More Ways To Win – Looking At Innistrad’s Past (And Future)

With Dark Ascension coming out in less than a month, I thought it might be a good idea to reflect back on Innistrad this week. Looking back, what cards turned out to be over-hyped, which ones lived up to the hype, and what cards surprised us?

With Dark Ascension coming out in less than a month, I thought it might be a good idea to reflect back on Innistrad this week. Looking back, what cards turned out to be over-hyped, which ones lived up to the hype, and what cards surprised us? Even more important still, what might the future hold with mechanics like Undying sure to shake things up?

So, to kick things off, let’s start with Ancient Grudge. Many people, myself included, predicted that Tempered Steel would be a good starting point for the new format, since it was so great in Block, and, since Standard is 60% Block cards after a rotation, that is usually a decent bet. However, 40% is still pretty significant, and here we have a single card from that 40% stepping in to play a substantial role in fighting both the Tempered Steel and the Tezzeret strategies that were sure to develop. Both strategies have still done well, particularly Tempered Steel, but I believe Ancient Grudge does a lot to keep them in check and let Innistrad develop its own identity in Standard.

Verdict: It is about as good as you’d think it would be, a very good sideboard card following an artifact block.

Next up, we have Blasphemous Act. While it seemed obviously great in Limited, I was somewhat surprised to see some people using it in the sideboards of their Wolf Run decks in Standard. When you think about it more, it makes sense, at least for the time, but the format quickly shifted to a lot of the blue tempo decks that we see now, and I believe we should set this one aside for the time being. But don’t forget that it exists; we may need to bring it back into our bag of tricks in the future.

Verdict: Still a card that you won’t use often but probably better than most of us originally thought.

And while we’re talking about cards that have seen play in Wolf Run decks, how about the most important one: Kessig Wolf Run itself? I remember a lot more hype surrounding Moorland Haunt (which has proven itself also, as expected), but Kessig Wolf Run spawned a whole new archetype somewhere in between the Snow Ramp decks from Coldsnap era and the more recent Valakut combo. Here R/G ramp plays a more balanced game, with access to a lot of great cards, and is fairly resilient to hate.

Verdict: Definitely better than expected, and I’m sure it will remain a Standard staple as long as it’s legal.

Though Kessig Wolf Run is not really a red card (even though it kind of just feels like it), let’s talk about a couple of other important cards that are: Brimstone Volley and Stromkirk Noble. While neither card fills the void left by Lightning Bolt and Goblin Guide, they have kept decks like Red Deck Wins on the edge of being viable. Admittedly, Shrine of Burning Rage, which is not an Innistrad card (and like Kessig Wolf Run, not even a real red card), is more important, but I’m sure most RDW players will still sport four of these for the next couple years. Of the two, Brimstone Volley has the wider applications (like Mike Flores U/R deck from States with Volleys and Snapcasters).

Verdict: Both cards are definitely better than I expected, though I’m rarely a fan of RDW strategies, so go figure.

When it comes to the more midrange red decks, Devil’s Play seems like a good fit. I knew it wouldn’t necessarily be amazing or anything; it’s an X-spell in Constructed, but it does offer the potential for a 2-for-1, and, in an Illusions-centric world, it sure is nice that we can have X be zero and still kill something sometimes.

Verdict: About what I expected, maybe a little better.

On the more controllish side of things, Think Twice, Dissipate, Forbidden Alchemy, and Liliana of the Veil have all proven to be worse than I expected. Initially, a lot of people were enamored of decks like Solar Flare, which offered players a chance to play a control deck with a ton of powerful options and card advantage, but straight U/B decks have turned out to be better, and many of these U/B decks eschew cards like Liliana of the Veil and Think Twice entirely. I still think all of the cards have potential but just aren’t where the format is right now. In fact Desperate Ravings has become the new, better Think Twice.

Verdict: Although they’re all great cards, I think decks like Wolf Run, tokens, and Illusions will continue to edge out the strategies that use them. I’m not sure what would have to happen in Dark Ascension to change this, but, since I’m a huge fan of all of them, I’m going to keep my fingers crossed.

As for Desperate Ravings, it’s definitely better than I expected and probably likely to get even better with the addition of more flashback possibilities in the next two sets.

Another card I hope lives up to the initial hype is Skaab Ruinator. The potential for this to be a great card is certainly there, but I think we really need a reliable way to get creatures in the graveyard quickly, without having to bend over backward to do so. Since the graveyard is part of the horror theme of Innistrad Block, I would not be surprised to see some kind of enabler in the next two sets. Originally, he was $15, but now, at a paltry $3.50, it may be time to pick these up. You’re making a gamble, but I don’t think it’s a big one.

Verdict: Worse than expected, but I’m still going to keep a look out for ways to abuse it. It’s quite possible we will have something soon.

Not all blue cards have let us down though. Snapcaster Mage has certainly lived up to the hype, and then some. He is just so versatile and fits into so many strategies and formats. I probably don’t need to say anything else about him.

Verdict: Everything you’d expect and more.

When Innistrad first came out, there were some pretty strong opinions about the new transform mechanic. Some people thought it was really flavorful and cool while others had misgivings. I admit that I had my doubts myself, but after playing with transform a lot, you can now count me in the first camp. Be that as it may, whether you love them or hate them, transform cards are here to stay.

Garruk Relentless, Mayor of Avabruck, Daybreak Ranger, and Delver of Secrets are but a few of them to show up on the tournament scene. Surprisingly, it is Delver of Secrets that has proven to be the biggest influence, but that should really be no surprise considering it’s blue, and blue cards are, well, just better. (Come on, everyone knows that!)

The Delver makes a nice honorary Illusion and has shown up in a variety of other tempo-based strategies (like U/R). It’s hard to beat a 3/2 flier for one. Sure, you have to run a lot of instants and/or sorceries, and no other creatures care about that (cough, cough, Snapcaster)…

Anyway, the Delver is clearly the best of the early transform cards. Garruk Relentless has played (and may again play) a role in Wolf Run or G/W Tokens. Mayor of Avabruck fits into a tokens deck or is just a card you find with Green Sun’s Zenith against some decks. And Daybreak Ranger is the prophesied one whose time has not yet come. Still it’s hard to beat the prevalence of Delver of Secrets, just look at some recent tournament results…

Verdict: Delver of Secrets is better than I initially thought. Garruk and the Mayor are about what I thought they would be. Daybreak Ranger seems to be worse than I would’ve expected (but I have faith in the Prophecy of Brian Kibler).

I know there are a lot of cards to cover, but I just want to talk about one more for a minute: Heartless Summoning.

Heartless Summoning is the kind of card that says “build around me,” and it deserves a home. However, many of these types of cards don’t find one for years (so please, do your part to give the poor Heartless Summonings of the world a home). Still, I have hope that it’s time is nigh.

Dark Ascension’s new mechanic, Undying, is a lot like Persist, only the creatures come back better (+1/+1 counters instead of -1/-1). I remember how cool Persist was, and I’m sure that Undying will be just as popular and just as powerful. I’m sure that it will mostly be good in all the ways that Persist was good. But we didn’t have Heartless Summoning when Persist was around, and it’s probably better in a world of Undying creatures than Persistent ones anyway. All we need is:

  1. A cheap creature that requires mostly colorless mana.
  2. A 1/1 with Undying so it can come into play, die, then come back.
  3. And a nice coming into play ability.

It may be too much to hope for both a Phyrexian Rager type 1/1 with Undying AND a Gravedigger type 1/1 with Undying in the next two sets, but a girl can dream can’t she?

The point is that when we take a card like Heartless Summoning that’s probably not going to be great right now but really seems to need a home and really begs for a deck to be built around it, we have to evaluate it with a fresh perspective whenever a new set is released.

Birthing Pod may not be from Innistrad (so I’m going against my theme to mention it), but it could get a real boost from a mechanic like Undying too.

Dark Ascension previews are just starting, and I’m already thinking about card interactions. Innistrad has shown itself to be a nicely balanced set that’s held several surprises while also giving us some obvious toys to play with. I have every confidence that Dark Ascension will be just as good, if not even better.

Speaking of Dark Ascension, Pro Tour Honolulu is coming up, which has been dubbed Pro Tour: Dark Ascension, so I’m planning on interviewing a few of the competitors. We’ll find out how some of the topics I’ve discussed in the past few months—being too comfortable, changing priorities, seeking advice, and having the right mental frame—have impacted their success. Then we’ll follow these up-and-comers on the big stage and see how they fare!

Until then, good luck to all of you!