I’ve been loving Shadows over Innistrad Draft and play it whenever a flashback draft isn’t killing my productivity (I’m looking at you, Time Spiral). The thing about Shadows over Innistrad that I love most is that it captures the essence of Innistrad and really builds on it in its own way. There are some very different mechanics in Innistrad than SOI, but when you build a set around flavor, it doesn’t actually matter that much when there are only a few returning mechanics.
One new keyword that I’ve been blown away by is investigate. Deck smoothing mechanics have become a mainstay in Limited and I find the variations on them fascinating. More often than not the mechanic is some variation on cycling or kicker, and investigate lives up to that. It gives kicker to your spells, but adding the installment plan takes it to another level. Thraben Inspector would be playable in Limited at 2W 1/2 draw a card, but nowhere near exciting.
One question I had when I first started drafting this set was, how good would the UG Clue deck be? In my initial review of the color pair, I admitted that I wasn’t entirely sure of the correct direction to go with the archetype, but after trial and error I’ve come to a place where I’m happy with my understanding of how the deck functions, the types of cards you want to prioritize, and how it matches up in the format.
My initial confusion with UG was the fact that there were many uncommons that pulled you to the “Clue deck,” but what did that really mean? Graf Mole and Fleeting Memories want you to sit around cracking Clues, gaining life, and slowly killing your opponent while you block to your heart’s content. At the same time, Daring Sleuth and Confront the Unknown are all about the red zone and killing your opponent. So what is this deck actually trying to achieve? It really depends draft to draft, but the most important part is to draft good cards and to let investigate cards fall into your lap late to enable your good early picks. Starting with an early Graf Mole is fantastic, but don’t start picking Press for Answers or Gone Missing immediately after because you have a Clues-matters card. Of course, some of the better generic cards in UG like Jace’s Scrutiny and Confront the Unknown just happen to investigate, so those become even higher picks.
As you pick up your reasonable cards like Quilled Wolf, Rabid Bite, and Stitchwing Skaab, you might recognize that blue and green are the open colors in your seat. At that point, you should start to skew your evaluations slightly toward the Clue-heavy cards, but again, don’t go too far. The good cards are simply the good cards. You pick Byway Courier over Hinterland Logger, which might go the other way if you were RG, for example. Yet, I’m still picking Hinterland Logger over Drownyard Explorers, simply because it’s a much better card in the format. When you draft in this way, you’ll end up building a deck that has a normal curve with creatures and spells, and then a few payoff cards that are better in your deck than they are in the format on average. Those cards are:
This is already a high pick because it has reasonable stats and the ability is incredible any time you can trigger it. I like to pick this early even when I don’t know if I’m UG, so don’t expect this to come to you late. Once I have this card, though, I’m not moving Weirding Wood up in my pick order. The effect the Illuminator grants is nice upside but isn’t really a build around.
A 2/4 body for 3 is reasonable already. Just because you have Graf Mole doesn’t mean you need to go crazy with bad investigate cards, but it does actually pay you off enough for Clues that it should start to affect your pick order. Erdwal Illuminator only needs to trigger 2 times for you to have enough Clues to crack to keep you busy, so even having 3 to 4 investigate cards in your deck makes that card quite good. With the Mole—the more the merrier. Each Clue then buys you a ton of time, so you’ll want to crack Clues at times even when you have a lot of cards in hand, which isn’t otherwise the case. For this reason, I find Graf Mole to be one of the best cards for UG, and it makes me want to play cards like Press for Answers that have marginal effects, as long as I have enough similar payoffs.
This card is generally bad, but can function as your win condition as long as you build around it. It isn’t good in a normal UG Clue deck because you want to draft good cards and curve out, but if you are in the seat where investigate cards are flowing, there are worse ways to win than Fleeting Memories. I am way more interested in this effect if I have access to a Tamiyo’s Journal because it allows you crack a ton of Clues for free to get a milling effect and lets you find key answers to affect the board while you’re doing so. Additionally, the Journal finds the Memories so that you now have a virtual 2 copies in your deck and have a much more reliable win condition.
This is perhaps the best reason to have a “normal” Limited deck. Just play creatures, attack, get Clues, trade, get Clues, gain life, rinse, repeat, and profit. This card is really not beatable in any matchup where your opponent lacks evasion, and makes trading awkward. Many of the UG creatures are defensive and thus trade poorly, which makes this card much weaker if you aren’t careful. If you fill your deck with cards like Gloomwidow, Drownyard Explorers, Lamplighter of Selhoff, Moldgraf Scavenger, and Silent Observer, you won’t be maximizing the effect of this card or Ulvenwald Mysteries, another great payoff. Though I will say Silent Observer is a nice combo with Investigation since it blocks the turn it comes down then starts attacking for Clues.
As good as Ulvenwald Mysteries is, it’s actually at its best in WG where creatures trade more often. In addition to this, it makes Thraben Inspector even more amazing, and the ability to go wide with it is very powerful. Thus, if you pick one up early and have your choice, think WG, though UG is certainly the second-best home and still very good.
Confront the Unknown and Jace’s Scrutiny
These are the final reasons why a UG deck full of creatures works so much better than the full-on durdle deck. These help your creatures while providing bonus value, and sometimes Confront the Unknown acts as a fully-powered Lava Axe for 1 mana. These cards are very good and should be high picks for any drafter at the table in blue or green, but become even higher priorities in UG. Just be careful when cracking Clues because sometimes it’s right to keep an extra 1 or 2 around when you have access to Confront for a bigger pump effect.
I’ll dive into explanations of each deck and how the approach their game plan in regards to the “draft good stuff and then some Clues” idea mentioned above.I’ll be using my normal grading scale as follows:
A: Hits every mark of the archetype and has some extra power outside of the archetype itself (usually from strong rares and uncommons).
B: Reaches all the goals of the archetype and has a strong game plan that will lead to many wins. You should aim for this level when drafting (and hope that an A results).
C: There are some elements of the archetype in place, but there are holes in the deck and it won’t be as streamlined accordingly.
D: The deck is more a pile of reasonable cards within its colors but doesn’t have a cohesive strategy.
F: Often labeled a “train-wreck,” the deck just doesn’t work on a fundamental level.
This deck hits all the marks of what I discussed and even has rares to boot! Rabid Bite, Lambholt Pacifist, and Pack Guardian are excellent cards in any green deck and were high picks for this deck as well. As you can see, I did include a Drownyard Explorers here, which I panned earlier, but I think it does enough when you look at the number of payoff cards in the deck. Because of the abundance of Clues, this was actually the first time I managed to trigger Briarbridge Patrol’s ability. I happened to also Demonic Tutor, gain 9 life, and put 3 1/1s into play at the same time. But overkill is good sometimes, right?
The one mistake I think I made in deck building was to include Thornhide Wolves. It should be the second copy of Watcher in the Web, but I made this mistake because, in general, I think you would want the 1/1 split. UG can have trouble killing the opponent if you’re trying too hard to maximize value. Having a few heavy hitters helps alleviate that problem, and they also pair very nicely with the combat tricks and bounce spells in UG. This deck really had no problem winning because Soul Swallower or Ulvenwald Mysteries can handle that all by themselves.
This follows the same blueprint as the last deck, and the goal is a little different. In this draft I attempted to build more of a good-stuff strategy, but just didn’t get as many creatures to curve out. What makes this deck different is that it maximizes Fleeting Memories. It can sit back on defense and use Jace’s Scrutiny to help win in combat, especially on double blocks, and eventually win on the back of Fleeting Memories and Tamiyo’s Journal. In fact, this strategy was so key to the deck winning that I actually boarded in Silburlind Snapper each round since my opponents were all ground creature decks, just as another way to ensure that I could block anything.
In addition to all the advice for UG I’ve given you so far, I might also add that opening Jace, Unraveler of Secrets is a good strategy and I highly recommend doing so.
This is still a UG Clues deck, but much more under the direction of blue and green spells and solid creatures. There are only actually 3 investigate cards in the whole deck, and there’s even an embarrassing Furtive Homunculus. But the deck’s adaptive game plan is what allowed this deck to 2-1. It can aggressive draws backed by pump and removal/bounce spells. On the other hand, the deck can play defensively with Ulvenwald Mysteries and Crawling Sensation. One game I even used Crawling Sensation to deck myself and looped Rabid Bite each turn with Epitaph Golem to win.
The point here is don’t try and get too fancy. Part of UG’s greatest strength is actually its ability to be a generalist. It really doesn’t have to do one thing all that well as long as it has an overall solid game plan.
UG fluctuates draft to draft. The one constant is maintaining the focus on a curve and having meaningful spells that will complement your plan regardless of what it is. When you do have more Clues-matter build-arounds you can start to prioritize cards like Byway Courier a bit higher than normal, because they’ll be even better than usual. Then once you’re already heading down that path the stars will sometimes align and you’ll end up with a super sweet Clue-centric deck that can have it all.
*On general power level, but not within archetype guidelines.
Maybe you were wondering what happens when you draft UG and are trying to grab good cards, but the Clues never come? That happened to me and I ended up drafting UG Wolves. Not exactly a very common archetype, but this deck actually ended up really sweet. It has enough flash threats that I’d be able to hold up counterspells or flip my Thraben Gargoyles. Howlpack Resurgence was a true beating here. The one thing the deck was missing was interactive spells, as flyers were a real problem, but it goes to show the range that UG has as an archetype.