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.
You can (and should) aim higher than this. It’s a fine combat trick if you are lacking one, but it’s replaceable and unexciting.
Limited: 1.0 // 3.5
In dedicated delirium decks, this serves as both enabler and payoff, which is great. I wouldn’t call this unplayable outside of BG, but you need to be sure you are reliably deliriumizing (it’s a word, I checked) before running it. In a BG deck that isn’t focused on delirum this is marginally playable, and it’s clearly awful in a random green deck that doesn’t delirium.
I’m happy picking up an easy 2-for-1 off this, and the high end is much higher than that. It’s also neat that if you spend 6 mana cracking Clues that you get a rebate in the form of a free creature, and you can cash it in on your opponent’s turn. Be sure to crack the Clues on their second main phase so you successfully get the end-of-turn trigger.
This is a rock-solid playable, and has even a little more synergy in a Clue deck, by the way. It’s hard to turn down a creature that provides this much value, so I won’t.
A sideboard card, and a bad one at that. This can even miss when you bring it in, as Spirit tokens prevent it from killing whatever it is you actually wanted to kill.
Confront the Unknown
By itself, this is +1/+1 and a card for G + 2 mana. That’s passable, but not something I’d plan on playing most of the time. In a deck with more Clues it gets better, but those decks aren’t in the market for Giant Growths. That leaves this in an odd space, a space otherwise known as “the sideboard.”
Limited: 1.0 // 2.5
How encouraging. A largely unplayable card that can sometimes be a marginal build-around. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll try Crawling Sensation in a graveyard-based deck, but I don’t have high hopes. It needs to generate at least one token a turn to be worth it, and by itself makes less than one. It does get you to delirium, but I think you can do better in terms of enablers.
I may not be rite about this, but putting yourself down a card to make all your creatures into Birds of Paradise doesn’t seem like a good plan. You have to use 2 mana to cast this, and the number of games where it’s better than Springleaf Drum seem low (and Drum was already bad). It’s possible there’s some kind of big-mana deck that wants this, but that seems thin.
Cult of the Waxing Moon
A 5-cost 5/4 with minor upside is a solid addition to any deck with a couple transform creatures. Don’t go nuts building around this, and just be happy if you end up picking up a free Wolf or two.
Leaf Gilder was already great, so letting it tap for a second color and giving it more relevance in the late game is a nice way to cap it off. You don’t even have to work toward delirium for this to be good, though it does get a little better.
Sign me up for the Duskwatch! This is great on turn 2 and greater on turn 10, and has an ability that synergizes perfectly with Werewolves. You get to pass and flip all your Werewolves, while still getting value from your mana by using the ability. Plus, the flip side even lets you play all the creatures you recruited. This is a fantastic card.
As with other Auras, I prefer to start them in the sideboard, and then not side them in. You can actually look to bring this in against a deck lacking in removal, as +3/+3 is enough horsepower to make this worth a card.
Fork in the Road
Unless you are enabling delirium or playing 3 colors, this should be the road less traveled. If you are doing one or both of those things, playing 1 Fork in the Road is acceptable, though not a high priority.
In an aggressive deck, you’ll gladly play this, and even get to block every now and then. In a control deck, the rate is still good enough, but you should give serious thought to siding it out against a beatdown deck without flyers.
In a dedicated Clue deck, this can edge toward 3.5, as it gives you the ability and a good set of stats for only 3 mana. Cracking Clues puts you behind on board, and gaining 3 per Clue mitigates that very nicely.
Yes, this turns your basic lands into perfect discard fodder. No, that’s not enough to make this a shining example of a build-around.
Hermit of the Natterknolls
While you aren’t super likely to actually draw cards off the ability, just having it makes the opponent play in a way they normally wouldn’t. There’s value there, even if it isn’t always apparent. This also is solid on either side, and I’d be happy to play it in any green deck. Is this the best Hermit ever printed?
If you claw down a tree in the forest and there are no humans around to hear it, does it make a sound? As a 2-drop, this does everything I’m looking for, even if it’s not super exciting in either mode. Cards like this are the backbone of Limited, and green decks of all kinds will be playing Hinterland Logger.
Limited: 1.0 // 3.5
In a dedicated Wolf deck, this is an instant-speed Glorious Anthem. That may sound awesome, and that’s because it is. You do have to be RG and really heavy on Wolves, but if you are, you are likely the only one. Howlpack Resurgence is even an instant, so you can pass and flip your Werewolves while still getting to play a card on the opponent’s turn. #synergy
I’m mostly giving this a rating based on it being a Nessian Courser, as you aren’t getting to the delirium all that quickly in most decks. If you do hit delirium while 3/3s are still relevant, this becomes a huge threat, and that makes it a good card in my book.
Green is well-stocked with really solid bodies that come with minor upsides, and this is another example. If you have enough Humans, this is an above average 4-drop, and even in a deck where the trigger doesn’t always work, it’s playable.
Kessig Dire Swine
If you are in need of a little beef (or a lot of pork), this can fill out the top of your curve. You aren’t in dire straits if you don’t have a 6-drop so don’t take this early, but try and pick up one if possible. The delirium ability is nice, but also not worth working toward if you didn’t want delirium otherwise.
As is only flavorful, this does much more in a defensive deck. It’s a good enough blocker that I’d always include it in my control decks, though it’s not a must-play in aggro. It’s nice that even if you can’t make it attack by playing a bigger creature, it eventually gets there itself.
Like Cryptolith Rite, this just isn’t worth a card.
Might Beyond Reason
An expensive combat trick that leaves you with permanent value is reasonable, but not something I’ll actively pursue. If you anticipate having delirium most games and have an extra spell slot, you could do worse.
Limited: 1.0 // 3.0
If you are aggressively going after delirium, this is a great 2-drop. It’s wildly unplayable otherwise, and that makes it a low-priority pick until you’re sure about your direction. You are unlikely to be competing with anyone else for these, so feel free to try and wheel them. If you can delirium by turn 5 or 6, Moldgraf Scavenger delivers.
Limited: 1.0 // 3.5
Unplayable without 7+ Wolves and great at 10+, Moonlight Hunt is another strong Wolf build-around. Note that the prey doesn’t fight back, so this is very close to the green Doom Blade in a deck full of predators.
A solid Grizzly Bear (this guy looks extremely grizzled) with upside in the late game is something I’m always interested in. In fact, I mention the “good on turn 2 and good on turn 10” theory often enough that I wouldn’t blame you for thinking I’m obsessed with it. There is a reason: by making your deck consistent in the early game and powerful in the late game, you will win more matches of Magic.
This is a reason to pursue delirium, as the repeated +1/+1 trigger is very strong, and even without it you can play this on turn 5 or 6 to get a better attack with your newly-buffed creature.
6 power for 4 mana is no joke, and even as just a 4/3 for 4 you are getting plenty of value from Pack Guardian. It plays well with Werewolves, works with all the Wolf-matters cards, and can even be a madness enabler.*
There’s not much I’d take over Pack Guardian—just remember not to play excess lands if you have one of these in your deck.
*This is a joke. I understand that you can only discard lands.
I’m always in for a 2-drop that’s good late. This one even has extra synergy based on its creature type. Hooray!
The green Doom Blade. I would lament about the current state of removal, but green never used to get any removal back when Doom Blade was around, so this is an upgrade. As long as you keep watch on your creature count, Rabid Bite is going to be one of your best and most efficient cards. Note that the opposing creature doesn’t fight (or bite) back.
Strictly sideboard, but good sideboard when you find targets.
Sage of Ancient Lore
It’s not hard to imagine this being a 5/5, and it will often be even larger than that. Coming with a free card makes this awesome, and in a shocking twist, even synergizes with the fact that it grows based on cards in hand. This would be great even if it didn’t flip, and when it does flip, it becomes even more monstrous.
If you can build a deck that’s in the market for a draw 4, this is the kind of card you want. It rewards you for filling your graveyard and being defensive, and even makes sure you never get decked. It’s possible this is a flat 4.0, but I’d like to verify that controlling self-mill decks are supported before I go that far.
I find it very implausible that you’d get enough token-making to support this. If by some stroke of luck you have 10+ token-makers, you are guaranteed to be the only person at the table looking for it.
Silverfur Partisan requires you play a bunch of combat tricks, but that’s not that unreasonable in an aggressive RG deck. It even has trample, so you get extra value from making it large, and playing a deck full of Wolves and pump spells probably works out pretty well. In the optimal deck, this can be much greater than just a 3.0.
Green got some great Werewolves this set, and this one is even a common. It’s quite the beater and if you play this early, your opponent won’t be able to stop it from going for the face. Later in the game it flips into an even more threatening monster, and I’d gladly cast it for just the Human side.
Besides not sounding like a green card (since when does green devour souls?), this also pushes you toward the defensive end of the spectrum. It’s not spectacular without delirium, making it more of a finisher in a delirium control deck than an aggro mainstay. It does get quite large if you can enable it, and that’s enough of a reward to make such a plan worthwhile.
If you need a 2/3 for 3, you need a 2/3 for 3. The ability is marginal and will rarely matter, so only play this if your curve would be atrocious without it.
There are plenty of good 5-drops, so don’t be too concerned about picking these up. They also look pretty sharp, so if you do pick one up, use gloves.
Not only does Tireless Tracker supply you with a near-endless stream of Clues, it also grows bigger and bigger the more you discover from them. That’s a great combination, and this card alone gives you long-game superiority and short-game board presence.
Traverse the Ulvenwald
Even though this will be a land most of the times you draw it, it commands a high rating because of the absurdly low opportunity cost. In a green-based deck, you can play this as a land and consider it a bonus when it turns into Eladamri’s Call instead. That’s a great value proposition, and I would be happy playing this in any green deck. You don’t need to go all-in on delirium to make this better, though it clearly does get stronger if you do.
You aren’t searching out many fancy lands with this, but it’s still a 6-mana 7/7 reach with the potential to keep growing. That’s on the high end for 6-drops, even if it’s still a big dumb monster.
This isn’t a full build-around because you don’t need that focused of a deck to make it work. All it really asks is that you play a lot of creatures and have a desire to make it to the late game. That rules out aggressive decks and spell-based control decks, leaving behind a wide swath of midrange/control strategies.
Getting a bunch of Soldier tokens and Clues is a pretty appealing combination, as the tokens give you time to use more Clues, which draw you more creatures, and the cycle continues.
Vessel of Nascency
Delirium is but a step away once you crack this open, which makes it one of the better enablers. Outside of that, I wouldn’t look to play the Vessel, as it’s a bit slow for a normal deck. Compare it to Seek the Wilds, a card you’d rarely play in BFZ.
In green-white, this is a high pick, as it has great impact at any point in the game. Elsewhere, it’s just a vanilla 2-drop, which is still playable if your curve demands it. This being able to target itself means that I wouldn’t go out of my way to draft Humans—the creature type is a tiebreaker at best.
Watcher in the Web
Watcher brickwalls the opponent most of the game, and can even sacrifice itself as a Fog if need be. You don’t want to get Spider-flooded (that sounds like the stuff of nightmares), so keep an eye or eight on how many 5-drops you end up with. This beats the other common and uncommon 5s if you are very controlling, but they are still fairly interchangeable.
Unless you are splashing or desperately need Clues, there’s no good reason to play this.
Top 5 Green Commons
Green has some beefy commons this time around. Rabid Bite seems like the obvious top dog, though in a creature-light deck you can easily end up taking Solitary Hunter or even Watcher in the Web (I’m assuming creature-light decks aren’t going to beat down very often). Watcher is a cut above the rest of the creatures, and once you get to 3+ on the list, you can switch them around based on your goals and your curve. Aggressive decks want Quilled Wolf or Courier, defensive ones want Watcher, and so on.
Green supports both defensive and aggressive decks, with the two loudest themes being Clues and Wolves, which sounds like a pretty cheap knockoff of Puzzles and Dragons.