Shadows over Innistrad Limited Set Review

So… New set time. Depending on if you play limited or standard, you either love or dread this time. But this one’s a little different; not only are we returning to Innistrad, which alone is awesome, but we also get to say goodbye to Siege Rhino. I would say that the latter makes me happy, but that would be underselling it.

Anyway… We have a lot to get through, so let’s dive into the mechanics.

Mechanics of Shadow over Innistrad

Delirium

It’s like threshold, but not. What I mean by that is that it cares about what is in your graveyard, but not the number of cards overall, just the card types. If you have more than four types of cards in the graveyard, then the delirium effect occurs. Three quick notes:

First, if you don’t satisfy delirium at the time of a delirium spell’s or ability’s resolution, any delirium-pertinent effect won’t occur. This means that if you have a sorcery, a creature, and a land in your graveyard but no other types, an instant you cast with delirium will not have its delirium condition satisfied during its resolution (because it will not have gone to your graveyard yet). However, you could cast an instant in response to your own delirium instant. The second instant should go to your graveyard before the first resolves, setting up delirium before the first spell’s resolution.

Second, if a player doesn’t have delirium at the time that a delirium-pertinent trigger checks, then the ability never goes on the stack. This means that you can’t wait for the beginning of your opponent’s upkeep to cast an instant and complete delirium for your, e.g., Tooth Collector to trigger. It simply won’t trigger unless you have delirium. And then it must check your graveyard again upon resolution to see if you have delirium for the effect to occur. (This is called the “intervening ‘if’ clause” rule – 603.4 in the Comprehensive Rules.)

Third, delirium doesn’t count supertypes or subtypes. For instance, Legendary, Snow, Jace, and Human don’t count, only the card types. So anything that makes Tarmogoyf bigger is what you need to be looking for.

Honestly I believe this is going to have going to have a much greater effect on constructed than expected, because there are more artifacts and planewalkers running around in constructed than in most limited matches. Just look at Hangarback Walker; it is an artifact creature, so if it’s in your graveyard, you already have two card types in there.

For limited, the main question will be how easy it is to get delirium. It looks like it will be possible, but not easy. Warped Landscape is a common, so there should be a few floating around, but that is the only land that is easy to get into the bin. Beyond that Explosive Apparatus and Wicker Witch are the only two common artifacts that can easily go to the graveyard, so it looks like you will have to go out of your way to get the different card types. At first glance it appears to be more of a build-around than a side benefit, as you have to actively go looking for more than your standard creature, instant, and sorcery.

One little side thing is that it does probably make auras slightly better. If you even have a few delirium cards, getting two-for-one’d on removal doesn’t hurt as much as usual and might actively help you in some circumstances.

This is probably the mechanic that is hardest to figure out on first glance and I’m interested to see how it plays out in the actual set.

Investigate

Card advantage engine, do you really need to know more? Really? Okay then.

Investigating creates an artifact token that you can sacrifice for 2 mana to draw a card. Sounds great, right? Well it is, but remember the cost for this is real. Mana efficiency and tempo are huge factors in winning limited games of Magic. Having to play smaller creatures in order to draw cards can eventually kill you. If you are being curved out on by a Red-Black deck, you might not be able to spend the 2 mana to draw a card, which means all the cards you played with investigate were overpriced and costing you.

All that being said, card advantage is also really good. The ability to cast more spells than your opponent can easily tip the game to your favor. You just need to try to balance the amount of card-draw you can afford based on the position of the board.

Madness

Okay, I have to come clean: I love this mechanic. I loved it the first time it was around, and I will probably love it this time. Primarily found in Grixis (Blue, Black, Red) this is probably the non-flipping-related mechanic that will have the largest impact. Why? Because unlike skulk and investigate, it is going to affect how the entire table drafts, and unlike delirium, you don’t look like you need to have a heavily focused deck to use it.

There are two things you need in order to set up madness effectively. The first is pretty obvious; you need the madness cards, because without them you have nothing to play off discarding. Second, you need discard outlets, because you can’t count on the opponent playing discard spells on you just to allow you to discard the madness cards in your hand, that would be madness (sorry, had to do it once).

This doesn’t mean you should pick up bad discard enablers just to use madness, unless of course you opened Avacyn’s Judgment. Then feel free. Reducing your card quality to cast madness isn’t going to help long-term, unless as noted above, the madness cards you have are just that good.

The other side of the coin, though, is: don’t pick bad madness cards just so you can discard something. If your discard effect is good enough to discard a card, you are better off having to discard a good card over casting a bad madness card, because a bad card that is situationally good is usually worse than a good card that you may want to discard for a key effect.

Finally, remember that this can turn into a bad spiral of picking up discard outlets and madness cards. Normally this sounds good, but the bread and butter of your deck needs to be able to do something as well, so unless your deck consists of madness cards that affect the board and discard outlets that give you lasting advantage, remember to draft some normal creatures as well.

Skulk

This one nearly sneaked by me. This is probably the smallest of all the new mechanics. It only comes up for a tiny number of cards and probably won’t have a huge effect. Basically any skulk creature can’t be blocked with by a creature with a larger power. Fin. Pretty straight forward and I counted nine cards in this set if you include Skeleton Key and Behind the Scenes, which were all blue, black or equipment. Since this only affects two colors and one artifact, it probably won’t impact your games as much as the others.

Just remember when attacking with skulk cards, don’t buff them before blocks or you will open up more blocking options, and if you absolutely have to, you can buff your opponents’ skulk creatures so that you can block them.

So that is more or less it. I guess we should move to colo… Oh right… Flip cards.

Double-Faced Cards

They are actually called double-faced cards, as flip cards were originally the cards in Kamigawa Block that could turn upside down and became a new card. With that out of the way…

I absolutely love flip cards and the only actual drawback is that I have to remember to bring sleeves to play paper Magic, but since I primarily play on MTGO, that isn’t much of a problem.

While these might seem complex on the surface, they are actually pretty simple. They have a condition on them, and when you achieve the condition, they flip. Sometimes they have on-flip effects, but typically not.

One quick note, when they flip they are technically the same card. If they have counters on them, the counters stay. If they have a spell targeting them, it doesn’t get countered by a lack of target. Also auras stay attached, and so forth. You can’t dodge removal simply by flipping. You might be able to flip in response but your card is still going to be targeted. Also, the converted mana cost is always what you cast the card as in the first place, even if the flipped side doesn’t have a mana cost on it. I don’t think the second point will come into play in limited, but I should point it out anyway.

Honestly, that is more or less the extent of the cards. They look clunky, but they play pretty well. I’ll definitely be checking back in on these during the Red-Green color section.

Color Combinations

I know everyone comes here to see what awesome Rares are in each color, but I’m not going to focus on that. While they do have a huge impact on decks, they aren’t what you are going to be seeing regularly, and on average you will only have three or six in your deck depending on the limited environment. I’ll be focusing on the meat and potatoes of your deck, the Commons and Uncommons. That being said, if you draft or open Sorin, Grim Nemesis, try to play Black-White, then mail me the card.

Red-Black (Vampiric Madness)

I’ll start with the one that looks the best. Normally this is where I would be saying red-black looks very linear, that it is an aggressive shell that works off vampire synergies and hits hard and fast, but that would completely discount madness, which makes this deck look insane.

The key reason I believe this deck is so good is the synergy between vampires and madness. Vampires tend to be over-costed creatures, but very aggressive. Normally they would be pretty quickly outstripped by werewolves and humans, but they have a key advantage: Madness. A lot of Vampire cards are discard outlets, for instance Call the Bloodline, Insolent Neonate, and Heir of Falkenrath, to only name a few, and in combination with madness they allow for truly ridiculous plays. Untap Turn 3 with Heir of Falkenrath in play, flip Heir discarding Incorrigible Youths and you’re now attacking for 7 on Turn 3, 3 points of it flying. Some of the stuff this deck can do is pretty nuts.

Just to add sprinkles on top this deck has full suite of black and red removal on hand. Fiery Temper and Murderous Compulsion are fairly decent common removal and have madness as well. Think of the blowouts you can do discarding Murderous Compulsion and casting it as an instant when an opponent isn’t expecting it.

They only issue I see with this deck is that it seems so good out of the gate that you will probably have to fight for these cards in a draft. Unfortunately the deck needs both sides, madness cards and vampires. Without vampires you can’t really discard your cards and without madness cards, you are just discarding cards for small advantages that you could otherwise cast. If you have to choose one, choose the vampires, but shoot for both.

Blue-Black (Zombies)

I was hoping for mill, because despite it usually not being a great strategy, I like approaching the game in a different way every now and then, but at least we get a good fall-back with Zombies. This seems to be your standard creature deck with value and incremental advantage. Both black and blue have ways of getting incremental advantages with their zombie cards, Rottenheart Ghoul, Compelling Deterrence, and Lamplighter of Selhof. Hopefully the advantages will add up and allow you drop your Rise from the Tides after casting a couple Gisa’s Bidding.

Another tactic would be to use the zombies to gum up the ground and just relay on the spirit fliers that blue has. Both Niblis of Dusk and Storm Rider Spirit are solid commons that will let you close out the game fairly quickly, and of course Aberrant Researcher is no slouch either.

The final advantage this deck has is that it can also use madness effectively to get ever more advantage here and there. Both black and blue have plenty of discard available to them and a madness’ed Just the Wind can be a huge tempo play.

All in all, this looks fairly different from your standard blue-black list, and I’ll be interested to see how it plays out.

Green-White (Humans)

With all those zombies out of the way let’s get to their natural enemies/prey, namely the humans. First let me start this by saying that white looks good. Solid removal with both Bound by Moonsilver, which can move, and Angelic Purge. Losing a permanent does hurt, but killing anything is good. Beyond that it has your standard situational removal, Puncturing Light and Silverstrike. Finally it has creatures, too.

Green and White both have a human subtheme that work together quite well. At least for the commons and uncommons, white seems to have the core creatures and green has the support. Both Veteran Cathar and Intrepid Provisioners specifically buff humans and in pretty solid ways. No one scoffs at double strike even at a high cost of 4 mana. Beyond that there appears to be a investigate subtheme in both green and white. That should let you refill your hand if you start running out of cards.

In the previous Innistrad, humans got a benefit from equipment and that seems to have carried over. A few creatures such as Militant Inquisitor care about equipment. The benefits seem minor, so don’t really go out of your way to get them, but the first time I get to attach Neglected Heirloom to Avacynian Missionaries, I’m going to be so happy.

Red-Green (Werewolves)

This deck is pretty straight-forward. Play aggressively costed creatures and turn them sideways. Honestly you can pretty much stop there, but there are a couple things to note beyond that if you want.

The key part to this deck is the werewolves, which explains why it has access to ten common and uncommon flip cards. All werewolves have the same transform requirement: if no player plays a spell, on the next turn they flip over, but if a player plays two spells, they flip back over on the next upkeep. The general upshot of this is that you will only want to play one large spell a turn and possibly another spell in your opponents turn. Assuming you build your deck with that in mind you shouldn’t have too much of a problem.

Beyond the very efficient creatures, green actually has some pretty impressive removal to go along with red. Tailslash has been reprinted as Rabid Bite. Unfortunately it is now a sorcery and is 2 mana, but still it’s an amazing card. Normally fight cards that don’t give any buff aren’t that great, as proven by Unnatural Aggression, but this is just damage equal to your power. Technically this does have a set-up cost, but it is pretty minor you just need a creature. Along with that Moonlight Hunt is just insane. All your wolves and werewolves do damage to an enemy creature. Yes please, well— unless I’m the opponent.

All in all, this is a solid heavy hitter deck and is backed up with a fair amount of removal. I expect this to be a pretty solid deck, so if you find yourself in it, enjoy turning big creatures sideways.

Quick Note: Facing this deck, pick and choose the times you cast two spells. This will hurt your opponent fairly badly, and you need to be able to time it right to take advantage of it. You might find yourself needing to hold a card or two back, just so you can transform them all back at the right time.

Blue-White (Investigation)

Despite me saying that I think Red-Black looks the best, this is the deck I’m most excited to play. I want clues to be good, and I love the flavor of Daring Sleuth. This deck looks fun to play, but I have no idea if the format will be slow enough to support being able to drop 2 mana into clues to draw cards. My first guess is no, because both red-black and red-green look very aggressive and very strong. That being said, I still might force it in my first draft.

The first thing is to stay alive through the early game. Cards such as Seaguard Skaab and Pious Evangel will help you do that. Second is to start using those clue tokens you have been collecting to provide card advantage and help you dig to the cards you need to finish. Finally land a few flyers and protect them; Reaper of the Flight Moonsliver, Stichwing Skaab, and even Spectral Shepard can do in a pinch.

A couple good low-drop defensive creatures followed up by fliers with removal and permission seem to be this deck’s plan. If it starts stumbling hopefully the player can get a clue.

White-Black (Good Cards)

Honestly I was expecting spirits, but after the first five straight-forward strategies, we have fallen down to the unsupported color combos. I would imagine creating a fun draft environment with five supported color combos would be hard enough, so I can’t really blame them for not being able to figure out the full ten.

This deck seems to default to two-color good stuff. Most of the black and white cards are individually powerful, so if you can put a good collection of them together, you should be able to have a pretty good white-black deck. Both white and black have pretty good removal, Murderous Compulsion is a better Sheer Drop, and Angelic Purge, while causing the loss of (most likely) a land, straight up kills any creature.

Both black and white have solid creatures, both fliers and ground dudes, and it seems to have enough discard outlets to probably be able to get to delirium without a problem if that is your goal. All in all, this looks like your standard good card deck: not much synergy, but cards that are individually strong and affect the board.

Red-White (Boros)

Let me preface this with I’m bad at Boros in limited, which is odd, because I play it A LOT in standard. As you will quickly find, this is going to be a repeating theme for the next few color combos, but this doesn’t have a strong synergy or supported subtheme. The key to this deck is aggression. Get out of the gate fast, land a couple creatures and kill everything that gets in your way. If you stall out, burn them down.

This is pretty much your standard red-white deck. Not a lot is special here, but you should be able to land a few strong early creatures such as Dauntless Cathar, Gibbering Fiend, Howlpack Wolf, and Incorrigible Youths and follow that up with Angelic Purge and Lightning Axe, which doubles as a madness enabler.

All in all, come out of the gate swinging and don’t let up until your opponent is dead or has reached 6 mana and is casting spells you can’t really get past.

Blue-Green (?)

Um… This is what, now? I mean since Simic blue-green has been trying to find a place, and I’m not really sure it found one here. Green has an investigate subtheme as well, which might combo well with blue, but it also might not. Most of those creatures are human, and you will be fighting the green-white drafter for those, and they go into his deck better.

All in all, if I had to guess, you would probably end up shooting for a delirium deck. Green has enough delirium payoffs and enablers to make that look good, and blue might be able to help you stall out the game long enough to get the delirium payoffs online. Grab a copy of Ongoing Investigation and hope that helps you get to end game. Maybe… Just maybe pick up a couple of the delirium mill cards, Manic Scribe and Fleeting Memories, and use green to keep you alive long enough to mill them out.

Honestly I don’t really know what this deck is supposed to do. It seems like one of the weaker color combos, but if I’m wrong, please inform me. I would love to know.

Black-Green (Something)

Typically this ends up being a grindy creature deck backed with good black removal. Does it do that here? I don’t think so. There are no graveyard recursion in the green commons and uncommons, and pretty much only Macabre Waltz outside of zombies for black. This looks like another color combo that doesn’t really seem to have a home.

That being said, big creatures backed up by removal can always be okay. It might not be the most synergetic deck, but with good removal that can push your big creatures through for damage, you might be able to put a playable deck together. I don’t recommend looking to draft this, but if you end up here you should be able to put something together.

Red-Blue (Purple)

This color combo is weird. Normally this is your standard tempo deck, but it doesn’t seem to really work out that way in practice here. Blue wants to be at least a little controlling, and red doesn’t want that at all. I hate to come out and say this is a trap, but unless I’m missing something, this doesn’t seem to mesh together at all.

I guess you could land a few aggressive red creatures and back it up with bounce and counter spells, but that doesn’t seem like the best strategy. They two colors are pulling in opposite directions. Blue wants to bog the game down and win with incremental advantage and red just wants to smash. The only way I really see this working is primarily blue with red for removal or heavy red with blue for tempo plays. Unless I’m missing something try avoiding this color combination unless it is really and truly open.

 
  1. Thanks for the post. I really enjoyed the old Innistrad block and I am glad Wizards are returning to it. The links to the card images are particularly useful for new sets as you would to search for the cards otherwise. Hope to read more from you!

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