The Shadows Over Innistrad Experience

How much fun is Magic’s newest set? Chris Lansdell went full-on insomniac to find out! Read about his impressions over the course of his big Prerelease weekend!

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease April 2-3!

Prerelease weekend is just about my favorite time to be a Magic player. Wizards of the Coast has done an amazing job of turning each Prerelease into a unique and immersive experience, and for players like me who appreciate the effort, it makes everything more fun. We also get to see a bunch of players who don’t normally get down to the store; casual players, people with weekends free, and returning veterans often make appearances.

As per usual, I played six Prereleases this past weekend (and in fact I am in the middle of one as I write this), and I came away with some insights into quite a few cards that will probably be relevant in upcoming formats. In case you didn’t have the “benefit” of playing 24 rounds of Sealed this weekend, I figured I would share that knowledge with you. Because sharing, my friends, is caring.

Prerelease the First: Midnight

At some point I’ll realize that I’m too old to be working all day before going to FNM and then a midnight Prerelease. Well, I might realize it. I doubt it will be anytime soon, though, because it’s just way too much fun. Midgard Gaming, my local game store, went all-out with the decorations for this one:

Midgard Decor 1

I really do love this game sometimes. The pool did not look remarkable to start with, but further research showed that Sigarda, Heron’s Grace worked remarkably well with the Westvale Abbey I had also managed to open. Yes, yes, must be nice and so on.

It is, in fact, nice. The deck functioned far better than I thought it would, partly because I drew those two bombs fairly often, but also because the format seems to be prone to ground stalls which allow you the time to find your best cards. Oh, and having Game Trail to enable a red splash for Burn from Within wasn’t horrible either.

This card was probably the MVP for me. If your plan in Limited is to develop any sort of battlefield presence, it’s nigh-impossible to lose the damage race if you resolve Tenacity. It wasn’t obvious to me on first reading because four mana seems like a lot for the effect, but instant speed and the untapping clause combine to give you all the value you could want.

Reprints can be hit-or-miss, and I remember this card being distinctly mediocre the first time around. Sure, it could get obscenely large, but the complete lack of evasion or an ability to protect itself made it less likely to make an impact. I don’t for one second think this will be the norm, but playing the Mob with Sigarda was hilarious and resulted in something like a 13/13 pseudo-Abyss beating down. Such fun!

Every time this card was played against me it was a huge threat, and at the midnight Prerelease it was the cause of the only two games I lost. It does suffer from the same lack of evasion as Unruly Mob, but it starts out hard-to-kill and doesn’t get any easier. If this sees play in Standard, it will be to fetch up Westvale Abbey, creature-lands, and possibly something like Shrine of the Forsaken Gods or Sanctum of Ugin. I’m not holding out much hope here, though.

I am about as big a fan of a Soul Sister (or Brother, in this case) as it is possible to find, and this creature is a very solid version of that. When we’re done casting creatures, we simply sacrifice something (literally anything) to transform him into a 2/4 version of Zulaport Cutthroat. The life-drain on that night side won me more than one game and combined very well with Westvale Abbey and Unruly Mob. That you can sacrifice any permanent makes me very interested in this as a potential Standard force. Sacrifice Demonic Pact, you say? Why, yes, I believe I shall.

I might be really bad at evaluating cards, but I initially had Sigarda down as mediocre in Standard and obviously good in Limited. That ability to make tokens cannot be overlooked, and she gives them all hexproof as a bonus. If we want to make tokens (spoilers: we do) in green and white, what with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Secure the Wastes still being legal, I would be surprised if Sigarda weren’t part of the plan. It took me a little while to realize just how powerful it is to be able to exile any card and make a creature, especially in a deck and colors that don’t make use of the graveyard.

Everyone has been hyping this card, and I am no exception. This is the real deal. The stumbling block was always going to be the realism of keeping five creatures on the battlefield long enough to transform, but it has been relatively easy in Limited and I can’t see it being any harder in Standard. I imagine that, at least early in the coming season, we will be seeing a lot of end-of-turn Secure the Wastes into attacking Ormendahl. Get your bounce spells ready, friends!

Prerelease the Second, Third, and Fourth

Why am I awake at 8:30 in the morning, having got home at 5am? Oh yeah, because I am crazy for Prereleases. Sometimes that dedication, that passion, that borderline insanity is rewarded by the Pull Gods:

Two Arlinn in One Pool

I am not even the slightest bit sorry.

Sometimes a card is overrated, but still really good. I think that is the case here. Arlinn is without a doubt a very powerful card that will require people to be prepared for the impact she can have on a game, but there are definitely game states where she just doesn’t have enough of an impact to stick around. Most people who opened one this weekend just made a 2/2 by default, and in a fair number of those situations I think that was actually wrong. Her +1 on each side is very powerful and can actually make more sense than making a random 2/2 in many cases. Also, the ultimate is not only relatively easy to achieve but also likely to win you the game, so there’s that as well.

I dismissed this card entirely but decided on splashing for it as a way to break stalls. Oh boy, did it ever do that. Among the things I made: a 9/11 Emissary of the Sleepless, a 10/10 (and growing) Ulvenwald Hydra, and a 15/15 Soul Swallower … with delirium. I don’t know about Standard applications, but in Limited it’s a great option.

Sure, a 3/3 for two is pretty unimpressive these days, but the Pacifist impressed me all weekend. The attacking restriction rarely seemed to matter, and even when it did, it was able to block. Werewolves that enter the battlefield early are often valuable as they put pressure on the opponent to have a play, thus lessening the impact of things like combat tricks.

If a 3/3 for two is good, surely a 3/4 for one is much better? Decidedly so, yes. I think this card is Constructed-playable and versatile. You can enchant your own creatures or the opponent’s, and it will often present a real quandary for the opponent. Everyone I spoke to who played the card was impressed, and I am in total agreement. Definitely better than I thought. I think it’s at its best with Werewolves so as to take potential combat tricks out of the equation.

The U/G Clue deck I played with both the fully-powered version (with Graf Mole, Ulvenwald Mysteries, double Erdwal Illuminator, and Fleeting Memories) and the underpowered one (with just Mole and Illusionist) and I feel very comfortable in saying that the deck is incredible when it comes together. This might be the Spider Spawning deck of this Draft format. Tireless Tracker on its own might be playable in Standard. Whatever else it is, it’s crazy fun.

I had this card twice but sadly wasn’t able to play it. Delirium can be extremely easy to achieve, and once that happens, you definitely want to be the one with the hexproof threat. There isn’t much in the format that can handle firepower of that magnitude, and the trample is a big help.

I was not lucky enough to get her on Saturday, but Mike was. Mike is now in love with Nahiri. I think having Topplegeist and early delirium might have helped with that assessment, but he spoke glowingly of the ability to yo-yo the loyalty to keep things off the battlefield. The interactions with madness are pretty obvious, but that doesn’t make them any less powerful. Could Naya become a Jund- and Abzan-like force in Modern with Nahiri joining the fold? I know you lose the hand disruption that is so prized, but with Declaration in Stone joining Path to Exile, I can’t rule it out.

So nobody is shocked that this card is great in Limited, right? Coming in to the weekend I fully expected it to be the next Pack Rat, but fortunately it’s nowhere near as bad. There are plenty of ways to block it to avoid letting the opponent get it back in-hand, and although the thirteen cards can be scary, they won’t win the game alone. They might even help you, in fact. However, there is a mill deck, it’s real, and it’s terrifying.

My sweet mercy, this card is annoying. Even when you control it, it’s annoying. Discarding all over the place, paying mana and turning the card over and over…just kill them/me already! As hard as it is to kill or block, I cannot see it being a player in Constructed where removal is more plentiful and better-quality.

Prerelease the Fifth and Sixth

I’m still awake. Still alive. I think I still have my wits about me, and all my body parts intact. I have lost count of the number of coffees. Still worth it.

One recurring theme all weekend has been the ease of achieving delirium. I have seen it as early as turn 3, which did not end well for me. Obsessive (Principal) Skinner made some very large creatures in that game. Red does appear to be the most popular color, while blue has been less than impressive. It will be interesting to see if that trend carries over to Draft, where blue’s synergistic themes are easier to assemble.

Flying is more powerful than ever. When blue is good, it’s because of a high density of the flying mechanic. The actual text on the card after that word matters very little. Green’s traditional answers are not as prevalent, there’s no Plummet, and black is lacking any solid cheap fliers. More than one match I saw was won on the back of two or three small flying creatures while tempo spells held the ground.

I have yet to lose to this card or hear of anyone losing to it, and that’s despite the fact that she flies. Whether this is a function of the people playing it or the fact that it’s not the greatest in Limited where almost everyone is trying to win with creatures, I can’t be sure. In Constructed, where many more decks are creature-light, maybe she does some work out of the sideboard. I am significantly less excited than I was, though.

I only saw the Zombie deck in action once, but good grief was it scary. The Colossus gets huge in a hurry once the self-mill engine gets online, and I’m terrified to see what it can do in multiples in Constructed. Having said that, its Limited running buddies like Drunau Corpse Trawler and Lamplighter of Selhof won’t be joining in, so new friends will need to be found. Do Zombies have friends?

Can we just talk for a minute about how there is a freaking Mole in this set? It’s actually good too, a reasonable defensive body (which the Clue deck really, really wants) with an ability that is incredibly important to the archetype in which you want to play it. Even if your deck only contains a few Clue generators, you won’t regret playing this. Plus, it’s a Mole.

I spoke with Ryan, who fell in love with this card and now wants to play it in Standard. That deck sounds intriguing and I want to explore it more, but I can certainly see why the card was impressive. I’m not especially interested in paying retail for it, but that madness possibility is intriguing. With enough enablers in Limited, it almost definitely wins the game, and I can’t see why it wouldn’t in Standard too. Creatures and life all at once? I’m in.

This one slipped by me on the first dozen or so readings of the set. It’s completely unassuming to look at, but in the G/W go-wide deck it can end games almost as well as Tenacity does. Speaking of going wide, green’s token generation is not obvious at first glance; although it requires some work, it is worth the effort.

The text box is impressive, no doubt, but how often does any of that stuff even come up? Well, when your deck is making a lot of Spirit tokens, has a couple of lifelink creatures, and can grant other creatures double strike and indestructible, it comes up a lot. In fact, G/W can give you almost every keyword that Odric wants to share, which makes combat basically impossible to lose. I think he’s just a little shy of being good enough for Constructed, but I am sure as heck going to try.

My feelings about this card have been validated. I was able, thanks to the Aristocrat, to take an opponent down from seventeen to zero in one attack thanks to the sacrifice ability. The R/B aggro deck is possible, but you need a couple of Uncaged Fury and as many madness enablers as you can get. Magmatic Chasm is very important to the deck in a format replete with ground gumming, I actually enjoyed playing aggro for a change, and although my record with the deck was less than stellar, it did feel like a better-powered version could get there. Oh, and it’s insane with Odric, but really…what card with an evergreen keyword isn’t?

It’s slow. Really slow. It looks like a madness enabler for the R/B deck but you will be mostly disappointed with it there. Rather I think you want this in U/B Control decks to turn on your Murderous Compulsion, From Under the Floorbards, and Welcome to the Fold. The little 1/1 lifelinkers will keep you alive in the meantime. Is that enough to be Constructed-playable? Well, maybe. You can’t keep Jace alive as a creature forever, right?

Yes yes, all of the thirteen and such. I know, it’s just cute. Right? Well, when the first person died to it, I thought it was. Then the same player won more games with it. Social media was abuzz with similar tales. Then the stories of draws started to emerge. People started sideboarding Chaplain’s Blessing to beat it. I think… team… I think the card might actually be good.

Before I leave you to finally, finally get some rest, I wanted to show you possibly the best Sealed deck I have seen all weekend. It went undefeated and drew so many cards. I cannot see this happening ever again, as this was in Two-Headed Giant anyway, but good grief was it fun.

Ludicrous Sealed Deck

I won’t top that, and frankly I am too exhausted to try. You know, the good kind of exhausted where your body is thanking you for what you put it through, only with my brain.

As always, folks, thanks for stopping by, and until next time…

Brew On!

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease April 2-3!