An Uncommon Synergy Part 2

Noah Weil continues his epic review of all the Innistrad uncommons for Limited. Take a peek and see how much you agree with his evaluations!

Welcome back! Today is part 2: red, green, and colorless cards.


Burning Vengeance

Starting off with one of the potentially dominating cards in Innistrad Limited, Vengeance is a card that requires serious deck warping, while offering serious rewards.

Is it impossible to throw in Burning Vengeance in a “normal” deck? No, but the odds of it coming together are relatively rare. The best flashback spells for Vengeance are the worst for board impact, e.g. Dream Twist, Desperate Ravings, Think Twice, Purify the Grave, etc. It’s hard to make that “normal” deck when you have Vengeance, which does nothing on its own, plus Ravings and Think Twices everywhere, which do nothing on their own. I would suggest you need at least 5 flashback cards before Burning Vengeance is worth starting. I’d probably go to 4 if they were all Geistflames, but that clearly doesn’t come up much.

The ideal Vengeance deck is one dedicated to flashback. In these decks more Vengeances are better because they will trigger so reliably. The most common deck of these is probably a mill deck, with Dream Twist and Runic Repetition doing the heavy lifting. Vengeance controls the board or acts as an alternative win condition.

The second most common use is a Delver of Secrets build, with Desperate Ravings and Think Twice to keep the action flowing. Things have to come together pretty well, but if the deck does it’s often the most powerful at the table. An active Vengeance is potent enough to jump through some hoops.

Can Burning Vengeance go anywhere else besides R/U or mono-Geistflame? Possible but really unlikely. Cards like Travel Preparations or Sever the Bloodline don’t need the help. Burning Vengeance was definitely designed to be maximized in R/U and that’s what you should expect to be. That means how high you take it is going to require a little foresight on how likely you think R/U is and/or how many more flashback cards you think you’ll get. Usually Burning Vengeance tables once, for what it’s worth.

Best use: A dedicated Vengeance deck. It has a little reach for mainstream decks but its best use is with decks that can quickly and reliably start dealing two a turn. It’s niche enough most decks shouldn’t want it.

Curse of the Nightly Hunt

Comments: Instigator-type effects have had a range of values through Magic’s history, from unplayable all the way to mediocre. This card falls somewhere in the middle.

The first question is what you’re trying to do with this card? One use is as a semi-permanent, semi-effective Falter. This is a pretty weak use, as Falter’s best play is as the last spell you play in a game. Your opponent seeing it coming, with opportunity to adjust, negates its whole purpose. Plus how well can you really race while you’re taking all their damage, and you spent your third turn to play an immaterial enchantment?

The other use is as a build-your-own Abyss, with your opponent’s creatures walking into your army’s maw. This isn’t wholly worthless, but let’s see what has to go right:

  1. You need bigger creatures than your opponent
  2. Your creatures need to be on the same plane, i.e. flyers vs. flyers or ground vs. ground; and
  3. You need to have this Curse in play when it actually does something. In other words, you have an overwhelming force but you’re not already winning.

Can it happen? Sure, but already we’re squarely into the narrow sideboard category. This card cannot be a maindeck card because you can’t know if your opponent’s deck will play ball with yours. Needless to say, the defensive requirements inherent to use this card do not necessarily play with red’s strengths.

In my experience, the best use for this card is to pair it with green, for, e.g., Grave Bramble. All this stuff comes late, and some white or black decks do have a problem getting through. W/B in particular wants its Sentries and Mobs to die in the correct order. Against that deck, messing with their combat step can do good things. If it comes together great, but we can already see this card is extremely narrow in effect.

Best use: Sideboard against decks that care about a particular brand of combat. Don’t be too optimistic here, even when the Curse is good it’s rarely that good. Since it requires warping your deck to maximize, only bring it in if you have a realistic belief in it being worth it.

Desperate Ravings

Comments: A slightly underrated card, Desperate Ravings can play almost anywhere, although shines in (of course) R/U graveyard-based decks.

At its weaker stage, when flashing it back is unlikely, Ravings works to put two cards in the graveyard at no card disadvantage. For this set, for two mana, that’s not a terrible thing. Harvest Pyre is the card most likely to benefit from this, but Geistflames and Zombies are fine with it too. Statistically speaking, Ravings is unlikely you to cost you the best card in your deck, or even your hand, although it can of course happen. If you absolutely, positively cannot lose a particular card, Ravings gets worse. That’s a strike.

Ravings gets a lot more interested when you can reliably flash it back, and want to. Ravings is a hallmark of Delver of Secrets/Burning Vengeance decks. Ravings consistently (but slowly) fills up your graveyard, and at card advantage to boot. In those decks it’s better than Think Twice, although not enormously so. Still, the potential to synergize alongside card advantage makes Ravings a happy pick, if not a particularly high one.

Best use: Aside from the obvious R/U builds, the real trick is knowing when Ravings is good, even if it’s not maximized. You’ll see this all the time: people not playing an off-color flashback card because they can’t cast both halves, or the other way, trying too hard to shoehorn both halves in. Some decks wanted Lava Spike even without Arcane/Splice nonsense, just like some decks want a Bump. Ravings can fit into normal red decks, curve and graveyard depending.

Hanweir Watchkeep

Comments: One of the best werewolves available, Watchkeep is the also the second best red 3-drop, after Kruin Outlaw. Unlike most of the other werewolves, especially the red ones, Watchkeep plays two distinct roles and does so very well.

Defensively, a 1/5 will hold off the ground. It’s rarely what red wants to do, but it certainly happens. R/U likes the defense, as do some slower R/B builds. Once in a while the fact you can’t attack with it early matters, but the enormous power boost on the flip side usually makes up for it.

And wow, what power we are talking about. Five is an enormous chunk, crashing through almost every creature in the set, especially at that mana level. As a very welcome bonus, red is particularly good at negating the blocks of those creatures that can effectively interact with a 5/5, making it a creature that’s very good at eating life points and/or other creatures.

The downsides to this creature aren’t many. You have your standard werewolf unreliability, although in practice it’s controllable easy enough. The requirement to attack is an issue, although often if you want the 5/5 for defense things are a bit askew anyway. One annoying defender is the Ulvenwald Mystics, perfectly consuming your flipped creature (wolf-Bane wolfsbane). While red can deal with the situation, it’s not ideal.

Still, except for the corner cases, Watchkeep has the ability to dramatically affect the board in both forms. It’s a high pick that, in play, no opponent can comfortably ignore.

Best use: For whatever needs you have, Watchkeep does the job. Dedicated werewolf decks particularly like this guy, as it fits the curve and has genuine impact. Defensively he’s fine but somewhat replaceable with, e.g. One-Eyed Scarecrow. But on the aggro side it’s a true monster, with only the werewolf mechanic preventing him from running havoc. It’s somewhat rare you’ll want it night-triggered as soon as you cast it, but the imposing size makes up for lost time. Find a Nightbird’s Clutches somewhere and you’ll be plenty happy with its performance.   

Into the Maw of Hell

Comments: The ultimate in pinpoint removal, you can bet that whatever you target with this spell will end up dead (plus a land).

The question is whether that effect is worth the cost. A pure 2:1, Into the Maw represents an insurance policy rather than actually promoting your own game. Like Geistcatcher’s Rig (below), you feel safe having it, but it doesn’t synergize with much.

Six-mana removal spells really should be Desert Twisters, and this one is. The issue is simply whether you’ll be up to six by the time you need it. Probably yes, but if it reflects the weakness of the card: it works best as a follow-up to other removal. Like Tribute to Hunger, it’s soft as your only removal spell. In those cases you’d rather have another beater than “insurance.”

The land killing aspect is a perfectly fine bonus but it’s never why you have the card. Sometimes it comes up and it’s relevant and wonderful and game-ending, but those are the exceptions, not the rule. This is pinpoint removal with tiny upside, not some kind Flame Wave dominator.

What all this means is that Into the Maw isn’t the most efficient card in the world. It looks good on paper but it has a problem allowing you to compete with, or make, tier 1 decks. Those decks are known for tight curves and strong internal synergy, and Into the Maw provides neither. Taking Into the Maw early is a pick for defense, not ambition. Draft accordingly.

Best use: Into the Maw’s best use is as either killing their ultimate threat, or as another weapon in a control deck’s arsenal. For the former it works pretty well, guaranteeing to kill their bomb or preventing them from casting it in the first place. But its best use is just in the all-removal deck, a deck that allows you the defense to get to six to continue the removal fest. Innistrad cards don’t often support this strategy but once in a while it comes together. In another set this might be a strong pick, but here you’ll rarely want to take it too early.

Rage Thrower

Comments: Like Noble and a couple others, Rage Thrower is a slow Overrun, allowing you to cast it and attack with everything, indifferent to your opponent blocking or not. Rage Thrower similarly lets you play the game at another wavelength, which is a good thing.

What’s not a good thing is spending six mana for a 4/2 human. Those stats are barely worth it at four mana, and six is a lot more than four. This creates Rage Thrower’s major issue: timing. Can you have six mana and the board state to effectively use the Thrower?

Thrower loves combat and parity because it breaks both wide open. Cast Rage Thrower and grind your high power/low toughness creatures into the fray. The problem is that those creatures cost two and three and four, which means they’ve often done their business by the time Rage Thrower hits play. As a raw six-drop creature, Rage Thrower loses combat with everything, making it fairly weak on the “intrinsic value” scale. It is a creature, and that’s always worth something. Weak butt or no, it would be much, much worse as a six-mana enchantment with the same ability. The ability to get in there is what those decks want to do. The fact you’re quasi-indifferent to their board is also appealing.

In the end Rage Thrower is the poor man’s dragon. It possesses the possibility to take the game over, but a lot of pieces have to align to truly maximize. If you need reach it’s better than nothing, but often Nightbird’s Clutches or the like can get you the same net effect. If you truly think you’ll get to six mana and have a reasonable army left in play by then, more power to you.

Best use: You probably start Rage Thrower more often than not, but it’s unlikely to be your best card. After sideboarding however, it very well may be. Some decks really do get into stalemates with an opponent and Rage Thrower breaks those game-states wide open. It does work as a finisher, but you should definitely have the rest of the pieces in place first.

Rakish Heir

Comments: Vampish indeed, Heir is a card that can take over a game but in practice looks better on paper than operates in real life.

The synergy of Heir is obvious: B/R vampires and plenty of them. Interlopers into Heirs into rawr! The issues are also obvious: a grey ogre with no impact on the board. Unlike some other cards (better cards), Heir requires playing a very conventional game. To maximize it, you need to attack with your creatures and have them deal damage to your opponent. Whee.

Like Cannibals, Heir can lead to a nut draw from which your opponent can never escape. Like Cannibals, you can also work like crazy to trigger it, but that’s rarely enough to win a game.

I’m happy to bench this guy, and if I have literally no other vampires, I’d probably play Riot Devils or one of the wolves over him. If I can start turning him on without trying too hard, or we start getting into Vampiric Fury land, sure he has a role. Just don’t expect +1/+1 counters to flow like rain when he’s around. He’s no Rage Forger.

Best use: Indifference. The bonus isn’t quite enough to bend a deck around him, so the ideal is just a normal creature on the curve. B/R with vampires is fine, and he also starts to get interesting in multiples. As long as you like him but don’t need him, he’s eminently playable.

Reckless Waif

Comments: An interesting card, the format’s style has changed her dynamics considerably. Originally we thought she’d be an unbeatable turn one play into an otherwise slow format. Now we know what while she does beat face, she also has a role in defending against those fast starts. That flexibility and her ability to steal wins make her completely reasonable.

One the mise side, on the play, on turn one you have one of the best starts in the format. If they don’t lead with Amulet or Torch you can knock six or more points off the bat. That alone makes her worthwhile.

But I do appreciate that she has a use late game. A 3/2 can trade with most mid-level creatures, and playing her plus something else is a fine way to interact with opposing werewolves. She’s hardly a windmill slam but every red deck should appreciate having one available.

Best use: The stats don’t quite support a dedicated werewolf deck a la Moonmist or Full Moon’s Rise, but you would still play her there. Her best use is simply as a good creature, with the ability to steal wins early or trade up later. As long as you can reliably case her turn one, 9+ mountains, she’ll do you fine.  

Rolling Temblor

Comments: When I first saw this card I thought it was Shower of Coals with flashback, an utter wrecking that you could double up. More playing has revealed that Temblor is neither the first nor second coming. But interestingly, it plays better against better decks.

The simple question with effects like this is how much you expect the card to affect the board. That means both your opponent and your own deck. Red is somewhat burdened by small-bottomed creatures, which can make Temblor less than ideal. But the fact you play creatures doesn’t make Wrath unplayable, so that’s not an enormous issue.

The true issue is how often you can expect to scoop up your opponent’s stuff. That question wildly depends on what they’re playing. Red decks for sure, rarely blue, sometimes black, white, or green. All this is to say whether you impact them with Temblor is a tough to predict.

But it can do good things. B/R and G/W can both get taken for an utter ride by this card, which alone probably means it’s worth starting. You can get away with not maindecking it if the cards you passed support the decision. Since most of the cards Temblor hits are not early picks, you can make an informed decision on this point. In any event it makes a terrific sideboard card.

Best use: The best use for Temblor is a deck indifferent to its effects, which can mean Burning Vengeance, white fliers, green ground pounders, or Riot Devils. Pick it up relatively early since it’s backbreaking if the stars align, but you still need a way to win. Unlike, say, Brimstone Valley it is neither an automatic pick nor automatic inclusion.   

Scourge of Geier Reach

Comments: Scourge is a strong card that suffers from being the worst of its competition. Like a lot of other cards in this set, in another format it would be amazing. Alas, context is everything.

Here Scourge is competing with Night Revelers and Pitchburn Devils, and that’s just in color. Almost every color has a quality five drop that outclasses Scourge, even if Scourge is reliably 5/5 or bigger. I would definitely take or play Pitchburn Devils first, and usually Revelers second.

The issue with Scourge is that it doesn’t change the board dynamics. If you’re winning it’s fine, but so are the rest of your cards. If you’re losing it barely changes the situation at all, which can’t be said of the competing five-drops. An inability to meaningfully impact the board is always a problem for Limited cards. You know how a card like this plays. Ultimately it’s up to you to determine if it’s an effect you want. For most red decks, at that price, it’s not.

Best use: Combat-wise, it eats most creatures it gets in fights with. If you care about that kind of thing you’re in a good place. And sometimes you do, if your opponent is all Fortress Crabs and Armored Skaabs, cards which can annoy red decks. But frankly your deck should be able to deal with that stuff anyway. Five-drop ground creatures come and go. Get your Crossroad Vampires and Clutches for more unique effects and to maximize getting through. Scourge only works best when nothing else is available.

Skirsdag Cultist

Comments: Cultist is one of those cards that requires a little breathing room to set up, but can quickly take over a game. It also plays with plenty of this set’s tricks, making it a potential all-star.

On its own, Cultist’s best use is if the board is stalled out or you need to do those last few points. In that way it functions like Falkenrath Noble or Rage Thrower: slightly overpriced but dominating if it gets to live. While a deck of all Cultists would be terrible, it plays very well in a deck of faster or more resilient creatures as another avenue of attack.

Trick-wise, there’s always Traitorous Blood or morbid. It quasi-counters your opponent’s hard removal, which is nice. You’ve also got the perfect answer to opposing Bonds of Faith or Claustrophobias, which is not an inconsequential advantage. If you can find the timing to keep him out for a turn (Night Terrors?) you’ve got a lightning rod for the rest of the game. That’s strong.

The drawback is that if he’s too small for combat, his ability is also too small to matter. Turbo Villagers of Esther or Chapel Geists can walk right past him. Sure you can chump with something and throw to your opponent for two, but that’s probably not a sustainable strategy. Almost every color has some common creatures that can safely ignore the Cultist. All that means is that the rest of your deck has to be able to handle that stuff, or ignore it. You never cut Cultist, but be careful that your deck maintains a range of mana costs and board presence. Cultist isn’t good for either.

Best use: You do not want Cultist to be the first creature you play. Two-drop three-drop Cultist, on the other hand, is fantastic. These are the kinds of decks that can play Traitorous Blood for the primary effect, so getting bonuses from Cultist is gravy. Since it’s so small it’s not a good defensive creature. But as part of a proactive or finisher strategy, Cultist is great.


Boneyard Wurm

Comments: Boneyard Wurm is another card that looks like it should be powerful, but in practice is underwhelming. The potential is there, but you need a dedicated deck to even consider running it over a more reliable creature.

There are a couple issues with Wurm. The biggest one is of course that it needs something dead before it can even be played. I suppose you could dump it turn two to set up a turn-three Stitched Drake, but that’s not an ideal sequence. In a normal deck, Wurm is a late-game card.

And that’s the second issue. How big does Wurm have to be for it to be viable? In a normal deck, odds are you’ll get an equivalent or better creature for the turn you play it. For example, will you really have four creatures dead by turn five? If you don’t, you want Grizzled Outcasts instead. Six creatures dead by turn six? If you don’t you want Kindercatch. It’s not quite a fair comparison since Wurm always costs two, but that benefit is outweighed by the fact Wurm is unreliable, and often won’t do anything. You don’t want Wurm or Kindercatch in your opening hand, but at least you know where you stand when you get to six mana. Boneyard Wurm in your opener is almost a pure mulligan.

But that discussion is towards a “normal” deck. If you have a dedicated mill theme, blue cards, or turbo-Mulch, Wurm gets a bit better. A bit, unfortunately, because odds are you’re still talking 4/4 or 5/5 for two, more often than not. That’s not bad but if the rest of your deck is Impulses and Horned Turtles, you’re going to need more. Needless to say, the Stitched theme and Boneyard Wurm aren’t ideal travelling buddies.

You can certainly side in Wurm against removal-heavy decks, but those are the decks where Outcasts and Kindercatches really shine anyway. A mill opponent, on the other hand, does allow Boneyard Wurm to flourish. Taken all together, it’s a pretty narrow card.

Best use: U/G semi-mill. Enough Deranged Assistants and Forbidden Alchemies to at least get to 3/3, but not so over the top you don’t have any offense left. It plays a role, but the rewards just aren’t there to build around it.


Comments: Bramblecrush suffers from being the worst tempo play in the format. You will certainly kill almost anything, be it Bonds or equipment or Liliana, but you will almost never save mana on the deal. It’s utterly reactive, requiring your opponent to do something you want stopped to even see the light of the day. On your turn you get to spend your mana undoing what your opponent already accomplished. That’s not what Innistrad wants generally, and it’s really not what green wants specifically.

I would never maindeck this card unless I needed to win on pure luck, but I suppose the draft packs could indicate whether it’s worth it. Loads of Bonds of Faith or Claustrophobia or Butcher’s Cleavers (and no Naturalize?) could permit it to be played. But frankly I would start Naturalize 100% of the time first. It actually allows you some proactive play. A four-mana sorcery just can’t.

Best use: You could bring this in at a few instances: to kill a splash (after they’ve tapped mana once), kill a planeswalker (after they’ve activated it once), or as excess Naturalizes. None of those things are very good, which describes Bramblecrush precisely.

Full Moon’s Rise

Comments: My vote for the second most underrated uncommon of the set, I’m extremely fond of this card. Very few other people seem to be, so you can take my valuation with a grain of salt.

But what I like here is that it plays perfectly with that green and werewolves are trying to do, while also addressing some weaknesses. You do want to be attacking, and your opponent chump blocking really is a problem. +1/+0 and trample isn’t fancy, but it does the job. White decks in particular, with their Hauntings and Doomed Travelers, hate this card.

The regeneration ability is kind of the opposite effect. While the power bonus is great if you have an army out, the regen is for maintaining your singleton werewolf, be it a rare one or just what happens to be in play. Whether to sacrifice the enchantment to save a werewolf is obviously completely dependent on context, but frankly you’re happy to be there.

The real issue is how many werewolves you have to run before Rise becomes viable. I think five, preferably two and three-drop ones. A couple werewolves, then Rise plus another creature, is a great turn. You can lower that number if you have a bomb werewolf like Instigator Gang or Mayor.

The best part is that almost nobody else wants this card, so you can and should get them late. The werewolves are very strong, and this card can put them right over the top.

Best use: Blasphemous Act? Otherwise I think we know where this goes: the more werewolves the better. It doesn’t work how you hope it would against Typhoid Rats, but some things can’t be helped. You don’t have to maindeck it necessarily, but when it’s good it’s very powerful, especially for the cost. Yet another card that can change the tenor of the game completely.

Gatstaf Shepherd

Comments: Gatstaf Shepherd looked good when the spoiler came out, but it turned out to actually be amazing. A great mana cost and the surprisingly useful intimidate makes Shepherd green’s best uncommon.

There’s nothing too fancy here. Bears are great in this format, as are 3/3s and evasion and humans. Gatstaf Shepherd is part of the fastest G/x decks, which are often the best decks at the table. He probably doesn’t go before the first Prey Upon, but he might.

Best use: Beats, go. If your deck wants a mana curve this guy fits. He’s not flashy; he just fits very well into any aggressive green deck. If you have any kind of normal draw around him, you’re doing great.

Hamlet Captain

Comments: I see this guy go late and I’m not sure why. Like Shepherd, he’s an aggressive card that fits into what green wants to do.

The difference between him and Shepherd is that Captain needs a little help to get going. You can and do play him as a straight bear, but to really maximize you need a league of humans. Don’t you want him? I keep feeling fascination on how subtly it can take over a game.

The appeal of Captain is the deck built around it, including their very effective ability to work in multiples. A pair of Captains is all you need to have a nice ground presence, but add some Pilgrims and Villagers of Estwald and you really get going.

Their ability to work when blocking is odd and rarely comes up, but it’s a nice perk. Things are a little funky if you’re using them to block but if you can get value with your other humans along the way, so be it. I definitely take this below a Prey Upon or two. I usually take Darkthicket Wolf over him too, but if I feel like G/W is happening, or that another one will table, Hamlet Captain is very viable. It’s a strong card that can create a blowout, and you should be happy to have him.

Best use: G/W aggro, by a wide margin. Some Captain, some other humans, and a Travel Preparations is a tier 1 deck in Innistrad. He gets worse if you don’t have lots of little critters around him, but for the cost-to-mana stats alone, he’s always a comfortable include.

Hollowhenge Scavenger

Comments: Scavenger delivers exactly what it promises: a 4/5 that sometimes gains you some life. Is that what a player wants?

Sometimes it is, but don’t try too hard for it. Scavenger is not a bad card by any means but it has a few strikes against it. For one, five mana is a lot. For another, if a green deck does want to pay five mana, they have plenty of choices. Maybe Scavenger is the best of them, maybe it’s not, but the difference between Scavenger and Spider isn’t that different. But the biggest strike of all is that the morbid ability simply isn’t reliable.

If Scavenger gained a guaranteed five life when it was summoned, no question it would be a strong card. Any tempo loss you had from playing a five-mana creature, especially if you were mana shy, would be erased in a moment. And certainly, a creature that big with five life attached is great for swinging any kind of race. Hey guess what, I’d also play Festerhide Boar every time if it was a guaranteed 5/5 trampler for four. Et tu, Jade Leech?

But as we know, morbid is not a reliable trigger. And unlike Morkrut Banshee, not only are Scavenger’s stats relatively fungible, the trigger isn’t game-breaking either. All this means you can draft Scavenger and play it, but don’t expect any miracles. I spend my early picks to keep my curve low, and find a five-drop ground pounder if and when I want one.

Best use: The more likely you can create morbid the better this card is. That’s pretty obvious but the real trick is knowing when that happens. That’s likely combat, which means any deck you have that you think will create trades makes Scavenger better. Someone on this site once said it’s the last fatty that kills them, and if your stuff and their stuff are trading off, Scavenger looks pretty imposing. Just don’t bend over backwards trying to trigger it and you’ll be happy enough with the creature.


Comments: One of the more contentious cards in the set, Lumberknot is the epitome of potential over substance. I think Lumberknot is overrated, but a lot of people swear he’s an out and out bomb. They are wrong.

The turn you play Lumberknot is a turn where you didn’t do anything. Depending on your draw that can be irrelevant or fatal. The question is twofold: are you stabilized so that the non-turn won’t kill you and/or would a “normal” creature have killed your opponent faster than Lumberknot?

Let’s talk about the good stuff: Lumberknot cannot be killed. If you don’t want it to die, it will live forever. You might die, but your Lumberknot is safe and sound, removed from the troubles of the world. If, mayhap, you kill or trade off some creatures Lumberknot will Lumberhave blood on its hands (branches). If you’ve got the time to set up Lumberknot, and you want to play a ground game, Lumberknot can start Abyssing your opponent. It totally happens!

But like many other cards in the set, the rewards don’t quite justify the expense. A lot of things have to go right for Lumberknot to thrive, and only some decks can make it happen. Those decks are unusual for green decks though, who function on a series of escalating threats. Lumberknot gives your opponent at least a turn two reprieve before it’s big enough to start rustling in.

Ultimately Lumberknot looks good, and it can steal wins, but the consistency is a big problem. Algae Gharial had devour and Khabal Ghoul had Pestilence. For Innistrad Limited, the cards are rarely there for Lumberknot to dominate.

Best use: The slower the game, the better Lumberknot becomes. Whether it’s because of your build or your opponent’s, Lumberknot functions best when it has time to grow. Most green decks don’t operate that way, but some do. If you have the cards to support it, Lumberknot can do everything you hope.       

Make a Wish

Comments: Wish for more wishes! Wish for more wishes! I really, really appreciate this card doesn’t exile itself. But is it good?

As a matter of fact it is. Make a Wish is a strict 2:1 and if you’re not getting silly milling yourself, you pick up two cards you actually want. If you run silly tricks like Harvest Pyre, you can guarantee what you get.

The question for Wish is if you have time to use the cards you get back. Make a Wish is frequently your play for the turn, so you’re happy if you can play those two spells on the following turn. Prey Upon, a fantastic “target” that lets you cast Wish and Prey in one turn, giving you a card advantage and tempo boost. In fact Make a Wish shines the more 1cc and 2cc spells you have in your deck. Dead Weight, Traveler’s Amulets, etc. all play very well.

I will take Make a Wish fairly high because I build my decks with curve in mind, and it’s a nice Plan B if the aggro rush doesn’t pan out. If your opponent Rebukes and Volleys away your first few creatures, Make a Wish can subtly end the game as soon as you cast it. It plays better against better decks, a nice attribute.

Best use: Double up your removal spells. Get back those Dead Weights and Victims of Night and Tributes and what have you. After that, picking up some dead Darkthicket Wolves or Villagers of Endive. Even if you have only one good card and a dumb Pilgrim, the good card is simply that card with bonus, and that’s a’ok. Don’t forget about that 5,000 XP cost!

Spider Spawning

Comments: Spider Spawning is a tricky card. It’s fairly strong but unless you have a vulnerable opponent, it needs some help to get going.

First let’s talk about what you need. On a straight cast, no flashback, you need a minimum of four spiders, and possibly more, to justify the cast. That’s because you have to compare it against green’s other five drops. Some can be less powerful, but they’re all a lot more consistent. Green wants that consistent pressure, and possibly skipping a five-drop to wait to have more stuff die is not really where those decks want to be.

When we add a consistent flashback we can loosen up a little. Even a pair of spiders is adequate on the first cast if we can consistently get the mana and guys going to cast it for three or more on the return side. Green and black don’t always pair together synergy-wise, but Spider Spawning can make up for a lot. You have a more controlling build now, and that’s ok.

Then you can get really special, a U/G/b or U/B/g deck that self-mills and can really kick Spawning into high gear. We’re talking four or more spiders on the first cast, and a teeny tiny MODO screen on the second. Now you have an archetype and the rewards, which are way above Boneyard Wurm or Splinterfright. It can be a little a slow, but a wall of 1/2 spiders can also shut down a lot of decks.

And finally you have the vulnerable decks, U/W mostly, who really don’t want to see even three spiders out. You can put all three on a Chapel Geist or Delver and have room for chump blocking later. These decks thrive on racing in the air and tempo, and Spider Spawning does a good job of interfering with both. That makes Spider Spawning a sideboard card, but an effective and proactive one.

Best use: Blue derived self-mill decks, with a Grotto or rare land to reliably cast both halves. Those spiders can gum up the ground something fierce, which can permit guaranteed damage in alpha strikes, or merely the time to utilize the rest of your deck. If you’re not dedicated mill you need to see how likely you will have to get dead creatures by certain key turns. But as a sideboard card, Spawning works quite well against some decks, which lets you comfortably lower your standards for its inclusion.

Ulvenwald Mystics

Comments: Not a very complicated card, Mystics is best used for filling out your curve and showing your tablemates what your deck is all about.

Yes they are powerful but once you start going into four mana and higher, all green decks have plenty of options. Mystics are among the best of those options, but I’d still take Prey Upon first and look to fill out my curve with Festerhide Boar or the like later.

Once in a while he will trump an opponent, usually someone playing Hanweir Watchkeep or Galvanic Juggernaut. It doesn’t come up that often, but it’s a nice perk.

But usually you have a creature that’s imposing, but easily Silent Departured or Volleyed. The high price starts to cost you tempo, which means you need a much lower curve. Mystics is a great third spell you cast, not so much as your first. Again, because expensive cards are easier to get than cheaper ones, Mystics is more replaceable than, say, Darkthicket Wolves.

Best use: Mystics are great in a dedicated werewolf deck, the kind featuring Full Moon’s Rise and Moonmist. Otherwise you have a very strong creature, maybe your best four drop. If that’s what your deck wants or needs, you can be happy to pick him up. Otherwise he makes a great signal to the rest of the real-life table, making him a higher pick in real life than online.

Wreath of Geists

Comments: When we have Spectral Flight and Furor of the Bitten for a guaranteed +2/+2, plus other bonuses(!), why would we ever play Wreath? Or phrased another way, how big does Wreath have to get to justify its inclusion?

Wreath is at a tricky spot. You need to have creatures, to actually enchant. But it’s not a creature itself, nor a mill card, nor a flashback card. That means your “reward” is at odds with the rest of your deck, which is hardly synergistic. That means things have to align pretty well to get benefit, which in this case is probably +4/+4 or higher. That’s ok, not great. Wreath of Geists is a weak package for Limited play.

Best use: Invisible Stalker ideally, or any evasion in G/U mill. Spectral Flight is still usually better, sometimes even Curiosity, but Wreath makes a reasonable substitute. It’s pretty hard to be happy you’re playing with it, although sometimes you’re content with the end result.


Ghost Quarter

Comments: Ghost Quarter’s unique ability is to trade something for nothing. To pull off this feat, you get to play a colorless land in the worst possible place, a tempo-oriented format. Whee.

There are two ways to play the Quarter. The first is as a terrible, terrible Shimmering Grotto. If we were talking about Coalition Victory or Allied Strategies rewards…it would still be pretty bad. But this set doesn’t have anything near that level. The only time to use Ghost Quarter on your land is when that land was targeted by a spell, or pumping up your own Harvest Pyre. Neither is great, and neither happens often.

The other use is to kill an opposing land, a land with an effect obviously. There are a few problems with this plan. Like all narrow reactive cards, you’re hoping your deck’s answer aligns with their deck’s threat. Along the way you either have a screwed up color balance or a blank spell. Not ideal.

The tertiary problem there is of the five rare lands you want to kill; Moorland Haunt and Gavony Township create permanent effects on the board. That means even if the draws align so that you can kill those lands, they may have done their thing already.

That leads Bloodhall, Wolf Run, and Drownyard as “viable” targets. Bloodhall is sloooooow, so much you’d rather have another threat or even Gnaw to the Bone over Quarter.

You can justify anti-Wolf Run if it’s a card you have trouble with. Some decks actually do fold to a Wolf Run, so it’s not completely unheard of. I wouldn’t be happy to run it, but I could justify it.

I do like it against dedicated Drownyard decks though. Drownyard is slow enough that even if your colors get screwed up, you’re unlikely to be under the pressure to make it fatal. It’s possible future sets have more lands you want to stop. For now Ghost Quarter is another extremely narrow sideboard option.

Best use: Their Drownyard and your hopes. If they are playing dedicated mill you may as well make Ghost Quarter one of the eight cards you add in anyway.

Butcher’s Cleaver

Comments: “It’s not Warhammer!” “It’s too slow!” “They’ll just kill your guy in response!” Hey hey guys, ease up on the hatchet job.

Cleaver is no Warhammer, but thankfully for Limited matches, most cards aren’t. Instead, Cleaver is a significant power increase at a significant mana investment. Luckily lifelink lets you recoup that investment. Which means whether Cleaver is worth the price means determining how likely you’ll be to maximize it.

The times it’s minimally impactful is when you have to choose between equipping a creature vs. flashing back Think Twice or casting Ghoulraiser or something along those lines. Three mana is a turn’s worth. Is making a creature +3/+0 a good use of a turn? Especially when you count the initial casting.

It is worth it, when your turns don’t involve incremental card advantage. Giving Chapel Geist +3/+0 is probably better than another Unruly Mob or Elder Cathar or some other random dude. Also Cleaver plays really well humans. Humans! It’s right on the card!

Sans fancy tricks, Cleaver is probably the best of the array of equips available to drafters. Every color can pack humans, even if some are better than others. I don’t take it too highly until I know I have the deck that can support it, but in those decks it can be an all-star. It may be slightly overrated, but it can certainly turn a game.

Best use: Invisible Stalker + Cleaver is dumb. Dummmmmmb. I should keep a running tally of games that go t2 Stalker, t3 Cleaver, other player snap-concedes. Otherwise you want inexpensive creatures and/or evasive creatures. Doomed Traveler and Village Ironsmith, creatures in that line, are excellent equipees. 

Cellar Door

Comments: Another big mana investment for ephemeral rewards, Cellar Door is a mana sink at best. It’s not a great card.

Cellar Door doesn’t have to be fast, but you want some consistency for all the mana you’re throwing down. Given an average of 15 creatures per Limited deck, the odds of hitting on Door are about 38%. That means you’ll be spending an average of seven mana to make a single 2/2. Not impressive numbers.

The contrarians will point out that you can mill your flashback cards, giving you a win/win scenario if you don’t hit dudes. That’s cute and all, but odds are the turn you flash back Think Twice or Geistflame is a turn you’re not activating Cellar Door. So slow! What is your opponent doing all this time?

Cellar Door is, if not reasonable, adequate as a source of card advantage in a control deck. If you are stabilized behind Scarecrows and Crabs, Cellar Door isn’t a horrendous way to eke out more incremental advantage. It’s practically impossible to use it enough to start winning with it, but a few successful activations lets you maintain your iron grip for the eventual win condition.

Finally, the card is really annoying to attack into. It’s a tiny little moat in the beginning of the game, pervasively threatening a grey ogre to block your “real” creature. It doesn’t make the card good, but you do get some small perk when Cellar Door can play both early or late. Still woefully underpowered.

Best use: Have nothing better to do with your mana. I’d think about playing it only in heavy control builds, mill decks, deeply dedicated graveyard decks that went askew, or if I had no other two mana cards. The latter two are not positions you should be in, making Cellar Door a Band-Aid to a draft off the rails. It’s better than nothing, but not by a whole lot.  

Demonmail Hauberk

Comments: As a “straight” equipment, Hauberk is just decent. Upgrading a creature is fine, and the power boost is significant, but the small toughness increase means it’s far too easy to get card disadvantage in mutually destructive combat. And that’s not even talking about those brutal Silent Departures.

But Hauberk is good with all the tricks of the set. Filling your graveyard with creatures, triggering morbid, triggering death-triggers; Hauberk does it all, and at no mana cost. Those perks, plus the significant power boost, mean Hauberk has a useful role to play.

Where you don’t want Hauberk is when your creatures are few and powerful. Orchard Spirit is an ok target, but most green decks don’t want to sacrifice a werewolf to pump up another one. In fact, the more likely your creatures are to be blocked, the worse the equipment gets. Obviously by contrast, Hauberk is very strong in evasive decks, especially on (shudder) Invisible Stalker.

Best use: Token decks, morbid decks, evasive decks. Four power is a terrific boost on any kind of evasive creature, requiring an answer very quickly. Of course the cost is high, so you can’t just activate it with abandon. Hopefully you only use it once or twice to set up your board, which is just fine. Great sideboard against opposing auras too.  

Galvanic Juggernaut

Comments: Galvanic Juggernaut is among the best creatures in power-to-mana ratio, and that alone makes it a worthwhile pick. The fact it goes into almost any deck is also welcome. Galvanic Juggernaut is definitely one of the stronger uncommons in this set.

Galvanic Juggernaut plays two roles, interchangeably. The first is as an enormous beater. Juggernaut does a good job at that, but interestingly gets better in the late game. Your opponent has no problem going to 15, but going to 5? To 3? Juggernaut is a mean card when you force your opponent to chump block, which only happens late game.

The other role is as a vigilant creature. This is a nice perk, although clearly not a reliable one. But since it does shut down the ground so well, you can adjust the order of your spells some, to ensure it’s untapped after combat. Admittedly those turns don’t come together that often, but you’re doing something right when you can turn its bug into a feature.

Best use: As a colorless enormous creature, Galvanic Juggernaut goes in almost everything. It’s definitely the best Prey Upon target in the set, for whatever that’s worth. You need a little finesse to play it at the right time, but not a whole lot. 5/5s are always good.

Geistcatcher’s Rig

Comments: Rig is a great card in sealed deck, but in draft it can run slightly slow. The issue is that it rarely pushes your agenda forward, since it’s too expensive to be reliably in play. That being said, it’s a great insurance policy, able to kill a host of problematic creatures and block the rest.

Rig can be the best card for the situation, but it’s never the best card in your deck. That makes it eminently playable, but also means it should taken well below cards that proactively help you win. I’ve rarely kept it in the sideboard, but I certainly don’t take it that high unless the need presents itself.

When should you hold onto the Rig you drew? When the 4/5 doesn’t affect the board. Holding it to pop a flier later is a bit optimistic. There are 27 fliers in Innistrad, give or take, depending how you define things like Midnight Haunting or Manor Gargoyle. But every single flier Rig can actually kill costs less than Rig, which means your opponent needed a reason not to cast their flier already. Sure if their deck is overloaded with fliers you can expect them to play one sooner or later, but on a blind first game, you don’t know if you have a pricey Flametongue Kavu or a weak Ogre Gatecrasher. It can turn the game right around, but it’s not as guaranteed a kill as it looks.

Best use: As a big artifact creature that can kill fliers. That means it’s a beating against white decks, shutting down their air force and Spectral Riders. Against decks where it matters, it’s easy to abuse via Raise Dead or bounce effects. Draft can be a little too fast to take it too high, but it is very comforting to have around.

Graveyard Shovel

Comments: Doesn’t the Shovel look like a baker’s peel? Apparently you are a Village Cannibal too. Nom nom.

Shovel does a few things, none of them well. It erases flashback cards, it erases creatures, and it gains you some life. None of them are consistent, which means you won’t get the effect when you really want it. An opponent’s Armored Skaab invalidates the Shovel for days.

To be honest, Shovel would still be playable if it didn’t cost so much to get going. While two to cast and two to use won’t break the bank, the whole idea is the eventual exiling of their graveyard. Thus you need to be activating it every turn. You can’t function under Nether Void, which means some of the time you’ll be casting cards in your hand rather than activating Shovel, which just puts you farther behind. If Shovel were zero to activate, or maybe even just to cast, you could have an argument. As is, forget about it.

Best use: Since it’s so unreliable against an opponent’s graveyard, its best use is usually targeting yourself, to gain life. Some decks don’t care about their graveyard, so that’s not a big deal. But the issue of cost is. Four mana upfront to gain two life, and not even all the time, is rarely worth it.

Inquisitor’s Flail

Comments: Berserk with buyback?! Flail is very good at creating dead creatures. That’s not a valuable skill when half of those creatures are yours.

Flail is not a top tier card but it does have its uses. Among the many equipment in this set, Flail is about average. Some decks want it, a great many don’t.

The decks that do want it have fliers or first strikers. Some way to take advantage of the first ability while negating the second. Until you’re at the Gallows Warden/Battleground Geist stage though, you’d almost always want Silver-Inlaid Dagger first. It’s cheaper, with a more consistent power boost and no pesky drawbacks.

Flail isn’t really better except in corner cases like Curiosity, but sometimes you take what you can get. A card that consistently doubles your creature’s power can be quite a bit better than another random dork. If your deck does want an equipment, it can probably use Flail.

Best use: Sturmgeist, a combo so degenerate they will probably ban it in Modern. Otherwise your standard Chapel Geists and Lantern Spirits and Vampire Interlopers. As long as your opponents’ aren’t blocking, Flail is perfectly fine.

Mask of Avacyn

Comments: Mask is an interesting animal. Unlike most of the equipment of the set, Mask is more defense-oriented than offense. For the costs involved, it’s not the greatest card.

People seem to like Mask as a way to protect their bombs, but that doesn’t make sense in the real world. The bomb creatures in this set aren’t bomby just because they’re bigger, but because they take over the game so quickly. Angel of Flight Alabaster, Olivia Voldaren, Bloodline Keeper, Sturmgeist, Mayor of Avabruck, Balefire Dragon…These creatures just need a turn active to swing the game right around. If your opponent gave you the time to equip Mask, you didn’t need Mask anyway. Even if they topdeck a removal two turns later, you’ve already gotten so much card advantage the game is over anyway. Mask is no Lightning Greaves.

Where Mask does shine is creating a guardian. Equip the Mask to a Moon Heron and no regular creatures are getting through. Is that what your deck wants? It could be, as long as you have some way to win later.

I said above that Flail works over some random dork, because it represents more power than a random dork would. Mask isn’t like that. It just makes one creature harder to kill. Generally you’d rather have two creatures instead of one tougher creature.

Besides the impenetrable wall, you can also use Mask as a sideboard card. R/B removal decks are not fond of it, assuming they give you the three mana to equip it in the first place. It’s a mean card against Rebuke, which admittedly is not a very strong card, but is commonly played. There are some other decks you want Mask against, but really, for the mana you’re expending another creature will usually be more efficient.

Best use: Shoring up your defenses or sideboard against certain decks. It’s hard to be excited for a shifting Holy Strength, especially at that price point. Once in a while it will decide the game, but I’m never that worried when my opponent casts it.

Sharpened Pitchfork

Comments: Pitchfork isn’t a flashy card, but a consistent +1/+1 and first strike is usually worth the investment. As the art would indicate, your white villagers like this card the most.

You would almost never run Pitchfork just for the first strike, but it does play well on some creatures. Typhoid Rats immediately springs to mind. Pitchfork is another card that can gum up the works against the best or more efficient opponents, but can be outclassed by the slower builds. A Pitchfork-equipped Elder Cathar can do good work against a tight G/W deck, but will get run over against Skaab Goliath and Hollowhenge Scavenger-types. I like it for that reason alone, game against decks you should care more about.

Best use: Besides tricky creatures, just using it to get a human through and having mana left over to re-equip or cast something else. It’s cheap enough to allow you to do exactly that, making it a helpful inclusion, if not an imposing one.

Silver-Inlaid Dagger

Comments: Dagger always seems to go later than it should. It gives you a lot of power for the cost. You don’t even need the human bonus, although why not? And again, anything that costs a single mana has extra benefit in this set, with its ability to mess around with werewolves.

Dagger’s use is simply to give your creatures a significant power boost. It doesn’t make them harder to kill and doesn’t give you tempo back. That means it goes into aggressive, racing situations, where you’re assuming your creatures will stick around and do their damage. This naturally leads to the white suite of fliers, and that’s where you see Dagger most often. It’s amazing with Midnight Haunting or Voiceless Spirit, as well as forcing nasty trades alongside Mausoleum Guard and Doomed Traveler. That being said, barring some Burning Vengeance nonsense, I would start Dagger in every deck. The potential alone of doing so much damage for so little cost is worth the inclusion, even when it’s not ideal.

Best use: Invisible Stalker, durr. Anything unblockable will pick up the dagger. If your deck wants the most efficient equipment in the set, Dagger is where to go.

Trepanation Blade

Comments: You need this card in your deck like a hole in the head. Get the point?

Trepanation Blade is for players who think their equipped creatures will always get +5/+0, while simultaneously trashing their opponent’s best four cards. This doesn’t happen.

According to local mathematician Nick Carter, the average power bonus from Blade is 1.3. That’s what you get for five mana. That’s unbelievably terrible. What’s almost worse is you don’t know how big the creature will actually get. Admittedly it was the prerelease, but my first time seeing this card, my opponent just ran his Bladed creature right into my whatever and lost it. You know that card that costs five mana and says “sacrifice a creature, go?” It’s called Trepanation Blade.

But even with all that, Blade would still be almost, almost playable if it wasn’t for the second ability. In a set where people bend over backwards to throw cards into their own graveyard, Blade lets your opponent relax while you do the heavy lifting. If the cards were exiled rather than milled, you may have a card that expensively gave +1.3/+0, but at least didn’t have any drawbacks. As printed, between being horribly inefficient and self-destructive, it’s among the worst Limited cards in the set.

Best use: Prayer. You could probably shoehorn it into some weak mill theme, but a random Dream Twist is infinitely better. If you have the all Voiceless Spirit deck, perhaps this isn’t completely unplayable, but almost any card will be more reliable and more effective. I would say things went seriously weird if you want this card, but you probably just screwed up.

Whew! 18,000 words later, we’ve gone through it all. As the frequent players know, Innistrad is a set rife with synergy and wavering card values. It’s fun, and it gives a lot of opportunities for the good players to shine. It’s not perfect but I think Wizards made one of the best Limited environments of all time. Happy drafting!

Noah Weil