Innistrad: Crimson Vow First Impressions: Standard

Which Innistrad: Crimson Vow cards will make the biggest impact in Standard MTG? Five SCG creators give their First Impressions of the new set, with a reprint jousting for the top spot.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, illustrated by Magali Villeneuve

Welcome to Innistrad: Crimson Vow First Impressions week!

All week long, various members of the SCG Staff will share their thoughts on the Top 5 Innistrad: Crimson Vow cards in each format. Today we’ll begin with Standard, Wednesday will be Historic, and Friday will be Modern. To add a little fun to the mix, a scoring system has been put in place so that we can get an idea of what card ranked in what place in the aggregate to close out each article. The scoring system is as follows:

  • 1st — 5 points
  • 2nd — 4 points
  • 3rd — 3 points
  • 4th — 2 points
  • 5th — 1 point

Let’s start with the one, the only, PVDDR!

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa

  1. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
  2. Stormcarved Coast
  3. Ascendant Packleader
  4. Concealing Curtains
  5. Hullbreaker Horror

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben Stormcarved Coast Ascendant Packleader Concealing Curtains Hullbreaker Horror

So far, it seems like Innistrad: Crimson Vow is mostly going to be about improving existing archetypes rather than creating entirely new ones. There might be a new Vampires deck or a new Zombies deck, but I’m mostly looking at small upgrades to the decks that are already good.

The first card on my list is Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Thalia has seen play in every format from Historic to Legacy, and now it’s going to see play in Innistrad: Crimson Vow Standard as well. I don’t think this card spells the end of Izzet Epiphany or anything like that, but it is a very annoying card; even if they do have an answer, they often have to bend over backwards and disrupt their original plans to be able to cast it. For example, they might have the Mountain and the Spikeshot Hazard, but they still can’t cast it on Turn 1 if they’re on the draw, and that’s one of the best-case scenarios. The nightmare is when you don’t cast Expressive Iteration Turn 2 because you want to find a land and then they cast Thalia.

Thalia shines against Izzet, but it’s going to be at least okay against, for example, Esika’s Chariot or Blood on the Snow. The fact that there’s already a powerful Mono-White Aggro❄ deck that was sort of missing two-drops means Thalia has never been as good in Standard as it is now.

The second card on the list is a multicolored land — Stormcarved Coast. Izzet decks were in my opinion the best decks in the format before Innistrad: Crimson Vow, and now they at least get better mana. The mana wasn’t actually bad before, but I absolutely hate the Snarls in this deck, so getting to play four Stormcarved Coast is going to be a very big upgrade.

In third, we have another card that can slot into an existing deck — Ascendant Packleader. The green decks were struggling with not having a good aggressive one-drop, and Ascendant Packleader is a reasonable one that can grow bigger later in the game. There are not many cards with mana value five or more in the deck so it’s never going to be enormous, but a 2/1 for one mana that will grow into a 3/2 or a 4/3 sometimes is still a good deal.

In fourth place we have a somewhat more speculative card — Concealing Curtains. I think the card is clearly good, but I’m not sure it’s going to have a home. The best bet is probably a black control deck that steps away from Eyetwitch and Shambling Ghast and uses Concealing Curtains as its early play, but a black aggro deck is also possible.

In fifth, I have Hullbreaker Horror. I think this card is pretty good; I’ve been missing a good Flash win condition for control decks, and Hullbreaker Horror fits the bill. A 7/8 flash creature can ambush basically anything, including Hall of Storm Giants, and if you untap with it and some cards in hand it seems very hard to lose. I’m not sure the deck for it will exist right now, but if anything it seems like an interesting sideboard choice in blue mirrors. 

Bryan Gottlieb

  1. Stormcarved Coast
  2. Ascendant Packleader
  3. Overcharged Amalgam
  4. Hullbreaker Horror
  5. Cemetery Prowler

Stormcarved Coast Ascendant Packleader Overcharged Amalgam Hullbreaker Horror Cemetery Prowler

Innistrad: Crimson Vow is loaded with interesting cards that are entering a format with extremely well-defined rules of engagement. I expect that most cards in this set are destined to slot into the existing paradigms rather than redefine them. This doesn’t mean this set is weak, or I think it’s a miss. It’s just a statement on what happens to a format with a powerful sorcery at one pole and a powerful creature-land that virtually demands monocolored manabases at the other pole. Things just exist on those poles until the formatgets wide enough for a full shake-up, and we’re not there yet.

Cemetery Prowler has plug-and-play potential, and could serve as a linchpin of new archetypes as the card pool fills out. I’ve already said my piece on this card, so go check out the article for more.

Hullbreaker Horror is the type of big boom boom you expect to head right to the Commander tables, but this card has a shocking amount going for it in current Standard. A mirror-breaker in Izzet, and a catch-up mechanism for those same decks against the format’s aggro threats, don’t be surprised to see this find its way into both sideboards and maindecks. It’s even a top-tier reanimation target regardless of its size, and I’ve got plenty to say about this card’s potential combination with Dollhouse of Horrors in my article this week.

Tell me the last time an effect like Overcharged Amalgam’s missed. Frilled Mystic. Spell Queller. These cards are format definers. Overcharged Amalgam will be no different, especially given the need for countermagic in this Standard.

Ascendant Packleader is on the boring side, but anyone who’s played Standard knows that Mono-Green Aggro❄ and the various Werewolf decks were capable of some explosive starts, and that was without the aid of anything resembling a quality one-drop. Wait until the beatdowns start on Turn 1, and then see what these decks are truly capable of.

Finally, we close out with Stormcarved Coast. For my money, I would exclude mana-fixing lands from these lists since there’s almost always an argument that any dual land cycle represents the five most important cards in any set they appear in (not you, Snarls). In this case, however, there’s no question that Stormcarved Coast is the biggest immediate add for any deck in Standard. Izzet decks had one and only one weakness until now — a slightly shaky manabase. Those days are done, and I expect Izzet to leverage Stormcarved Coast to further increase its lead on the rest of the Standard format.

Get ready for more copied Alrund’s Epiphanies!

Dom Harvey

  1. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
  2. Stormcarved Coast  
  3. Ascendant Packleader
  4. Concealing Curtains
  5. Hullbreaker Horror

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben Stormcarved Coast Ascendant Packleader Concealing Curtains Hullbreaker Horror

The safest bet in Innistrad: Crimson View is a card we know all too well. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben would have been a welcome addition to Standard in the days of Wilderness Reclamation or Emergent Ultimatum and I expect it to do good work against the Alrund’s Epiphany menace in this context. It doesn’t solve the problem by itself — every Epiphany deck will bring a full set of Spikefield Hazard if they didn’t already, and Thalia can perversely help the Smoldering Egg that’s endlessly blocking it to transform faster — but Mono-White Aggro❄ is now even more capable of forcing Izzet Epiphany to pay it proper respect. Against Mono-Green Aggro❄, Thalia turns Blizzard Brawl from a great removal spell into merely a good one and taxes the best card in the deck in Esika’s Chariot.

Stormcarved Coast isn’t even a necessary pickup for Izzet Epiphany, whose manabase just about worked before. It’s an excuse to give Frostboil Snarl (and that entire wretched cycle — I’m including you, Port Town) the dishonorable discharge it so richly deserves.

Ascendant Packleader lets Mono-Green Aggro curve out properly, reducing its weakness to Fading Hope, and may breathe new life into Gruul Werewolves as the one-drop that deck desperately needed that also ties into its tribal synergies.

Black was nowhere to be seen in Standard before Dimir Control’s breakout performance at the SCG Invitational, but Concealing Curtains will be the most appealing black card by default and Dimir Control is a fine home for it. With aggro decks of various colours likely to gain the most from this set, Kraken Hatchling has never looked so good — and this one offers both disruption and pressure against the Izzet decks.

I was pleasantly surprised to have a lot of choices for this final slot, but I’m placing a small bet on Hullbreaker Horror. The Pearl Lake Ancient style of Control Win Condition™ was more reliable and necessary in a bygone era but this one has a lot going for it. Unexpected Windfall makes seven-drops remarkably easy to cast and this one doesn’t have to care about Jwari Disruption (or other appealing options like Syncopate that join Standard with this set). Cyclone Summoner is still stronger against decks like Mono-Green Aggro❄ where you often need to stabilize immediately, but Horror is still great there while also being excellent against other blue decks (even in a format currently full of Divide by Zero).

Shaheen Soorani

  1. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
  2. Ulvenwald Oddity
  3. Ascendant Packleader
  4. Sorin the Mirthless
  5. Deathcap Glade

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben Ulvenwald Oddity Ascendant Packleader Sorin the Mirthless Deathcap Glade

Innistrad: Crimson Vow is nearing release and the set appears to be more powerful than the last few. This Top 5 list was more difficult to craft, especially for Standard, with a good chunk of cards that will likely see a substantial amount of play. Even with some very powerful cards, they will have their work cut out for them. Alrund’s Epiphany is still calling the shots, with Lier, Disciple of the Drowned as a close runner-up, leaving little room for innovation outside of it. Mono-Green Aggro❄ and Mono-White Aggro❄ were thought to be at the top of the leaderboard with these blue decks; however, they will need help from Innistrad: Crimson Vow to dethrone the sitting king.

In my Top 5, it is aggro central. The bottom two choices are a strong mana-fixing land that could open opportunities and the control champion of the set. Deathcap Glade is the Golgari option, and I picked that based on its probability to make it into a competitive Standard deck over the competition.  Mono-Green Aggro❄ may not have interest in black disruption to improve its chances against Izzet Epiphany, but there could be new strategies that emerge with the better mana. The more exciting card in fourth place is Sorin the Mirthless, which will see play in all my black-based control decks until it rotates.

There are many naysayers who describe how poorly it lines up against the current metagame. That logic falls a bit short for me because of the utility it provides and how much stronger it is than prior four-mana planeswalker options. It draws cards, makes a flyer that gains life, and has a deadly ultimate, making it the total control package. Regardless of how it is viewed against broken Izzet Epiphany decks and fight cards from green, it’s strong enough to become a control staple based on the merits of its abilities.

The rest of my Top 5 contains three aggro cards, two for green and one that will revitalize white. Mono-Green Aggro❄ finally get a one-drop in Ascendant Packleader that’s very strong and could give it the required speed to be more competitive at the top. Not only that, it provides the deck more double-spell turns that is has lacked up to this point.  Ulvenwald Oddity has much more punch and game-ending power, making it land a bit higher on my list. Either way, both these cards will likely see play in the green decks in the new Standard.

The top card is a disgusting reprint that never should have seen the light of Standard again. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is here to strengthen white-based aggro against the Izzet Epiphany decks, but it will have the depressing side effect of preying on every control deck it interacts with. I have always hated this card, correlating with my high loss rate against it. This solidifies the need to play cheap, targeted removal and not depend on sweepers. This is the current trend of control builds anyway, but now it is a must with Thalia roaming the metagame streets again.

Ari Lax

  1. Concealing Curtains
  2. Bloodvial Purveyor
  3. Abrade
  4. Jacob Hauken, Inspector
  5. Mulch

Concealing Curtains Bloodvial Purveyor Abrade Jacob Hauken, Inspector Mulch

I’m betting on a lot of individually good cards here over Innistrad-flavored synergies. There are another five to ten build-arounds that I would list just below these, but I don’t feel like the synergies quite layer hard enough to push them over cards that are good on raw rate.

I’ve said my piece on Concealing Curtains, and I’m still convinced it’s the best card in the set by a significant margin. Vendilion Clique and Thought-Knot Seer were great cards. This is another in the same line.

Bloodvial Purveyor might be a bit higher on this list due to Concealing Curtains than it would be as a solo act, but if a proactive black midrange strategy is going to be pushed, I can’t imagine it happening without that card. The sizing on it is so outlandish, specifically surviving basically any Blizzard Brawl or any red removal spell.

Abrade is a clear top finisher too. The amount that Abrade suppressed random interesting artifacts for its first run in Standard is really understated. We aren’t coming off an artifact block, so that use case might fluctuate in value, especially with the best artifact in Standard being Esika’s Chariot, but it’s just so good at that job for so little cost.

Jacob Hauken, Inspector isn’t higher on this list only because there’s so much incidental good removal to pick it off. It has a lot of flavors of the things that went wrong in 2019 Magic design, just a bit better gated. It might read expensive to get the enchantment side going, but you almost immediately recoup that value by freerolling whatever you exile on the first loot. Then from there you get a free card and spell each turn, which is a massive advantage. Similar to Smoldering Egg, I think this is a two-drop worth exposing yourself to removal for.

Mulch should be another clear winner as one of the cleanest Standard-level graveyard enablers ever printed, but the Cemetery mythic rare cycle is concerning among a bunch of other similar absolutely free graveyard hate in the format. Mulch will be a critical enabler, but I have concerns the decks it enables will be hated out by default. It’s a good bet to be the best card at doing its job, but it’s risky to assume that job is in high demand, so it ends up lower on my list.

And now, without further ado, the SCG Staff’s Top 5 Innistrad: Crimson Vow cards for Standard are…

T-5. Overcharged Amalgam and Abrade — 3 points

Overcharged Amalgam Abrade

T-4. Ulvenwald Oddity, Bloodvial Purveyor, and Hullbreaker Horror — 4 points

Ulvenwald Oddity Bloodvial Purveyor Hullbreaker Horror

3. Concealing Curtains — 9 points

Concealing Curtains

T-2. Ascendant Packleader and Stormcarved Coast — 13 points

Ascendant Packleader Stormcarved Coast

1. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben — 15 points

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

Cya back here Wednesday for our thoughts on Innistrad: Crimson Vow’s impact on Historic!