[This is the first and last Travis Woo article on Mana Deprived as Travis gets ready to work for WOTC in 2012. We wish him nothing but the best and thank him for the support. –KYT]
Innistrad is a SWEET draft format. Today I’ve got an awesome draft strategy for you to go smash at your FNM down the way, your PTQ top eight in the next city, or your GP day two in the next state.
For me, draft is a lot like constructed. When I’m practicing, I’m not particularly interested in flexibility. I’m interested in seeing how far I can push an archetype! I think forcing is a viable strategy. If you remain completely flexible, you will benefit from the free flow of the draft, but you might end up in an archtype that you don’t have a ton of experience drafting. If you don’t have time to draft every archetype 20 times, forcing might be for you. Forcing also might be for you if you have a particular pet deck that is just more fun than anything else you could be doing.
I have pet decks. I love my pets, and I try to be a good master. There is a lot of value to be gained from mastering the same strategy by practicing different cards and incarnations for an entire season. In Kamigawa I couldn’t get away from Dampen Thought. In Scars of Mirrodin I couldn’t get away from Golem Foundry. In any draft format, I can never get away from crazy adventures. If you draft like everyone else, every game is a creature battle, with the occasional race or the occasional ground stall.
I like a little spice in my life.
Blue in Innistrad
So let’s talk about blue. There are a ton of ways to draft it. You can get big with zombies, or you can get aggressive with flyers. Me? I just want to play all the tricks and janky cards that come around late. And there are LOTS of them. I have had an EPIC win with every single blue common in this draft format. You could say that I am in love. <3
Let’s talk about blue control. Blue decks cross a broad spectrum of awesome- some are creatureless, some mill, some attack, some play with Burning Vengeance, some don’t. The wide range of playables means the deck can play in different ways depending on what is going on at the table.
I’m not going to talk about pick orders, because I don’t believe in them. Card picks vary by your curve, what cards you have, and what cards are being taken at the table. There are many factors. As the metagame evolves, some strategies will go from always available to never available. Some cards will go from always available to never available. This makes pick orders pretty useless.
Let’s talk about arguably the most important card for this deck, Burning Vengeance.
Burning Vengeance is a card that I slam at every opportunity. If you take it early you won’t have to worry about anyone else moving into the strategy (aside from other psychos), and you will get some niche cards really late. If you take the appropriate flashback cards early, you will have the same effect, and might find yourself picking up Burning Vengeance very late.
What makes this card so powerful? Over the course of the game, given enough triggers, Burning Vengeance will generate both cards and mana for you. It is an engine. A card like Think Twice, which is already a strong play, will now destroy a creature at no extra cost.
Burning Vengeance is a 3 mana investment that does not initially effect the board. What does this mean? It means you will often find yourself on the back foot with this card. Your life total might dwindle as you manage the board position. Later you can mount your comeback, but killing the opponent is usually an afterthought.
You won’t always have more than 1 Burning Vengeance, if any. Times will be harder, but you can still build a strong deck. Flashback spells are naturally strong as a game progresses. The value that you generate over the course of a game won’t translate as directly to victory. For this reason, Burning Vengeance is a card that you MUST pick early if you want to draft this deck.
The longer the game goes, the more of an advantage Burning Vengeance will generate, and the greater your chance of victory.
This means you should prioritize defensive cards highly.
Brimstone Volley and Geistflame are great defensive cards, but cards everyone at the table wants. For this deck, there are some cards that are incredibly important that we can count on picking up later.
One of these is Sensory Deprivation.
Sensory Deprivation does not kill the creature it enchants, but it stops it from attacking. Since we often fall behind in the early game, this is incredibly important. The drawback of a creature sticking around for later is negligible, because if we get to the point where we can safely attack we are usually in a position to win the game.
Here a frustrated opponent SNAP CONCEDES to Sensory Deprivation
Sensory Deprivation only costs only one mana. You can use it to remove an attacker without using all of your mana for one turn. It also allows you to play a second spell in a turn if you need to flip werewolves back down.
Other cards that are great in the deck are Fortress Crab and One-Eyed Scarecrow.
Fortress Crab works out to be a bit like a pacifism that you can move around. It blocks most of the key attackers in the format, such as Darkthicket wolf and Makeshift Mauler. Armored Skaab doesn’t block these creatures as effectively, although it is still good.
Scarecrow is important because of the lack of a big flying blocker at common. There is no Sky Ruin Drake in this format. Stitched Drake is very unreliable in a deck with so few creatures, and Moon Heron is fragile. One-Eyed Scarecrow is a creature that can hold Rakish Heir’s at bay at the same time as Midnight Haunting. The card comes around late, and is awesome.
A card that should be picked over almost any other is Rolling Temblor.
This is a card that you can often get later than the first couple of picks. The card rarely will kill one of your creatures, but can often pick off two or more of their creatures, before even flashing it back. When we fall behind, we can often dig for it with Forbidden Alchemy and count on it getting us back in the game.
With this deck, we often get to 9 mana, where the card becomes closer to a hard wrath. It is a very powerful card, with its one main drawback being its inability to hurt fliers. It is still a card to be prioritized highly.
Lost in the Mist
Lost in the Mist is a card that I love to see, and I find important to pick highly.
Lost in the Mist is a card that took me a little while to discover. On turn 5 it counters their most powerful spell, while returning their next most powerful. It buys a ton of time, at a 5 mana bargain. Since we often find ourselves falling behind, the tempo swing generated from this card is incredibly important, and can win games on its own.
The card is really hard for our opponents to play around. We already have a ton of instants, which means it isn’t particularly fishy if we pass to them with five mana up. If they choose to play around the card, they are giving us more time to reach our late game, and mana we can use to draw cards.
They usually can’t afford to play around it.
The card is not just great at generating tempo; it is great at locking a game up. Once we are ahead on the battlefield, Lost in the Mist will protect that advantage. In this situation it is important to not counter anything unless it is completely necessary to do so.
Also an 8 mana Unsummon
Lost in the Mist is an extremely flexible card with many uses. You can bounce your own creatures that are locked under auras. You can also counter your own spell when you desperately need an unsummon effect.
Once I discovered the power of Lost in the Mist, Werewolves were a natural progression. We have no trouble passing the turn to leave up counter mana, which generates an even greater advantage if we have some prime werewolves in play.
Werewolves are one of the best ways to close games out when we only have 0-1 Burning Vengeance.
Hanweir Watchkeep is the NUTES. It has 5 toughness for only 3 mana, which means it can block almost every important ground attacker in the format! That is a huge bargain at that spot in the curve. Later in the game, it becomes a 5/5 beatstick. The card is extremely powerful, and can win the game very easily in combination with Lost in the Mist, as seen above. Booya!
Hanweir Watchkeep is my favorite non-rare werewolf.
Village Ironsmith is always pretty sweet. It is a card that you can get very late that can be pretty potent. Ironfang is great at holding off most attackers. It does so at 2 mana, and there are few playable two mana creatures. Ironfang is a card that works especially well with Dissipate and Frightful Delusion. It is also great with Forbidden Alchemy.
Ironfang also makes a great attacker, especially when opponents side out any good blockers. The card is not a high pick, but it comes around late and is great filler.
Given enough mana fixing, the green werewolves are worthy of splashing. You can’t count on them coming down too early, but they are great when you can make them work. They are the most powerful werewolves short of Hanweir, but unfortunately you can’t always play them. I also like to occasionally play Villagers of Eastwald when available and I never hesitate to splash a green rare werewolf.
Delver of Secrets
Delver of Secrets has been getting a ton of constructed buzz, and its stock has also been picking up in limited. You have to think of the card as like a suspend creature, similar to Errant Ephemeron.
The card is a great finisher, and something you can sneak into play for only one mana on the first turn. I usually like to play at least 9 ways to flip Delver, but you can get away with fewer pretty easily. I usually like the card a bit more than Moon Heron, even considering the tension with Rolling Temblor.
Curse of the Bloody Tome
Curse of the Bloody Tome is better than Hedron Crab ever was. It is the best non-rare mill spell for limited ever printed. It is a great finisher for this deck.
If our opponent puts up a particularly good fight, we might expend all of our resources stabilizing board position, and have nothing left to kill them. This is where Curse comes in.
No red in this one
If you are able to trade one for one for many turns, a Curse of the Bloody Tome will end the game by itself. It is a great win condition, and something that you often have to pick up in the first eight picks.
It is completely reasonable, like Hedron Crab, to run in any sort of deck. It is also a great back up plan if Burning Vengeance isn’t available in a draft. If you play a turn 3 Curse, you might never completely stabilize the board, but you won’t have to if you can stall for long enough.
Curse is also very good against us. It is a great card in this format. If you find it to be underdrafted in your area, give it a try!
Now let’s take a look at some example declists.
This is actually pretty average list, where average list = stomping all over the opponent. It has five flashback cards and one Burning Vengeance, which is a bit light, but not less than expected. It has a lot of removal, and has a few rare pick ups that an end the game. It has some great blockers. It also takes advantage of the synergy between Hanweir Watchkeep and Lost in the Mist.
Here is an example of what might happen if red is not available in the draft. Burning Vengeance isn’t always even opened, but a controlling core works well with many other cards, such as Moan of the Unhallowed. This is a pretty solid deck, and answers the question of “What if forcing doesn’t work?”
This is another list with five flashback spells and one Burning Vengeance. Runic Repetition can be used to pad the flashback count if necessary, but it is important to think of it as a late game card. This particular list takes advantage of Delver of Secrets, and is good at attacking compared to most versions of the deck.
Here is a list that really takes Burning Vengeance and runs with it. It has lots of removal, and 8 flashbak cards. This is a version of the deck that is incredibly good at controlling the board and preventing the opponent from killing us. The deck is a bit light on win conditions, and struggled a tiny bit as a result. The Curse in the sideboard should be in the maindeck to end the games.
Maybe eighteen lands and Cobbled Wings
Here is a version of the deck that takes great advantage of werewolves. Burning Vengeance wasn’t available in the draft, but the combination between the green werewolves and counterspells give the deck plenty of play.
This is a great example of what happens if the colors are open, but the archetype is not. Still a solid deck!
Casually ignore the forests
Here is an ideal version of the deck. You will only get something like this around one in ten times. This deck has three Burning Vengeance and ten flashback spells. In this case, Burning Vengeance can be used as a kill condition, although this is extremely rare.
This deck is great at stopping any early rush, taking over the game, and finishing it. Curse of the Bloody Tome is quietly an all star in this build.
How to lose
The easiest way to lose with this deck is to build a deck that can’t actually win the game. If you “overvalue” attackers, you will still end up with a pretty reasonable deck. But if you “overvalue” defenders, you might end up with a deck that decks itself to an empty board on turn 33.
Here is an example of such a deck-
This deck is great at early defense, generating advantage, and taking over the game. What it isn’t good at is actually winning. I found myself destroying everything, before eventually decking myself.
It is important to be conscious of win conditions while drafting. This draft taught me this important lesson. If I found myself with a similar build, there is no way I would go without playing Curse of the Bloody Tome in the maindeck.
This is a very powerful deck that is a ton of fun to play. It is not always the best, but it is a guaranteed good time.
The deck can dominate at any level. Aaron Cheng was able to top 8 Grand Prix San Diego by forcing the archetype every time. Here is the draft deck that carried him to the top 8. It is a MASTERPIECE!
If you have any questions about the archetype, holler at me! Happy drafting guys!