Shadows Over Innistrad Winners And Losers

A lot of players have sketched out new decks, but few of them have tested to the extent Michael Majors has! See the decks and cards that are doing well, and see the cards the format can live without!

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease April 2-3!

The title of this article might be a tad misleading, but we’ve already played a ton of Standard and the Prerelease hasn’t even happened yet!

Here are some of the cards that have impressed and fallen short in my testing so far:


Archangel Avacyn is even better than she looks, which is pretty incredible. She is massively format-warping and oddly difficult to play with and against. She and Chandra, Flamecaller are two of the most important indicators of the relevant sizing in the format. Having five toughness in Standard right now is valuable for attacking freely into “Avacyn mana” and surviving Chandra’s –X ability.

Finding ways to break open Archangel Avacyn mirrors is going to be a big deal as well as looking for cards that play well against her, and not just in terms of simple removal spells. Cards like Ojutai’s Command start to look a lot more valuable when it should be fairly common in Standard play patterns to lock up the ground and turtle up with the intention of letting Avacyn dominate the battlefield.

Declaration in Stone feels like the best removal spell in Standard. The card fits somewhere in-between Maelstrom Pulse and Path to Exile by being fairly efficient and having only a medium drawback. It can even be valuable at times to tag your own creatures with Declaration, similarly to Path.

Giving your opponents Clues is certainly relevant, but if they are under pressure, it is incredibly unlikely that they will have time to “take off” and draw a card before deploying the rest of their hand.

Stasis Snare is also certainly on the short list, since it is also effective against Avacyn and Reality Smasher, but as a slightly more expensive enchantment, there is still a real weakness to Dromoka’s Command.

Speaking of Clues, don’t sleep on this one! I might have made a little fun of Gerry and Tom when they started to incorporate this card into some of their decks, but Inspector Gadget plays! Any deck that is interested in having an extra body around is well served by the Inspector, and there is an extreme disparity in relevant one-drops at the moment. One of my favorite curves from our white decks involves playing Investigator, popping the Clue on turn 2, and then surging ahead with Knight of the White Orchid (on the draw).

I was wrong. It’s not clear whether the hype is justified at this point, and I haven’t even really started to think about how Thing in the Ice can be incorporated into Modern, but the Horror is quite powerful.

Control decks are really tough to build right now as there aren’t a lot of good options for card advantage. Instead they need to leverage short-term advantages and a fast clock like Dragonlord Ojutai. Thing in the Ice is another great tool for getting on the battlefield early and playing a little defense before turning the corner in a huge way. It is also powerful against the plethora of token options available to basically everyone right now in Standard.

Start looking into building Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy / Thing in the Ice / Ojutai’s Command decks.

There are a lot of ways to either circumvent or leverage this “drawback.” Exile effects are nice for fighting Avacyn and other annoyances, like your opponent’s Hangarback Walkers, or even fueling Processors.

Thraben Inspector, various Oaths, my own Hangarback Walkers, and even Demonic Pact are a variety of options that I’ve toyed with used alongside Purge. This is another great option for complementing Declaration in Stone.

Again, Arlinn is another card that I think probably underrated. It should come as no surprise that her +1 ability that grants haste is the most powerful, as it can facilitate play-patterns involving Arlinn early to get on the battlefield with a Wolf and then Lightning Bolt before flipping back and giving a seven-drop like World Breaker or Dragonlord Atarka haste.

Speaking of, her Lightning Bolt ability is incredible for covering Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and furthering her backside ability is great in go-wide decks. Arlinn is a real monster should she ever stay on the battlefield.

My biggest issue with her is the colors she’s in. R/G is not particularly great at dealing with Archangel Avacyn or a transformed Westvale Abbey. White really does have a monopoly on the great removal in Standard right now.

I haven’t played many games with this card yet, but wow is it powerful when it works. There is certainly a great deal of warranted appeal toward more midrange-esque decks with a lot of creature removal, especially when they are topped off by Archangel Avacyn.

Against a deck that is able to play Fevered Visions effectively, those types of strategies have a massive problem getting cards out of their hand as they are typically uncastable removal spells! Fevered Visions’s two-damage clause is nothing to scoff at and can end games in a hurry by chip-shotting opponents and gassing back up the U/R Mage. It can even hit planeswalkers!

I have my eye on this card.


This is a bit misleading as well. Mindwrack Demon is actually pretty great. It is a relevant body and threat with an ability that is typically an upside. The problem is that Mindwrack Demon doesn’t really have any great homes because black is poor in this environment.

Sure, you can play some removal and discard and various other supportive cards, but there’s no huge draw to the color. A lack of effective engines is a real issue and base-black decks aren’t really working toward anything significant.

The Reanimator deck that I’ve been toying with is certainly a fine home for the Demon, but that deck definitely still needs a lot of work and has consistency issues. Further, the massive spike in power level of white removal that exiles makes it difficult to justify having your deck’s payoff be a big creature when it can just be removed.

I’m still working on a Demonic Pact deck!

The big issue here I think is that three- and four-color decks are just heinous. They are awkward and slow and are incredibly unreliable. To make them work with Traverse specifically, you require a lot of early green sources, notably Forests, and you’re also forced to interact early to enable delirium on Traverse. I certainly think that the ceiling is high on this card and that it is quite powerful, but for now It’s unclear how to make Traverse decks work.

Perhaps the answer is to combine Mindwrack Demon here and play a midrange B/G deck? This might also be a great home for Seasons Past.

The small-ball Vampires are just not good. Oh how times have changed where a “Jackal Pup” with another theoretically strong ability is just not something I’m even considering, but here we are. This card and the majority of the smaller vampires just get outclassed so outrageously early in the game that I’m not interested in building a traditional aggressive deck with these cards. Obviously we could be missing something, but for now it would appear we really need to re-evaluate how to proceed with attacking in this format. It’s very difficult to break through on the ground against the host of sticky threats that are occupying Standard.

I’m also sad to see Olivia underperform, but her issues are different from those of her smaller cousins. Olivia is likely a very powerful card, but it also gets bricked by Avacyn and the larger flying creatures that are a direct response to the Archangel.

Additionally, it is tough to get value from her ability when she can be removed in response to the casting of a creature. Her stats are also fairly vulnerable to all of the commonly played removal in the format, including Silkwrap.

I think there may be a way to leverage Olivia in a more aggressive Reanimator shell, as that would be able to generate a ton of value from her as a discard outlet and haste enabler, but I don’t think she deserves to be the top-end of any deck.

The issue with Sorin is that his +1 ability can be fairly underwhelming. When you directly compare Sorin to Chandra, Flamecaller, the truth really does come to light. Chandra either cleans up the battlefield or puts an opponent on a nearly insurmountable clock the moment she arrives. Sorin typically trades for a threat and generates a life buffer. His extremely high loyalty is certainly appealing and he is going to do good work if he sticks around, but a Chandra would have just killed the opponent.

Further, just about any other legal planeswalker that likely costs two less mana would have dominated the game too.

I don’t think Sorin is weak in a vacuum, but we are mostly capable of better options right now.

The Mana

Sure, this is really more of a joke, but the mana is so bad! The difference between two- and three-color manabases in the context of this format is actually incredible. Basically every two-color deck has rock-solid mana and can also incorporate a few or sometimes even several colorless utility lands, but the three-color decks basically completely fall apart without consistency or a reliable number of lands that enter the battlefield untapped. Perhaps folks will eventually figure it out and we will have decks that are mostly two colors with small splashes, particularly with Traverse the Ulvenwald, but for now our three-color decks hardly even exist anymore in our testing gauntlet.

The Maybes

This card is quite powerful. It allows decks to simultaneously play offense and defense while critically leveling up your creatures’ sizing for the purposes of fighting Archangel Avacyn and Chandra, Flamecaller. I think this enchantment, despite its vulnerable card type, will be a strong player in this format. The question is, in what deck?

I actually like Nahiri more than most, but it’s been tough to justify building a deck to include her. As you may have noticed, I think that enchantments are great and will serve a huge role in this Standard format, particularly as common pieces of removal. White is pretty clearly the best color in the format right now and Silkwrap and Stasis Snare are incredibly powerful. Nahiri’s ability to clean up an enchantment the turn it hits the battlefield and build back your battlefield presence in a significant manner is a massive tempo swing. Further, a +2 ability makes her quite hard to kill and her ultimate could even prove to be quite relevant in a properly constructed deck.

I think she will see play. The question is just, again, where?

#SCGBALT is Coming

Every single test session, I feel like I’m leaning a ton about this new Shadows over Innistrad Standard format. So far it’s been a lot of fun and we’re still just starting to scratch the surface of what is available to us in the coming months. What has been working out well for you in testing? Can you help us build a playable red aggressive deck?

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease April 2-3!