Have you run your fingers down the wall
And have you felt your neck skin crawl
When you’re searching for the light
Sometimes when you’re scared to take a look
At the corner of the room
You’ve sensed that something’s watching you.
Fear of the dark, fear of the dark
I have a constant fear that something’s always near
There’s no better mood-setting way to prepare for a Shadows over Innistrad than listening to a little Iron Maiden. So get ready: some of the most bone-chilling cards in recent memory are going to creep, crawl, slink, and slither into your Commander decks. Last week, I talked about some of the potential commanders for your decks; this week, we’ll discuss all the cards that you’ll be adding to your deck starting this weekend. Remember that, unlike other formats in which you have to wait for the actual release date for cards to be legal, in Commander you can play with them right away. There are so many goodies in this set that people will have trouble prying them out of your cold, dead hands.
This is a Commander-only review. There are a number of cards in the set which will be very good in other formats which won’t make the cut for your 100-card decks. I’ve broken the cards down by color into two categories. The first, “A Ghost of a Chance,” are those that have some opportunity to find their way into decks. They’re tribal cards or those outside the box which someone might fit into the right build. The second, “As Sure as the Grave,” are cards which are definitely getting played, the stars of the show. I’ll arrange the color breakdown just like the cards are listed on the Shadows over Innistrad Card Image Gallery (which has the cool transform feature for the double-faced ones). As a reminder, double-faced cards consider the color identity of both sides. Archangel Avacyn, for example, is only allowed in decks with both white and red.
A Ghost of a Chance
Elusive Tormentor: There will be lots of tomfoolery with this card. I like the discard outlet and the ability to make it indestructible. It’ll be more useful if you can just keep it as Insidious Mist and just beef up its power.
Kindly Stranger: Neat flavor, and it’s one of the few black activated abilities which can destroy a black creature. What’s keeping it from being great is that it doesn’t have a way to transform back.
Breakneck Rider: There’s certainly a Werewolf deck to be built now. The thing which might get this played is the trample part—and that’s still a shaky maybe.
Autumnal Gloom: I’m a fan of self-mill in order to set up graveyard tricks. The problem is that once it gets transformed to Ancient of the Equinox, you can’t do it anymore. Still, you have a 4/4 with trample and hexproof.
Angel of Deliverance: It’s a little expensive and getting delirium might be a little tricky to make this a definitely-played card, but once you do, you’ll be golden. Note that it’s not just combat damage but damage of any kind, so if you have it fight other creatures, it will trigger. Play something techy like Frontier Siege, choosing Dragons.
Bygone Bishop: It’s a little narrow, but you might find the Bishop paying more dividends than you think. I’m interested in seeing a deck in which the Clues are there just to turn on metalcraft. Hello, Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer.
Drogskol Cavalry: A very tribal choice, it might be the cog of a very nice (if kind of expensive) little engine.
Humble the Brute: There are enough brutes in the format that could use some humbling, but the mana cost might be too heavy for it to see regular play.
Nahiri’s Machinations: In an enchantments-matter deck, I’d certainly play this just for the first ability. It may end up being surprisingly good.
Open the Armory: Inexpensive, limited tutors are okay.
Spectral Shepherd: Any time I see activated abilities which bounce creatures you control, I think some kind of combo deck is not far behind.
Survive the Night: Saving a creature from a battlefield wipe is always great; getting an additional benefit is a nice bonus.
Unruly Mob: I was originally going to discount this card because it dies if all your other creatures do. I started thinking that if you’re controlling how your creatures die (or make this indestructible in response to Wrath of God), this might get rather large rather quickly.
Vessel of Ephemera: Instead of five mana, it’s five mana over two turns, which has its uses. I like the design space of the Vessel cards; they’re reminiscent of Seal of Cleansing and whatnot. While I’m not sure any of them are great, you might get some value by playing them early and activating them later. Any deck that likes to Regrow enchantments will certainly like them.
Confirm Suspicions: Expensive counterspells probably need to do something more (like Overwhelming Intellect does), but I’d be willing to give this a chance. Again, I’m interested in seeing if anyone does something with the Clues.
Deny Existence: Likewise, narrow counterspells really need to do something great. Exiling the creature might be enough.
Drownyard Explorers: Now I’m starting to actively root for the Clue deck. If someone builds it, I’ll insist they get
Erdwal Illuminator: Come on, Clues!
Just the Wind: I actually don’t think it’s likely to get played; I just love the flavor of the card.
Manic Scribe: It’s a Wizard, so you never know.
Trail of Evidence: Okay, Mark Gottlieb (he’s Shadows over Innistrad’s lead designer) is just trolling me now.
Vessel of Paramnesia: Don’t think anyone would run it without the cantrip part, but with it, seems more likely.
Welcome to the Fold: Without madness, there’s no chance this gets played. With it, suddenly more things are possible. It’s still a longshot since there are simply many other Control Magic effects that are less expensive.
Merciless Resolve: Perhaps as a delirium enabler?
Vessel of Malignity: Exiling the cards instead of discarding them might tip this one into the “getting played” column. What holds it back is the restriction on when you can activate it.
Avacyn’s Judgment: I predict this as the card in the set which people try to make work and then give up on.
Burn from Within: If this were an instant, it would immediately go into the other group. As it is, there are some tricks to be done with it, especially the part about losing indestructible.
Dissension in the Ranks: Another one that will likely be fantastic in Limited. I love the flavor of the card. It might be one mana too expensive to actually play in Commander, although I’ll probably still give it a whirl just for the occasional blowout.
Geistblast: Early on, this gets played almost as a throwaway card: in an end step, dome someone for two or kill a utility creature. Then it sits in the graveyard, forgotten, until its controller casts Time Stretch or something equally silly.
Goldnight Castigator: I put this card here to open discussion on why it got made. I can’t imagine too many scenarios in which anyone would want to play it, save for some convoluted situation in which you can reflect the damage done to Goldnight Castigator to another player. Still, it seems pretty dangerous. I suppose you could Donate it. Putting it in Zedruu the Greathearted might be a thing.
Magmatic Chasm: This is the kind of card I occasionally like to run out there just to see if it actually does something.
Stensia Masquerade: A very strong weapon in your Vampire decks, it makes people want to block and to not block at the same time. I’m not sure why it has madness—maybe to reflect the insanity of the bloodlust?
Wolf of Devil’s Breach: The uses are narrow, but it seems like a strong choice for a reanimation deck. Discard your large creature to kill something of an opponent’s, and then have it in the graveyard to come back later.
Briarbridge Patrol: The triggered ability doesn’t care how you sacrificed the Clues, just that you did. It could be putting counters on Arcbound Ravager or taking suspend counters off your Greater Gargadon.
Howlpack Resurgence: A must-play in that Werewolf or Wolf tribal deck, especially since it has trample. My original Ruric Thar, the Unbowed deck featured fighting and Werewolves. I took out the Werewolves in favor of Beasts; maybe now there’s enough to do the Werewolf Fight Club some justice.
Moonlight Hunt: The Read-the-Friendly-Card award winner of the set; at first reading, I thought each of your Wolves or Werewolves damaged a different creature.
Obsessive Skinner: +1/+1 counters matter.
Silverfur Partisan: It seems like the Werewolf deck is almost building itself.
Stoic Builder: Dredge players are always looking at new ways to put cards back into their hands, so this might get a shot.
Vessel of Nascency: Looking at the top four cards and getting a permanent seems okay. The value in the Vessels seems to be in somehow getting multiple uses out of them, but I guess you can say that about any card.
Magnifying Glass: Colorless mana is a thing these days, so someone will want to take this thing out for a ride.
Shard of Broken Glass: Inexpensive to cast and equip, it will do some work in your self-mill deck.
Tamiyo’s Journal: Investigating for free has its upsides, but in the end, Tamiyo’s Journal feels like it needs more support than its casting cost suggests it should.
As Sure as the Grave
Archangel Avacyn: If Archangel Avacyn didn’t transform, I would still play it. The ability to make your team indestructible as an instant (not to mention at a reasonable cost) is more than enough reason to make it one of the best cards in the set. It will take some Cloudshift trickery to make it useful multiple times, but I’m sure that you can manage.
Pious Evangel: What keeps Pious Evangel from being a superstar is that it only triggers on your creatures entering the battlefield (or dying, in the case of its transformed side, Wayward Disciple). Still, it’s a solid choice for creature decks; either your creatures will kill someone, or killing them will hurt. Of particular note is that you can sacrifice any permanent to transform it. This means that you can keep someone from stealing something, or eventually get rid of the Abyssal Persecutor that you’ve kept hanging around.
Thing in the Ice: I’m thinking of our Commander 2015 League and the Mizzix of the Igmagnus deck. And I’m kind of scared of what’s lurking beneath that ice.
Duskwatch Recruiter: This is a sneakily good card. If it never transforms, it’s still very useful, especially in a deck with lots of creatures. If it does transform, your creatures are cheaper to cast. If it transforms back, you once again have the deck-sifting ability. It’s winning all around.
Hermit of the Natterknolls: Another subtly good card. Sure, I’d prefer to draw two, but drawing one is just fine, thanks. Remember to sit to the right of the player with the blue deck who likes to do stuff in your end step.
Sage of Ancient Lore: I like this trend of double-faced cards which I don’t care if they’re transformed or not. It replaces itself, so it’s a bigger Elvish Visionary (most of the time, although you’ll have to be careful about your hand being empty). Once it gets transformed, it’s a scarier version of Multani, Maro-Sorcerer. Sure, it doesn’t have shroud, but it definitely has trample.
Arlinn Kord: Certainly the chase card of the set and a crowning achievement of marrying flavor and functionality, Arlinn Kord offers you the ability to control the transformations. If there’s a “problem” with the card, it’s deciding which of the great abilities to use. And before you ask, no, we’re not changing the rule to allow all planeswalkers to be commanders, but if your local group is cool with it, give it a whirl.
Westvale Abbey: I have four words: Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder. Or whatever your favorite way of getting five creatures onto the battlefield is. If you’re playing the control game, you can just start making Clerics. And who cares about the life loss? You’re getting it back. When you’re ready to go into beatdown mode, Ormendahl, Profane Prince will be ready to do your bidding. The question when you’re facing Westvale Abbey and Cabal Coffers: which are you going to spend your only Wasteland on?
Always Watching: People underestimate the value of vigilance in multiplayer formats. Players frequently avoid battling because they’re worried about the crack back. When your team is still available for defense (not to mention a little larger), then you have no excuses for sitting home.
Angelic Purge: It’s no Swords to Plowshares, but it certainly will find a home in a deck that wants to sacrifice its own permanents for some reason. And in an emergency, would you trade a land in order to exile something that’s about to kill you (whether that’s a creature or the artifact or enchantment supporting it)? I’m sure you would.
Eerie Interlude: Ghostway is already a favorite card of mine. A more flexible Ghostway (at the same cost) is going to make it into my decks rather quickly. One of the cool tricks might be using Eerie Interlude in order to get all the great enters-the-battlefield triggers from my creatures but not wanting to get rid of my tokens.
Odric, Lunarch Marshal: Although I talked last week about Odric as a commander, I see him as a valuable addition as one of 99. Your creatures are going to have many, if not all, of those abilities. Spread them around!
Tenacity: What I imagine will be a house in Limited will have its uses in Commander. Whether it’s a combat trick to blow out someone who thinks you’re defenseless or gaining a bunch of life and then having your army available for defense, Tenacity will serve you will. In fact, I was originally going to put this on the “maybe” list, and then I realized it’s a good deal better than it seems at first glance.
Thalia’s Lieutenant: Get your dice bag out, it’s a Human tribal Cathars’ Crusade! It’s a good thing there’s nothing in mono-white to turn Pegasi into Humans.
Epiphany at the Drownyard: The “wait, what???” card of the set, it is fuel for both hand-sculpting and graveyard-filling. I’m a fan of the Solomon’s choice of separating the cards and letting an opponent put one group in your hand. It seems strategically more difficult than Fact or Fiction variants, because you also have to read or know the opponent. One of my friends, Cole Giering, says he’ll always make a 5-0 split when someone casts Fact or Fiction. I wonder if he’d choose the non-zero pile if I split it that way.
Essence Flux: Giving blue this weapon at the cost of one mana made me immediately look at my Lavinia of the Tenth deck to see if any of the creatures are Spirits. It turns out that Karmic Guide is, which is good enough to make this a must-play card. Unfortunately, Reveillark is an Elemental.
Forgotten Creation: There are two powerfully good reasons to play this card. First, it’s a Zombie, and Zombies like a full graveyard (until it’s time for it to not be full). Second, you have the choice. If you like what’s in your hand, you can keep it. If you’d rather pitch it and try again, off you go.
Jace, Unraveler of Secrets: I’m already getting questions on whether or not this version of Jace is getting emergency banned. The “we didn’t pre-ban it” bar is pretty high. If we didn’t get panicky over that, you can rest assured we’re keeping a cool head about everything. Yes, I understand that, with Doubling Season, you can get the emblem right away. But seriously, how often is that going to happen? We don’t ban things on the small-usage cases. Honestly, it’s a fine card. It does good things even if you never get the emblem. In the worst case, it eats an attack that would have otherwise gone to your face.
Pore Over the Pages: I’m not sure it’s better than Jace’s Ingenuity, and I know it’s not better than Mystic Confluence, but especially in a format in which there are many lands which tap for more than one mana, this card will be very strong. LSV has denied any involvement in making this card or getting it made. That answer seems sketchy.
Behold the Beyond: It’s a little pricey, but if your hand is empty, it seems like the right call. Longtime readers know I’m not much of a fan of tutors in the format; I’d likely only play this myself in a deck that intended to reanimate what it just discarded. I certainly won’t go for any kind of dedicated combo.
Ever After: I’m still not sure if putting it at the bottom of your library is a bonus or a penalty. It doesn’t matter; this Victimize for which you don’t have to sacrifice a creature will see plenty of action.
From Under the Floorboards: The flavor win is only exceeded by the usefulness victory. Another card which I’m thoroughly looking forward to playing. If you madness it in the end step, it doesn’t even matter that the Zombies enter the battlefield tapped.
Mindwrack Demon: A great weapon for the self-mill creature decks, like Karador, Ghost Chieftain. It gets cards into your graveyard while laying on a little early pressure. I have a feeling it might be a very strong card in Standard.
Triskadekaphobia: Come for the name, stay for the panic when people are at thirteen life.
Flameblade Angel: I’m all about retributive Angels, and like the move of the tribe into red. Flameblade Angel makes someone attempting to kill your team a lower-EV proposition. I’m going to play this and hope an opponent plays Aether Flash.
Seasons Past: Sure, for 1G more with Praetor’s Counsel you can put all the cards back in your hand and have no hand size limit, but why have only one such card? Plus, this goes back into your deck instead of getting exiled. When you cast this, please be kind and already know what you’re putting back into your hand; don’t make the other players wait while you decide whether you’d rather have Yavimaya Elder or Eternal Witness (pro tip: it’s Eternal Witness).
Tireless Tracker: Combo with Briarbridge Patrol! Tireless Tracker will generate those Clue tokens for doing something you’re already doing, then get larger when you use them. How about something, something, Scapeshift?
Ulvenwald Hydra: Some people have already called this “half a Primeval Titan.” Let’s not go that far, but since it’s any land and not just a basic, we might be onto something. It can get rather large, and though I’d rather my giant creatures have trample instead of reach, it’ll do just nicely anyway.
Ulvenwald Mysteries: You’re going to need lots of dice or tokens to keep count of all the Clues you have. I suggest Boar tokens because boar is delicious in the hands of a capable cook (note that I said cook there, because not everyone who is a great cook is a chef, but now we’re getting off on a tangent). Anyway, it seems like you can start a great chain of making Clues, drawing cards, and making Human Soldiers.
Altered Ego: I will say some words. Those words are Altered Ego and Animar, Soul of Elements. Altered Ego was last week part of a very cool way to preview a card—a number of different judges got a slice of the card, and we tweeted them at various times, letting people piece it together. Clones keep getting better and better. I’m still not sure this trumps Gigantoplasm, but we can fortunately play both.
Anguished Unmaking: Getting to Vindicate, only the permanent is exiled and I can do it as an instant, is surely worth the three life. And if for some reason the player sacrifices the permanent, no doubt hoping to Regrow it later on, you don’t lose the life (so mission accomplished anyway).
The Gitrog Monster: The first time anyone reads this card, the reaction is the same. “Okay, deathtouch. Hrm, I don’t think I like sacrificing a land each turn—but ooh, hey, I get to play an extra one, so not so bad…oh Holy Hannah, what a card!” I got so excited about The Gitrog Monster that I didn’t at first realize that it’s legendary. I’m not sure what I’d build with it, but it will be hard to resist wanting to cram it into every deck that has black and green.
Nahiri, the Harbinger: The ultimate leaves me scratching my head, but the other two abilities get my motor running. It seems worth it just to cast it and exile two things (although people will obviously see the second one coming). Part of the upside of the card might lie in the fact that, since its ultimate isn’t scary, they might not attack it.
Olivia, Mobilized for War: Olivia seems mobilized for madness, too. Have a creature enter the battlefield, discard Big Game Hunter (triggering Olivia again), profit. Because of her low mana cost, she could also be a threat for killing with commander damage. A few early strikes, then some sort of buff, and then there are bodies on the floor.
Sigarda, Heron’s Grace: The more I think about this version of Sigarda, the cooler I am on it, but I can’t ignore the hexproof part. It may go into Karador, Ghost Chieftain just to protect me from Bojuka Bog.
Sorin, Grim Nemesis: Only Sarkhan the Mad and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon enter the battlefield with more loyalty counters than Sorin. The +1 ability would be good without causing the life loss; with it, it becomes one of the better planeswalker abilities. The –X ability is okay, but where Sorin gets crazy is on the ultimate of -9. You’ll likely put a crazy number of tokens onto the battlefield, and if you ever get the chance to attack with them, your life total will skyrocket. An extremely powerful card.
Brain in a Jar: It occurs to me that the first activated ability could get around a problem with colored mana as well as making something much cheaper to cast. This is the kind of card a skilled player can used to great advantage. And it has a brain. In a jar.
I didn’t list the lands other than Westvale Abbey because none of them are particularly noteworthy. The Shadow lands will probably get played, as players search for ever more ways of smoothing out their manabases, but there are better options in the format.
Simply put, this is one of the finest sets ever. There is a casual brilliance to the design due to the way the themes and mechanics resonate. The cards drip with flavor and feeling but don’t sacrifice any playability. The raw number of cards which you’ll see in decks is much higher than it’s been the last several sets.
Our normal Deck Without Comment feature will return after the release season.
Check out our awesome Deck List Database for the last versions of all my decks:
AURELIA GOES TO WAR;
CHILDREN of a LESSER GOD;
DEMONS OF KAALIA;
EREBOS and the HALLS OF THE DEAD;
HELIOD, GOD OF ENCHANTMENTS;
DREAMING OF INTET;
FORGE OF PURPHOROS;
KARN, BEATDOWN GOLEM;
HALLOWEEN WITH KARADOR;
KARRTHUS, WHO RAINS FIRE FROM THE SKY;
KRESH INTO THE RED ZONE;
LAZAV, SHAPESHIFTING MASTERMIND;
ZOMBIES OF TRESSERHORN;
MELEK’S MOLTEN MIND GRIND;
MERIEKE’S ESPER CONTROL;
NATH of the VALUE LEAF;
NYLEA OF THE WOODLAND REALM;
OBZEDAT, GHOST KILLER;
PURPLE HIPPOS and MARO SORCERERS;
ZEGANA and a DICE BAG;
YOU DID THIS TO YOURSELF;
RURIC THAR AND HIS BEASTLY FIGHT CLUB;
THASSA, GOD OF MERFOLK;
THE ALTAR of THRAXIMUNDAR;
TROSTANI and HER ANGELS;
THE THREAT OF YASOVA;
If you’d like to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that’s been alive since 1987 and is just now getting started with a new saga called “The Lost Cities of Nevinor”), ask for an invitation to the Facebook group “Sheldon Menery’s Monday Night Gamers.”