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.)
Clone is always a touch too expensive for Constructed, though cheaper versions have made an impact (Phantasmal Image was absurd). Altered Ego has a couple advantages: it’s both uncounterable and very counterable, while also highlighting how funny it is to use the term “counter” for 2 different mechanics. If enough creatures with powerful ETB abilities are hanging around, this could be a Traverse the Ulvenwald target in a multi-color midrange deck.
Even though Anguished Unmaking is by nature self-limiting, it’s still a fantastic card. 3 life is a real cost, so you won’t often see 4 copies in the same deck, but I expect just about every BW deck to have access to a couple, especially aggressive decks. Those with a heavy life gain component may even play more.
While I still haven’t found the right home for Arlinn, she is a solid card to keep in mind if you are playing these colors. She’s very midrange, and reminds me a lot of Huntmaster of the Fells in terms of board impact. You do have to wait a turn before she starts casting Lightning Bolts, but she excels at pressuring creature-light opponents and is a powerful card for only 4 mana. The biggest problem with Arlinn is that RG decks right now tend to be high-end ramp, which doesn’t want 4-mana spells that don’t put lands into play. The Atarka Red style of deck may not have a foothold in Standard, which also limits where Arlinn might show up.
This punishes slow decks incredibly well, and I already know that I’ll be bumping up the rating in Limited based on that fact alone. It could be an effective sideboard card or a daring main-deck option, depending on how much aggro you expect to face. Cheap spells also get way better in a world where both players are drawing 2 a turn, so build your deck accordingly.
The Gitrog Monster
It’s no coincidence that fetchlands rotated out just as this guy hops in. The Gitrog Monster is an awesome value card in a control deck as it feeds you a steady stream of cards at low cost. Evolving Wilds is the obvious first step to combo with it, but any discard or land sacrifice does the trick as well. That it fuels its own engine makes it a flexible card, which is a huge upside. You don’t need to draw all that much to git this to work, even if it can really go off if you have the right tools. It’s also a 6/6 deathtouch, which is a real board presence.
Nahiri, the Harbinger
I like Nahiri as a card filtering engine that can occasionally snipe one of your opponent’s threats. She doesn’t do quite as well against a bunch of creatures, so my first inclination is to sideboard her in against control decks as a way to get through your deck while dealing with one big threat at a time. Note that she can kill Hedron Archive or any enchantment, making her even more appealing against midrange or ramp decks that rely on those.
Olivia, Mobilized for War
Olivia is the linchpin of the Vampires deck, so her success or failure will largely depend on how good that deck ends up being. There’s certainly something there, with a large mix of solid Vamps and various levels of madness synergies. The first place I’d try her is Vampires, though Olivia is powerful enough that she could strike out on her own as a midrange beatdown machine. Olivia into Mindwrack Demon does sound like a lot of damage, and that curves nicely into Goblin Dark-Dwellers.
Getting a 3/3 for free is a big reward, and in this case, “free” means no mana or card cost. That’s the best kind of free, and I’m willing to go out of my way to win this particular prize. Discard effects and self-mill are how you want to get this into your graveyard, though casting it and having it die is an acceptable fallback. Relentless Dead and Liliana are among the better ways to trigger the Amalgam, with Ever After being a slightly more expensive option.
There are a lot of interesting graveyard synergies going on in this set, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they assembled in a way that makes it into Constructed.
Sigarda, Heron’s Grace
Sigarda may not be as resilient as her previous version, but she does offer you an overwhelming board presence if she lives. The hexproof text is the least relevant part, as Sigarda is likely the best target on the board, so I’m mostly interesting in making a ton of tokens (as well as using a 4/5 flyer as a solid attacker/blocker). I like Sigarda the most out of the sideboard against removal-light decks.
Sorin, Grim Nemesis
Sorin is a fantastic finisher. He kills the opponent’s best creature (unless it’s truly monstrous), and draws you extra cards while pressuring the opponent. Like many planeswalkers, he has trouble with large groups of creatures, but his massive starting loyalty and utility against both aggro and control is what really does it for me. Sorin gains you a ton of life when you need it, and is something your opponent can’t afford to ignore. Combine all that with a relatively low color requirement and you have a card that will see significant play.
Brain in a Jar
I’ll admit this is an optimistic rating, but Brain in a Jar is incredibly powerful when harnessed correctly. The “correctly” part is the trick, and I don’t have a solid plan yet, but I’m rating this based on the fact that it can play a ton of mana’s worth of spells at a low cost. It’s slow to get going, but once you are playing 4-6 mana spells, you are doing something way more broken than what normally goes on in Standard (where it has the most promise). If you can assemble the right combination of spells, this does pay you handsomely, with the biggest problem to solve being what your deck should do when you don’t have Brain in your opening hand.
I talked about how much better Birds of Paradise was than Loam Dryad, and that pales in comparison to the difference between Grafstone and any previous mana rock (like Izzet Signet). This is a 2-mana accelerator that only accelerates you if you played a 1-mana spell (or creature and it dies). That’s so much worse than any previous version, and this is rare to boot? I don’t get the joke.
If your deck is slow and wants acceleration, this may be a way to cover multiple bases in one card. It does accelerate you (at a modest rate) and can draw cards (at an exceedingly modest rate).
I like the idea of this in a deck that generates a bunch of Clues, with Tireless Tracker being the most interesting way of doing so. If you can get this to be a 5-mana artifact that Demonic Tutors every turn, it is great, and that seems close to realistic with Tireless Tracker and Evolving Wilds. When you don’t draw Tracker, Journal takes a bit more work, but it still gets you up on cards eventually.
It’s very easy for lands to get high ratings because their opportunity cost is so low. In the case of the Temple, it’s a powerful effect at minimal cost despite looking like minor upside. Discarding this for value can even let you ramp, and Magmatic Insight and Tormenting Voice give you the ability to do that.
These are a solid addition to the format. 2-color decks will usually play 4 of these and 4 battlelands, and 3-color decks will dabble in both (plus Evolving Wilds). They aren’t doing anything outrageous, and once battlelands rotate, they will see a lot more play.
Uncommon Land Cycle
Despite being strictly worse than 2 different cycles, these will still fill out some mana bases, especially enemy-colored ones (that don’t get access to battle or shadowlands).
Ormendahl, Profane Prince is a card you should get acquainted with. You are going to see him fly over for 9 plenty of times over this upcoming Standard season as there’s a lot going on in the Westvale Abbey. First of all, it produces a stream of 1/1s, which is decent for a land that only asks that you play a colorless source instead of a colored one. That ability is expensive enough that it won’t be anything to write home about, but the second one is where the money is. Turning into a 9/7 with 4 extremely relevant keywords is incredible, and there are a lot of decks that can assemble 5 creatures without much trouble.
Abbey is going to show up in 2 main ways:
- As a 1- or 2-of in decks that can afford the colorless land and have a bunch of creatures. These are your UW Humans decks or the like that play Abbey because it’s the highest-value colorless slot for a deck with good mana.
- As a 4-of in dedicated token decks. Here, Abbey is one of the big payoffs for going tokens. It’s insane to get such a good finisher in your land slot, and there are a lot of ways to approach building Abbey decks (Secure the Wastes, Eldrazi Scions, Dragon Fodder, and more).
I love having Westvale Abbey in the format because of the deckbuilding possibilities, and highly recommend that any control deck have answers to Ormendahl, because he will come knocking.
Top 10 Constructed Cards
- Declaration in Stone
- Westvale Abbey
- Archangel Avacyn
- Traverse the Ulvenwald
- Thing in the Ice
- Sorin, Grim Nemesis
- Insolent Neonate
- Anguished Unmaking
- Tireless Tracker
This set may have more Constructed cards in it than any in recent memory, at the very least in terms of total impact (if not also by number). There are relevant cards for multiple Eternal formats, as well as a bunch of huge game-breakers in Standard. I see every card on the list making its impact felt, and that’s far from typical when it comes to a new set.
I’m super hyped for this set, both for Limited and Constructed, and look forward to seeing which cards I was right (or wrong) about.