Horror has a face… and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. â€”Kurtz, Apocalypse Now
Ever since the announcement of this fall’s new Magic set nameâ€”Innistradâ€”and the very gothic art displayed in the announcement, there’s been speculation over what sort of themes will be present. Will we have yet another set chock full of Vampires that helped drive Zendikar’s popularity? Will this be a return to the grim and brooding setting of Homelands? Was that picture representing just the villain of the story (Liliana Vess) or will the overall tone of the set be “gothic horror?”
Like any Magic player, I certainly have a healthy curiosity about the next Magic set coming down the pike, and as a long-time fan of the horror genre, I was certainly intrigued by the notion of a whole setâ€”maybe a whole blockâ€”steeped in gothic horror. I just didn’t want to get too caught up in that idea based off a name, a piece of art, and a lot of speculation.
Then, not too long ago a few cards were spoiled by some clever sleuthing through the code of the new Duels of the Planeswalkers game, finding Innistrad cards that can be unlocked down the road. A few of the card names certainly felt in theme for “gothic horror”â€”Murder of Crows, Wreath of the Geists.
The juiciest tidbit? Moan of the Unhallowed, a card with flashback, a mechanic specifically designed for the “graveyard matters” Odyssey block:
Of course, this past weekend at San Diego’s Comic Con, the Magic panel tossed out a whole bunch of red meat to those of us jonesing for Innistrad news. Rosewater confirmed the set will be what he calls “fantasy horror with a gothic feel.” Hot damn! Here are some more tidbits I found interesting based on sources on MTGSalvation, GatheringMagic, and Mark Rosewater’s own Tumblr account:
“Werewolves are a very very key part of this set, they’re red & green.”
I’m pretty stoked about this obviously given how much I love green, and considering the extra “very” that was thrown in for this answer, it sounds like werewolves are going to be given quite a bit of attention. It gives me hope that perhaps Wizards will be scaling back a bit on the Vampiresâ€”the horror fan in me always objects a bit to having hordes of Vampires running around because who’s feeding those guys their blood? The predator/prey ratio when it comes to Vampires is supposed to be quite small because otherwise they could quickly run out of food. On the flip side werewolves (at least the human variety) when they’re not in wolf form are omnivores, and thus you could have a whole clan of werewolves thriving in an area that could only support one Vampire.
Also, quite frankly the Twilight phenomenon has gotten me quite tired of Vampires, and I’d very much like to see more focus on exploring cool werewolf stuff. When I tweeted something to this effect, someone replied “Team Jacob?” Er… I prefer to consider myself Team Oz from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
It’s pretty mind-boggling to think that we’ve only had three werewolves printed in the history of Magic… and just how terrible they were, hardly the badass creatures of horror we think of from classic horror literature and movies.
While I feel grateful that the poor, neglected Werewolf tribe is about to get a serious makeover, I can’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy that my poor, neglected Minotaur and Dwarf tribes continue to be poor and neglected… alas…
So what might our new green (and red) werewolves look like? The original Greater and Lesser Werewolves suggest some form of wither, which seems unlikely so close on the heels of infect. M12’s Skinshifter presents another thought, a callback to the awesome Thornling.
Skinshifter as a template makes a lot of sense at first considering it might be an Innistrad Easter egg of sorts paving the way for these sorts of creatures to come out in force. It’s a green card, and werewolves are going to be green. A creature that starts small but can change into a threat does sound very much like what a werewolf represents. The problem I see though is manaâ€”Skinshifter, Thornling, and these sorts of cards are really mana-intensive, even if they’re limited to one use per turn. And the “activate to become a threat” ability runs a lot of risks in competitive Magic, opening you up to getting blown out or falling far behind in tempo if your opponent responds to the activation. If werewolves are going to be a real force in Innistrad, I can’t imagine you’re going to have to constantly spend mana on them to make them good. They could get around this by making it a zero-mana activation (capped at like once a turn).
All three are “were” creatures that start small and become larger and more threatening based on the threshold mechanic, previously seen in the last “graveyard-centric” block to come around. Innistrad is also supposed to be a graveyard-matters set. It does make logical sense that perhaps the new werewolves will be similar… but does it make sense in a flavorful way? Mark Rosewater has said that Innistrad might be the most top-down set he’s ever designed. Lycanthropes don’t change into monsters because graveyards fill upâ€”they typically change shape either through their own willpower, which would suggest some sort of activation, or involuntary change due the cycles of the moon, which would suggest some sort of time threshold. While one could argue that the size of your graveyard could represent the passage of time (in cards), I think from a flavor perspective that would be a real stretch.
If the new werewolves used “moon counters” to dictate what sort of form it was taken, given how awful the Homarids were Wizards would really need to push this quite a bit to make it worthwhile to invest in a weak card that might get better if it lives a turn, but then shrinks again back to being weak.
Maybe they’d have some spin on echo, but instead of being large to begin with and forcing another mana payment next turn, you pay the Lunar cost at some point after it comes into play and it gets biggerâ€”probably permanently if its going to be good. Another option might be bloodthirstâ€”perhaps Innistrad werewolves are whipped into blood frenzies like Vampires from M12?
A few other flavor considerationsâ€”will the Innistrad werewolves reflect the traditional view of being nearly invulnerable except to silver? Seems pretty hard to pull this off, though one option might be similar to Knight of the Holy Nimbus, where they just automatically regenerate unless your opponent pays extra mana, representing the extraordinary lengths you must go through to permanently kill a werewolf.
You know, now that I think about it, this feels like a perfect fit for a green werewolf doesn’t it?
And finally, what about how werewolves can infect others with lycanthropy by injuring them? I could see this through some sort of combination of deathtouch and putting a 2/2 Wolf token into play.
Obviously, I’m quite excited about our new Werewolves and I’m dying of curiosity to see what they might look like…
Other than werewolves, they’ve confirmed there will be vampires (now also in red) and zombies (now also in blue, The Drowned notwithstanding). For blue zombies it was suggested they’d be “created” undead much like Frankenstein’s monster, which sounds pretty cool but seems to step a little bit on the toes of Golems and Constructs, flavor-wise. For instance, in D&D there are Golems made of stone, Golems made of iron, and Golems made of flesh, which are styled after Frankenstein’s monster. Golems are considered animated constructs, not undead.
There are supposed to be other tribes that fit into the horror themes, one of which we know from another spoiled Innistrad card, Spectral Riderâ€”Spirit. Not only do ghosts fit perfectly into a horror scenario, but they also provide further cross-set tribal fodder for those missing the soulshift mechanic from Kamigawa. I could certainly see ghosts (Spirits) playing a big role in Innistrad.
What else might we see? H. P. Lovecraft-inspired monsters are likely out considering that’s pretty much what we had in the Eldrazi. Invasion of the Body Snatchers monsters/aliens were just here in the Phyrexian invasion. We just had Vengeful Pharaoh pop up, but mummies are now just zombies, as are Liches, Wights, and Ghouls. Considering Vampires are undead that are not lumped in with the Zombie tribe, we could maybe see some other form of undead graduate into their own tribe. Sadly, if they were going to promote mummies we probably would have seen it with Vengeful Pharaoh, but I could see Lich becoming a bonafide creature type given the pedigree of power they have from D&D.
They’ve shown artwork for a card called Creepy Doll, which of course immediately brings Stuffy Doll to mind, so we’ll probably see other constructs or maybe golems (which would provide some cross-set synergy from Scars of Mirrodin block).
Gargoyles could totally be brought back. Some number of Demons seem likely given that we know of one from the spoiled cards:
Bloodgift Demon 3BB
At the beginning of your upkeep, target player draws 1 card and loses 1 life.
Seems pretty awesome!
When Innistrad was officially “announced” by Wizards, the accompanying artwork was quite interesting, and raised all sorts of questions, some of which has since been answered.
Yes, that’s Liliana Vess lounging provocatively on the throne. So who’s that lying in a heap behind her, presumably the previous occupant of the throne? I don’t think we know that one yet. It’s been confirmed that there will be a new planeswalker version of Liliana in the new set, perhaps with this artwork?
Anyway, it’s interesting to ponder the story behind this. We know that Liliana has been replaced by Sorin Markov in the Core Set Planeswalker Gang, which raises the questionâ€”did Liliana leave or was she forced out? Did she leave the gang to go rule in Innistrad so Sorin stepped into her shoes (so to speak), or did Sorin boot her from the club and she landed in Innistrad?
The plot thickened when we saw this artwork in the announcement for the sequel to Innistrad, Dark Ascension:
That’s Sorinâ€”in Innistrad! Whose blood is that on the sword? Is that the blood of the dude in the first picture with Liliana, making Sorin a partner or co-conspirator with Liliana and her plots? Or maybe… maybe that’s Liliana’s blood! Maybe Liliana paved the way for Sorin to swoop in behind her and take control, possibly by betraying her (because that is the evil way). The very title of the set, with this pic of Sorin, suggests it’s Sorin who’s doing the “dark ascension.” If that’s the case, I hope it sets the stage for Liliana extracting her revenge on Sorin in the third set, maybe even heralding her triumphant return (in new form) to the Core Set gang in Magic 2013. I mean seriously, how can you keep Liliana down?
This was taken from an awesome “Planeswalker pantheon” graphic put together by someone named cryptcrawler and loaded onto Deviant Art. The whole graphic is really cool, and I totally suggest clicking on the link and checking it out. But the artwork for Liliana is just… crazy sexy and menacing.
The attention to detail, the attitude and style… it’s just fantastic. I’m not sure who did this artwork originally, but I just have to get a print of this! Can anyone point me in the right direction?
That’s it for this week. I know this isn’t normal fare for my column, but I’m a huge fan of the horror genre (and am dying for new seasons of “The Walking Dead” and “Being Human”) so the Comic Con Magic panel tidbits got me feeling my Vorthos side this week. C’mon, Wednesday can’t hog all the flavor, right?
Have a great weekend everyone!
starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com
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New to Commander?
If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:
- Commander Primer Part 1 (Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
- Commander Primer Part 2 (Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
- Commander Primer Part 3 (Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
My current Commander decks (and links to decklists):
- Melira, Sylvok Outcast (combo killa)
- Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)
- Glissa, the Traitor (undying artifacts!)
- Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo’ Myrs)
- Thelon of Havenwood (Campfire Spores)
Previous Commander decks currently on hiatus: