A First Look At Shadows Over Innistrad

Last Thursday I travelled to Mustard Seed Church at Ultimo for the pre-release of the new Magic: The Gathering expansion. Though a bit of a Magic nerd, I wasn't expecting to leave as excited for the new block as I did.

Yes, that is a guillotine. No, I didn't check to see if it worked.

The church setting was due to the theme of the block, wherein the Church of Avacyn, followers of archangel Avacyn, battle the forces of darkness. Personally, I’m more into the playing and less into the lore, but the fog machines, coffins and looping wolf howls certainly made for an atmospheric setting.

The new set contains 297 cards (15 basic lands, 105 commons, 100 uncommons, 59 rares and 18 mythic rares), and is slightly more creature-light when compared to the previous Battle For Zendikar block. It is also also possible to receive up to three mythic rares in one booster - a special rare, a double-sided card and a foil. “Yeah, but the chances of actually getting that is probably fifty billion to one,” I thought, right before a player at the table next to me received two planeswalkers from the second booster he opened. I’m not jealous. Not at all.

There are three new mechanics in this expansion (Delirium, Skulk and Invesitgate), while two old ones have made comebacks (Madness and Transform).

Delirium

If there are four or more card types among cards in your graveyard…

What I like about this mechanic is that it somewhat offsets the pain of having some of your best cards annihilated. You might try to pull off an awesome play, only to find your opponent has an answering instant to everything you try (damn you, blue). The situation looks dire. But wait - now that they’ve destroyed an enchantment, a sorcery, an instant and a creature, you can activate Delirium. Suddenly your Kessig Dire Swine has trample, your Hound of the Farbogs has menace and your Scourge Wolf has double-strike.

In the immortal words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

Skulk

This creature can’t be blocked by creatures with greater power.

This mechanic is less exciting than Delirium. An evasion ability, it does exactly what it says. So if, for example, a 1/3 creature with Skulk such as Farbog Revenant attacks you, you can only defend with a 1/X creature. If you want to destroy it, you’ll have to hope it gets picked as a defender, or else use an instant, sorcery or enchantment. Farbog Revenant also has Lifelink, so if you don’t find a way to quickly destroy him, he can become a bit of a nuisance as he slowly grinds up your opponent's lifepoints.

I'm sure some players will enjoy wearing down their opponents with a semi-unblockable army, but personally I find Skulk's benefits comparatively minuscule. Sure, it lets you sneak past some big, fat creatures, but in the meantime you've got to stop those big, fat creatures from trampling all over you and your little skulkers before you can chip away at those lifepoints.

Investigate

Put a colourless Clue artifact token onto the battlefield with “2, Sacrifice this artifact: Draw a card.”

Investigate is by far my favourite new addition in this expansion. By itself it may not look like much, and when I myself first saw it I was underwhelmed. “Pay two mana to draw a card? I guess, if my hand is looking thin, but there are a ton of more useful things I’d rather be spending that mana on.” However, when you pair this mechanic with cards such as Fleeting Memories (“Whenever you sacrifice a Clue, target player puts the top three cards of his or her library into his or her graveyard”) or Tireless Tracker (“Whenever you sacrifice a Clue, put at +1/+1 counter on Tireless Tracker”) you quickly start to snowball. Nothing’s better than starting off with a little creature and watching it slowly grow into an all-powerful colossus who can barrel over the opposition without a second thought. I imagine that’s what being the mother of a rugby player is like.

Madness

If you discard this card, discard it into exile. When you do, cast it for its madness cost or put it into your graveyard.

The last time we saw Madness was ten years ago in Time Spiral. Now it’s back and bringing a rule change with it. When Madness is triggered, instead of the player getting to choose whether to discard the card into exile or straight to the graveyard, the card always goes to exile first.

Note that I consulted some judges and, after much debate, it was concluded that if you have an ability that can be triggered when you have cards in exile, you cannot trigger it in the middle of Madness. I know, I was disappointed too. However, building a Madness deck around a card such as Creeping Dread could still be a world of pain for your opponent (“At the beginning of your upkeep, each player discards a card. Each opponent who discarded a card that shares a card type with the card you discarded loses 3 life.”)

I'm one of those sentimentalists who can't stand discarding my cards. It feels like betraying my soldiers. Madness lets you give them a second chance at life, so maybe they'll return home from the war.

Transform

Transform has also made a comeback in this expansion with a slew of double-faced cards, including several red and green werewolves and a planeswalker. Personally, I’m not a big fan of double-faced cards. They render my clear penny-sleeves useless, and I find the checklist cards annoying and ugly. But there are some powerful cards in this expansion, including Archangel Avacyn, which deals three damage to each other creature and each opponent when it transforms into Avacyn, the Purifier. I will gladly give up my double-faced prejudice if offered that kind of power.

Like Madness, Transform comes with a rule update as well. Now the converted mana cost of the back face is determined via the mana cost of the front face. For example, Duskwatch Recruiter’s mana cost is 1G. Its back side, Krallenhorde Howler, now has a converted mana cost of 2.


I'll admit, I was a little disappointed by previous block Battle for Zendikar. I just couldn't figure out how to get the most out of those colourless Eldrazi. In contrast, Shadows Over Innistrad's new mechanics are easy to pick up, adding variety without being overcomplicated. They are terrific additions to the game, and I'm super excited to build a deck around each one of them. (Except Skulk. No thanks.)

Shadows Over Innistrad will be released April 8.

Top image: Wizards of the Coast


Comments

    Man, the flavour of this set is amazing. Did what I've never done before and preordered a box to draft with mates, just because I reckon it's going to be an amazing format.

    Madness was a hugely dominant mechanic last time I played Magic. It's super rad and makes the idea of hopping into a Shadows over Innistrad draft at some point soon.

      The wording reads a little unclearly to me, and the mechanic wasn't around when I was doing MTG judging years ago. I get that the card goes to exile, but it seems worded that you have to pay the madness cost to keep it in exile otherwise it goes to the graveyard. Is that correct?

        Whenever a card with madness is discarded, it gets put into exile. You then immediately chose to put it on the stack for the madness cost or put it in the graveyard as normal. In effect, it means that you decide if you're casting the card on the way from hand to graveyard and putting it into exile is a way to handle that within the current rules templating.

        When madness was first introduced, exile didn't exist. Cards were removed from the game and it wasn't a distinct zone (which meant cards like Burning Wish were pretty broken) I'm not 100% on exactly how it worked but the idea was intuitive enough that Wild Mongrel and Psychotog absolutely dominated.

          Ah, I see, I misread 'cast' as 'pay' and thought it was a choice between exile vs the graveyard, rather than putting it in play vs the graveyard. Sounds like a cool mechanic!

    Favorite card of the block myself would be Triskaidekaphobia, going to be so much fun watching that hit the board in a limited format regardless if you don't control it.

      I want to make that card work in Commander, with cards that swap around life totals

        Isn't commander use restricted rules for cards? be awfully hard to grab a solo card unless theirs a black creature card to make as your commander that can grab your enchantment?

          Black/white commander it could work with Reverse the Sands- 6(W)(W), Redistribute any number of players' life totals. (Each of those players gets one life total back.) or Soul Conduit - Artifact, 6, Tap: Two target players exchange life totals.

          Get your life total to 13 and go the ol'switcheroo, or blackmail another play whose life total is at 13 into doing your bidding in exchange for swapping their total

            BW Enchantments. Lots of potential to mess about with life totals in both directions and tutor effects.

              Yeah, that's where the thinking is. I need a really black deck and a really white deck, they're the two colours I don't really feel like my commander decks do well. Looking to do some zombie or vampire silly buggers at some point

              Played a mate's mono black pre-con the other week, it was really fun

            Tree of Redemption can make your life total 13 with it's ability to switch your life total and it's (13) toughness

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