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.
Word on the street is that I missed a flip card. Let’s rectify that situation before it gets out of control.
If you have enough cheap creatures to reliably flip this on turn 2, it’s a very good aggressive play. It does fall off somewhat in the late game, given that it has to attack, but the pump ability means that it’s rarely chump-attacking. If your deck is creature-light or controlling, leave the gossip to the professionals.
Snapping Drake is a fine addition to most blue decks, and being able to flip into a 5/4 is a huge upside. You don’t even need tons of spells to make this playable, though a 10+ spell deck makes it truly great. This is better in Limited than the original Delver, though slightly worse in Constructed.
This card is certainly not broken, but it’s playable. The madness cost is mainly a way to get card advantage if you can discard it at instant speed for value, though it can fix mana in a pinch as well. If the format ends up being slow this could go up in value, and it is a nice combo with Werewolves (pass with mana up, flip Werewolf, then counter their spell).
In a normal set, this would be marginally playable instead of an interesting madness/delirium enabler. That is why it’s here, and why you should take it and play it. If you have zero combos, the effect isn’t worth 3 mana.
A bounce spell for 2 mana is already playable, and adding the rider of “discard a card” is strong. If you have a couple Zombies in your deck this becomes more appealing, and remember that it can bounce any nonland permanent and not just creatures. It does have the mild drawback of making you discard if you target your own card and have a Zombie in play, but that isn’t a compelling reason to leave it out. If you can reliably have a Zombie in play, this easily moves up to a 3.5.
The effect here is powerful enough that I suspect it’s worth trying, but be aware of how easy it is to play around. If you pass with 5 mana up, that’s very suspicious, and a wary opponent will try to avoid playing into something like this. If you then do nothing and pass again, they are going to treat it as confirmation, at which point you cost yourself a ton of mana for no gain. You can maximize this by combining it with other instants, so you get to use the mana even if they do nothing, or with Werewolves. Like I mentioned earlier, passing to flip a Werewolf doesn’t set off alarm bells, so your opponent is more likely to play into your counterspell.
Countering a spell and having the option to draw up to 3 cards is something I’m very interested in doing, but be aware that there are a few hoops to jump through to make it effective.
In a deck with 0 Clue generation, this drops down the 1.5 or so that a vanilla 2/1 would get. In a deck with a lot of Clues, it’s a legitimate offensive threat, as decks with lots of Clues tend to be good at triggering prowess. I wouldn’t call this a full-on build-around, but it does a good job supplementing the Clue theme.
I’m not going to deny that this is easier to cast than Broken Concentration, but that’s not enough to make me like it more. It counters a narrower range of cards, and the upside of exiling the target isn’t enough.
A 2/4 for 4 doesn’t need a ton of extra upside to make the cut, and a Clue suffices. This blocks well enough to give you time to crack open your Clues, and has synergy with the various cards that care about Clues in blue and green.
Drunau Corpse Trawler
Getting a 2/2 and a 1/1 for 4 mana is nothing to scoff at, and the ability to give either of them (plus your other Zombies) deathtouch is the cherry on top of this rather disgusting sundae. In the early game, this delivers the stats you expect for the mana you spend, and in the late game, it becomes a great way to ensure you trade for any creature you want.
Engulf the Shore
I guess the joke here is that you play enough Islands to bounce all the opponent’s creatures while having large enough creatures that yours remain standing. That seems difficult to pull off, though I’m shore I’ll try. This might be best served as a sideboard card against token decks since getting the right mix of Islands and large creatures seems tough.
Epiphany at the Drownyard
This card is very interesting. For most values of X (1-5 or so), it’s not super exciting, but it will draw you a couple cards while putting the rest in the graveyard. In terms of what cards actually end up in your hand, you don’t get a huge edge, so you really need to be taking advantage of the graveyard aspect to get full value. That can either be via delirium (this is a great enabler) or the various white cards that exile themselves out of your graveyard for value. This is an instant, so it synergizes nicely with other expensive instants, which also helps. I’m not having an epiphany about exactly how good this is, but I’ll start by assuming it’s decent.
If Makindi Aeronaut taught me anything, it’s to err on the side of playing 1/3 flyers for 2 instead of passing them. This is a good rate to begin with, and it can pick up a couple extra Clues per game in most blue decks. My standard warning about getting Clue-flooded applies, but you aren’t really paying for the ability here.
The range on this card is wide and constantly in flux. In a deck with no Spirits and few enters-the-battlefield combos, it’s not very good. In a deck with a ton of good enters-the-battlefield effects and lots of Spirits, it’s great. It’s very cheap and powerful if you can get it to work. I wouldn’t take this early, but I’d be on the lookout if I had a deck that fit the above criteria.
Limited: 1.0 // 3.0
This is a member of the fabled “uncommon build-around” class, a type of card that I always try and get to work. It looks like a valid kill condition in a very Clue-heavy deck, and highly unplayable outside of that. I’d try constructing a deck based solely on defense and generating clues, at which point you can win the game while drawing cards, which is basically the dream. Note that this can mill you to enable delirium if need be.
This card is awesome. It creates tons of value with its ability, all while giving you a 3/3 for 4 with a minor evasive ability. It’s not the best skulker around, but being able to discard your hand for a fresh one is a huge advantage. It’s optional, so you only use it when your hand isn’t great, which lets your rip through your deck easily and quickly. It fuels delirium and madness while finding your good cards, and all at a very low cost.
I’m in for a solid 2-drop that might have late game relevance. I like cards that are good early and have a shot at being good late, and this fits the bill.
Geralf’s Masterpiece isn’t the easiest card to optimize, though it rewards you handsomely if you are able to do so. The simplest way to get value is to play this as one of your last cards, at which point it’s a large flyer for only 5 mana. It isn’t the best turn-5 play unless you curved out really well, but a 5/5 or 6/6 flier on turn 7+ is still fantastic. If it does happen to die (or get milled/discarded), you can save up some lands or bad spells and bring it back, at which point it’s a very threatening 7/7.
There’s a little tension between wanting to hold cards to bring this back if it dies and wanting it to be as big as possible, but you get to make that choice based on each individual game (and either way, this is performing well above the average card).
Ghostly Wings does a bunch of different things and is trickier than it looks. The most obvious is that it makes one of your creatures into a large flyer, and gives you the option to protect it from removal. That’s solid, but only the start. Wings also serves as a madness outlet, enables delirium by putting an enchantment + whatever you discarded into the graveyard, and is an expensive bounce spell. You can put this on the opponent’s creature, and because you control Wings, you can discard a card to return that creature.
All that combined is a lot of flexibility, even if any individual effect isn’t hugely powerful.
I wouldn’t mind playing an expensive Time Ebb that comes with a card at some future date, but I wouldn’t miss if I didn’t have it. At 5 mana, you aren’t getting much of a mana advantage, so I’d look to play one of these to cap off my removal and wouldn’t prioritize getting multiples.
This is a clear Constructed plant, and one you may occasionally sideboard in if you see 5+ sorceries to counter.
Jace, Unraveler of Secrets
Jace is secretly (or not-so-secretly) great in Limited. This particular iteration comes with a lot of loyalty, and has two very strong abilities. Scry + draw a card each turn is an engine your opponent has to deal with, and at 6+ loyalty that’s not easy. The bounce ability is also great at protecting Jace, and being able to use it twice in succession is what makes this card for me. It’s so easy to imagine playing Jace, bouncing the opponent’s only viable attacker, then doing it again next turn while playing a 5- or 6-drop. At that point, they replay their creature for the third time, and you start drawing cards with Jace. You have all your mana up and you can easily protect him, and eventually he can start bouncing again if necessary.
I feel like I’m going to have one of these in every blue deck I draft, but that doesn’t mean you should go out of your way to pick one up. It’s an expensive cantrip and a decent combat trick, but doesn’t stack well in multiples. I do like that it can just cycle if there are no good combats on the horizon, and it can get you a 2-for-1 pretty easily.
Just the Wind
Bounce also has diminishing returns unless you are putting the tempo advantage to good use, though this has the upside of working well with discard. This is the type of madness card that you want to combine with discard-as-a-cost cards because you aren’t getting that much value by playing this for 1 mana cheaper. Using Just the Wind to pay for a Catalog discard is much more appealing, and I’m in for building a Divination + Unsummon (shocking, I know).
Lamplighter of Selhoff
Oracle of Dust returns and can be activated once at most. Blue decks often want good blockers, and this provides a solid defensive body with a minor upside.
If you aren’t going the full way to mill your opponent, this is a 0/3 for 2 mana with a downside (as it enables their graveyard). That is not a good card so you need to be sure that you have a plan. This seems a lot harder to enable than Fleeting Memories, as you need to get delirium and have an 0/3 survive, so I’m not very high on the card. It does mill the opponent out rapidly, so I can see a turbo-delirium control deck with 2 of these being successful—something that you might assemble once in the entire format.
Like many of the other madness/delirium cards, this does what you want in a deck based around those mechanics and is unexciting elsewhere. A normal deck doesn’t get 2 mana’s worth of card selection out of this, but if you are madnessing it and setting up delirium, it is fine.
I’d be a lot more interested in this if it cost 6, as 7 mana is a bit steep for a 5/5 flyer with some very minor upsides. Giving a creature flying this turn is not very powerful, so the graveyard ability is by far the most interesting part. If you can mill or discard this, it can set you up for an alpha strike of some kind, though blue decks that want 7-drops don’t tend to have lots of creatures (and many of those have flying anyway). Nephalia Moondrakes is still a serviceable finisher for control decks, but isn’t much more than that.
Niblis of Dusk
Niblis of Dusk is quite good. It will often attack for 3, and can be even bigger if you optimize for it. I like that it’s a good rate to begin with and you can get value from it regardless of how deep you want to go on prowess. If you pick up a couple of these, you can start prioritizing cantrips and make them legitimate threats. The whole madness theme means that multiple spells will be cast a higher percentage of the time than in other formats. I wouldn’t be surprised if I bump the rating up a bit after playing with this.
Limited: 1.5 // 3.5
In a deck with a good amount of evasion but no access to green mana, this is a cute way to get a little card advantage. It’s likely too slow, as you need to pay 6 mana and get 3 hits in before you are even up a card, but that’s not the real way to use the card anyway.
In a UG deck, this looks very powerful. Gaining 2 life per creature is a great way to keep yourself alive, and with all that extra time, you are able to crack the Clues open for cards. Those cards draw you more creatures, which give you more chances to attack the opponent or to trade off and fuel your graveyard. This looks like a very good engine card for UG, and I’m excited to continue investigating exactly how good it is.
Pieces of the Puzzle
Very few decks will actually be able to put all the pieces together and make this work, which means that they will end up with 2 or 3 copies if that’s what they really want. I’d want 14+ other spells in my deck before I played this, though a heavy delirium deck with other graveyard synergies could get away with a few less.
Pore Over the Pages
This is no Compulsive Research (and given that I’ve been gorging myself on Ravnica throwback drafts on MTGO, I can say that with certainty). It’s still great, as drawing 3 and discarding a card for 3 mana is fantastic, even if you have to get to 5 mana before you can cast it. Getting to 5 means that this doesn’t fix your mana-light draws, but I’m still taking this early and casting it often.
Press for Answers
As a sorcery, I’m a lot less impressed. It’s still a fine way to pick up a Clue, and has value in an aggressive deck, but stopping an attacker for just 1 turn isn’t exciting.
Like Dimensional Infiltrator, this is mainly a 2/1 flying flash, and it’ll occasionally have some upside. When that does happen, the upside is very big, as countering a removal spell is huge, and being able to play Spirits at instant speed isn’t bad either. I wouldn’t fully call this a build-around, but I would prioritize other Spirits once I had a Rattlechains.
In this format, I think Looter gets a real bump. Besides the normal great Looter abilities of smoothing out mana flood/screw and getting you to your good cards, this enables madness at any time for 0 mana and fuels delirium. I’m ready to get reckless.
Rise from the Tides
Limited: 1.0 // 3.5
Now here’s a build-around I can sink my teeth into (then immediately vomit, as I just bit into a Zombie leg or something). If you can put together all the pieces of the puzzle and make a deck full of spells and ways to churn through cards, this could end the game easily. Making 5+ Zombies is huge, even if they don’t defend (that is a very real downside), and I expect to try this at the first opportunity.
Sometimes all the good blockers are on strike, and you have no choice but to call in Seagraf Skaab. At least this is a Zombie, which means that you will play it for synergy purposes every now and then.
Limited : 1.5
I like this trend of having giant 6/6s at common. I’ll play this a little more than the rating indicates only because I do plan on blocking and usually have lots of noncreature spells in my deck. It should be easy enough to snap one of these up, and you’ll rarely want two.
I’m dancing with joy at the prospect of getting such a great flying defender, and anticipate casting many of these over my Shadows over Innistrad draft career. It can peck in for damage if need be, and counts as a Spirit for the couple cards that care about that. I suppose if you are a beatdown deck this isn’t exactly what you want, but it still has evasion.
It doesn’t get much simpler than this, and blue doesn’t often get removal this good. This is an easier-to-cast Claustrophobia, which was one of the best blue commons in original Innistrad, even if it does cost one more mana.
I have to explain why this drew comparisons to Umezawa’s Jitte when it was spoiled—it’s not because of power level but because of how little interaction there is. If your opponent casts this, often you will lose and have no chance to stop it. 13 cards is a lot and will end plenty of games without much support. If it doesn’t end the game, the 1/1 can often sneak in for a second go-around, which will do it, and bounce spells do the same. I’m not a huge fan of that kind of gameplay, but at mythic rare, at least it won’t not come up that much. This is powerful and worth taking early if you can build your deck to support it (control with a couple mill cards).
Reading this card is very funny. At first you think “oh, it can’t block the turn you play it,” and then you read the second part and realize that it essentially blocks while also removing a blocker for a turn. Overall, this is decent in both aggressive and controlling decks, and provides another Zombie if you are in the market for one (slightly used).
Stitchwing Skaab is a very good threat. A 3/1 flyer for 4 isn’t the most impressive on its face, but is certainly playable. Being able to bring it back from the dead whenever you have excess lands is quite strong, and that’s even without factoring in how well it enables madness and delirium. If you can madness a card off this, you basically discarded only 1 card, and that’s a great deal. If your deck has 0 other interactions like madness, Stitchwing loses a little luster, but I expect most decks to find something that works with this.
It’s funny that the only way for your opponent to stop this from being a madness enabler is to not kill it, which is the opposite of most cards.
I’ve always enjoyed the 5-mana 3/3 flash flyers and will play most of the Stormrider Spirits I encounter. This is expensive enough that you don’t need to prioritize it highly, and you will sometimes cut it. It’s especially good if you can get a Rattlechains into play first.
Thing in the Ice
Limited: 1.0 // 3.5
This isn’t a thing in a deck with less than 10 spells or so, though I sure hope it is if you draft around it. I’m definitely slamming this the first time I see it, and if blue control decks are good, this looks like a good win condition.
Trail of Evidence
I don’t know how much time I will have to investigate all these Clues, but if this format is slow enough, I’d be willing (and excited) to upgrade this. You do need a good amount of spells to get this going, and it’s nice that it perpetuates itself by drawing into the next spell.
Let’s get something straight: I had absolutely nothing to do with the naming of this card, even though I do enjoy it. I also enjoy the idea of putting this in my deck and attacking my opponent with it, even if it takes a little help to get through most games. It’s a nice reward if you can flip it, so something like UW with pump spells is the perfect place for this, because your opponent is guaranteed to try and block it.
Vessel of Paramnesia
The main use for this isn’t in a mill deck—it’s in a delirium deck. It puts an enchantment + 3 other cards into your graveyard, and does so without costing a card. You’d never add this to a random deck, but it’s a good enabler if your goal is to go crazy. This is such a good enabler that I could see it moving up in value quickly if delirium is a viable and consistent deck.
Welcome to the Fold
The base card is already one I’m very interested in, and the madness version is just absurd. Control Magics are good, even if they take a little work. I’d definitely go out of my way to enable this, as it’s hugely powerful if I can.
Top 5 Blue Commons
Blue has a couple different themes swirling around, and it’s too early to tell how consistent each will be. I have a hard time imagining any blue deck that doesn’t want Sleep Paralysis, but past that, it gets murky. Niblis seems like the most obviously powerful, though you need to be attacking to get full value, and I can imagine playing decks that would rather be casting Silent Observers. Likewise, Just the Wind loses value if you aren’t madnessing or attacking (or both), so it can move around easily as well. Balancing the Clue theme, the Spirits theme, and the various madness/delirium decks should be interesting, and blue has support for each.