Shadows Over Innistrad Review: Blue

Pro Tour Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin is kicking off his Shadows over Innistrad Series with a big blue bang! It’s no secret that The Innovator loves blue spells. So what does he have to work with for #SCGBALT this time around?

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease April 2-3!

This week, I’d like to take a look at Shadows over Innistrad in full. Today, we’ll kick things off with blue cards (and cards that go in the same decks as blue cards). I’ll be back Wednesday and Friday with the rest of the set. As always, our focus is on figuring out how to use the new cards, rather than dismissing cards or strategies outright just yet.

A fitting homage to an iconic Innistrad card, but one that’s costed for Limited rather than Constructed. We’ve got a lot of great options at four, and it’s just too likely that we get blown out by a Fiery Impulse or something.

They sure don’t make Cancels like Dissolve anymore…

Broken Concentration stays true to the Void Shatter / Scatter to the Winds paradigm of Cancels with tiny upside. Where might Broken Concentration see play? Well, with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy legal in the format, the answer is basically any blue deck might. It’s a small edge, but given how rarely Void Shatter or Scatter to the Winds matters, I’m gonna lean towards using Broken Concentration as my Cancel of choice, at least initially.

I’m definitely not sure that U/R Madness Control is even a real archetype, but there are enough control-oriented madness cards that it’s worth a shot. The biggest challenge we face, at least out the gate, is how much our removal is slanted towards two- and three-toughness creatures. What we need is better planeswalker protection.

It’s interesting just how much U/R gets to naturally step on two-toughness creatures. These cards are exciting, but play too many of them and we’re gonna get stuck with clunky hands against opponents without small creatures.

Avacyn’s Judgment is an important part of our anti-token plan while also serving as victory condition and planeswalker defense. Welcome to the Fold is slow, but a potential instant-speed Control Magic is a big deal. Stealing Hangarback Walker is particularly awesome (but be careful not to flip Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy if you steal him).

Geistblast is just good value but also does some pretty sweet things with the discard outlets, though in a different way from madness. You can actually discard it to Lightning Axe and then copy the Lightning Axe!

Lightning Axe is a really mana-efficient way to put your madness and graveyard cards to work. Despite the fact that we’ll be paying just one most of the time, it is important to remember that we’ve got the option to pay six mana total in order to cast it without the discard clause.

We’ve actually got another graveyard card we can play in order to get more out of our discard outlets.

Drownyard Temple makes for an awesome discard to Jace on turn 3, particularly during your opponent’s end step. You can then get it out of your graveyard, giving you five mana on the following turn instead of four. Perhaps even better is when you do this trick on turn 4, which lets you surprise your opponent with a Chandra, Flamecaller a turn early.

Isn’t four copies of Chandra, Flamecaller a lot?

Sure, but she’s particularly good in a madness/graveyard strategy where her zero ability starts going nuts. Rather than drawing an extra card and a half a turn, we’re easily able to start drawing three cards a turn, rapidly overpowering most opponents. It’s also just a great card, and if we draw too many, sometimes we can discard our extras to the one on the battlefield.

When you are discarding cards like Just the Wind, you can get some serious tempo advantages. Discarding Just the Wind to Jace lets you effectively “build” a Repulse for just one mana. That’s insanely good and further evidence of just how absurd Jace is going to be in this format.

I’m really not sure how much durdly stuff, like Nagging Thoughts, we’ll be able to play. I tried Tormenting Voice in here, and it was too slow. Nagging Thoughts could easily be too slow, but I could also imagine it being the Anticipate we need to smooth out our draws early, while still giving us the advantage we’re looking for from our discard outlets.

Believe me, I’ve definitely considered Catalog and its much more attractive big sibling, Artificer’s Epiphany. It’s hard to ever get much ahead, though. Even when you discard a madness card, you’re barely above Divination.

Now we’re talking!

Compelling Deterrence is somewhat limited in where it can go, but in a deck with Zombies, it’s a Recoil the likes of which we haven’t seen in some time.

What’s the big deal about making them discard a card? They could even be a madness deck!

True, but in general, this is a Disperse with upside, and Disperse is already fringe. The upside isn’t just an extra life, or whatever. It’s an entire card. That’s huge when it comes to grindy attrition battles. It’s also particularly hot when you Compelling Deterrence a token (which still forces them to discard).

This list involves a lot of trying of various cards, but even when we tune the list, we may find ourselves wanting a diverse mix of Zombies, as many of them have diminishing returns.

Relentless Dead isn’t the easiest card in the world to use, but it is a fantastic Magic card. A two-power menace creature is already close for two mana. When you throw in the self-recursion ability, you’re already there. That it also brings your other Zombies back to the battlefield is just disgusting. Just think about looping Fleshbag Marauder + Nantuko Husk + Relentless Dead.

It’s also important for bringing Prized Amalgam back…

Prized Amalgam exists in this interesting borderline place between Zombies and madness. You can just cast it as a 3/3 that keeps coming back, but the real value is discarding it to Jace and then cheating it straight onto the battlefield. This list has plenty of Zombie recursion, but there’s also going the path of Geralf’s Masterpiece and Stitchwing Skaab for a different kind of recursion.

Like Geistblast, these Zombies can be discarded whenever and then brought back later. You need to get one into the graveyard to get them going, but then you can start discarding more of them to each other, emptying your hand, which in turn makes the Masterpiece that much more devastating.

Aren’t these card disadvantage?

Well, if we wanted, we could just cast them by themselves, so this really is upside. As for the multiple cards you have to discard, consider this opener:

Turn 2: Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy

Turn 3: Discard Stitchwing Skaab, followed by discarding Geralf’s Masterpiece and Prized Amalgam. Doing it!

Maybe if we play tons of graveyard cards, like the Stitchwing, the Masterpiece, Prized Amalgam, Relentless Dead, and more, we can get enough value out of a Forgotten Creation to be worth the risk. I wouldn’t hold my breath. It is pretty sweet, though…

Stitched Mangler is a fine card, but we are so glutted at the three-spot, I don’t know where we’d find the room. In general, I’m a bigger fan of the Mangler decks without much removal. It’s often a bit of a budget Reflector Mage.

Drunau Corpse Trawler is not the worst token-maker in the world, especially in a Fleshbag Marauder deck. It’s also pretty effective at forcing your Zombies through green fatties like Sylvan Advocate. It’s particularly awesome when you give your Relentless Dead deathtouch, since it takes two creatures to block it and it’s just coming back anyway.

I’m starting to suspect you’re greedy…

Confirm Suspicions is an underrated Counterspell / Opportunity hybrid. It may take a while, but it will eventually draw you as many extra cards as Opportunity while letting you make the payments in nice, easy installments.

While it is a bit expensive and unwieldy, it’s actually quite awesome in conjunction with certain instant-speed cards like Archangel Avacyn, Ojutai’s Command, and Epiphany at the Drownyard.

What are they supposed to do when you have five mana up? Having multiple killer five-mana tricks makes each of them better. Likewise, when people try to play around our Ojutai’s Command, we can often progress the battlefield by casting Epiphany at the Drownyard for four cards.

I think a lot of people are sleeping on this one, not taking into consideration how low the opportunity cost is on it compared to most big card drawers. While it’s not as good at taking over the game as Sphinx’s Revelation, it is better at cycling for five mana (or less).

Epiphany at the Drownyard is also a great Descend upon the Sinful enabler, helping get us that 4/4 Angel we so justly deserve.

Descend is the latest sweeper variant, replacing End Hostilities, but this one is quite a bit different from Planar Outburst. Costing six is obviously a big deal, but the 4/4 Angel and the exiling are both big deals, too. It’s particularly nice to be able to trump our opponent’s Archangel Avacyn, Deathmist Raptor, or whatever.

The new Path to Exile, Declaration in Stone is the truth. It reliably solves most problems, and the drawback takes a while to catch up to you. Besides, the sweeping aspect is totally awesome, since it’s only giving people multiple clues when they are losing multiple creatures. As if this weren’t enough, it actually blows tokens out of the water.

Unlike Confirm Suspicions, I don’t see Deny Existence having much of a chance. I guess it is nice that it exiles their World Breaker, but it doesn’t stop Chandra, and that’s kind of a dealbreaker.

Daring Sleuth doesn’t have a natural path to transformation, and even when you pull it off, you’re still just looking at a really modest-rate Scroll Thief. Having to pay two for each of those extra cards, after having to get our Bearer through, after having to have acquired a Clue and cracked it? Pass.

Too slow.

What is this deck full of Islands that isn’t using a bunch of colorless lands that produce action? Of course, that said, it doesn’t have to be a mono-Island deck. A four-mana instant that sweeps tokens and small creatures could be appealing, even if you only have two Islands, and remember, Prairie Stream and Sunken Hollow count.

It’s bad enough, playing a six-drop that doesn’t help defend you, but Rise from the Tides is just so vulnerable to Declaration in Stone. If you are going to use it, make sure you save a removal spell for the token they target.

Of course, all this naysaying aside, it can produce twenty or more power pretty easily. Maybe that’s enough. It’s kind of like an Army of the Damned, without the Flashback.

I dunno, man. I guess we’re not paying that much; but getting a second Clue after the first time we investigate each turn isn’t exactly the sickest ever. Even when things are going perfectly, we still need four mana a turn tied up!

Okay, I’ll admit it. That one looks pretty fun. I wonder if we can work Tamiyo’s Journal into it, maybe to go find a Part the Waterveil or two?

I like where your head is, but Fleeting Memories is a relatively slow way to mill people out. That so many of the best Clue enablers are creatures that aren’t embarrassing to beat with makes me skeptical that decking is really how we want to win.

Momentary Blink is back, baby!

Essence Flux reads like a Spirits card, but doesn’t need to be used in any tribal capacity if we don’t want to. There are lots of great non-Spirit blink targets, particularly Reflector Mage.

In addition to abusing Reflector Mage, Essence Scatter also gets absolutely crazy with Thalia’s Lieutenant, quickly distributing multiple +1/+1 counters to your entire battlefield. Even just getting an extra Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit trigger can be important, and sometimes we just want to save our Jace from a removal spell!

Not a competitive rate for Constructed.

Ghostly Wings isn’t that bad, but it’s not really what we’re looking for, either.

That this is one of the few ways to interact with lands is interesting, but ultimately, I think, not enough to tip the scales.

Envelop has been playable in the past, and Invasive Surgery is an upgrade. If the world goes nuts for Declaration in Stone or Traverse the Ulvenwald, Invasive Surgery is a pretty efficient way to interact with them. While Invasive Surgery looks more like a sideboard card, I could actually imagine a couple of ways the format could break where it actually has some maindeck presence.

An extensive breakdown of the latest Jace can be found here, but the short version is that Jace, Unraveler of Secrets is sort of like an Ob Nixilis Reignited with a better +1 ability but weaker other abilities. It’s unfortunate that his name is Jace, since Vryn’s Prodigy is so good. In general, however, the card is decent, nothing special.

A passable Limited trick, but this isn’t what Constructed is usually about, nor is it a particularly impressive version of the effect.

Another Limited card, as there are just too many strong fives available in Constructed.

I’m not super thinking turbo-mill at the moment, but mise…

Just sending a mill for thirteen upstairs isn’t the most brutal direct damage, but a couple of these can add up…

I don’t recommend this card, just to be clear. This is a really expensive way to get some fancy “card advantage,” and the extra cards you are drawing are just “mill thirteen”s.

You want to run them out, right? Besides, this gives you an enchantment for delirium and a cantrip on layaway for Sphinx’s Tutelage.

So, it’s come to this?

Look, Sanity Grinding was a real deck. Sometimes, you gotta think outside the box.

Way too much mana to cast. You’ve got to be in it for giving the team flying after looting it away if you want the Moondrakes.

Just not enough rate for a card that doesn’t do anything. Compare to Abbot of Keral Keep (to say nothing of how little this card did when we had the version in Khans block).

This might be the most Adrian Sullivan card in the set. It’s clever, involves a lot of thought, and will lead to some really exotic lines of play revolving around weaving together these two disjoined abilities. Ongoing Investigation is gonna surprise some people, since I would guess many assume it’s not a Constructed card when it is. That’s a pretty efficient way to gain life, which is something non-white decks are often lacking. Plus, it’s not the worst card drawer, either.

You gotta work pretty hard to get Pieces of the Puzzle to relatively consistently draw you two cards. That’s still nowhere near Painful Truths, in terms of power. If you want Pieces of the Puzzle to be worth it, you’ve got to get some value out of graveyard recursion in some way. Whether it’s Nearhearth Chaplain, Geistblast, or Drownyard Temple, you need some other ways to profit so you can actually get above a two-for-one.

Pore Over the Pages is a very mediocre draw spell. We already have better than a sorcery drawing three cards for five mana that sees very little play; and this is similar, but with the “upside” being trading one of the cards you draw for a little extra mana this turn. That’s fine, but it’s not an impressive as Ob Nixilis Reignited or Jace, Unraveler of Secrets, let alone Painful Truths or Goblin Dark-Dwellers.

Too slow and inefficient, since decks that might want this effect are usually going to be really disappointed with this effect on a sorcery.

A flying 2/1 flash creature isn’t terrible, but it’s also not good enough. However, Rattlechains makes your other Spirits a fair bit better, both protecting one, and giving future Spirits flash (which works great with Topplegeist and Spectral Shepherd).

Assemble Tron and you’ll have built your own Icy Manipulator!

I could imagine a Madness deck being this desperate for more Looters, but we’ve got to be able to do better than this.

You’d have to be pretty desperate for a two-cost nonblack Zombie…

Not even in the ZIP code of Constructed-playable, based on the current card pool.

Quality Limited card, poorly positioned in Constructed.

There are a lot of better (cheaper) versions of this, if we want it. And we usually don’t.

Not exactly a favorable comparison to Archangel Avacyn

Thing in the Ice has been one of the most-talked-about and most-hyped cards, and while I think it’s fine, it seems a bit overblown. There are just lots of ways for people to disrupt it at a serious tempo loss, and it’s such a bad topdeck sometimes. That said, it is a 7/8 with upside for two mana when the conditions are met.

Trail of Evidence is an interesting card-draw engine for a deck like this. You are basically assured of never running out of cards again, but that’s a lot of mana it asks of you. In general, I actually don’t mind this one as much as a lot of the other card-draw engines that are much slower.

A bit too Limited.

Okay, I’m out for today, but I’ll be back later this week with more Shadows over Innistrad. See you then!

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease April 2-3!