Shadows Over Innistrad Review: Red

The Innovator returns! Red decks win a lot of early Standard format events. Which cards from Shadows over Innistrad stand to make a run at glory this weekend at #SCGBALT?

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease April 2-3!

Shadows over Innistrad Standard begins this weekend, and as much as the rotation is mixing things up, the new set has a ton of cards that take us in very different directions from what we’ve been building around. As a result, we’re going to have to go back and evaluate the previous four sets with a new lens.

Today’s focus is on the red cards of Shadows over Innistrad and decks made possible because of them. A full review of blue cards can be found here, and black cards here.

Okay, let’s do this!

A fine role-player, Avacyn’s Judgment is no Bonfire of the Damned. Usually, it’s a glorified Twin Bolt, trading the instant-speed ability for the madness one. This is a pretty solid upgrade, particularly since madness lets us play it as an instant in lot of situations anyway. The real limiting factor is just how expensive it is to Judgment off madness, combined with a format potentially containing lots of 2/3s or bigger. Nevertheless, Avacyn’s Judgment is a winner, and if a madness deck wants more against tokens, it’s downright awesome.

We’ve already covered a number of madness decks over the past two days, so here’s an alternative direction we might explore:

Yeah, Zephyr Scribe!

Loot, Fiery Temper that, Loot, Just the Wind that, Loot…

A premier madness spell, Fiery Temper does a convenient amount of damage, is one of the few good burn spells that can go to any target. It’s also surrounded by much better support for madness than it had the last two times.

While Fiery Temper did have Lightning Axe last time, Lightning Axe didn’t have as much support as it has now, either. Even still, Lightning Axe was good last time and will be even better this time. Archangel of Tithes, Archangel Avacyn (with trigger on the stack), Mindwrack Demon, and Dragonlord Silumgar are all prime targets that are usually much more difficult for a red deck to deal with.

Even though we’re casting madness spells off Lightning Axe a good chunk of the time, we always have the option to pay the full six and skip the discard clause.

What about Mad Prophet?

I can’t be upset at anyone getting value from looting away madness cards, and haste is particularly valuable here. We can just drop it and then immediately loot away Fiery Temper or Just the Wind to keep the tempo flowing. The issue, of course, is that four mana for a two-toughness creature, particularly one that imagines us having another mana in a lot of the dream states, is a big investment. Maybe it’s better than Zephyr Scribe? It’s definitely better than Reckless Scholar, that’s for sure.


Bloodmad Vampire is a passable-rate body that happens to have madness and even gets a discard when you do it. The problem, of course, is that a 4/1 ground creature isn’t optimal in the format. There are just too many tokens and too many 2/3s that were cheaper or got value already.

It is nice that madness can make Bloodmad Vampire play like it has flash. This makes it more likely to be able to sneak in against an opponent that didn’t know how much we were about to be attacking for.

Another possibility is to combine Bloodmad Vampire with Stensia Masquerade, since first strike while attacking works really well on 4/1s.

Stensia Masquerade is discussed at length in the article on black, since so many of the other Vampires are black. The short version is that Stensia Masquerade is a very snowball-y card that works particularly well on fliers. That it can be played at instant speed because of madness lets us score some nice blowouts against opponents that thought they were trading off creatures. The biggest risk to the card is that it provides pretty close to zero defense, so we’d better be completely invested in staying ahead, because we’re not catching up from behind.

One of the fundamental decision points of building B/R Vampire decks is figuring out if you are more red or more black. It’s hard to push both without slowing way down.

The primary advantage to being base-red is reliably playing one-drops on turn 1, which red has a lot of. The tempo of having a good one-drop is great, since so many other people won’t. The problem, though, is the large population of 2/3s and 3/3s making life tough for 2/1s like Falkenrath Gorger.

In addition to being the first red one-drop in Magic’s history to have two power without a drawback, Falkenrath Gorger’s ability is actually quite relevant, too. It reduces the chances of having to discard something we need to Lightning Axe. It gives our Vampires virtual flash. Finally, it goes nuts with Olivia, Mobilized for War. Play a Vampire, discard a Vampire to give the first haste, madness that one, and so on.

Insolent Neonate is a lot more than just a Hapless Researcher, even if you have to discard the card before drawing its replacement. To begin with, it has menace, which is a bigger deal than it might seem. It’s free early damage, but it also makes life tough for opponents trying to manage enough blockers for the attack they fear but don’t know the full extent of. If you play Insolent Neonate with madness because of Falkenrath Gorger, it’s getting in for one unless your opponent has two extra blockers.

As for the loot ability, Insolent Neonate has tons of good options to discard. While it’s nice to just improve your hand quality in response to removal, Insolent Neonate is going to take one for the team proactively quite a bit. For instance:

Us: Turn 1 Land, Insolent Neonate.

Them: Tapped land.

Us: Turn 2 Land, attack for one.

Them: Land; Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy.

Us: Surprise, fool! Sacrifice Insolent Neonate to cast Bloodmad Vampire and draw a card! Untap and attack for 4, including picking up a +1/+1 counter.

What about Incorrigible Youths?

Yeah, yeah, fine. Incorrigible Youths is the most aggressively Level 1 card in quite some time. It’s fine, and particularly nice against Gideon and Kozilek’s Return, but generally very at risk of trading down. The ground gets bogged down, people have ways to deal three, and stuff just goes wrong more than you might expect. There are also a lot of options for what to discard on turn 3 that might be slightly better (at least in black).

Still, here’s a mono-red madness list that makes use of Incorrigible Youths (largely because of how much red values haste, while also not having as many good options as blue or black offer).

As you can see, we’re really just a Red Deck Wins strategy with a minor madness component. Getting to play Senseless Rage at instant speed is a good time!

Senseless Rage has a very respectable rate, and while it’s far from assured that the format will call for creature Auras, this is a good one. It’s particularly nice with Ravenous Bloodseeker, which ensures we can always play it at instant speed, not to mention potentially getting extra pumps.

Normally, Ravenous Bloodseeker can only discard one card per turn before dying (which we sometimes might want to do, such as in response to a Declaration of Stone when we have three). When the first card discarded is Senseless Rage, though, the Bloodseeker actually becomes a 5/3. This means, if we want, we can actually discard another card to make it a 7/1 until end of turn.

Turn 2: Ravenous Bloodseeker.

Turn 3: Senseless Rage + Fiery Temper to clear away the blocker.

Senseless Rage is also nice on Scourge Wolf, both boosting it to eight damage when you’ve got delirium and providing an obscure type when you don’t.

Magmatic Insight is just a good card in its own right but it’s particularly hot with delirium, adding both sorcery and land (with creature and instant usually coming pretty easily). Foundry of the Consuls is also a backdoor option for getting delirium late, but we can’t count on it. More likely, we might just discard the missing link in combat to surprise our opponent with how double strike-y our Wolves are…

Of course, this list doesn’t even take advantage of how great of a creature type Scourge Wolf has!

Why Wolf tribal?

An Anthem granting +1/+1 and trample is already something, but flash is just night and day. Not only does it let us disrupt burn spells and mess up combat, it lets us play the Werewolf game. We don’t cast anything, hoping to flip our Werewolves. Normally, our opponent could Anticipate or something and waste our time. However, with Howlpack Resurgence, Duskwatch Recruiter’s ability, and Pack Guardian, we’ve got ways to make sure the turn wasn’t a waste.

Surprise! Two more attackers or blockers, not to mention Scourge Wolf has delirium now, since we discarded that land!

Village Messenger is the only one-drop Werewolf in the format, but it’s not clear we’re really looking for one. Haste is actually a major part of the appeal here, making it still useful to draw later, especially when combined with our numerous Anthem effects. Howlpack Resurgence; Nissa, Voice of Zendikar; Arlinn Kord; Atarka’s Command; or Breakneck Rider — we’re not short on ways to pump our swarm or our Scourge Wolves.

Breakneck Rider is only medium on power level, so we could easily want to let it sit out. I was just thinking that we might value the third point of toughness more than the haste of Geier Reach Bandit.

Geier Reach Bandit’s flip is cool if we’re dedicated Werewolves, but it doesn’t actually flip that much in this deck. Geier Reach Bandit is good at being the first or second one to the party, whereas Breakneck Rider is more about going wide with token-making. It might just be that the Bandit is sufficiently more powerful that we should play it instead anyway, but I would guess it’s more likely that we want neither and should just play more removal or planeswalkers instead.

If we actually want to take advantage of Geier Reach Bandit, we can slant away from Scourge Wolf and more towards Werewolf:

You know what card lets you play a terrific flash game?

Collected Company is particularly sick with Werewolves, since playing two of them on your opponent’s turn means you just have to not spend mana on your turn to flip them. Normally, opponents know they need to save mana to stop Werewolves from flipping. However, with Collected Company, they never know when that might be the matter at hand.

Westvale Abbey and Foundry of the Consuls are potentially decent ways to make use of our mana on turns we play the “Werewolf Game.” Balancing manabases is so much more challenging in this format than the end of the last one.

A very modest two-drop, Kessig Forgemaster is the test of “How badly do you want your two-drop to be a Werewolf?” Even though Werewolves benefit from Geier Reach Bandit’s ability, there’s no reason we have to be mono-Werewolves. Sylvan Advocate? Deathcap Cultivator? Den Protector? If we’re willing to weaken the power of Howlpack Resurgence, the world is our oyster. Hell, we could play Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy…

The third best red three-drop Werewolf is a rough spot to live.

While Burn from Within isn’t getting the headlines (yet), it is a major beneficiary of addition by subtraction. The format has lost most of the burn that can target both players and creatures. Burn from Within’s rate is that of a modest X-spell, but it does have upside against recursion creatures like Deathmist Raptor and Relentless Dead. It’s also an out to a flipped Westvale Abbey.

While we won’t be casting all that many seven-point Burn from Withins with this list, it can be part of a simple, no-frills red aggro package.

Goldnight Castigator is basically a 4/5 flying, haste creature that makes you take double damage. It’s got theoretical upside against double Grasp of Darkness and theoretical downside versus lifelink fliers, but mostly it’s a bigger Stormbreath Dragon. Like Stormbreath Dragon would, were it with us today, Goldnight Castigator isn’t blown out of the water by Archangel Avacyn the way Thunderbreak Regent is.

Goldnight Castigator is an inherently good card, but it does have a lot of competition at the four-spot. Pia and Kiran Nalaar is great if you have Atarka’s Command. Thunderbreak Regent makes Draconic Roar great. Arlinn Kord might be a worthwhile splash.

If we really want to maximize Goldnight Castigator, we could always consider Assault Formation

Better than it looks, but Dance with Devils surely cannot compete with four-drops like Pia and Kiran Nalaar.

Devil’s Playground has a decent impact on the battlefield, really grinding some attacks to a halt. Sadly, however, it is red six-drop living in Chandra, Flamecaller’s world. It also gets wrecked by Declaration in Stone.

Sure, let me just spend five mana for a removal spell that depends on my opponent having two creatures currently blocking…

A good sideboard option, Dual Shot is Twin Bolt for the red mage that wants to pay half price in exchange for not being able to hit Jace or Face.

A modest rate, but at least it’s pretty well-distributed. Haste and Firebreathing go well together. That the first pump naturally goes to 3/2 is efficient (since everything is a 2/3 or 3/3). The Wolf tribe has a non-zero number of reasons to consider it.

About the only thing working against Ember-Eye Wolf is that it’s not very good.

This is just not what Constructed is about. It’s expensive, easily disrupted, and is outclassed by a lot of four-drops, let alone six-drops.

Way too expensive for Constructed.

Geistblast is a fascinating card with many layers to it. At its base level, it’s a Shock that charges an extra two in exchange for flashing back an uncounterable Reverberate (assuming you are blue). Outside of just being a two-for-one, Geistblast has synergy with discard outlets, self-mill, and additional costs.

Take Tormenting Voice, for instance:

Tormenting Voice requires discarding a card as an additional cost. If that additional card is Geistblast, you can actually exile the Geistblast to copy the Tormenting Voice, since it’s still on the stack. What’s more, you don’t even need to discard a card for the copy!

You can also copy Magmatic Insight and Lightning Axe without paying the additional costs; just be careful. If the original is countered by a Negate or something, the copy will fizzle. If you slowplay the Geistblast against permission, though, you can copy a spell in response to your opponent countering it so that you still get a copy.

I love, love, love Chandra with madness, spamming the 0 ability. Besides, she’s an awesome card and great in the format.

Where are the Tormenting Voices?

Hey, how much do-nothing do you want to play?

Is it time?

Just as a note, Fevered Visions is an above-average power-level Howling Mine. It always gives you the card first. Enchantments are harder to remove than artifacts. It’s harder for opponents to get rid of without actually putting you up a card. If they do take the extra card off it, they are likely also taking some damage. Two a turn adds up quickly. Just look at Sulfuric Vortex!

I guess if there’s a Scourge Wolf aggro deck that just easily gets delirium early, Gibbering Fiend is a three-power creature under those circumstances. The thing, that’s not “good” or anything. Having to work to get up to fringe is not appealing.

You generally need to copy several spells before you’ve even “paid” back for your investment, since you keep having to pay for each of the copies. One possible way to profit is to play enough cantrips and library manipulation, maybe mana producers, so that you chain through your whole deck (or at least enough to win). Cracking the code on this style is going to take some work, but two Recollects and two Time Warps equals game over in Modern.

Alternatively, if you were to mill yourself a bunch, maybe you could get the game to an almost Pyromancer Ascension-like state early enough that you can just use it as a card drawer…

A vital component of any attempt to use Harness the Storm “fairly” is to stick as closely to all four-ofs as you can for your sorceries and instants. Worth noting that Avacyn’s Judgment doesn’t work very well with Harness the Storm.

We wouldn’t be in for a 3/3 for three with no drawback, let alone a drawback.

The Devil creature type isn’t exactly what Cobblebrute needs to be competitive.

Four mana is just too much to spend in Constructed on a conditional creature removal with no upside. I guess it’s possible a mono-red deck would want a kill spell for something like The Gitrog Monster or Ulvenwald Hydra, maybe even the Archangel Avacyn they just cast, and be willing to pay a premium for it. It has such big blind spots, though, like Mindwrack Demon and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet.

A reprint that is unlikely to be good enough but is an option to keep in mind if we are finding games getting bogged down on the ground. It’s the sort of card white aggro or green Deathmist Raptor decks would appreciate more than red.

Act of Treason is a frequently good sideboard card, and an extra mana for two “damage” is not the worst deal. This is a much more appealing answer to The Gitrog Monster or Ulvenwald Hydra out of a U/R deck (hopefully killing your opponent outright).

The interesting part, however, comes from Madness letting us cast it at instant speed. Stealing a creature in the middle of combat is a big deal. I wouldn’t expect an enormous amount of this, but it’s definitely playable.

It cares about something good to care about, but the payoff just isn’t big enough. Contrast this with Young Pyromancer, a card that produces the same amount of damage for half the cost, while also splitting up the profit across a lot of bodies. We have to cast at least three spells just to get the Pyre Hound up to what we’d consider baseline. To actually make a profit takes more, and a single removal spell collapses the advantage we built like a house of cards.

We can do much, much better in Constructed. For instance, Burn from Within.

While Rush of Adrenaline is mostly a Limited trick, it is notable in how mana-efficient of a way it is to grant trample in some kind of a Zada, Hedron Grinder deck. It’s also interesting to consider the possibility of stacking up cheap pump spells on a double striker, like Scourge Wolf.

I think we can do better, although it is a good creature type, and some of these U/R decks can trigger prowess a fair number of times. That said, it’s unlikely to be good enough, as we have so many good options at the two-spot.

A lot of people seem to be really into this Devil, but I’m not a fan. It dies to everything and its ability isn’t even going to be two damage a turn on the average most of the time. It’s not reliable, doesn’t protect itself, doesn’t press your advantage. I’m just not into it.

As funny as it sounds, I could actually get into Skin Invasion. It’s a 3/4 for one mana when things go right, which is pretty great. Insolent Neonate is a nice combo with it, and maybe we can find another way to trigger it reliably.

A blowout in Limited, Spiteful Motives is just too much mana for a payoff that falls apart against removal and relies on the opponent blocking to get value.

At least somewhat interesting in the world of Westvale Abbey. I also don’t hate hitting a Lumbering Falls with it.

It’s kind of funny, imagining hitting a G/R Ramp player’s Mountain, possibly taking them off of Chandra. Unfortunately, too many will have Oath of Nissa anyway, to say nothing of just playing a third red source.

A reasonable tribe and a desirable ability, but Ulrich’s Kindred just costs too much to operate efficiently. You can’t even use it to protect your creatures from sorcery-speed removal, and the trample is redundant with Howlpack Resurgence. Save this one for Draft.

With Temur Battle Rage gone, there’s a void for instant-speed double strike. With Become Immense gone, there might not be a need for it, though. Uncaged Fury granting an extra +1/+1 actually means two extra points of damage, so there’s a deceptive amount of power hidden here. For a good time, Uncaged Fury your Zada, Hedron Grinder.

Fun fact: Ravenous Bloodseeker + Titan’s Strength + Uncaged Fury = eighteen damage!

(This assumes you’ve got two cards to discard to the Bloodseeker. Monstrous Growth instead of Titan’s Strength makes it an even twenty with the option to discard another card for four more damage.)

Cheap mana acceleration always deserves special attention, and Vessel of Volatility is actually as cheap and efficient as Pentad Prism, a frequent roleplayer in more powerful formats. We might even get extra value out the Vessel because of it being an enchantment (Eidolon of Blossoms) or not being an artifact (Ancient Grudge). It doesn’t have the color-fixing aspect the Prism had, but it can help you get delirium for when you want to Traverse the Ulvenwald for Dragonlord Atarka instead of Mountain.

Vessel of Volatility actually offers a form of acceleration we haven’t seen in a while. With just a single card on turn 2, you can play a five-cost card on turn 3. That’s an incredible boost of speed if you have an awesome five-drop that can be cast with red, red, red, red, and another land. There’s a bit of a shortage of those in red and green at the moment, but it’s something to keep an eye out for. At the moment, about the best we’ve got is Reality Smasher, although it might be non-trivial to get the colorless. That said, Chandra is a very fine six-drop to play on turn 4.

An appealing set of abilities, but not enough rate. Only two toughness is gonna lead to some Fiery Impulses, some trading down with Reflector Mage and Sylvan Advocate, and some awkward combat against tokens.

Pretty absurd in Limited, sure, but there’s pretty close to zero hope Wolf of Devil’s Breach makes it into high-level Constructed. We wouldn’t pay four to get a 5/5, so we need to get more than a mana worth of value out of the ability. The ability itself costs two mana and aspires to turn a card in our hand into a removal spell.

Yes, we can get an advantage if the card we discarded had madness or graveyard interactions, but there are lots of ways to discard cards. This ability can’t even go to the face, which would have at least promised the dream of doing ten to our opponent with an Eldrazi or something.

All right, I’ll be back Monday as we continue our journey through Shadows over Innistrad, plus we’ll have the results of the first major event with the new cards, #SCGBALT. See you then!

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease April 2-3!