With the first GP weekend of Shadows Over Innistrad limited behind us, we now have the first data on how high-level players are approaching the format and winning drafts at the professional level. With 28 undefeated decklists to examine, we have a wealth of information to tell us how to win next time we sit down to draft. I've gone through and analyzed this data for some key information on the format so that you don't have to.
What colors do we want to play? At GP Barcelona, four archetypes emerged as strong contenders for the top tier of the format, at least doubling the number of 3-0 results of any other archetype. These decks were WB delirium, RB madness, WG, and WR, all with four or more undefeated decks. Three of these decks are white, meaning white first-picks are very strong in the draft, allowing you to go into several different strong archetypes. Red and black are 2/3s as good, and blue is notably absent.
The color distribution in 3-0 lists was as follows (not counting splashes): White 50%, Black 43%, Red 43%, Green 39%, Blue 21%. White was the clear best performer and blue the clear worst, which matches up with our list of top archetypes. It seems that favoring white and only going into blue for bombs is, broadly speaking, the best approach.
Splashing was about as viable as usual, with 21% of decks choosing to splash at least one color. The fixing is plentiful enough to splash one card easily, particularly in decks which want to play cards like Wild-Field Scarecrow and Warped Landscape for delirium anyway.
How fast is this format? I think of speed in terms of how badly I need to be on the board by turn two, and whether I can afford to play cards that cost seven. The median number of 1-2 drop creatures in the 3-0 decks was five, and the mean was 5.25. This leans aggressive, but is still a normal speed format that shouldn't feel wildly off from what we were used to in Oath of the Gatewatch, with the exception that the 1-2-3 curve will happen a lot more due to all the good 1-drops. Take your two drops a little higher than usual, but keep your approach balanced.
Only two decks played a 7-drop, and almost every deck played zero or one 6-drops as well. The format offers a lot to do with your mana late between investigating, activated abilities, and abilities in graveyards, and strongly encourages discarding extra lands for delirium, looting, and engine cards like Call the Bloodline, so your opportunities to actually cast expensive spells are very limited. When in doubt, take the cheaper card.
In the words of Brian David-Marshall, is this a “prince” or “pauper” format? That is, are the successful decks more driven by bomb rares or by strategies based on commons and uncommons that will be opened in every draft? This is a tough number to quantify, so consider this a rough estimate. The mean number of bombs per undefeated decks was 1.3. Only 1/7 of decks had no bombs, and about 1/3 of them had more than one.
Compare this to the last GP which had this data, GP Lyon, which was triple Battle For Zendikar draft. That GP had a mean of .9, about 2/5 of decks had no bombs, and only 1/5 of decks had multiple bombs. I think it's pretty clear that Shadows Over Innistrad is a more bomb-driven format than the last few, and I would approach it more as a prince format. Practically speaking this means if you first pick a powerful card like a planeswalker, you should be more aggressive about trying to play that color rather than staying more open, as your bomb will have a greater than usual effect on your success in the draft.
And the last item to touch on is synergy. Are we getting the payoffs we need for drafting around themes and build-around cards, or are we mostly just playing the good cards in the good color combinations? I think the answer is overwhelmingly that this is a synergy format. The successful decks were going very far out of their way to enable delirium, madness, and clue synergies, and getting paid off for it. Delirium especially shined, with decks that were able to turn on Kindly Stranger and Topplegeist dominating the field, and even lowly commons like Moorland Drifter making a fantastic showing. It looks like a lot of the skill of the format will be learning to balance the enablers and payoffs for these strategies, and which enablers are the best. The tribal synergies were slightly less important, with werewolves and spirits not making a great showing, but they are still there and will come together sometimes in combination with the mechanic-based synergies.
With this first look at the Shadows Over Innistrad draft format, we can see some definite guidelines about how to draft it taking shape, and we have some signposts to which elements to prioritize in our decks. If you want a more complete picture, be sure to browse through the decklists yourself here. If you have any questions or further observations about them, please let me know in the comments or on Twitter @MasonBockelman.
And lastly a huge thanks to Tobi Henke for compiling the list of the 3-0 decks from the first draft at GP Barcelona, without which this article wouldn't be possible.