Cards To Embrace And Avoid At #SCGBALT

Tom Ross has a lot of #SCGBALT implications to discuss. There’s Shadows over Innistrad’s overrated and underrated cards. There’s the new breakout deck someone bravely posted a few days ago. There’s a lot to cover, and Tom is ready to get you caught up!

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease April 2-3!

I now have a few weeks of playing Standard with Shadows over Innistrad under my belt. Many decks have been tested, leaving me with a better understanding of cards’ power-levels. Today I’ll be talking about a few notables and the impressions I’ve gotten of them through early testing.

I’ve been unimpressed with the Vampire deck as a whole and Falkenrath Gorger in particular. It gets brick-walled way too quickly. Many of the other Vampires you want to play already have madness too. Nobody is really dying quickly and the playable burn spells are pretty weak. If you want to build a Vampires deck, I suggest going bigger with some number of four-drop flyers in your deck among Goldnight Castigator, Mindwrack Demon, and Thunderbreak Regent.

On the other hand, Insolent Neonate has looked pretty good so far. The menace allows it to get in a few points, often more than Falkenrath Gorger would. The activated ability enables both madness and sacrifice shenanigans, like flipping Archangel Avacyn or Liliana, Heretical Healer. There’s a lot of utility in this “pushed” Hapless Researcher and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Insolent Neonate to be a key card in several tricky Standard decks.

Simply, Thraben Inspector is great. You’ll eventually recover the card you spent casting it. It’s a card that I’m happy to have in my opening hand or to draw on turn 10, and anytime in between.

If you have any way to improve the body of Thraben Inspector, then it feels practically like a freeroll. Always Watching; Thalia’s Lieutenant; Nissa, Voice of Zendikar; and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar are some ways to turn Thraben Inspector into a respectable threat.

Alrinn Kord has been getting worse and worse the more I’ve played. She’s very similar to Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, another card that I feel is worse in the new Standard than old. The problem with Arlinn Kord is she can’t protect herself against the ways she is most likely going to be attacked, which are four-powered flyers. New Standard will be full of them with Goldnight Castigator, Mindwrack Demon,Thunderbreak Regent, and Archangel Avacyn. Even Thopter tokens apply pressure on her.

Seasons Past has been good so far for drawing three to five cards selectively. There’s no other card that does the effect of Seasons Past in the format. It works well with Mindwrack Demon and will win games where no other card would. If you don’t play Seasons Past in your green maindeck, I recommend finding room for it in the sideboard.

Diregraf Colossus, as well as the Zombie tribe as a whole is pretty weak. Even as a 4/4 that bring along 2/2s, it’s not very good. It doesn’t do anything great when it enters the battlefield and requires you to skew your deck with (probably) bad Zombies to even function close to a playable Constructed card. A big trap. Maybe it will be better when we have the entire Shadows over Innistrad block, but right now I’m leaving it on the shelf.

Better get used to seeing Westvale Abbey. It goes in a very wide variety of decks at a very low cost. It’s pretty close to being the new Mutavault in terms of broad playability.

I approximate from the games Westvale Abbey is involved in that 10% are won because of it. Many decks can’t beat the 9/7. Sometimes the threat of the 9/7 is enough to change the course of the game where the opposing player is casting removal spells on things they otherwise wouldn’t.

Westvale Abbey is particularly good with Always Watching if you can assemble it. Ormendahl, Profane Prince is in fact a card, not a token.

Just the Wind is necessary in U/R decks and not only to remove a flipped Westvale Abbey. Even with only Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy as a discard outlet, I recommend playing two copies. Unsummon and Vapor Snag were playable cards and Just the Wind is often better.

Speaking of U/R, Fevered Visions is another card spoiled late in the season that some people missed. Some decks just can’t beat it, like anything control that gets stuck with a handful of removal or expensive spells. Also great with bounce spells like Just the Wind. I expect Fevered Visions to be a great sideboard card, similar to Manabarbs or Sulfuric Vortex.

Mindwrack Demon has been impressive. Its drawback is small if your deck is built properly. You want a mix of instants and sorceries, of course, and should play Dead Weight as your early removal spell, and probably a couple of planeswalkers like Ob Nixilis Reignited too. Mindwrack Demon pressures planeswalkers, as it attacks through flyers like Archangel Avacyn and Thopter tokens well. It also does work with Chandra, Flamecaller.

Much like Mindwrack Demon, Goldnight Castigator is an undercosted flyer with a not-so-bad downside. It’s clearly great if you’re already winning, but the hidden secret on this one is how well it plays defensively. A 4/9 (or 4/5) block really well, and if they remove it, then you won’t be taking double damage. At minimum, Goldnight Castigator is a great sideboard card against Ramp decks or decks otherwise not intending to race you.

I also like how the power and toughness adds up to thirteen.

I put Sin Prodder, Tireless Tracker, and Bygone Bishop all in the same category of reasonable creatures with incidental built-in card advantage. However, there’s a strange phenomenon that I’ve noticed with Sin Prodder. No one’s putting it in their decks and trying it! The general impression is “fine, but will probably be underwhelming.” Truth is, nobody really knows.

It’s obviously at least reasonable. Menace is decent and Sin Prodder doesn’t take any work to get value from other than it remaining on the battlefield. That may be the problem right there. As brewers, we want to pair decent cards with other decent cards to build a deck that’s more than just the sum of its parts. Cards that are great on their own like Archangel Avacyn are easy to slot into decks. People want the red decks to be either hyper-aggressive, a complement to blue cards, or Vampire-themed, and Sin Prodder doesn’t go in any of those.

Maybe it’s just our test group that’s ignoring Sin Prodder, but I haven’t seen it in articles anywhere. We’re somewhat used to two-toughness creatures not being very good in Standard because of Wild Slash and Fiery Impulse. Now, maybe Dead Weight is enough to keep Sin Prodder from being played, but I doubt it. People, let’s play with this card!

I started my white decks with two Declaration in Stone, then up to three, then up to four. It’s unconditional removal on par with Path to Exile. It’s decent to exile their best creature, but if you ever hit two or more creatures with Declaration in Stone, it’s very much a blowout. It also sweeps up tokens very cleanly, leaving your opponent Clueless. No idea why it doesn’t hit your own creatures too like Maelstrom Pulse.

Declaration in Stone will define Standard and may even affect the numbers of which creatures we play. I know I’ve played long lists of three-ofs creatures in my decks before as a nod to Maelstrom Pulse or Detention Sphere. Not sure if I’m outthinking myself, but it’s good to be aware of the concept.

This is the least excited I’ve ever seen the Magic population be about a Jace. Yeah, it looks exactly like Ob Nixilis Reignited. It doesn’t mesh well with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Blue just isn’t very good right now. Jace, Unraveler of Secrets is clearly worse than Jace, the Mind Sculptor on every front. I’m not asking for another Jace, the Mind Sculptor, just one that isn’t “strictly” worse. No one wants to play with Jace, Unraveler of Secrets in their decks, but this time it’s for good reason. It’s poorly positioned along with being generally lame.

Ulvenwald Hydra is competing for the same space as Woodland Bellower and Greenwarden of Murasa, and I believe that Ulvenwald Hydra is the best of the bunch. The reach here is what’s so important, as green decks are sorely lacking in way to interact with flying creatures, especially the large ones that new Standard is full of. Grabbing a land is nice and allows you to play a few bullets like Rogue’s Passage, Westvale Abbey, or Foundry of the Consuls.

This one was easy to gloss over on the Shadows over Innistrad spoiler. Cryptolith Rite was revealed during the last final spoiler dump and looks very similar to the barely-playable Prismatic Omen. However, it’s one of the most powerful cards in the set, and one that requires the most support and relative synergy to fully work. This is one example of a strategy using tokens and Cryptolith Rite to ramp up to bigger spells.

I imagine G/B token decks are among the last decks to be built in test groups, as it’s one of the least-obvious decks and uses cards spoiled later in the season. It can be built a variety of ways, including the above build or with Zulaport Cutthroat, Nantuko Husk, and Rogue’s Passage. Another option is to assemble the Brood Monitor, Zulaport Cutthroat, Eldrazi Displacer combo with help from Traverse the Ulvenwald and From Beyond.

The decks have a similar feel to Four-Color Rally. If there’s a next coming of Rally the Ancestors, it will be a deck with Cryptolith Rite.

The Shadow lands are fine but nowhere close to what we had with fetchlands. It’s really rough when they have to enter the battlefield tapped and don’t work well in multiples. Building three-color decks with Shadow lands and Battle lands is a nightmare. I believe that most three-color decks will want to ignore the Shadow lands and play four Evolving Wilds to fix their mana.

Remember, you don’t have to show your opponent a land if you don’t need to. This means you can just play your Shadow land tapped on turn 1 if you have no play. No need to give your opponent any information unnecessarily.


I’ve only touched the surface of new Standard. #SCGBALT will set the stage for the upcoming Pro Tour and give us our first real taste of the new metagame. I can’t wait to find out what I missed.

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease April 2-3!