MtG: Shadows Draw Near
Rumor season is picking up early yet again, as the contents of a booster pack worth of cards from the April expansion, Shadows Over Innistrad, found it’s way online. Several new mechanics and tidbits can be drawn from studying the cards. Let’s look at what we can discern from the cards we’ve seen so far, starting off with the known set mechanics.
Delirium – When you have four or more card types among the cards in your graveyard, a spell or creature with this keyword mechanic will be granted additional effects. One such example is a counterspell which counters target Sorcery. With Delirium active, you can search the graveyard, hand and library of the controller of the spell you countered and exile any number of cards with the same name as that spell and exile them. Another example is a Zombie Hound that gains Menace if you have Delirium active.
Investigate – A new keyword action, cards with Investigate read “Investigate. (Put a colorless Clue artifact token onto the battlefield with ‘2, Sacrifice this artifact: Draw a card’)”. We’ve only seen one card with this keyword action so far, but we’ll be sure to see more as the set is further revealed.
Madness – Returning for the third time, Madness last saw print in Time Spiral block – and Odyssey block before it. Madness works so that if you were to discard a card from your hand which has a Madness cost, you may play it at the time you discard it for that cost. Many Madness cards were aggressively costed when they were printed, but also came with many enablers, making it an archetype to be reckoned with during Standard in it’s first run (though with some assistance from Flashback and Threshold, which we have not seen as returning yet, although Flashback was in the first Innistrad block). Among the leaked cards posted online was a reprint of Fiery Temper, originally printed in the expansion Torment, where Madness was debuted. We now know that Madness will be returning in Red, but it remains to be seen if Madness will be a primary mechanic in the set and found to be prominent in all colors, or if it will return only to select colors.
Skulk – This creature-centric keyword ability states that a creature with Skulk can’t be blocked by creatures with greater power. This means that if you have a 1/1 creature with Skulk, it cannot be blocked by a 2/1 creature. The mechanic reads in very generic terms, meaning it’s wide open for use in blocks beyond Shadows Over Innistrad. It’s a safe bet that this keyword mechanic will become evergreen – that is to say, it will be used regularly in the future – as this was recently the case with both Prowess and Menace (as opposed to set mechanics such as Madness or Delirium, which are very obviously suited to a block with a “graveyard matters” theme).
Transform – Double-faced cards are making another return, including Werewolves. The conditions by which Werewolves transform appear to remain the same from their debut during Innistrad block. Transform cards enter the battlefield with the casting cost side face-up. During each upkeep, if no spells were played the previous turn, you get to transform your Human Werewolves by turning the card over, revealing another form. Cards that have transformed are typically more powerful than their initial forms, and non-Werewolves typically have their own unique transform mechanism. Once transformed, a Werewolf will check if two or more spells were played during the last turn each upkeep, and transform back into it’s Human state if such were true. Previously, having to transform back was not something that applied to non-Werewolf cards (unless they were removed from the game temporarily, in which case they would re-enter the battlefield with the mana cost side active). The Checklist Cards are returning as well, but don’t seem to hint at any dual-faced Planeswalkers this time around.
Design And Set Themes:
Even though we only have 15 cards to draw information from, that number of cards can say much. With the obvious return to a “graveyard matters” theme and the set mechanics out of the way, let’s talk about what we can infer based on the card abilities and what they do.
Devils Have a Creature Token Focus
Out of the 15 cards in the initial leak, two were Red cards pertaining to Devils. Devils were previously part of Red’s part of the color pie thematically and mechanically, so the card colors are not a surprise. However, both Red Devil-themed cards produce 1/1 Red Devil Creature Tokens that have “When this creature dies, it deals 1 damage to target creature or player”. One card is Uncommon at instant speed for 3R, summoning two of these creature tokens; and the other is a Rare that spawns four of these creature tokens at Sorcery speed for 4RR. Given that we have two spells in one pack with the theme of spawning these creatures, it’s safe to say we’ll probably see this effect on other Red cards, as well.
Innistrad block had a very strong creature type theme, and the leaked Lamplighter of Selhoff Zombie Horror creature suggests that this will be true for our return to Innistrad, as well. His triggered ability upon entering the battlefield is dependant on controlling another Zombie, which easily suggests that Wizards of the Coast will want you to think about piling on a certain creature type. Werewolves returning also easily suggests a focus on tribal themes, as well as the Red leaked cards regarding Devils and what may be a swarm theme for them. We were gifted ally-colored multicolor tribal “Lord” type creatures in Innistrad to support Spirits, Zombies, Vampires. What fun new support cards will we see for the returning tribes? We’ll find out in the coming weeks!
Bloodline Keeper by Jason Chan
The Plot Thickens
It would seem things have gotten pretty interesting on Innistrad since we were last there. We have some leads as to what to expect, but much is still up to speculation. Thanks to some of the leaked cards, however, we now have a better idea of where things stand on Innistrad. Below I’ll review where we last left the plane, and discuss where it appears we are at, now.
Last Time On Innistrad
When we last left Innistrad, Avacyn and Griselbrand had been released from the Helvault: an ancient monolithic artifact forged from Moonsilver, created in order to imprison the unending cycle of demons spawning on Innistrad; at least, until the fateful day when Avacyn herself was forced into the Helvault during an attempt to imprison and defeat Griselbrand. After using necromantic powers to raise Mikaeus the Lunarch from the the dead – the only one on Innistrad who knew why Avacyn disappeared along with Grislebrand – Liliana Vess learned of Griselbrand’s location within the Helvault, and coerced Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, into destroying it. Liliana threatened Thalia the deaths of all under her command. Once the deed was done, Liliana quickly took her opportunity to annihilate Griselbrand by invoking the powers in The Chain Veil. In doing so, she had rid herself of the second of four of the debtors to whom she had sold her soul for eternal youth and power. Elsewhere on the plane, Sorin Markov was dealing with the half-devil Tibalt; and Garruk Wildspeaker left Innistrad in search of Liliana, all while struggling with the madness overtaking him thanks to a curse she had inflicted upon him.
Triumph of Cruelty by Izzy
Much has transpired elsewhere in the multiverse since then, which has involved Liliana, Garruk, Sorin and many others. Last we saw Sorin, he brought his attention back to the matter of the Eldrazi and had visited the plane of Takir in order to find Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Sorin, Ugin and Nahiri, the Lithomancer, were the three Planeswalkers who created the hedron network on Zendikar that forced all three Eldrazi Titans into dormancy for several millennia (before being set free by the machinations of Nicol Bolas). After arriving on Tarkir and being unable to locate the Spirit Dragon, Sorin eventually found Ugin’s skeletal remains. Simultaneously, Sarkhan Vol had been following unknown voices back home to Tarkir, himself. With the help of the Jeskai Clan’s Khan, Narset, Sarkhan found where Ugin’s bones laid at rest and discovered the voice that lead him there belonged to Ugin himself. Inside the natural tomb, Sarkhan found a spirit nexus that took him back in time where he was able to help Ugin defeat Nicol Bolas. Afterwards, Sarkhan aided Ugin’s recovery with the help of a mysterious hedron piece from the The Eye of Ugin – the inner sanctum of the hedron network on Zendikar – which he brought with him from the timeline he came from.
Once activated, the hedron shard cocooned Ugin, who awoke 1,280 years later at the hand of Sorin to a very different Tarkir in a new present. Once free, Sorin approached Ugin, who was unaware of the events that had transpired during his stasis in the hedron cocoon. When asked about the whereabouts of Nahiri, Sorin showed only regret and informed Ugin that she wasn’t there with him. Annoyed at the vague response and obvious withholding of the truth, Ugin ordered Sorin to find Nahiri so that they could restore the Eldrazi’s prison on Zendikar. Nahiri had spent centuries on Zendikar keeping watch, and even re-stabilized the Eldrazi’s prison long in the past when the Eldrazi broods began to roam free. Unfortunately, Nahiri left Zendiakr to seek out Sorin when he didn’t respond to the Eldrazi brood invasion all those centuries ago. Sorin told Ugin that he may know where to find her, then left Tarkir.
Sorin, Solemn Visitor by Cynthia Sheppard
The Current Purpose
Thus, Sorin began his quest to seek out Nahiri, who Jace Beleren is now also searching for after the events of the Battle For Zendikar. The Gatewatch (Gideon, Nissa, Chandra and Jace) managed to destroy two of the Eldrazi titans – Ulamog and Kozilek – but the third, Emrakul, has escaped her binding to the plane and is missing. Jace had found Ugin himself at The Eye of Ugin in the Akoum Mountains on Zendikar before the Gatewatch had formed, and was instructed to find both Nahiri and Sorin. However, the search for Nahiri seems to have come to an end, as the leaks gave us the much anticipated answer to her whereabouts: Innistrad.
One particular spoiled card revealed Nahiri on Innistrad, using her lithomancy to warp and destroy the immaculate architecture in front of her. The card’s flavor text quoted her, stating “As Zendikar has bled, so shall Innistrad. As I have -, so will Sorin.” A glare on the card face prevented anyone from a complete reading of the text, but it’s certainly clear that Nahiri is not at all happy with Sorin. As the set is revealed and story progresses on dailymtg.com every Wendesday, we’ll know soon enough the extent of Nahiri’s wrath. This also answers the question of the meaning held in the teaser trailer for Shadows Over Innistrad.
As seen above, the teaser depicts an angel’s feather slowly drifting through the air, then landing on a symbol of Avacyn and turning to blood. Shortly afterward, the symbol itself begins to creak and bend under a mysterious influence that was the subject of much speculation. With confirmation of Nahiri on Innistrad – and seeking vengeance no less – the question as to the meaning of the warped symbol seems to have been answered. Thanks to a recent art book, we now know that Nahiri was like a daughter to Sorin and so she may know many of his secrets – including that of Avacyn’s creation. Given Nahiri’s current temperament, it would be an interesting turn of events if she is looking to kill the angels which keep balance and watch over Innistrad (and Avacyn by proxy). One could even speculate that Nahiri had a hand in Sorin’s quest to balance Innistrad, as the monolithic Helvault created from Moonsilver seems to have simply appeared at the same time as Avacyn, herself. It’s still very early, and we do not yet know where Sorin stands in all this – at least not yet.
Lastly, there is a card depicting Jace Beleren on Innistrad searching through Tamiyo’s notes (whose fate is yet unknown), which seem to hint at an important plot point. Mentioned is the fate of Markov Manor and that “cryptoliths” are involved, whatever those may be. It sounds like Nahiri may have laid waste to Markov Manner, which could very well be the structure on the previously mentioned card featuring her. What level of ire this will earn from Sorin is an interesting question, as Sorin and Nahiri have known one another for millennia and knowing how Sorin sees Nahiri and has been a mentor figure to her. Many questions remain, including that of if Nahiri is under the influence of a malign force such as a powerful demon, or even the influence of Emrakul. Even with the few small details so far, though, the plot for Shadows Over Innistrad is looking much more interesting than Battle for Zendikar’s.
Calling the Locals.
It would also seem we’ll be seeing the return of some favorite locals, such as Stitcher Geralf. Geralf and his sister, Ghoulcaller Gisa, got their own cards as part of the Commander 2014 preconstructed decks. During the debut of Innistrad, both of these characters and their antics were referenced regularly within the cards of the block, and quoted often in flavor text. Neither of them had cards of their characters during the block itself, though Wizards of the Coast does listen to the players, as we can see. The good news for those players is that Geralf is still around as evidenced by a quote from him on a Homnuculus. Sigarda is also present on Innistrad given a card that quotes her. With the new focus on Magic’s story since Magic Origins, perhaps we’ll see yet more important figures from the plane, as opposed to the small handful afforded to us before.
Familiar and prominent locales are also returning into view, along with Markov Manor. The regions of Nephalia, Stensia, and Kessig have been referred to, including the ruins of Avabruck, which now seems to be called Hollowhenge. Some of the familiar Vampire bloodlines have also been mentioned, including the Voldaren and Falkenrath, the latter of which seems to be supporting cultists, now.
Ghoulcaller Gisa by Karla Ortiz
Announcing: Eldritch Moon
We’re still weeks away from the start of official Shadows Over Innistrad previews, but on February 8th, 2016, the title of the second set in the Shadows Over Innistrad block was announced: Eldritch Moon. The announcement mysteriously excluded the expansion symbol, which is unusual for Wizards. They confirmed later that the exclusion was intentional, so it seems it’s probably story related and that they don’t want us to know quite yet. What we do know from an image at the bottom of the announcement page, is that the set may feature Liliana Vess. That’s right – Liliana will be coming back to Innistrad, but to what end is yet unknown until this June.
art by Tyler Jacobson
Like A Bat Out Of Ashmouth
We’ve discerned a lot of information from a small amount of cards, but it seems like players and fans of Innistrad have every reason to be excited. Response to the Battle for Zendikar block has been very mixed, with even Lead Designer Mark Rosewater admitting that it suffered as a byproduct of being the first block in the new Standard paradigm. Fortunately for those who love Innistrad, the block isn’t so fresh out of the gate into the new Standard, so it will have been developed with a broader idea of how to approach the two-block rotation.
Shadows Over Innistrad still holds many secrets, which will be revealed coming up to the Prerelease on the weekend of April 2nd, 2016. Official previews will begin in the few weeks leading up to the Prerelease on dailymtg.com, where you can find the official Magic story unfolding every Wednesday, as well as official preview articles starting in March.
Until next time, may your graveyard be ripe with Skaab parts!