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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Sep 16 2021 1:02pm
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Our long national Arthurian fairytale nightmare is over! Rotation is finally on the horizon and we’re returning to Innistrad with a strange set. It’s very similar to the original Innistrad in themes, but the grindy graveyard-centric gameplay needs a different perspective in an era of FIRE where creatures are just bigger. We just had the worst Limited format in a long time with Forgotten Realms, so while there’s almost nowhere to go but up, our evaluation skills had one of the biggest misses in a while. Then again, in these “surface-level” reviews, we have to trust Wizards that the mechanics matter, the signposts mean something, and that all the colors are playable. Let’s start trying to understand the Werewolf set with the mechanics!

 

Mechanics:

Day/Night:

To start with, we have a strange tweak to the traditional Werewolf mechanic that’s just different enough to trip up established players. Overall, there are three main tweaks. First of all, it only counts spells played by the active player, which is a massive boost for the Werewolves, as not only is it guaranteed you’ll get to turn it night if you want to, you can cast as many instants as you want on your opponent’s turn without fear of turning it back to day. Second, Werewolves enter on the night side if it’s night, which generally means a lot less power is concentrated on the night side (generally you’re only getting +1/+1 and a minor upgrade on its ability). Third, cards other than werewolves care about whether it’s day or night, and in particular the transition between the two, which means a lot more than just Gruul cares about the mechanic (even beyond the additional non-Gruul werewolves).

 

Flashback/Disturb:

The core of the graveyard themes revolve around these mechanics, which are very similar. Flashback lets you get back spells and is in all colors (including a full uncommon two-color gold cycle), though there’s less of it in white and black and more in green. Disturb is the Spirit mechanic, letting you get a bit more value from creatures (sometimes bigger and sometimes smaller), and is primary in blue and secondary in white (with just Covert Cutpurse in black). In general these cards are much better than you’d expect just based on base rate, though in a FIRE world it’s more interesting—stronger cards in general means doubling up on a slightly weaker card is better than average, but in recent format we generally haven’t needed explicit mana sinks. It’ll be interesting to keep this in mind as we look at the specific cards, though the obvious consequence is that self-mill cards become even better than normal.

 

Coven:

Finally we have something unique! Coven is the Human mechanic (and is only in Selesnya) and wants you to diversify your creature sizes. While we need to watch how creature sizes work out, I’m skeptical at first glance, if only because having three creatures doesn’t seem trivial, especially since tokens are of limited usefulness. In addition, the benefits of Coven don’t seem that good on the lower-rarity cards—a +1/+1 counter here, a combat ability there, and on the commons it generally only lasts that turn. Hopefully you’ll be able to naturally get Coven without much effort, and the creatures’ base stats are good enough to at least hold their own.

 

Decayed:

Decayed is an interesting mechanic to talk about, as it’s pure downside and only goes on tokens—even the mechanics article skipped talking about it! The fundamental trick is that a 2/2 token that can’t block and can only attack once is very weak except in the most aggro of aggro decks, so the default look should be to use the tokens for other purposes, most likely sacrificing them. The one benefit is that since the tokens aren’t great they’re costed very cheaply (often close to free, like on No Way Out and Falcon Abomination—note they’re both commons).

 

Tribal (or the lack there of):

One important thing to note is that while each of the allied pairs is aligned to one of the Innistrad tribes as per the other sets and that they each have strong themes, there isn’t much explicit tribal in this set, and a lot of it is negative like Silver Bolt and Thraben Exorcism. As such, theme support is more important than just getting numbers of cards in your tribe.

 

Archetypes:

White/Blue: Disturbing Spirits

We’re starting with a difficult archetype to evaluate, as while the theme is obvious, the raw power on the creatures front sides is difficult to determine, both with the Disturb cards and the fliers in general. Something like a Baithook Angler is two minor cards, while the power of Beloved Beggar is very backloaded. The signposts also go in different directions, as Devoted Grafkeeper goes the traditional mill route alongside cards like Consider, Covetous Castaway, and Celestus Sanctifier, while Faithful Mending wants you to discard them, which teams perfectly with Shipwreck Sifters. I think there’s a great deck if you get a ton of Shipwreck Sifters to go alongside the average Disturb cards and Loyal Gryff, but otherwise I’m skeptical of an “average” UW fliers deck with extra value.

 

Blue/Black: Zombie Tokens

It’s strange to see another zombie token theme relatively soon after Amass in War of the Spark, and this is such a different take on the concept of making an army. The signposts both let you use your decaying zombies in different ways, with Bladestitched Skaab just enhancing them while Corpse Cobble lets you convert them into a permanent advantage (and crucially it’s an instant, so you can attack with them first, then convert them with the trigger on the stack). The other main ways to sacrifice creatures are Ecstatic Awakener (drawing a card makes this extremely good for a common) and Eaten Alive, and Morbid Opportunist is a great payoff, but the only question is how many token creators you can get. Falcon Abomination is your baseline, Flip the Switch could be decent in a format with a lot of mana being used each turn (though seems very bad against Werewolves), and Diergraf Horde gives a lot of value for a common, and those are just commons, so I think this could work well.

 

Black/Red: “Bloodthirst” Vampires

While we wait for Crimson Vow and the actual vampire mechanic (presumably the return of Madness, based on all the seeded discard support), we instead get an “if an opponent lost life this turn” subtheme. Both Hungry for More and Vampire Socialite are pure aggro, and the explicit tribal is a lot stronger between Vampire Socialite, Stromkirk Bloodchief, and Volderen Ambusher. There’s also a lot of reach due to the “bloodthirst” subtheme with cards like Arrogant Outlaw, Brimstone Vandal, and Falkenrath Perforator, and the removal generally going at least in part to face (Moonrager's Slash and Burn the Accursed most notably, and even Immolation to an extent helps as well. This deck looks like it should do well.

 

However, the presence of Pack's Betrayal at common means there’s another deck we have to look at after the lessons of AFR. Sacrifice isn’t a big theme of black, but Eaten Alive and Ecstatic Awakener are both good cards, with Morkrut Behemoth as a lesser option. It’s not likely to be nearly as big a theme as AFR (since every black deck wants those cards), but in particular there are a lot of good rares/mythics that cheaply sacrifice stuff, so keep an eye out for it.

 

Red/Green: Midrange Werewolves

A good werewolf deck requires two things: strong werewolves and things to spend your mana on besides sorcery-speed spells. The latter is well represented here, as most of the removal is instant-speed (Immolation is the only exception), and (were)wolves like Hound Tamer and Lambholt Harrier are good mana sinks. The signpost Unnatural Moonrise also helps, giving you an easy way to immediately get night, but I’m not sure how good it is, since it’s a relatively minor benefit otherwise and if you cast anything else it’ll immediately flip back to day next turn. The bigger problem is that the werewolves themselves just don’t seem that good in a FIRE world where everything is so powerful and/or synergistic—skipping a turn doesn’t feel like it’s worth it to make your creatures (and likely some of your opponent’s creatures) minor upgrades. Maybe I’m underestimating how often it will be night (and again, we should trust Wizards that the main focus of the set is at least halfway decent), but I don’t like the Werewolf deck on day one.

 

Green/White: Coven Humans

Like with the Werewolf deck, I am skeptical of how often Coven will be on, but I think it’s slightly better positioned to do so. First of all, it seems more likely to get Coven naturally, both because of the wide power spread (notably the good zeroes Gavony Trapper, Beloved Beggar, and Dawnheart Mentor), as well as the large number of +1/+1 counters floating around (Gavony Silversmith is likely to be one of the best cards in the archetype). I do think this deck needs support beyond common to be good, as cards like Contortionist Troupe and Dawnheart Mentor make Coven a lot easier, while Dawnheart Wardens and Duelcraft Trainer are payoffs you actively want. Otherwise it’s fine, but not something I’d aim for day one.

 

White/Black: Sacrifice

Another perennial Innistrad archetype, as typified by Unruly Mob appearing in all three blocks. However, this is both less limited (other forms of the archetype have been specifically focused on Humans) and stronger overall, as typified by the signposts Fleshtaker and Rite of Oblivion. Both the creatures that want to die (Vengeful Strangler, the Decayed tokens) and that care about others dying (Bereaved Survivor, Odric's Outrider) feel strong. My one concern is that there aren’t that many sac outlets, and since all the decks want them (either because of synergies or on raw power level), I’m worried the deck that wants them most won’t get them. All this points to taking the sacrifice cards first, and then seeing what colors the payoffs are in if you end up in any black combination.

 

Blue/Red: Spells

Arcane Infusion and Storm Skreelix point to an obvious theme, which works well in a format full of Flashback. However, the trick that makes these decks great is a number of token generators, and that’s limited to Seize the Storm and a handful of blue cards that make Decayed zombies. However, the creature payoffs are strong, particularly at uncommon with Flame Channeler, Thermo-Alchemist, and the signposts (but not Delver of Secrets; that’s a trap even if Otherworldly Gaze is in the set. There’s a lot of “air” in the set with Consider and Electric Revelation, so you might be able to construct a low to the ground deck, but it seems difficult to do.

 

Black/Green: Creature Death

Another typical archetype, and the signposts Diergraf Rebirth and Grizzly Ghoul have the raw stats you would expect. It’s more difficult than you would expect for creatures to die, but the trick here is Decayed zombies count. In particular, Ghoulish Procession is a good build-around, though annoyingly most of the black removal is sorcery-speed (the main instants are Defenstrate, Olivia's Midnight Ambush, and Infernal Grasp, though both Clear Shot and Duel for Dominance are instants in green) so it’s more difficult to trigger reliably on both turns. Still, the raw power seems to be there, but you might need synergistic rares to push it over the top.

 

Red/White: Day Aggro?

This is a strange archetype based on the signposts, as Sacred Fire is just a great removal spell and Sunrise Cavalier has great stats along with a strange day/night ability. I think this is an aggro deck that’s leaning on you playing multiple spells in a turn to switch back to day after they spend the tempo to turn it to night, giving you triggers on cards like Gavony Dawnguard and Brimstone Vandal. Again though, like with vampires, the raw power on these cards and red’s reach is strong enough that I don’t think you have to lean on the subtheme as much. Aggro is always a good place to start on day one, and this might be the best of the bunch.

 

Green/Blue: Flashback/Disturb

And here’s our Burning Vengeance analog for the set, and here you have both Flashback and Disturb to build-around. The biggest problem is that while Rootcoil Creeper fits the control style you would expect for this (along with the recursive cards like Turn the Earth and Devious Cover-Up), but Ominous Roost wants you to be more aggressive, leading to an unnatural tension. If the format is slow enough this deck has enough value to be good, but that might not be the case on day one where everyone is forcing the red aggro decks. When you do draft it, make sure your discard/mill cards are incidental value like Eccentric Farmer and Organ Hoarder, and not purely mill like Otherworldly Gaze unless you’re going very deep and trying to mill your entire deck.

 

Green Multicolor:

Between Path to the Festival being a decent way to fix multiple colors (and having a rider that specifically encourages that), along with a trio of decent colorless fixers (Evolving Wilds, Jack-'o-Lantern, and Mystic Skull), combined with there being twenty strong gold cards, there might be a good three or more color deck. I think the point is to turn the Flashback deck into a deck with a lot of colors, but there are enough cards in Simic that these are distinct decks. Again, you’ll probably get run over by the aggro decks, but keep this in mind overall.

 

Other Important Cards:

It appears we’re back to having strong removal as the default, as Olivia's Midnight Ambush/Immolation, Moonrager's Slash, and especially Defenstrate are the key breakpoints of the format. For instance, I value four toughness a lot, and thus Stuffed Bear is better than you’d think. Other than that, like in other graveyard sets, self-mill is good (Dreadhound, Organ Hoarder) and opposing discard is worse (No Way Out, Bloodtithe Collector to an extent). Exile is also extremely important, whether it’s on removal (Dissipate, Burn the Accursed, Eaten Alive), creatures as a bonus (Diergraf Horde, Soul-Guide Gryff), or even as the primary mode (Rotten Reunion, Jack-'o-Lantern), since there’s so much graveyard-matters stuff—along with hosing Flashback/Disturb, there’s also a lot of more traditional recursion like Dryad's Revival and Crawl From the Cellar. The final point is that Instants/Flash matters because of Day/Night, since you’re likely to have at least a couple werewolves and/or cards that matter no matter what your color combo is, and you want to option to make it night without giving up too much tempo.

 

Conclusion:

Overall this is a strange set that feels like a remix of original Innistrad, but with a dose of FIRE pumping everything up. I’m worried the aggro decks will dominate the slower ones, but hopefully there’s enough ways to gum up the boards that we can be closer to the original format than recent aggro formats.

 

Moving away from Innistrad a bit, we have the Magic Showcase announcements, and there are a couple of new products in my range (beyond me ranting about Wizards already backtracking on Universe Beyond not affecting normal Magic by putting Lord of the Rings in Modern and Historic, which means I’ll probably have to cover it eventually). The more minor one is Innistrad Double Feature, which is essentially Innistrad 3 Remastered, just in a strange limited form—the timing is really tight on that, but I could do a traditional predictions cycle if people really wanted me to. Of course, the bigger one is Double Masters 2022, both in terms of relevance and size of the set. So far (Aminatou, the Fateshifter) and Wrenn and Six are the first confirmed cards, and while I’ve technically started work on it, I won’t have a full set for a while, both because it’s a long process (with a lot of cards that are just guesses) and because I want to wait until we’re closer to the set launch to write stuff on it. My guess is that I’ll do it during the “dead” period between Crimson Vow and Kamigawa in January or February, but I might push it farther. Instead, assuming there aren’t any more surprise sets announced, the next time you see me will be Innistrad: Crimson Vow.

 

Vincent

@VincentSIFTD on Twitter