing, in a deck that has both of the hybrid colors or a deck that only has one of them.

The Hatchlings, such as Voracious Hatchling, do benefit from being in a deck that contains both of the card's hybrid colors. If you are playing Voracious Hatchling in a white-black deck, every nonartifact spell you play will remove a -1/-1 counter from it, and every white-black spell will remove two -1/-1 counters from it.

But you could also get full value out of Voracious Hatchling if you were playing a mono- (or nearly mono-) white deck or a mono-black deck.

By now you might be saying something to yourself along the lines of:

OK, Steve, why are you stating all of these obvious things? I could tell you all that just by looking at the card.

Well, there is a reason for it, and I think it's a pretty good one.

When you are drafting Shadowmoor / Shadowmoor / Eventide, there are significantly more incentives to be mono-colored going into the third pack than there are to be enemy-colored.

If I had to put a number on how many more incentives there are to be mono-colored than there are to be enemy-colored when entering Eventide, I would say that there are a little less than twice as many reasons to be mono-colored, or mono-colored with a splash, than there are to be enemy-colored before opening your Eventide pack.

A blue-red deck would be able to use Crag Puca, Shrewd Hatchling, Noggle Hedge-Mage and Dominus of Fealty to full effect. These are clearly all good cards to be able to play, and certainly represent reasons to want to be blue-red, but let's take a look at what happens if you are instead drafting a mono-blue deck. Well, then you would still be able to get full value out of Crag Puca, Dominus of Fealty, and all of your other blue-red cards but you would also be able to maximize the effectiveness of Overbeing of Myth, Wistful Selkie, and Sturdy Hatchling.

Aside from the Hedge-Mage cycle, there aren't any direct incentives to be drafting an enemy-colored deck instead of a mono-colored deck.

So, to sum things up: If you want to put yourself into a position where you can take advantage of as many different possibilities from Eventide as you can, then you want to be mono-colored (possibly with a small splash) before you enter the third pack.

But wait, Steve, don't I want to be playing two colors so I can take advantage of twice as many good mono-colored cards?

Sure, if you have a good reason to be in a second color, then by all means go for it. But you don't have to know what your second color will be before you open your third pack. Heck, you don't even need to know if you are going to be mono-colored, two-colored, mono-colored with a splash, mono-colored with two splashes, two-colored with a splash, or any other wacky combination. It always pays to keep your options open.

Of course, you might not have the choice to keep your option open. If you open up a Twilight Shepherd in the first pack, and an Incremental Blight in the second pack, then you are going to be playing white-black almost all of the time.

And that's perfectly okay. You see, a card in the stack is worth two in the pack. Or some other cool-sounding phrase to that effect.

My point is, if you have a very good, definite reason to be playing something, then that will often be better than a potential reason to be doing something.

But if you only have an OK reason to be limiting your options, then you are likely dooming your deck to mediocrity. And that just isn't a good thing to do.

You've heard me say this before, and you'll hear me say this again. Keeping your options open is immensely valuable. Just be careful not to wait too long to take advantage of something. If you spend the entire draft keeping your options open and you never take advantage of anything, then, well, you're probably going to end up with a pretty underwhelming deck.

Knack, Knack. Who's there?

Banishing Knack is really good. And by really good, I mean really, really good.

I've done drafts where I've gotten Banishing Knacks as late as 9th, and that just shouldn't happen.

If you have at least two ways to abuse Banishing Knack, then it becomes one of the best commons in the set. If you have a Barrenton Medic and a Banishing Knack you get to bounce four(!) permanents. If you have a Silkbind Faerie, a Banishing Knack, and seven lands, you again get to bounce four permanents. If you have a Leech Bonder or a Puresight Merrow and a Banishing Knack, you get to bounce a permanent for every land you control that produces mana of the appropriate color.

Even if you only have a creature without an untap effect, you get to bounce any non-land permanent, which is a more than reasonable effect for only Blue Mana.

Now it might seem like I'm stating the obvious again by listing all of the things that you can do with Banishing Knack, but its effects are worth repeating, because there is no way that anyone should see a Banishing Knack 9th pick except for in the most unlikely of circumstances.

If you have any sort of board and you play a Banishing Knack that bounces three or four permanents, then it is going to be pretty hard to lose. For example, I played a game a couple of weeks ago where I mulliganed down to four on the play, got Incremental Blighted, and was still able to win on the back of a Banishing Knack bouncing four of my opponent's permanents.

If I have at least two creatures with untap effects, then I will be more than happy to take Banishing Knack first-pick. In fact, I've gone as far as to take Banishing Knack over other top commons such as Snakeform, Unmake, Puncture Blast, and Recumbent Bliss without ever needing to give it a second thought.

Retrace Changes the Way the Game is Played

Another card that is criminally undervalued is Oona's Grace. The first few times I drafted Shadowmoor / Shadowmoor / Eventide, I would take Oona's Grace in my first few picks. Then I realized that people were passing it. And passing it. And passing it.

I've seen Oona's Grace go by as late as 13th, and I often see it around 9th or 10th. Passing Oona's Grace this late might not be murder in the first like Banishing Knack going 9th is, but on the violent crime scale I'd say that it's still armed robbery.

The first time you play Oona's Grace, you are definitely overpaying. Manamorphose lets you cycle for, essentially, zero mana, the wisps let you cycle for one mana and you get access to two potentially relevant effects (the first being the color change ability that has the power to shut off hybrid Auras, and the second being the other effect printed on the card).

But, in a weird way, the price of Oona's Grace doesn't really matter. It's cheap enough that you can play it early to help smooth out your draw if you absolutely need to, and it's cheap enough that later in the game you will be able to use it twice, or use it once and play a different spell on a single turn.

I think that most people caught on to how good retrace is pretty early, but for some reason people just haven't come to appreciate Oona's Grace yet. If you've been leaving Oona's Grace in you sideboards, or letting it slip away from you late in your blue decks, then do yourself a favor and give it a try. Next time the game goes long you'll be thankful you have it.

Now I'll admit that I don't understand all the implications of retrace yet, but I do know that its existence should often significantly alter the way you play. In the past, there have been many games where I looked to play a game of attrition, gradually grinding out a small edge on cards and eventually winning by having just one (or two) more relevant spells than my opponent did.

This type of game almost never happens when retrace is involved.

If a player has a retrace card such as Oona's Grace, Cenn's Enlistment, or Savage Conception and the opponent doesn't have a similarly powered retrace card, then any game that goes long will likely fall into the retracer's hands. If instead the retrace card is a Call the Skybreaker or a Spitting Image, then the game will likely end in a hurry.

If your opponent is retracing at a profit, then the pressure is on you to do something impressive in order to take the game

Now retrace isn't a miracle-maker of any sorts. If you are winning, it will often help you win with room to spare, because you are never going to run out of spells. If you and your opponent are stalemated, then retrace spells will allow you to gradually take over the game (note that a stalemated game, or a game where both players have depleted resources, is generally where retrace is at its best).

But if a player is backpedaling while they are retracing then the pressure will still be on them to do something impressive if they are going to win. Sure, sometimes having a never-ending stream of spells will allow a player to shift from losing a game to winning a game, but often that just won't be enough on its own and the retracer will have to continue to look for a way to win the game.

A Hidden Gem from Shadowmoor

One card that I had completely overlooked for months is Resplendent Mentor. I judged this card without really thinking about what it can do, and it turns out that that was a big mistake.

I realized how good Resplendent Mentor is when I was playing a match against Bram Snepvangers and he had a Silkbind Faerie and a Resplendent Mentor, allowing him to gain a bunch of life and tap down my entire team every turn. While this was clearly Resplendent Mentor at its best, I was surprised to find that it still made a significant impact on the game after I killed his Silkbind Faerie.

Resplendent Mentor also works extremely well with Cenn's Enlistment, allowing you to constantly further your board position and gain an often unreachable amount of life in the process. If your opponent tries to make attacks that are large enough to make a serious dent in your token-enhanced life total, then you will usually be able to attack back at a sizable profit.

Now, I certainly let my deeply engrained anti–life gain bias ("It's not worth spending a card to be able to tap a creature to gain a life. Bah!") prevent me from realizing just how good Resplendent Mentor can be. And I don't mean it prevented me from realizing this for a couple of weeks. No, it took me over three months, and I needed to see someone else using it before the light bulb turned on in my head.

Are there any cards that you've misevaluated for a very long time?

Who's the King of the Commons?

Eventide is a set with a lot of extremely powerful commons. I want to know which one you think is the best.

 What's the most powerful common in Eventide?  

I look forward to seeing your picks for the best common in Eventide!

Take care,
Steve Sadin

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