The second round of Battle Of The Blocks is a matchup that brings together Magic’s past and Magic’s future: Ice Age block versus Innistrad block. Ice Age took Magic players to a plane devastated by the Brothers War. Covered in ice due to a magically changed climate, the people of Dominaria had to eke out a meager survival against the harsh blizzards terrorizing their forgotten land. But not only ice challenged the remnants of the population of Dominaria; powerful necromancer Lim-Dul tried to take over the plane with his zombies and wights, forcing the whole of Dominaria to once again stand up for their plane and fight with renewed vigor.
Innistrad helped introduce and perfect the new direction of Magic design and development by focusing on a gothic horror environment. A plane clouded by the loss of its protector Avacyn, Angel of Hope, this top-down designed set has some of the bestselling expansions ever in Innistrad and Dark Ascension. By bringing horror tropes like werewolves to life in a new cardboard form, Wizards of the Coast gave magic players what they wanted in a flavor-filled world that could also compete in Eternal formats.
With the release of Avacyn Restored and the birth of Griselbrand into the competitive scene, people’s opinion of the Innistrad block soured. Although soulbond was fun to play with, the lack of werewolves and other important mechanics in the third set separated Avacyn Restored from its bestselling brethren, causing players to question the direction and overall quality of the block. The despised Limited format in triple Avacyn Restored gave players another reason to dislike the Angel-infused set due to its harsh departure from the great Limited formats of triple Innistrad and DKA-ISD-ISD.
With those brief introductions to each of the competitors, it’s time to decide which block is best for Commander! First, here’s a quick recap of the bracket as it stands today.
With Alpha–Unlimited knocking out Fourth–Tenth Edition, it moves up to face the powerhouse Lorwyn–Shadowmoor block in the Sweet Sixteen! There are five categories for each battle in which blocks will be laid bare and given Harsh Judgment for their best and worst attributes. The Staples category is all about the most ubiquitous cards produced by the set; this is where our Cultivates and Darksteel Ingots get time to shine. The Commanders category judges the legendary creatures that the block brought to the format while the Flavor category highlights the most flavorful spells from the block that see play only in the most Vorsothian decks. The Strategy section is devoted to the types of linear strategies that each block helped along in Commander, and the final category, The Bad, is devoted to the worst the block brought to Commander.
Ice Age isn’t exactly a Treasure Trove of great Magic: The Gathering cards, but it does have some diamonds in the rough. Every Legacy player’s favorite card, Brainstorm, is from Ice Age block, and it has become a semi-staple in Commander due to the love it gets from Melek, Izzet Paragon decks and Talrand, Sky Summoner decks. Necropotence is a former tournament staple that sees heavy play in Commander. Coldsnap also brought Ohran Viper, a card that has seen a nice amount of play in value green decks. Plus, we received the soon-to-be-heavily-reprinted pain lands in this block!
Innistrad block was only recently printed but has already shown its impact on the Commander format by bringing a bevy of staples to the format. The off-color buddy lands as well as the rash of utility lands printed in this set have all made their mark in improving players’ mana bases. Snapcaster Mage is a card that is played in every format, including Commander, while Sorin, Lord of Innistrad has found a solid home in B/W token decks. The same cannot be said for Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded.
Five Notable Staples From Ice Age Block
Five Notable staples From Innistrad Block
With such amazing staples coming from Innistrad, it topples over the hibernating Ice Age block and wins this category in an avalanche!
Innistrad helped bolster a whole bunch of tribal strategies, some of which didn’t even need the help. Zombies amassed a huge advantage with cards like Zombie Apocalypse, Gravecrawler, Rooftop Storm, and Army of the Damned, while the Vampire tribe found itself a real legendary creature in Olivia Voldaren and enough support cards to make the deck an honest threat with bloodsuckers like Stromkirk Captain. Innistrad also introduced one of my favorite R/G strategies to the game: Werewolves! Without the craziness of flip cards, this aggressive R/G deck wouldn’t exist, and for that we thank Innistrad.
Ice Age actually brings a whole bunch to the table in this category. Any Snow-Covered land strategy starts and ends in Ice Age block, and that’s a very strong mark in its favor. Additionally, cards like Thrumming Stone allow Relentless Rats and now Shadowborn Apostle decks to accelerate their game plans at remarkable speeds. Plus, Illusions of Grandeur lends not only amazing art but an actual win condition to Donate decks like Zedruu, the Greathearted.
Innistrad only helped existing strategies like Humans, Zombies, and Vampires while making a weak Werewolf deck. Ice Age block allows an entire deck type to be played. Because the entire block established a single strategy, Ice Age takes this one.
This category is one of the toughest of the five because these are two of the best top-down-designed blocks in existence. Ice Age block even sacrificed power level to print horrible cards like Freyalise’s Charm and Lim-Dul’s Cohort. The story told through this block is a rather depressing one; it’s basically the end of An Inconvenient Truth meets zombie apocalypse. The Snow-Covered lands also lend to the flavor of the set and allow Commander decks built with cards from Ice Age block to take on that special sauce.
Innistrad is one of the newest and well-designed top-down blocks. Whether in cards like the oft-played Ludevic’s Test Subject or the legendary Helvault, the gothic horror flavor of Innistrad is soaked in every card. Staples from this set like Gavony Township and Kessig Wolf Run let the player learn about the world of Innistrad and expound upon the purpose of the powerful nonbasics. Lastly, Innistrad gave us Jar of Eyeballs, a card played in Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker decks to great effect.
With the printing of Innistrad block, many people immediately grabbed Grimgrin, Corpse-Born as their U/B Zombie general; he stole the unofficial title of de facto Zombie general from Lord of Tresserhorn, a commander from Ice Age. Olivia Voldaren has given multiple players a rallying cry around the amazing Vampire tribe, stealing the thunder from the Grixis-colored Garza Zol, Plague Queen from Coldsnap. The comparisons end here for the commanders from these blocks, but this category isn’t as decided as it may seem.
Innistrad brought the legendary Angels Avacyn, Angel of Hope; Bruna, Light of Alabaster; Gisela, Blade of Goldnight; and Sigarda, Host of Herons to the Commander scene. Each of these legendary Angels has spawned their own deck; Avacyn, Angel of Hope brought Mono-White Stax players a glimmer of hope, while Gisela, Blade of Goldnight made Repercussion into a $3.00 card.
Ice Age block has some heavy hitters as well. Darien, King of Kjeldor is one of the wonkiest white token decks in the game, utilizing Soul Warden effects to recoup the life loss and Angel’s Trumpet to control the board. Arcum Dagsson and Zur the Enchanter are both reviled commanders to play against, but no other commander in Magic can tutor for artifacts or enchantments as hard as this duo from Coldsnap can. The big purple hippo Phelddagrif is also from Alliances, and it spawned the entire group hug archetype from its stunted wings.
A very close category, but Ice Age actually wins it due to the unique commanders that created their own deck strategies and build-around-me themes that Innistrad just can’t overcome.
And how bad it is—both Innistrad and Ice Age block have brought some cards that have negatively affected Commander. Innistrad has the only card on the banned list in Griselbrand, while Deadeye Navigator has Commander players calling for its head on a platter in every single discussion forum I’ve seen in the past six months. Not to mention the absolute futility it is to try to play against someone with Tooth and Nail because they always have Avacyn Restored native Craterhoof Behemoth to kill you in the most unspectacular way possible and that Avacyn, Angel of Hope crushes dreams every time it comes onto the table due to its interaction with cards like Armageddon or Catastrophe turning the card into a Pariah akin to Iona, Shield of Emeria.
Yet what Innistrad did in cards like Craterhoof Behemoth and Avacyn, Angel of Hope, Ice Age block trumpets over by having two of the most reviled commanders in existence. People newer to the Commander format may not understand the public opinion towards Zur the Enchanter and Arcum Dagsson. Both commanders seem like an absolute joy to build around and very fun to pilot. Frankly, that’s correct, Zur the Enchanter decks are super fun to play when the entire deck is a toolbox for finding the right enchantment for each situation.
Voltron Zur the Enchanter players spoiled the fun for enterprising deckbuilders when they found out that Zur’s ability doesn’t have a targeting restriction, making cards like Diplomatic Immunity into a searchable Whispersilk Cloak. If you think Kaalia of the Vast is bad, you haven’t played against a tuned Zur the Enchanter Voltron deck and gotten poisoned out on turn 6. It isn’t fun and is why the general sees such little play. Arcum Dagsson was making people hate artifact decks way before Sharuum the Hegemon was even a glimmer in Wizards of the Coast’s eye. The raw artifact-searching power of Arcum Dagsson negates the entire purpose of a 100-card singleton deck and can easily ruin first-time player’s enjoyment of the format.
So with better staples and better flavor, Innistrad wins this round and advances to the Sweet Sixteen of Battle Of The Blocks. Will it have what it takes to knock out the bestselling Return to Ravnica block? Will it howl its way to victory over the startling amount of commanders to come from RTR?
Next week will feature the creature-rich Invasion block against the poisonous Scars of Mirrodin block. Stop by to see the Phyrexians battle the Weatherlight crew across multiple years of design and development!
Did I get it right? Which block should continue on in Battle Of The Blocks? Let me know in the comments!