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By: one million words, Pete Jahn
Jun 25 2008 12:29pm
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Shadowmoor Release Survival Guide
Let’s start with the real basics – the new mechanics for the set. Most are pretty straight-forward, and do about what you would expect. However, Wizards has played a few tricks with these, and there are a few cards that you will want to look out for. 

The first mechanic is a return / reworking of an mechanic from Ravnica block – split mana. In Shadowmoor, however, the split can either be two colors of mana – like this {G/R} or a combination of a number and a color – like this {2/R}. Flame Javelin is a 4 point burn spell that costs three red, six mana of any other colors, or a mix of the above. 
The next mechanic is a reworking of a very old mechanic – the minus x counters first seen on Shield Sphere, and later on Wall of Roots. The current set uses -1/-1 counters on a number of cards. Some put counters on – like Blight. Others come into play with counters, and take them off – like Grim Poppet.   One trick you should watch out for is Fate Transfer, an instant that moves counters from one creature to another. That card can suddenly transform good blocks into a complete blowout.
Persist is a brand new mechanic, and an interesting one. When a creature with persist goes to the graveyard, if it did not have a -1/-1 counter one it, it returns to play with a -1/-1 counter. Persist creatures are often good in limited, since they are basically two creatures for one card. In constructed, people have built a combo deck around Juniper Order Ranger, since the Ranger’s +1/+1 counters negate persist’s -1/-1 counters. That, combined with a sacrifice outlet, create either infinite life (with the Finks) or infinite damage (with Murderous Redcap – plus an infinitely large Ranger.
Wither is, in effect, replacing damage dealt to creatures with -1/-1 counters. It is particularly useful with First Strike, since the first strike damage also reduces the damage that the opposing creature deals in return. Wither is also really good in a chump blocker, since it will continue to make whatever it blocked smaller for the rest of the game (or until something moves the counters off the creature.
Since Alpha, creatures have tapped to do various things. With Shadowmoor, creatures can also untap to have an effect. This ability can usually be played at instant speed, so be careful when assessing potential blockers. The only downside is that creatures usually have to attack to become tapped, so they may be vulnerable to blockers.   Silkbind Faerie, to the left, is a very good card.
The last of the new mechanics to watch out for is Conspire. Conspire is a triggered ability that triggers when you play the spell. That means that, when you play the spell, you can then tap two creatures with the same colors and replicate the spell. Unlike Replicate, you can only do that once. Barkshell Blessing is a common, and a mini Giant Growth that can pump two blockers. Be wary of it. Other ones to watch out for are the red Burn Trail and the UW Aethertow, which can be a double Time Ebb.

I was waiting – impatiently – for Wizard to start the Premier Events on Friday, when, to my surprise, they started up Shadowmoor drafts. Great – I could draft instead.
I did not try to record my picks – I’ll just talk about my thoughts. 
Pack one – I open a marginal rare, no removal, and a Puresight Merrow. Puresight Merrow is a {U/W} bear, and this format, for draft at least, is pretty fast. UW is an excellent color combination, and probably the best draft colors in the format. More importantly, since the bear costs split mana, I can play him even if my deck ends up anything from UB to GW. 
Pack two is missing a rare. No real surprise – this is a draft early in the release events – everyone is drafting rares.   The pack does have a Plumeveil, however.   Plumeveil is a nice defensive flier. More importantly, from my perspective, I want to try buildingh a Plumeveil control deck sometime. By picking the Plumeveil I am both raredrafting and cutting off blue white.
Pack four, I get passed a Steel of the Godhead.   Wow. This card is absolutely insane. It is the reason that I pick the reprint of Elvish Lyrist, now called Elvish Hexhunter, so highly. I also love bounce spells in this format – because they kill this thing. 
In a couple games, I dropped a UW 2/2 on turn two, then hit it with a Steel of the Godhead on turn three. That makes a an ublockable 4/4 with lifelink swinging on turn three.
Wanna race?  
Pack two I opened a Woodfall Primus. I was not about to splash it into my UW deck, but I did want a copy for constructed play, and the pack had nothing exceptional in UW.   A bit later I grabbed a Mossbridge Troll, but not because I wanted it – because, since I was short of Wither effects, I could not deal with it.
Here’s the deck I ended up with.
Kinscaer Harpoonist
1 Medicine Runner
Oona’s Gatewarden
Elvish Hexhunter
Watchwing Scarecrow
Rune-Cervin Riders
Mistmeadow Skulk
Wilt-Leaf Leige
Wanderbine Rootcutters
Prismwake Merrow
Briarberry Cohort
Drowner Initiate
Steel of the Godhead
Barkshell Blessing
Repel Intruders
Consign to Dreams
Flow of Ideas
Last Breath
I did have some notable sideboard cards. A few, like Mercy Killing, almost made the deck. Mercy Killing is solid removal, but it can also be used to turn one of your creatures – especially one targeted with removal, or about to die to stacked damage – into a bunch of little dudes. It was the very last card I cut, and then only because my deck was so tempo oriented that I didn’t want to give the opponent anything.  
Here’s the rest of the sideboard:
Ghastly Discovery
Cerulean Wisps
Spell Syphon
Thought Reflection
Sinking Feeling
Leechriden Swamp
Woodfall Primus

Painter’s Servant
Mossbridge Troll
Apothecary Initiate 
In a couple games – especially in the second match – my MVP was the Elvish Hexhunter. Shadowmoor contains some insane Auras and enchantments, and the Hexhunter killed them all.  The second round was a mirror match, bad he also had Steel of the Godhead. He also had some totally nuts stuff, and for game three I sided in an additional Drowner Initiate and a Memory Sluice. Between my bounce and Plumeveils, and the fact that we were both playing blue, I decked him. I should note that, in general, UB is a bad draft combination in Shadowmoor – with the caveat that a UB does have a playable milling deck. It works, but only if the right cards wind up in the card pool. What that means is that, if you face a high-rated player with a UB deck, kill the Drowner Initiates.
Here’s a screen shot from game two of the finals. Normally, putting two Auras on one creature is begging for a removal spell to wreck your whole day, but if he had one, I had lost already. If not, I was going to win. I won.  
This deck was completely insane, and I easily won the draft.
(A note, from a couple days later: I have now drafted UW three times, and won two of the drafts. I lost one very close match in the other – to another UW deck that dres sightly better than I did.)
I’ll cover a few more cards to watch out for.

Scuttlemutt is not just a good mana accelerator and color fixer. It’s other ability may be even better. I have had an opponent attack with a UW creature equipped with Steel of the Godhead – making it a 5/5 unblockable Lifelinked dude, while I had a 4/4 blocker. I used Scuttlemutt to turn the dude green, then blocked and killed it. A lot of the Auras, Conspire and even removal spells are color-sensitive, and Scutts can fix the colors.
This single spell won me five or the six games I won in my last draft. It is a massacre for decks that rely on small white dudes. It was also a means of getting my final strike through a creature stall. It is a common, so watch out for it.
Most decks are quite happy to have a 2/1 splashable flier – it is a decent beater, especially in decks without much evasion addition to most decks. What makes Tatterkite special is that it is basically immune to damage from creatures with Wither. It blocks them all day.
Gleeful Sabotage is the most recent reprint of Naturalize. The downside is that this version is a sorcery. The upside is that it often hits two targets. In this format, Auras and artifacts are everywhere, and I have started maindecking it. Likewise, I am maindecking Smash to Smithereens, because almost all decks play Scarecrows or Scuttlemutts, and every so often it can deal with a major impediment, like Trip Noose.  
Elsewhere Flask is both a cantrip and a color fixer. Better yet, it combines very well with some really good spells, including Corrupt, Flow of Ideas and the blowout – Jaws of Stone.  

In addition to drafts, the Release events include three types of Premier Events.   The first are classic Premier Events which include a top 8 draft. Theses events have a maximum of 128 players, and generally run at least 6 rounds of Swiss before the cut to Top Eight. The next option are no-Top-8-draft events that run five rounds. These events have a minimum of 24 players, and a maximum of 32 players. Prize payouts are based solely on Swiss results. Finally, Wizards is also offering “casual SHM Release Events.” These are also five round events, with no Top Eight draft, but with prizes stretching further down the rankings. The casual events also have longer deck construction and round times, and are intended as a replacement for leagues. 
I have played in two of these now, and I have a couple comments.
First, the casual events are more fun. The pressure is less. The results do not affect your online rating. On the downside, these events are l—o—n—g. Each player has 45 minutes per match, and a couple matches almost always go to time. I started one event about 7pm – and it ended about 1:40am. A lot of that time was spent waiting for the next round to start.
Sealed pools in Shadowmoor are interesting – they seem a lot like Ravnica pools, but the split mana means that a ton of cards are splashable. You can even play, in a way, four colors of cards in two color deck. 
Building a deck is more complex in Shadowmoor. In paper tournaments, I divide the cards into eleven piles – W, U, B, R, G, W/G, U/W, U/B, B/R, R/G and Artifacts. In the paper world, I lay these out in a circle – basically the mana wheel with the split colors in between the colors. On MTGO, I often divide the gold card column into separate columns as well.
Here’s my card pool, split by color.

1 Aphotic Wisps
Cinderhaze Wretch
Corrosive Mentor
Disturbing Plot
Polluted Bonds
Rite of Consumption
1 Splitting Headache
Bloodmark Mentor
2 Bloodshed Fever
Boggart Arsonists
1 Crimson Wisps
Jaws of Stone
Power of Fire

I thought this card pool lent itself to two basic builds, since I saw two cards I really wanted to play. The first is Jaws of Stone. The second is Mass Calcify. Both are solid mass removal. Both have decent support cards.   The one color I cut immediately was black. Gloomlance is one of the few true removal cards in the format, but the rest of black is unexciting.  
Here’s the RG build

That deck is not bad, but it the curve is quite high, without having anything really amazing and without any acceleration or land searching. It is good, and I saved it in case I needed to go here after sideboarding, but decided to try other options. Note that I did not run the Reflecting Pool – this deck wants lots of Mountains for Jaws of Stone.
Here’s the UW build:

This deck was just plain better. It had Steel of the Godhead, to provide some inevitability. It have bounce. It had evasion. It had Wrath of God.
I destroyed my first four opponents. 
In the finals, I faced the mirror – only moreso. I had Steel of the Godhead; my opponent had two. I had one bounce spell; he had four. I had fliers; he had Twilight Shepherd. Finally, I had Reflecting Pool, he had Godhead of Awe. I had no answer to that, and wound up finishing second. 
A few notes: you can splash colors in a sealed deck in this format – you can even splash several colors. However, I have had far more success playing just two colors and being highly consistent than playing many colors and splashing lots of bombs.   In my experience, at least, tempo is quite important, and it is hard to regain it once you lose it.
Beyond that, watch out for the spells listed above, and count blocker carefully when your opponent has an untapper.
Good Luck.

“one million words" on MTGO


by elambert24 (Unregistered) (not verified) at Thu, 06/26/2008 - 17:01
elambert24 (Unregistered)'s picture

Fairly informative article.  I have to disagree with your assessment of SSS being a 'pretty fast' format.  I find the format to be one of the slower in recent memory.  Draft is obv much faster than sealed but that holds true in every limited format ever.  If the format weren't so slow, the development of a straight red Sligh-type archetype, using very, very weak (mostly 1/1 hastey) creatures backed by direct damage, would fail to thrive as it has/does.  I feel if the Sligh archetype had to consistently face quality two-drops, thus eliminating the early 2-4 free damage points while the opponents waits to turn 3 or 4 for a quality blocker, it wouldn't have enough gas to be viable.

Conspire by Klutz (Unregistered) (not verified) at Thu, 06/26/2008 - 09:51
Klutz (Unregistered)'s picture

Extremely important point about conspire.  You wrote "you can then tap two creatures with the same colors".  Actually, what you can tap is "two creatures that each share at least one color with the conspire spell".  So for instance to conspire Barkshell Blessing (W/G) you can tap Somnomancer (W/U, shares W with Barkshell) and Mudbrawler Raiders (G/R, shares G with Barkshell) even though they share no colors.  Also as an additional tip keep in mind your and your opponent's "untap" creatures when evaluating whether you or your opponent can conspire something.  It's very easy to miss opportunities to conspire, so know the rules and keep your eyes open and you can really blow someone out with conspire spells.