Shadows Over Innistrad: Playing to Your Weaknesses – Red
NOTE: “Playing to your Weaknesses” is a series of articles I have been doing on my own blog since Avacyn Restored that cover all of the uncommons and commons in a new expansion and which ones I would choose to use as one of the 23 cards in a 40 card limited deck. For those of you uninitiated to limited, it simply means sealed and booster draft, where you open packs and then proceed to make a deck out of them. I’ve purposely left out the rare cards because it is much more likely that you’ll see multiples of uncommon and commons in your packs/pools.)
As for my rating system, I’ll be using a new format this time around. After a lot of feedback, I’ve decided to abandon my 3 tier scoring system of Low-Medium-High and I will instead be moving onto a 5 star ranking system. The system is as follows:
- 1 star = a card that is barely playable, even as filler for your deck
- 2 stars = this card could be a strong sideboard card, but is highly conditional and not always effective
- 3 stars = a 3 star card is a solid role-player. These cards could be less than amazing removal effects, or a creature that is a glass cannon (high power, low defense). They could be good except for a few flaws.
- 4 stars = Here’s where we get into the powerhouses. 4 Stars could be good finishers, or cards that can end a game if left unchecked. They also have multiple effects, and are all around good value for you. The only thing holding them back is restrictive costs or some small drawback. Most first pick draft commons/uncommons fit into this ranking.
- 5 stars = you won’t see a lot of these at common and uncommon. These will usually be your rares and mythics because they are incredibly bonkers. Planeswalkers, massive creatures, etc., these are the cards you could build a deck around. No questions asked first pick in draft.
Red is up next in my Shadows over Innistrad limited series. Today I’ll be talking about how to burn and turn creatures, as well as how to use an opponent’s creatures to your own advantage. While red in this set doesn’t seem as strong in constructed as it was during Innistrad block (I love me some Bonfire of the Damned and Hellrider), the limited offerings seem incredibly aggressive. We’re in for some wild battles with combat tricks, glass cannon creatures shattering as their extra damage tramples over poor blockers, and opponent’s own creatures turning on them in the heat of battle.
It’s been a while since we’ve had a instant speed burn spell that can target both players and creatures. In a Madness deck it effectively becomes a Lightning Bolt which is pretty good. This is a solid piece of removal that kills a large amount of creatures in limited. It’s not too expensive, and isn’t handicapped by special terms like Murderous Compulsion or Sinister Concoction is. It should definitely be a part of your removal package if you’re playing red, but don’t feel like you have to first pick it. It’s good to have if you can get your hands on 1 or 2 of them, but remember that you need to be able to take out the bigger creatures too. Take if early if you don’t see a better choice, because if you pass it you won’t see it again.
RATING: 3.5 stars
Lightning Axe is limited to creatures but should more than adequate removal. You shouldn’t have a problem discarding a card to play it for one mana, but even if you’re stuck paying 6 mana for 5 damage to a creature at instant speed I can still see the cost being worth it. I’d definitely want one or two of these in my limited deck if I could draft them. Just like Angelic Purge was in white, the end more than justifies the means.
RATING: 3.5 Stars
Just when you thought there was no more design space left in Act of Treason/Fight mechanics, along comes Dissension in the Ranks. I love both the flavor and power level of this card. It uses your opponent’s own creatures against against him. Sure it’s not taking control of the other players card, but it’s great in an offensive deck. If you have a few cards with trample effects, this card supplements them perfectly. I also like this card played alongside creatures with Menace. Great card for RW aggro, BR vampires, and GR werewolves. Only drawback is that you need to have your opponent block at least two creatures, and they have to be big enough to kill each other.
RATING: 3 stars
Not as effective as the other cards like Fiery Temper and Lightning Axe, but Inner Struggle can really shine against glass cannon creatures in red, black, and green. In those cases it’s as good, if not better than the aforementioned cards. There are a number of creatures it might have trouble against (2/3 power/toughness and the like), but most of those cards shouldn’t give you a problem anyways. Okay removal if you need something to get rid of those big beaters coming your way.
RATING: 3 Stars
Skin Invasion isn’t removal per se, but it does force the other player to attack unfavorably into a stronger force, thus killing their creature in the process if they don’t have a way to protect it. What makes this card main deckable is the fact that you get a 3/4 creature from the process when the creature dies. If there aren’t any targets on your opponent’s side, you can always use it on one of yours, but that seems rather counterproductive. Good card. I could see it showing up in a lot of decks that have strong creatures to block with. Probably GR or RW.
RATING: 3 Stars
Now we start to move into the creature portion of the article. Voldaren Duelist is another aggressive creature in a long line of aggressive creature sin SOI limited. It fits in perfectly in a BR vampire archetype, but you could really play it in any red deck and it would be strong. It has a decent casting cost, can attack the turn it comes into play, and also plays a combat trick on your opponent. Cards like Goblin Heelcutter saw a decent amount of play during FRF/KTK limited, and I’d expect the Duelist to show up a bit as well. Cards like these make up the backbone of many a deck. They aren’t break out cards but without them a deck is noticeably worse.
RATING: 3 Stars
Speaking of cards that go well with Dissension in the Ranks, Pyre Hound has my vote as one of the deadliest cards at common in the format. This is the perfect card for aggro decks chock full of combat tricks. Suddenly going from a 2/3 to a 5/6 with a +2/+2 effect is brutal, and the fact that it has trample and that the counters REMAIN on the hound afterwards is great. I expect most limited decks to have 6 or so instants and sorceries, but in those aggressive decks that number can go higher. I think Pyre Hound can reach 4/5 consistently in limited play, and even higher in more combat trick focused decks. I like it enough to take a few early in draft, and definitely wouldn’t pass it. It might even be splashable. Unchecked this card can take over a game. The only time I wouldn’t play it is if I have too few playable instants and sorceries.
RATING: 3.5 stars
A 3/3 for three mana is decent, but I’m a lot more interested in Breakneck Rider’s flipped form. This is a possible game ender if it flips late in the game and your opponent doesn’t have an answer for it. By itself it becomes a 5/3 trampler when attacking, but when you add in other cards like Stensia Masquerade it becomes downright deadly. This is a high impact card and I expect it to be a very early draft pick. Great value, very powerful.
RATING: 4 Stars
We’ve had devils that did damage to only you or to both players, but never a one sided devil that only hit your opponent. Gibbering Fiend has pretty good value for a 2 mana creature. It deals one damage when you play it, fits well on your curve, and later on in the game it becomes a ticking clock for your opponent. It’s important to have a decent amount of playable 2 and 3 drops in limited, and it doesn’t get much better than Gibbering fiend, especially at uncommon. Mid to high level pick.
RATING: 3 Stars
There are some pretty bad ass wolves and werewolves in green and red, and a card like Ulrich’s Kindred isn’t something you should pass over. Besides being able to give itself indestructible when attacking, it also combos beautifully with Neck Breaker. Also remember that you can also give your human form werewolves indestructible as well. Just because they haven’t flipped yet doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of their typing. This is a great support card for GR werewolves in draft, but I also think you should play it in sealed if you have 4-5 other playable werewolves in your pool. Don’t be afraid to be agressive.
RATING: 3 Stars
Kessig Forgemaster is another card that works well with Ulrich’s Kindred. She’s already a pain to block in her human form, and once she flips she becomes even harder to kill. Combo’d with Neck Breaker and Kindred, you’re looking at a 4/2 indestructible werewolf (when flipped) that can potentially kill a 6 toughness creature. It’s also rather good on defense considering it deals one damage when blocking as well. This is the first time I’ve ever seen that effect. It’s usually more of an attacker’s ablity, but to be able to deal 1 (2 when flipped) to an attacking creature BEFORE the damage step is pretty good. I’d love to draft 4 of these and watch my opponent’s get mauled by them on both offense and defense. Very good 2 drop. High draft pick target.
RATING: 3.5 Stars
It’s not amazing but a 4/3 creature with haste for 5 mana isn’t bad. It’s not quite a glass cannon, but it’s not a finisher either. This card works best in a BR vampire/Madness deck, but it could also top out a red based aggro deck as well. Solid card, probably a mid level pick in draft, and playable in sealed.
RATING: 3 Stars
Sweet. I’ve always liked Goblin Arsonist’s ability. Putting that on a 4 mana instant that makes 2 pseudo arsonists is even better. You get two creatures with one card, can block an attack out of nowhere, and then Forked Bolt an opponent/creature when they die. Great value, good on both offense and defense, and a card I’d love to have along side Prowess cards like Bearer of Overwhelming Truths or Niblis of Dusk. This card goes in just about any red deck so it’s going to be a high draft target. Not first pickable, but something you should grab early.
RATING: 3.5 Stars
It won’t be great in all types of decks, but if you’re playing an aggressive deck with lots of creatures in the 2-4 mana cost range and have a large amount of “glass cannons” (creatures with high power/low toughness), Stensia Masquerade is for you. With all of space you need to devote to creatures and removal, this isn’t really a necessary card for most decks. The added +1/+1 counter bonus for vampires makes it a highly playable card in BR vampires, but otherwise I think it would probably be relegated to the 22nd or 23rd card slot in most other red decks. Not a horrible card, but probably not as good as your other choices.
RATING: 2.5 stars
Other Cards That Might See Play
- Gatstaf Arsonists – it’s a good beater in its human form, and even better in its werewolf form. Only reason I didn’t feature it was because it’s a little too vanilla. It’s not something you want 4 of either. Good as a one or two of.
- Bloodmad Vampire – spicy card, but that 1 toughness screams glass cannon. It will die to everything, but if you can sneak in an attack or two it becomes deadly.
- Dual Shot – good against token decks
- Ember-Eye Wolf – good mana sink late game, haste, only 2 mana, playable but not a high pick card.
- Geistblast – a little pricey for its effect, but that copy effect can be really effective given the right deck.
- Hulking Devil – big beater, but gets blocked and killed easily.
- Mad Prophet – good Madness enabler. Play one if you have lots of those types of cards.
- Reduce to Ashes – decent burn spell, too bad it’s sorcery speed and costs 5 mana. You’ll still want to play it in limited though.
- Rush of Adrenaline – good card for a tempo/combat trick deck with aggressive creatures.
- Sanguinary Mage – interesting. Easy to cast and has Prowess, but limited numbers of spells can relegate it to that 23rd slot in your limited deck or no slot whatsoever.
- Tormenting Voice – another good card for Madness effects. Probably best in UR or BR madness.
- Uncaged Fury – not a bad way to win a game. I’d play one in a GR werewolf deck to help push damage through as quickly as possible. Love it with Pyre Hound.
Coming Up Next
There is a very heavy concentration of aggressive werewolves in red, and a decent amount of vampires as well (though I like the black ones better). The burn spells are much better removal than black’s I think, and I also feel like red gives you the most “wiggle”, or ability to move cards between different strategies. What I mean is that I see quite a few cards that don’t need as much support (such as madness, delirium, or creature typing) to be good. You could stick a card into any red deck and it would be serviceable.
For overall power, I think RW is going to be really good. The flyers and removal of white, and red’s powerful creatures alongside burn makes it a potent combination. BR madness will of course be strong but I don’t about consistent. UR with a touch of madness is an archetype I didn’t expect but seems possible as well. One deck that can be downright oppressive with the right pool is GR Werewolves though. It gives you big creatures, deadly combat tricks, good removal, and continuous pressure. I expect that archetype to be one of the most popular in draft, but don’t force it. RW or BW could probably still beat it, but it will have a strong presence in SOI limited.
What are your thoughts on red? Does it feel better than most of the other colors so far? Are there any other combos you’d like to talk about? If so, please feel free to comment below. I’ll be continuing with my series tomorrow with green, so be sure to check back before your midnight pre-releases to see what I have to say about the last color. Thanks for reading.