So what exactly made Innistrad such a hit? Competitive players loved the inclusion of many constructed-playable cards including Geist of Saint Traft and Past in Flames, collectors benefitted from the printing of valuable cards like Liliana of the Veil and Snapcaster Mage, while casual players enjoyed building tribal decks from a set brimming with zombies, vampires, werewolves, spirits, angels, and demons.
This April, Wizards is returning to the plane of Innistrad with Shadows over Innistrad, and hopes to recreate the same level of excitement of the original set. For players who weren’t around for the original Innistrad block like me, this is a chance to draft and play what is shaping up to be another fun and flavourful set. But will it live up to the reputation of Innistrad?
Many Magic players were disappointed with the previous ‘Return’ set, Battle for Zendikar, which saw us return to the plane of Zendikar and also brought back the conflict between the inhabitants of Zendikar versus the Eldrazi menace. Many criticized the Battle for Zendikar block for its bland flavour and lack of originality, while also deriding the lack of valuable reprints (Goblin Guide, Lotus Cobra, Zendikar fetchlands) from the original Zendikar block.
The biggest criticism, however, was the inclusion of overwhelmingly powerful and format-warping Eldrazi cards including Eldrazi Mimic, Thought-Knot Seer, and Reality Smasher, which have dominated Modern since Oath of the Gatewatch was released. These cards, and the many variants of the Eldrazi decks they belong to, have taken over the competitive metagame to such a degree that Wizards of the Coast has publicly admitted that a banning is necessary in order to restore diversity to the format (Eye of Ugin, we hardly knew ye).
With all of that said, the general consensus is that Shadows over Innistrad is shaping up to be a very fun set to draft and play and is expected to be a popular set with the Magic community. Although the set features the same familiar horror tropes that were popularized in the original Innistrad, the cards in this set feel fresh, fun, and playable. Without question, the constant presence of Eldrazi cards in Standard and Modern formats has left many players feeling weary. Closing the book on a block dominated by Eldrazi creatures will be a breath of fresh air for many players.
So which cards am I truly excited about from Shadows over Innistrad?
Honourable Mention – Brain in a Jar
Brain in a Jar has all the makings of a sleeper hit to me. Many are calling this card the Aether Vial for instants and sorcery spells, and that isn’t an outrageous comparison. The first ability gives you options: you can tick it up one or two times and bluff your opponent into thinking you’ve got a combat trick up your sleeve, or play an instant or sorcery card without paying its mana cost if you do have something.
The second ability on Brain in a Jar should not be overlooked either. Card selection with the ability to Scry 3 or 4 cards is very strong and a good way to spend any extra mana you might have if you are flooded or looking to find the right card to close out a game.
10. Relentless Dead
Zombie tribal is back! Just when you thought your modern mono-black zombie deck couldn’t get any better, Relentless Dead shows up to the party. This card isn’t easy to deal with, as you can pay a black mana to return it safely to your hand when it dies, and you get another zombie back from your graveyard to the battlefield as well. Adding Menace to this card pushes it even further into powerhouse territory. This card could see Standard play in a B/G or mono-black sacrifice deck. It works well with Zulaport Cutthroat, Nantuko Husk, and Smothering Abomination.
9. Sin Prodder
Getting a 3/2 with Menace for two generic and one red mana is an okay deal, but Sin Prodder’s unique ability is what sets it over the top: you either get to deal free damage directly to your opponent, or you simply get to put a card into your hand. It seems likely that your opponent will want to choose to put any lands into the graveyard that are revealed, as it won’t deal any damage to them, but this should work to your advantage, as it will thin out your deck. This also provides you (and your opponent) with free information on what you are about to draw, and it enables Delirium by stuffing your graveyard with extra cards. Seems like a perfectly fine card to me.
8. Startled Awake / Persistent Nightmare
Startled Awake is great because:
a) I secretly love mill decks
b) It has a recursive effect that allows you to continuously mill your opponents
c) It will make other players hate you
I like that Wizards is printing flip cards that combine different card types in this set. This card can singlehandedly win limited games, especially if you manage to play it twice. The question becomes, is it worth spending the 5 mana to return it from your graveyard to the battlefield, then wait another turn before you can attack with Persistent Nightmare, in order to return the card to your hand? Probably not, but this card is still plenty of fun.
7. Olivia, Mobilized for War
First of all, check out how cool the artwork is on this card. Let’s give a shout out to Eric Deschamps for his depiction of a badass Olivia Voldaren in mid-flight, looking terrifically pissed off with a giant sword in hand (Trivia time! Did you know that Eric also depicted Olivia on her original card art from Innistrad? It’s true!). This card makes me want to take another shot at building a Rakdos (red-black) deck. Getting an army of hasty vampires for the cost of discarding a card (and potentially playing that card for its madness cost) sounds like the right thing to do.
6. Thing in the Ice / Awoken Horror
A lot of people are beyond excited for this card, and I can understand why. This is a card that oozes with flavour, power, and playability. Costing only one generic and a blue mana, Thing in the Ice gives you an early defensive creature with a huge payoff, provided it survives long enough for you to remove the four ice counters. Naturally, playing this card will put a huge target on its back, so make sure you keep back some mana for a counterspell or two (you’re already playing blue, so this is probably second nature to you by now). If you manage to flip this card, you’ve essentially duneblasted your opponent for 2 mana and cleared a path to victory. Bonus points if you manage to win a game with a Horror tribal deck!
What a fun card! Continuing the recent trend of alternate loss/win condition cards including Demonic Pact and Felidar Sovereign comes this doozy of an enchantment card. Triskaidekaphobia, as you may have guessed, is defined as extreme superstition regarding the number thirteen. Can you identify all of the references to the number 13 in the card art?
Pulling this off so that you don’t kill yourself may require some luck, but if you manage to win a game of magic because of this card, my hat is off to you.
4. Cryptolith Rite
Is it just me, or does this card seem incredibly powerful? Cryptolith Rite is a great way to ramp into playing your heavy hitters (be they creatures or other spells) earlier in the game. Effectively, by playing this, your creatures gain Convoke (with more upside), and allow you to play off-colour cards your deck normally wouldn’t be able to cast. Combining this with Oath of Nissa to cast off-colour Planeswalkers seems like a good place to start for a deck brew.
3. Archangel Avacyn / Avacyn, the Purifier
Well, this card is going to be a fixture in Standard for the next several months.
The fact that Archangel Avacyn can be flashed in on your opponent’s turn provides a great element of surprise and is just downright scary-good. Playing Avacyn after your opponent attacks but before damage has been assigned will undoubtedly lead to a massive swing in your favour when you take the ‘creatures you control gain indestructible until end of turn’ part into account.
What I like about this card is that both sides are extremely powerful. Even if you aren’t able to flip her, Archangel Avacyn is a powerhouse on its own. Meanwhile, Avacyn, the Purifier gives you a superior Anger of the Gods effect and a boost in power/toughness at the cost of losing vigilance.
2. Arlinn Kord / Arlinn, Embraced by the Moon
Many Magic players were clamouring for the ever-elusive, yet-to-be printed legendary red-green werewolf creature in this set, and this is as good of a consolation prize as we’re going to get. That being said, Arlinn Kord is a very, very good consolation prize.
She has 5 planeswalker abilities spread over her two card sides (eat your heart out, Jace!). She can protect herself with her +1 ability (on both sides), or by using her 0 ability to play a Wolf creature token, which allows her to transform into Arlinn, Embraced by the Moon. Once transformed, Arlinn has the ability to simply close out games. Giving all your creatures +1/+1 and trample until end of turn is a powerful effect. Arlinn, Embraced by the Moon also has the ability to transform back into Arlinn Kord by removing a loyalty counter to dealing 3 damage to target creature or player. However, the best value remains on the werewolf side of the card.
1. Westvale Abbey / Ormendahl, Profane Prince
Well what do we have here? Did Wizards of the Coast actually just print a land that transforms into a creature? A legendary 9/7 flyer with lifelink, indestructible, and haste? Hoo boy! That’s something.
One thing to note is that the land side of the card is not legendary, so you can have multiple copies of it on the field simultaneously, but only one copy of Ormendahl, as the creature side is legendary.
Magic Pro Tour’s Andrea Mengucci wrote a good introduction to Westvale Abbey at Channel Fireball and offers some interesting ideas for this card in Standard constructed play.
I don’t know how constructed playable this is going to be – it is possible that it will find a home in a B/W Tokens deck as a finisher – but even if it doesn’t, I love this card. Regarding the Abbey’s second ability, paying 5 mana plus 1 life is a very expensive way to generate a 1/1 creature token, but there are other cards in Standard (Hangarback Walker, Secure the Wastes, Retreat to Emeria, etc.) and Modern (Lingering Souls, Bitterblossom) that can help you generate 5 creatures to sacrifice to enable the transformation cost. Doing so will put a huge target on Ormendahl though, and although he is indestructible, he can still be exiled or sacrificed (Path to Exile, Oblivion Strike).
Shadows over Innistrad is the 70th expansion of Magic: the Gathering. It will be released on April 8, 2016.