It’s that time of year again. Innistrad is out, and our community is already proxying, practicing, and building. The stagnant old Standard decks
of the past have stepped back (for the most part).
I had a great chance to catch up with a few people at Pro Tour Philadelphia. I had a chance to see people like Olivier Ruel, Shuuhei Nakamura, Josh
Bennett, Rich Hagon, Steve Sadin, and a whole host of other people that I hadn’t seen since Worlds 2008 and my previous run of doing coverage in
Japan. Jon Becker needed a hand throwing together a fairly strong looking homebrew concoction for the LCQ, and since I wasn’t particularly
enamored of Standard, I chose to I also got to spend time with the newer friends I’ve made in Philly at Redcap’s Corner. Kevin, Adam,
Alex… they’re an awesome crew, and my only regret is that I don’t get down there enough. Then there were the old Unknown Comics crew
from Scranton… it was a great time for friends from all over to get together.
I’m a little disappointed with WotC’s recent changes with the Pro Tour stating that they would be less public affairs, with less emphasis on
public events and a pledge for more in depth coverage. Now, I am all for more coverage and storytelling. Presumably more of the changes will bring the
storytelling and new developments that happen at the Pro Tour to the public spotlight. And the shift in venue philosophy allows Wizards to do some
truly innovative ideas with the event. Think the PT cruise on a boat is a good idea? They could get even more creative with it. I’m no travel
agent, so I don’t have any big ideas, but the possibilities are out there. With that said, it seems that Wizards is deemphasizing the mass
spectacle that the Pro tour is and shifting it to the Grand Prix circuit. And I think that’s a smart idea.
The Grand Prix really should be about the huge crowds and unknowns making a name for themselves, where rookies and legends mingle. And they’re
fine places for gatherings. With that said, I think it may be time to elevate the status of Grand Prix so that they’re equivalent in prestige to
the Pro Tour. They’re harder to win now because of the huge field and the number of rounds. I don’t have a clear solution to elevate that,
but one step that might work would be to rename the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. Just make it the Magic Hall of Fame. Switching the name also gives
rhetorical basis for letting Richard Garfield and Skaff Elias in. They made the game and the Pro Tour what it is, so they absolutely need to get in a
Hall of Fame, and this switch can make that possible.
But let’s get to the heart of things. The dark heart of things. The evil, ichor-stained, foul heart of things. There is science to be done, so
let us create!
(Writing in cackling laughter is so passé. Just imagine it the way you want, but please be sure to add no fewer than three exclamation points
- 1 Bloodcrazed Neonate
- 1 Dearly Departed
- 1 Invisible Stalker
- 1 Skaab Ruinator
- 1 Morkrut Banshee
- 1 Angel of Flight Alabaster
- 1 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 1 Deranged Assistant
- 2 Woodland Sleuth
- 3 Feral Ridgewolf
- 1 One-Eyed Scarecrow
- 2 Darkthicket Wolf
- 1 Markov Patrician
- 1 Ambush Viper
- 1 Armored Skaab
- 1 Ashmouth Hound
- 1 Elder Cathar
- 1 Gallows Warden
- 1 Hamlet Captain
- 2 Kessig Wolf
- 1 Kindercatch
- 1 Lantern Spirit
- 1 Makeshift Mauler
- 1 Manor Skeleton
- 1 Riot Devils
- 1 Selhoff Occultist
- 1 Silverchase Fox
- 1 Spectral Rider
- 1 Unruly Mob
- 1 Village Bell-Ringer
- 1 Bitterheart Witch
- 1 Civilized Scholar
- 1 Cloistered Youth
- 1 Delver of Secrets
- 1 Mayor of Avabruck
- 1 Reckless Waif
- 1 Tormented Pariah
- 1 Mulch
- 1 Ancient Grudge
- 2 Blazing Torch
- 1 Silent Departure
- 1 Curse of the Bloody Tome
- 1 Devil's Play
- 1 Grasp of Phantoms
- 1 Spidery Grasp
- 1 Wooden Stake
- 1 Into the Maw of Hell
- 1 Spider Spawning
- 1 Skeletal Grimace
- 1 Cellar Door
- 1 Brimstone Volley
- 1 Prey Upon
- 1 Rally the Peasants
- 2 Forbidden Alchemy
- 1 Sharpened Pitchfork
- 1 Heartless Summoning
- 1 Frightful Delusion
- 1 Unburial Rites
- 1 Furor of the Bitten
- 2 Smite the Monstrous
- 1 Infernal Plunge
- 1 Caravan Vigil
- 1 Curse of the Nightly Hunt
- 1 Demonmail Hauberk
- 1 Ghostly Possession
- 1 Ghoulcaller's Bell
- 1 Harvest Pyre
- 1 Inquisitor's Flail
- 1 Mask of Avacyn
- 2 Maw of the Mire
- 2 Moment of Heroism
- 1 Night Terrors
- 1 Ranger's Guile
(ceci n’est pas une espace blanc)
Solid: Angel of Flight Alabaster, Dearly Departed, Gallows Warden, Silverchase Fox, Smite the Monstrous, Spectral Rider
Decent: Cloistered Youth, Elder Cathar, Ghostly Possession, Moment of Heroism, Rally the Peasants, Unruly Mob
Poor: Village Bell-Ringer
The format’s slow enough that 3/3 fliers for five mana are must plays. This pool, in particular, loves Spirits.
In this pool, Dearly Departed is a Dragon. Nothing more, nothing less. But Dragons still see play provided we can get to six mana. This card makes me
push for a controllish build.
Angel of Flight Alabaster is utterly sick. With that said, newer players with Skaabs and other graveyard removing cards should take care to keep their
options open when you have yet to draw the Angel.
Silverchase Fox destroys Curses and undoes white and blue’s two best removal spells, Bonds of Faith and Claustrophobia. I don’t know if
I’d always run it in white splashes, but any deck running significant numbers of white cards should run this card.
Solid: Civilized Scholar, Grasp of Phantoms, Lantern Spirit, Makeshift Mauler, Silent Departure, Skaab Ruinator
Decent: Armored Skaab, Curse of the Bloody Tome, Delver of Secrets, Deranged Assistant, Forbidden Alchemy, Invisible Stalker, Selhoff Occultist
Poor: Frightful Delusion
I expected to have Civilized Scholar stay home as a blocker most of the time. But in one sealed deck and one draft, it turns out that I’ve
attacked with him more often than not.
Silent Departure is the second best common in blue, after Stitched Drake. I will always play it if I’m playing blue, and I will strongly be
tempted to splash it. It is such a tempo wrecker and is good in the midgame or late game. Which is better, Departure or Grasp of Phantoms? I
can’t say right now. But I’ll gladly play both, and draft them highly.
Lantern Spirit is a superlative blocker in the late game and gets in early on. It’s strictly better than Fleeting Image. And Fleeting Image was
always playable. I’m surprised this card saw print. This card makes managing Werewolf infestations fun and easy.
Thanks to Makeshift Mauler and Skaab Ruinator, graveyard recursion is definitely something that can and should happen in blue. Deranged Assistant and
Civilized Scholar are definitely great graveyard enablers. Armored Skaab is also passable, especially when sideboarded in against highly aggro
The magic number of instants to make Delver of Secrets playable is probably six. Delver will probably find a home in goofy red/blue decks in draft, but
I’m not sure what form that deck will appear.
In a format with a more demanding tempo, Frightful Delusion would be an excellent counterspell variant. And you always get the discard effect, so
it’s never wasted. But in this format, I am not a fan. Opponents throwing away Skaab Ruinators also come to mind as a negative consequence.
Solid: Morkrut Banshee, Unburial Rites
Decent: Bitterheart Witch, Markov Patrician, Night Terrors, Skeletal Grimace
Poor: Heartless Summoning, Manor Skeleton, Maw of the Mire
One of the things that I appreciate about Unburial Rites is that when you have recursion happening, it’s reliably good things happening again and
again. Contrast this with Make a Wish, which allows two good things to happen again for a cheaper price, but with the additional trait of randomness. I
am glad that Wizards shook up recursion by adding randomness to the mix.
I saw a lot of Skeletal Grimaces being played this weekend. It has its defensive applications, and is especially good on a hexproof creature. If I need
to get a bomb into play, this card has decent odds of letting you get there. But with every color getting some access to good removal, the odds of this
working aren’t great.
Could Heartless Summoning be great in draft? It might happen. If you draft a ton of fatties (B/G) and have two copies of Heartless Summoning in your
deck, it could be a great strategy. In almost any Sealed pool, though, the drawback will negate the massive tempo advantage it affords.
Maw of the Mire may see sideboard play against tricky lands like Kessig Wolf Run or Gavony Township. But land destruction spells costing five or more
will have to have a whole lot more going on in its favor to ever make a maindeck slot. (Into the Maw of Hell does manage to meet that standard,
Right now, there aren’t enough curses to make me love Bitterheart Witch. If I draft Curse of Death’s Hold, yeah, you bet I’ll run the
Witch. Most of the other curses don’t do much for me, though, so the investment just doesn’t work for me.
Solid: Brimstone Volley, Devil’s Play, Reckless Waif
Decent: Ancient Grudge, Ashmouth Hound, Bloodcrazed Neonate, Curse of the Nightly Hunt, Feral Ridgewolf, Furor of the Bitten, Harvest Pyre, Into the
Maw of Hell, Kessig Wolf, Tormented Pariah
Poor: Infernal Plunge, Riot Devils
I like Ashmouth Hound’s rangestrike ability. If there was a card that gave a creature a Lure effect, this guy could be a real pain for white
decks. Trading with It’s a fine card against black as well. This card is never going to be splashed, but any Grizzly Bear that fights Hill Giants
will find a warm place in my heart.
Sorry, Riot Devils. A vanilla 2/3 for 2R doesn’t cut it in this day and age.
There’s a great case for Infernal Plunge in draft, allowing you to spit out a 4/6 spider on turn 3 fairly reliably. But in this Sealed
pool, I’m not a fan.
Solid: Ambush Viper, Darkthicket Wolf, Mayor of Avabruck, Prey Upon
Decent: Avacyn’s Pilgrim, Caravan Vigil, Hamlet Captain, Kindercatch, Mulch, Ranger’s Guile, Spider Spawning, Spidery Grasp, Woodland
The first thing about green in Innistrad that has to be discussed is the fact that every creature you run in a deck with forests has a modest form of
pseudoevasion. There are so many common and uncommon green creatures that get huge with Morbid that opponents will let blocks through all the time.
Innistrad is a bluffer’s paradise, and so players should always be thinking about the worst case scenarios of what happens when your opponent has
a big Morbid galoot in hand.
Is the Mayor such a bomb that you should play in him a pool with few allies to pump? Yes, without qualifications.
Philadelphia’s players tend to call him “The Mayor” in a snooty, pretentious tone. They think he’s such an elitist. Me, I say
it “Da Mayor”, similar to the old Chicago Superfans from Saturday Night Live. Da Mayor is a man of the people. It’s just that the
particular people he supports shifts from time to time. He’s the worst kind of politician, the kind that doesn’t stay bought.
Prey Upon’s the best removal spell for Morbid decks. The thing that’s so great about it is its cheapness. And it’s as good a
Werewolf-flipping card as there is in the format.
I’ve drafted the format once, and watched two drafts. Playing four more colors is definitely possible, and viable thanks to Caravan Vigil backed
up by Traveler’s Amulet. I talked to a few newer players, who seemed really excited about the Morbid aspect of the card. I don’t think the
extra text means much, other than that it gives Mark Rosewater a little more leeway to have different Lay of the Land variants in the future.
Solid: Blazing Torch, Gavony Township, Wooden Stake
Decent: Cellar Door, Demonmail Hauberk, Inquisitor’s Flail, Mask of Avacyn, One-Eyed Scarecrow, Sharpened Pitchfork
Poor: Ghoulcaller’s Bell
Wooden Stake’s cheap enough to go into any deck comfortably, and the random misery that it causes Vampire players makes it a fantastic 23 rd card. But I have no problem cutting it.
I’m really happy that One-Eyed Scarecrow’s in the format, because those pesky Spirit tokens can really add up. This is a sideboard card
you’ll always be happy to open.
Gavony Township just randomly wins games that go long. Can we find space for it?
Ghoulcaller’s Bell would be better if it weren’t symmetrical. You may have to run it if you don’t have enough enablers for your
Skaabs. But you’re also feeding your opponents flashback spells and zombie fodder, too. Of all the graveyard enablers in this set, I like this
one the least. But I know I will play it in some pool at some undetermined point in the future. And that may be the most horrifying realization of all.
If you’re a Werewolf player, your less sentient buddies, Kessig Wolf and Feral Ridgewolf will appreciate carrying around an Inquisitor’s
Flail in its yap. In draft, this card will be a fine late pick in that niche deck. In a deck full of flyers and removal, Flail’s also good. But
without that synergy, I’m not that keen on it.
When analyzing the colors, black’s the easiest color to cut. There’s just not enough power there to justify the color. Blue has two amazing
bounce spells and reasonable bodies. Green has good, cheap men, and a powerful bomb. White has some very powerful creatures and removal spells, but the
support to make it a main color isn’t quite there.
In a vacuum, Red has a reasonable army and four removal spells. Most of the time, I’d be thrilled to open this red, which has great late game
potential. But does it have the chops to keep an aggressive front while making its drops? I’m not confident that it’s going to make the
I wanted to build a deck that could deal with assorted bombs and develop to the point where my bombs would win games. But I had to keep up enough
tempo. While the red cards have many ways to finish games and make an excellent aggro start, the mana demands of the wolves will limit the ability to
play spells and dictate the flow of the game. I wanted something that had more of a control feel. I like to play answers, not just threats.
That’s why I went with the build that gave me more card advantage over overt aggression.
1cc: Blazing Torch x2, Caravan Vigil, Prey Upon, Silent Departure
2cc: Ambush Viper, Darkthicket Wolf x2, Mayor of Avabruck, Silverchase Fox, Deranged Assistant
3cc: Civilized Scholar, Lantern Spirit, Skaab Ruinator
4cc: Grasp of Phantoms, Makeshift Mauler, Woodland Sleuth x2, Smite the Monstrous
5cc: Angel of Flight Alabaster, Gallows Warden
6cc: Dearly Departed
Lands: Gavony Township, 4 Plains, 6 Island, 7 Forest
Some of you must be screaming at me now because I didn’t play the color with the best removal spells and passable men. My concern was tempo. I
wanted to be able to have an aggressive plan that kept up card advantage. The red cards just traded all day. I wanted to build a deck that allowed me
to outplay and outlast opponents.
The MVP of the deck had to be the Darkthicket Wolves. They were excellent early game plays and delivered huge amounts of damage. And every time I saw a
removal spell coming their way, I refused to pump them so as not to stunt my mana development.
Worst call? The Woodland Sleuths were a waste of time. Only once in the early game did I get a two for one with them, and the rest of the time my
creature quality was so high that Morbid was far less appealing than it would have been.
The games went smoothly (3-1, 6-3 in games) and were fun, though my notes weren’t that extensive. But one thing happened that, while not
horrific, definitely left a bad taste in my mouth.
In round 3, I got paired with Skye Thomsen. When I read his name, a little alarm went off in my head, because I knew I had read his name before. He
also had a six digit DCI number, so I knew that he was pretty old. I sat down with him, and won the die roll. I mulled, and took my six, then asked him
if he was going to keep. He said “I don’t have to now. You have to resolve all mulligans first.” I thought to myself, ah, he is an
older player and hasn’t gotten out much. I told him the mulligan rules had changed, and he looked at me with a dirty look.
At one point in game two, with the game stalled, I had a situation where I went into my declare attackers step, turned my Skaab Ruinator sideways, and
then paused. I held up my hand in a ‘wait’ gesture, and hemmed and hawed for a few seconds. I then untapped my Ruinator, and said “no
attacks.” Skye said “No, you attacked.” I said “No, I didn’t.” He said “Yes, you turned your card
sideways.” I said “Come on! The game state has not progressed.” He said “Look, you took your hand off the card in a tapped
position.” He then shouted “Judge!”
I was pissed off at this point. First off, this is a Prerelease, not a PTQ. Second off, the whole rules nitpicking thing about how you handle your
cards physically determining final status of an attack is so 2004. The situation was easily reversible, because the game had not progressed one step at
all. Modern judging philosophy is not nearly as demanding about perfection of decisions at that level. How players make their actions known in the game
is more flexible, because the rules approach is not one designed purely for adjudicating arguments but also for facilitating fun. And prereleases are
not the kind of place for that kind of thing.
The store didn’t have any real L1, and the two people who were serving as de facto judges said that “Yeah, I was attacking” while I
had not been given any say. Skye told his story, and I just said “The game state has not progressed.” And I shut up because I don’t
want to cause a stink at a Prerelease, and I have respect for judges. I was playing in a store where I normally play, and I would look like an ass in
front of friends if I really was going to have a fierce argument.
The table ruling went Skye’s way. I said that I’d like to appeal, and the judge went up to the front, came back about thirty seconds later,
and said “people are saying that you attacked”. I was rather bewildered, seeing as how the person he had talked to hadn’t come to
talk to me about it. That’s kind of the point of an appeal.
Afterwards, Skye was unrepentant about calling a judge. “Maybe if you were a little kid, that’d be OK”. Frankly, I hold that position
to be bull honkey. It isn’t fair to give some people a break in some rules situations, and be cutthroat in others. The rules are the rules are
the rules, and your playing approach and respect for your opponent should not change on the basis of who your opponent is or how old they are. Should
Skye have called a judge to clarify the situation? He was fully within his rights. Did the judge make a questionable call? I would say so, and
particularly so at a Prerelease.
That night I went to Google to see where I had seen his name before. Skye Thomsen built a rather influential deck that Mike Flores wrote about in
Deckade. He had been a Pro Tour and American GP mainstay for a while in the early 2000s. But I don’t really blame Skye for his approach. He was a
hardcore PTQ and Pro player from years past, and he was simply approaching the game in a mode that fit the East Coast playing atmosphere at the time.
The rules and enforcement philosophy have changed in ways that encourages people to play the game and have fun and not worry about the precise timing
of how their hands manipulate cards. And he wasn’t aware of that. I got screwed over because I was courteous. And I am not going to change my
behavior simply because I had the bad luck to play with someone who was operating under the ancient regime one time.
I still had a great time at the prerelease. But dealing with Skye left a sour taste in my mouth. He won the match, and he had a trick in hand in that
game that negated the relevance of my action in the first place. I wasn’t going to win the game in any case, given the board situation, but the
fact that I had been rules lawyered in a questionable fashion was rather off-putting.
My long years of playing in Japan taught me to respect my opponents and treat them with the same level of courtesy and respect as they would offer me,
even when they weren’t reciprocating. I know that Americans, particularly Americans from other stores who aren’t anticipating dealing
with me on a regular basis, don’t necessarily share the same value. And that’s just something that I am going to have to deal with from
time to time.
But prereleases are also the places where the kitchen table acolytes come out to play, too. They make friends and are there to have a good time. At the
New Phyrexia prerelease, I accidentally left my box of dice at the table when I walked away, and my opponent from the round before returned it to the
guy up front, and left me a note saying that he had enjoyed the game against me and wanted me to stay in touch with email. That’s class. And
I’ll endure ten matches against cutthroat rules lawyers to have the chance to play one match against one cool guy.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment with what you would have done or argue over my card valuation. This pool was a great one to write about,
because I honestly believe that there are times when play style and philosophy are going to trump raw utilitarian power consideration.