Creatures are the backbone of Magic, especially in Limited. Card evaluation is a key part of success in draft. As a result, it’s critical to understand which creatures are the best in Draft. There are four main factors I use when evaluating creatures in Limited:
- Casting cost – Not surprisingly, cheaper is better. Assuming the power level is high enough, I want my curve to be seriously front-loaded. A deck with nothing more expensive than 3 mana can be strong, but a deck with nothing cheaper than 3 is a disaster.
- Early game – How excited am I to draw this in the early game when I don’t have much mana?
- Late game – How excited am I to draw this card in the late game when I have massive quantities of mana?
- Maximum quantity – How many copies of these would I be excited to play with in a draft deck? The more copies I would want, the higher I should pick it.
A sure sign of a really good creature is when you’re happier to draw it than a more expensive creature when you have enough mana for either. While casting cost is a good tiebreaker when I’m drafting, I’ll typically draft the best 4-drop in the set rather than the third-best 3-drop. In order to make decisions like this when drafting, however, it’s important to know how each creature compares to other creatures of its cost. Let’s start by looking at the common and uncommon 1-drops in Innistrad:
- Diregraf Ghoul – The strength of this card is that I’m so excited to play it on turn one. On turn one, its drawback is irrelevant. Playing a 2/2 on turn one is way ahead of the curve, and the fact that it’s a Zombie is a plus.
- Reckless Waif – Another good turn-one play. If you’re going first, your opponent will frequently not play anything on turn one, allowing you to immediately start hitting for 3. Also decent in the late game, because it will often transform quickly and then be able to trade with a 3- or 4-drop.
- Avacyn's Pilgrim – The strength of this card is when you use it in the right deck. It’s a great fit in a Green/White Human deck. If you’re not playing White, it can also be good for helping a deck with lots of Green fat keep up with fast Weenie decks. If you’re not playing with cards that benefit from playing Humans, it’s a pretty weak late-game draw.
- Delver of Secrets – Like the Pilgrim, it needs to be in the right deck. One of the reasons Ghoul and Waif are at the top of the list is in part because they’re strong in almost any deck that can cast them on turn one. If Delver transforms, it’s the best card on the list; if not, it’s a weak Human.
- Selfless Cathar – The other 1-drop that cares a lot about the rest of the deck it’s in. Not only is it best in a Human-themed deck, it’s also best in a swarm deck. In a board-stall situation, it can be the best late-game draw on this list.
- Typhoid Rats – Deathtouch is one of those abilities that is worth more the smaller the creature it’s on. A 1/1 isn’t super-exciting in the early game, but the Deathtouch makes it somewhat exciting in the late game because it can trade with a big creature.
- Doomed Traveler – It can’t trade with a big creature like the Rats, but it can trade with two really small creatures or chump-block a big one twice. Plus it’s a Human, which is the best creature type for a small creature in Innistrad draft.
Unlike drafting with Magic 2012, 1-drops aren’t critical in Innistrad draft. 2-drops are.
- Vampire Interloper – A 2-power flyer for 2 mana is good in any draft format, but it’s especially good in Innistrad. A cheap Vampire with evasion is also really good in this format. Since it has Flying, it’s pretty exciting in both the early game and the late game.
- Darkthicket Wolf – In the early game, it’s a big enough threat to dominate the board. In the late game, the 3 mana for its ability is easy to come by, making it essentially a 4/4.
- Gatstaf Shepard – A 2/2 for 2 is solid, and its Transform ability can really punish your opponent for missing his 2-drop. In the late game, the transformed version can be a 3-power unblockable, which can make for a great finisher.
- Avacynian Priest – Cheap tappers are always good; the fact that it’s a Human makes it even better.
- Ambush Viper – “The Green Doom Blade.” While it may not actually be as good as Doom Blade for removal purposes, unlike the Blade, it can attack.
- Hamlet Captain – A decent 2-drop in any Green deck, a terrific one in a Human deck.
- Deranged Assistant – Cheap-mana creatures are solid, but given how many cards reward you for filling up your graveyard, this card is an excellent turn-two play. Like the Pilgrim, it’s much worse in the late game.
- Unruly Mob – There is a greater-than-average amount of creature combat in this set, which makes this 1/1 grow surprisingly rapidly, and it can be a game-ender in a Human deck.
While the top 2-drops are dominated by Green, that’s not the case with 3-drops.
- Fiend Hunter – The fact that there isn’t a large amount of removal in this format makes this card great for two reasons: It gives you more removal, and it’s less likely to be removed itself.
- Screeching Bat – A 2/2 flyer is a solid 3-drop, but the fact that in the late game it becomes a 5/5 is what moves it up this list.
- Chapel Geist – A 2/3 flyer can stop most 2-drops and is very difficult to stop itself.
- Crossway Vampire – Given how much Vampires like to get through unblocked, this already strong ability is especially good in a Vampire deck. Its 3 power also allows it to trade with almost any 3-drop and many 4-drops.
- Villagers of Estwald – A 2/3 is as big as most other 3-drops, but the transformed version makes is also solid in the late game.
- Armored Skaab – A 1/4 for 3 is decent, but like Deranged Assistant, this is more about facilitating all of the graveyard-related cards in Innistrad.
- Stitched Drake – Even if your deck isn’t designed to put stuff into your graveyard, you’ll still be able to play this in the late game, and a 3/4 flyer is terrific in this format. If you can get it into play early, it’s an incredible beating.
- Rakish Heir – Could shoot up this list if you have lots of removal or better yet, lots of Vampire interlopers.
- Hanweir Watchkeep – A turn-three stopper that later turns into a 5/5 that you only spent 3 mana on.
- Orchard Spirit – Evasion in Green is pretty exciting.
One of the reasons to prioritize the cheapest creatures is their lack of availability. There isn’t more than one creature at 1 per color that I’m excited about. Except for Green and White, that’s also true of 2-drops. At 3, however, every color has at least two solid playables; although I’m not super-excited about Village Cannibals or Ghoulraiser, they’re at least decent in the right deck. Thus, if you’re trying to decide between a good 1-drop for your deck and an exciting 3-drop, it’s almost always going to be the right decision to take the 1-drop, because you can get 3-drops later.
At 4 mana, the problem starts to reverse, since there is a smaller number of good 4-drops, but it is possible to build a good deck without 4-drops:
- Slayer of the Wicked – When there are targets for it, which is most of the time, it’s even better than Fiend Hunter.
- Festerhide Boar – A 3/3 trampler for 4 mana is solid, but a 5/5 trampler for 4 is a total beating.
- Ulvenwald Mystics – A fine turn-four play that becomes a 5/5 regenerator that can dominate the board. After the Mystics, there’s a bit of a drop-off before number four.
- Tormented Pariah – Similar to the Mystics, just not quite as good before or after transforming.
- Makeshift Mauler – Despite the drawback, you can frequently get them in play by turn four, and they will usually be the biggest creature in play.
- Moon Heron – 3-power flyers are good, but there are several 3-drops that can trade with it.
- Abattoir Ghoul – As long as creatures aren’t transforming, it can dominate the early board with its 3 power of First Strike.
Unlike your options at 4 mana, almost every 5-drop in Innistrad is strong, so I don’t recommend using them to determine what colors you’re going to draft, especially since you definitely don’t even need 5-drops to have a good deck. Blue, Green, and Red all have at least two good 5-drops, Black has one really good one, Morkrut Banshee, and White is really about smaller creatures anyway.
Obviously other spells matter, but creatures are the one card type you can’t win without in draft. I love Green because of its terrific 2- and 4-drops. I like White’s 3-drops and Slayer of the Wicked. Diregraf Ghoul or Vampire Interloper can help get me into Black. Blue and Red are less likely to get me with creatures, so if go into them, it’s usually because of other spells. I hope that my thoughts on Innistrad creatures will help you when making your draft decisions.