Shadows Over Innistrad casts its shadow over the Gentry format. Rotation is upon us, and that means two things: a lot of cards we are used to playing with are leaving the format, and a bunch of new and exciting cards, interactions and decks are waiting to be discovered. In this article I will discuss the most impactful cards coming out of Shadows over Innistrad.
Studying how a format will evolve come rotation is an important way to get a leg up on the opposition in the first tournaments after the format has changed. In an earlier article, I listed some of the all-stars that are leaving the format as Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged rotate out. In this follow-up article, I take an educated guess at what cards from Shadows Over Innistrad I think will help shape the post-rotation metagame.
As per usual, I will not be talking much about the set’s rares and mythics, exciting though they may be. In a format like Gentry, where your rares are subject to restrictions, they certainly do have a significant impact still, but you cannot count on drawing them consistently, which makes building around them much less appealing. This also means that you will encounter them far less, hence their smaller influence on the larger metagame. What I will say though, is that Shadows Over Innistrad offers a number of very potent curvetoppers. Planeswalkers have always been the top dogs of the Gentry format, and Shadows offers a few very powerful specimens in the new Sorin and Jace, as well as Arlinn Kord. Archangel Avacyn will easily slot into most white creature decks as a replacement (and potentially even an improvement) for Wingmate Roc. Finally, I expect Westvale Abbey to turn up in numbers, as it is both powerful, hard to deal with and colorless, which means it fits most decks. That is as much as I will say about the rares and mythics. Let us move on to the bread and butter of the Gentry format: the commons and uncommons.
While we lose many powerful cards in the rotation, Shadows Over Innistrad contains a lot of potential, and will assuredly help reshape the Gentry metagame. Although the cards I am probably most intrigued by are some of the build-around enchantments like Call the Bloodline, Ongoing Investigation, Ulvenwald Mysteries, and so on, I feel like these will be less game-changing than some of the more efficient, all-round good spells, and you will find that reflected in my Top 10. Luckily, we have the honorable mentions to cheat a number of these noteworthy cards into the article!
Another group of cards I am looking forward to trying out are some of the Delirium-powered cards, like Topplegeist, Obsessive Skinner, Tooth Collector, and Kindly Stranger, which all have a very high ceiling. Add a mini-Tarmogoyf like Moldgraf Scavenger and you have the beginnings of an interesting decklist.
The set is not short on raw power either though, with powerful uncommons like Nearheath Chaplain (a no nonsense three-for-one!), Stitchwing Skaab (a recurring flying threat) or Bound by Moonsilver (a potent removal spell which I could see popping up as an extra sacrifice outlet in BW Aristocrats). Unruly Mob is another card I am excited about for the BW Aristocrats shell. Though it may not look like much, I have used the card in the all-common Pauper format to great effect, and am curious to see how powerful it can be in Gentry. Mini-Werewolves Town Gossipmonger and Village Messenger might fill the void left by Monastery Swiftspear (even if they are clearly not on the same level) in aggressive shells, and Howlpack Resurgence gives us an anthem effect at uncommon, which is not something you see very often.Murderous Compulsion gives us another interesting removal spell at common (though it only works when you are being attacked), and takes away 12th place. Finally, there is Breakneck Rider, which finished in 11th on this list, just outside of the Top 10. The Rider is very reasonable on the face of things as a 3/3 for 3 without a drawback. Flip it though, and you get an anthem that also gives trample to all of your attacking creatures. That is a very powerful effect, and it works well in any kind of aggro deck, whether you pair it with quick creatures or token-producing strategies. If a card like that did not make the Top 10, what did? Let us find out!
- Rise from the Tides
I know, I know. This card is not nearly as individually powerful as Breakneck Rider or Nearheath Chaplain. But I had to get at least one of the set’s build-around cards in here, and Rise from the Tides is the one that speaks to me the most. In a deck full of instants and sorceries, I could easily see this card producing 7-8 zombies, which is a lot of power and toughness for 6 mana. In order to get to that 6 mana, you need removal and/or counterspells anyway, so the shell to this deck kind of builds itself. I could see pairing the blue with black for Flaying Tendrils, Reave Soul and Complete Disregard, or I could see pairing it with red, which provides cheap one-for-one removal spells as well as extra carddraw in the form of Magmatic Insight and Tormenting Voice. In a deck that would presumably play tons of carddraw, it is not even unthinkable to play three colours, despite the lack of common dual lands. All in all, I like what this card offers and I see many possible builds, which makes me giddy with anticipation. You can be sure to see a Rise from the Tides deck from me at some point, and probably sooner rather than later.
- Pore Over The Pages
One card I would plan on playing in a Rise from the Tides deck, but will also pop up in many other shells is Pore Over The Pages. Blue decks have lost most of their card draw in Treasure Cruise and Enchanced Awareness, and Pore Over The Pages looks to be their replacement. Sorcery speed is a significant disadvantage in a color looking to play counterspells, and being an uncommon has it competing for expensive slots in the Gentry format, but looking at three cards and having to discard only one for what is essentially three mana is a good rate. Carddraw is always in demand, and I expect Pore Over The Pages to see plenty of play for exactly that reason.
Pack Guardian is the whole package. A 4/3 flash is powerful in its own right, and if you manage to trade an extra land for a 2/2, you should be feeling great. The Guardian will often function as a removal spell, and the fact that it has 4 power is extremely relevant against the likes of Reave Soul and Complete Disregard. The Guardian plays well with other Wolves as well, as the flash on Pack Guardian allows you to flip your Werewolves and still make a play. I love this card, and I suspect many green mages will share my opinion.
- Dead Weight
The little enchantment that could. Dead Weight might seem innocuous, but don’t let that fool you. Removing a two-toughness creature for one mana is efficient, and it can double to incapacitate larger creatures in a pinch. Also bear in mind that pump effects (scarce as they may be in constructed) will not save the creature. I expect Dead Weight to be a staple in most black-based decks.
6. Pious Evangel // Wayward Disciple
5. Duskwatch Recruiter // Krallenhorde Howler
Originally, I did not have any of the Werewolves high on my list for potential constructed playables, but having piloted a GR Werewolves deck at one of my prereleases, I have had to adjust my opinion. The rate on some of these creatures is spectacular (as long as you manage to flip them), and they play well with instant-speed removal and flash creatures, two types of cards that tend to be powerful in constructed anyway. Duskwatch Recruiter especially, seemed incredible, often drawing me three or four cards a game, and providing a discount on my creatures on top of that. I expect several other Werewolves to see play too (I already mentioned Breakneck Rider and the two one-drop Werewolves, but I also like Solitary Hunter, for instance), but Duskwatch Recruiter is the best of them.
4. Heir of Falkenrath // Heir to the Night (and friends)
The Gentry deck that just popped out of the spoilers immediately was BR Vampires. Heir of Falkenrath and Ravenous Bloodseeker are two aggressively costed madness enablers that curve beautifully into a madnessed out Incorrigible Youths. 7 power attacking on turn 3 is no joke, and I expect to see many BR Vampires decks in the first weeks after rotation based solely off of these interactions. Heir of Falkenrath is the poster child of the deck as a 3 power flyer attacking on turn 2, and is powerful enough by itself that I could see it seeing play in other black-based aggressive decks as well.
- Lightning Axe
The top three spots in this Top 10 are all taken up by efficient removal spells, and few are as efficient as Lightning Axe. While discarding a card can certainly be a steep cost, sometimes it will be an excess land, and sometimes it that discard will even function as a madness enabler, all at one cheap mana and at instant speed.Murderous Cut this is not, but it is as close as we are going to get in this format. (Ok ok, Stasis Snare may have something to say about that.) The only thing keeping Lightning Axe from taking one of the top two spots is that it is fighting for those precious uncommon slots.
- Angelic Purge
The discard cost on Lightning Axe actually compares favorably against the sacrifice a permanent cost attached to Angelic Purge. On top of that, Angelic Purge is a sorcery, not an instant. But there is a lot of upside here too. At common, Angelic Purge deals with almost any kind of card, no questions asked. A big creature you cannot kill with a Reave Soul or even a Lightning Axe? Angelic Purge will take care of it. An annoying Suppression Bonds holding down your Planeswalker? Angelic Purge to the rescue. Some equipment messing up your combat math? Angelic Purge has your back. The flexibility this kind of card provides is something I always value very highly, and to have it in a common slot makes it even better. The sacrifice effect can even be an upside in certain sacrifice-themed decks (another tool for BW Aristocrats?). In any other deck, I would probably try to avoid playing this as a four-of, but even two or three can add a lot of flexibility to your main deck or sideboard, and that sounds very appealing to me.
- Fiery Temper
The top spot in this Top 10, the most influential card from Shadows Over Innistrad for Gentry play is… Lightning Bolt! Wait, what? Ok, maybe not Lightning Bolt exactly, but Fiery Temper will be close to that in many decks. Although it costs three, you can madness it out for just one red mana, effectively transforming it into Bolt, the best burn spell in any format, including Vintage. I would play a 1RR instant 3 damage to target creature or player in this format, no questions asked, but what really tilts the scales in Fiery Temper’s favor is the number of playable madness enablers that currently reside in the format. Control decks and Tutelage decks alike will be playing Pore Over The Pages or Tormenting Voice, both of which allow you to mitigate their downside by killing a creature if you have a Fiery Temper. In many red decks, Lighting Axe will be a mainstay, and discarding Fiery Temper to your Lighting Axe to kill two creatures at instant speed for just two red mana is just filthy. Finally, BR Vampires looks to be one of the better aggressive decks in the format, and discarding Fiery Temper to your Ravenous Bloodseeker or Heir of Falkenrath to clear away a blocker will have aggro players everywhere salivating. Fiery Temper may not be the most individually powerful card in Shadows Over Innistrad, but I expect its versatility and synergy with the other cards in the format to turn it into the most influential card in the set for Gentry.
So that is our Top 10. Next week…
Ok, hold up, I can hear you shouting at me from behind your pc. Yes, I did not mention any of the new lands. Not Warped Landscape, nor any of the uncommon ‘enemy’ dual lands. ‘But Tom, don’t you usually value manafixing very highly?’ Yes, I certainly do, and I don’t think these new lands are bad, it’s just that I also don’t think they will have a major impact on the format. Warped Landscape, I feel, is severely overhyped, as very few constructed decks are able to afford using up three mana (effectively taking up a turn) to search up a tapped land to fix their mana. I can see it seeing some play in decks that care about colorless mana and still want to play two other colors, or I could see it as a two-of in certain decks that really, really need the manafixing, but usually, I think you will just be better off playing more colored sources. The common lifegain duals from Khans/Fate Reforged leaving have warped the format in such a way that I expect decks to have much more disciplined manabases, with one main color and one supporting color. In these kinds of decks, four Evolving Wilds will usually be sufficient. The mana will not be as good as it used to be, but it will do. The uncommon duals, I believe, will still see some play in the manabases of more adventurous deckbuilders trying to go for a two-color build with a very small splash (think of a UB control list splashing for Ojutai and Sorin, for instance), but the downside of cutting 4 uncommon slots to make room for a better manabase is a very real one, so I expect most people to shy away from these lands as well. All in all, then, I do not think the new lands will play a major role in the new Gentry Standard.
So there you have it, my take on the top 10 new cards from Shadows Over Innistrad.
Now that we know what important cards are leaving the format, and what the most influential new cards might be, the next step is of course to figure out what decks will survive the rotation, what decks will not, and what the new kids on the block will be. I was planning to write an article on that topic too, but I think I will leave it up in the air for now, so you can all brew to your heart’s content. I have several lists at the ready, and am curious to find out how they play out. At the same time, I am more than curious to see what you all come up with! Happy brewing, and see you at the next Gentry tournament.