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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Nov 23 2021 2:41pm
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Innistrad moves on, and the fast cycle is very strange. On one hand, leaving Midnight Hunt so fast doesn’t make that much sense in isolation, though hopefully it’ll work better next year. On the other hand, I probably played the least Magic I have in a while during this cycle—I bounced off both Limited and Constructed hard for various reasons—since this is a Limited article series, the main reason for that is the massive color imbalance, hurt more by FIRE highlighting the imbalance. I am also worried that nothing in Crimson Vow is really standing out, but we can talk about that in the actual review. Speaking of, let’s start with the mechanics!

 

Mechanics:

Disturb:

One of the best parts of spending multiple sets on a plane is that we finally get to evolve a mechanic again. Instead of creatures dying into Spirits, it’s now Spirits dying into enchantments. This means a Spirits deck focuses on pumping creatures instead of overwhelming with creatures. Of course, for this to be good, the removal needs to be worse, and we’ll see how that ends up when we get to the archetypes.

 

Exploit:

Silumgar is now lord of the Zombies apparently, as this sacrifice mechanic returns from Dragons of Tarkir. On one hand, the Exploit creatures themselves seem very pushed, with each of the four commons giving you a card and a decent body. However, there isn’t much fodder, with Doomed Dissenter, Skull Skaab, and a couple rares headlining the in-color token makers, and there aren’t many death triggers either. Otherwise it seems fine (especially if people keep playing enchantment-based removal).

 

Blood Tokens:

Instead of getting a named mechanic, the Vampires have a new artifact token with a relatively minor effect: letting you pay one mana to rummage. It’s mostly in red and black (though strangely both white and blue each get a common), and there are a couple of discard synergies (most notably Ragged Recluse), though not as many as you would think. It really seems like this is a minor effect, but like with the Decayed tokens last set, there are a bunch of cards where it doesn’t cost much, like Blood Petal Celebrant. Of course, Blood tokens can’t kill your opponent directly, but there are interesting build-arounds like Sanguine Statuette and Restless Bloodseeker. I hope it’s weaker (as a smoothing mechanic isn’t a great mechanic to push), but I don’t trust my evaluation skills.

 

Day/Night:

Daybound and Nightbound remain here mostly unchanged, and the power level for transforming is mostly the same as well. The main difference is that sometimes there are bigger changes beyond better stats and/or abilities, most notably the signpost Child of the Pack only creating tokens on the day side. Of course, we’ll see if there aren’t a hundred pieces of removal targeted at Werewolves now that we’re out of the Werewolf-focused set.

 

Training:

The Human mechanic is very similar to Mentor, but something feels off. It’s pushed well enough and is focused at common, but it’s a side story to the overall +1/+1 counter theme in green/white. I wonder if there was a more ambitous mechanic that was pulled at the last minute, or if the other mechanics pulled too much complexity (five mechanics is above average, and that doesn’t count Blood tokens).

 

Cleave:

This is one of the strangest Kicker variants we’ve seen in a while, and I don’t really like it, even as a Melvin who should like text mattering. The problem is that Wizards ran out of design space quickly—the enemy color cycle is neat, but when there are only seven other cards and two of them are blue bounce spells, it maybe should have spent more time in the oven. Most of the cards are set to be great in Constructed (in particular Wash Away, likely the best Cancel variant ever), but for Limited it feels like a miss.

 

Tribal (or the lack there of):

There is a bit more tribal than there was in Midnight Hunt, but overall you still shouldn’t be focusing on the tribes.

 

Archetypes:

White/Blue: Spirits/Enchantments

I feel like there are some cards missing, because neither the raw power nor the synergies appear to be here in this tribal/enchantment hybrid. Heron-Bound Geist is the best synergy, along with some pushed uncommons like Stormchaser Drake, but even that isn’t outstanding. I’m worried the Disturb cards are better in other decks than a focused Spirit deck (since you don’t need that many auras, even if you get them for “free”), so I wouldn’t start in this archetype.

 

Blue/Black: Zombie Sacrifice

This deck is defined by its two-drops. Doomed Dissenter and Wretched Throng are extremely important pieces of fodder (with a side of Undead Butler at uncommon), while Mindleech Ghoul is your workhorse Exploit card. My one concern is that there isn’t much of a way to break through once you have all that value—but that’s where the Disturb Auras like Lantern Bearer come in. Overall I think it’s fine, but nothing stands out.

 

Black/Red: Vampires and Blood Tokens

This is the biggest unknown in the set, since we don’t know which side of Blood tokens is more important: the base ability to rummage or the payoffs like Bloodcrazed Socialite and Sanguine Statuette. It seems like the latter is more important, but regardless it’s not a big part of the archetype. Instead you’re relying on the great removal and decent creatures, so it seems fine—and that fallback means that even though the main theme seems underwhelming, the archetype doesn’t rely on it.

 

Meanwhile, the Act of Treason with upside is apparently a staple of sets now, and Bloody Betrayal is the best yet. The synergy behind a threaten and Exploit is obvious, though more effects doesn’t necessarily mean better effects, especially since the more generically good Exploit cards like Rot-Tide Gargantua are expensive. Just keep this in mind, especially as an off-ramp to either red/black or blue/black.

 

Red/Green: Midrange Werewolves

Here we go again—can we do better than in Midnight Hunt? It would be hard not to, but one thing that particularly stands out is the selection of good two-drops like Hungry Ridgewolf, Runebound Wolf, Sporeback Wolf, and Packsong Pup. The common werewolves still aren’t great, but there are actual build-arounds at uncommon with Wolfkin Outcast and Child of the Pack. Ballista Watcher is also worth noting, especially when you combo it with Toxic Scorpion. Overall it seems okay, but it’s still mostly just okay creatures.

 

Green/White: +1/+1 Counter Humans

For an aggro deck, the humans are juggling a lot of different aspects. You need +1/+1 counter synergies, but you also need to balance your creature sizes to get the most out of Training, along with ways to get your Training creatures through. That’s where high-toughness cards like Apprentice Sharpshooter and Cloaked Cadet shine the brightest, as they can generally attack without dying in the process. Then you can rely on a normal efficient creature like Hookhand Mariner or Sigardan Paladin to actually train the creatures, possibly backed up with a combat trick. I think you might need the good build-arounds like Laid to Rest for this deck to really work, but it’s fine otherwise.

 

White/Black: Lifegain

We’re back to the “gain any life” form of the lifegain archetype, and it’s very interesting. On one hand, the payoffs are extremely good, headlined by the “oops, we put a Gravedigger you can loop at common again” Courier Bat (and made it a black Wind Drake, because FIRE). However, there aren’t that many great repeatable sources. Kindly Ancestor is the star of course and Heron of Hope is fine, but many of the other repeatable sources like Dawnheart Geist and Gluttonous Guest require you to jump through unrelated hoops and/or are uncommon. Traveling Minister is probably good enough as a weird Soulmender if you have enough great payoffs, and I might even consider Vampire's Kiss if you have enough Blood payoffs like Restless Bloodseeker. I think this is one of the decks to beat on day one.

 

Blue/Red: Spells

Apparently Wizards didn’t have many Izzet ideas for Innistrad, as the spells archetype is mostly the same as Midnight Hunt, with only a couple changes. First, the payoffs are more impactful with cards like Wandering Mind and kessig_Flamebreather.html">Kessig Flamebreatherkessig_Flamebreather.jpg" alt="" />, which makes up for having fewer spells overall due to the lack of Flashback. Second, it counts noncreature spells other than instants and sorceries, which includes both the Disturb auras and non-creature artifacts Honeymoon Hearse and Soulcipher Board, and maybe even Wedding Invitation.If this works it’ll be a tempo-based deck, particularly around the many bounce spells, but I’m skeptical.

 

Black/Green: Toughness Matters

It’s been a while since toughness has been such a strong theme in a set, down to Unhallowed Phalanx (which might be better than it seems). Beyond the absurd, there are a bunch of efficient high-toughness creatures like Apprentice Sharpshooter, Sporeback Wolf, and Gluttonous Guest. The problem is that there isn’t much explicit support for the theme beyond Ancient Lumberknot and Flourishing Hunter (and Dormant Grove, but the front side seems better than the back in most instances). If the raw stats on the toughness creatures are good enough this could be fine, but I don’t know if that’s likely to be the case.

 

Red/White: Wide Aggro

No day/night shenanigans here; Markov Waltzer just wants to go! Cards like Militia Rallier, Arm the Cathars, and Deadly Dancer point towards a wider aggro deck, specifically pointing towards two creatures attacking at a time. This is also where the more aggressive Training creatures like Gryff Rider are better, as you can use a combat trick to get one counter, which makes all your other Training creatures better. Overall I think it’s fine, but hard to get the numbers right on.

 

Green/Blue: Creature Mill

It’s time to spawn the spiders (or Insects in Vilespawn Spider’s case), as we’re returning to the hardcore self-mill archetype. There’s a lot of support on both sides of the archetype, and many cards that help mill you like Screaming Swarm and Molegraf Millipede get paid off as well. You also other random creatures that want to be in the graveyard like Bramble Wurm and the Disturb creatures, as well but that leads into the fundamental tension of the archetype: cards like Molegraf Millipede count the number of creatures in your graveyard, while cards like Skywarp Skaab use the graveyard as fuel. The one benefit is that you should be able to run nearly all creatures, particularly since Exploit cards like Diver Skaab give you removal and Disturb cards like Lantern Bearer give you reach. This might be a little high-rarity dependent, but I hope it can work.

 

Other Important Cards:

Removal continues to be strong, most typified by the downshifts of Abrade and Hero's Downfall.The one removal effect you should be careful for is Skulking Killer, which isn’t nearly as good as it looks. Exiling effects are also numerous, even if nothing’s quite on the level of Diregraf Horde from last set. Finally, there aren’t that many reasons to splash, as although the rares are absurd, all colors’ rares are, and the fixing isn’t great, especially outside of green.

 

Conclusion:

Overall nothing about this set really stands out. The rares are strong, the synergies can be strong, but it seems fine overall. Then again, I didn’t like Midnight Hunt that much due to the obvious imbalances, yet others do, so my evaluation of quality doesn’t matter as much. As for what’s next for me, the plan is to do a Limited Review/Reprint Set Report Card for Innistrad Double Feature, since the set is getting revealed very soon despite it not launching until January, though I don’t know when I’ll release it. I’m still working on the Double Masters 2022 design, but that article’s still a long way off as well, and it’s likely coming after Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. It’s hard to design a super-large set with basically no constraints, and while I have some interesting ideas for a Masters set in the FIRE era (how does GW Planeswalkers sound?), I still have plenty to do and not nearly as much time to do it as I used to. Until then.

 

Vincent

@VincentSIFTD on Twitter