Revisiting the Original Innistrad Before Midnight Hunt

Innistrad will soon join the exclusive list of planar locations (Dominaria, Mirrodin and Ravnica) to receive a third expansion block when the highly anticipated Innistrad: Midnight Hunt hits shelves on September 24, 2021. The third installment of the Innistrad saga comes nearly a decade to the day of the release of the original Innistrad expansion (September 30, 2011). 

In advance of this exciting “return-to-return-to” Innistrad, I’ll be taking a look back at the original Innistrad expansion in the context of a decade ago. I’d like to unpack the Magic that makes Innistrad one of the most beloved and iconic destinations in the multiverse. 



Header - Gothic Horror

First and foremost, fans and players fell in love with Innistrad’s classic Gothic horror flavor before the set even hit shelves.

If we rewind a decade, one thing I distinctly remember about the original Innistrad spoiler season was the incredible buzz around the set. Typically, hype for a new expansion is generated based upon how powerful the cards appear to be. People tend to get excited about powerful new cards.

The context of Innistrad was a little bit different. I would not say that out of the gate players accurately assessed how powerful a set Innistrad was destined to become. 


Snapcaster MageLiliana of the Veil

Sure, players identified these were the chase cards of the set during spoiler season, but I don’t think many would have correctly gauged how dominant these staples would be, across all formats for an entire decade. 

Innistrad is unique among the planes in the multiverse in that so much of its popularity is derived directly from flavor and fluff. Seriously, a ton of players were extremely excited to see a Magic set that openly and directly referenced elements of classic horror in such a direct way. 

I was actually wrapping up my Master’s thesis, titled “The Manifold Operations of the Gothic Double”, and so I was particularly smitten with a plane that so directly referenced all of the history, literature, and movies that I love so much. 

If a trope is a part of the horror genre, it can be found lurking, crawling, hunting, stirring or shambling somewhere in the gothic shadows of Innistrad. 


Dearly DepartedSpider SpawningEndless Ranks of the DeadGarruk Relentless // Garruk, the Veil-Cursed

Not since April 1, 1994, with the release of The Dark (a Dark Ages-themed expansion), had Magic released a set so overtly creepy and infused with direct references and elements of horror. 


Maze of IthUncle IstvanEater of the Dead


Sensory DeprivationKindercatchClaustrophobia

While both sets are undoubtedly dark in their own way, the art and flavor of Innistrad really upped the ante in terms of rendering creepy themes in genuinely creepy ways! 

If we’re really looking to identify what is at the heart of Innistrad’s incredible popularity and resonance with fans, it has to be the novel approach of an expansion that has cards that would legitimately appeal to fans of horror. 


Header - Original Innistrad's Reception

As I’ve already stated, Innistrad had an incredible buzz during spoiler season that was directly related to its unique and boundary-pushing horror flavor and that enthusiasm directly translated to release popularity. 

The Innistrad prerelease was one of the largest I ever remember attending. It was a set that brought fans and retired players out at midnight to duel. Innistrad was one of the overall best selling expansions to ever see print at my LGS. 

It also helped that Innistrad had absolutely terrific and unique Limited game play. The set lent itself to drafting a wide variety of familiar archetypes: Tokens, RW Aggro, BG Morbid Midrange, UW skies, UR Spells and UB Control. 

It also offered a limited archetype that was distinctly unique up to that point: Dredge!


Dream TwistSpider SpawningMulch

For the first time I can ever remember, a Limited format allowed players to build legitimate graveyard-based strategies equipped with aggressive self-mill and powerful flashback recursion spells like Spider Spawning. It was easily one of my favorite archetypes to draft across all of Magic’s prolonged history. 

The chase rares of the set….


Liliana of the VeilSnapcaster MageGeist of Saint Traft

All proved to be incredible staples across formats, and one unsuspecting common also made quite a name for itself after starting under the radar:


Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration

Innistrad also introduced two-sided “transform” cards to Magic. These cards, were sort of a new take on the “flip” cards from Champions of Kamigawa:


Nezumi Shortfang // Stabwhisker the OdiousErayo, Soratami Ascendant // Erayo's Essence

The Innistrad “transform” permanents had card face on both sides (so, no “Magic: the Gathering” backing and “checklist” cards were used in the actual deck).


Innistrad Checklist

There are many memorable two-sided “transform” creatures: 


Garruk Relentless // Garruk, the Veil-CursedMayor of Avabruck // Howlpack AlphaDaybreak Ranger // Nightfall Predator

However, Delver of Secrets takes the cake as the crème de la crème of transformations. For the low price of a single blue and revealing an instant or sorcery spell from the top of your deck at the beginning of upkeep, Delver transforms into an unbelievably aggressive 3/2 flying clock. It’s kind of crazy that one of the most-played tournament staples of all time was largely overlooked during spoiler season, but once people started putting it into their Legacy decks and seeing what it could do, there was no going back. 


Header - Original Innistrad's Legacy

For me, the following story really sums up what Innistrad’s legacy in context of Magic is:

I can’t remember exactly which Grand Prix it was, but after pairings had gone up and players were seated, a voice came over the P.A. saying to wait to begin play because there was going to be a special announcement. 

The staff played a video on a giant projection screen that revealed the next expansion would be a return to Innistrad with Shadows Over Innistrad. I kid you not, and I say this completely without hyperbole, the roaring applauding that announcement received is the loudest commotion I have ever heard at a Magic tournament! Many people stood up from their seats to give a standing ovation. 

To me, that is beyond Snapcaster Mage, Liliana of the Veil and Delver of Secrets. That’s an appreciation of something truly special, flavorful and engaging in the Magic multiverse. 

In my opinion, Shadows Over Innistrad was one of the overall best expansions of the past five years in no small part due to the terrific flavor, fluff and Limited gameplay. Much like original Innistrad, which featured a bunch of novel new mechanics, emphasis on graveyard play and extremely nuanced play, Shadows delivered on those same planar mainstays. 

Shadows also dynamically expanded the Innistrad flavor narrative by merging with elements of Zendikar’s Eldrazi to incorporate an element of Eldritch, Lovecraftian into the horror fluff and flavor. When last we left Innistrad via Eldritch Moon, Archangel Avacyn (the angelic protector of the humans on Innistrad) had been corrupted and eventually slain by her creator, Sorin Markov. 


Archangel Avacyn // Avacyn, the PurifierSorin, Lord of Innistrad

In addition, the Eldrazi Emrakul allowed herself to be sealed in Innistrad’s sliver moon. 


Emrakul, the Promised EndImprisoned in the Moon

All of this raises a ton of interesting questions about where the narrative is headed. Will Emrakul remerge? Is Avacyn going to be reanimated? Will the Gatewatch be featured in the upcoming expansion? 

If you ask me… Midnight Hunt makes me think we may finally see a Liliana versus Garruk showdown and throwdown! 


Garruk, Primal HunterLiliana, the Last Hope

I’m excited to see where the story goes and how it’ll be played out through the cards in the new expansion. Overall, I have high expectations for Innistrad: Midnight Hunt because the Innistrad expansions have always delivered incredible horror flavor, a slew of interesting new mechanics, incredible tournament staples, sweet graveyard cards and superb Limited play.

If past experience is an indicator of future trends, in my opinion, Innistrad locale sets have always delivered the goods above and beyond expectation and I’m expecting to be blown away by Midnight Hunt in September – in no small part because of how much I’ve enjoyed my two previous trips to Innistrad. 

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