Welcome to my Shadows over Innistrad Constructed Set Review! I do things a little differently than in the Limited review:
I evaluate the cards that have a shot at seeing play in Constructed. Sorry, Cathar’s Companion, you’re in the doghouse when it comes to Constructed. Sometimes I leave a card off that ends up seeing play, but I try and cast a wide net.
I try and talk about non-Standard formats if something seems applicable. For example, Insolent Neonate seems best-suited for Modern, so I’ll bring that up when I get to it. If I don’t mention a specific format, assume I’m talking about Standard.
The ratings scale is slightly different as well. I will have to change it next set to factor in Jace, Unraveler of Secrets, but for now it stands. There’s an argument for Jace, the Living Guildpact to be a 1.0, but 1.0 is the only rating that’s remained unchanged since Riki Hayashi first wrote the description 7 years ago and Jace could have seen play, even though it didn’t.
5.0: Multi-format all-star. (Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Tarmogoyf. Snapcaster Mage.)
4.0: Format staple. (Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Collected Company. Remand.)
3.5: Good in multiple archetypes and formats, but not a staple. (Jace Beleren. Radiant Flames. Shambling Vent.)
3.0: Archetype staple. (Jace, Architect of Thought. Zulaport Cutthroat. Explosive Vegetation.)
2.5: Role-player in some decks, but not quite a staple. (Jace, Memory Adept. Anticipate. Transgress the Mind.)
2.0: Niche card. Sideboard or currently unknown archetype. (Jace, the Living Guildpact. Naturalize. Duress.) Bear in mind that many cards fall into this category, although an explanation is obviously important.
1.0: It has seen play once. (One with Nothing). (I believe it was tech vs. Owling Mine, although fairly suspicious tech at that.)
I love split cards. For those who frequently read my reviews, you have likely picked up on how highly I tend to rate cards that are flexible, even if the different modes don’t appear to be that great. There’s a reason that Fire // Ice sees Vintage play—options are powerful, and having a card that can be cast in a wide range of circumstances is more valuable than it might first appear.
How that all relates to Avacyn’s Judgment is that here you have a split card of Forked Bolt and Rolling Thunder, which is a card I very much want to play. There is the slight complication that you need a discard outlet in order to get access to the Rolling Thunder half, and if anything keeps this from being ubiquitous, it’s that. Still, I like Avacyn’s Judgment, and am interested in figuring out good ways to enable it. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is the obvious one, though you likely need at least one more before you really have a stew going.
It’s not insane to think that this could see some play in a dedicated Vampire madness deck. It will be a niche playable at best, but a 2-mana 4/1 that draws you a card (by paying a discard cost) is viable.
Burn from Within
I’m not nearly as high on Blaze as Forked Bolt/Rolling Thunder, but at least this exiles whatever you kill with it. Given enough good targets, it could see some play (and it picks off indestructible creatures for good measure).
This has “marginal sideboard option” written all over it. It is an efficient way of killing 1-toughness creatures, so keep it in mind when figuring out how to beat decks like mono-red.
Falkenrath Gorger fulfills two important roles: it’s a 2-power creature that you can play on turn 1 and it’s a Vampire/madness enabler. Some decks will play it just for the first part, and some will use it for both, which puts it in a pretty good spot. It’s not often that you get a 1-drop that has so much late-game relevance.
It wasn’t all that long ago that you got to add Lightning Bolt to your Standard decks, and now you have to jump through a bunch of hoops to build your own Bolt. It’s not all downside, as you can get value by discarding Temper to cards like Jace, but it’s still not as easy as it used to be. Fiery Temper pairs nicely with Lightning Axe, and it gives red some much-needed face burn. There are a bunch of places where this could see play, and it does a good job of helping both beatdown and control.
I’ve learned never to underestimate cards that do things from the graveyard, as there are so many ways to put those cards there. Geistblast is an intriguing one, and I don’t immediately have an idea of where it’s supposed to go. My first instinct would be some kind of self-milling control deck, as those decks could easily have a ton of spells, but even something like blue/red madness could make use of it. It’s powerful enough to do something, though expensive enough that it isn’t guaranteed to work.
Thunderbreak Regent has a new competitor, and one that comes with more damage upfront. Of course, the person who takes damage later is you, rather than your opponent, but you can’t have everything. I like this card’s power level, but the drawback is a very real one against decks that are attacking your life total. I see this best as a sideboard card against control, especially as part of a “go bigger” plan out of a low-curve red deck.
Harness the Storm
Predicting how good a combo piece will be is dicey best. Clearly this has potential, as it draws a bunch of cards, but requiring you to pay the mana for the card in your graveyard keeps it from being horrendously broken. Is this better than Pyromancer Ascension in a deck full of Rituals and cantrips? It’s possible, though I’d have to see it to believe it.
Once you are paying 3 mana for your madness cards, I get a lot more skeptical. This does give you a 4-power haste creature, which is encouraging, but it’s hard enough to pull off that I’d lean toward a lower curve.
This may secretly be one of the best cards in the set. It’s a cheap Vampire that gets in for a few points and lets you cash it in later (granted, at minus 1 card), which is at least the beginning of something good. Add in the madness-enabling aspect and you are starting to move into the realm of an engine card, which is impressive for only 1 mana. Cards that are cheap, good early, and relevant late are few and far between, and this does all that while supporting one of the main themes of the set.
Once you move on to Modern, things get even more interesting. Insolent Neonate is the perfect dredge enabler, as you discard before drawing. It’s awesome to imagine playing Neonate and discarding a dredge card, then immediately dredging it. Neonate also easily triggers Vengevine and Bridge from Below, giving you a lot of options as to how you want to build this graveyard-based deck.
That’s a lot of action for only 1 mana, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this card had far-reaching impact.
Roast covers a lot of red’s bases these days, but Axe knocks down flyers, and does so at instant speed. Most importantly, it’s a powerful discard outlet for madness shenanigans, which is what a lot of red decks are looking for. This is the card that pays you off for including madness cards, as you get a cheap way to play them while getting an effect that’s worth more than just 1 mana.
I don’t think this is the next coming of Aquamoeba, but it’s close enough to try. Creatures have gotten much better since then, and I’d prefer to seek madness outlets that come with 3/2 flyers or 1-mana deal 5s.
Mono-red seems like an underdog these days, but Scourge Wolf may help. There seems to be a few cards missing, and the loss of Monastery Swiftspear is big. Scourge Wolf does offer an aggressive 2-drop that gets a boost in the late game, though I don’t want to go to great lengths to enable delirium in my mono-red aggro deck.
Buckle up, because we are about to have a talk about Set Reviews. In my Limited Set Review, I called Sin Prodder “wildly unplayable” in Constructed. I will fully admit that was for effect—I was comparing it and Dark Confidant—but the reaction I got was worth mentioning.
Tons of people responded to that line with disbelief—how could I call Sin Prodder wildly unplayable? Was I not reading the card? What if you flip gas every turn? Worse comes to worst, isn’t this a 3/2 menace with upside?
Granted, Sin Prodder isn’t wildly unplayable—I was exaggerating. The card has a shot of seeing some play, but that’s not the part that struck me. I’ve noticed a pattern when it comes to cards that evoke the most disagreements, and Sin Prodder fits the bill admirably.
Cards that have good best-case scenarios are universally loved, and frequently overrated. People look at these cards and think “what happens when everything goes right?” They then establish that as the baseline, and all of a sudden the card seems incredible. That is an easy trap to fall into, and many do. If you look at Sin Prodder and think “this is upside + upside,” then it’s no surprise you think the card is great, and I can’t really blame you for it. I try and provide an accurate evaluation of these cards, and part of that comes with measuring all the different upsides and downsides, and what’s likely to play out in the months after the set comes out. I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade, or say you should temper your expectations, but in my experience, the biggest delta between my evaluation and the public’s tends to be on cards with situational high-value payoffs (this being similar to a punisher card doesn’t help either—those are notorious for looking insane and not delivering).
Anyway, on to Sin Prodder.
The important thing to keep in mind with Sin Prodder isn’t that the worst-case scenario is that you flip a land (and no, “delirium enabler” is not a mitigating factor there). The worst-case scenario is that you pay 3 mana for a 3-drop and you get Fiery Impulsed or Dead Weight’ed. This is Constructed. If you pay 3 mana for a card, especially in an aggressive red deck, you need to get immediate damage or present a tenacious threat. This does neither of those things, and if it survives it deals an average of 1.5 damage on upkeep? That doesn’t sound like a high-tier Constructed card to me, and is certainly no Dark Confidant.
If you aren’t attacking, the trigger loses a lot of its impact, though it’s still worth something. Where Sin Prodder could show up is in a midrange Jund-type deck, where the damage is relevant but you don’t need every card to immediately pressure the opponent. This does accumulate some value if it survives, and a Standard Jund deck could try a couple of these at the bottom of its creature curve.
Somehow, Sin Prodder is the card that prompted me to write more about it than any other card in the set, but at least now nobody can accuse me of dismissing it too easily. They can still disagree with me about it being good in Constructed (I’m not hopeful), but that’s all part of the process.
A 1-mana 3/4 is way ahead of Constructed rate, so if you can pull this off (sounds painful) then you are getting real value. This sounds like an awesome sideboard card in the red mirror, as Skin Invasion + Fiery Impulse is a very strong turn-2 play. If enough small creatures get played in the format at large, that could even be a good main-deck plan.
Vessel of Volatility
Waiting a turn to get the mana boost from this is restrictive, but it does get you to 5 mana on turn 3. If you can string together impressive enough threats, Vessel could be a way to deploy them ahead of schedule. Whether that’s worth a card is less clear, but you don’t get many rituals in Standard these days, so I want to at least mention this.
Monastery Swiftspear is gone, but there’s something to be said for sending a message. This is like a back-up Goblin Glory Chaser, which is already a back-up Swiftspear. Mono-red needs some help, and this might be what it has to work with.
Top 5 Red Cards
All 5 of these cards either have madness, enable madness, or in the case of Gorger, mention madness. I guess I know what red is trying to do. Neonate seems like the pick with the most legs, especially across multiple formats, though Gorger may see more widespread Standard play. All 3 of the removal spells could vary in usefulness, depending on what needs killing and which red decks are good, and none of them leap out as being especially insane. Red didn’t get any slam dunks this time around, and I’m not optimistic about the chances of the mono-red aggro deck. Could we be living in a world without mono-red beatdown? That hasn’t been true a long time, but might be now.