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.

Thing-in-the-Ice-Awoken-Horror-Shadows-over-Innistrad-Spoiler

(Card Images Via www.magicspoiler.com)

 

Magic: The Gathering — Shadows Over Innistrad Set Review
Standard Rotation: Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged to say “Goodbye” April 8th, 2016