Innistrad is Wizards’ Gothic Masterpiece

A brilliant idea for a Magic set doesn’t always become a great set once all the cards are on the table. Innistrad is built around a gothic horror theme that a lot of players (myself included) are huge fans of. Did Wizards match idea with execution, or do we have another Kamigawa on our hands? I won’t keep you in suspense — Innistrad is freaking great.

Innistrad was built as a top-down design. That is, they took the horror theme, dug up all the awesome classic horror tropes (like vampires, Frankenstein’s monster, Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde, mad scientists, undead creatures, not to mention stunning architecture, faded beauty and a pervasive sense of gloom and impending doom) and designed cards for the ideas. That means we can judge the success of the set in part on whether those themes come through the cards themselves. When you open packs and play some games, do you feel those things? Does it bring to mind those monsters and stories? 

I’d have to say yes. We don’t know all the details of the Innistrad story at this point, but the cards give us glimpses. We know that there are evil things walking the night, that the good guys rely on their faith in the angel Avacyn to protect them, and that she’s been AWOL lately. As you play through a few games, you notice some things that are going on. For one thing, your neighbors and friends are randomly turning into vicious werewolves, so even that friendly human [card]Village Ironsmith[/card] can be a source of terror. Early on, a few isolated zombies may appear, and twisted experimenters might create some particularly nasty ones. But they seem to be dealt with fairly easily. It’s what’s coming later that you really have to worry about. Whether it’s an opponent getting enough mana to play [card]Army of the Damned[/card], carrying out the experiments necessary to transform [card]Ludevic’s Test Subject[/card], or studying the forbidden text within the [card]Grimoire of the Dead[/card], there’s definitely a pervasive, ominous mood to many games.

It’s also interesting that most of the “pure” creature removal in the set is in white — removal in other colors is restrictive in ways that reinforce the theme, such as [card]Prey Upon[/card] or [card]Harvest Pyre[/card]. This makes it apparent that you really are going to be forced to rely on your faith in Avacyn to defeat the dark forces arrayed against you.

Mechanically, Innistrad is not overly complex. The transform mechanic seems complicated, but once you grasp the logistics of flipping cards, it’s really not too hard to understand. Some limited formats feel mentally taxing (I felt Scars block was quite complicated, for instance), but Innistrad games seem to be pretty straightforward creature battles. Of course Magic inherently requires some mental agility — I’m not saying all the games are easy. But you will find yourself for the most part simply working to play better creatures than your opponent has and destroying more of her creatures than she destroys yours (I know, that’s like the John Madden of Magic analyses).

The funny thing about the overwhelming popularity of the set among Magic players already is that it’s not an obviously powerful set. It’s proof that Wizards can create smash hits without constant power creep. There’s certainly a lot of interest in [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] (eeeesh, terrible name) and [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card], but no one’s raving over Innistrad because of all the mega-efficient tournament cards. In fact, most of the best cards in the set are actually uncommons. I won’t even pretend to predict what cards will be big in Standard or other constructed formats, but it does seem likely that there are some hidden gems in the set just waiting to be discovered.

I can tell you some cards to watch out for in limited, and this should be useful information, because if you’re anything like me, you plan on drafting Innistrad as much as humanly (or not) possible in the next few months.

The buzz about Innistrad at the prerelease was the lack of creature removal. There’s no [card]Go for the Throat[/card] or [card]Incinerate[/card] here, so you’ll have to be a bit more clever. White has some obvious choices, like [card]Rebuke[/card], [card]Fiend Hunter[/card], and the versatile [card]Bonds of Faith[/card]. But if white is looking weak, then look to other colors for less obvious methods of removal. I initially underestimated [card]Prey Upon[/card], but it is a fantastic way to destroy your opponent’s creatures. You will often trade one of your creatures for one of theirs, but it can get you out of messes where your opponent has a flier that you can’t block. Plus, simply giving green the ability to destroy creatures like this is huge. Also take a good look at [card]Harvest Pyre[/card]. It feels like it’s working against you sometimes, especially if you have other cards you want to play that want lots of things in your graveyard. If you can pair it with a consistent way to fill your graveyard, then it’s obviously fantastic, but your opponent is probably going to doing a fairly good job if filling your graveyard himself, so you should still be able to get a lot of mileage out of it.

Mill strategies are viable in Innistrad limited. There are a lot of cards that can mill your opponent’s library into her graveyard, but the one card you really need to make this happen is [card]Trepination Blade[/card]. It’s only uncommon, so there’s a realistic chance of grabbing two of them in a draft or a lucky sealed pool.

Finally, don’t underestimate werewolves. A single [card]Full Moon’s Rise[/card] can boost some mediocre transformers into a serious threat, and it gives you a huge advantage in creature battles. You don’t need a battlfield full of werewolves to make it work, either. Just one will give your opponent fits. Werewolves also push strong aggro strategies — don’t let anyone tell you stories about how this is a slow format. Attacking with a 3/2, 3/1 or 3/3 on turns two or three isn’t just possible, it happens a lot.

Any other Vikings have a go at an Innistrad prerelease event? What cards were all-stars (or surprising benchwarmers) for you?


2 Responses to Innistrad is Wizards’ Gothic Masterpiece

  1. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a Magic player. That being said, I am consistently impressed by their worldbuilding & art direction. I’ve stopped reading the “Insider” 4e DnD content almost entirely, but I’m an avid reader of the Magic articles. From that perspective, I gotta say, Innistrad looks pretty cool.

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