Shadows over Innistrad is here, and it’s time for me to review each and every card, starting with Limited. A few quick notes before I get to the reviews:
The grade on each card is much less important than the analysis. It’s a good shorthand, but what I write about each card gives a lot more context to the grades, and goes deeper on cards that defy a simple grade (such as situational cards).
Some set specific mechanics (Clues/investigate, delirium, tribal, etc.) are hard to understand until you get to see them in action. I’ll provide my best estimate as to how good the cards that relate to these abilities are, and I like to assume that all of a set’s themes are well-supported. I’ve decided to give cards like Mist Intruder the benefit of the doubt, and will re-evaluate that as sets continue.
Flavor grades are given where appropriate. Flavor draft errata are noted.
Retired and inducted into the Limited Hall of Fame: Pack Rat. Umezawa’s Jitte.
5.0: The best of the best. (Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Quarantine Field. Linvala, the Preserver.)
4.5: Incredible bomb, but not unbeatable. (Ruinous Path. Drana, Liberator of Malakir. Guardian of Tazeem.)
4.0: Good rare or top-tier uncommon. (Tyrant of Valakut. Roil Spout. Nissa’s Judgment.)
3.5: Top-tier common or solid uncommon. (Oblivion Strike. Isolation Zone. Eldrazi Skyspawner.)
3.0: Good playable that basically always makes the cut. (Benthic Infiltrator. Touch of the Void. Stalking Drone.)
2.5: Solid playable that rarely gets cut. (Expedition Raptor. Makindi Aeronaut. Jwar Isle Avenger.)
2.0: Good filler, but sometimes gets cut. (Kozilek’s Translator. Murk Strider. Kor Scythemaster.)
1.5: Filler. Gets cut about half the time. (Affa Protector. Call of the Scions. Culling Drone.)
1.0: Bad filler. Gets cut most of the time. (Salvage Drone. Blisterpod. Dazzling Reflection.)
0.5: Very low-end playables and sideboard material. (Geyserfield Stalker. Natural State. Consuming Sinkhole.)
0.0: Completely unplayable. (Hedron Alignment. Call of the Gatewatch*.)
*Yes, sometimes you have a planeswalker, but this card still annoys me, and is a flat zero without a ‘walker.
It’s cute that this pays the opponent to target it, given that it dies into a very annoying Curse. A 4/2 that dies into a permanent drain 1 is very strong, and I would take this early and play it in every deck. There are games where you will try and get this killed so the curse starts going, which speaks to just how powerful this card is.
Alms of the Vein
Without the madness, this is a card you’d only play in a very aggressive deck, and even then likely out of the sideboard against other aggressive decks. With madness, you have a shot of getting this effect for 1 mana while paying some discard cost of another card, which is a little more appealing. I’m still not going to play this card very often, but a beatdown madness deck could make use of it (and will likely be the only deck at the table looking to do so).
A cheap beater that has a powerful late-game ability and can get value from madness? You’d be crazy to turn that down, and I suspect most people won’t.
Asylum Visitor is very threatening once you get to the point where you are emptying your hand, and does just fine before that. It even punishes the opponent if they go down to zero cards, though it can backfire if your life total gets too low. This isn’t a bomb, but this much value for this low a cost is a good early pick.
Behind the Scenes
I wouldn’t play this unless I was BW (or my opponent had a very odd creature configuration). It is neat that they have to block your 2/2s with their 2/2s, and then you can give your team +1/+1, but the cost is high enough that this is a niche playable in an aggressive deck more than a build-around. Also, the art is very disturbing.
Behold the Beyond
7-drops that don’t affect the board and require some setup are exactly how I get into trouble. You won’t want to discard too many cards to this (let’s just say it’s not a madness enabler), so it’s a 7 that you want to cast even later than normal. The upside is your hand is presumably quite good afterwards, so it could be a finisher of sorts for a control deck.
Black decks don’t seem very well-suited to take advantage of Biting Rain, and madness decks in particular might skew toward being aggressive. Having a spell that comes back to bite you doesn’t seem like a good plan, and I don’t think you’re going to want to make it Rain all that often.
Call the Bloodline
Without combos, this takes a while before you get an advantage. Discarding 3 cards to get 3 lifelinkers isn’t the worst, especially in a long game. In order to really get value, you’ll want to be discarding madness cards, and that doesn’t seem like an unrealistic dream. Having a madness outlet that pays you for discarding and is very hard to kill is great, and this looks like a strong early pick. Later in the draft, the value goes down if you aren’t drafting madness, but given enough time, this is a worthy build-around.
I have trouble imagining the perfect setup for this card. It costs 4 mana, but wants to go in a low-curve deck. It requires you to discard to try and trigger the life loss, but you want to empty your hand so you aren’t actually discarding cards. I certainly can see control decks losing badly to this, so it might be primarily a sideboard card (one I dread playing against).
Crow of Dark Tidings
I’m game for a 2/1 flyer for 3, and the triggers are a minor upside if you have graveyard shenanigans afoot. If you pick up enough of these you can murder your opponent with flyers, and black seems like it’s got plenty of support for aggressive decks.
This may seem like a high rating for such an innocuous card, yet Dead Weight is anything but. It kills small creatures dead, even through pump spells, and can weaken larger creatures if need be. It also is a very neat reprint, as delirium gives it new meaning. The efficiency and effectiveness of Dead Weight make it a surprisingly strong addition to any Limited deck.
Diregraf Colossus is priced to move. If you cast even 1 Zombie afterwards, it has obtained good value, and that’s without factoring in how often it shows up as a 3/3 or 4/4. This makes going deep on Zombies a worthwhile goal, and plays very nicely with self-mill. Diregraf Colossus pushes you toward UB, but is solid-to-great in any black deck, assuming you prioritize Zombies accordingly.
A nigh-unkillable 4/4 that enables madness and delirium sounds more like a hit than a mist to me. If they try and kill it, you get to trade your worst card for their removal spell, and you can swap it back whenever you please. It’s even a madness enabler! The flavor is great too, as Vampires that turn into mist are classic and captured well by the card’s mechanics.
I normally don’t like cards this situational, but the reward for Ever After is high enough that I’m willing to work for it. Even if you aren’t milling yourself, this is a 2-for-1 and likely a mana advantage, and it becomes very strong the more cards you have that dump things into your graveyard. Plus, if you can mill your whole deck you get to cast this every turn, which literally is demonstrating a loop.
I’m a fan of defensive lifelinkers, and there will be plenty of board states where the Revenant will be able to get in there for damage. Skulk is an interesting ability and I’m curious how it ends up playing out. This is the perfect kind of card for it as it can hang back and block until the time is right.
From Under the Floorboards
The base card here is quite good—5 mana for 3 life and three 2/2s is above the curve, even if they can’t block immediately. I’m also willing to go great lengths to madness this out, ideally with cards that don’t cost any mana the turn you discard. If you take this early, you can try and build around it because the payoff is so great. If you pick it up later in the draft, you might not be able to enable it, but that’s still fine. The floor is so high that I’m willing to pick this up regardless of what my deck looks like.
A bear that you can dig up for a second use is awesome, and it bears repeating: 2-drops that are good early and good late are what I want in my deck. It is somewhat random which Zombies enter the battlefield tapped and which don’t, but that’s less a comment on this card than a general observation.
Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, and don’t leave a Zombie Horse in the graveyard. Words to live by.
This is a fine deal to begin with, if not exciting, and being able to return it at a relatively low cost makes it a good recurring threat and a decent madness enabler.
4 mana for 4/4 worth of stats continues to be a good deal, and this being a midcombat trick when you madness it is a real upside. I’d take this even if I were short on madness nonsense, though it does move me closer to prioritizing discard cards.
This gains enough life that I’m willing to put something as grotesque as a combat trick into my deck. It will often trade 1-for-1 and leave you up 5 or 6 life, which is a reasonably-sized game. If your creatures are too low on toughness, this might not be enough, so keep that in mind while drafting and sideboarding.
Heir of Falkenrath
A very aggressive 2-drop that also enables madness? I’m in. This is great in any beatdown deck or any madness deck, and it looks like those two things will often overlap.
Hound of the Farbogs
Stop trying to make Geyserfield Stalker happen. It’s not going to happen.
Limited: 1.5 // 3.0
Indulge me for a moment while I talk for the millionth time about how you need enough Vampires to make the Vampire tribal card good. This is a powerful card if you enable it, which actually requires two parts. The first is the obvious: Vampires. You need to reliably have at least one other Vampire in play before this starts getting good (though it’s passable at just growing itself). The second piece of the puzzle is fuel. Ostentatious blood fountains don’t grow on trees, and the Aristocrat requires victims in order to reach his full potential. Zombies and Spirit tokens both seem like good candidate, despite the lack of blood in Spirits and the presumably gross blood from Zombies.
I’m not at the point where I’d slam this early and try and draft Vampires, but if I was already drafting Vampires, I’d likely pick this up and try and make sure it’s well fed.
This is exactly the kind of delirium card worth drafting around. A 2/3 for 3 is kind of medium, but definitely passable, and turning into a removal spell is huge. Later in the game, this is a 6-mana 4/3 that kills something, which is awesome. I’d take this early and try to enable it, though even in a normal deck this is a very solid pick.
This is an expensive way to enable delirium/graveyard synergies, and an ineffective way to make your opponent lose a bunch of life. I guess a creature-heavy deck that both wants to beat down and fill its graveyard might be in, but that’s not going to come together very often.
Waltz is another card with new meaning in a new format. This being a madness enabler is a new trick, and one that seems pretty fun to play with. Waltz also plays very nicely with all the other graveyard cards, and I bet almost every black deck will want one, with the madness decks looking to play multiples. The only reason I’m not giving it a full 3 is that it’s a noncreature non-removal spell, and some decks just won’t have room for that.
While this may not be the most exciting rare to open (it’s dreadful in Constructed), it grows quickly enough that it’s a good Limited threat. If you can untap with this, you get to hit for 5-7 damage and in a few turns it can just end the game. It’s a bit risky, but that risk is worth it.
I wouldn’t play this in a deck without a plan for it, and that’s coming from someone who’s never met a Divination he didn’t like. In order for this to be interesting, you need creatures that are good to sacrifice or a desperate need to hit delirium (since this puts a land in the graveyard). That’s not every deck, and it’s not even most decks.
Limited: 0.0 // 3.5
Mindwrack Demon is a tricky case. If you play this and don’t hit delirium, you can die to it. It loses the race against itself, and if your opponent has any removal or bounce spell, it isn’t particularly close (I’m not even imagining what would happen with Sleep Paralysis—too gruesome). To make this acceptable, you want to have a very aggressive deck or a deck that’s good at hitting delirium, at which point the Demon is one of the best cards in your deck. You can put this into a medium delirium deck and just resign yourself to not casting it until later, which isn’t bad either. It’s hard to evaluate how good this card is, and I bet a lot of people are going to put it into decks where it’s bad and cast it when they shouldn’t, after which it’s going to consume them.
I’m in for a gigantic 7/7 that requires multiple chump blockers. Sacrificing a land or creature is a cost, but one I’m willing to pay. Presumably this is the top of your curve, and it’s not like it’s going to take too many hits before this ends the game.
Flavor: A+ for homicidal Brian Kibler
Not only would I play Assassinate for 1B, the joke here is that you can discard it and madness at instant speed, killing the creature before it hits you. Hilarious! This does good work in any deck, and great work in a deck well suited to madness it. Cards like this tend to have diminishing returns because killing a creature after it has hit you does cost life, but that doesn’t apply if you have ample madness outlets. At that point, you want as many of these as you can get.
Once you are pretty sure you are in aggressive RB Vampires, the rating on this gets much higher. I only started it where I did because blocking is such a key part of what creatures do, and you can easily end up in black decks where this doesn’t even make the cut. Once you are attacking, this is about the best 2-drop I can imagine, and you should treat it as such.
Pale Rider of Trostad
This is a solid addition to any beatdown deck, but that pales in comparison to how good it is in a dedicated madness deck. Being able to drop this + a madness card on turn 3 or 4 is awesome, and just running it out on turn 2 is not a bad fail case. Plus, if you can play this as your last card, you don’t pay any cost at all.
Pick the Brain
The delirium aspect of this is negligible, so it’s really whether you want a Coercion or not. I usually say “not” and tend to leave cards like this in my sideboard for control matchups. Not an early pick, even if you will sometimes run it in the main.
“Rancid” is a term usually used to describe cards that are significantly worse than this one, and I swear I’ll never refer to this as such in order to cause confusion. A 1/1 deathtoucher is worth 2 mana, and adding skulk is a decent bit of upside, even if this is primarily a defensive card.
Most importantly, has it been long enough that I can trot this one out again?
Relentless Dead is exactly what its name implies. It attacks with evasion, is very hard to kill, and can even bring back friends when it dies. It also is able to block, which is rare on cards like this (see: Bloodghast, Gravecrawler, Risen Executioner), which makes it quite the brick wall when necessary. Without the blocking ability, I’d give this a 3.5 as it does attack well and can get you card advantage when it dies. Being able to block means that it can defeat ground-based decks very easily, especially if you have other Zombies to bring back.
Relentless Dead is cheap, powerful, very resilient to removal, and can provide card advantage in a variety of different ways. That’s good enough for me.
Welcome to the worst madness enabler in the world. The actual use of the card will be to punish your opponent for killing it, but it is funny that you can target yourself in a pinch. If you need a 2/4 with a minor upside, this isn’t the worst, but there are better options to be had.
As a recursive blocker, this leaves much to be desired. I don’t want to pay 4 mana for a 1/2 every turn—operating under that kind of mana restriction puts a straightjacket on your options. What this gives you is a graveyard synergy if you are milling yourself, a card you don’t mind discarding for a benefit, and a repeatable piece of sacrifice fodder. Some decks will care about enough of those qualities to play this, but those decks will be few and far between.
I like cards like this. This isn’t incredibly powerful or anything, but it does a couple of neat things. It makes delirium a little harder for your opponent to achieve, it can shut off their creatures that exile from the graveyard, and gains you a bit of life in the process. It’s clearly worse than a 2/2 for B, given that you can’t cast it until later, but you can’t have it all.
Activation Flavor: A-
There are a lot of costs here, with the most relevant being the discard + sacrifice. A 2-mana removal spell that operates as a madness outlet is a good deal in this set, and the self-mill part is an advantage more often than a drawback. This also gets you very close to delirium, given that it’s a hard card type to put in the graveyard, and does so at low cost. Even decks that don’t care about delirium or madness will play this as a Lightning Axe (cheap drawback removal), and the decks that can get value from those aspects will rarely ever pass it.
Stallion of Ashmouth
A Hill Giant that gets a boost in horsepower in the late game is not a bad deal. If you aren’t working hard toward delirium, this can easily not make your mane deck, but I expect to always play it in a dedicated delirium deck. It does feel like there are a fair amount of cards in this category—medium without delirium, good with. That makes me want to prioritize them lower, since they seem replaceable.
If you can reliably get the +1/+1 counter to work, this is a fine card. A card that’s decent when it works and quite bad when it doesn’t is not what I’m looking for, and you’ll have access to plenty of Mentors if you want them.
Throttle was fine in Khans of Tarkir and will be fine here. Not good, not great, just fine. It kills what you need to kill at a price you are (grudgingly) willing to pay.
To the Slaughter
Despite all the text (and ominous picture), this is basically a 3-mana Diabolic Edict in Limited. That’s not spectacular, as there is usually something bad to toss in the way, and I’d avoid playing this. If your opponent somehow has a planeswalker and you have this in your sideboard then sure, bring it in.
I’m happy to run this without the delirium ability, as a 3/2 that can snipe X/1s is a fine deal. Once you get it going, you can constantly threaten your opponent’s small creatures, and thanks to the timing (triggers on opponent’s upkeep) you can also prevent them from having good attacks with a larger creature.
Limited: 1.0 // 3.6055
This card is both bizarre and flavorful while also having relevant game text. It may look like a joke (because it is, a very funny one), but it does gain or lose both players 1 life per turn. In the right control deck, that could be a legitimate finisher, and the dance of trying to stay away from 13 seems like a very funny one. Gaining a life per turn makes it harder for your opponent to kill you, and you don’t need to deal the full 20 to kill them once you start attacking. That seems a little thin, but I’m certainly interested in trying it.
I also have to admit that when I first saw the name I thought “yeah, I’d be afraid of Triskelion too.”
Twins of Maurer Estate
In a deck without madness, these twins are Thraben Purebloods (and I’m no story expert, but they could also literally be Thraben and pure of blood as it currently stands). If you can madness them out, they deliver a beating at a cheap cost, and are one of the commons that really helps the theme. I’d generally avoid these unless you can cast them for 3 mana about half the time, though it’s not a disaster if you end up just playing them for 5.
This set seems like it has a high enough power level that you won’t be playing this often. There aren’t enough Vampire synergies and there are enough 2/2s and 2/1s that this is a lost cause, albeit a noble one.
Vessel of Malignity
I like that this exiles—it would be awkward to trigger the opponent’s madness spells. I wouldn’t malign you for playing it in a deck without synergies, as 2+2 is less than 4 (effective) mana. Being able to break up the activation and cost over multiple turns is crucial, and this fueling delirium is a very real thing. I’m not saying this just because I love Mind Rots (a reverse Divination is still a Divination), but because it looks like a card that fits well into the format.
Top 5 Black Commons
The top 2 commons are pretty clear, and I’m sold on Dead Weight being the best. There are decks where I’d rather have Compulsion, but Dead Weight is just so clean and efficient (and good at fueling delirium). The other cards are pretty close together, and Twins of Maurer Estate isn’t far behind. In a madness deck, I’d take the Twins, and if you know you aren’t aggressive or delirious, Crow moves down.
Black has a lot of graveyard/madness stuff going on but it all synergizes well. There’s a beatdown deck here too, and I like that black feels more cohesive overall than some of the other colors.