Shadows of Innistrad seems to be a highly synergistic set—there are multiple interactions with discard outlets, madness, delirium, self-mill, Humans, equipment, Werewolves, Zombies, Vampires, Clues and cards that interact with them. That said, it doesn’t seem to be a pick-a-theme-and-go-with-it set—you don’t need to play all discard and all madness, for example, you can just play the good discard cards and the good madness cards. The tribal theme exists, but outside of a couple of lords in higher rarities and some Humans-based cards, there isn’t that much incentive to commit to a tribe in Limited—it’s certainly very different than, say, Lorwyn, where you’d play a bad Merfolk because it was a Merfolk, or Battle for Zendikar where you’d play a bad Ally because it was an Ally.

The synergy in the set exists, but it doesn’t override power—since everything in the set is so inter-connected (discard fuels madness, delirium, and some cards that can be cast from the graveyard, self-mill fuels delirium and graveyard cards, sacrifice-a-permanent effects work to send lands to the graveyard, and so on), you don’t have to try very hard to get synergy, because it will happen naturally as the game develops. It seems almost impossible to have any combination of Grixis colors that doesn’t have enough madness outlets, for example.

What this means is that I don’t think you should play suboptimal cards in the name of synergy very often. You don’t need to have a “madness deck,” a “delirium deck,” a “Zombies deck” or a “Clues deck”—your deck can have some madness cards, some Zombies, some delirium, some investigate and some discard outlets and self-mill and it’s likely to be enough for all your needs. The rewards for committing strongly to a “theme” simply aren’t there and I don’t think you need to go much out of your way to make those cards work because, for the most part, those effects are bonuses that are attached to already solid cards.

Mechanics

Madness

The first time we had madness around, cards with the ability were very swingy. They weren’t bad if you didn’t have madness enablers, but they rewarded you immensely for being able to madness them out, since they cost much less. As a result, you’d draft bad enablers to enable your good madness cards, and sometimes you’d not play your madness cards because you didn’t have enough enablers.

This time around, things look different. There are cards that offer meaningful payoffs for madness’ing them—all the modal rares, Incorrigible Youths, Twins of Maurer Estate—but it isn’t the norm. There are several madness cards that cost 1 less mana, the exact same amount of mana, or even more mana, such as Just the Wind, Stensia Masquerade, and Broken Concentration. Those cards get small upgrades if they are madnessed (cheaper cost or instant speed), but overall your reward for madnessing them out just isn’t that big, and it doesn’t justify running suboptimal cards as outlets.

Instead of drafting enablers to turn your madness on, in this set I suspect you’ll be using madness to mitigate the cost of discarding. This is a reversion, of sorts—now instead of enablers enabling madness cards, madness cards enable the discard effects (by making sure it’s not a cost). In practical terms, it means you should not prioritize bad enablers because the madness cards are, as a whole, just not worth enabling.

Delirium

In Limited, it’s easy to get a creature in the graveyard a lot of the time. In Shadows over Innistrad, there are a lot of discard outlets, sacrifice outlets and mill effects, so I imagine it’s not hard to get a land in the graveyard if you really want to. Then, the rest is going to depend on the composition of your deck. Instants and sorceries obviously get thrown in the graveyard frequently, and there are some artifacts and enchantments that sacrifice themselves as a cost—those are essentially spells with a different card type.

My inclination is that you should not worry too much about delirium. Most delirium cards are solid cards on their own with a bonus ability, and then if you can hit the threshold, great—if you can’t, whatever. With most delirium cards, I’d simply assume delirium is off and think “do I still want to play this card without this ability?” If the answer is “no,” then I think you need a very dedicated deck to make them work, and that’s going to be hard to come by in Sealed Deck. I also think you should probably not play suboptimal cards just because they are of different card types. If I have the choice between an instant or a sorcery, assuming both are the exact same card, I’d opt for the instant in almost every scenario because I think the increase in power level is worth more than the chance of delirium unless you have a very specific deck.

Investigate

Investigate is meant to minimize flooding in the late game. But how much is a Clue worth? It’s clearly less than a card, and I think in Limited it’s probably a bit less than one mana. Luckily, it seems to me that most Clue-givers are priced at less than 1 mana per card. Take Byway Courier and Drownyard Explorers—they both give you a Clue and charge you less than a mana for it. Some cards such as Gone Missing overcharge you for a Clue though (this one costs between 1.5-2 mana), and those don’t seem worth it. My inclination is that if the card is already reasonable without investigate, then you probably want to play it.

The important thing with Clues is that it’s dangerous to just keep Cluing forever and not adding to the board. They definitely get worse in multiples, as you can’t just afford to spend many turns doing nothing, regardless of what deck you’re playing.

Werewolves

I think Werewolves are a bad mechanic for Limited, since they punish you for being unlucky even more. If you keep a 2-lander and miss your third land drop, that’s already quite bad, but if they have a Werewolf it’s much worse, since it’s going to flip and now you have a gigantic creature facing you—a creature that can likely attack through whatever 3-drop you have even if you do draw a land. There is some interesting “do I play my spell or flip my Werewolf?” tension, but most of the time you’ll simply want to play your spell—you don’t want to waste a turn only to have your opponent kill it, or play an instant, or play two spells, so you are kind of hoping that your opponent will brick and flip them for you.

The existence of Werewolves (and there are a lot of them, in both green and red) changes a couple things. First of all, it means you likely want to be on the play if Werewolves are involved on any side. Everyone can stop a Werewolf from flipping on turn 4, but sometimes people can’t do it on turns 2 or 3 and if you’re on the play you punish them for it.

Second, it means that instants are a bit better. If you have a Werewolf, sometimes you want to pass to flip it, and having an instant spell means you do not waste your turn. Werewolves also make counterspells and combat tricks a little better, since it’s now less suspicious that you just pass the turn with mana up—you could be just trying to flip your Werewolf, after all. They also work well with Clues—if you can pass the turn and then sacrifice two Clues, you didn’t lose much. If your opponent has the Werewolf, instants are still better, since they can stop them from flipping if your opponent decides to just pass the turn, which often results in a devastating tempo blow.

Finally, Werewolves give you some use for bad spells in the late game. Sometimes you’re in a board stall and you have a 2/2 that’s not going to do anything, but you play it anyway, because why not? With Werewolves in the format, you should consider holding that 2/2, as it can be used to delay a transformation or even to transform something back later on.

Skulk

Skulk is the next in line of evasive abilities, and I rather like it because it doesn’t create “Invisible Stalker + Butcher’s Cleaver” scenarios—you can pump the creature, but then it loses its evasion, so it’s not a big threat anymore. Skulk is not actually very prevalent in the set—there are only 9 cards that have or grant skulk, and only three of those are commons. As a result, I wouldn’t worry too much about it—I wouldn’t change my deck or evaluations to reflect the fact that skulk exists. If you’re worried about it, then you can sideboard in a couple of low-power blockers, but you really shouldn’t need to.

Creatures

It might be that I’m used to Eldrazi, but creatures in this format seem particularly small to me. There are many Spirit tokens, several 1/2s and 1/3s (which makes skulking worse), several 2/1s, some 2/2s, some 2/3s, some 2/4s. 3/3 is likely to be the biggest creature on the board unless something transformed. Even at uncommon, there aren’t many big creatures—other than an enormous unbeatable 7/7 with menace, the biggest creature is a 5/4 for 5.

This means that 2/1 and 3/1 aren’t great stats, and they will often trade with something that costs less. It’s a bit paradoxical, but I think you’re more interested in a 3/1 for a defensive deck than for an aggressive deck, as you can at least block and trade with anything. 3/2 is also not fantastic, and 3/3 is likely to be good (since by then the 3/1s will have traded already). 3/4 and 4/4 are huge.

This means that Werewolves will dominate the board if you allow them to flip—and some of them will dominate even if you don’t. Solitary Hunter is truly enormous—3/4 is enough to battle almost anything, and a 5/6 can survive most double-blocks.

What this means in practice is that hard removal is not really necessary. Most creatures that aren’t rare are small enough to be dealt with in combat, and the big ones (Werewolves) can be dealt with at least temporarily by casting two spells. You can use the conditional removal freely because targets won’t get much better, and if you have a small amount of unconditional removal (which is likely) you should probably save it for a rare your opponent might play.

I’d also like to point out that I really like the 2-drops in this set—there are a lot of 2/2s for 2 that get useful abilities in the late game (through the use of delirium, graveyard shenanigans, or just spending mana). I like cards that are useful early and late and tons of the 2-drops in this set share this characteristic, which means you can fill your deck with them without worrying that your topdecks are going to be awful.

Removal

This is a list of the common removal spells in the set:

White

Blue

Black

Red

Green

Other

The common removal spells seem pretty average to me. There are two of them that will deal with anything no questions asked—Sleep Paralysis and Angelic Purge—and the rest are situational or toughness-based. As I’ve mentioned in the “creatures” section, however, there aren’t many gigantic creatures that you’re required to kill in this format—most are small or can be killed before they transform. As a result, you’ll be much happier with cheaper removal like Dead Weight and Fiery Temper than with something like Silverstrike. Being cheaper also helps with your Clue-usage so I think overall you should prioritize those. Dead Weight also has extra bonuses since it’s a unique card type for delirium.

As an aside, I can’t imagine a situation in which I’d want to sideboard Clip Wings—if my opponent has fliers, they’re likely white, at which point they have Spirit tokens to sacrifice.

Tricks

It’s always important to know what tricks are in a set when you’re going to the prerelease, and this one seems to have quite a bit at common or uncommon:

(I’m listing the uncommon tricks because I just want to show you what tricks you can play against, rather than make a conclusion on the format based on commons.)

White

Blue

Black

Red

Green

The key ones to watch out for here are the madness ones. If your opponent has a discard outlet in play, then some (particularly Biting Rain and Malevolent Whispers) go from sorcery speed to instant speed, and you must be careful about them. If your opponent passes the turn with a discard outlet and open mana, it’s likely that they have something with madness.

Colors

Shadows over Innistrad looks like it’s a 2-color set—there’s no artifact fixing at common, and only one common land that can add more than one color. Even in green you’re not going to find many fixers—a pseudo-Elf and an expensive way to tutor for a basic land of your choice are all you’re going to get. You can splash a color, especially if you have the uncommon nonbasics, but two colors with a splash is probably where I’d draw the line—it’s unlikely that there are 4-color decks in this format like there were in Battle for Zendikar.

Sealed Deck is random, so ranking the colors on strength doesn’t make much sense (either you’ll open the good cards in that color or you won’t, so a general ranking doesn’t do much for you), but we can still talk a bit about how each color behaves:

White

If you’re white, your best shot is just attacking in the air or having many small creatures and broad pump effects (Ethereal Guidance instead of Survive the Night, for example). There are a couple of good equipment cards for white that synergize with Humans, and there are also Unruly Mob and Inspiring Captain as payoffs for swarming the board at common.

There are some great uncommons in white (Nearheath Chaplain, Bound by Moonsilver) but the commons look lackluster—you have Dauntless Cathar and some removal spells, but there is nothing driving me toward the color. I also dislike that the creatures and the removal point in different directions—the creatures and the pump spells are aggressive, but 2/3rds of the removal is better used on attackers.

Blue

Blue in this set seems to be all about drawing cards, which is very dangerous—especially in a Werewolf format. You have multiple cards with investigate, a common draw spell, an uncommon draw spell, and even rare draw spells. Those cards are almost all decent, but you can’t have too many of them because, if you do, you’ll just end up in a spiral of durdling where you draw into more durdling over and over—at some point, you have to do something that is not drawing a card. You also have a looter at uncommon and this is probably the best looter format ever.

Blue has an interesting tempo aspect with fliers, multiple bounce spells, and a new Frost Lynx, so I think you can pair it with any aggressive color to good effect—but then you have to limit the card drawing. I think instants and Clues work well with the green or red Werewolves, for example, but I probably wouldn’t play multiple Catalogs in this deck because if I’m aggressive I want to kill them and not draw extra cards (though of course things are different if you have a lot of madness or delirium). Werewolves also work well with counterspells since you can just pass with mana up.

Basically, blue has some very aggressive, tempo-based cards, and then a lot of card drawing and some defensive options that are better used in control decks. You can play both kinds in both decks, of course, but you have to be careful to not overload on an effect that isn’t part of your primary game plan (a control deck probably doesn’t want three bounce spells, but an aggro deck might).

Black

Black has two great removal spells at common (Dead Weight and Murderous Compulsion) but the creatures are average, as is usually the case with the color. Black is all about the graveyard—there are many madness, delirium, and graveyard-based cards, and your deck is likely to be more focused on those if you’re black than if you’re any other color because it encompasses all of them. There are also Vampire and Zombie themes (mostly at uncommon and rare) which are good but not necessary.

You can basically pair black with anything—it can help you swarm the opponent, control the game, or bury them in card advantage. It’s likely to be the base color of more dedicated madness/graveyard decks.

Red

Red is an aggressive color, as it always is—there’s almost no way it can go wrong if you just take red cards and put them in any aggressive deck. There are many decently-sized creatures at common (which is a bit surprising for red—lots of 3-toughness guys and even a 4/5), and the Werewolves are almost all great. There are also several sorcery-speed cards that have madness, and they are all big combat blowouts, so watch out if you play against a red player. If I’m playing red, I’d rather err on the side of playing the “permanent” combat tricks (such as Senseless Rage or Spiteful Motive) over the temporary ones (like Uncaged Fury or Rush of Adrenaline).

Red has two common removal spells, one awesome (Fiery Temper) and the other mediocre but playable (Reduce to Ashes). There’s a limit to the number of 5-mana cards you can play, and I like Gatstaf Arsonists already in red, but unless your other color is blue, you shouldn’t have an overload of them as most 5-drops in other colors aren’t great. There is also an uncommon looter, and an overall theme of madness/discard (though less pronounced than black’s).

Green

Green has a graveyard subtheme with delirium, but no madness or discard outlets—instead it has self-milling. Self-milling isn’t bad, but it’s also not the most reliable for delirium—discarding whatever you’re missing is a bit easier, so if you want easy ways to trigger it you usually have to turn to other colors. There is also an investigate theme, with many cards that benefit you for sacrificing a Clue, which almost guarantees that UG is a color pair (but then again be careful of too much investigating).

Other than that, green seems beefy as always—you have the biggest creature without a drawback at either common or uncommon, and some solid creatures at all points of the curve. There’s also a Wolf/Werewolf sub-theme but it’s not very important. There are also three common green pump spells, so be careful if you play against a green deck (though also be careful to not overload on pump spells yourself if you’re the one playing green).

Well, that’s what I have for today! I’m not going to be able to play the prerelease, since our product got blocked in customs (again), but the set looks like it’s a ton of fun, so I hope you enjoy yours.

TL;DR:

• The set is highly synergistic but most of the synergy is optional and will happen naturally.
Don’t play bad cards to turn on delirium or madness, it’s likely not worth it.
Don’t plan on passing the turn instead of making a play just so you can flip your Werewolves early on, that has a high chance of backfiring.
Counterspells, Clues, Tricks and instant-speed spells  are more valuable since they are good with and against (in the case of spells) Werewolves.
Creatures are small, and most small removal can kill anything, especially if you have a chance to do it before it transforms.
If Werewolves are involved on either side, you should choose to play. If you don’t know, then I’d probably choose to play unless my deck was particularly draw-worthy.
Be careful with too much investigate, card drawing, and cards that don’t affect the board.
Memorize the tricks—you want to make sure you know everything that has madness as well, taking note of what is devastating if played at instant speed, particularly in red and black.
• There isn’t a lot of fixing, so try to limit yourself to two colors or at most two with a splash.