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Commander Callback: Shadows Over Innistrad

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Eternal formats in Magic are amazing things. New cards are always being introduced and nothing stays the same for long. Some old things get better or more popular while others fall by the wayside, waiting for the thing that will bring them back to life once again. Nowhere is this more true than Commander. Largely free from the high-stakes competition of Legacy and Vintage, ours is a place where powerhouses and jank alike can rise, fall and rise again a dozen times over.

So while we usually focus on shiny new toys, I think it's never a bad time to take a look back at older sets and products to see how their cards, mechanics and flavors have fared over time. It's a chance to apply new perspectives to cards we may have all but forgotten about - and to try and define why some have continued to ride high all these years later.

Today we're starting with Shadows Over Innistrad. When I first started playing Magic, the set had been released just days earlier. This weird, wonderful set will always have a special place in my heart, even if many of its cards won't find a place in your Commander decks.

The All-Stars

Eerie Interlude

Eerie Interlude

Long before Teferi's Protection gave White decks a way to evade imminent death, there was Eerie Interlude. Not only did it provide a much-needed escape hatch against devastating board wipes, it could also give players a chance to cash in on lucrative ETB triggers. It can be easy to think this card is simply a niche inclusion in Flicker decks, but that's far too reductive. Keeping Eerie Interlude in your hand and playing it in response to a sweeper will throw your opponents for a massive loop and, quite possibly, put you ahead when the dust settles.

The Gitrog Monster

The Gitrog Monster

This hungry, hungry chonkster has been a highly popular commander since its release and it's easy to see why. Green loves to use lands - the cards themselves - as a resource, and adding Black to the mix opens up a host of additional options. It calls to mind Titania, Protector of Argoth, and we could debate whether The Gitrog Monster is a better lands-go-boom commander than Titania... but we don't really have to. Put Gitrog at the helm, slide Titania into the 99 and get an incredibly powerful one-two punch.

Diregraf Colossus/Relentless Dead

Diregraf Colossus
Relentless Dead

Zombies are immensely popular in Commander. They were popular long before Shadows Over Innistrad and they'll be popular long after our eventual return to the plane, Streetlights Under Shadows Over Innistrad (working title, maybe).

These two cards have become staples in Zombie tribal decks. Diregraf Colossus is begging to be cast and killed over and over again, creating increasing value each time. Relentless Dead takes that idea to an even higher level, giving us the ability to bring it back to our hands and bring another Zombie back to the battlefield every time it dies.

Another Zombie... like, maybe, Diregraf Colossus? Perhaps with a Phyrexian Altar providing both the sacrifice outlet and the mana? Yeah, this pairing gets gross in a hurry.

Cryptolith Rite

Cryptolith Rite

Green loves mana dorks, and this card turns every creature - not just Green ones - into a mana dork. It's found a rightful home in many a Go Wide-type Green deck and is absolutely begging for a reprint.

Anguished Unmaking

Anguished Unmaking

Look. I know Despark is a card. So is Assassin's Trophy. And so is, and so is, and so is. The nature of single-target removal in Magic is such that each new iteration comes with its own pros and cons, leading us to weigh the value proposition each one presents. For my money, Anguished Unmaking hasn't lost a bit of its shine. Unlike Despark it hits nonland permanents of any CMC, and unlike Assassin's Trophy it exiles. It's got stiff competition even within its colors, but that simply makes Anguished Unmaking one excellent option of many.

Sorin, Grim Nemesis

Sorin, Grim Nemesis

Much like Zombies, Vampires never go out of style in Commander. Since Shadows, Vampires have been featured prominently in Ixalan block, and Sorin's granddaddy/creator, Edgar Markov, made massive waves when he debuted in Commander 2017. All of that has only meant good things for this version of Sorin, whose powerful abilities - that ultimate! - justify the high CMC. This Sorin is a step down from Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, but he does a ton of work in Vampire decks to this day.

Jury's Out

Descend Upon the Sinful

Descend Upon the Sinful

It sure feels like the designers thought this would be a much bigger deal than it's turned out to be. Given its appearance in the Timeless Wisdom Commander 2020 deck I have to think Wizards still hopes to make it a thing. I don't believe it's a bad card; for 6 mana, exiling all creatures isn't the worst deal. The problem for this card is that it has, in my estimation, already been outdone by Winds of Abandon from Modern Horizons, essentially White's (lesser) version of Cyclonic Rift. All of that being said, Descend Upon the Sinful can still fit nicely in budget brews.

Investigate

Tireless Tracker
Tamiyo's Journal
Trail of Evidence

This mechanic has always intrigued me. Even as a brand new Magic player I could see the potential - two generic mana to draw a card any time you want/need it is pretty good. Unfortunately, Shadows Over Innistrad didn't do a whole lot with Investigate. Only about two dozen cards mention Investigate or Clue tokens, most notably Tireless Tracker. With the right support - Training Grounds, for example, to cut the cost of popping Clues, Alhammarret's Archive to double the yield - Clues can definitely be A Thing In Commander, but I'd love to see Investigate make a full return.

Jace, Unraveler of Secrets

Jace, Unraveler of Secrets

This version of Jace has lost a ton of its luster. It doesn't help that its older brother, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, is the best planeswalker ever printed. There have also been four additional Jaces since this one, including the incredibly powerful Jace, Wielder of Mysteries. Shadows Jace has good abilities, to be sure; I wonder how much more popular he'd be if he were just one generic mana cheaper.

Madness

Avacyn's Judgment
Twins of Maurer Estate
Broken Concentration

This is the mediocre mechanic that just won't die. Commander 2019 gave it a pilot in Anje Falkenrath, but still Madness has yet to find a strong foothold in Commander. The consensus seems to be that the mechanic itself isn't the problem, it's that there aren't enough strong - or even adequate - effects that exploit it. I'm sure we haven't seen the last of Madness, but as of now it's nowhere close to achieving its full potential.

The Letdowns

Archangel Avacyn

Archangel Avacyn

I pulled an Archangel Avacyn in one of my very first Shadows Over Innistrad packs and boy was I excited. But history has not been kind to this one-time bomb. She's a powerful card with keywords Commander likes a lot - flash, flying, vigilance - and she gives everyone else indestructible for a turn. It seems, though, that this version can't escape - pardon the pun - the shadow of her Commander Mount Rushmore predecessor in Avacyn, Angel of Hope.

"Show" Lands

Port Town
Game Trail
Choked Estuary

Yay, new land cycle! Boo, it's not very good.

Delirium

Angel of Deliverance
Traverse the Ulvenwald
To the Slaughter

I see what they were going for, but with Delirium the juice is almost never worth the squeeze. Look again at Descend Upon the Sinful. If you get the Delirium trigger, you get ONE WHOLE ANGEL TOKEN! This mechanic could absolutely be something, but as it stands, I rarely if ever give it a second thought.

Werewolves

Geier Reach Bandit
Sage of Ancient Lore
Arlinn Kord

If only Arlinn Kord had been a legendary creature and not a planeswalker. Werewolves were begging for proper tribal support in 2016, and they continue to beg to this day. It certainly doesn't help that most of the werewolves in Shadows only transform if you don't cast spells, and Commander is a format in which we typically want to cast spells early and often. Ulrich of the Krallenhorde tried to help one set later in Eldritch Moon, but he's just not enough. I tried to make an Ulrich werewolves deck once. It, uh, did not go great. (If you can do better, by all means!)

Werewolves | Commander | Dave Kosin


Nahiri, the Harbinger

Nahiri, the Harbinger

What an epic fall from grace. I was thrilled to get a foil in one of my early Shadows Over Innistrad packs, and even more thrilled to sell it for north of $125. Today, I could buy eight copies with the money I made from that one. There are now, quite simply, much better ways to do everything she does. She still fits nicely with some commanders, notably Niv-Mizzet Reborn and Alesha, Who Smiles at Death, but she is far from the powerhouse she seemed destined to be at release.

Dave is a Commander player currently residing in Reno, NV. When he's not badly misplaying his decks, he works as a personal trainer. You can bother him on Twitter and check out his Twitch channel.

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