A First Taste of Crimson Vow Limited
- Jonatan Nahnfeldt
Our spooky journey continues, harvesttide festivities turn to wedding celebrations, and the struggle to break the eternal night continues. You are cordially invited to participate in this first look at Crimson Vow Limited, as we dive into the next part of our adventures on Innistrad!
As is customary, the set features a couple of new and a couple of returning mechanics. However, the latter should be more familiar than usual, as both disturb and daybound/nightbound continue on from the previous set. Daybound/nightbound works exactly the same as in Midnight Hunt, tied to Werewolves which will be flipping back and forth as players do and do not cast spells. Worth noting, however, is that there aren't any colors other than red and green that care about day and night in this set, so the cycle and flips won't be as relevant this time around.
Disturb is also back, flavorfully enough. However, this time there's a twist! In Midnight Hunt, we saw living creatures turning into Spirits. Now, we proceed to the next step of the afterlife, already ephemeral ghosts leaving just their essence behind! Translated into game terms, they turn into Auras, enhancing and strengthening your creatures from beyond the grave.
Exploit is older than the other two returning mechanics, first introduced in Dragons of Tarkir. When a creature with exploit enters the battlefield, you may sacrifice a creature. Each creature with exploit then has another ability that triggers on this condition. However, note that the exploiting creature still needs to be on the battlefield to get the benefit. So if your opponent removes your exploiting creature in response to the sacrifice trigger, please refrain from sacrificing unless you have another very good reason.
With that out of the way, let's check out the new mechanics. Joining the ranks of Clue, Food, Treasure, and Gold, we get a fifth type of artifact token, Blood! Blood tokens are, as said, artifact tokens with an activated ability. These tokens let you pay one generic mana and sacrifice them to rummage, that is: discard a card, then draw a card. They are, of course, tied to Vampires and appear in the Mardu colors. You can think of them like this: Each Blood token gives any one card in hand cycling, and that is quite a strong effect. Of course, there are also other ways to utilize them as well, such as Bloodtithe Harvester and Wedding Security, making them excellent mana and resource sinks.
Training is our next new mechanic and is centered in green and white. Training is a triggered ability that puts a +1/+1 on the training creature when it attacks alongside a creature with greater power. The ability can be likened to a "reverse mentor," as seen in Guilds of Ravnica as the Boros guild mechanic. They work in very similar ways, but while mentor checks both on triggering and resolution, training only checks on triggering. Ergo, you cannot deny your opponent a training trigger by shrinking the larger creature's power.
Finally, cleave is a new keyword appearing mostly on uncommon and rare instants and sorceries. It is akin to the kicker mechanic, where you can pay additional mana to get a different effect on your spell. However, this time it will remove part of the card text rather than add to it! All cleave cards have brackets in their text box, and if you pay the cleave cost, you remove the bracketed text from the spell.
A quick reminder on how I choose my key commons for each color pair. They are listed in no particular order, and removal spells are generally excluded here. Removal is often just "generically good" and doesn't aid a specific game plan. Rather, I list the cards I think will be mechanically and synergistically the most important role players for the respective colors.
White-Blue Disturb Auras
Like in Midnight Hunt, white and blue focus on disturb. However, since the creatures now turn into Auras, the color pair also sports kind of an enchantress and heroic theme, with cards caring about enchantments or being targeted.
Blue and black also reprise their Midnight Hunt role, as Zombies return once again (as they do). However, this time they have moved on from decaying to exploiting! To fuel this archetype, you want to have plenty of sacrifice fodder on the low end of your curve. Only this way can you fully utilize (or exploit, if you will) your top-end creatures' powerful triggers.
As the focus tribe of the set, Vampires make a return as black-red's main creature type. It remains to be seen whether they'll make a big splash or just a belly flop like Werewolves did in Midnight Hunt, but the colors with the most access to Blood tokens do look promising. I foresee Blood token synergies being very strong. After all, they're one of the headliner mechanics of the set, and they might be on the same power level as decayed tokens, which is a high grade in my book.
Werewolves were the big disappointment of the previous set, really falling short of being a strong archetype in what was supposed to be the Werewolf set. However, I think this time around they got most if not all the missing pieces for a cohesive deck at common, as well as very strong uncommons. Another important factor is that there are no other colors that care about the day/night cycle. In MID you would get heavily punished by cards like Olivia's Midnight Ambush at common, but those cards don't exist in this format, making the Werewolves actually get an edge in the nighttime.
Green-white headlines another new mechanic, training. A highly aggressive mechanic rewarding you for attacking, you want to back this style of deck with combat tricks and cheap interaction, as you try to keep your opponent on the back foot and to keep growing your creatures while beating down. As long as you're ahead, this deck might feel unbeatable and very snowbally, but looking at the cards overall you might have a tough time working your way back from behind. Tight play will be crucial to being successful with this archetype.
White-Black Life Gain
Another strong archetype on paper, white and black focus on life gain, and this time better than ever! Heron of Hope is looking especially egregious at common, as "you gain that much life plus 1" effects historically have been reserved for uncommons and up. Having multiple of these will make for massive life swings and will make racing extremely hard for your opponents.
Though the color pair sports one of the stronger signpost uncommons, the common support for the deck remains lackluster. There's some good common removal in red, but with few cheap cantrips readily available I have a creeping suspicion that blue-red might come up short this time around.
Perhaps the funniest archetype in a long time, black and green like big butts, and they cannot lie. The color pair wants as much toughness as possible on the battlefield and can use it to great effect. At common you can curve Unhallowed Phalanx into Flourishing Hunter to gain a massive 13 life. At uncommon you can use the flip side of Catapult Fodder // Catapult Captain to repeatedly Fling your big behinds at the opponent. Probably the biggest anti-aggro deck in the environment, this strategy may turn out really strong depending on how the metagame shapes up.
As imaginative as always, red-white is all about … attacking. To be fair, this time it's about attacking with exactly two creatures, which can give you different bonuses at common and uncommon. This does go well with the training mechanic, and combat math can get interesting. You might need to calculate whether you can get more damage in by attacking with only two creatures or shoving in the whole team.
It's been typical for green-blue to be pretty unfocused in recent sets, and this time is no different. With a signpost uncommon that wants to self-mill but few payoffs for it at common, the archetype might be lacking and steer toward the classic green-blue pile splashing some random bomb you picked up along the way.
The Big Picture
I'm very excited to move on from Midnight Hunt and dive into a new set. I think the mechanics look interesting and the colors fairly balanced. The one knock to color balance is that blue doesn't really get any removal at all at common, and green also lacks efficient interaction. This gives green-blue in particular a big incentive to splash for removal, but the tools to fix your mana do exist and might make up for the main colors' shortcomings.
If training turns out to be as strong of a mechanic as mentor was in Guilds of Ravnica, we can expect aggro to be very strong and fast kills may await an opponent who stumbles. Then again, green and black are anti-aggro from top to bottom (especially bottom) and can stabilize quickly and decisively if they aren't woefully behind by turn six.
With all that said, here's a short summary of what cards I will be picking highly to start off in Crimson Vow. Here are my takes for the top uncommons:
- Child of the Pack // Savage Packmate
- Restless Bloodseeker // Bloodsoaked Reveler
- Hero's Downfall
- Wolfkin Outcast // Wedding Crasher
- Stormchaser Drake
Child of the Pack and Wolfkin Outcast look like extremely strong reasons to draft the Werewolf deck, but they are also just very good creatures on their own, no tribal synergies needed! This is a big difference to Midnight Hunt. The reason Werewolves came up short then was that the cards just didn't do much outside of the red-green color pair.
As for Restless Bloodseeker, I don't see anything I don't like: a 1/3 for two mana that gives you Blood tokens without much hassle and flips into a mana sink for the late game. One of the better two drops in the set in my mind, I will be jamming as many of these as I can, especially in my white-black decks. Hero's Downfall simply is an incredibly efficient removal spell and will deal with more or less anything your opponent can throw at you. And Stormchaser Drake will be an excellent target for disturbed Auras to turn your two-for-ones into three-for-ones!
As for the cards in the rareslot, I have my eyes on these:
- Bloodvial Purveyor
- Halana and Alena, Partners
- Katilda, Dawnhart Martyr // Katilda's Rising Dawn
- Sorin the Mirthless
- Avabruck Caretaker // Hollowhenge Huntmaster
Bloodvial Purveyor has already received emergency errata: the power-boosting effect is only supposed to last until end of turn. Giving your opponent Blood tokens might seem like a big downside, but frankly, your opponent won't have much time to use them as they're staring down your massive flying, trampling threat. Another card that will end your opponent quickly is Halana and Elena. Effectively a Citadel Siege on a stick—and god forbid you manage to pump the power! This coming down on curve will end games very quickly if you have any sort of board.
Katilda, Dawnheart Martyr will also end games quickly when dropped on curve. Assuming you go two-drop into Katilda into a four-drop, it attacks for 3 flying, lifelinked damage and only grows from there. If your opponent deals with that, it simply transfers its powers to another creature in classic two-for-one fashion. Protection from Vampires is a nice upside as well. Sorin is not the greatest planeswalker we have ever seen, but he draws cards, protects himself, and has a servicable ultimate. All of this makes for an excellent Limited bomb and all I can really say is that planeswalkers gonna planeswalk. Right over your face.
Finally, I want to soapbox a little about Avabruck Caretaker // Hollowhenge Huntmaster and more specifically hexproof. This card is obviously insane. Huge, impervious to removal, and the back side is just egregiously powerful. My questions is the following: Who is this card for? It's more or less unbeatable in Limited yet likely unplayable in any Constructed format. Kitchen table Timmies may rejoice, but in my opinion it's a lazy design with low upside that sucks all enjoyment out of a Limited game.
Thankfully it is a mythic, and hopefully you will never encounter it in any of your drafts. But I do hope this is one of the last hexproof creatures to ever see print, because it really is one of the most boring and groan-inducing abilities. Interactive Magic is the best kind of Magic in my mind, and anything that removes this part of the game is plain unfun.
Rant aside, that won't affect the Limited format much, if too much. Overall, it's looking like a really interesting set both for the draft and gameplay! So get out there and train, draw first blood, and cleave your way to victory. Happy drafting!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.