By now, we all know most of the hyped cards in Shadows over Innistrad, and if you’ve been reading other articles here, you probably already have sense of what some of the overhyped cards are: things like Olivia, Mobilized for War; Arlinn Kord; and Jace, Unraveler of Secrets. I don’t think you need me repeating that Declaration in Stone and Westvale Abbey are great. I want to look at the next batch of cards, the ones I still haven’t gone deep enough to test. The unlikely cards that just might get there–the cards you’d be most likely to overlook.
In my preparation for the upcoming Pro Tour, I’ve physically assembled just over a dozen decks at this point to start getting a feel for how the format plays. These decks aren’t the most skillfully assembled gauntlet. I don’t try to get a representative of every possible strategy; I find paths that interest me and explore along those lines, meaning my testing can get a little narrow or inbred. Still, I try to keep a reasonable variety. Regardless, today I’m only going to write about cards I haven’t actually put in decks yet, as a way for me to determine what counts as a potential truly hidden gem, rather than a clear winner.
Mentor of the Meek saw some play. It works with tokens, which is important, and one is a lot less than two mana for a card, but there’s a very good chance Bygone Bishop is the better card. While one is less than two, zero is even more relevantly less than one. Bygone Bishop gives you something without requiring any payment upfront, which means you can curve out exactly as you normally would, and then, when you run out of things to do, you’ll have Clues waiting for you. More importantly, of course, a 2/3 flier is a lot better than a 2/2. Before rotation, we were desperately looking for any reasonable flying body to block Thopters and Flamewake Phoenix, and we had nothing, so we settled for Eldrazi Skyspawner. Bygone Bishop is a flier than can actually hold attackers off, and if you have Always Watching, it dominates Vampires in the sky.
The best thing about Bygone Bishop is that it even slots naturally into an existing good deck. It’s a hit for Collected Company that wants exactly the same deckbuilding considerations as Collected Company. The next time I build a G/W Company deck, I’m definitely going to try some games with Bygone Bishop.
This card looks good to me. I want Plan A to be discarding or milling it, obviously. The big draw to it is that I can include it in my decks that have a lot of madness enablers and use it when my curve wants me to discard at a time when I don’t have mana available. The advantage here is like Bygone Bishop’s: sometimes I’d rather pay nothing now for the privilege of getting something at a worse rate later rather than play something with a good rate that demands I pay upfront.
The problem is, unless you’re really dedicated, you have to accept that you’re just going to cast this as a 3/1 a reasonable percentage of the time because you have nothing better to do, and it can be hard to find a deck that can use this that wants another four-drop. It’s also significantly hindered by Declaration in Stone, which is great against both elements of the card.
Thalia’s Lieutenant is a great card that has us looking for other Humans. My favorite is Thraben Inspector. After that comes Kytheon, Hero of Akros, but you don’t want too many of that, especially if you’re playing Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Beyond that, I’ve generally seen people look to Dragon Hunter, but I think this is maybe where they should be going. A 2/3 for one is very large and flipping it is very cheap. The drawback is real, but the more you pump it, the less of a problem that is, so it plays perfectly with Thalia’s Lieutenant, Always Watching, and Equipment (more on that later). This card also might be particularly good late–yes, “must attack” gets worse later on, but the +1/+0 ability allows it to trade up, and you can always leave it unflipped and threaten to block and then flip it, which makes it a better blocker to draw than Dragon Hunter in the late-game sometimes.
This card offers a really bad rate on a counterspell, but it’s kind of like a Dismiss where you pay an extra mana to guarantee that the card you draw is a Jace’s Ingenuity that you can pay in installments. That’s definitely a card I want to draw after I pay five mana to counter something, so I’m not clearly getting a worse rate than Dismiss offers.
The main things this has going for it are the fact that it costs the same amount of mana as Archangel Avacyn and that a blue control deck is looking for a big card-draw spell to seek things up, and Confirm Suspicions doesn’t have much competition. I still wouldn’t want to play more than a couple.
I’m not optimistic about building around this or even playing it in my maindeck, but it’s an instant that can answer an end-step Secure the Wastes or madnessed From Under the Floorboards or be used in your opponent’s end step to reset their battlefield so that you can untap before they can replay their creatures.
First, this is a good flying blocker if you’re looking to stop Vampires and Thopters. I need it to do more than that, but the body’s not a bad rate as a baseline. The trick is figuring out which Clue cards are playable. Most of them look like they’re designed for Limited. We know Thraben Investigator’s not bad, but we’re going to need a lot more than that. Mostly, this will require that one of the other cards letting you investigate multiple times prove good enough on its own. Then this can help make it even better.
I’ve played against Cloudshift in Modern recently. It wasn’t in the best deck, but the point is it’s already an effect people are sometimes in the market for, and this even has an additional perk attached. This can save an early Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy; retrigger Reflector Mage; and, possibly most exciting, retrigger Avacyn, the Purifier, possibly even reverting it to Archangel Avacyn so that you can flip it again.
This is one of those cards that plays so well in Limited, you just have to wonder. Yeah, it’s exactly the kind of effect that’s better in Limited, but it’s just so easy to get so much life and so many Clues from this card. That seems like it has to count for something at some point. I definitely want access to green mana if I’m playing this card, but it’s not important to me that I can use it several times per turn.
At the very least, if I’m playing against an attrition deck that’s just exiling all of my creatures, this seems like an exciting sideboard card.
This definitely isn’t a great card, but it cost as little as possible to madness and Bump in the Night sees some play, so if you’re on the most aggressive end of the Vampire spectrum and you’re playing more enablers than payoffs, this might be what you’re looking for to round things out. This is most likely if you think Incorrigible Youths is too slow for you.
The rate on this card is so good. It’s a one mana 3/4! I’m not interested in trying to use it as a removal spell by forcing my opponent’s creature to attack and then blocking it, though it’s great that that can happen. I just want to put it on a creature I’m about to kill and get a 3/4. To do this, I’m going to need a lot of removal that doesn’t exile, and I’m definitely going to need to be playing Insolent Neonate. If I’m playing Nantuko Husk as well, this gets even more reasonable.
It’s hard to imagine this in anything but an R/G deck, and I’m not sure R/G decks are interested in five-drops while Atarka’s Command is legal, but five toughness is the sweet spot for living through Chandra, Flamecaller; Archangel Avacyn; Languish; and Last Gasp. If you’re playing other midrange-type threats, this can output a ton of damage. It’s not even unlikely that your deck will have Dragonlord Atarka, so it’s easy to imagine this threatening to kill someone in one attack. I think it’s scarier than it may look at first.
This one’s contingent on some of the other cards here working, but in Limited, when I have a good Clue engine going, I’ve found it easy to end up with six Clues lying around. Once this has a real shot at being a Become Immense, I take interest. After all, it’s not hard to save a creature with the buyout mode, and you always get a Clue.
The first cards I look at playing in Constructed after a Prerelease are always the Limited all-stars that have been so good for me with 40 cards that I just have to wonder. My intuition on this one is that it plays really well with the Werewolf mechanic, where you’re definitely looking for four-mana instants so that you can pass the turn and flip your creatures on turn 4, but we just don’t have enough good Werewolves yet. Maybe after the next set comes out. Werewolves, Zombies, and Spirits all really seem like they need one more set.
This is the last Investigate card that reads like it’s strictly there as a bomb in Limited to send you down the path that uses all the various support cards to drive the Investigate deck in Limited, but it just played so well in Limited that I have to imagine playing it in Constructed. Like Bygone Bishop, this feels like the kind of card that I could hit off Collected Company that could just let me keep grinding forever, potentially letting me replace the Den Protector / Deathmist Raptor package with something better. In the right kind of game, this creature gets huge, though I’m certainly not planning for that. Also, is it really so wrong to just dream of getting a giant pile of Clues on the battlefield and casting Ghirapur Aether Grid?
I’ve really liked Mindwrack Demon in my delirium decks to get delirium, but I don’t actually like black all that much outside of that, so I’m wondering about exploring other ways to get delirium. This looks worse than Gather the Pack at first, but I think it might actually be better. The fact that it lets you find a land or creature as needed is a good start, but it also is often going to give you more card types in your graveyard than Gather the Pack will, even though it doesn’t mill as many cards, because it’s easy to play enough sorceries that you’ll already have it represented but much harder to get an enchantment in your graveyard otherwise. This also places a much lighter constraint on your deck construction (read: basically none). The downside is that you can’t flash it back with Jace, Telepath Unbound, but I think it’s likely enough to find you other things to flash back instead that you should be fine.
There are a lot of cards in Standard that want us to play Equipment, and not that many Equipment cards that are actually good. This is great with Kor Outfitter or Weapons Trainer just because it’s a cheap piece of Equipment that’s easy to equip, but what really puts this over the top for me is the interaction with Town Gossipmonger. If you’re R/W you can easily play Village Messenger, and Kessig Forgemaster isn’t a bad backup if you feel like you need it. It helps that Bone Saw and Stoneforge Masterwork are reasonable backup pieces of Equipment to play if you try to build your deck around Equipment.
I haven’t deeply explored U/R yet, and I’m not sure if this is a maindeck card or a sideboard card, but if you’re at all aggressive, I think there’s a good chance you want this in your 75. Most control decks just aren’t designed to be able to get their hand small enough to stop taking damage from this if you cast it on turn 3, and when your curve is lower, drawing extra cards should almost always help you more than the opponent. Getting the card first is enough to really push any Howling Mine effect, and this one has a huge additional ability on top of it. I almost feel like this card is too good to include in this article.
I’m assuming everyone’s already considering all the gold mythics, although I think most of them are about this quality. I think cards like Nahiri, the Harbinger; Arlinn Kord; Sigarda, Heron’s Grace; and The Gitrog Monster are all pretty narrow and unlikely to end up widely played, but they all have a chance.
Shadows over Innistrad Standard
I’m consistently impressed by how much of this set looks like it will play well in Standard. That’s partly because the Standard format is very small right now, but it also just seems like they managed to pack a wide range of interesting cards into the set, and it should only get better if the next set brings more support for the tribes that aren’t quite there yet.