Mastering the Mechanics of Innistrad: Crimson Vow Draft

Voldaren Epicure Art by Martina Fačková
Voldaren Epicure Art by Martina Fačková

Now that we’ve all had a few weeks to play with the mechanics of Innistrad: Crimson Vow, I wanted to share some tips, tricks, and overall thoughts about the mechanics of our most current limited set!

  1. Training
  2. Blood
  3. Exploit
  4. Day/Night
  5. Disturb
  6. Cleave

Training

Let’s kick it off with one of the new, and probably most disappointing mechanics, Training! Training is a similar, yet somehow much different mechanic that was introduced in GRN, Mentor. My overall experience with training this set can be summarized with one word; lackluster. Unlike mentor, only the trainee can be trained, making the plays extremely telegraphed, and easy to play around (mentor could at least teach any attacking creature to provide a little flexibility).

While the mechanic is set up to snowball, it rarely seems to work out that way.  The overall success of creatures with training feels very play/draw dependent. A turn 2 Parish-Blade Trainee feels mostly like a blank on the draw, and is mostly just alright on the play. If you dissect the play pattern, assuming you follow up with a 3 drop, that means that on turn 4 you can attack with a 2/3 trainee and whatever your 3 drop was, all the while your opponent can see exactly what you’re trying to set up! There are however some ways to enable your trainees to survive their first day at boot camp.

Introducing: Combat Tricks! With your plays being so telegraphed, your opponent will keep blockers back to intercept your “snowball” of recruits before it gets out of control. The tricks are mostly interchangeable, though I do prefer Massive Might, Adamant Will, Witch's Web roughly in that order depending on the creatures in your deck. Massive Might gets the edge mostly because of mana cost – if you can get through combat successfully and follow up with another creature on your turn, it’s likely that you’re a happy Selesnya player.

The Enablers: If you end up with an abundance of things you want to train, these are some cards that will help support your teachers. Traveling Minister is an auto include in most any white deck, but can really shine in helping your creatures like Gryff Rider off the ground. While in general, I’m not a huge fan of Ceremonial Knife, it can play a small role in certain training decks, especially considering the scarcity of access to blood the G/W colors have.

The Technical: While training as a whole is very uninspiring, there are some interesting interactions I’d like to point out. Parish-Blade Trainee does in fact have a second line of text that some seem to have forgotten! If you can amass 2+ counters on the trainee via a Dormant Grove or Angelic Quartermaster (or even teaching the lil’ guy), it starts to become a real card, threatening to move the counters to something else when it dies. Another reason Dormant Grove can be great with trainers is this card specifically, Cloaked Cadet. The combination of these two cards lets you draw a card and grow a creature every turn without even having to attack!


Blood

Blood Token

For most limited enthusiasts, blood is an exciting, and very welcome new mechanic. Blood seems pretty linear at first, “It gives my lands in hand cycling for 1”. In actuality, blood provides and ultimately rewards the pilot a bevvy of options depending on the state of the game. You get the flexibility of digging for lands, answers, threats, or just using blood to trigger cards already in play!

The Technical: One of the most common mistakes I see with blood, is the pilot does not actually know what they are looking to draw. You should be very conscious of what cards are left in your deck before you go looting away all willy-nilly. Let’s imagine the only 1 drop you have left in your deck is Voldaren Epicure. If you have Swamp and Mountain untapped, and you’re cracking blood on your turn. Obviously you will want to keep your Mountain untapped in case you hit the only other card you can play. This is a very boiled down version to illustrate a point. This can get a lot more complex if you have say 7 mana untapped and 4 blood – you want to know both what you’re looking for and willing to settle for.

This naturally leads into the next misplay I see with blood; timing. Let’s put that previous hypothetical into play, you have Swamp and Mountain untapped and an Epicure in the deck with no other playable cards for 1 mana. Unless you want to bluff with your BR, have multiple options to discard depending on what your opponent does, or don’t want to play said Epicure – you should crack the blood on your turn for that small % chance you draw the card you can play on your turn.


Exploit

Exploit is another returning mechanic that debuted it KTK, and once again remains in the Dimir colors. The mechanic is set up to reward you with some kind of advantage for sacrificing a lesser creature. There are a handful of cards that are designed to act as fodder, Wretched Throng, Persistent Specimen, Doomed Dissenter, and the crème of the crop Biolume Egg.

It’s important to keep in mind what other colors offer good fodder if you end up with U/x or B/x and have some exploiters. Green doesn’t really have any good fodder, taking a small notch off of any Simic or Golgari decks, not giving you as much value off of exploiters in these combinations. White at least offers us some disturb creatures to sacrifice in the form of Drogskol Infantry, or Kindly Ancestor. Parish-Blade Trainee can also be good fodder if it’s got a couple counters to move when you sacrifice it. In red, I’m actually very happy to pitch a Voldaren Epicure to an exploiter as it has already done most of its job. To a lesser extent, I would be ok sacrificing a Blood Petal Celebrant once it has outlived its usefulness on the battlefield.

The Technical: One thing people tend to forget is that the exploit creature can sacrifice themselves. While normally not the most cost efficient thing, sometimes a Diver Skaab or Fell Stinger sacrificing itself can present lethal damage that turn. Another thing I have learned is that you don’t always need to exploit something, even when it gives you a solid card advantage.

I had developed a bad habit of playing turn 2 Wretched Throng into turn 3 Stitched Assistant sacrificing Wretched Throng almost without question. I ended up losing a lot of those games due to getting tempo’ed out, and had to learn the hard way. Exploit is set up to be an advantage mechanic, but I would encourage you to second guess if the advantage is worth the sacrifice on board for that point in the game.


Day/Night

Day/Night is a returning mechanic from MID, but plays out very differently in this set. In VOW, the only cards that can start the Day/Night cycle are Red or Green, as well as the only colors that benefit from it. I think I speak for most with the overall displeasure of the R/G archetype in MID, and I am very pleased and confused that the werewolves are so much better in the vampire set. There’s a variety of reasons that the dogs are good this set:

Your chonky dogs don’t randomly get got by a random common accessible and playable by every archetype by a random Silver Bolt. The Day/Night cycle does not randomly help your opponent (assuming they are also not R/G) – there is no Olivia's Midnight Ambush, Gavony Dawnguard, or Moonrager's Slash, that can randomly punish you for switching cycles. Switching to night does not punish you as harshly as it did in MID.

There are plenty of things you can do with your mana if you want to switch to night, Child of the Pack, Ballista Watcher, Oakshade Stalker. In addition to all of the previous points, the R/G creatures in VOW are big and normally demand answers. In summation, don’t be discouraged to play some Gruul based on previous experiences with the dogs.


Disturb

Disturb is a familiar mechanic for those of us who played the previous set, MID. All of the disturb cards remain in the U/W colors, with one distinct difference. These spirits don’t come back as ghosts, they come back as Auras with a myriad of different effects. The auras are mostly overpriced for their cost, but they are essentially “a free card”. Like with any aura, there’s an inherent risk of attaching it to a creature, and having your opponent kill your creature, effectively giving your opponent some form of tempo/card advantage. 

It’s hard to come up with any general heuristics for disturb as all of the effects are so vastly different. There’s only two cards at the common slot that will eat cards out of your graveyard, two at uncommon, and three at mythic.

If you have disturb cards in your graveyard, the only card I would really be concerned about is Diregraf Scavenger, as it is the most playable card at common, and if your opponent has Honored Heirloom it would likely already be in play. In general, with the lack of graveyard hate, I tend to want to leave disturb cards in the graveyard unless any of these are true: 

  • The play will give me a huge advantage or put my opponent on some form of clock;
  • I have no other impactful plays;
  • It’s Bo3 post-sideboard or opponent is playing black.

In general, if playing with a lot of disturb creatures with the idea to you may want to include some ways to protect the creature you are attaching auras to. Some of these may include Cradle of Safety, Adamant Will, or even a counterspell.


Cleave

There’s only a total of 12 cleave cards in the set. They all act as somewhat of a split card, doing a similar, more powerful effect for a more expensive mana cost. There’s not much to level up with these mechanics, essentially if you can pay the cheaper mana cost you are happy, but the majority of the time you will end up paying the full price. I don’t have too much to say about the mechanic, so I’ll cleave it at that.


Wrap Up

Thanks for reading! You can contact me in the comments section below or at:

Icky

Andy "Icky" Ferguson is a long time limited grinder, with his first draft in 1999 at the age of 11. 22 years later, you can still find him streaming drafts, achieving rank #1 about every other season. Seasoned member of the Draft Lab squad and appointed "zen master", Andy lives by the motto; "lose and learn, learn and win".

1 Response

  1. Barcisz says:

    Thanks for the useful overview! I come to defend Green – it provides an exploit fodder. If Kindly Ancestor is mentioned as a good fodder, then Spore Crawler is even better. It also costs 3 mana and gives you a real card upon sacrificing. Even a spare land may be better than a disturb aura in your graveyard if you have a Blood token.