Our Pick Order for Shadows over Innistrad

Today I’m going to write about Face to Face’s pick order for Shadows over Innistrad. Frank Karsten always writes an article on his pick orders, and I always like going over his article and seeing where we disagree—reading this sort of article where teams of top players disagree wildly in card evaluations is very interesting to me because it shows that the game is far from solved. This time I decided to write my own article with the comparisons.

Since the power level on some cards is very close, we also ranked the cards in tiers, comparing them to the best commons. I will list all the cards in each tier, highlighting whether they are ranked the same way as in Karsten’s list, above what they are on his lists, or below. For big outliers I will make a note.

These rankings are, for the most part, the ones we agreed on as a team, though there are some spots where they are my personal order. When there is a big difference between my ranking and the team’s ranking, I will also make a note.

Before we start with the rankings, though, some general points about the format:

Colors

The format seems to have 3 tiers of colors—green, followed by white/black/red, followed by blue. Everyone seems to agree that blue is the worst, but I actually don’t hate it as much as my teammates—I’d rather stay flexible and have no qualms about drafting blue if that’s what I believe I should be in. I think Shadows over Innistrad is a synergy set and not a power set, so it pays to position yourself in the right strategy, and if that’s blue, that’s blue.

Archetypes

There are many viable archetypes in Shadows over Innistrad draft, and again I believe you’re better served by positioning yourself in the right archetype rather than fighting for one that is theoretically better. I think the best archetypes are UG Clues, GW Humans, RG Werewolves, BG(w) Delirium, and UR spells (this one is harder to pull off)—that this list covers every combination with green is a big part of why I think it’s the best color. There are very few archetypes I dislike if they are open—black/white and blue/white are the only combinations I actively try to avoid.

Flip Cards

Flip cards introduce an interesting element to drafting because some of the picks are known. I think flip cards offer yet another incentive to be reactive since you can know for sure what is happening. I value taking a flip card slightly higher than I would if they weren’t revealed, since it sends a signal, but I’m still not going to take a card that I consider much worse because of that—it’s at most a minor bonus. Flip cards should be used to read signals much more than to send signals, and I will take them heavily into account as I do not want to be fighting the person passing to me. I consider Fiery Temper to be a better card than Dauntless Cathar, but if you first pick a red werewolf in front of me, I will take the Cathar without hesitation.

The Commons

White

  1. Angelic Purge
  2. Dauntless Cathar
  3. True-Faith Censer

Blue

  1. Sleep Paralysis
  2. Just the Wind
  3. Stitched Mangler

This is my order and not the team’s order—the team had Stitched Mangler first. I can’t conceive of a world where I would take it over Sleep Paralysis (which for some reason my team hated), so I’m keeping Paralysis first in my list.

Black

  1. Dead Weight
  2. Murderous Compulsion
  3. Crow of Dark Tidings

Red

  1. Fiery Temper
  2. Voldaren Duelist
  3. Reduce to Ashes or Gatstaf Arsonists

Number 3 really depends on what you already have in your deck—by the time you take this kind of card, you should know if you want a big monster or a removal spell. In the dark, I’ll take the first Reduce over the first Arsonists, though.

Green

  1. Rabid Bite
  2. Byway Courier
  3. Hinterland Logger

Our Pick Order for Pack 1 Pick 1 Purposes

Tier 1—Rares that are better than anything:

Cards we share with Karsten’s list:

Elusive Tormentor
Geralf’s Masterpiece
Jace, Unraveler of Secrets
Tireless Tracker
Always Watching
Archangel Avacyn
Bygone Bishop
Descend Upon the Sinful
Sorin, Grim Nemesis
The Gitrog Monster
Sigarda, Heron’s Grace
Olivia, Mobilized for War

Cards we have above Karsten’s list:

Sin Prodder
Wolf of Devil’s Breach

My team and I differed greatly on how we approached gold cards, with me being much more of a “safe drafter” than the rest of the team. There was one draft where I first-picked Rabid Bite over Nahiri, and most people on our team would not have done that, but I think it’s correct.

The big differences from Karsten’s list are Seasons Past, Mindwrack Demon and Burn from Within. These are good cards, but significantly worse than the best uncommons as they are narrow in application. There’s no universe in which I’m taking Mindwrack Demon over Heir of Falkenrath. Burn from Within, in my opinion, is around Fiery Temper level.

We also identified Duskwatch Recruiter as the best uncommon in the set. Since I believe there are so many strong uncommons in Shadows over Innistrad, it makes sense to have multiple uncommon/rare rankings so that we’re able to differentiate.

Tier 2—Uncommons that are better than everything else:

These are the uncommons that I believe to be better than all the other rares. I think they are a class above the other uncommons and deserve their own list.

Duskwatch Recruiter
Lightning Axe
Bound by Moonsilver
Pack Guardian
Accursed Witch
Nearheath Chaplain

Cards above Frank’s list:

Heir of Falkenrath
Sinister Concoction

Here we see a big deviation from Karsten’s list because he lists some of the uncommons that I consider the most powerful (Heir of Falkenrath and Sinister Concoction) below Fiery Temper.

Tier 3—Uncommons/rares that are still better than any common:

Cards that are the same in Karsten’s list:

Kindly Stranger
Avacyn’s Judgment
Thalia’s Lieutenant
Hanweir Militia Captain
Odric, Lunarch Marshall
Erdwall Illuminator
Soul Swallower
Welcome to the Fold
Ulvenwald Hydra
Flameblade Angel
From Under the Floorboards
Markov Dreadknight

Cards below Karsten’s list:

Burn from Within
Nahiri, the Harbinger
Arlinn Kord
Westvale Abbey

Cards above Frank’s list:

Breakneck Rider
Slayer’s Plate
Mad Prophet
Lambholt Pacifist
Ever After
Ongoing Investigation
Gryff’s Boon

The biggest difference here between my list and the rest of the team’s is Wastevale Abbey. I agree that the card is not as powerful as it initially seems, but it’s still quite powerful, and it goes back to my point about being a safe drafter—it’s a card I’ll play in literally all my decks, so I think it makes for a great first pick. If I already have colors, then I will take it lower. The rest of the team disagrees, and would take a card like Fiery Temper over it p1p1, but I think that is wrong. Even then, I think Karsten has it too high by picking it above the top uncommons.

Another card we disagree about is Flameblade Angel. I think it’s not that good, and I would definitely take Fiery Temper over it. The rest of the team thinks it’s better than any common and better than most uncommons, though—there are people who would take it over anything. To me, it’s just a random flyer that deals some damage or dies without doing anything.

Regarding Karsten’s list, a couple of notable differences are Mad Prophet, Ongoing Investigation and Lambholt Pacifist, both of which he has below Fiery Temper. We found that the Prophet synergizes with madness and delirium, and with the prevention of mana flood, made it more valuable than any common, and more valuable than many of the cards in this tier. Ongoing Investigation is a very powerful card in a very powerful archetype that takes over games, and Lambholt Pacifist is a super efficient blocker that’s very easy to turn into beater—if you play it turn 2 and they don’t have a spell, how can they win? You’re attacking with a 4/4 on your turn 3!

Gryff’s Boon is also another card that we value much higher than his team does. I don’t think it’s as good as some of the cards on this list, but I consider it on par with the top commons, and I would take it over Fiery Temper and Rabid Bite because it simply wins the game so often (though I can be convinced it’s a bit worse than those).

Another big difference is Ever After, a card he has as worse than Byway Courier but that we think is better than Fiery Temper. I’ve found that the card is excellent in the late game, and on a comparable level to Seasons Past in the decks it’s good in (it’s worse as a value card but you gain about 10 mana in the process, which is good when you’re casting a 6-mana card). I think in the end it’s better than Seasons Past because it goes in more decks—there’s no black deck that doesn’t want it whereas there are many green decks that do not want Seasons Past (Werewolves, GW Humans).

A card that Karsten has very highly and we consider bad is Goldnight Castigator. I’m not going to say it’s unplayable because surely there are some matchups where it’s good, but most of the time I’d rather not have the card in my deck, and to pick it over Fiery Temper is unthinkable to me. Drogskol Cavalry is another card that we rate lower than he does—I would not pick it over Angelic Purge, even though it’s quite good in some decks (I basically view it as a gold card as I have little interest in a 7-mana creature in GW or RW).

There’s also Startled Awake, which he has above any common and I don’t like very much. I will take it if it gets to me late because I might want to play it (and I certainly want to sideboard it), but I don’t think it should be your main game plan with any deck. The only deck that I think wants to kill by milling might be Clues, and with that deck you can get Fleeting Memories. In the end, the prospect of tapping 4 mana to do nothing is not appealing to me, so I will not take this card highly.

Tier 4—The top commons:

After this list come the tier 1 commons—Fiery Temper and Rabid Bite. There are arguments for both Fiery Temper and Rabid Bite being the best common—Fiery Temper is a better card, but Rabid Bite is in a better color. I think that in the beginning of a draft format you are more incentivized to pick the green card since it’s possible that not everyone agrees that green is the best, but as the format progresses and it becomes “common knowledge,” you’re better off picking the most powerful card unless it’s in a truly abysmal color (which I don’t think red is). Regardless of this, we all agreed that Fiery Temper and Rabid Bite were significantly better than all the other commons—they are, in fact, the only commons I’m happy to first pick. As such, they present a good line to judge uncommons—they are either better than Fiery Temper/Rabid Bite, or they are worse. This is the same line Karsten used in his article.

Tier 5—Uncommons and rares that are worse than Rabid Bite but better than the next best common (which we considered to be Angelic Purge):

Asylum Visitor
Altered Ego
Call the Bloodline
Gisa’s Bidding
Stitchwing Skaab
Tooth Collector
Obsessive Skinner
Neglected Heirloom
Deathcap Cultivator
Tamiyo’s Journal
Kessig Forgemaster
Aberrant Researcher
Relentless Dead
Thing in the Ice
Rattlechains

Cards above Karsten’s list:

Graf Mole
Hermit of the Natterknolls
Sage of Ancient Lore
Inner Struggle
Avacynian Missionaries
Devil’s Playground
Pious Evangel

Cards below Karsten’s list:

Seasons Past
Mindwrack Demon
Declaration in Stone
Veteran Cathar

The biggest outlier from Karsten’s list is Graf Mole, a card he said he would take below Byway Courier. I think Graf Mole is one of the most important cards in one of the best archetypes, and it should be prioritized over a card that is always just solid. I will take Rabid Bite over it for versatility p1p1, but I would take Graf Mole over almost all the other cards in this list.

The other big outliers are the nonbasic lands. Karsten’s team seems to value them super highly, whereas our team would not pay them any attention. I would happily take a marginal common over a land, as I very rarely splash in this format (and when I splash I prefer taking the splash card first and then the lands), and it’s very puzzling to me that this is not the case for them. It’s also weird to me to rank all the lands equally, as you’re much more likely to need, for example, a UB land instead of a UW land.

Karsten’s list has Triskaidekaphobia and Skin Invasion higher than our team does, and much higher than I personally do. I’m not interested in this kind of high-risk-high-reward card, and I’d rather not have Triskaidekaphobia in most my decks even if it’s very good in some situations. Skin Invasion is a card I’m lukewarm about but one that I will likely never take because other people will always take it ahead of me.

Well, that’s about it! If there is a card that’s not listed that you are curious about, let me know and I’ll answer in the comments.

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