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.
Forked Bolt is a fine card even at 2 mana, and instant-speed Rolling Thunder is the finest of cards. This is a fantastic early pick, and in a proper madness deck is easily one of the best cards in the set. Even if your deck doesn’t end up with tons of ways to enable it, the fail case of Forked Bolt is still great.
4/1s aren’t known for their ability to hit the opponent unchecked, so this isn’t the greatest card if you are just casting it. If your deck supports madness, it becomes much more interesting. There is also some merit to playing this in a deck that can remove blockers, at which point it does end the game quickly.
This is a cheap 3/3 (albeit with a slightly tricky colored requirement) that flips into a 5/3 trample which buffs your other attackers. If that sounds good to you, then you have evaluated it correctly.
A General Note on Werewolves:
Passing to flip your Werewolves will work out less well than you think, in general. It’s definitely a play that is correct to make sometimes, but skipping turn 4 or 5 to flip some of your creatures is a disaster if your opponent has a cheap cantrip at the end of your turn (or 2 spells on their next turn). Werewolves are great, and their Wolf side always looks awesome, but you should lean toward not going all-in on flipping them. They naturally flip some amount of the time, and late game they will easily flip, but don’t try and force it early—it rarely works out better than just playing your spells.
Burn from Within
Blaze with a minor upside is a great card. Having the ability to deal a couple damage early, kill a 5/5 midgame, and kill the opponent in the late game is the kind of flexibility you should prize. The rider that gets around indestructibility and exiles the creature is a bonus, but not much of one.
Convicted Killer is about as middle-of-the-road as Werewolves get. It’s medium on the front side and above average when flipped, which ends up as a thoroughly medium card overall. If you have Wolf synergies, this will make the cut, but it’s not a card you have to play otherwise.
Dance with Devils
I’m really digging the Devil-making theme here (that may sound strange out of context). Two 1/1s that die into 1 damage is a lot of action, as they can take out bigger creatures and threaten to ping flyers, all while providing good sacrifice fodder. This is also an instant, so it can set up some really brutal ambushes (block two 2/1s, shoot your 2/2?). I’d Dance with Devils any day.
2 more mana for two more Devils, without costing another card? Sounds like a good deal to me, even if it’s at sorcery speed. Devil’s Playground is a great 6-drop, and should go a really long way to locking up the board.
I do have to mention an interaction that is likely to come up with all these Devils—make sure your multi-blocking actually works. Imagine that your opponent attacks with a 6/6 and you block with 3 Devils, planning on pinging it 3 times to finish it off. Not so fast—your opponent can choose to only kill 2 of the Devils, leaving them with a 6/6 that has 3 damage on it, and you able to deal only 2 extra damage.
Dissension in the Ranks
I suspect there will be a lot of dissenters, but I don’t think this card is great. It’s certainly powerful if you can ever cast it, but it’s reasonably hard to make it work. Not only do they need to have 2 blocking creatures, if the stats aren’t right, this doesn’t even do all that much. I will admit that it’s not that suspicious to keep the mana up because it’s natural to have all your lands untapped when you attack.
This seems like the ultimate in best-case scenario cards. It’s a disgusting blowout when it works (kill your two 5/5s), but so often it’s going to be uncastable or be a deal-2 that hits a 2/2 and a 4/4. Plus, your creatures are already blocked, so you don’t even get damage through! If you have an aggressive deck that’s really short on spells, I can see running this, or sideboarding it in against a defensive deck, but you won’t want to main deck this very often.
This is like Sparkmage’s Gambit—a fine card to fill out your deck, but not one you always run. It’s worth taking a shot at getting a 2-for-1 if you have the time, but I’d lean toward using this on the first 2/1 you see. It’s nice that it takes out two 1/1 flying Spirits, so I’d prioritize having one as a sideboard card at least.
I’m not a big fan of 1/2s that need mana in order to trade up, but adding haste makes this a card worth keeping an eye on. It can Fireball your opponent out if they don’t leave a blocker back, and the pump ability is not prohibitively expensive. Cards that look like previously bad cards (Feral Ridgewolf being the obvious comparison here) sometimes get docked points unfairly, and I’d keep an open mind when looking at this one.
The ability here is undeniably powerful, and a 1-cost 2/1 is a solid rate. If you take this first pick, you can try and gorge yourself on Vampires and discard outlets, which fits well into a supported draft archetype. It’s a little unfortunate that many of the Vampires already have madness, but you can still get value from this. Later in the draft, this gets a bit worse if you know madness is unlikely to be a possibility.
A cheap beater that can give you card advantage and the ability to ambush is a good pickup, and I can imagine attacking being a headache if your opponent has this in play and a bunch of mana up.
The standard red removal spell of 3 mana for 3 damage is a good one, especially at instant speed. That is tempered a bit by requiring double-red, but that’s more than made up for by the ability to turn it into Lightning Bolt via madness. Lightning Axe discarding Fiery Temper is going to be one of the bigger blowouts, and the presence of Fiery Temper means that an untapped Mountain has new meaning if you have a discard outlet in play. This is one of the premier removal spells of the format, and if you have a lot of good madness enablers, it can move up to a 4.0 (which goes to show how absurd Lightning Bolt is).
6 mana is a little more than I’d like to pay for a 4/4 flyer, but making the opponent pay whenever they have the temerity to mess with you or your creatures is a really good ability. This is nigh-impossible to race, as your chump blockers punish the opponent, and even when they hit you, they get hit back. Flameblade Angel seems like one of the most frustrating cards to play against—damned if you do, damned if you don’t. You should pick cards like that and add them to your deck.
I’m not all fired up about this card, but I do think it’s solid. 5 mana for a 5/4 is decent to begin with, and expensive Werewolves can lean more on the flip side than cheap ones (it’s easier to flip them later, meaning they spend less of their life unflipped). Arsonists looks quite good to me, and I would look to pick up at least 1 for most red decks. It does compete with Reduce to Ashes, so keep that in mind.
Geier Reach Bandit
This is going to play as a 3/2 with haste for 3 most of the time, and that’s a fine card. It’s a bit of a reach to imagine drafting a full Werewolf deck and going off, but at least this turns into a 4/3 when it flips!
As a mono-red card, this is around a 2.5 (potentially 3.0 if the format has a lot of appealing x/2s). In a blue/red deck, it’s a great card for any spell-heavy deck. You don’t even need that many spells for it to be awesome, as you aren’t paying much of a cost to include it. It works off self-mill, and is a good card to discard if need be. I’m going to have a blast drafting around this, and it’ll give me a flashback to drafting Burning Vengeance from original Innistrad.
While I’m still skeptical of delirium in aggressive decks, given that they are trying to end the game, this is still a fine inclusion. A 2/1 that pings the opponent for 1 is a good early drop, and in the late game you can hang out and whittle the opponent’s life total down. I’m in.
Don’t get me wrong, this card can backfire horribly. If your opponent can neutralize it without killing it (1 Sleep Paralysis and it’s goldnight), your life total gets halved, which is a big drawback. The upside is that it’s a 4/5 haste for 4, and that’s a very real upside. Also, because comments called out PV in his preview article—this is functionally a 4/5, even if 4/9 was printed on the card. C’mon.
One good thing to note is that it doesn’t double the damage dealt to your creatures, so you can set up a defense and block while you clock them in the air. That, combined with removal spells and maybe even sac outlets, makes me want to add Goldnight Castigator to every Limited deck. It’s a strong card, even if the downside is real. Some games you won’t be able to play it, and even as a 4/5 blocker it’s still solid.
Harness the Storm
In a Wolf deck, this is a great undercosted threat, and can even block if need be. An an aggressive deck, it’s exactly what you want. In a control deck without many other Wolves, it’s unplayable. That adds up to a solid card, even if not every deck will be howling for its inclusion.
A 4-drop that trades down for 2-drops is not what I’m looking for. I’m gonna need a little more Hulk and a little less Daredevil next time.
I don’t hate Thundering Giant, and this is playable even without madness if you are aggressive enough. Once you have a bunch of good outlets in your deck, this gets more appealing, and can even be a premium early pick. Curving a 2-drop discard outlet into this on turn 3 is just absurd, and that being within this card’s range does make this a card with very high upside.
This will kill most of the things you want to kill, so there’s no inner struggle when it comes to taking it. It works extra well against deathtouch, and has a slight downside against lifelink (your opponent will gain that much life). You may run into creatures that are resilient to this effect, which is annoying, but it’s still a good enough removal spell to take early and always run. Worse comes to worst, you’ll have to combine this with a blocker to finish things off.
As much as I hate 1mana 1/1s, this does a couple things well enough that I’m not totally against playing it. It’s a 0-mana madness outlet, it can get in for a couple points of damage, and it lets you cash in a land for a new card later in the game (even at net -1 card). I almost want to give this a lower rating to prevent legions of people from playing this when they shouldn’t, but it is a card that madness/delirium decks can justify, especially if they are aggressive.
This is a 2/1 with an annoying ability that flips into a 3/2 with a really annoying ability. Given that annoying the opponent is a worthy goal, I’ll always be happy to play this. It serves as a good defender and a solid attacker initially, is well worth the 2 mana, and later in the game it becomes very difficult to fight in combat.
I’ve played this card in a set with madness before and it delivers. It’s a 1-mana removal spell when you need it, at a cost you will pay gladly, and just absurd when combined with madness. Worse comes to worst, you pay 6 mana, and that’s still fine. You shouldn’t pass Lightning Axe very often, madness deck or not, and if you compare it to Murderous Cut, you are closer than you might think.
Like Reckless Scholar, I’m going to start out with looters very high on my pick list. You could even call me a mad prophet, but at the end of the day, hopefully I end up as a civilized scholar (regardless of how reckless these claims may seem now). I just see the combination of looters + madness + delirium as a really powerful one in this format, and I expect these cards to outperform their earlier selves.
Do you want to know the best way to properly rate Magmatic Chasm? Keep track of how many times it wins the game when cast.
Wait, that’s not the right way at all, because this will win you the game when it’s good to cast it, while rotting in your hand the vast majority of the time. This is a card some aggressive decks will play, but the most common use will be to sideboard it in to fight ground stalls. You should be able to pick up a copy pretty easily.
Limited: 2.0 // 3.5
This too is a situational card, but the upside is incredibly high. First of all, some hyper-aggressive decks will take it in order to steal a 4/4 and hit for 6 plus all their now-unblocked creatures. That’s fine, but that’s not the most threatening way to use this card.
The real value comes from being able to madness it, and this is one of the cards that best takes advantage of the madness design space. If you can discard and play this at instant speed, a whole new world of possibilities open up. Taking one of their creatures during their attack and blocking with it is absurd, as it kills multiple creatures (especially with a +2/+0 bonus). In order for this card to achieve the maximum rating, you want to be drafting a red-based aggressive madness deck. There, both “sides” are great, and you end up with a card that ranges from solid to insane.
Malevolent Whispers is a swingy card, and you will leave it out of plenty of red decks, but it will be one of the best cards in those decks it best fits in.
Limited: 2.0 // 3.5
It only takes one spell to make this a respectable card, and in a deck full of spells, it fires on all cylinders. At 3-4 spells, I’d call this marginally playable, and it just goes up from there. Once you are at 8+ spells, it’s a card I’m actively seeking out and ready to slam.
I really like this being a common. I like build-arounds, and while this is certainly rewarding if you get there, it isn’t too absurd. I’m looking forward to being an underdog in every draft I pick this early, but who knows, maybe it’ll actually be good.
Limited: 3.0 // 3.5
In a non-madness deck, this is a flexible 2-drop that can fill different roles. It blocks well, can trade for most things (even at the cost of a card), and just basically doesn’t suck. Once you are leaning hard into madness or delirium, it’s a premium card and makes all the rest of your cards better. Madness outlets that don’t cost mana are the best kind, and this curves nicely into any Vampire madness nonsense you are looking to do.
Reduce to Ashes
Going from 4 mana to 5 mana is a big jump. I’m still going to play this every time, but I won’t draft them as highly once I have one. The upside of exiling is relevant here, and every time you can Reduce to Ashes a Nearheath Chaplain you should (rightfully) feel accomplished.
Rush of Adrenaline
I prefer my rush to come in the form of knowledge, not adrenaline, but I can’t fault you for playing this in an aggressive deck. If this provided a little more toughness I’d be more interested, as this mainly serves as a way to get damage through because it won’t win that many combats. It’s a minor note, but cheap combat tricks do lose a little value in the Werewolf colors, as flipping your Wolves back is a drawback.
It doesn’t take much for me to put a 1/3 for 2 mana into my deck. I’m sanguine about that fact, and even factoring in my natural tendencies, you should give this the credit it deserves. Your opponents have to respect the ability to become a 2/4 at little cost, and in a madness deck it might become a 3/5 out of nowhere. Jeskai Student ended up overperforming, and Sanguinary Mage could do the same.
A 2/2 first strike is well worth 2 mana, and now that we aren’t in colorless land, double-color isn’t that hard. If you can get delirium, this becomes a substantial threat, and I’d prioritize cards like Rush of Adrenaline if I had a Scourge Wolf in my deck.
Limited: 1.0 // 2.5
Despite also describing Marshall Sutcliffe’s reaction when he finds out that people are putting Auras into their decks, this card does make sense at times. In a random aggressive deck, it’s mediocre, but once you get madness going, it can do some work. If you have a good shot of casting it via madness and you are drafting beatdown, playing 1 or 2 of these is better than playing most pump spells.
This is the opposite of Dark Confidant—wildly unplayable in Constructed, and very solid in Limited (trust me, I’ve tried Dark Confidant in Limited, and have taken a ton of damage as a result). Sin Prodder gives you a 3/2 for 3 that puts your opponent in a tough spot. Sure, they can deny you lands, but eventually they run out of life and have to start letting you draw cards. I myself would choose to go to 0 to stop a card, just out of principle, but either way, Sin Prodder is providing value. You can optimize this by drafting an aggressive deck, but I’d play it in control or aggro alike.
If you have a lot of good blockers, this goes way up in value. In an aggressive deck, it does at least force them to attack, but I’d look to use this in a deck that leans defensive. Killing a small creature and getting a 3/4 is a very good deal, and you may be able to pull this off early enough that the 3/4 dominates. Where this falls short is when you draw it and don’t have the resources to deal with their creatures, at which point it’s just a do-nothing.
What’s up with all the instant-speed Auras in this set? Despite not knowing the motives behind the flood of insta-Auras, I’ll still take and play this in any aggressive red decks. Thinking through how this will play out, I wouldn’t be surprised if this were just a great card. If you can successfully land this, you win a combat, and now have a creature that’s nigh-unbeatable. Imagine a 2/2 defeating a 3/3 or 4/4 thanks to this. You are up a card and now have a 5/2 first strike, which crushes almost anything. The upside is high enough that I’m giving this a high rating, even if creature-light decks won’t want it.
This is an early contender for the easiest turn 4 or 5 game-ender, as what you thought was a trade all of a sudden ends up with you facing down a 6/3 first-striking beast.
Limited: 1.0 // 3.5
Wait, another enchantment that you can play at instant speed that grants first strike? What in the world is going on besides combat blowouts?
Stensia Masquerade is a very on-or-off card, and you need to separate the games where it bins 2 of their creatures from the ones where it’s just a straight-up dead card. In the aggressive Vampire madness deck, it looks like a very strong build-around, and elsewhere it does very little. Madnessing this off a Ravenous Bloodsucker likely means you win at least one fight, and then it puts your opponent in a very tough spot. If you are likely to end up with a lot of Vampires (10+) and a good number of madness outlets, this is worthy of taking and optimizing. If not, I’d avoid it.
There are worse ways to blow up artifacts, but this should never touch your main deck (and likely should stay in your sideboard unless you are facing a very impressive artifact).
Flavor: A+ for perfect reprint flavor match
I played this card whenever I was short in Khans of Tarkir/Dragons of Tarkir, and it was fine. Here, it gains a ton of additional relevance, and looks like a card that is never going to end up in a sideboard. Fueling madness and delirium is great, and I love when reprints work out this nicely.
This is a reasonable card without green mana, and a very threatening one once you have access to the second ability. Red/green decks will skew aggressive and end up with a decent amount of Wolves in them, even if you aren’t trying, which makes this an annoying card for your opponent to deal with.
Bear in mind that you won’t always want to use this ability, even if it looks appealing. If you attack a Wolf into your opponent’s blocker, and they choose to block, it could be a trap. Spending 4 mana and getting hit by an instant can be disastrous, so if they walk into an on-the-board trick, you should be careful. This is one of those threat-of-activation abilities, and when the opponent disregards it, you do have the option to just accept a trade.
This is another trick that gives first strike (and double strike, for additional value). In the land of the 20 first strike tricks, the 5/1 is king. This is expensive enough that I’m not looking to pick up a ton of these, but I do like how much damage it can deal. On a 4/4, it adds 6 damage to the total, and that makes this a decent way to finish games.
Vessel of Volatility
Please don’t play this. It’s literally volatile, so there will be some games where it turbos out a heavy-hitter, but that pales in comparison to how often it won’t give you a card’s worth of value.
I didn’t like Reckless Waif and I don’t particularly like Village Messenger. The fail case of being a 1/1 is just so bad, and the upside of getting a creature that’s worth slightly more than 1 mana is not worth it. I’d avoid this in all but the most aggressive Werewolf decks, and even then I’d be suspicious.
You won’t play this in control decks, so the rating reflects how good it is in aggressive ones. It’s a very powerful and swingy card, and can easily add 6+ damage to the board out of nowhere. The presence of this card should make you play more defensively than normal, and I can imagine leaving back multiple blockers even against an empty board.
Wolf of Devil’s Breach
This is huge and cheap, and when it attacks, it lets you throw one of your cards at an opposing creature. You don’t even need madness to make this appealing, but hey, why not? Wolf of Devil’s Breach is a legit bomb.
Top 5 Red Commons
Fiery Temper is a windmill slam first pick among the red commons, but everything else is pretty close together. I can’t imagine a better common for aggressive decks than the Duelist, but once you aren’t beating down, it drops in value significantly. The same is true of Howlpack Wolf, though that at least can block in RG. You also likely want to alternate which of these you take, just to make sure your curve is still reasonable. Tormenting Voice is another card that drastically changes in value, and it’s easy to imagine taking it over everything but Fiery Temper.
Overall, red definitely skews aggressive and has a heavy madness component. Those two themes both go together well and work by themselves, which makes red look pretty easy to draft—no matter which direction you go, almost all the cards are viable.