Hello, Nation! Welcome to every Magic player’s dream—new cards! New cards a-go-go! The lifeblood of Magic is the ever-churning pile of new cards that inject fun and awesome into the game. You’ll never get bored with Magic because there’s always something new.
This time of year, we see a ton of articles about the new cards. Hype and pomp mix into an incendiary grenade that blows up the Magic websites. Between the twenty articles that confirm that yes, Mental Misstep actually is good, and that what always rocks Limited is creatures and removal, there’s little room to breathe. Luckily, we breathe quite well here in Casual Land.
Today’s article looks at the cards from Innistrad that tweak my casual-player fancy. I’ll assess the cards from a variety of angles. I’ll be looking at the goods with an eye toward everything from Commander to Pauper and from Prismatic to general multiplayer. What are the great cards?
There are too many paragraphs before the good stuff! I know you are bursting to read this as much as I’m bursting to write it. No more foreplay—alons-y!
Angel of Flight Alabaster – Start pulling out your Kamigawa-block Spirits. The massive tribal theme they have can only be enhanced by another block with a Spirit tribal theme. Imagine the cheerleaders going, “We’ve . . . got . . . Spirit, S-P-I-R-I-T, Spirit, let’s hear it!” The card advantage from this thing is impressive. It combos well with several powerful Sprits that you might want to recur—like Karmic Guide, Azorius Herald, and Arashi, the Sky Asunder. She is a powerful engine.
Angelic Overseer – Another fun card for your Angel/Human decks. Oh, wait, you didn’t have those already built? Yeah, I hear you. I suspect there are some good Humans to rock in typical mono-White control, such as Cho-Manno, Revolutionary and Beloved Chaplain. I’m sure there is a deck somewhere for this.
Bonds of Faith – I do like the “pump or Pacifism” feel that this card has. I think it was a clever design. I’d just like it to pump power more to make it a closer decision. As it is, I don’t expect a lot of people to be playing it as a +2/+2 Aura.
Dearly Departed – This combination of power (5/5 flyer is no slouch) and an ability that triggers when in the graveyard . . . is on a Spirit? That’s both useful and a clever use of the Spirit ideas. I want everyone to immediately look at Iname, Death Aspect. Play it, and search your library for any number of Spirits to put them into your graveyard. Putting these four guys in is awesome. Ouch! It plays well with a lot of crazy-good cards.
Divine Reckoning – As a mass-removal variant, this is very hot. It is, selectively, better than Wrath of God. If you have out one great creature, this doesn’t even hurt you. How often have you had to lose one good creature in a Wrath to clear up the board? Control decks are often light on creatures anyway, and this plays right into that. Sure, you won’t be able to Wrath away that one beater—like Isleback Spawn or It That Betrays. However, you can keep your Commander Eesha, Akroma, or your own Eldrazi through it all. There is something really grand about that. Don’t forget the Flashback.
Elite Inquisitor – I expect this to be the good 2-drop of the block and for it to get played a bunch in tournaments (such as Knight of Meadowgrain was). It has First Strike and Vigilance, plus the Protection abilities. All great stuff. I loaded up on all that I need for now, because I expect they will increase in value.
Fiend Hunter – Oblivion Ring has long been a useful White card, so now we are seeing abilities like its on creatures. White’s new Faceless Butcher. Considering the value the Butcher has had through the years, I have to imagine that this will see a metric ton of play in Casual Land, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this 3-mana version breaks out in tournaments. Get many of these for deck stock.
Intangible Virtue – Meh. I like tokens as much as the next guy, but be prepared to see a ton of token decks in casual Magic for the next year or so because of the printings of both this and Parallel Lives. Boring.
Mentor of the Meek – Ah, yes, this is quite interesting. Note that any deck with this could easily rock cards like Retribution of the Meek, Meekstone, and Marble Titan. Drawing cards for playing little dudes will really break aggro decks. Here’s an Elite Vanguard, and 1 more mana to draw a card. It will also break the aforementioned token decks. Raise the Alarm plus 2 more mana for two cards! Persist will enjoy this, too. There are a lot of ways to abuse Mentor of the Meek, and it’s a great new way for White to draw cards.
Mikaeus, the Lunarch – I don’t like Mikaeus that much, and let me tell you why. The best way to use him is in a deck with a lot of mana. Make a really big Mikaeus! Then, you want to attack with him—not tap to pull off counters. Also, if you are tapping to pull off counters to put them on your other dudes, you’ll need a lot of other dudes. How do you best get them? You get them by playing many cheap creatures. So in the decks that can best use Mikaeus, the mana isn’t there to really abuse him. As a result, I see him relegated to late-game shenanigans in multiplayer and token decks.
Nevermore – This is nothing more than another tool for your toolbox of cards.
Paraselene – It’s been a while since we’ve seen a good Tranquility variant. For double the life, I still think I prefer the 4-mana Multani's Decree over Paraselene, because the mana won’t matter as much. When you need to wipe the board of enchantments, it’s not going to be turn three. It’s nice to have options, and not every deck has access to both Green and White. I’d still have the instant Back to Nature or Tempest of Light over this, and don’t forget Fracturing Gust. This is not bad, though.
Silverchase Fox – Does exiling an enchantment make sense for this set? I have to wonder if they put this card in Innistrad because they feared the pro-enchantment theme from M12 being too powerful.
Smite the Monstrous – I have to admit that I really giggled out loud when I saw this card. We had this mechanic for a while in White. Look at Reprisal, Retribution of the Meek, Intrepid Hero, and Radiant's Judgment. However, we’ve not seen it for a long time, and I hadn’t thought about putting it in this set. Now that I’ve seen it, I have to say that bringing this back is brilliant, and it makes total sense. I’m sure they didn’t go with Reprisal because of the vague name and because it would compete with Rebuke too much for “good common removal” status. It’s still a fine card, and a very clever mechanic.
Urgent Exorcism – I just love the flavor of some of the White cards, and this is easily the one that takes the cake.
Cackling Counterpart – Clone was always good because it was creature removal in Blue. Whereas other colors would destroy the creature, you would negate it by making your own. Only occasionally would you use it to double your team. In this case, it can only be used for that, but at least it has Flashback so that you can make two creatures.
Civilized Scholar – Meh. The best you can hope for is attacking with a 5/1 on the fourth turn. In order to do that, you will have telegraphed the play quite a bit. I don’t think that’s going to do much. This is overhyped.
Curiosity – In a recent article, Mark Rosewater wrote that the “key to finding a good reprint is to find a card that feels like you would have made it for the set if it didn't already exist.” I don’t see how this does that even a little bit. I love Blazing Torch and Ghost Quarter here, as well as some other things (I adore Dissipate and Mulch, too, for example). This? I don’t get this at all. Sure, they gave it a nice flavor text, but you could have done that for a variety of cards. You could flavor Divination with a picture and flavor text that show that it uses the entrails of a dead human as the way to draw cards. That doesn’t mean the card should be in this set (I also feel that Naturalize and Shimmering Grotto feel a bit forced). I do like the number of reprints in this set, though. It feels good to see old friends.
Curse of the Bloody Tome – Remember Zendikar’s Traps? Do you remember just how many of those things there were? There was no question that we had a ton of really good Traps all over the place. Here we have Curses as a theme, but only six? That doesn’t exactly make for a lot of purposes for things like Bitterheart Witch. It feels more like the Hondens than it does the Traps.
Forbidden Alchemy – This is another great uncommon that will make the cut in many decks. If Curiosity makes the cut, I would have liked to have seen Strategic Planning in the set, but I love this, too. It totally works as both a graveyard-enabler and as a way to find the goods from your deck. I expect to see it begin to make the cut in any U/B Commander deck you can find. I think it’s quite good for Pauper decks as well.
Fortress Crab – Seriously, did I miss something? In addition to Frankenstein, Werewolf, and Dracula, was there a Demon Crab movie that was among Universal’s classic films? Among the stories of possession, zombies, and evil dolls, did I miss the great Stephen King novel about giant evil hermit crabs? Does someone want to tell me exactly what this is supposed to be doing in my horror set? Is a future set going to explore the horrors of the sea, complete with Deep Ones, Amphins, and Cthulhu? I have no idea what this card is doing in this set.
Laboratory Maniac – I agree with all of the comments that this is interesting and that it combos well with a few cards. There’s nothing I could say about this that dozens of writers haven’t already said. Leveler? Check. I could mention the 7-mana Morality Shift, I suppose. Don’t forget things like Tolarian Serpent. Actually, this is a really good block for T-Serpent, so grab some.
Lost in the Mist – This feels like Cryptic Command. I know—it doesn’t have the flexibility, or draw you card, or tap down creatures, or cost 4 mana, but it’s the two most frequent abilities that I played in Casual Town. Feel free to play these ad nauseam. This is mega-powerful for Type 4, where counters are already good and bounce can really set someone back.
Ludevic's Test Subject – Let’s find a way to make another Level Up creature. Perhaps this should have been something like a Leviathan instead of a Lizard in order to work with Fortress Crab in that future Horrors from the Deep expansion. Just kidding. It feels a bit “by the numbers.” The 13/13 just has Trample, it takes five activations to work, and they cost so little that Proliferate isn’t a good friend. I’m just not excited by this in any way.
Mindshrieker – I feel that this is the Compulsion of the set. That this is the card that will make all of the other decks work. It’s not nearly as sexy as the next card on our list, but it will get things done.
Mirror-Mad Phantasm – Holy crap! I feel like this is mega-broken in Commander and bigger-deck formats. Hi! Let’s shuffle me back and then mill roughly forty to fifty cards into my graveyard while still having a 5/1 flyer out and allowing me to abuse Incarnations, Flashback, Narcomoeba, Firemane Angel, Dearly Departed, Bloodghast, and more. I can think of roughly a billion ideas for this in these decks.
Rooftop Storm – You have to pay a lot of mana to get to a cost for your Zombies. Once you do, what great and expensive Zombies can you drop? Ummm . . . none? There are exactly seven Zombies in the history of Magic that cost more than the 6 mana it takes to drop this. Of those, one doesn’t really work in a Zombie deck—Bladewing the Risen. That leaves Thraximundar, Phage the Untouchable, Zombie Brute, Tresserhorn Skyknight, Nim Grotesque, and Sutured Ghoul. That’s not exactly a winning group of Zombies. As such, this is relegated to iffy combo decks.
Skaab Ruinator – Casting this from your graveyard is spicy. Other than that, it’s just a beater for cheap that plays with the graveyard theme.
Snapcaster Mage – It seems pretty good for casual formats, too. I can totally see rocking him in Commander, or Prismatic, or what have you.
Army of the Damned – The Army of the Damned likes cards from White, such as Mentor of the Meek and Intangible Virtue. It also is so brokenly good in Type 4 that I may not even put it in. I’ll have to think about it. In one attack step, you can kill a player. This is hot. Play it, and then wait and win next turn. If someone manages to sweep the board, just flash it back and win. This is amazingly strong at the kitchen table.
Bloodgift Demon – With the 40 life you have in Commander, this wants to see play badly. Phyrexian Arena is really strong in that format, and this is a powerful Arena on legs. Plus, you can aim it at someone to deck him or to kill him. Plus you have a 5/4 flyer on top of it, and all for 5 mana. This is a powerful addition to your decks.
Endless Ranks of the Dead – I’m not as excited about this as some, because how to use it is a bit obvious. You play Zombies, and then you get more and more and more, as long as you still have some. It won’t allow you to recover from mass removal—it only adds to an army. As such, it doesn’t get a lot of my brain-space.
Liliana of the Veil – Any planeswalker is going to be useful somewhere. The best ones have a variety of uses, while the worst ones require too much to work (Chandra Ablaze, Nissa Revane). Making everyone discard seems a bit weak for typical decks. Her Cruel Edict ability is sharp. Her mega-Edict is perfect for an ultimate. What is not exciting is that she forces you to discard. Outside of reanimation, Hellbent, Madness, and decks with similar themes, I just don’t see her impact. She might work with some of the many graveyard-abusing cards in Innistrad, but she won’t be that hot for unfocused decks. I see her as more of a Chandra Ablaze than a Chandra, the Firebrand.
Maw of the Mire – Yet more common land-destruction for Black, and yet, where is Red’s? There is none? What a surprise . . . this is getting annoying, WotC. Print LD for Red in common slots. It doesn’t have to be Stone Rain, just print something.
Morkrut Banshee – If you can set this up, it’s even more powerful than Flametongue Kavu. I’d like to think something will happen with this, but Skinrender was amazing, and it didn’t see much play outside of casual tables—which is fine for us! Cheap Skinrenders for the masses! Perhaps we’ll have cheap Morkrut Banshees as well.
Reaper from the Abyss – Yep, it’s the banner Morbid card from Black. It’s pretty saucy, and in a color that kills a lot of things already, it just adds to the body count. Note that changelings and Demons are protected from death by this Reaper.
Tribute to Hunger – Is it just me, or are a lot of sets releasing Edict variants these days? Geth's Verdict, Consuming Vapors, Tribute to Hunger, etc. This is a pretty solid choice, but most of the others have reasons to choose them, too.
Victim of Night – While I do think this has some strength outside of the block, I think Eyeblight's Ending is now the best choice of these. You are going to run into a ton of Zombies and Vampires, and tons of Spirits will drop the value of Rend Flesh. With no Elves in the block (yay!), it’s time for them to rest at the table, and that means the Eyeblight's Ending should rise in play value.
Balefire Dragon – I feel that there are some flavor “enhhs” running around, and this is clearly an example of such. Sure, let’s give it some gothic art (not really), but it’s still a Dragon in Horror Land. It’s doesn’t fit. You can’t shoehorn in these iconic fantasy creatures and hope they’ll fit. I do think the Angels worked here—I do not think this does. I’m also pretty anti-Elemental in this set, because most of them look and feel generic. When listing horror tropes, I don’t think anyone said, “I want crabs, wurms, dragons, and elephants made of fire.”
Blasphemous Act – Forget the reduced casting cost. This is Red’s first real Wrath. Chain Lightning was close, but often dependent on creatures. Breaking Point is up to the opponent. This does 13 to everything—which will sweep the board of every creature that does not have Indestructible, Protection, Regeneration, or a gigantic butt. It’s easy to build around, and it’s destructive. Tons of fun in Type 4, and with the reduced cost, you can play this much easier.
Charmbreaker Devils – The combination of free recursion and pumping the creatures is nice. I like free cards. I’m sure most do, and you can control the cards by controlling what is in your graveyard. This is very solid stuff for a lot of decks. You don’t have to have an Izzet deck to use it (although it would be broken there, obviously).
Devil's Play – It’s hard to find something to say about these obvious tool cards after saying things like, “Make sure you get some of these for deck stock, because it looks like a good tool for your toolkit.” Flashback spells look very flexible. I’d put this on the next rung of the spell ladder after multiple-removal cards like Comet Storm or Rolling Thunder. Then I’d look at Death Grasp and Devil's Play.
Feral Ridgewolf – I know it’s a minor common, hidden behind all of the other sexy cards, but this has some serious power. Firebreathing and Trample? Don’t take this little guy for granted. He will kick your ass if you do. I like this for a lot of casual decks, and I think he’s got a role to play in Pauper. I remember how good Sandstone Warrior was with First Strike and pump, and this seems like it has a similar level of power for half the casting cost.
Harvest Pyre – In combo decks, this is great adjunct creature removal. Oath of Druids, Hermit Druid, Mirror-Mad Phantasm, Morality Shift, and Traumatize all turn this into a Terminate. Combine the recently printed Jace, Memory Adept with this card for an interesting deck idea. This will break critters in half. Outside of decks specifically built around it, this will be as useful as Skred was outside of a deck with no Snow cards.
Heretic's Punishment – It fits into decks that already exists—those built around Erratic Explosion and similar cards. Apparently we are getting some callbacks to Odyssey block. (Plus some reprints! [Ancient Grudge]) This also builds up your graveyard for fun and for Harvest Pyres.
Past in Flames – I love this card as much as the next reviewer. Some cards are overhyped. This is not. Past in Flames is a great, powerful effect for the mana. It also has Flashback. It definitely feels like a light version of Yawgmoth's Will. I expect to see it played in Commander decks that have the mana later in the game and have the big splashy spells.
Ambush Viper – This certainly feels a bit like Green creature removal. Here’s a poisonous Snake that will kill you, but any attacker with power will kill it back. Result—, Instant, Destroy target attacker. I think this card will make it as a nice little surprise.
Boneyard Wurm – As a half-Lhurgoyf or as a grounded Revenant, this should have a lot of value at the 2-drop slot. Since you control your own deck, you can easily pack cards that will make this Tarmogoyf-sized and beyond. I can see deck ideas now. Note that Green has a lot of these cool cards with the “creature cards in your graveyard mechanic” (such as Spider Spawning). They have a lot of potential.
Creeping Renaissance – I find this to be one of the most interesting cards from the set. Returning all of your lands from your graveyard to your hand is cool. Returning all of your artifacts or enchantments has uses in decks with a high count there. Returning all of your creatures? Now, that’s a spicy meatball.
Essence of the Wild – While the mechanic is interesting and something new, it just feels a little . . . mild. All you get for your trouble is a 6/6 vanilla creature? It doesn’t even have an evasive ability. Sure, you can abuse this with tokens or something, but otherwise, it just feels weak.
Garruk Relentless – Do you remember when planeswalkers were first released? No one knew what they would do, because they were this new thing. Would they be powerful or impotent? Would they see a lot of play or barely any play? We needed a lot of play to assess how powerful they were. I think that’s what Garruk Relentless brings—something very different that will require a lot of play to figure out. I’m excited!
Prey Upon – I’m curious as to why they made “Fights” a word in Magic. It’s not used that often as an ability. I suspect it was to make more creature removal for Green, and this is one of several cads that seems like a new beginning for the color.
Tree of Redemption – I definitely am a fan of the uniqueness of this card. If you ever thought that they would run out of cards, this should give you new hope. It’s too bad this has Defender, because Doran, the Siege Tower would love to pair with it. With a 13 defense, this blocks everything except the biggest Eldrazi. It also can give you a nice little boost of life if you need it. I’m sure the Johnnies among you have already thought of one thousand and one ways to break and make this card. Awesome!
The Other Stuff
Evil Twin – This is the perfect sort of card I expect from this set. It plays nicely, and it makes a ton of sense in the theme.
Geist of Saint Traft – This feels a bit like a 3-mana, weaker version of Kaalia of the Vast. It only makes 4/4 tokens, and they die at the end of the turn. This is 6 power of attackers on the fourth turn without acceleration. That’s pretty fast for any deck. Add in a turn-one accelerator of any sort, and you’ve got 6 power attacking on the third turn. Very taste-tastic.
Olivia Voldaren – The combination of turning opposing creatures into Vampires and then enthralling them over to your side seems not only clever, but powerful. It’s exactly what you would expect her to do, but without having thought of it first. It’s not until I saw her that I realized how obvious it was—if that makes sense.
Creepy Doll – To me, this feels like the Ravenloft set, and these fit right in as a doll golem. I’m not a super-big fan of the coin-flip ability, but how else are you going to make an indestructible little artifact animated toy be unlike Stuffy Doll? (I bet they asked themselves, should we just reprint Stuffy Doll? I wonder why they didn’t.)
Grimoire of the Dead – This is a much better use of counters growing to make something cool than silly old Ludevic's Test Subject. This gives a Twilight's Call effect to every color, except that you control them all—similar to Liliana Vess’s ultimate ability. Every single color can now bring back all of the creatures! This is great in Blue (Jace, the Mind Sculptor!), or Red (Madness!), or Green (use all of those power-equal-to-the-number-of-creatures-cards-in-your-graveyard cards). White gets an upgrade from Death or Glory! Grimoire of the Dead—for those who dream of being necromancers, but don’t want to do the work!
Manor Gargoyle – It’s a nice addition to the usual suspects of indestructibility. Feel free to add this to the many decks you already have a Darksteel creature in.
Witchbane Orb – I’m not sure I’m a fan of a colorless Ivory Mask being made. I’ll play it, no question—it just feels like another color bleed into colorless territory. On the heels of New Phyrexia, seeing cards like this and Grimoire of the Dead is a bit off-putting. At least the Grimoire nails a common horror trope. This wasn’t exactly mad flavor.
Gavony Township, Kessig Wolf Run, Moorland Haunt, Nephalia Drownyard, Stensia Bloodhall – Each of these rares seems very powerful in many of the decks that use its respective colors. I especially adore Gavony Township in any deck that has both Green and White and creatures. Dealing land-based direct damage without sacrificing creatures, milling people, pumping creatures, and making tokens are all always great. Doing them with lands is special. I don’t expect these to be on the same level of playability as the Worldwake creature-mana lands that smoothed your mana and swung. These don’t fix your color needs, but they are really strong as one-ofs or two-ofs in many deck lists.
Whew! These articles are always long, but this one seems longer than usual. Overall, the cards look and feel great, with only a few misses here and there as flavor speed bumps (like Travel Preparations, which sounds to me like a Zendikar card). Next time, we’ll build some decks around Innistrad cards and have a blast doing it!
See you next week,