I’m not sure what it is about the plane of Innistrad that keeps producing such historically cool draft environments. Is it the design teams at WotC working to live up to the staggering heights of the original Innistrad format? Or are the plane’s mechanical themes of graveyard value and tribal synergies simply a recipe for good Limited gameplay? I’m sure there’s plenty to investigate here…
Ahem. What I’m trying to say is that I’m still spending many happy hours on Innistrad: Crimson Vow Draft runs, even a week on from my typical Draft-Guide-writing cram session. The format still encourages bold tempo plays and planning ahead as in Midnight Hunt, but with more manageable board states that provide more opportunities for attacking.
It all suits my Limited instincts very well… but there’s only so far you can go on instinct alone. If you want to keep improving your game over the lifespan of a set, it’s important to use the great statistical resources available online (I’ve been enjoying 17Lands.com) and compare your theories to the data from tens of thousands of drafts. That’s what I’ll be doing here today, and I’m letting you readers in on whatever Clues I might find…
THE LIFE-BLOOD OF THE PARTY
If you read to the final comments of my Draft Guide, you’ll know that I had a great first impression of Blood tokens. Well, not only is my opinion unchanged after another week of drafting, but I now have significant data to back up my thoughts!
The highest winrate color combination in Draft is RB (57.3%), with the other red combinations close behind — RG (56.6%) RW (56.1%), UR (55.5%) — and the non-red black decks after that. The weakest combinations? The ones which don’t have either Blood color: UG and GW are languishing far behind the rest at ~52%, although the unique flyers-and-Auras synergy between blue and white bumps that pair up to a more comparable 55.6%. Even so, the rule of “the more Blood, the better” is an effective lens through which to view Crimson Vow Draft.
Looking at the impact-when-drawn of individual cards within each color backs this up. This stat simply tracks the win rate of decks in games when they draw a specific card vs. the games where they don’t. It’s probably the best way to simplify the Draft success of a card down to a single number.
Sure enough, Falkenrath Celebrants, Voldaren Epicure and Bloody Betrayal are the 3rd-, 4th- and 5th-highest-impact commons across all red decks, right behind Abrade and Flame-Blessed Bolt. The slower and more conditional the Blood token generation, the worse the win rate; Blood Petal Celebrant is only 8th-best. Belligerent Guest needs to damage a player, leaving it 12th-best. But even the worst and slowest Blood generator, Lacerate Flesh, is better than five other red commons — and it’s a significant gap above the next-best card, Lightning Wolf.
Of the 14 red uncommons, Vampires’ Vengeance and Sanguine Statuette come in 4th- and 7th-best across all decks, despite their somewhat niche nature. It’s a similar story for other colors — with the exception of Vampire’s Kiss, which only does well in UB and GB, and the colorless Blood cards, which don’t do well anywhere. Sorry, Ceremonial Knife believers!
IT’S A RED WEDDING ALRIGHT
The dominance of red decks in this set is truly pronounced. Even beyond the two-color deck stats above, the true winning-est archetype in Crimson Vow is “Mono-Red + Splash” (61.7%) — two-color decks with only 1-3 spells of the secondary color. Red simply owns the early game — it has cheap, evasive creatures that other decks can’t block, and it’s also where you can find some of the only removal that beats those creatures!
One thing to keep in mind when trying to draft red aggro: there’s a lot of pressure to get the good red removal and premium uncommons like Voltaic Visionary and Alluring Suitor early on to ensure the deck is open. To make things even trickier, the performance of most red commons varies based on what kind of deck you play them in.
Some of these outliers are easy to explain. UR is a lot happier than other red decks about cheap cantrips like Reckless Impulse and Ancestral Anger, and it has to take any red creatures highly to make up for blue’s lack of early attackers. Hungry Ridgewolf is much less valuable in a RB deck full of Vampire synergies, and Blood Petal Celebrant is less valuable in a RG Werewolf pile. Lacerate Flesh is heavily outclassed by white and black removal, but for RG and UR, it’s a solid backup for the highly-contested Wolf Strike.
Other cards are a little trickier. Why is Weary Prisoner clearly better in RB and UR than in the RG Werewolf deck? Why is End the Festivities fine-to-good in RG and UR, but utterly unplayable in RB or RW? Is it the power to clear away small flyers and tokens — something both hyper-aggressive UR Tempo and stable RG Midrange benefit from in their own way? Even if we can’t explain them yet, allowing stats like these to guide our curiosity is a good way to learn more about the format.
THE TWIN FORMS OF RG WEREWOLVES
The win rates for commons and uncommons in other colors also show these divisions, albeit in a less pronounced way. Most color pairs in this set have a built-in game plan and specific boxes you need to check for the plan to work consistently. Even when multiple proven deck building strategies exist (such as in RG), it’s vital to try and steer toward one in particular as early as possible, as the decks require very different cards in practice.
Looking at the 7-x draft decks recorded on 17Lands, we can see over 75% of the RG drafts fit the caveats I laid out in my Draft Guide: you need multiple cards that can accrue winning value over time without needing to attack. RG tends to be good at holding opponents to a board stall with its superior statlines, but once you start attacking into multi-blocks and combat tricks, you can be blown out very easily. Whether it’s token generators, direct damage pingers, card draw, or +1/+1 counters, you need a way to force the pace without committing to risky attacks.
Most of the winning RG lists have three or four such threats, plus a higher curve of chunky Werewolves to hold the line while the value adds up. A few others lack the third stall-breaker, but make up for it by securing five or more A-grade removal spells like Wolf Strike, Rending Flame and Abrade. But then you have a small but consistent undercurrent of RG decks which look like this:
In game plan and pick priorities, these drafts are closer to the “Mono Red + Splash” decks than the rare-heavy RG midrange ones above. Even in the second example, where green cards are prevalent, the priority is completely different. Green is the only other color with comparable one- and two-drops or combat tricks to red, and with two copies of Alluring Suitor ready to flip on turn three, you can easily see what an advantage this deck gains on opponents who may not have played a blocker by then.
Here, I’ve used the 17Lands comparison tool to graph the overall win rate of RG cards (Y-axis) against their win rate when drawn specifically in your starting hand (X-axis). The right-side outliers are cards we prioritize for our aggressive, low-curve builds. Kessig Wolfrider is a one-drop, but its game impact comes from its late game token production; it (and cards further left from this screenshot) would best fit the stall-centric midrange RG decks.
So, how can we use this knowledge in practice? Even without going into the number-heavy side of 17Lands, perusing the successful lists for each color pair can help you build an understanding of what variant strategies might exist. Look for the cards they have in common — removal, most obviously, but also flexible utility cards like Massive Might and Reckless Impulse, or all-rounders like Spore Crawler and Fearful Villager. Prioritize those central cards early in a draft, and you’ll have room to pivot seamlessly into whatever build is open to you. Better yet are picks which pivot across otherwise very different color pairs: Stitched Assistant, Courier Bat, Moldgraf Millipede, Heron-Blessed Geist and Falkenrath Celebrants are great examples at common.
Here are a couple more useful points to take into your next Crimson Vow Draft:
Should you be playing more or fewer lands to take advantage of Blood tokens?
This one’s hard to prove, but we can compare trophy decks of the same archetype to try and spot a loose relationship between the amount of Blood tokens they produce and their land count.
From looking at various red and black archetypes, it seems the Blood-heavy lists are playing either the “normal” number of lands (16-17 depending on curve) or one extra. This makes sense to me — it’s easier to filter your draws with Blood when you’re slightly flooded and have mana to spare, and most spells that create Blood tokens are better in slower decks, anyway.
How many creature cards do you need to make the self-mill payoffs in UG work?
The first point I should make is that this is probably the hardest archetype to trophy with. Most of the UG decks on 17Lands began with a busted rare like Avabruck Caretaker or Hullbreaker Horror and ignored the mill payoffs like Vilespawn Spider and Crawling Infestation. They just draft card draw and blockers and try to dig into their bomb every game.
But when the self-mill decks do pay off, it seems like 18 creature spells is the bare minimum. Reaching for our other favorite stats tool, we can see that with 18 hits out of 40, we can expect to mill a creature with Crawling Infestation in 70% of our upkeeps, and our Moldgraf Millipedes will add an average ~1.7 creatures to the graveyard before calculating their size. Pretty nice!
How important is removal to each color? Are there any bad removal spells?
Limited experts have been raving about how important the removal suite is in Crimson Vow. Aside from niche options like Crushing Canopy and Aim for the Head, almost all targeted removal spells rate among the highest-impact picks for their color and rarity. Low-cost options like Piercing Light, Gift of Fangs and Fear of Death are more niche, only generating positive win rates in specific color pairs.
But the only downright bad removal spell is Lacerate Flesh. There are plenty of better options in red alone, it’s too expensive for most decks in the color, and the damage is surprisingly low considering the cost and the average creature toughness. Even so, a deck with a Lacerate Flesh is still better than one playing no removal at all.
How many one-drops do I need to play? Does it matter which ones?
In general, your prioritization of one-drops should be based on how aggressive your deck is. Most decks will only play a card like Snarling Wolf or Unholy Officiant if they’re missing creatures in the two-mana slot. With strong early game removal, plus good blockers and lifegain to stabilize with, there isn’t as much pressure to “keep up” with the creature curve from aggro decks. That said, Lantern Bearer, Voldaren Epicure and Traveling Minister are straight-up top commons in their color, so you should take those where possible, regardless of your archetype.
On the other hand, if you are base-red aggro (or a similarly aggressive list like the RG ones above) you’ll want to have three or four one-drops if possible! The typical pattern for aggro is to attack holding up mana and then either trick to beat a block, or play a creature postcombat if unchallenged. Playing one-drops lets you start that pain-train as soon as possible, and generates unbeatable starts alongside top uncommon Alluring Suitor.
MATH YOUR WAY TO THE TOP!
OK, that header’s a little cheesy. But it’s true that I’ve been inspired by the greatness of Crimson Vow Draft to grind Bronze-to-Mythic for the first time. And it’s also true that by testing my early ideas of the set against this public wealth of game data, I’ve been able to improve my rank much faster – avoiding some of the failed experiments and costly faux pas I would have experienced along the way. I’m only a draft or two away from my goal, and all of that paid for by my initial three draft tokens, with a tidy gem profit on top!
I’m giving you this testimonial — and, really, this article — as a reminder that however honed (or not) your Draft instincts may be, learning to browse the stats with each new set can add a new dimension to your strategy. I know many players who are cautious about Limited because it seems like a tough learning environment; to them, I say, make the stats site your sandbox.
Enjoy Crimson Vow!
Tom’s fate was sealed in 7th grade when his friend lent him a pile of commons to play Magic. He quickly picked up Boros and Orzhov decks in Ravnica block and has remained a staunch white magician ever since. A fan of all Constructed formats, he enjoys studying the history of the tournament meta. He specializes in midrange decks, especially Death & Taxes and Martyr Proc. One day, he swears he will win an MCQ with Evershrike. Ask him how at @AWanderingBard, or watch him stream Magic at twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard.