Shadows Over Innistrad Addition Header

(Author’s note: The con­tents of this arti­cle reflect the views of the author, not SuperNerdLand as a whole.)

In yesterday’s arti­cle, we reflected on the con­tri­bu­tions by the top cards of Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged, the two sets from the Tarkir block that have now rotated out of Standard.  The time for mourn­ing is over, and now we focus on the shiny new toys that Shadows Over Innistrad will be bring­ing to the table.

As this is a pre­lim­i­nary arti­cle focused on theory-crafting, not all the cards that are men­tioned will be ones that show up in Standard, or stay effec­tive once Eldritch Moon and the next block are released.  This list will prob­a­bly look very dif­fer­ent once the new Innistrad block is prepar­ing to rotate out of Standard.

Just like with the last arti­cle, we’ll only be focus­ing on the Standard for­mat, and not touch­ing on some of the other for­mats these cards might be pop­ping up in.

Honorable Mentions – Nahiri, the Harbringer; Returning Planeswalkers

Shadows Over Innistrad is finally bring­ing play­ers the Planeswalker they have long been wait­ing for – Nahiri, one of the remain­ing “Oldwalkers” who pre­dated the Mending event that brought the near-mythical Planeswalkers down to slightly more pow­er­ful than other mor­tals.  A Lithomancer native of Zendikar, Nahiri was one of the three who sought to pro­tect her home from the Eldrazi threat – along with Ugin and Sorin, she con­ceived of a way to bind the Eldrazi Titan’s forms and keep them from mov­ing through the mul­ti­verse.

Aside from some fla­vor text ref­er­ences, men­tions in Wizards of the Coast (WotC)’s sto­ry­line, and an appear­ance in the sup­ple­men­tal 2014 Commander line, Nahiri hasn’t phys­i­cally appeared on cards until Shadows Over Innistrad, and to be hon­est it’s a bit lack­lus­ter, along with the other two return­ing Planeswalkers – Sorin, Grim Nemesis, and Jace, Unraveler of SecretsNahiri, the Harbinger has an inter­est­ing ulti­mate – being able to tutor for your bomb and get a free hit in with it is no joke, espe­cially com­bined with tricks like Slip Through Space – but the prob­lem is, her other abil­i­ties are very sim­i­lar to Sorin and Jace’s.  Their pos­i­tives are all card draw, with addi­tional affects, and their neg­a­tives are con­di­tional removal.  It feels very much like WotC’s devel­op­ment team ran out of unique ideas for each of the Planeswalkers, and just copy and pasted abil­i­ties that they thought would be rel­e­vant for the set onto each card.  They’ll likely show up in some Standard decks, it’s just that, for the usual qual­ity of Planeswalkers they feel very flat and uno­rig­i­nal.

Honorable Mentions – Lightning Axe

We last saw this card back in Time Spiral, and it returns for its reprint­ing in Shadows Over Innistrad.  Remember how in the pre­vi­ous arti­cle it was men­tioned that WotC was mov­ing away from cheap-costed burn spells?  Well, Lightning Axe is part of that attempt.  Don’t let the single-digit mana cost fool you, because in order to cast it you’ll either have to pay an addi­tional five mana or dis­card a card in order to resolve it.  Thankfully, there are plenty of rel­e­vant cards with Madness that would love to be dis­carded by Lightning Axe, but play­ers will def­i­nitely be mis­lead by its appar­ent cheap cost.

Because Lightning Axe tech­ni­cally isn’t a new card, it’s only get­ting an Honorable Mention.

#10 – Sigarda, Heron’s Grace

The first of the three angelic sis­ters makes her appear­ance in this set, and has quite a few changes from her appear­ance as Sigarda, Host of Herons from Avacyn RestoredSigarda, Heron’s Grace has traded in her trade­mark hex­proof in order to give hex­proof to not only all your crea­tures, but your­self as well, and isn’t quite as strong as she was in her last appear­ance.  She’s a bit eas­ier to cast than her pre­vi­ous incar­na­tion, requir­ing a sin­gle source of white mana instead of two, but los­ing her sig­na­ture abil­ity really hurts her in the long run, as all your oppo­nent needs to do to get rid of her hex­proof buff is to tar­get her with removal spells.  Her abil­ity to exile cards in exchange for tokens is an inter­est­ing con­cept, and if you’ve got the mana to spare you can fill your board up pretty quickly after a wipe.  Still, she’s going to be niche at best in Standard and is vastly over­shad­owed by certain…other angels.

#9 – Handlands

Shadows Over Innistrad brings us new lands for mana fix­ing in the absence of the Onslaught reprints, and these guys are actu­ally pretty inter­est­ing.  Port Town and it’s sib­lings enter the bat­tle­field tapped unless you reveal a land that matches the col­ors it gen­er­ates.  Yeah, your oppo­nent gets knowl­edge about your hand which def­i­nitely sucks, but the fact that these lands are allied col­ors (White/Blue, Blue/Black, Black/Red, Red/Green, Green/White) means that with the tan­golands and man­lands from the new Zendikar block, and the painlands from Magic Origins, play­ers have a lot of options for build­ing their land bases.

#8 – Olivia, Mobilized for War

Who doesn’t love vam­pires?  For the fans, Innistrad is full to the brim of them, and at the top is Olivia, Mobilized for War.  Low cast­ing cost, a good body, and fly­ing means that she already passes the vanilla crea­ture test, but she also enables Madness and Delirium, the fea­tured mechan­ics from Shadows Over Innistrad.  On top of that, she buffs other crea­tures that enter the bat­tle­field and makes them her vam­piric min­ions, imme­di­ately ready to go on the offen­sive.  Unfortunately, pre­lim­i­nary deck test­ing has indi­cated that against other immerg­ing archtypes, Red/Black vam­pires isn’t as strong as ini­tially thought, but time will tell if this holds true.  It may be that Eldritch Moon brings the miss­ing pieces Olivia and her com­pan­ions would need to be a top deck.

#7 – Heir of Falkenrath // Heir to the Night

Two vam­pires back-to-back?  Has the author gone mad?

No, but Madness is def­i­nitely prov­ing itself to be an inter­est­ing mechanic, as its sec­ond con­tri­bu­tion to this list, Heir of Falkenrath enables it quite nicely as part of its trans­for­ma­tion cost.  Not only that, but it becomes a very potent threat once it’s trans­formed into Heir of the Night.  Because it’s trans­for­ma­tion doesn’t make it leave the bat­tle­field, any coun­ters on it – say, from a cer­tain Legendary vam­pire that was just recently dis­cussed – will stay on the card, along with any Auras or Equipment.  If you’re unfa­mil­iar with how the Double-Faced Card mechanic works, make sure to brush up on it with this help­ful arti­cle from WotC, because there will be quite a few Double-Faced Cards pop­ping up on this list.

#6 – Westvale Abbey // Ormendahl, Profane Prince

At first glance, this looks like a generic land.  It makes mana, and can cre­ate crea­ture tokens if you spend a bunch of mana and some life.  But once you sac­ri­fice five crea­tures, and pay five mana, you can trans­form Westvale Abbey into one hell of a beater.  Haste is okay, fly­ing is good, life­link is great, inde­struc­tible is amaz­ing – but all of those together, on the same card?  It’s aston­ish­ing that this wasn’t rated as a Mythic, instead of as a Rare.  Pre-release reports indi­cate that trans­form­ing the Abbey into its demonic coun­ter­part isn’t hard at all, so it’s very likely we’ll see this show­ing up in Standard.  Pretty much the only down­side is that the Profane Prince is a Legendary crea­ture, so play­ers can only have the one out on the field.

#5 – Traverse the Ulvenwald

With the loss of the Onslaught fetch­land reprints from Standard, find­ing the lands you need has become a dif­fi­cult chal­lenge.  Luckily, Shadows of Innistrad makes up for the dis­ap­point­ment with a land tutor with ben­e­fits, Traverse the Ulvenwald.  For one mana, you can find that land you need and get it into your hand, ready for cast­ing.  However, if Delirium is online, you can instead search for a crea­ture card and put it into your hand.  Delirium is another mechanic from this set that is easy to get work­ing, so late game this becomes a very effec­tive way to find that miss­ing crea­ture you need to win the game.  It isn’t very often that we see cheap crea­ture tutors, so this is very much an appre­ci­ated sur­prise.

#4 – Anguished Unmaking

Many play­ers were hop­ing for a reprint of Vindicate, a sta­ple from the Apocalypse set of long-ago, as it would fit the fla­vor of Shadows Over Innistread.  Instead play­ers got Anguished Unmaking, and there really isn’t much to com­plain about in get­ting this over Vindicate.  You do lose a bit of func­tion­al­ity by not being able to tar­get lands, and the life loss is unfor­tu­nately a pain, espe­cially if you’re run­ning painlands, but the plus side is that it pre­vents your oppo­nent from get­ting Delirium online.  The same cast­ing cost as Vindicate means that really, for all intents and pur­poses, it’s about the same quality-wise as the card it’s draw­ing inspi­ra­tion from – and may even be bet­ter, in cer­tain cases.


#3 – Arlinn Kord // Arlinn Kord, Embraced by the Moon

Werewolf fans were clam­or­ing for a Legendary Werewolf back in the orig­i­nal Innistrad block, and Arlinn Kord seems to be WotC’s answer to their fans demands.  Double-faced Planeswalkers aren’t any­thing new – we’ve seen them in Magic Origins, and with Garruk Relentless back in Innistrad – but this is the first that’s had the abil­ity to switch back and forth between its two forms.  Arlinn comes packed with a mul­ti­tude of abil­i­ties – from buffs, to cre­at­ing crea­ture tokens, to drop­ping Lightning Bolts on crea­tures or play­ers.  Her ulti­mate lets your turn your crea­tures into dam­age deal­ing machi­nes with­out hav­ing to risk them­selves in com­bat, which is a very inter­est­ing option for aggro decks.  Compared to her other Planeswalker com­pan­ions in this set, Arlinn is far and away the most inno­v­a­tive of the lot, as fully uti­liz­ing her abil­i­ties requires patience and strate­gic tim­ing.  We can’t wait to see what decks will end up play­ing her.

#2 – Archangel Avacyn // Avacyn, the Purifier

Madness has set­tled into the plane of Innistrad, and not even their guardian angel is safe from falling vic­tim to the insan­ity.  Archangel Avacyn flashes in to save your crea­tures from a bru­tal death, only to flip out into a venge­ful force of destruc­tion and rain hell­fire on every­thing when one of the crea­tures under her pro­tec­tion dies.  Avacyn is a big beater than only gets big­ger as the match goes on, and can deal out some heavy dam­age once your oppo­nents board is open.  The delayed flip trig­ger does leave her sus­cep­ti­ble to removal by your oppo­nent, but if you’re play­ing with coun­ter­spells you can han­dle that with­out prob­lem.

An inter­est­ing tid­bit; it’s pos­si­ble to pro­tect your crea­tures from being hit by Avacyn’s trans­for­ma­tion abil­ity.  Just flash in an Archangel Avacyn in response to Avacyn, the Purifier’s trans­for­ma­tion abil­ity, and your crea­tures all get inde­struc­tible and sur­vive the board purge.  Thanks to the Legend rule, you won’t even have to sack one of your Avacyns as the two sides count as two dif­fer­ent crea­tures.  If the flip con­di­tions are met again though, and she trans­forms, you will have to destroy one in accor­dance with the Legend rule.

#1 – Thing in the Ice // Awoken Horror

Our top spot on this list is a very inter­est­ing, very awe­some card.  Thing in the Ice at first glance doesn’t look like it deserves to top any list – it has Defender and can’t attack, it has good tough­ness so it makes for a good wall, typ­i­cal Limited fod­der – but check out its abil­ity.  It comes into play with four coun­ters on it, and when­ever an instant or sor­cery is cast a coun­ter gets removed.  When all four are gone, it trans­forms into an ungodly hor­ror that returns every non-Horror card to its own­ers hand.  This mon­ster is easy to cast and easy to trans­form – you can, more than likely, have it trans­formed by turn 4 or 5 – and because it entered the bat­tle­field more than a turn ago it won’t have sum­mon­ing sick­ness and can attack imme­di­ately.  Even bet­ter, it isn’t Legendary – mean­ing you can have more than one on the board at once, and you won’t have to sac­ri­fice one.  Even bet­ter, because its crea­ture type is “Horror”, you won’t have to return it to your hand if you can get another to trans­form.  Thing in the Ice is a card that will absolutely be an all-star in the post–Khans/Fate Standard –very likely in some fla­vor of con­trol deck – and will def­i­nitely be get­ting men­tioned in a future arti­cle on other for­mats.


(Card Images Via Card GamesTraditional GamesMagic The Gathering,Shadows Over Innistrad(Author’s note: The con­tents of this arti­cle reflect the views of the author, not SuperNerdLand as a whole.) In yesterday’s arti­cle, we reflected on the con­tri­bu­tions by the top cards of Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged, the two sets from the Tarkir block that have now rotated out of…