When I look at Innistrad, three things immediately come to my mind. The first is that it is a very interesting set, with a lot of flavor, which I like. The second is that I really, really hate the new flip cards. The third is that it is a very dangerous set, probably the most dangerous in recent memory. It’s this third notion that I’m going to elaborate on today – this article will talk about the cards that I think are dangerous and should be paid close attention to, and also the cards that I think are just good.
You should note that when I say dangerous I don’t necessarily mean “too good”, or even good – many good cards are not dangerous and many dangerous cards are not good. When I say dangerous, I mean a card that has the potential to be the centerpiece or part of a different strategy that takes the world by storm. [card]Sakura-Tribe Elder[/card] is clearly a good card, but it is not dangerous at all – the worst you can do with it is blocking and getting a land. [card]Birthing Pod[/card], on the other hand, is a very dangerous card that might see play even if it is not too good, as is the case. [card]Narcomoeba[/card] is a card that is not good but very dangerous – no one is going to play [card]Narcomoeba[/card] and be fair, someone is certainly going to feel robbed if that card is involved. This set has its [card]Sakura-Tribe Elder[/card]s, but it has many [card]Birthing Pod[/card]s and [card]Narcomoeba[/card]s.
That is not necessarily a bad thing – in fact, it is a very good thing if handled properly, because it makes deckbuilding very exciting. The best thing about having a lot of cards that are obviously dangerous is that they are just that – obviously dangerous. So obvious in fact that I highly doubt R&D would have looked at them and dismissed them – if cards like [card]Past in Flames[/card] are out there, then it is probably safe to assume that it is not the most degenerate card you will ever see, because it has such an obvious potential for brokenness that it would have been watched very closely. Still, that doesn’t mean we should not try to get those broken cards to fulfill their potential – the R&D does miss stuff from time to time, even if I think they’ll have been extra careful with this set, and even if none of those cards turns out to be super broken they can still be part of a powerful strategy, like Pod. So, what are the most dangerous cards?
Past in Flames[draft]Past in flames[/draft]
Past in Flames is probably the most dangerous card in the set. It obviously reminds us of [card]Yawgmoth’s Will[/card], one of the best cards in the history of Magic, though it is slightly different, since Will lets you replay permanents. In older formats, where this kind of effect is the most broken, the most significant card you miss is [card]Black Lotus[/card], but the instants and sorceries are powerful enough that this card will probably be restricted. In less powerful formats, though, the difference is more easily seen – Napster, perhaps the most iconic Will deck ever, used it mainly for the tutors and bullets but could also replay creatures. Some Necro decks of old used to chain Wills into [card]Mishra’s Bauble[/card]s, etc. With Past in Flames, this is not possible, which shows it’s a more “dedicated” card than Will was, and Will was already somewhat dedicated (you basically needed [card]Dark Ritual[/card]s) – you don’t simply play it in any deck for value.
There are certain advantages to Past in Flame, though – the first being that it has Flashback. If it ever gets to a point where this card will win you the game, they have to counter it twice. And it’s completely immune to discard! When we were playtesting the [card]Grapeshot[/card]/[card pyromancer’s swath]Swath[/card] storm deck, we always wanted something against heavy disruption – when none of your cards draws more than one card and you need a critical mass of spells to win, it is often hard to go off if they’re taking out your spells periodically. At the time, the best thing we could come up with was [card]Compulsive Research[/card]. If Past in Flame existed, we would certainly have played it in that deck and it would have certainly solved all our problems – they can’t even discard it! It also helps enormously when you try to go off and fizzle – with the previous version of the deck, you could attempt to go off, fail, end up killing all their creatures with [card]Grapeshot[/card] and then watch helplessly for five turns as you are unable to get your critical mass of resources again. This card is, by itself, your entire critical mass of resources!
Another advantage is that it doesn’t remove what you play for the first time, unlike Will. Imagine you play a couple rituals, draw spells, Past in Flames and then flashback a [card]Manamorphose[/card] and, in that, draw a ritual. You can then play the ritual and it’s going to stay in your graveyard for a future Past in Flames – which could even be cast that very same turn.
Of course, the UR deck as we know it is dead; [card]Ponder[/card] and [card]Preordain[/card] are very good but not impossible to replace (you have [card]Sleight of Hand[/card] and [card]Serum Visions[/card], for example), but [card]Rite of Flame[/card] is a really tough blow for Past in Flames. Still, it is possible that a [card]Pyretic Ritual[/card]/[card]Desperate Ritual[/card]/[card]Seething Song[/card] deck emerges, and that deck will want [card]Past in Flames[/card], probably with more in the board. Also interesting to note the interaction between [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card] and [card]Past in Flames[/card] – if that deck exists, it probably wants to play a full amount of Probes now. In Legacy, storm decks will likely want at least one of those.
It is hard, but not impossible to play this card for value if there are enough cheap cards in your deck – cards like [card]Manamorphose[/card], Probe, [card]Visions of Beyond[/card], [card]Lightning Bolt[/card], [card]Path to Exile[/card], [card]Dismember[/card], [card]Duress[/card]/[card inquisition of kozilek]Inquisition[/card] can all be played in a normal deck and be used with this.
Heartless Summoning[draft]Heartless summoning[/draft] [card]Heartless Summoning[/card] is not the same as [card]Past in Flames[/card] in the sense that it can be played in a fair or in an unfair deck. A fair [card]Heartless Summoning[/card] deck would be Birthing Pod, for example – you simply accelerate your [card]Acidic Slime[/card]s, [card]Solemn Simulacrum[/card]s, Titans and [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card]s. If that is what you’re doing, then it acts as a [card]Sol Ring[/card] of sorts, sometimes better because you can play multiple guys in the same turn. It also works with [card]Myr Superion[/card], for whatever that’s worth (not much, in my humble opinion).
The problem with this approach is that the -1/-1 is not negligible. I toyed a bit with a [card]Heartless Summoning[/card] deck and at first I had [card]Phyrexian Rager[/card] in it, but playing a B 1/1 draw a card lose one is not even very good – a 2/2 is worth almost a card, so you get your investment back, but a 1/1 is often irrelevant if you aren’t doing something else with it (like Birthing Pod). [card]Consecrated Sphinx[/card], a card you’d be very happy to accelerate into since you play it for the ability more than for the stats, suddenly finds itself dying to [card]Dismember[/card], and the same fate awaits any Titans and [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card] (and then the tokens are 2/2s, which is much much worse than 3/3s). [card]Spellskite[/card], which ends up being free, suddenly dies to [card]Incinerate[/card] – etc, etc. It is also rather bad in multiples, and I can’t really imagine wanting to play a second in a deck that tries to abuse it in a fair way. It is also pretty bad against [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card], which is a card I think will see play, if anything because it kills all [card]Invisible Stalker[/card]s and [card snapcaster mage]Snapcasters[/card].
The other problem with trying to play it in a fair deck is that you’re suddenly very limited with your early drops; You can’t really play something like Birds of Paradise, since it will just die, and you ideally want to play guys that cost at least 3 to make full use of the card, which makes your draws really slow when you don’t draw it or when it is dealt with.
The way to play this unfairly is, well… I haven’t figured it out yet. Right now, two strategies come to mind – [card]Mentor of the Meek[/card], which makes really good use of the extra 2 mana for every guy you play and combos well with the same kind of card that Heartless goes well with (Solemn Simulacrum, Rager, etc) – and [card]Reveillark[/card], since [card]Mulldrifter[/card], [card]Body Double[/card] and Lark himself all get insanely better if you have a Summonings, and it helps you if you’re trying to combo or just gaining value with your guys. Regardless of me not being able to find a perfect home for it, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if this perfect home did exist, and then in there the card is going to be insane – for this reason I think it should be watched and it deserves at least some experimentation.
Unburial Rites[draft]Unburial rites[/draft]
This card is dangerous for the same reason that [card]Dread Return[/card] (and [card]Past in Flames[/card]) are dangerous – it is a card that toys with graveyards while being accessible from the graveyard itself. That means that, whatever means you use to find the card you’re reanimating, you might also incidentally find this. In a Dredge sort of deck, where you want to mill yourself by a lot, then this card means you don’t need anything else – having this in your deck ensures you that you only need to worry about the milling and everything else will come from that.
It is also just a good card in general, and several orders of magnitude better in this new [card]Solar Flare[/card] version than [card]Zombify[/card] was in the old one. Imagine that you play turn three [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card] and hit this plus a guy – suddenly, on turn four you have your fatty of choice (which can be [card]Grave Titan[/card], [card]Sun Titan[/card], [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card], [card jin-gitaxias, core augur]Jin-Gitaxias[/card]…) without spending a single card! Better than that, actually, because you selected one in four to replace the one you spent. That’s not even counting the fact that it is just a good card for grinding the late game – if you can survive long enough that this card is good when you’re not “comboing” anyone, then the flashback option is certainly going to be good too – now they need to kill your guy three times instead of two times.
Invisible Stalker and Geist of Sant Traft[draft]Invisible stalker
Geist of saint traft[/draft]
Those two are dangerous because they are so inconsistent – it seems to me that they will either not do anything or kill your opponent by themselves. The Stalker, for example, will either anemically hit for one every turn or flat out kill them with a Sword, and they don’t have a whole lot of influence on which of those is happening – it’s more like whether you draw it or not. I predict I will lost a lot to those two cards in the future, but I also predict that, if I play them, I will have them in play doing nothing a lot of the time.
As far as answers go, the main one seems to be Liliana of the Veil, which is already a very good card on her own. [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card] will also answer the Stalker, and [card]Black Sun’s Zenith[/card] gets rid of both. For Geist, you can play [card]Phantasmal Image[/card] or [card]Phyrexian Metamorph[/card], since it’s legendary.
Skaab Ruinator[draft]Skaab ruinator[/draft]
This card looks dangerous, since it’s ridiculously undercosted and has the same characteristic as [card]Unburial Rites[/card] – the cards you use to feed it are the same ones that will end up finding it even if you don’t have it. That said, I don’t think we have a lot to worry about with this guy – he is certainly good and will probably be played as a value card and not just a [card]Birthing Pod[/card] target, but he does not scream “broken” to me, because right now it is much easier to put a couple selected cards in your graveyard than a critical mass of them. You might use this once and get a ton of value from it, but if it is bounced or killed (which is, admittedly, not very easy to do) then you will probably have trouble recasting it.
Forbidden Alchemy[draft]Forbidden alchemy[/draft]
This card is sooooo good. There is no question to me that this is in the top 5 cards in the set, and it might be the very best in Standard – it will very likely see more play in this format than [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]. The reason it is so good is that it puts the other cards in the graveyard, which is much better than putting them on the bottom. The card is already decent as a digging spell – an [card]Impulse[/card] of sorts that flashes back in the very late game – but the applications are much greater; any flashback card you hit with this is half a card or a full card’s value, and it puts reanimation targets and [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] targets (or [card]Skaab Ruinator[/card]s) where you want them. That is not even counting feeding [card]Visions of Beyond[/card], which is probably the biggest winner from older sets – it is now not only much easier to fill your graveyard but much more beneficial, and there is a considerable chance your opponent will be doing all the work for you.
Liliana of the Veil[draft]Liliana of the veil[/draft]
If Liliana hadn’t been in a graveyard set, she’d already have been good. In Innistrad, she is likely better, even if it goes both ways – there is now a higher chance your opponent can benefit from the discard too, but there is an even higher chance you will be able to benefit more than before (since you will be running cards that interact with it and they only might be).
Liliana is very good for two main reasons – she is very cheap and she has direct impact. 1BB for an Edict is not exactly the pinnacle of playability, but it is definitely fair game if you add anything else to it, and Liliana adds a lot – imagine that they play a turn three [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] and you play Liliana and kill it, suddenly you’re way ahead, in a Jace-bounce kind of deal – then next turn you manage to untap and deal with their new threat while growing this (potentially getting a benefit in the process) and then the following turn, worse comes to worst you can Edict again. Her two first abilities make sure she has uses against both creature based and spell based decks, which is also very relevant – there aren’t many decks Liliana is horrible against.
Liliana is also the best Planeswalker ever to draw multiples copies of (ok, ok, maybe after [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card]), since she is cheap enough that you’ll never be Liliana Flooded, she has an ability that is relevant and worth your time even if she dies (it is much better to cast Liliana and -2 than to cast [card]Jace Beleren[/card] and +1 if they’re both getting killed next turn, for example) and she has a mechanism of getting rid of extra copies.
As to how control decks will deal with her, short answer is that I don’t think there will be many dedicated control decks – basically all the control decks in the format will be either [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] decks, which can attack her to some extent, or the new [card]Solar Flare[/card] kind of decks, which do not get nearly as harmed by the discard as a regular control deck would, though those decks should be wary if they intend to reanimate, say, [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card] because that will just die – [card]Grave Titan[/card] and [card]Sun Titan[/card] look like your best Reanimator targets if you want to fight Liliana. Overall, I wouldn’t say Liliana is a dangerous or broken card, but it is certainly good and playable.
Snapcaster Mage[draft]Snapcaster mage[/draft]
This card reminds me a lot of [card]Vendilion Clique[/card] – very good, offers a lot of different possibilities, plays multiple roles, is a threat you don’t need to tap out for, rewards good play, is cool. Probably a tad overrated and overpriced, at least for Standard. Oh, don’t get me wrong, he is very good and will see a lot of play, but I don’t think he is that good – again, I expect [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card] to have a bigger impact than him. Obviously much better in bigger formats, blah blah Swords blah blah [card]Brainstorm[/card] blah Counterspell. In Standard, the most likely targets will be [card]Mana Leak[/card], [card]Dismember[/card], [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card], [card]Visions of Beyond[/card], [card]Dismember[/card] and [card]Go for the Throat[/card], all of which are very worthy. It’s also awesome that he kills Geist in combat and attacks Liliana.
Nephalia Drownyard[draft]Nephalia drownyard[/draft]
I love this card! Back when I was just a little kid, I used to play this UW control deck that killed with [card]Millstone[/card] (which, in case you are wondering, does not make it a “mill deck”), and this card is basically [card]Millstone[/card] on steroids, since it does not use up a slot and cannot be countered or realistically dealt with, since [card]Tectonic Edge[/card] is out. The problem, of course, is that it becomes hard to grind someone with Milling when half their cards can be cast from the graveyard. The other problem is that you no longer have [card]Fact or Fiction[/card], so you might want something that actually kills them quickly before they can recover, as has been the case for the past years. The third problem is that it’s a kill condition that doesn’t kill Planeswalkers. All of those factors combine to make sure this is not going to see much play, but it’s still a cool card to have looming at the corner of your mind. As is now, it is delegated to decks that want to mill themselves, and it is decent at that, though not spectacular.
Kessig Wolf Run[draft]Kessig wolf run[/draft]
Probably the best of those lands – the potential to make any creature you draw a [card]Fireball[/card] in the late game is huge. It doesn’t even have to be that late in the game for it to be useful, since it gives Trample – it’s very possible that you have one or two guys on turn five and they have a blocker and then you play this and trample over for three or four, which is great coming from a land – games will definitely be different when you have to expect this card out of nowhere. Also works as a one-of with [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card].
Stensia Bloodhall[draft]Stensia bloodhall[/draft]
This card reminds me of [card]Keldon Megaliths[/card], which saw moderated play. If it gets played, that’ll mean the control decks won’t have much time to durdle – all of a sudden there is a kill condition that you can do absolutely nothing to but race. Imagine someone trying to kill with [card]Nephalia Drownyard[/card] and having their opponents play a Bloodhall – it’s downright embarrassing, and it’s another reason that [card]Grave Titan[/card] seems to be the big guy of choice for my decks, at least right now (though [card wurmcoil engine]Wurmcoil[/card] counters it and [card]Sun Titan[/card] also kills quickly enough). It’s interesting that it is damage and not life loss, so you can shoot Planeswalkers – perhaps this is not even bad in a control deck, after all, though I kind of doubt it. Still an interesting card for an aggro deck and should probably be played as a one or two-of if you can activate it.
Well, this is it – obviously that’s not every card I think is good (or bad), but those I think are worth talking about. It’s too early to predict any sort of metagame, but Red and Tempered Steel will probably be the aggro decks of choice, with Birthing Pod, Solar Flare and some U(w/b) Snapcaster deck rounding out the tier 1. Planeswalkers look better than before, since there are no manlands to attack them, and [card]Day of Judgment[/card] also looks a lot more playable, since most decks seem to be creature based.
As a whole, I really like Innistrad – it’s interesting and powerful, and the dangerous cards make it extra spicy – it’s like the whole set screams “break me”, and I’m going to enjoy trying.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this, see you next week!