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 reevaluate 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.
That there is a heavy token component to white does make this less absurd than it would be otherwise, but it’s still incredible. Not only are your creatures bigger and stronger, they also play both sides of the court. I can’t imagine this being anything less than great, even if you have to slightly de-prioritize token creatures over actual ones.
Angel of Deliverance
Without knowing the speed of the format, it’s tough to get a sense of how good this card is. The format seems fast enough that an 8-drop isn’t a trivial addition to your deck, so this rating is contingent on having to do some work to make it function. That usually means a combination of defense + ramp, after which you get an effective killing machine. By the time you can cast this, there’s a very good chance you have delirium, which eats the opponent’s best creature every time it goes into combat. Note that it triggers when it deals damage to anything and not just enemy players.
White has a decent amount of tokens for when you have to cast this in the early/midgame, and later in the game you can sacrifice a land. That seems like a good removal spell to me, albeit not one you want too many of, and you can build your deck to maximize this. Aggressive decks with a curve ending at 4 can play this without paying a huge cost, and it kills everything you’d want to kill. In blue/white or green/white, this card gets quite a bit better, as you can sacrifice Clues, which look abundant.
The effect here is desirable enough and you should be able to mitigate the drawback, but there are times where this is going to be awful. This is definitely a card to watch, especially given how much it looks like Bone Splinters, a card that ranges from unplayable to awesome depending on your deck. Being able to sacrifice lands is a huge upside, so I’m starting this high.
In a deck with 0 other Spirits, this is quite playable. In a deck with a bunch, it’s exactly what the doctor ordered. On balance it’s slightly worse than Courier Griffin, a card that I rarely cut from my deck.
Archangel Avacyn // Avacyn, the Purifier
Flavor: A+, I assume (even without following the story, I’m pretty sure Avacyn nails all the plot points exactly)
A neat game you can play with Avacyn is to try and figure out how many abilities she could lose and still be absolutely ridiculous. She certainly would be without the transform ability, and even without the indestructible ability she’d be incredible. Without vigilance, she’d be great, and it’s only when you start taking away flash and flying that she starts to descend to the realm of mere mortals. Now rewind that and realize that you get every single ability mentioned, because that’s how Magic cards work.
Avacyn comes down, wins you combat, and presents a 4/4 flying, vigilant threat. Even if your opponent sees her coming and declines to attack, she still swoops in end of turn and starts to beat down. If they ever dare to kill one of your creatures, she turns into an even bigger threat, and that threat comes with a free Flamebreak (that conveniently doesn’t hit you or her). I don’t think you needed me to tell you how absurd Avacyn is, but it was still fun.
Avacynian Missionaries // Lunarch Inquisitors
Limited: 2.0 // 3.5
Without any gear in your deck, the Missionaries are in the unfortunate position of being a Hill Giant. Playable, but not exciting. Once you have a couple pieces of equipment, they become fiends, and turn into a 4/4 Banisher Priest. That is one of the better transformations, and worth playing medium equipment (especially if you can pick up 2 or more Missionaries).
Bound by Moonsilver
This would be a 3.5 without the second ability, as a 3-mana Pacifism is a great card. Being able to switch targets is a powerful bit of flexibility and bound to make this a high pick. Note that it doesn’t stop activated abilities, so don’t drop this on something expecting it to do so.
First of all, a 2/3 flyer for 3 is very good. What I’m less sure about is the Clue part. Getting a Clue (even I am going to be tired of hearing that) is pretty good the first few times as you can afford to use those Clues without much trouble. Getting 6 Clues is definitely not twice as good as getting 3 because at some point, you don’t have the time to break open all the Clues and consume the sweet, sweet cards within. This does enable Angelic Purge, and overall is close enough to a draw engine that I’ll call it great.
In a land of Spirit tokens and other such nonsense, a 3/1 is an underdog to survive long. This does come with a protection ability, so it’s a fine addition to any aggressive deck that can trigger it. It’s not much of a guard dog unless you have a lot of instants, though leaving this on defense with mana up should make your opponent raise their hackles in suspicion.
This is obviously not Chapin’s Blessing because it’s perilously short on card drawing and not Grixis-colored. It is a mediocre sideboard card at best because it would take a mighty aggressive opponent before I’d want to bring this in.
A 3/2 that later gives you a 1/1 flyer is a solid Magic card. It’s pretty cathartic to get to add these to your deck instead of 3/1 vanillas and the like, and I will try and do so as often as I can. I like 2-for-1s that don’t overcharge me for the privilege.
Declaration in Stone
Killing anything is worth giving the opponent a card, even if this isn’t as good as it will be in Constructed. Limited is slow enough that they will eventually unlock the Clue, though you can try and maximize the value here by being aggressive. Plus, every now and then, this will hit multiple creatures and just be the stones while being an effective answer against token decks.
Descend upon the Sinful
French version: 3.0
A 6-mana wrath isn’t my favorite kind, but it’s still good. A 6-mana Wrath that leaves behind a 4/4 flyer is among the best cards in the set, and building your deck so that this is the second even half the time is well worth it.
The French version is apparently “Descend upon the Fishermen,” which clearly makes it worse. There have to be fewer fishermen than sinners on Innistrad, so the effectiveness of the card goes down.
I’m not high on x/1s in general, though this is cheap enough to make the cut in most decks. As with all cards like this, don’t be afraid to side it out if your opponent has cards that punish it.
You do need to untap with this for it to be effective, but once you do, the cavalry has well and truly arrived. It makes 2 tokens if you have the 8th land, gaining you 4 life in the process, which I can’t imagine racing very easily. I don’t assume that 7-drops are trivial in this format, but the various flashback-type effects and Clues do promote playing plenty of lands, so this could be a 4.0 in the right deck.
This is reasonably better than Ghostway because you get to pick and choose what goes and what stays. It can save your creatures from removal spells and re-trigger ETB effects, which adds up to a niche playable. It’s a great card against wraths, and can fight enchantment-based removal like Bound by Moonsilver, which makes me want to side this in more than maindeck it.
Emissary of the Sleepless
If you don’t have very many creatures, this is a mildly overpriced flyer. If you have a creature-heavy deck, especially one that attacks, this is a good deal. A card that ranges from medium to good is exactly what this grade is meant for.
Like Swarm Surge, this has niche playable status, though I did end up liking Surge more than I initially thought I would. This combos with flyers, and needs a lot of them to be playable. Decks with tons of flyers don’t usually need that much help, so I wouldn’t recommend this type of guidance for most decks.
I like this in fast decks because the tap ability approaches an actual card when you are the beatdown. You eventually get your card back, and paying 4 mana total is still a fine deal, especially since you get to split it up as you choose.
Gryff’s Boon is essentially an equipment that you can only move once it hits the graveyard with the upside of being very cheap the first time you cast it. I can see this being awesome in an aggressive deck, as it offers a good initial ability and a recurring threat, but you have to be sure you are attacking before this becomes appealing.
Hanweir Militia Captain // Westvale Cult Leader
A bear with aspirations is always a welcome addition, so Hanweir Militia Captain is a solid card for any white deck. If your deck is particularly creature-heavy, the rating does go up, as the flipped version is quite powerful. Most of the time this is only going to play as a 2/2 for 2, and don’t be afraid to get aggressive with it. Once you have a couple creatures in play and it looks like the board is going to stall, then it’s time to sit back and watch the cult form.
Hope Against Hope
As loathe as I am to recommend putting Auras in your deck, this card is powerful enough that it’s worth the risk. Most white decks will have plenty of Humans, and this works well with the 1/1 flyers that are everywhere. You hope to dodge removal when you play this, but at +4/+4 or greater, it does restrict how many spells do anything, and the payoff is very large. I do recommend siding this out against most blue decks, as there are multiple common spells that deal with an enchanted creature.
Humble the Brute
Flavor: C- (a creature enchanted with The Brute can regenerate from this)
There aren’t as many large creatures as there were in Battle for Zendikar, but I’m still putting the first one of these in my deck (and as an uncommon it’s unlikely you’ll see 2 anyway). Killing a creature and drawing a card is worth a lot of mana, and you can always side this out in the event your opponent doesn’t have a lot of targets.
I was all set to give this a lower grade because the classic Ox cards are always medium 2/4s for 4, but the stats here actually deliver. It’s time to cast off the yoke of oppression and fairly judge Oxen for what they are, and this is a solid card. If you get delirium, it becomes quite good, and until then, it can hang out and blocks well.
Apparently, going from tactical to inspiring means you are easier to cast, as this is Ampryn Tactician with a 3W casting cost. That’s a fine upgrade, and this synergizes well with Spirit tokens and aggressive Human decks. In a defensive deck, I wouldn’t look to play this.
Equipment still isn’t great in this set, so you are only playing this if you want a 2/3 for 3. I don’t expect to want that all the time, but every now and then it’s worth it.
A 2-drop that grows wings in the late game sounds good to me. This is the kind of delirium card you don’t have to work too hard for. It just works eventually and provides a small bonus when it does, while being serviceable up until then. Some cards need specific enablers and pay you for including them, but Moorland Drifter is not one of those cards.
Limited: 1.0 // 2.5 (if RW beatdown)
If you are both red and white, and aggressive, this is a powerful card. Otherwise, it’s quite poor, and that’s why grades can be tricky. In a RW beatdown deck I’d give this a 2.5 or 3.0, but it’s a 1.0 outside that. If you have plans to attack and plenty of red mana, this makes combat a headache for your opponent. They can’t kill what is indestructible, and being able to ping a couple times makes blocking anything very difficult.
This is near a 4.0 based solely on how much value it brings. A 3/1 lifelink will always quickly trade in combat, giving you a 1-for-1 and 3 life, after which you get 2 1/1 flyers. That’s way over 2 cards in value, and all it asks is that you cast it. This card is excellent, and I will not be passing it often.
I’m not a huge fan of Reclaim, even a Reclaim with a 1/1 flyer attached. This can take away opposing delirium (at sorcery speed), and can even make the opponent skip a draw step if you put a useless land or bad spell on top. That doesn’t add up to much, and this card is easily forgettable.
Odric, Lunarch Marshal
Flavor: B+ (solid George Clooney top-down design – A+ if “Odric’s 11” is a card in Eldritch Moon)
The fail case on Odric is a 4-mana 3/3, which is an acceptable risk given how big the upside is. Any creature with flying makes your whole team very hard to block, and if you can give them all lifelink, you aren’t losing any races. This also works immediately, and doesn’t make you pay many deckbuilding costs in order to be good. I’d slightly prioritize creatures with good abilities if I had Odric, but I wouldn’t go nuts—Odric is going to be solid even without drastically changing your pick order.
Open the Armory
There’s no equipment I’d pay 2 mana to have a second copy of except maybe Slayer’s Plate, and even then that’s expensive. Getting Bound by Moonsilver is fine, but still not exciting enough to be worth including Open the Armory in your deck. As far as I’m concerned, the Armory is closed and will remain so.
This is a step better than Moorland Drifter when you have delirium, and a step
better worse when you don’t. Isn’t that elegant? I’d lean towards not including this unless you have Human synergies and/or a good shot at acquiring delirium, but I wouldn’t perish the thought if I was short on creatures.
Pious Evangel // Wayward Disciple
A 3-mana 2/2 that gains you a life when you play a creature is a card I’d likely include anyway, and this is much better than that. It’s not hard to flip Evangel if you think combat is likely to occur, and then it becomes a 2/4 with a very good ability. It’s worth noting that you may want to hold off on flipping if you expect to cast more creatures than have creatures die, which usually lines up nicely with when you’d naturally want to flip this anyway.
Searing Light ended up being one of my least-favorite cards in Oath of the Gatewatch, but I’ve played with Puncturing Light and it’s quite a bit better. It looks like it’ll have plenty of targets in the format, and I’ll always include the first one of these (though they get worse in multiples). It’s a bit annoying that removal you intend to play on the opponent’s turn has the drawback of flipping opposing Werewolves if you pass without playing a spell, but this is cheap enough that you can leave mana up while still playing a spell on your turn.
Reaper of Flight Moonsilver
Fallen Angel is a card I haven’t had the pleasure of playing with for over 20 years, but it was a very sweet one. Reaper is a 3/3 until it gets delirious (and apparently hungry), at which point it becomes as good as gold. This is playable without delirium, which is where I like these cards to land, and I’ll include this in every white deck.
I’m going to enjoy playing with this card. Killing attackers and gaining life is all I want to do, and this does both those things at very fair cost. What it doesn’t do is support aggressive decks, which is why the rating isn’t particularly high.
A Wind Drake is playable to begin with, and this has a serious upside if you have access to blue mana. Once you’ve established that you are in UW, you can take this more aggressively, as it’s a very annoying card for your opponent to deal with. It protects all your Spirits, lets you pay a bunch of mana to bounce and return them (build-your-own vigilance) and allows you to block and bounce to your heart’s content.
If you aren’t going deep on madness, don’t play this. It’s not how I want to enable delirium, and you certainly can’t pay this cost every turn without having some kind of combo.
Strength of Arms
A +2/+2 trick for 1-mana is playable if you are in the market for tricks, though it loses the arms race against bigger pump spells. Add a couple of equipment to your deck and this becomes a card you are unlikely to cut.
Survive the Night
After having just played with Make a Stand, I can say that this card will do a pretty good job approximating it. It isn’t all that often that multiple creatures are involved in combat at once, and getting a Clue is a reasonable upside. There are a fair amount of combat tricks and ways to use your mana in this set, so I wouldn’t heavily prioritize any of these.
Even though Tenacity is another addition to the list of pump spells, it’s got enough of a sweeping effect that I would look to pick one up. Giving your whole team lifelink is how you crush any race, and this even lets you ambush the opponent. You need a creature-heavy deck to really make this tick, which doesn’t seem too hard to accomplish.
With white getting five common Humans (not counting Stern Constable) and two uncommon ones, I’d be happy taking Thalia’s Lieutenant highly. It’s a great card if you get two +1/+1 counters total, and it’s very easy to get more than that. This being a good topdeck late and a substantial early threat is exactly the combination of abilities I’m looking for in a card.
A world where Thraben Inspector isn’t good is not a world I would want to live in. Like I mentioned with other cards that grant Clues, these don’t stack well—the second Inspector is much more costly than the first. Still, this is a cheap way to enable Human synergies and get a little card advantage, so I’ll be closely inspecting packs in search of these.
Limited: 1.0 // 3.0
In an average deck, this is not worth a card. In a deck that can consistently enable delirium, it’s quite good, and there are some mild Spirit synergies that would make me upgrade it as well. I could see running this in a very aggressive deck, but for the most part would leave it for the turbo-delirium deck (that I hope is out there).
Much like the last time I went to Innistrad, I’d run this in any deck with lots of creatures, especially creature tokens. Once you are at 14+ creatures, it becomes truly unruly—fewer than that, and it is a little too ruly, and nobody wants that.
Vessel of Ephemera
This may look overcosted, but two 1/1 flyers are worth about 4 mana, and a card that costs 2+3 is closer to 4 mana than 5 mana, once you factor in how convenient it is to split things up. This also enables delirium quite nicely, and I suspect most decks will be interested in the very not ephemeral advantages that this provides.
Top 5 White Commons
White doesn’t have any windmill-slam commons this time around. Dauntless Cathar seems like the best combination of efficiency and card advantage, so I’m going to start by taking that first. Angelic Purge is the biggest question mark, and certainly isn’t a card I want tons of, but the first copy is valuable. The last three are interchangeable, depending on what your deck is doing, and I could see Emissary of the Sleepless sneaking in as well.
White looks like it can head in multiple different directions with Spirits, Humans, and delirium all being interwoven themes. I look forward to figuring out which are real, which are illusion, and how many Clues I can generate.