You know, they say Innistrad is one of the most open formats to ever be played in limited, and it is tough to argue with that. There are so many archetypes that you can draft something completely different a dozen drafts in. As one might assume, that type of format might favor someone like me who is known for going about things a little differently. While this may have been true a few months ago, it is true in an entirely different way today.
This past weekend was the final Innistrad only tournament. Dark Ascension will definitely change the format a ton, but as far as Innistrad only is concerned, I ended the format where I began, and it felt a bit like cheating. Allow me to explain.
Because Innistrad is such a diverse format, people fall in love with gimmicky decks that are made possible through so many build-around me cards. Whether your poison is Burning Vengeance, or Spiders, the Mill deck, or too many Bumps in the Night, there is probably some gimmick deck in Innistrad that's right up your alley. This begins to hook people to the point where everyone has their fun deck to draft and they gravitate toward it more and more, drafting it more often than not. The issue here is that some of the more “nuts and bolts” archetypes are still around, and they are still good. Oh yea, and no one drafts them anymore because they aren't “cool.”
At Worlds last year for example, the two decks I drafted were a run of the mill GW deck, probably lower in power level than even an average GW deck, but the inherent game plan of the deck is still so solid that I was able to beat better cards than I could ever hope to draw. Then, for the second draft, a typical RB deck was all I needed to succeed again. Yes, Olivia Voldaren and Bloodline Keeper were both nice, but even without them my deck had a ton of removal and a solid game plan in mind every time I shuffled up. Fast forward to Grand Prix Austin.
This time, sealed deck entered the fray first, meaning I would need a good pool to make day two and put into action this mentality of “draft the good old fashioned decks”. As I opened my pool, the first thing to catch my eye was a pair of Bonds of Faith, followed closely by a Geist-Honored Monk and then Slayer of the Wicked. Once I reach Black, my jaw dropped though. A foil Bloodline Keeper was concealing an additional Bloodline Keeper, which was concealing a Curse of Death's Hold. I ended up with the following:
(I also had a Grimoire of the Dead and Charmbreaker Devils in the board that didn't make the cut. The book is just way too slow, and the Devils only had 3 spells to return and came off of the splash, so I didn't really need to dip into it.)
Sure, the deck could have used another Typhoid Rats or Dead Weight to help slow down the early offense of opposing hordes, but I was not about to start complaining. Anything other than a 9-0 would be a bit disappointing with the pool, but I knew this was still Magic, and so when I ended up coming in at 7-2, I couldn't do much other than hope to improve the next day. I wanted to be more bummed than I was, but my losses did not really reflect on any decision I made in a negative way, so I just got ready for Sunday where draft awaited me.
We found out very quickly that the stamped product we had all grown so used to was left in Seattle, and as a result, we would be using traditional booster packs and judges would be walking around to take pictures of our pools, spread out, in addition to registering them, to help prevent cheating. For my first draft though, this barely mattered, as most of my cards were face up anyway!
I started the first pack with a decision between Gatstaf Shepherd and Geistcatcher's Rig while two seats to my left a Bloodline Keeper was opened. I waited until the drafter on my right had picked his card because he also had a Gatstaf Shepherd in his pack and when he chose to send it my way, I snagged back to back copies of the amazing two-drop. A Hamlet Captain 3rd pick and a Ulvenwald Mystics 4th were not the most exciting picks, but they were fine. Then I got to my only difficult pick of the draft. 5th pick I was passed a pack with both Prey Upon and Travel Preparations in it. I think Travel Prep is a slightly better card for GW, but there is a nonzero chance that I don't end up GW, especially with 4 mono Green cards to start. Ultimately, I went with the Prey Upon for color considerations, but it was tough.
Pack two saw the guy immediately to my left open a Bloodline Keeper, congesting Black heavily on my left side. Luckily for me though, the drafter who opened Bloodline Keeper in pack 1, opened a Daybreak Ranger in pack 2. With both players fighting over Black, I was passed a Fiend Hunter and then Daybreak Ranger for my efforts of making it perfectly clear that I was the Green drafter. This was cemented when the Avacyn's Pilgrim that I took Ranger over tabled back to me. I ended up with the following deck:
In retrospect, I probably should have only run 1 Mountain, but the allure of the Ranger caught hold of me and I saddled up two. My reasoning was that I would only run 1 Mountain at 16 lands, and I think this was basically a 16 land deck, but I went with 17 to fit in the second Mountain. It never really came up, but that was certainly a concern of mine. I ran the Spare from Evil instead of Moonmist despite it looking insane, primarily because of the presence of two Bloodline Keepers in the pool. I knew that if I couldn't kill the thing (and I only had 3 ways, 2 of which were conditional) I would need a way to punch through a bunch of vampires. Moonmist didn't do this, while Spare from Evil did, so it got the nod.
I started the pod 2-0, beating one of the Bloodline Keeper decks (BW) but had to face the second in the finals. Bloodline Keeper didn't make too much of a fuss, as I was able to kill it or win whenever he played it, but his Manor Gargoyle that he also opened was quite the roadblock. While I had some ways of getting rid of it (Grudge, Smite, Fiend Hunter) they never showed up when I needed them too and it took game 2 by itself. Game 3 was a combination of flood on my part and Manor Gargoyle again from my opponent, to give me my first loss of the day.
That said, I was happy with how my deck ended up playing out. It was not the greatest GW deck ever, but the solid core elements of the strategy allowed me two wins and I was close to a third. My first draft deck at Worlds was similar, with a single rare, no Travel Preparations, and just a bunch of cheap dudes. If everyone else is going to be goofing off, taking Memory's Journey 3rd pick (true story) I was just going to draft good decks and battle right through their gimmicks.
Flashback to Worlds now where I opened an Olivia Voldaren in pack 1, making my ultimate decision to go RB much easier than it otherwise would have been. That said, I know from drafting the deck a decent amount during team drafts and prep for worlds, that the creatures are not the important part of such a deck. Red and Black offer a ton of decent finishers, even if they aren't the star quality of Olivia or Bloodline Keeper. This archetype actually reminds me a lot of 5 color from Shards Block. In that deck, removal and card advantage were so important that winning with a pair of Ridge Rannets (as were my win conditions in the top 8 of Pro Tour Honolulu) was not only feasible, but often was the right call. Sure, you would prefer to have a Sharuum in your deck, but without it, you would still be fine.
Very little of this ran through my head as I first picked a Dead Weight out of my p1p1 for draft 2. Instead, what I was thinking was that Matt Boccio was to my right, and I know he basically drafts Spiders or similar decks whenever possible, almost forcing the archetype. As a result, despite there being a Grasp of Phantoms in my opening pack, I went with the non-blue card. This was a tough pick for me, but I honestly don't even think Dead Weight is THAT much worse than Grasp.
The draft began to go downhill when I had to second pick a Harvest Pyre out of a terrible pack and then gamble with a 3rd pick Burning Vengeance out of another terrible pack. When the wheel came back around and I got a Scourge of Geier Reach and Markov Patrician, I started to feel a little better. Another Dead Weight P2P1 followed by more removal like Victim of Night and Into the Maw of Hell kept my draft afloat. But pack 3 was what truly saved me.
I started the pack with a Brimstone Volley into a Victim of Night over Geistflame, as I already had 2 Dead Weight and thought the late game removal would be better. I just picked up dorky creatures when I could but when Skirsdag Cultist tabled from my first pack, and that Geistflame came back to me 10th, my deck all came together. I ended up with the following:
My miniature Vampire tribal theme was quite good with all of the removal I was packing. While Rakish Heir is not my idea of an insane creature, with 6 Vampires in the deck and a ton of removal, I was able to grow just about each vampire in my deck at least once. Markov Patrician was especially good as it tended to get in 3 to 4 hits in this deck when you are usually lucky if you ever get in even one. Dorky guys and infinite removal led to a 3-0 finish for the deck.
It wasn't as though the decks I were playing against were bad, but they were all fiddling around with trying to establish some combo or set up an intricate game plan while both of my decks just stuck to the nuts and bolts of Magic and disrupted whatever they were trying to do, either through removal or aggression.
This really is the issue with a format growing “stale” to most people, as they allow their boredom with the format to influence their archetype choice during premier event drafts, which is dangerous. I tend to allow a draft to come to me and see what develops, and in both of these cases, a very straightforward, no frills archetype was waiting for me and I was happy to oblige it. Sometimes ending up where you began is not as bad as it may seem. Thanks for reading!