Innistrad: Crimson Vow Limited (Sealed and Draft) Guide
Hello again Everyone! I am excited to be back and bringing you another guide to a fresh new format. I am changing up my formula a little bit this time, and I think overall it’ll tighten things up and make for a more concise package.
We will start with an overview of the new format with my observations from perusing the card pool. Then, we will jump right in to the best cards in each color. In those sections I will break down the best Commons and Uncommons, as well as the Bombs and potential archetypes associated with the color. Let’s get into it!
Key Features of Crimson Vow
- This is very much Midnight Hunt: Part 2: Many of the themes and mechanics established in the last iteration of Innistrad are still present here. There are obviously changes to the card pool, and this set will surely play differently in some ways, but don’t expect things to 180 in this format.
- This set is looking fairly Bomb-heavy : As we will see, there are quite a few game-ending cards at both Rare and Mythic. I unfortunately do anticipate this being a ‘Prince’ format, both due to the abundance of good Rares and because…
- The gap between strong and filler creatures is big: There are a lot of spells in this set that are poor filler and you don’t want making the cut into your deck. At the same time, there are some great common/uncommon spells offered by each color with the potential to take over the game. This discrepancy means that quality cards are less frequent than usual and you really want to be in at least one open color during Drafts. If you are seeing some of the ‘best’ spells outlined in this guide going really late, moving into that color could pay dividends.
- Red is likely the weakest color: There are still several great Red cards, and the color may work a supporting role, but its average power level is noticeably lower than the others. This does not mean you should completely avoid archetypes that include Red if it is open, rather you should focus on drafting the strongest cards (I will identify these down below) and rely more on your other color to fill out your deck.
- There is minimal mana fixing: Dual lands are Rare-only besides evolving wilds and there is only one worthwhile mana Artifact. Some Green decks will be able to splash a third color, but Crimson Vow will predominantly be a format of 2-color archetypes. It is still often going to be correct to be 3-color in Sealed if your Bombs are spread out though, unless you end up with zero fixing. The slower nature of Sealed is more forgiving toward temporary mana blocks. Since pools enabling decks with great curves are few and far between in Sealed, card quality takes precedence.
New Guide Format
Before we continue on to the best spells, I want to elaborate a little on the structure of this article and provide a little context for new readers. Instead of presenting separate sections for the set Mechanics and Archetypes as usual, I am instead going to cover these in the context of the best cards separated by color.
Within each section below, I will begin with the ‘Bomb’ rares. These are cards that should be picked over any common or uncommon in drafts. In Sealed these are cards you will happily splash. Outside of the odd pack 3 completely out of the color scenario, Bombs are windmill slams in Draft.
Commons and Uncommons are your bread-and-butter though, and identifying the strongest ones not only improves your selections but also your insight into Draft signals. Seeing above-average cards wrapping around the table or just going later than expected can help you find greener (or another open color) pastures.
My approach to a fresh Sealed pool is to first go through each color and put all of the cards I am excited to play in separate piles (in this guide I will be highlighting a selection of such spells). Comparing these piles between each color gives a good indication of where you are strongest. There are still other factors such as the quantity of filler within each color, quality rares you opened, splashing potential of your pool, etc… But, sorting out the cards this way can be insightful and is always useful. For example, you can establish a curve with your quality spells and this will inform your decisions as you make choices filling in the deck.
After presenting the best cards and relevant mechanics I will lastly discuss potential archetypes.
In Midnight Hunt, White brought the creatures and leaned more aggressive than we had been seeing, and I am seeing more of the same in Crimson Vow. White also has a little bit of practically every mechanic in the set, and gets a lion’s share of Disturb, which proved to be quite strong over the last couple months. Let’s take a closer look at what is on offer:
White is stacked with some amazing Rares in this set. Similar to in Midnight Hunt, White is an aggressive color. By Invitation Only is a relatively unique Wrath effect which actually pairs well with creature decks. If you outnumber your opponent this allows you to trade your worst creatures for all of theirs, and that is pretty neat. All of the remaining bombs are creatures representing insane value, and none more so than Faithbound Judge. Here you basically get a Serra Angel for 1WW and as an added bonus get what amounts to an ”I win if this game goes on for a while” token via Disturb.
Much like in Midnight Hunt, White is looking aggressive and creature-focused. The Disturb mechanic makes a comeback as well, and has some strong examples in this color. We also see a couple new mechanics:
Training – This is essentially the Mentor mechanic in reverse. Creatures with this mechanic start with low power, but when they attack alongside a more powerful ally they grow stronger. In general I don’t think this is going to be very impactful, since it is telegraphed and players can block or play removal accordingly. It does incentivize the use of combat tricks, but I wouldn’t suggest overdoing it trying to support Training creatures. The most important thing is that your deck composition is creature-heavy and you may just bait out early removal from overeager opponents wanting to shut it down.
I do like Gryff Rider in particular quite a lot though, since the evasion is going to pair really well with Training. Estwald Shieldbasher is also great support for the mechanic, allowing you to continually attack with 4 power and grow your Training stuff. On the noncreature front, White gets a pair of nice removal options including Fierce Retribution which features another new mechanic:
Cleave – Spells with Cleave essentially have two modes, adding useful utility. I like both modes on Fierce Retribution for example and could see using each almost 50/50. But what is with the name of this mechanic? I suppose you are ‘cleaving’ the word(s) in brackets on the card? Are we sure we aren’t just cleaving the color pie, though? Giving White unconditional ‘Destroy target creature’ effects is interesting.
Finally, Sigarda's Imprisonment introduces Blood Tokens, which we will see represented much more strongly in Black-Red Vampires. Outside of the synergy in that archetype they really aren’t too exciting.
White has some great stuff here at Uncommon. I am especially excited about the Flyers, which help offset their lower starting power/toughness with +1/+1 counters. Getting flying without giving up much in the way of stats is incredibly powerful in Limited formats.
Here we also see some more themes such as life gain and Humans. As I mentioned in the initial breakdown, I wouldn’t go overboard building around particular themes, but be cognizant of your picks and try to support them without going too far out of your way. If I had a Resistance Squad, for example, I would prioritize Humans when choosing between two equal creatures. The key with this synergy-lite approach is choosing cards which have a solid ‘floor’ to them. With something like Panicked Bystander you are at worst getting a bear with an ability, and flipping it is just gravy. It would be great if you ended up with a few ways to flip it, but making weaker picks just because they have a life gain is a mistake. In Sealed of course, you are at the mercy of your pool when it comes to this.
We again see the Aura/Disturb theme coming through in Blue-White. I wasn’t too keen on this pairing in the last set, but the jury is out on Crimson Vow. I think the flyers in this set are really intriguing, and I am interested in leaning into that aspect if I play Azorius. Going Aggro with Red-White would be far more interesting if Red didn’t look so awful in this set (more on this later).
For my money I am most confident in a GW (maybe Humans) creature deck at this point. I think it’ll curve out great and the Green stuff will help Train creatures and benefit from evasion. Black does look strong once again in Crimson Vow, and there are definitely some good reasons to gain life, but I am just not too keen on that sort of payoff/enabler synergy here.
Blue really surprised me in Midnight Hunt. In my preview of the set I downplayed it, but it ended up being up there with Black as one of the strongest colors. I think this had a lot to do with how good Disturb was. It was changed somewhat in this set though. You now typically play Creatures from your hand and Enchantments from your Graveyard using Disturb. We will see how this change effects the viability of Disturb cards, coming off a set where nearly all of them were good.
Only a few here but two are pretty amazing non-Mythics. On the slow side, but both Ghastly Mimickry and Hullbreaker Horror will usually end the game if not immediately answered.
Flyers and strong Tempo/Card Draw/Counter, it doesn’t get much Bluer than this. The exile of Syncopate is more relevant than ever, and I really love all of these commons. Let’s see what directions the Uncommon spells go in:
Wow, Lunar Rejection and Thirst for Discovery are also incredible supports for tempo/draw. A strong creature base supported by the Blue spells in this section will be a force to be reckoned with. Speaking of strong creatures, Biolume Egg and Cobbled Lancer are huge assets provided you can get them in play. Let’s see what sort of archetypes can support plays like these:
With Skull Skaab, another key mechanic is introduced:
Exploit – Cards with this allow you to sacrifice a creature and provide you a bonus for it. Biolume Egg is obviously an amazing target, and it will not be too difficult to find stuff you won’t mind sacrificing. Sacrificing your own stuff is generally terrible in Limited, so a full-on Exploit deck may be ill-advised, but again creating small synergies without giving up pick quality will help distinguish your decks in this format.
With Blue-Green there is Self Mill as well, creating further value from Disturb and helping enable stuff like Cobbled Lancer. I am frankly least interested in Izzet, as it has Noncreature payoffs which tend to be suspect in Limited. My main question at this point is whether Blue-Black will be as dominant in Crimson Voiw as it was in Midnight Hunt. Let’s take a look at what Black has this time around to find out.
Most of these are Mythic, but geez. And there are even more borderline Bombs I considered. Nearly all of the spells above provide some value even if met with immediate removal, and all can win the game if left unchecked. You won’t see these often, but all are no-brainer reasons to play Black.
Here Black has a nice mix of creatures and removal and the themes are well illustrated. Courier Bat becomes a cheaper, Flying Gravedigger when you can gain life, and has a very reasonable floor. Doomed Dissenter is great Exploit fodder, while Ragged Recluse looks to benefit from Blood Tokens. Gift of Fangs is most at home in a Vampire deck, but Dead Weight is always decent. Bleed Dry is Black’s primary hard removal, and another Exile effect to take note of. Aim for the Head will ideally exile Zombies, but Mind Rot (with exile) is perfectly fine. Not to belabor the point, but this section perfectly exemplifies good cards to choose for their high floors and ability to improve via incidental synergy.
At Uncommon there is a similar composition of cards, only turned up a few notches. Restless Bloodseeker and Wedding Security are the most reliant on synergy, but all are great picks. Can I just say that Wedding Security and Undead Butler are some of the dumbest card names I have seen in some time. They work as a concept, but come on. In any case, Black is looking absolutely stacked yet again. I am sure this color will have stiff competition in Draft, but it is for good reason.
We’ve already seen White and Blue, and with Green there looks to be a ‘toughness matters’ theme, but Red has me thinking the most. Of all of the payoff/enabler mechanics of the set, Blood Tokens are perhaps the most intriguing as an actual archetype. The question is, does Red have enough support for it?
Nah, I doubt it. Red looks downright atrocious in this set. You are going to see fewer cards in this section because it was really hard to get excited about anything. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of fine filler. If Red is open and complimentary it is still worth going for. It just doesn’t have very many standout spells.
Even its Bombs, while still making the cut, don’t seem as busted as many of the others in this set.
But at common it is just sad. Hungry Ridgewolf isn’t even that good, but I think it will reliably be a 3/2 Trample for 2 in decks that want it. Abrade and Flame-Blessed Bolt are really nice removal options as well, but that’s about all Red players get.
There is some good stuff at Uncommon as well, but sadly two of these have double-Red mana costs. I would love to have copies of stuff like Rending Flame, Alluring Suitor, and Abrade in my decks, but I also want my main color to be something besides Red. Let’s see what our options are:
I was fairly meh on Werewolves in Midnight Hunt, but I am thinking pairing with Green will be the best option for Red in Crimson Vow. As we will see in the next section, Green has plenty of strong creatures and really just needs some removal for support. Red also offers some spells which prevent blocking, something the Training creatures of Green (or White) could benefit greatly from.
Green is looking really solid in this set. Blue and Black had some flashy stuff, but the spells in this section can create a strong backbone for any creature-based deck.
Both of these are ridiculous recurring effects that are sure to be empowering for your decks and downright obnoxious to play against.
Here we have a nice mix of Training creatures and stuff you don’t mind Training with. Sporeback Wolf protects itself while training a 1-power creature, while Spore Crawler trades off at an advantage. Wolf Strike is a little expensive, but I much prefer a damage spell to a fight card in this color, and Instant speed is great.
Besides Reclusive Taxidermist, which helps Ramp, at Uncommon Green is packing a punch with expensive cards. All of these are worth the mana investment, although Laid to Rest does require you to be in Green-White Humans. If that archetype is good, perhaps Cloaked Cadet will be the Morbid Opportunist of this set. Let’s refresh all of the possible Green archetypes.
I don’t really think you can go wrong with Green in this set if it is reasonably open. With White it is looking to go wide and looks to have a lot of good tools for doing so. It reminds me a little of Boros in Guilds of Ravnica with its Mentor-like effect, Flying threats, and efficient creatures. The removal isn’t as good though, so perhaps turning to Black or Red to supply that will be a better approach sometimes. With Blue it is going to be more of a midrange/control setup, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. With Ramp and Draw spells, being able to reliably drop stuff like Bramble Wurm is going to make for a very scary deck.
Targeting the best common and uncommon cards I have outlined above and finding incidental synergy between them looks to be a great approach to Crimson Vow. It is always important to watch for signals in Draft, but in this set I think it will be extremely important. Even though certain colors look stronger on paper, if they get crowded at your Draft table it may be slim-pickings.
Sealed players will have the luxury of taking inventory of their pool and finding the most viable path, and I am honestly most excited to do just that with Crimson Vow. I anticipate being presented with a lot of really interesting Sealed puzzles with this one, and think the mechanics will make for really enjoyable and complex games when they unfold a little slower.
If you are new to sealed and drafting as a whole, then you might want to check out my general strategy article before you dive right into Crimson Vow limited:
I will be Drafting too, of course, and it will be interesting to see how quick the metagame gets once this format is ‘cracked.’ I suspect with all of the evasion there will be some fast paths to victory, but maybe the more durdly Graveyard, Lifegain, and Blood Token stuff will be the way to go.
Time will tell, and I will see you in the Arena!