Top 8 Best Shadows Over Innistrad Cards You Need To Be Picking Up At Your SOI Prereleases
Spoiler season is finally over and it’s definitely been an intriguing one. Shadows over Innistrad certainly appears to be one of the lowest power level sets for many years – but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing! A lower power level gives a chance for cards based around synergy more of a chance to shine – and Shadows over Innistrad is packed with cards that, even if they don’t have that much power in a vacuum, encourage players to construct interesting and unusual decks. Not to mention that some of these cards are absolutely bursting with flavour…
Today I’m going to count down my Top 8 favourite cards from Shadows over Innistrad, let you know why you should be trying to pick them up at your upcoming Shadows over Innistrad prereleases and talk a little about how I see them fitting in to constructed. Before we get underway, it’s only fair (on myself) to provide a little disclaimer – any evaluation of a new card is necessarily made without the context of the whole format, and as such there’s plenty of room for error as previously unseen synergies emerge, or apparently powerful cards are rendered unplayable but the popularity of a particular answer. All of which is a very elaborate way of saying that not only might I be off with some of my evaluations of new cards, I’d be shocked if I didn’t have several new cards entirely wrong.
Either way, these are the cards that I’ll be doing my best to trade for as soon as we all start ripping open our packs next weekend, and the ones that I’d recommend that you try to get your hands on as well!
So, with my pre-emptive excuses ringing in your ears, let’s take a look at the Top 8.
Actually, before that, let’s have an honourable mention here…
Triskaidekaphobia is not a remotely playable card in any competitive format, but who cares? Look at it! This is a piece of design so beautiful that I can’t help but be glad it exists even though the effect will probably have worn off by the time I open my thirteenth copy (in my fifteenth booster pack). All those sets of thirteen in the art are fantastic. The fact that both clauses use thirteen words is fantastic. There are actually thirteen uses of the number thirteen on the card… I love it. Although I can’t help but feel sorry for any players out there that actually do suffer from triskaidekaphobia… In fact I suspect that this set will probably sell rather badly among the severely phobic community. Clearly a major miss by the Wizards marketing department.
Anyway – in, as they say, at number eight:
The latest in a long line of white removal spells with a drawback, Declaration in Stone is no Swords to Plowshares or Path to Exile but exiling any creature for just two mana remains a great deal. The downside is significant however, so I’d caution against putting this into a control deck, as you can’t afford to be 2-for-1’ing yourself very often – but in more aggressive decks, this is fantastic as you’re hopefully putting enough pressure on your opponent that the two mana spent investigating constitutes a significant loss in tempo.
The fact that this has incredible utility against token decks pushes it into the “clearly playable” bracket for me. There are several cards already spoiled that create a bunch of tokens or encourage you to find ways to make them (Westvale Abbey in particular stands out) and getting to punish opponents who’ve sunk a ton of resources into churning out Spirit or Human tokens is a great little secondary usage. It’s also worth noting that in general the removal spells in Standard are quite a bit stronger and more efficient than the creatures they’ll be killing, and that encourages players either to play creatures that are resilient to removal (of which there are relatively few) or to try and go wide to reduce the efficiency of removal against them. Declaration in Stone has the potential to punish both approaches.
Don’t be fooled by the drawback – this is a very real card and I’d be surprised if it didn’t crop up a decent amount at top tables around the country.
This just reeks of value. And decaying flesh presumably, but mainly value.
One of the ways to make your creatures resilient to removal (something I suspect will be very necessary in the coming months) is to use creatures with great enters-the-battlefield effects like Goblin Dark-Dwellers. That way, even if they die immediately, you make sure you’re a card (or some other useful effect) up on the deal. And what’s better than getting card advantage once? Getting it twice.
Ever After feels like a card that should shine in grindier match-ups. Rebuying two Dark-Dwellers, or getting a second use of a Sidisi, Undead Vizier is already huge value, but getting the creatures themselves back as well makes this one hell of a deal. And whilst six mana is certainly a lot, the potential impact on the game is more than enough to justify the cost. I can imagine this card leading to a lot of sick value plays, and as long as I’m the one making them, I’m all for that.
Of course, a card like Ever After becomes a lot worse if your creatures never hit the graveyard. Anguished Unmaking is a pretty efficient way of making sure they don’t. Exile seems likely to be hugely relevant in the new Standard, not just because of graveyard synergies from the new set but because of older cards like Deathmist Raptor and World Breaker as well.
Three life is not an irrelevant cost of course, and this isn’t a card you can simply throw four of in your deck and call it a day as a result, as playing too many of these will likely lead to a perilously low life total – but in a format where creature removal is plentiful but, crucially, efficient planeswalker removal is scarce, then this is a card I expect to see an awful lot of.
So with all this great removal running around (remember that Ultimate Price, Grasp of Darkness, Fiery Impulse and Roast will all be in the format), and if exile makes sure that Ever After won’t always cut it, how else can we play our creatures? Well, quickly…
Last time we saw Olivia Voldaren, she was floating around her manor, louchely sipping on a glass of what probably wasn’t red wine. She isn’t hanging around these days. That’s what a blood hangover will do for you, I guess…
It’s pretty clear that Wizards want to push Red-Black Vampires as the go-to aggro deck of the new Standard, and they’ve provided plenty of support. Olivia, Mobilized for War lets you come out of the gates at a tremendous pace, not only giving you a discard outlet for your Incorrigible Youths but even pumping another creature at the same time. Olivia can create some incredibly fast starts for an aggro deck and even circumvents the legendary issue somewhat by allowing you to discard excess copies for value, meaning that she’s easy enough to run as a four-of.
How good Olivia ends up being will hinge largely on how good the Madness vampires themselves end up being. The discard outlets are there, it’s whether a 4/3 haste for 3 provides a strong enough punch to blast through a removal and blocker-heavy format that will be the key. Between Olivia and Falkenrath Gorger it shouldn’t be hard to consistently turn on Madness so it’s whether the pay-off cards can pick up the slack that will determine whether Red-Black Vampires has the chops to be a Standard staple. I certainly wouldn’t bet against it. Watch out as well for the spicy reprint of Lightning Axe – five damage for one mana is a great deal if you can consistently turn the downside into an advantage.
Maybe I just love value that bit too much, but this card really interests me. Ghostway – an old card which this is a strictly-better version of – is already a big favourite of mine and there are quite a few more creatures with interesting enters-the-battlefield abilities to abuse this time around.
Just imagine firing this off with a board full of Reflector Mages. Or Goblin Dark-Dwellers – which can immediately fire this off a second time for double value. A single flicker can go an awfully long way. I’ve even imagined casting this with a board full of Allies and a Kalastria Healer or two. There really are quite a few ways to abuse this if you dig deep enough.
Of course, to really abuse it you’d need some kind of creature which can return it from the graveyard to your to do it all over again… Oh, hello, Possessed Skaab, forgot about you for a moment… Curving the otherwise unexciting Magic Origins zombie into two uses of Eerie Interlude sounds disgustingly good and if there’s a constructed-worthy shell that supports that, you can bet I’ll find it.
It’s also worth noting that there was already a pretty cool Ghostway in Modern that put up the odd good result, and now that it can run up to eight cards with that effect, it’s possible it might surge towards tier one at some point. Keep an eye on this one – it’s an unassuming card but it could just go far.
Look, I admit that dual lands aren’t the most exciting cards in a new set. They’re rarely going to do anything new or unexpected. They don’t teem with flavour or rewrite the design rulebook. But they fix your mana, and if nothing does that then how do you expect to cast all of those sweet new cards in the same deck, eh? Think of dual lands as being a bit like the guy who cleans your drains. You don’t much care about his name, but you’re pretty glad he exists at the end of the day.
I will admit that building manabases with these for the new Standard has been giving me a migraine so far. The Battlelands turn them on – but these don’t help the Battlelands come into play untapped. And neither set of lands wants much to do with the enemy-coloured creature lands. It’s all a bit perplexing but no doubt keener minds than mine will soon crack the code – and I’m pretty confident that three-colour manabases (especially in “shard” combinations) will be totally viable after rotation, even if I haven’t got the numbers exactly right just yet.
Oh, and I’m firmly rooting for these to be called “Shadowlands” by the way. Shadowlands sounds cool. It was the name of a pretty decent song by Ryan Adams too, although I admit that doesn’t add much to the argument. I mainly prefer Shadowlands because “Handlands”, the other apparently popular suggestion, is rubbish. I appreciate that technically that’s just my opinion, but it’s also a fact.
If you have Avacyn and five mana available, your opponent simply isn’t getting anywhere in combat. If they attack, they likely get their board wiped out. If they don’t attack, you get to dump a 4/4 into play and start smacking them in the face. Good players will seldom walk into five open mana for fear of this card, but it’s a little bit like Collected Company in the current Standard environment – you might know it’s coming, but that doesn’t mean you can do a great deal about it.
Then there’s the flip side. If you can sacrifice one of your own creatures then you often get to wipe your enemy’s board and have an even bigger flyer in play. Nantuko Husk even helpfully eats your weakest creature whilst surviving the coming inferno, and by now nobody is under any illusions as to how good Husk can be. You don’t have to try too hard to build around a pair of cards as good as those, and if your opponent doesn’t have an immediate answer, they’re in a world of trouble. With sacrifice outlets in plentiful supply, I’d be pretty shocked if Avacyn didn’t find a home which allowed you to abuse both sides of the card to maximum effect.
Oh, and if you’re lucky enough to open one of these in limited, then congratulation in advance on all your wins…
In my last article I reviewed the four new planeswalkers in Shadows of Innistrad and gave Arlinn Kord a pretty glowing assessment. My opinion has not changed in the last week. If anything, the more decks I draft up with her in, the more excited I am to sleeve her up and get to work.
She simply does everything! She protects herself and boosts your board. She’s a removal spell, if not immediately. She pumps your team when it’s big, and lets your newly cast creatures rumble in for a ton of damage when it isn’t. It’s hard to find a scenario where you play creatures and Arlinn Kord together and it goes badly for you. She bears some resemblance to Gideon, Ally of Zendikar but trades a little bit of raw power for far greater flexibility. Every reasonable counterplay to Arlinn is covered in her ability suite short of an Anguished Unmaking – and even that leaves a wolf behind.
I’m willing to put just about any money on the line that I play an awful lot of this card over the next eighteen months – and that a lot of you guys and girls will be doing just the same.
That’s it for my Top 8 list this week, but I’ll be back very soon indeed with another – my Top 8 Least Favourite cards. Because if there’s one thing a highly-opinionated Magic player like me enjoys more than salivating over exciting new cards, it’s moaning about the ones I don’t like.
In the meantime, enjoy brewing for the new Standard – and if you think I’ve missed any cards out that is worthy of a mention then please let me (and the other readers) know in the comments below!
Thanks for reading,