(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 Secrets. Nahiri, 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 Restored. Sigarda, 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 www.magicspoiler.com)
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