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Top Ten for Shadows over Innistrad

Written by Administrator on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern, Standard

In the immortal words of Bob Dylan “The times they are a changin’” and that change has finally arrived. The era of three set blocks and a core set every year dictating standard legality is moving on.

Khans of Tarkir leapt onto the scene in what looked like would be a bleak time, the reign of the disappointing Theros block. As a lover of Greek mythology the Theros block proved to be widely disappointing. The concept of devotion led to cards that were weak alone and entirely dependent on cards that existed in conjunction. These devotion mechanics were dominant with hybrid mana in Return to Ravnica in cards such as Nightveil Specter and Frostburn Weird, but Khans smashed into Standard as a tricolored set and pulled decks into a wide direction of color combinations. This was only worsened when fetch lands became capable of find dual lands. This shift pushed out many of the narrow devotion spells and resulted in Khans governing the tier decks of standard throughout its legality.

Now we move forward and say goodbye to “loved” ones such as Rally the Ancestors and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Farewell to the formerly rampant and now extinct Siege Rhino. I wish I could say I would miss thee, but fields of 2/3s and 4/5s bouncing off each other in board stalls tears at my soul. I for one hope there is never a Dread Return to fast midrange versus slow midrange.

The end of this Standard was marked by a depressing lack of powerful control shells and even greater lack of true aggro shells. I am deeply devoted to blue, playing many Islands and few Mountains in my games, but the lack of true forms of aggression and control lead to very grindy, coin flip variant meta games.

We approach this new format and welcome Shadows over Innistrad with arms open wide due to many cards and mechanics looking to shake the format to it’s core, and bring true diversity again.

What cards should you be on the lookout for? Which are you going to regret not having ready to build with in your binder? Without seeing the format there can be no certainty, but I have my assumptions of 10 cards I expect to cast more than once in the next 18 months. Getting to just 10 was a chore in itself.

If you read my previous article, the latest Jace is not, in my opinion, the most powerful new planeswalker, however this list is not about vacuums. Instead it is about what I am ready to cast. As much as I love Arlinn, red/green seems to be a color of ramp currently and she is a card that wants a wide and aggressive board so currently I have not built a great home yet. Jace is a card in my favorite color that does some things very efficiently to help us survive or achieve victory. As we have seen with cards such as Phyrexian Arena, two cards a turn does not take long to put the opponent far behind with that advantage.

We now take that advantage a step further to not lose life, gain the ability to filter the card, and even buy time versus an annoying threat and, baby, we have a stew going.

As a control player there are a few things you traditionally need to win: hit every land drop possible to play answers and win conditions and draw more cards than the opponent to have more answers than they have threats.

Jace enables this by being an answer with his bounce and finding whichever pieces you need: lands, answers or digging to the win condition with his plus. The scry makes his plus far superior to Ob Nixilis’ card draw and the ability to minus twice helps compensate for the inability to destroy.

There is a rule to Magic: a lot of text many times equals a strong card. While this card is no novel, what it says carries many effects and potentially a great deal of value.

When you have a deck that can put particular things into a graveyard, the deck begins to use it as a tool as powerful as extra mana or draw spells. Seasons Past can gain an insurmountable level of advantage given the ability to put a large quantity of diverse cards in your graveyard.

This card will unlikely be centralized in Standard, it will possibly see some play and win some games, but with a lower card quality in Standard, the cards gained will be small improvements When we look in older formats, the ability to put cards back in your hand at a wide with the only restriction being diverse casting costs becomes a very real card selection engine. The cards are not randomly taken and the ability to pick and choose a variety is potent.

It is very hard to evaluate this card since it is not like many other cards. While it is very different than Gifts Ungiven, that is the card I seem to constantly come back to when looking at Seasons Past with rewards for diversity while still being able to obtain desired effects. It will take some work but don’t be surprised to see this card reach a few top eights in Modern or possibly even Standard.

Give me a moment to put my Riddler hat on: What do all decks have in common? Lands.

Ok that was terrible, but despite how bad the joke was, the fact remains. Almost every deck in magic (especially in Standard) requires mana; if you want fancy toys you need to pay for those toys.

Standard is about to move on from this life of luxury fetching dual lands has brought, no longer will we have our 4 and 5 mana decks. Even 2 colors will take thinking and math to make consistent so with reduced colors brings reduced spell quality. In these formats I always am watching for lands that have strong effects to compensate for small spell selection (see Foundry of the Consuls). With Shadows we get the latest utility land. Build your own Griselbrand or baby Dark Depths, whether you like these terms or not these are some of the comparisons made to Westvale Abbey and I am a fan of both the nicknames and the card!

Sacrifice five worthless thopters, scions, spirits, or mana dorks to get a lifelink, flying, indestructible and HASTE fatty? Sign me up! When I first skimmed the card I was smiling ear to ear seeing it tapped for mana and flipped. I had missed the fact it can make blockers or sacrifice fodder itself. My head still hurts from jumping into the ceiling with joy, but I regret nothing.

Traditionally these style lands with big effects have one of two restrictions:

  1. It is legendary
  2. It doesn’t produce mana itself (ex. Dark Depths) which means if hurts opening seven keep abilities

These are both nonexistent issues. Exciting! We can have multiple unflipped in play so we don’t have an Eye of Ugin issue in which multiple in the opening hand means we might have to mulligan.

It also taps for mana so the card is purely late game profit and unless we trip on colors it won’t interfere with our early game plays. The Skirsdag aren’t going to be the only followers of Ormendahl I promise!

What do we want most in a removal spell? The days of solid one and two drops are becoming more and more rare without large restrictions. Take a moment of silence as we pour one out for our fallen friends Doom Blade and Lightning Bolt…… excuse the tears. The new checklist we look for when considering A+, top tier removal is that it cost 3 mana or less (looking at you Utter End) and that it can answer a wide variety of cards (such as not being Ultimate Price in a multicolored followed colorless set).

When Hero’s Downfall was first printed I was not certain it was a card we wanted. I was still in stubborn denial that we don’t get Doom Blade anymore, but the card proved to be a very strong removal spell that killed most things we cared about and it was instant speed. This sets it apart from cards like Ruinous Path which can’t kill creaturelands or respond to opponent’s plays on their turn.

With Anguished Unmaking we receive the closest reprint to a Vindicate we will likely ever receive in Standard. The word exile is a very important clause in all formats. In Standard we can stop the delirium mechanic and any future reanimation effects. This helps reduce value from cards such as Pulse of Murasa and Den Protector. At three mana it is also cheap enough for play in older formats such as Modern. Allowing us to interact with decks such as Abzan Company in a more efficient way.

The cost of three life to play Utter End a turn earlier is very much worth it. To permanently remove World Breaker or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is obviously powerful. In addition, removing a creature early you would otherwise struggle to get off the board prevents repetitive turns of being beat by the early threat. The fact it plays the role of Oblivion Ring by answering ANY nonland threat lets this easily see play in any deck supporting the mana.

Play your Gamedays and get those full art promos as you can expect to see this card everywhere in the next 18 months and well into the Modern format.

Traditionally a blue mage, I have learned from my friend’s successes and multiple Pro Tour visits that being proactive is a very strong method to reach the next level. With this in mind I am trying to force myself through gritted teeth to learn aggression.

I am by no means a Red Deck Wins expert, however I can see a record breaker when put in front of me. A quick search shows that there has never been a red one drop creature with two power printed that didn’t have some form of a draw back…until now. We are getting a red one-drop beater of a relevant creature type and on top of it all the text box is only bonus in certain scenarios, but never a draw back.

Traditionally red Savannah Lions have attack restrictions or cast restrictions, hurt the owner or even give the opponent the ability to kill it for cheap. The top two previous versions have been Zurgo Bellstriker who was restricted in blocking (which rarely happens anyway) and the legendary tag hampered him the most. Goblin Guide had a lesser draw back by merely giving the opponent a chance at gaining extra draws only if they are lands, but often the defender would die before the lands tended to matter.

The side synergy of making Olivia, Mobilized for War and Heir of Falkenrath better by turning their discard effects into even more efficient madness outlets has merit as he belongs to the vampire clan that is shaping into a madness shell itself.

Avacyn is a difficult card to find a shell for, despite what many believe she doesn’t just slide into every white deck sleeved up or the traditional control shell. You want to take advantage of her ambush ability as a semi combat board wipe or Planar Outburst counter spell and you want the ability to flip her into her state of purification without an excessive amount of work.

Her ability to clean a board will depend on what the Standard format looks like as a whole, her front facing side is a strong threat and can represent a good clock, but if the format or deck is not built to take advantage of her transformation she will be a disappointment as a five drop.

A green white list is likely a good beginning shell in order to create full board states that the angel can flash in and protect while using a card like Dromoka’s Command to trade one of your creatures for another and flip Avacyn at the same time.

The fact that she flips at the next upkeep instead of immediately is a slight draw back due to the fact it can allow your opponent a window to respond especially if the flip is on their upkeep after they have untapped for instant speed spells to respond.

There are many questions that will require answering, but when a card says “save your team” followed by “clear the board and hurt the opponent” and lastly “bash your opponent for six” that is a card that I don’t want to face. The trick is getting each of these clauses to work consistently.

You know what card I absolutely love? Delver of Secrets. Delver is one of the closest things I cast to a red one drop (working on fixing this stubbornness) and a 3/2 flier attacking on turn two with mana up can be a very real clock for the opponent.

Now is this card the black Delver? No, unless your discard is a madness spell you are turning it into a 2-for-1 if it is removed. If you do have a card such as Fiery Temper or Lightning Axe you can have some decent value, especially if your opponent played a creature. The true dream is the turn two Heir followed by a third land and the Incorrigible Youths to punish an opponent for seven damage, which is not a pipe dream at all and sounds more aggressive than most of the last year has been.

While your opponent gets value if they kill the flipped form before damage, which is a very big drawback compared to Delver, we also don’t depend on the luck of a reveal that happens with our favorite blue one drop. Discarding anything but a madness spell isn’t ideal, but if your opponent’s life total reaches 0 it doesn’t matter if you have risked the 2-for-1.

Let’s be clear: I am very excited for this card, but the cynic in me says while I want this to be good in Standard and think it might be, the true time to shine is in older formats such as Modern.

Being a 0/4 blocker in Standard is a relevant body size that will be able to negate the existence of one threat for a large amount of the game. However, in spell heavy shells that are ok with bouncing a board it is likely one of the few cheap creatures and will allow the opponent to have targets for their otherwise worthless early kill spells such as Fiery Impulse. The payoff of flipping this creature, either during the opponent’s combat if needed, or ideally during their end step into the 7/8 horror to reset the board and proceed to put a very lethal clock onto the opponent or their planeswalkers. The issue of being devoted to a plan around this card in standard is that unless you kill them on the next turn you don’t truly want to bounce and give recast options for World Breaker or Ulamog.

This card will likely reach its full potential in formats with “free” spells such as Modern. Playing Thing in the Ice into cards such as Gitaxian Probe and Lightning Bolt will allow it to flip with extreme ease and provides a deck running cards such as Delver of Secrets and Young Pyromancer a threat relying on a similar game plan. Thing in the Ice also gives Delver type lists a card to interact more beneficially against aggressive shells like Burn.

Sin Prodder is a very difficult card to evaluate. In my experience from the game, the “punish” mechanic has rarely ever been a good effect. A punish mechanic lets your opponent choose the method in which a card advances your gameplay. The problem, barring misunderstandings or mistakes, the opponent will always chose the method that aides him or her the most.

Take for example another old devil that while he pops up in the occasional budget burn list, was not a Standard staple and did not live up to the hype: Vexing Devil. An unimaginable body for the cost, but unless your opponent was about dead or had answers in the form of spells, or blockers, it never stayed on the battlefield and instead proved to be a slightly larger Lava Spike.

Sin Prodder also puts the decision in the opponents hand on whether you get an extra card each turn or the opponent takes damage. The negative is if the extra card is another land to fuel discard or hit land drops it costs nothing for the opponent to make you discard it. With that same thought, if you are running an aggressive deck you likely stayed on the side of Abbot of Keral Keep to guarantee you get card advantage if you have the mana. In a deck with cards like Zurgo Bellstriker the opponent takes one damage to stop you from drawing a one-drop 2/2 for free.

Sin Prodder is strongest in a midrange or ramp deck. When the opponent has to decide between taking six damage or giving you a Chandra on turn five when they already opted to take four damage to prevent a free Explosive Vegetation. The devil comes with a form of evasion by having menace to add to the clock the text box hopefully puts on your opponent.

As previously stated, the punish mechanic is historically weak, but it looks like this one, with a repeated decision that represents either a clock or advantage of extra cards, might be an exception to the rule. Just get used to hoping to dodge lands unlike Dark Confidant.

At the top of the list we reach the vampire warlord herself, Olivia. Last time we saw her she was a midrange or control card that would machine down aggression and steal win conditions. Apparently the strife caused by Avacyn’s turn has led to a far more aggressive vampire aristocrat. A 3/3 flier for three mana is not the fastest aggression, but her ability to give any creature that enters on following turns haste, size, and a relevant creature type will pressure many opponents out of games.

We get extra value, as with Heir of Falkenrath, when the discard is a madness spell we can afford to cast. However, even if we don’t discard a madness card giving a card like Drana, Liberator of Malakir haste and turning her into a 3/4 can really end a game. Live in a Christmas land with me where we play a Falkenrath Gorger on turn one and an Heir of Falkenrath turn two and knock the opponent for two. On turn three we get to discard Olivia but play her off madness thanks to the Gorger as the opponent drops to 13. Finally, turn four we get to give our Drana haste and this team of four vampires hits the opponent for 14 damage with our board of four vampires, 11 of that damage being in the air with fliers.

The above scenario is a perfect case and requires the opponent to not have answers or get in the way, but with three flying creatures you will be able to continue the pressure through interaction and still maintain a reasonable speed to close out the game.

Olivia is a must kill threat that gives you the ability to chain pressure into your opponent the first few turns while still chipping away in the air. For this reason she is the recurring value of a threat that I am most excited to cast with Shadows over Innistrad.

A top ten was hard to pick. As Standard takes shape and we get a clearer picture of what the masses are trying to accomplish, some of these cards might be replaced with more powerful new toys such as Sorin, Engulf the Shore or Relentless Dead. However, for me, I have a starting point of cards I plan to test and hopefully they live up.

What cards are you most excited for? Did I miss one that should have made the top 10? Was there one card I am letting dreams lead toward too high of a ranking? Let me know below.

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