Shadows over Innistrad is here, and it’s time for me to review each and every card, starting with Limited. A few quick notes before I get to the reviews:
The grade on each card is much less important than the analysis. It’s a good shorthand, but what I write about each card gives a lot more context to the grades, and goes deeper on cards that defy a simple grade (such as situational cards).
Some set specific mechanics (Clues/investigate, delirium, tribal, etc.) are hard to understand until you get to see them in action. I’ll provide my best estimate as to how good the cards that relate to these abilities are, and I like to assume that all of a set’s themes are well-supported. I’ve decided to give cards like Mist Intruder the benefit of the doubt, and will re-evaluate that as sets continue.
Flavor grades are given where appropriate. Flavor draft errata are noted.
Retired and inducted into the Limited Hall of Fame: Pack Rat. Umezawa’s Jitte.
5.0: The best of the best. (Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Quarantine Field. Linvala, the Preserver.)
4.5: Incredible bomb, but not unbeatable. (Ruinous Path. Drana, Liberator of Malakir. Guardian of Tazeem.)
4.0: Good rare or top-tier uncommon. (Tyrant of Valakut. Roil Spout. Nissa’s Judgment.)
3.5: Top-tier common or solid uncommon. (Oblivion Strike. Isolation Zone. Eldrazi Skyspawner.)
3.0: Good playable that basically always makes the cut. (Benthic Infiltrator. Touch of the Void. Stalking Drone.)
2.5: Solid playable that rarely gets cut. (Expedition Raptor. Makindi Aeronaut. Jwar Isle Avenger.)
2.0: Good filler, but sometimes gets cut. (Kozilek’s Translator. Murk Strider. Kor Scythemaster.)
1.5: Filler. Gets cut about half the time. (Affa Protector. Call of the Scions. Culling Drone.)
1.0: Bad filler. Gets cut most of the time. (Salvage Drone. Blisterpod. Dazzling Reflection.)
0.5: Very low-end playables and sideboard material. (Geyserfield Stalker. Natural State. Consuming Sinkhole.)
0.0: Completely unplayable. (Hedron Alignment. Call of the Gatewatch*.)
*Yes, sometimes you have a planeswalker, but this card still annoys me, and is a flat zero without a ‘walker.
For all the multicolored cards, the rating assumes that you are in these 2 colors. Early in a draft, you will sometimes want to take a weaker mono-color card over a multicolor card because of the risk of committing—that isn’t factored in here. I’m assuming you are solidly in black/white when I evaluate Anguished Unmaking.
A 4-mana copy effect is already great, as you are guaranteed to at least be tied for best creature (barring things like Auras or +1/+1 counters). As it so happens, +1/+1 counters are likely to come up, and the ability to grow Altered Ego is a huge upside. This will take as much mana as you have to spare, and deliver you a giant copy of the best creature on the board as a result. This also can’t be countered, for whenever that’s relevant.
One note: If you copy a transform card, this will not, in fact, transform. It will stay as whatever side you copied.
3 life is a real cost, but 3 mana is a low cost. I’ll pay these costs for such a cheap unconditional removal spell any day.
Limited: ??? (1.0)
What? Seriously, what is this?
I think this is very bad, but a super aggressive deck could try to put it to good use. Combining Fevered Visions with bounce spells helps trigger the 2-damage clause and gives you a mana advantage (which is really what matters when both players are drawing 2 a turn). Adding this to a normal deck seems like a recipe for disaster as you paid mana for a symmetrical effect.
The Gitrog Monster
Chubbiest Toad is gigantic, powerful, strange, and disgusting. Those may not all seem like good things, but let’s focus on the “powerful” part. First of all, it’s a 5-mana 6/6 deathtouch, which is obviously great. It does ask you to sacrifice a land each turn, but combined with the ability to draw each time one or more lands goes to your graveyard, that isn’t even clearly a drawback. Overall, this card is upside + upside, and at a very affordable cost. You don’t have to try and combo with it, you don’t need to take advantage of getting to play multiple lands per turn—you just have to cast it and it’ll be great.
Invocation of Saint Traft
If you can land this on a Spirit token, it can pressure your opponent severely. That doesn’t really make up for the fact that it provides 0 evasion or stats, and still opens you up for a 2-for-1. I’m not a fan—Geist of Saint Traft this is not.
Nahiri, the Harbinger
Nahiri seems great, though not unbeatable. She can reliably assassinate one creature, and the challenge will be to defend her well enough that she hits a second. Her +2 ability ticks her loyalty back up quickly so you don’t have to defend her for all that long, and the extra cards she lets you see help.
There are some games where you have to hold her and wait until the opponent has a tapped creature, but if that’s the price I have to pay for my creature-killing looter of a planeswalker, I think I’ll manage.
Olivia, Mobilized for War
I can’t think of many scarier cards to see on turn 3. Olivia comes down, threatens to swing for 3 in the air, and implies that you will be facing a large angry 4-drop the following turn. She has good synergy with madness, which coincidentally lines up with her colors, and I expect her to be the centerpiece of any deck she’s in. Keep in mind that you don’t need to draft madness if you take Olivia—she’s great no matter what.
Prized Amalgam is cheap enough and big enough that I’d be happy to play it in any blue/black deck, even without ways to trigger it. If you do have some of the uncommons that return themselves (or even Geralf’s Masterpiece), then this gets a nice boost in value. It’s not a build-around or a bomb rare, but a 3/3 for 3 with upside is still solid.
Sigarda, Heron’s Grace
Sigarda is gigantic and makes her own army of hexproof Humans. I’m sold. She is going to be great in any deck that can cast her, as cards go to your graveyard naturally enough that the second ability is just fantastic—no deck building work required.
Sorin, Grim Nemesis
Sorin is amazing, which seems to be a theme of multicolor cards this set. I guess when they are all rare or mythic there’s a lot more power to be had.
Using Sorin is pretty simple as all of his abilities are great. First, -X to kill whatever your opponent is most likely to threaten Sorin with. That usually means picking off their flyer or skulk creature, or something too big for your creatures to block. If that creature happens to be too large for Sorin to handle, instead, switch to chump block mode. Start using Sorin’s +1, and take those extra cards and throw them in front of your opponent’s attackers. Eventually, you’ll draw removal or Sorin will get loyal enough to take a bigger creature out, and your opponent is losing life in the process.
If you don’t have a board presence, Sorin still takes out a creature and gains you a bunch of life. If you do have one, Sorin will win you the game with ease. His high starting loyalty and excellent abilities see to that.
On Artifacts and Delirium
Artifact creatures and artifacts that sacrifice themselves have the additional bonus in this set that they count for delirium. Now that I have noted that here, consider it a part of all my evaluations of these next bunch of cards, as I don’t want to repeat it for each one. In a delirium deck, playing Scarecrows or Explosive Apparatus is a valid way to support your theme, and you should value those cards a little higher as a result.
Brain in a Jar
I love cards like this, but even I have a hard time imagining the deck you’d need to draft before Brain in a Jar becomes playable. It’s only worth the mana if you are playing a spell almost every time you activate it, and paying 2+3+1 per scry is horribly inefficient as a scry mechanism. I’ll try this and report back, but I don’t have high hopes.
Look at this, then look at Signets. Look back at this, and imagine how good artifact acceleration used to be. I’m not arguing that we should go back to that world—it’s just staggering how much worse this is than commons in Ravnica block. Acceleration that doesn’t actually accelerate you isn’t good, and the only way I’m playing this is if I have a deck with a ton of cheap spells that will make their way to the graveyard. Remember that this does stone nothing until you get a colored card into your graveyard.
Imagine a 5-mana 3/5 with no abilities. If you can, you’ve successfully come up with Epitaph Golem, as there’s no reason to want to use this ability unless you are about to get decked (which will not happen very frequently at all). Only play this if you really need a 3/5, or if you are curious as to what will be written on your tombstone.
This is all smoke and no fire—I don’t want to pay 4 mana to deal 2 damage.
This isn’t really a flip card. It’s actually 2 cards in 1, and you generally will get to play with both if you pick Harvest Hand. A 3-mana 2/2 is not quite good enough, but once you add the ability to die into a +1/+1 equipment, it usually gets there. If you are scrounging for playables, this definitely makes the cut, and in any creature-heavy deck I’d lean toward running this.
Equipment like this has very rarely been good, and Haunted Cloak doesn’t look like an exception. It’s only relevant on big creatures, and playing a card that marginally improves your big creatures is not a winning strategy.
If you really need to ramp, this does provide a decent way to do it. I can’t endorse the investigate ability as a realistic card advantage machine, given how glacially slow it is, but if this is in your deck, you may get a chance to activate it once or twice. I don’t hate the idea of siding this in against control decks if you want to bolster your late game.
In an aggressive madness deck, this looks like a beating. The cost is a bit too high for me to want to just play this without synergies, but once you start getting value from the equip cost, axe away.
The baseline card here is not one I’d play. Veteran’s Sidearm was bad in Origins, and the same card is even worse in the much more powerful land of Innistrad. In order for this to make the cut, it needs to go into a deck with a lot of transform creatures (6+, ideally). Even then, I’m skeptical that this is better than a removal spell or another creature. It is neat that if this ever transforms, it’s forever going to be the more powerful Ashmouth Blade.
It’s exceedingly difficult to ever trade this for something that costs as much or more mana. Your opponent won’t attack into it with a 4-drop, and will send in their 2/2s until you bite the bullet and block. It only attacks well if your opponent is at a very low life total and it doesn’t help get them there. This is another potential sideboard option, as it can answer a 5/5 if you can deal with the smaller attackers with other cards.
Shard of Broken Glass
Delirium decks don’t look aggressive to me, and they don’t necessarily have a ton of creatures either. This is such a marginal stat bonus that I’m not interested in fueling delirium this way, and as such, I am going to call this broken, and not in the good kind of way.
I don’t anticipate playing this very often, though it could be a key part of a deck full of evasion creatures. If it just drew a card, I’d be singing a different tune (still poorly though—I’m not a great singer), but having to discard means that this is some awkward evasion/madness hybrid enabler. I think I’d rather pass.
Slayer’s Plate is playable in non-Human decks if you have enough creatures, but I would be wary of getting out-tempo’d by having equipped creatures bounced or killed too often. When you pay this much mana and your opponent deals with the creature, you lose a lot of time. That drawback is mitigated if most of the creatures you are putting this on are Humans, especially cheap ones. The power level of this is high enough that I like the idea of it, but beware expensive equip costs.
How good is making a Clue each turn, with a 5-mana investment to start? It seems decent, as it will win you a long game, though it is mana-intensive. If that’s all Tamiyo’s Journal did, I’d be ready to close the book and move on. Luckily, Tamiyo moonlights as a Demonic Tutor (I think that’s accurate, story-wise), and you can sacrifice 3 Clues to search for any card. That costs 0 mana to use, and is a huge upgrade over having to pay mana for each Clue. If you ever take a turn or two off to cast spells instead of using the Clues, you are all of a sudden given the opportunity to get any card for free. It also combines well with other Clue-makers, which makes this a card I’m very interested in playing.
I still wouldn’t play this in a beatdown deck, but it’s a powerful addition to any midrange or control deck (and if you know are in those archetypes, the rating is a bit higher).
As another purely defensive card, Thraben Gargoyle serves the role of early defender and late attacker admirably. Don’t play this if you are beatdown, but be glad to have it otherwise.
Limited: 1.0 // 2.5
I wouldn’t play this without a bunch of Humans in my deck. At +1/+1 and vigilance, this card is just *censored*. Once you do have a sizable army of Humans, my faith in this increases greatly, as the additional point of power is a real upgrade. I’d be happy to include this in any deck with 8+ Humans as long as you have 14+ creatures total and are interested in attacking (though that includes both aggro and midrange).
I know that I mentioned the delirium interaction earlier, but given that it’s the only reason you want this card in your deck, I’m doing so again. If you really need a 3-drop, this technically works, but I’d be scared of doing that on a regular basis.
It seems obvious enough that beatdown decks don’t want 1/4 defenders, but hey, better safe than sorry. This is a great card in any other deck, as it blocks well early and makes sure you don’t miss land drops late. Plus, it specifically sacrifices itself, making the delirium interaction very easy to enable.
Dual-Land Cycles (Both)
Limited: 3.0 (2.99)
But wait, isn’t one of these cycles strictly better than the other? Yes, but both of them should be taken around the same time: below good playables and above replaceable ones (i.e., above most 2.5s and at or below most 3s). If you are short on playables, don’t take lands, and if you are long on them, make your mana a little bit better. You deserve it. If you are splashing a third color, I’d bump these up a notch as well.
In a deck with a self-mill or discard component, I’d play this as long as my mana could afford it. It’s not a high priority, but it is a nice little value add.
This is on balance worse than Evolving Wilds, as it doesn’t fix colors as easily in your opening hand. It’s a better top deck later, but Limited decks tend to lack 1-drops and that’s when you need the color-fixing the most. I’d only play this if I had a lot of double-colored spells, was splashing a 3rd color, or had a delirium theme.
The combination of low opportunity cost and through-the-roof power (I’m pretty sure that’s how Ormendahl emerges) makes me a huge fan of this card. It’s fantastic in any deck, and gives you an incredibly good late-game threat without even costing a spell slot.
Shadows over Innistrad looks like an awesome set. I’m interested in figuring out how many of these build-arounds are real, how fast the format is, and what the best flavor interactions are (in that order).
Thanks for reading, and I encourage you to investigate it yourself!