Shadows Over Innistrad Spoilers and Set Release History!

With Shadows Over Innistrad on the horizon, we’ve come back to that time of year: when half of us are jaded and the other (more sadistic) half are busy reveling in other players’ misery. Through the suffocating darkness, a bright light shines from the heavens, promising the change we need. No, this isn’t Obama in ’08. It’s spoiler season. Welcome to my Shadows Over Innistrad preview discussion.

Declaration in Stone Art

Recently, spoiler season for Modern has been more lackluster than usual. We all know by now that all sets are designed to focus primarily on Standard and Draft/Sealed, with Modern not even deemed important enough to be tested by the Future Future League. This doesn’t mean Wizards cares nothing for Modern, as we often get goodies designed specifically for the impact they’ll have on Modern. What this does mean is that our Christmas gifts can range from Moldy Toast all the way to Golden Lavatory (the best Christmas present possible, if you ask me).

With 72 of 297 cards currently spoiled as of this writing, and the recent Modern disappointments of Eldrazi fresh in mind, I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at recent set releases for the impact they have had on Modern. We’ll discuss new cards, of course, but as CONTEXT kinda is my shtick I found myself just giddy with excitement at the possibility of evaluating past precedents to inform future decisions. I know you are too. So, without further ado, let’s jump in!

(If you just want to read spoiler discussion, CTRL + F “New Spoilers”)

History

In the past (almost) five years, Wizards of the Coast has bestowed upon us 18 sets of Magic cards for our delirious consumption. In that time, these things happened:

To be honest, most of that terrified me, which is why I (and many other players) disassociate those events from a specific point and time and instead subconsciously denote the passing of time in Magic sets. Can you tell me what year Michael Jackson died without looking? I can’t, but I can tell you it was before Zendikar). DING! 2009. My mental clock knows no equal.

What does this have to do with spoiler discussion? For me, new sets (like New Year’s) cause me to reminisce, for better or for worse. Five years ago, Innistrad came out. Five years ago, everything I thought a Magic set could be was transformed forever. Five years ago, I stopped holding Mirrodin Beseiged cards in my hand, softly muttering “why” and rose up to face a new day with hope in my heart. We begin where we end, with Innistrad.

Innistrad

Liliana of the VeilSlam-Dunks

Role Players

Innistrad is, in my mind, the best Magic set ever created. Not much of a Limited player myself, even I could not resist its charms, and Innistrad Limited beckoned to me from the doorway like Jessica Alba covered in chocolate cake. I distinctly remember looking over the spoiler, fresh from New Phyrexia‘s hyper-aggression, and remarking to my dad “This set sucks!”. No Ponder. No Doom Blade. Instead, we got Think Twice and Tragic Slip. Who knew Forbidden Alchemy and Unburial Rites would run Standard, and Liliana of the Veil and Snapcaster Mage would grow up to be the BEST individual cards in their respective colors five years later?

Grade: A+

Dark Ascension

Lingering SoulsSlam-Dunks

Role Players

Dark Ascension improved upon an excellent Limited and Standard format, introducing Zombies and giving Solar Flare an incredible value card in the form of Lingering Souls. Oh, the days where you could Forbidden Alchemy into Lingering Souls/Unburial Rites into Sun Titan… All the cards in this list have seen varying amounts of play in Modern from time to time, with Thought Scour in particular going from unplayable to Dark Ritual thanks to delve (don’t worry, we’ll get there).

Grade: B

Avacyn Restored

Restoration AngelSlam-Dunks

Role-Players

Avacyn Restored gets a bad reputation for its non-interactive Limited format, but is still in my mind an under-appreciated set. Griselbrand has been at the fringes of Modern for a while now with Grishoalbrand, and Elves players can fondly remember ramping into Craterhoof Behemoth before Collected Company was printed. Restoration Angel has been everywhere, from Twin to Control to Hoogland Special Naya. Terminus and Bonfire of the Damned popped up here and there in control and Burn lists respectively, but never caught on. Bonfire lost Brian Kibler and Team USA a World Magic Cup. Miracles as a mechanic really took off in Standard and Legacy, but not in Modern. Standard being slow and durdly allowed swingy effects like Bonfire of the Damned to take over, and Legacy’s library manipulation meant setting up Miracle flips was a breeze. Modern was both too fast and too inconsistent to employ these effects, though some decks still tried to play Bonfire to small success.

Grade: C+

Magic 2013

Slam-Dunks

Role Players

Oh, Thragtusk, how the world has forgotten you. This set was awesome for Standard (Talrand, Sky Summoner for Delver decks and Flinthoof Boar for R/G!) but poor for Modern. Gone are the days of sets with 50% reprints, and for good reason. There’s really nothing to talk about here other than more reminiscing about Standard, and nobody wants to hear about Thragtusk into Restoration Angel into… oh crap I’m doing it.

Grade: F

Return to Ravnica

Deathrite ShamanSlam-Dunks

Role Players

Ah, that’s better! Pushed multi-colored spells are naturally excellent in a fetch/shock manabase, and Jund took Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay to town, punishing Wizards for their naivety. Control got some great tools as well, and G/W received some more Wilt-Leaf Liege goodness in the form of Loxodon Smiter. Take that, Liliana of the Veil!

Grade: A

Gatecrash

Boros CharmSlam-Dunks

Role Players

With High Priest of Penance never panning out, Gatecrash goes down in history as the set that had promise, but barely delivered. Burn gained Boros Charm (one of the best burn spells ever printed) but besides that, Goblin players and Stompy players can attest to the failures of Gatecrash’s Charms.

Grade: D

Dragon’s Maze

Slam-Dunks

Role Players

Beck // Call didn’t pan out, and were it not for Voice of Resurgence Maze would be right up with Core Sets for the “Useless for Modern” title. Still, Voice continues to be one of the best answers to blue in the format, and it will be interesting to see how its stock shifts in a post Twin/Eldrazi metagame.

Grade: D-

Magic 2014

Role Players

M14 continues the Core Set/Poor Modern Set theme, with only one card of note to offer. Of note are a bunch of great reprints for Modern (Ratchet Bomb, Mutavault) but where are the NEW CARDS!?!

Grade: F

Theros

Master of WavesSlam-Dunks

Role Players

Fitting that the set about gods would be classified as “redemptive”. Theros brought Master of Waves to Merfolk, and Sylvan Caryatid to mana-greedy decks everywhere, from Loam to Ascendancy. The scrylands, while initially panned, have become recognized as in the running for top 5 land cycles ever (albeit a bit slow).

Grade: A-

Born of the Gods

Role Players

And that’s all there is to say on that.

Grade: D

Journey into Nyx

Eidolon of the Great RevelSlam-Dunks

Role Players

Journey Into Nyx cane close to failing, but Eidolon of the Great Revel is, in my mind, the best red card in Modern behind Goblin Guide and Lightning Bolt. At this point you have to reflect on the fact that three color defining cards (Snapcaster Mage and Liliana of the Veil included) have been printed in the last five years. While new sets rarely contain more than three or four cards eligible for Modern play, that doesn’t make those sets “bad sets” for Modern.

Grade: B-

Magic 2015

That being said, M15 sucked. Go home, Wizards, and think about what you’ve done.

Khans of Tarkir

Dig Through TimeSlam-Dunks

Role Players

So, we get it. Delve is busted. Even without Dig and Cruise, Khans would still get an A. Burn gaining Monastery Swiftspear, Abzan playing four drops like it’s Standard or something, and a bunch of sideboard stuff both for Burn and against Burn. We’ve even got a Storm offshoot archetype enabler! Khans of Tarkir was awesome for both Standard and Modern, and the fourth solid fall-set in a row for Wizards (and believe me, they took notice). While I can’t find the reference now, you can believe that the success and hype around fall sets was a major factor in the shift away from Core Sets towards two set blocks. What’s better than one fall set a year? TWO fall sets a year!

Grade: A+

Fate Reforged

TasigurSlam-Dunks

Role Players

While I will always hate Fate Reforged for giving Tron Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, I will always be indebted to it for giving me Tasigur, the Golden Fang. (How can you be indebted to an inanimate object? It’s not even an object, just a set release…) Anyway, Fate Reforged gave us a back to back excellent set for Modern, and *possibly* spoiled us for what to expect from Wizards moving forward. After all, Delve ended up being way more powerful than they expected, but these sets would still be great for Modern had delve not been a mechanic. Even Suicide Zoo got some love!

Grade: B+

Dragons of Tarkir

Atarkas CommandSlam-Dunks

Role Players

Another great set, this time brought about by the Command cycle. Similar to Return to Ravnica, placing multiple options on pushed, multi-colored instant speed spells is a recipe for success that Wizards should cook up more often. Kolaghan’s Command and Tasigur, the Golden Fang sponsored three whole new archetypes by themselves, and I miss those days dearly. How much greener the grass was back then…

Rending Volley will probably see no play now that Twin is gone, but should combo players move up to Kiki Jiki, Mirror-Breaker then Rending Volley is still a great answer to Restoration Angel or Deceiver Exarch. Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit is flying a little under the radar now, but if Abzan Company remains a force to be reckoned with post Eldrazi-ban this chick could be around for a while.

Grade: A

Magic Origins

Jace ProdigySlam-Dunks

Role Players

Magic Origins bucks the Core Set trend in terms of Modern playability, but then again, Magic Origins really isn’t a core set, but rather a Fall set with flipwalkers as the main selling mechanic. Anyone unfamiliar with my long-standing opinion on Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy can brush up now! This card is nuts and alone would earn Origins a B-. Throw in some tribal love and all-around value and you’ve got a solid set for Modern. Wizards has succeeded in making Magic about creatures, now please, give us more creatures that cost less than five!

Grade: A-

I won’t go over Battle for Zendikar or Oath of the Gatewatch (too soon, too soon…) but I shouldn’t really have to. We’re keeping things positive and looking back, looking ahead, anywhere other than the fire that’s burning around us.

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So, now that we’ve taken that exhausting brief journey through history, hopefully we have a clearer idea of what to expect with Shadows Over Innistrad. Wizards has shown that they can print sets that straight up invigorate Modern, but they can also print absolute stinkers. Personally, I consider a set a “success” for Modern if it contains around four cards that see Modern play, with two of them being something we could realistically maindeck. Eidolon of Rhetoric doesn’t count as an “exciting” new card for Modern, but something like Rending Volley is, in my mind. We don’t need a Voice of Resurgence/Eidolon of the Great Revel type staple every set, but something to get us excited would be nice. Enough history talk, let’s get to the new cards spoiled so far!

New Spoilers!

Hey! Scroll back up and read the whole article! I didn’t write 2000 words for you to skim through for the relevant information! You should know by now there is no relevant information. You disappoint me.

Nahiri, the Harbinger

If her -2 was just Lightning Helix, I’d be happier, but we already have that with Ajani Vengeant and he 1_nahirisees barely any play. The fact that she not only doesn’t do anything to protect herself AND doesn’t really do anything to get us ahead without jumping through hoops is not good news. Better cards have seen *no play* in Modern (again, looking at Ajani Vengeant) that I’m not positive about Nahiri’s chances here. Still, the +2 discards stranded Blightsteel Colossus‘ that the -8 can then go fetch, so maybe some Mardu control deck uses this as a value card to find more answers, handle some problematic permanents, and kill the opponent eventually? A deck like that doesn’t really exist, unless you count the Mardu Control deck floating around since the last Pro Tour. A strong metagame shift would have to happen to make Mardu playable, and THEN we would need a reason to play this over Ajani Vengeant. Pass.

Arlinn Kord

As she’s a planeswalker that costs less than five, I guess she has to be discussed, but I’m not wildly impressed. Were her starting loyalty four, meaning should could flip and survive Lightning Bolt, then I might be more excited, but as it 1_arlinnis she’s a more flashy Huntmaster of the Fells. I could see her in a planeswalker heavy Jund build (some list that plays Chandra, Pyromaster as well) and she seems strong if we have a Tarmogoyf on the field to block. Giving our ‘Goyf vigilance and +2/+2, along with haste to future creatures puts us in an aggressive route, and I’m starting to like the synergies between a creature on board, Arlinn Kord to pump, and Chandra, Pyromaster to falter a blocker, leaving our attacker with vigilance on protection duty next turn. Color me interested.

Declaration in Stone

1_declarationFor mono white decks looking for better removal, this seems like a slight upgrade to Dismember? I imagine the deck would have to be aggressive, as you want to be up-tempo to make the Clue awkward to activate. The fact that it removes ANY creature no questions asked is excellent, and though it costs two mana giving them a Clue can be better than putting a basic land onto the field. The fact that it costs two makes it worse than Path to Exile, obviously, and were it to cost one I think it would be second only to Swords to Plowshares (though being a sorcery hurts it). This one might not make it in Modern, but I think that is due more to archetypes and current options than raw power level. Keep an eye on this one.

Thing in the Ice

Finally, we come to this interesting number. A 0/4 that we can expect to flip on average in about 2.0-2.5 turns (if 1_thingwe play it turn two) piques my curiosity, but only because it’s a two-drop in blue. Thing coming down across from Tarmogoyf is doing nothing for at least a full hit, and then we have Terminate to worry about. Were it an 0/5, this would  be an easier card to evaluate, but 0/4 is a little too small for what we would need it to do (block Tarmogoyf). That it blocks everything else isn’t enough. If we aren’t casting Mana Leak or Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy we’d better be doing something good.

“Normal” blue decks aren’t interested in attacking, usually, so the 7/8 success state is more “cute” than an actual strategy we can expect to be playing to. But, here we have its bounce ability making things complicated. Flipping this thing by casting do nothing Serum Visions and the like to bounce our opponent’s whole board is a big game, and could buy us the time we need to do more of the durdly stuff we were doing that got us in that position in the first place. So, basically, a blue player’s dream. That’s the success state, where the failstate is just an 0/4 that everyone on the row laughs at. I’ve got to say, even though it’s probably bad, a classic U/R Twinless Twin with this guy to make our opponent nervous sounds fun for a weekend…

I’ll leave the rest to you. We’re barely into Shadows Over Innistrad spoilers, but we now have a better idea of what to look for and what to expect from a Magic Set for Modern in 2016. Next week, or possibly the week after we’ll hopefully have some juicy stuff to discuss, and I’m crossing my fingers for a Snapcaster Mage or Liliana of the Veil reprint (as either of those cards will get me back into Standard).

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next week!

Trevor Holmes
The_Architect on MTGO
Twitch.tv/Architect_Gaming
Twitter.com/7he4rchitect

Trevor started playing Magic in 2011. He plays primarily online and studies Architecture at UNCC. Recent paper Magic accomplishments include a 2015 Regional PTQ win qualifying for Pro Tour: Magic Origins and a Day Two performance at GP Charlotte. He also streams weekdays at twitch.tv/Architect_Gaming! Follow him at twitter.com/7he4rchitect and architectgaming.wordpress.com!

20 thoughts on “Shadows Over Innistrad Spoilers and Set Release History!

  1. Nice article as always, and it is long enough, but i think that oath of the gatewatch deserves some credit. After the ban in april thought knot seer could still be a viable and nice card (BGC Rock maybe?).

    Then there are other nice cards that might see modern play: Kalitas, Oath of Nissa, Eldrazi displacer, Goblin Dark Dwellers,Reckless Bushwhacker, Flaying tendrills, Natural State, Kozileks Return, Warping Wail, Reflector Mage, Stormchaser Mage, Sea Gate Wreckage, Manlands,…

    So imho this is an A Set.

    1. I should have elaborated, I apologize.

      The issue here is that Nahiri can only interact with tapped creatures. This can range from useful to useless, depending on a few factors. With no blockers (the case we need to use to evaluate planeswalkers, hence “protect themself”) Nahiri can kill a creature that has been on board and attacked, but nothing past that. Any creature that is played after Nahiri will be able to hit her before she can use her ability, and that’s definitely a strike against her.

      On the other hand, she can function as a “better” Liliana of the Veil with chump blockers (like Lingering Souls) as her -2 can discourage an opponent from attacking into our chump blocking tokens, and she can +2 back into -2 range twice as fast as LoTV can.

      She just seems to be a stretch for me, Ajani Vengeant costs exactly the same and has a lot more utility without having to jump through hoops. Graveyard synergies aside I think she is strictly worse, if we’re going purely on rate alone.

  2. I honestly love Thing in the Ice, the 0/4 body may fail the “Goyf” test (which is not something I encounter too often at my LGS, more like Reality Smasher test…which may not be a thing after the banning), but at least it doesn’t fail the all too common bolt test, unlike your precious Jace, VP. Board wipe and a 7/8 is no joke! Esp. if he flips as a response to your opponent’s attack phase!

    Still, it’s just my speculation and gut feeling about the card, that it will be great. If not, at least I like it. Hey Trevor, since we’re both Grixis players, if your able to do any play-testing of this card (I might do some over the weekend), I’ll be very interested in your findings! Thank you for this article, I enjoyed reading all of it!

    1. Beryl,

      The fact that it lives through Bolt is definitely great, and past the second turn it can flip just as fast as my precious Jace. Playing this guy on T4 or T5 with a spell or two, then casting a couple more spells next turn to flip/bounce/attack is pretty strong. Not the best topdeck either.

      I won’t be able to test this weekend but hopefully soon! Thanks for reading!

  3. Thanks for standing up for Theros block in your Modern set reviews. That block will never be considered “the best” because it was immediately followed by Tarkir and BFZ, but that set had a good chunk of playables. This may be because I enjoy playing Master of Waves, but RTR-Theros Standard was pretty fun.

    Going back to your spoiler reviews, I agree with you in terms of Nahiri and Declaration in Stone. Arlinn, on the other hand, has a very clear home, and that is Collected Company Zoo. It might come out of the sideboard (as its optimal value IMO is in creature combat-heavy matchups such as Eldrazi, or grindfests like BGx), but I can assure you it will be tested extensively, and I expect it to make the 75. Thing in the Ice feels like a WUx Control card to me – the current version of the deck runs Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, which is an even less capable blocker and often takes just as long to get going. Furthermore, a flipped Jace doesn’t close out the game like a Flipped Thing in the Ice does – it just provides another value engine to grind away with. I think the Thing will allow UW Control players to trim, if not outright remove, Jace.

    1. I still think Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is a stronger card, but I’m open to this perspective changing and I’m aware that it’s due almost entirely to bias and my level of experience with Jace. Having not played with Thing yet, it’s hard to evaluate correctly. In a couple weeks I could look quite silly 🙂

      Alrinn in a CoCo Zoo list is interesting, however it does remind me a lot of Domri Rade. CoCo is similar to Domri in that you really want as many hits in the deck as possible, and including Arlinn (or any other non-creature) makes Company weaker. Can we afford to play Arlinn, 4 CoCo and removal spells, or is that too many non-creatures? Definitely interesting. I do like that Arlinn is a four-drop, so there’s no “pressure” to replace our three drop Domri with a three drop that CoCo can hit. If Arlinn was a Huntmaster of the Fells CoCo wouldn’t hit anyways, so that pressure is gone. I think it really comes down to the impact the card can have, and whether what’s worth diluting our CoCo hits for it. Let me know if you do any testing!

      1. The thing is, Jace in UWx Control has nowhere near as much juice as Jace in Grixis. There are less cheap spells flying around (take a look at the curve of the list from GP Bologna: http://mtgtop8.com/event?e=11774&d=267147&f=MO – it’s pretty different from what its Grixis cousin would be rolling with). Because of this, along with the distinct lack of Thought Scour-type effects, Jace tends to be a bit slow on the flip and even slower to wring value out of it. I would posit that Thing in the Ice operates on a similar timeline in that deck, and is actively helping you close out the game as opposed to being Snapcasters 5-8. You don’t even feel all that bad about dropping a Supreme Verdict on it, thanks to Ojutai’s Command.

        I unfortunately won’t be able to test Arlinn Kord myself (at least not past a very cursory level), as I don’t own Zoo. However, I’ve been following the Zoo thread on MTGSalvation on this issue, and I’m pretty confident she will find a place in the deck. My bet is as a sideboard card – she weaponizes topdecks with her human form +1 and can either provide bodies or kill their guys. This is gold in a dedicated attrition matchup, and might be even better than CoCo in that context (since that one can whiff, or come up with useless mana dorks). I could see myself siding her in for extra consistency against Abzan/Grixis Midrange/Jund as a Zoo player.

  4. love the article… it’s good to keep in mind that wizards regulates overall power level due to power creep so it makes sense that they will throw in relative duds like born of the gods every now and then…

    i do think with how strong khans/dragons was that we are probably still in the lower part of the power curve after those sets…. eldrazi silliness aside…

    not a huge fan of SOI yet but hopefully i’ll be proven wrong…

  5. Personally, I’m looking at thing in the ice and seeing potential for a new style of tempo deck:

    death’s shadow/tasigur/angler/thing/young pyromancer, backed by a fetch/shock manabase, thoughtscour/probe/thoughtseize/street wraith, and stubborn denial/spell snare/remand. Basically, push delver back to its protect the queen role (by going possibly delverless), with a side of suicide zoo since we’re already going to hit our life total hard. Such a shell is going to very consistently drop a huge threat on the second turn, potentially with countermagic backup. Untapping on the third turn you’ll quite often either have 4=6 power on the board with protection or be putting 10-12 power on the board.

    1. This is interesting and seems like it would be quite powerful.

      In my experience with the Suicide Zoo deck I really only wanted to be spending two mana to cast Temur Battle Rage for the kill, a lot of the power of that deck comes from just unloading one and zero mana spells.

      Turn 3 was normally the “go-off” turn, so Thing in the Ice is actually a better fit than might be immediately apparent (to me, you made that point). Being able to Temur Battle Rage without Become Immense for more than 4 damage is strong as well, and Thing could make our Rage’s better, which is a definite plus.

      This puts us entirely five-color if we’re still playing Stony Silence in the board. Mana isn’t the biggest concern as far as life totals go, but only playing 16/17 land means we’re often getting two fetches and that’s it. The fetch/shock configuration would definitely have to change from the Jund/splash configuration to something a little more messy. Worth exploring!

  6. Thoughts on anguished unmaking? Obviously not hitting lands is bad, but instant speed is nice.

    It will (almost) certainly have a place in standard, but what about modern? Would junk run it over Maelstrom Pulse? Is this the card BW deadguy ale needs to break into tier 2-3? Or is it as useless as Utter End was?

    1. I’m glad you mention Maelstrom Pulse, as that’s the card I look to when analyzing this one’s power level. Pulse has a great effect, but “kill anything” isn’t really in such a high demand in Modern, hence you only seeing one (sometimes two) Pulse in Jund lists. I think “some” of that is due to Pulse being sorcery speed, which is worth mentioning. Tack on the life loss (which is a lot more relevant in Modern than you would think with Burn/Affinity and fetch/shocks) and it seems like an already expensive card is getting worse.

      If it does see play, it will be as a necessity for decks that have no other options (so, strictly B/W). Abzan can just play Maelstrom Pulse (and have a lot better game against tokens/2for1’s) and Mardu already has the ability to kill anything it needs.

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