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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Dec 12 2016 1:00pm
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I love this game. I love writing about it. Compiling lists about it. Evaluating it. Sometimes, I even play it. I'm an Accidental Player.

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 Released in February 2012, Dark Ascension was the middle, smaller set in the first Innistrad block, the fourth to last of such sets (before Gatecrash, Born of the Gods and Fate Reforged), before they got discontinued with the two-sets-per-block reform in 2015.

 Mechanically and thematically, Dark Ascension stays the course introduced with Innistrad, featuring the same five dual-colored main tribes: Spirit, Zombie, Vampire, Werewolf and Human. Undying is the most notable new mechanic, as a reworking of persist.

 Anyway, let's have a look back at all those then-new creatures with German-sounding names and their tribes. As always, the focus is on all the Constructed applications, the tribes are listed alphabetically, but you'll find a hypertextual list at the end.

 Infodump

  • Cards: 158
  • New cards: 154
  • New creatures: 80
  • Reprinted cards: 4
  • Reprinted creatures: 0
  • Fake Gatherer results (due to double-faced cards): 11
  • Creature types affected: 29
  • Tribes with more than 5 additions: Human (+21), Zombie (+14), Spirit (+12), Vampire (+9), Soldier (+8), Werewolf (+7)

Angel: +1

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 Related Tribes: None

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: The flavor is strong (if confusing: she collects the souls of the dead, and then they come back to the material plane to fight – and die! – again as ghosts? Though I'm not exactly clear on the rules of the afterlife in Innistrad, or Magic as a whole). The body is on par with the cost. And the mechanical trigger is nice. But you know what other white finishers you can summon for 6 mana? A lot of better white finishers, including Angels with abilities that impact the board immediately, as they should when you pay a curve-topper CMC.


Bear: +1

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 Related Tribes: None

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: This is a Gray Ogre that occasionally may end up being a bigger vanilla dude instead. Those occasions would rarely involve turn 3, I'm afraid.


Beast: +1

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 Related Tribes: None

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: 5/5 for 5. Honest. Honestly irrelevant.


Bird: +1

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 Related Tribes: None

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Limited fodder.


Cat: +2

 

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 Related Tribes: Zombie

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Black cat, white cat (like Kusturica's film!). I like when Cats are actually real-world kittens, rather than humanoid catmen. These two aren't even terrible. I mean, the white one is entirely useless, but at least it's a 1-drop that can block 1/1s. Black Cat is nice because it's a chump-blocker you actually fear to cross, because random discard evokes ancient terrors.


Cleric: +4

   

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 Related Tribes: Human, Zombie

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: Cleric reduces its impact compared to the previous set, and the deceased Mikaeus turns into a cumbersome big bad with triple black in his casting cost, although the universal undying is a cool ability (it grants infinite Kitchen Finks and Murderous Redcap recursions, a la Melira). I personally like Thraben Doomsayer, because it creates Human tokens rather than the more common Soldier tokens, and that's relevant for cards like Falkenrath Aristocrat, but I admit it's not the fastest token generator. And fateful hour is kind of a stupid mechanic.


Demon: +1

 

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 Related Tribes: None

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: So this is a guy who turns into a specialized Lord of the Pit. I appreciate that they still remember Demons used to require sacrifices, and Archdemon of Greed clearly has enough of a refined taste not to accept offerings of rats and frogs but only juicy Humans (I guess there wasn't a mechanical way to spell "beautiful virgins"), plus 5 mana and a creature is obviously a more manageable investment than 7 mana, and Thraben Doomsayer is in the same set after all, but... this was hardly a playable card anymore even back in 2012, and a vanilla 4/4 for 5 is terrible anyway. Great flavor, though.


Devil: +5

  

 

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 Related Tribes: None

 Impact of the New Additions: Severe

 Highlights: More tools in the Devil's arsenal. Now the little flaming dudes can destroy artifacts with Torch Fiend, and kill 1/1s with Forge Devil. Flayer of the Hatebound is a bit costly, but universal Murderous Redcap triggers for all your undying creatures is huge, and your 6 mana investment can't be easily nullified, since it's undying itself.

 But the star here is of course Hellrider. A hasty attacker with a nasty ability at that point of the curve is always noteworthy, but Hellrider is especially good at finishing games when played in the proper build. A hell of an alpha strike indeed.


Dragon: +1

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 Related Tribes: None

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: The obligatory Dragons of Innistrad certainly have nice abilities. Like, universal flamebreathing for 1 mana apiece? Might be relevant. Mostly, though, Moonveil Dragon has a great visual design: this is a Thalia-sanctioned, noble Dragon, and its glossy, elegant form makes it look like some fancy sculpture on the cover of an interior design magazine.


Dryad: +1

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 Related Tribes: None

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: She's a strictly better, strictly prettier Grizzly Bears. And unfortunately, nothing else.


Elk: +1

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 Related Tribes: None

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: I can't tell why there's an Elk in a Gothic horror set (maybe to symbolize the undying hope? To foreshadow the return of Avacyn and the ultimate victory of good? Then again, it is a plane with forests and bears and boars). At any rate, Dawntreader Elk is by far the best member of the tribe, as low as that bar might be. It's a bear that costs like a bear, works as a bear, and then when things become dire, it easily turns into a 1-mana Rampant Growth, not matter if it's sideways at that moment. Good in pretty much every kind of build that cares for some degree of ramping.


Griffin: +1

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 Related Tribes: None

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Yeah, a double French vanilla Griffin qualifies as medium impact for the tribe, go figure. Will they ever print a relevant Griffin? If only there was a mythic one somewhere...


Horror: +1

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 Related Tribes: Zombie

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Geralf kept assembling these blue Zombies, but raising the casting cost hardly improves their effectiveness. At least now they're undying rather than asking for creature parts from the graveyard. The milling theme looks like something both Horror and Zombie want, but probably more in early game than in late game, unless it's conceived as something that you use to mill the opponent to death, in which case, good luck achieving that this way.


Human: +21

  

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 Related Tribes: Cleric, Rogue, Shaman, Soldier, Werewolf, Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Irrelevant

 Highlights: Humans don't partake in the Lord cycle (thank the gods), and are generally more low-profile in Dark Ascension, where I believe the narrative had the monsters getting ahead. The Soldier subset has a few good cards that white weenie lists would immediately adopt, but the basic, unadulterated Humans give nothing of substance.

 Chosen of Markov is ridiculously unplayable even in Vampire-based decks, but I like the flavor. Except, is the doe-eyed ingenue aware that she's going to be vampirized? She is depicted in the act of willingly baring her neck, it appears. (We know Steve Argyle is a funny man.) Also, does House Markov interview humans in order to choose their next recruit? Organize contests?


Insect: +1

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 Related Tribes: None

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: Ah, Vorapede is such a great creature on paper. For 5 mana it gives you 5-powered attacks. It covers your defense, it bursts through the blockers, it doesn't fear death, more so, it craves the opportunity to come back stronger. And yet, at that point of the curve, in the heavy green builds that it requires, you are more likely to play something like Acidic Slime. I've always felt sad for Vorapede's dreams being crushed by the reality of just not being impactful enough to care. It's esteemed, not loved.


Ooze: +1

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 Related Tribes: None

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: Predator Ooze has a bit of the same issues Vorapede has, in that it's a great creature, but just not great enough when it comes down to selecting the team. The fact is that it screams mono-green decks, and those builds usually prefer to play Leatherback Baloth and Kitchen Finks. But in defense of the Ooze, it really blocks almost anything on land, or it flips sideways without a second thought, and grows into inevitability in the process (and once it's big enough you have to chump-block it, it grows even faster.) And it gets on the battlefield as early as turn 2, since we're in green. And it boosts devotion to green to fuel Aspect of Hydra or Nykthos. Plus, Ooze tribal loves it. Believe in the power of Predator Ooze!


Rogue: +2

 

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 Related Tribes: Human, Vampire

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: If you had entirely forgotten about these two Rogues from Dark Ascension, don't worry: everybody else did too.


Shaman: +2

  

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 Related Tribes: Human, Werewolf

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: A thing about Mondronen Shaman is that Werewolf decks, that are naturally tribal even when not played in Tribal Wars, have become even faster with the release of Dark Ascension, so her basic day form of a 3/2 for 4 felt underwhelming, despite the fact that the transformed ability is killer. By the way, she's the only creature in the set with more than two subtypes.


Soldier: +8

  

  

  

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 Related Tribes: Human, Spirit, Vampire, Zombie

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: Soldier gets 3 of the 4 members of the Monster Lord cycle (Spirit, Vampire, and Zombie), whose effects are however entirely associated with the non-Soldier type. And then it gets a bunch of filler. And then it gets the first, brilliant iteration of Thalia that would possibly become the most played white card of the past 4 years. Her hosing of non-creature strategies (particularly storm), combined with the fact that she's one of the best fighting presences on turn 2, caused for her to become a maindeck fixture of all kinds of Death & Taxes and Maverick archetypes across the formats. And of course in Soldier tribal, since that's a deck that runs as many creatures as possible.

 To a lesser extent, Soldier and white weenie decks learned to like Loyal Cathar, since he's basically a 2-powered 2-drop with vigilance AND undying/persist (or however we may call a returning effect that doesn't affect the power either way).


Spider: +1

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 Related Tribes: None

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: Very overcosted, or underpowered, assassin Spider.


Spirit: +12

   

   

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 Related Tribes: Soldier

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: Spirits in the first Innistrad set were all about Geist of Saint Traft, as nothing else was added to the tribe that felt important, despite being one of the five major tribes in the block, and the one with more additions after Human (I guess it's easier to create Limited filler with the Spirit type.) And while Dark Ascension doesn't offer anything of the Saint's immane power level, there's a larger number of decent to good creatures here. Even just the Niblis cycle of tappers is not that bad, and then we have a great temporary removal like Dungeon Geists, the best lord of the cycle in Drogskol Captain (because hexproof), and in Drogskol Reaver a big finisher that gives enough punch and card advantage and lifegaining for its high cost. And Soul Seizer is not something you actually want to play, but as a creature that literally turns into Mind Control, aura subtype and all, is an interesting design.

 The best Spirit brought by Dark Ascension, though, curiously falls outside of the tribe's colors for the block: it's the green Strangleroot Geist, whose early aggression (it's already swinging for 2 on turn 2) and lasting power made it a staple of stompy lists ever since.


Treefolk: +1

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 Related Tribes: Zombie

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: I respect the idea of directly connecting the Innistrad Treefolk with the natural cycle (Lumberknot would feed on the death of other creatures, this one is already big but easier to cast with many corpses around), but these particular attempts are just not efficient enough.


Vampire: +9

  

 

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 Related Tribes: Rogue, Soldier, Warrior, Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: Still a big deal in Dark Ascension, Vampire gets a couple more red Sliths, a lord that's not the best (first strike is not that relevant on creatures that for the most part you want as flyers), and Falkenrath Aristocrat that I just a-d-o-r-e. She's so powerful, coming out of nowhere and immediately swinging for 4, and so deceitfully frail, because you know that by the time she manifests herself, you'll have sacrificial lambs around (I recommend Bloodsoaked Champion that would later become her snack of choice, too bad they never shared a Standard cycle) to turn that skimpy toughness into indestructibility, and her in an even more lethal self. It's also such a perfect top-down design, it might be my favorite of the entire block.

 Fiend of the Shadows has the same "Humans matter (as food)" mechanic, but coupled with a Specter-like ability that has nothing to do with it, unless your opponent keeps exiling Humans from their hand. Having two abilities also had the effect of either boosting her cost or nerfing her stats, or both. Great Igor Kieryluk art, though.


Warrior: +3

  

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 Related Tribes: Vampire, Zombie

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: The rare, Markov Blademaster, is a good double-striker with the Slith ability. The other two are duds.


Werewolf: +7

   

   

  

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 Related Tribes: Human, Shaman

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: On their second massive showing, the Werewolves learned a new trick: transformation triggers. It's already noticeable with the most famous of these lycanthropes, not to mention one of the most celebrated cards in the set, that saw copious play especially in Modern: Huntmaster of the Fells. He doesn't just feature an ETB trigger, but he complements it with exquisitely opposite effects (first you gain 2 life and get a 2/2 critter, later you deals 2 damage to the opponent and kills a 2-powered dude), upon transformation achieved. While a 2/2 for 4 mana is historically bad, a couple of 2/2 and some life, with the prospect of doubling the value of all of that is a whole other business. Also considering neither are one-time deals, which makes the Huntmaster the first Werewolf you actively want to roll back to its human form to start all over again.

 The same transformation trick is exploited by the otherwise unremarkable Afflicted Deserter to deal with artifacts, while Lambholt Elder adds some card-drawing potential to the tribe. The Elder also shows a change of demographics in the depicted Werewolves: now to turn into lupine form are also old ladies, or a de-Disneyfied Little Red Riding Hood brought back to the tradition of Perrault's "attractive, well-bred young lady", except with the Werewolf twist that at this point it's a troupe of its own. Scorned Villager, along with Wolfbitten Captive, also try to lower the curve of Werewolf decks, the former through mana acceleration, the latter by being a decent 1-drop.

 Dark Ascension provides a Werewolf lord, too, in the form of Immerwolf, that's however strangely off-tribe. Plus, it doesn't work too well with Huntmaster of the Fells, but it arguably does with every Werewolf that likes their hairy form better.


Wizard: +5

  

 

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 Related Tribes: Human, Vampire, Zombie

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: These Wizards are mostly enmeshed with Vampires and Zombies, especially Havengul Runebinder, which is de facto a Zombie lord, but I don't think I saw him played, like, ever, possibly on account of being, again, a 2/2 for 4, with double blue in his cost, and a terribly costly activation that requires tapping. That effect is dope, though.

 Havengul Lich is one of those very powerful cards that only Johnnies use. It's not that it wouldn't work pretty much in any deck with creatures, since it essentially resurrects any of them by just adding 1 colorless mana to their casting cost. There's also a combo for infinite mana with Heartless Summoning and Priest of Urabrask (and then Perilous Myr, if you want), but yeah, Johnnies. I guess the Lich is just too focused on these flamboyant shenanigans and not worth it otherwise, too midrange to be used just as a card-advantage factory.

 The only Human Wizard that's worth a mention here is Beguiler of Wills (aka Magic's homage to Megan Fox, who was more in the zeitgeist at the time this set was designed). The high CMC is justified by the fact that the ability is an absolute (and free of additional costs): you take control of those creatures regardless what happens to the Beguiler. Still, as amazing as is the idea of activating her over and over again, stealing increasingly larger former enemies, she's just too frail, and at the same time too crucial to ignore.


Wolf: +5

  

 

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 Related Tribes: None

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: Wolves had a blast in Dark Ascension: they got a lord of their own (which also works for their Werewolves cousins) and a couple of great undying members, especially Young Wolf, that saw play in more than one stompy build, since if you think of it, it's even better than Savannah Lions. Pyreheart Wolf is not as good in general, being slower and red, but giving universal menace to your whole team makes for some scary combat phases.


Wurm: +1

 

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 Related Tribes: None

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: No, c'mon. Do you really want to occasionally have to cast a 6-mana 4/4?


Zombie: +14

   

   

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 Related Tribes: Cat, Cleric, Horror, Soldier, Treefolk, Warrior, Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Severe

 Highlights: Zombie is the largest tribe in Dark Ascension after Human, and as such, there's really a lot of stuff here. Two mythics for starters, Mikaeus 2.0 and Havengul Lich, both powerful in their direct or indirect graveyard manipulation. But also both late game players, respectively Timmy- and Johnny-friendly. So what about Spike? Well, he gets even more fuel for his play, because Dark Ascension is home of the most impactful Zombie since... I don't know, possibly ever. The thing is, just in virtue of existing, Gravecrawler has become the backbone of every possible Zombie deck, be they of the aggro-oriented, control-oriented or combo-oriented varieties, because all of them want a creature that's able to come back basically at will.

 Gravecrawler is so game-changing that manages to overshadow even an exceptional undying application like Geralf's Messenger (finally the Geralf name attached to something worthy!), that was played a lot at the time, and still is. Personally, its entering the battlefield tapped (both times) has always been a deal breaker for me, but I recognize the amount of damage it's able to cause. Plus it's great for devotion.

 Finally, Diregraf Captain is not the best monster lord, but not the worst, either. Mostly Zombies don't need him, since they have a ton of better options that don't require splashing blue (they tried to make blue Zombies happen, they failed). The ability is combo-friendly, though, especially with Gravecrawler (and now Relentless Dead) around, so there's that.


SUMMARY

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 Check the Complete Creature Types Reference Table here.


BEST IN SHOW
(click on them to go to their main tribe)

  

  

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MONSTER LORDS and MONSTER CHAMPIONS
(click on them to go to their main tribe)

   

   

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KUMA'S TRIBAL EVALUATIONS