This list is both about "new" cards and "spells". If I were to expand to not-new cards the best card would almost certainly be the best Blue creature of all time, a returning Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration. "But Michael J," say some well-meaning mages. "Isn't Snapcaster Mage..."
Look, friend. Delver of Secrets and Snapcaster Mage were literally printed, originally, in the same set. In big formats there are all manner of Delver/x color combinations and decks; while Snapcaster Mage will get the odd nod one-of in some Modern or Legacy decks. Snapcaster Mage is freaking great - maybe even a solid Number Two - but Delver is the Man. And by Man I mean Insectile Aberration.
Following Delver would probably be fellow perennial 1-drop Pithing Needle; which is never good but so cheap it has filled everything from the fifteenth sideboard slot to the odd Trinket Mage package since its first appearance.
How about lands?
The land cycle in Innistrad: Midnight Haunt is literally fine.
These cards will get played. But they're not going to be preferred in any format I can imagine right now. A lot of folks are comparing them to Copperline Gorge or Blackcleave Cliffs. They are far, far worse than those lands. Think about Inspiring Vantage. Inspiring Vantage is arguably the best card in arguably the best deck in Modern. Haunted Ridge is never going to get close to any competitive Modern deck list.
Think about it like this: The flash point for both cycles is the third land. To get to land three you always have to go through lands one and two... You know, the ones where the previous two cycles shined [and these don't]. Ask any aggro player if they even care about what happens with lands four and beyond. The average Modern Red Deck player will politely request never to draw the fourth land and a Pioneer one will mitigate such an eventuality by playing Ramunap Ruins to manage back down.
That's the point where these lands start to do their thing.
The best of the cycle is clearly going to be Deserted Beach. Azorius and its adjacents will be very happy for land #7 to enter the battlefield nice and straight to pop an Epiphany on time. I think Shipwreck Marsh is going to be far less popular, comparatively, just because it's Black. Big mana / big spell Black decks in Standard are going to continue to lean towards Snow, I imagine, because of the giant payoff that is Blood on the Snow. Green decks - even those who are going to be very happy to have more than three lands in play every game - are going to opt for other potentially tapped dual land options. Neither Overgrown Farmland nor Rockfall Vale is a Forest; meaning they don't play nicely with any of Green's current best Ramp options in Standard. Again, I don't see these duals living their best lives in other formats.
These will get played - again, 's is likely going to be the most popular - but in a world of Snarls, Modal Double-faced Lands, Snow- and Forest-based payoffs, I would be enormously surprised if these weren't third option or even worse for many decks.
The Top 8 Cards That Didn't Make the Top 13
22. Olivia's Midnight Ambush
Look for this card to occupy some of the rotating two-mana slots alongside Power Word Kill and perhaps newcomer Foul Play. Heartless Act is going to be a tough act to follow. All these cards are going to have their pluses and minuses. Olivia's Midnight Ambush may well be exploiting other people's ability to turn day into night, especially in creature-poor decks. Giving a creature minus-whatever / minus-whatever is far better than destroying it in most cases, especially if it's a Dragon or whatever.
Solid Role-Player in rotation
21. Ambitious Farmhand // Seasoned Cathar
This card is just fantastic. It's a mana cheaper than Borderland Ranger / Civic Wayfinder / whatnot and becomes a one-Farmhand wrecking crew once you have Coven. This card generates card advantage on the way in, and becomes kill on sight for anyone trying to win fair and square by small creature beatdown.
The secret sauce on this card is as a sideboard option for White-accessing Control decks, where a constant stream of land drops is imperative, and the ability to sneak under an opponent's defenses (or even just to set up a 1/1 to block early) can have outsized value. Flipping is gravy. But fatty, rich and creamy, gravy.
20. Sacred Fire
Don't think about this as the second coming of Lightning Helix. It will not do Lightning Helix's job in bigger formats. Cards like Dragon's Rage Channeler have too much toughness for Sacred Fire and to be fair, Lightning Helix isn't even doing Lightning Helix's job any more in most ultra-fast Boros builds.
Instead, think about this as the second coming of Bonecrusher Giant for Standard. The front-side is better than Stomp unless you are explicitly trying to juke a Kor Firewalker, and the back side, while not game-winning on its own, will be utterly backbreaking once you're in a topdeck war. Key here is that it is an instant. Six is going to feel like nothing when the opponent is ripping a Monk of the Open Hand with, you know, no hand of his own.
19. Borrowed Time
Ho hum, technically a new card.
18. Rotten Reunion
This card is freaking awesome! The rate on it - one mana - can't be beat. Can't you just imagine ruining some Reanimator player's day? You're not going to get much surprise value out of the back half, but you're probably going to be getting value.
17. Turn the Earth
Ditto on the above. The upshot on this card is probably worse than a 2/2 Decayed on average, but the fact that you can target multiple graveyards is Chef's Kiss. Now that some maniacs are playing not only Firebolt but Hammer of Bogardan in Modern, how do you feel about two life and Flashback?
Fun fact: I had Turn the Earth as high as #3 (i.e. in the next section, even) on my first pass of this set; but then I calmed down a little.
16. Lunarch Veteran
Speaking of being in the next section, I think I might be rating Lunarch Veteran // Luminous Veteran a little softly. This card marries two different types of 1-drops that have all kinds of value across all kinds of formats: The Soul Warden and the Hunted Witness models. Yes, you are paying a little extra for your Hunted Witness, but never before has it played Sally.
15. Rem Karolus, Stalwart Slayer
This card has so much going on.
To begin with, it's a little better than a Leonin Skyhunter; which, to be fair, hasn't been Constructed Playable in fifteen years (but, believe me, it was way back when). I point that out just to say that Rem really isn't the worst, and if you make the mistake of letting it sit around, it is going to turn a lot of twos into threes and fours into fives and you're not going to like that.
So basically, you have to kill it. That is the Rem Karolous tax. Please pay the tax. Otherwise, every other creature in the opponent's deck gets twice as annoying. Not that it is so difficult to kill, but if this is in play in Modern, a Red Deck is more-or-less obligated to pay the tax or it cannot win.
One-mana cantrips usually have to be pretty bad not to play.
This one will be helpful in flipping your Delver of Secrets.
The Thirteen Best New Spells from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt
13. Curse of Shaken Faith
Curse of Shaken Faith is the Andre Drummond of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt. When the Detroit Pistons took Andre Drummond in the first round of the 2012 NBA draft, he was considered an aggressive reach by many pundits. It wasn't clear that Drummond, among other things, was even interested in playing basketball. He was taken many picks higher than future stars Draymond Green and Khris Middleton (the latter of whom was actually also taken by the Pistons).
But Drummond was a line in the sand. You can pick predictably; you can try to pick safely; but the reality is, very few draft picks - even high ones - persist successfully in an NBA that brings in new young players every year. Physically dominant - at least potentially - Drummond might have seemed an odd choice, but he was one that might actually matter.
Curse of Shaken Faith is a card that might actually matter. This is a card that can turn particular matchups - predictable matchups - completely on end, especially for a color that doesn't have things like discard or counterspells.
Notably, this card only goes one way. I'm kind of curious as to how that might affect some weird Legacy mirrors in the future! But for a conventional Red Deck? They really have to not die on the first turn (or the second, going second) but after that? The world changes.
Post-script: Drummond missed out on Rookie of the Year honors in 2013; but that's just because the voting public loves scoring. Advanced Statistics rated the 2013 Drummond higher than not only RoY Damian Lillard, but first pick Anthony Davis. No comment on any of them in 2021.
12. Jadar, Ghoulcaller of Nephalia
This card oozes rate. Not only is 3/3 across two bodies for two mana fantastic, Jadar's ability to replenish Decayed while supplying fodder for attacks or sacrifice synergies is flat-out filthy for.
11. Fateful Absence
This card is just awesome. It's an instant upgrade to Declaration in Stone that can hit Planeswalkers. How insane is it that you can wait around for the opponent to durdle and grind for several turns working up to an Ultimate just to trade them for a Clue token later?
10. Rite of Oblivion
Anyone who's been playing a lot of Necrotic Fumes for the past couple of months probably has their eyes bugging out over this card. Necrotic Fumes fills a very precise slot, true; but it's good enough to play - and essentially ubiquitous in decks running Eyetwitch or Poet's Quill.
The upgrade to "Sacrifice" is crazy... Especially for Eyetwitch decks (who want to get their money from sacrificing an Eyetwitch or Shambling Ghast); or who have spare Pests or Mascots. The mana cost and flashback bonuses are also great. But more than anything else is the complete lack of targeting restriction. I guess go ahead and EXILE the opponent's giant enchantment, key equipment, or utility creature.
9. Sungold Sentinel
No one part of this card is overwhelmingly powerful. But there are so many good small things going on. Fantastic power-to-casting cost ratio... It's on the order of countless cards that have made Top 8 or even won Pro Tours for Selesnya mages past. The 187 effect isn't over powered... But it's there, and at no additional cost. In a very slightly different world, this card would have been hell on Elspeth, Cauldron Familiar, or dare I say Uro. Finally, the possibility of protecting itself is just there on the bonus. If it's active, the game has probably dragged on; but if you're getting through unblocked while tearing up the opponent's bench... It doesn't take that many swings, does it?
8. Dennick, Pious Apprentice // Dennick, Pious Apparition
This card is a kill on sight for multiple styles of decks.
But don't worry! They'll have to kill it again in a sec.
Outstanding rate on the front end for a cheap Baneslayer; built-in card advantage two ways. Easiest play pattern in the world is to Disturb it and use point removal immediately for the Clue.
7. Tolovar's Huntmaster // Tovolar's Packleader
What kind of insane set is this that Tolovar's Huntmaster doesn't crack the Top 5?
Grave Titan on the way in... Extra giant Grave Titan machine gun on the flip side? I can't wait to four-into-six this card off of Binding the Old Gods. The fact that it is not Legendary makes the Nightbound fight ability even better than it looks initially.
6. Augur of Autumn
Courser of Kruphix is one of the single most successful creatures - or enchantments - in the history of the Pro Tour. Augur of Autumn has got a lot of Courser to it. A little less toughness, a little less life gain, but even more potential card advantage and selection. While easy to kill, it is also easy to get a free card off of the Augur first, if you're patient and / or strategic.
5. Wrenn and Seven
This card is going to pretty obviously take over as the go-to top end card for a variety of decks in Standard. This is just a much more powerful Planeswalker than Ellywick Tumblestrum; and for the same casting cost... Less has to go right to dominate the opponent than with the ubiquitous Spider Queen.
You can draw cards; you can burst out mana (imagine you had Happened on a Glade earlier), or immediately go to Level Three on a Druid Class the turn you drop it. Actually, it's a little better than that, now that I think of it. Thank goodness for Fateful Absence and Rite of Oblivion. The Ultimate on Wrenn and Seven is over the top.
4. Champion of the Perished
Love the name.
Modern is never going to be the same. Think Humans, but with reach.
3. Brutal Cathar // Moonrage Brute
The fact that you can keep flipping it for more and more targeting seems absurd to me. The floor is Skyclave Apparition. Removal-poor decks (like the ones playing Brutal Cathar // Moonrage Brute, probably) are going to have absolute fits.
2. Sunset Revelry
Don't worry about drawing the extra card.
Have you thought about what this will do on turn two in Modern? They get in with one innocuous Monastery Swiftspear ping and you're suddenly up to 23 with a pair of bodies? That's just playing fair. The Humans are perfectly good combo catalysts, remember!
This card seems absolutely broken to me. Two-thirds of the most mean-spirited card anyone plays in any format - with potential up-side! - at a one-mana discount. Just better than Timely, right?
1. Play with Fire
Far and away the best Constructed card of the set, albeit not spectacular or obvious. Unlike most of the other cards in this list, Play with Fire will be widely played in at least two competitive Constructed formats, and perhaps as many as four. Think about this a moment: How many performing Pioneer decks played with both Wild Slash and Shock? Wild Slash is not meaningfully better than Shock in most situations, but Red Deck champions were paying six or even eight copies. This card IS better than Shock! And more than that, it will perform best in the closest games. Given the power level of cards like Lava Dart and Firebolt, I think Play with Fire might even be Modern playable. How good is this at leading into a Light up the Stage? As the last card you cast in your desperate burn flurry before your fingers-crossed rip for all the marbles?
In Standard, Shock has been the constant standard; it's only because of Frost Bite and Snow-covered Mountain that we don't see 4x Shock in every Red Deck; and in non-Snow versions, we still do. This card is simply awesome for Standard or Pioneer level play; though admittedly we might not see its widespread adoption until 2022.