MTG Top 8, Episode #1: Innistrad Hype
Welcome to MTG Top 8!
Well met, readers! Welcome to MTG Top 8, a new series here on QueueTimes every week where I pick a subject matter within Magic: the Gathering and rank my personal Top 8 of various things within said subject matter. With the Shadows Over Innistrad prerelease events coming up this weekend, I’m going to go over the Top 8 cards I hope to open from my prerelease kit, and what really excites me about those cards. This entry of my new Top 8 series is not about what I think are the most powerful or best cards, but what I feel are interesting cards that may fit into projects (many of which I’ll be discussing here in the future) and that spark ideas.
#8 Brain in a Jar
#7 Geralf’s Masterpiece
Once again, GeralfStitcher Geralf is making Innistrad better through science – and probably my Grimgrin, Corpse-BornGrimgrin, Corpse-Born Commander deck. Geralf’s Masterpiece is very interesting in that you can easily make it a 7/7 creature for . It has a built-in activated ability to assist in making it bigger, but in any deck that uses it’s graveyard as an abuse-able resource, the ability to discard any three cards on a whim for and then get a monstrous beatstick is worth it’s weight in gold, by itself. I can’t see Geralf’s latest creation making it’s way into Legacy or Modern, but I would love to beat someone down with this in Standard or Limited or even finding a Cube to put him in. And that artwork! It goes without saying that the artists did an amazing job with the artwork for Shadows Over Innistrad, especially after looking at so many Eldrazi for the last half year. The angle helps to give you a feel for the scale of this monstrosity, but to top it off is Geralf himself on a balcony on the upper left of the card. He’s probably as gleeful as I am at the thought of unleashing this thing upon my enemies and friends alike.
#6 From Under the Floordboards
Madness has returned in a big way, and even though the nostalgia sections of my brain felt slightly disappointed that I didn’t see any Basking RootwallaBasking Rootwalla, this made up for the lack of a Madness archetype throwback (yet… maybe in Eldritch Moon?). From Under the Floor Boards has been called Black’s Sphinx”s RevelationSphinx"s Revelation, which may or may not be a fair comparison. It’s debatable whether several 2/2 black Zombie Creature tokens is better than card draw, while both offer life gain. The card is surely to cause many blowouts in Limited in the mid to late game by creating a board state that will be very hard to overcome. Casting it for it’s Madness cost and investing even or into can help advance the caster’s board state that is hard to handle in Limited. It seems like an auto include in many Black Commander decks which utilize tokens and creatures as sacrificial products for greater effects. As mentioned earlier, I run a Grimgrin, Corpse Born Commander deck and being that the deck is Zombie Tribal and that it also needs a lot of cannon fodder, this could help many cards in the deck. Also, if you weren’t aware, you can play this card at Instant speed when you discard it if you pay it for it’s Madness cost. Absolutely to die for. To die for.
#5 Archangel Avacyn
She may have fallen from grace, but hoo boy is she going to take a lot of creatures down with her. I mean, literally – when she transforms she’s going to wipe out most boards. Story-wise too of course. Have you seen what she’s been up to lately? You get a small ringing in your ear and the next thing you know you’re smiting your local McOdric’s… and the rest of the town because why not? But seriously, this incarnation of Avacyn is much easier to play than M15’s Avacyn, Guardian AngelAvacyn, Guardian Angel, but much different from her original printing as Avacyn, Angel of HopeAvacyn, Angel of Hope. Her front face provides a 4/4 for 3WW with Flash, Flying and the ability to make your creatures Indestructible until end of turn – a fierce card by itself. Her easily activated second trigger transforms her during the next upkeep and burns the whole world down (or well, most of it). The term “pushed” usually refers to a card that players assume Wizards really pushed the power level on for it’s cost, and that applies very well to Archangel Avacyn. She’ll be a bomb in Limited, surely find her way into some of the better Standard decks, and she’ll be a power house in any Commander deck. Personally, I’d love to put her in a Commander deck with Gisela, Blade of GoldnightGisela, Blade of Goldnight at the helm, and that’s exactly what I’ll be doing if I’m lucky enough to pull her during any of my prerelease events!
#4 Relentless Dead
Here we are with our third Zombie card on my Top 8 cards I hope to open at the pre-release, and I can’t begin to tell you how many ways I want to abuse this card. GravecrawlerGravecrawler has been an amazing addition to decks focused on the Zombie creature type since he was printed in Dark Ascension. Relentless Dead takes it a step further, going back to your hand when it dies and even letting you bring another Zombie of your choice back from the grave. This has potential to play amazingly with cards such as Diregraf ColossusDiregraf Colossus that didn’t make my Top 8 but is on my wish list. Mid to late game, having a way to sacrifice Relentless Dead is a way to constantly have a threat on the board in a Zombie deck, and even a way to surprise your opponents by sacrificing him during the opponent’s Attacker’s Step, paying 2 and bringing Rancid RatsRancid Rats back as a blocker in Limited. He has many applications for Zombie themed Commander decks, allowing them to bring back combo pieces when needed in response to graveyard hate. This guy is absolutely amazing where Zombies see play, and is a must have for any Zombie deck (which I love).
#3 Arlinn Kord
I wasn’t exactly surprised to see that we ended up with a double-faced Planeswalker again, much like Garruk RelentlessGarruk Relentless from our first visit to Innistrad. What I wasn’t prepared for was a Planeswalker that hits all the notes so well of what it means to be a card. We get creature token generation, Lightning BoltsLightning Bolt, anthem effects and finally an Emblem that lets our guys just go brawl it out when they get the urge. She’ll be an obvious bomb in Limited and force to be reckoned with in any deck that forms in Standard. I’d hazard to say I think she could even see play in Modern in Zoo archetypes and variants. I’m usually more of a -and-company guy, but when I do play Arlinn’s color combination, she does exactly everything I want to to do. I’ve been looking at making an Omnath, Locus of RageOmnath, Locus of Rage Commander deck, and I think her back side +1 ability could really help close out games in such a deck. Few things feel better than doing all the things, and Arlinn Kord offers that in spades.
#2 Olivia, Mobilized for War
Olivia VoldarenOlivia Voldaren is back… except angrier, wielding an odd sword and some even odder armor. A very cool inclusion in any Vampire deck, Olivia: the Angry Edition is a quite different take on her character as portrayed on the original card. She retains the ability to turn a creature into a Vampire, enabling said creature to receive any benefits from cards such as Stensia MasqueradeStensia Masquerade. In the context of Shadows Over Innistrad, she’s a pretty amazing Madness enabler that could allow you to chain cast cards for their Madness cost. Imagine discarding a Bloodmad VampireBloodmad Vampire to your Insolent NeonateInsolent Neonate, casting the Bloodmad Vampire for it’s Madness cost, triggering Olivia when he enters the battlefield, allowing you to discard Incorrigible YouthsIncorrigible Youths to Olivia, then rounding out your turn by playing Incorrigible Youths for it’s Madness cost. That’s quite a powerful board state. Elsewhere, any deck with a ReanimateReanimate focus that plays Red could use her triggered ability to great effect, letting you Reanimate a creature, trigger her ability as it enters the battlefield, then discard another creature to reanimate later. As a 3/3 flying creature for , she’s already pretty great. She is a card I definitely want to have waiting in the wing to play with, as she has the potential to enable so many interesting board states and gameplay opportunities.
#1 Sorin, Grim Nemesis
After seeing Sorin on the booster pack images when the product images were released, many of my friends and I had one thing to say: Please don’t be yet another Midrange Tokens Midrange like his previous two incarnations that were Sorin, Lord of InnistradSorin, Lord of Innistrad and Sorin, Solemn VisitorSorin, Solemn Visitor. I actually really enjoy tokens as an archetype in Modern and Commander, both. My flagship Commander deck is Ayli, Eternal PilgrimAyli, Eternal Pilgrim (formerly Ghost Council of OrzhovaGhost Council of Orzhova), and I haven’t had any big upgrades for the deck in a while. Sorin, Grim Nemesis will be the upgrade I’ve been waiting for. His +1 ability will be relevant in any deck that would play him as Planeswalker that costs 6 mana. Chandra, FlamecallerChandra, Flamecaller is starting to see play in Standard as the top curve of some decks as of this article. Elspeth, Sun’s ChampionElspeth, Sun’s Champion saw much player during her time in Standard and is still a popular Planeswalker in Commander and Cube. If people still doubt whether a 6-mana Planeswalker can be relevant, those concerns should be laid to rest by now. This version of Sorin can pack a wallop in the mid to late game in midrange and control decks that want a little extra push to close out their games.
Another dual land cycle is always welcome, although I find this cycle less exciting than many that have come before it. Truthfully, I would have preferred the return of the ChecklandIsolated Chapel cycle from the origianl Innistrad, as most of them have only seen one printing. The Shadowland cycle does play well with the BattlelandsCanopy Vista from Battle For Zendikar, however, so Standard mana bases won’t be reeling quite as much as the FetchlandsFlooded Strand leave come April.
Both Planeswalkers are great, but don’t excite me near as much as Arlinn Kord and Sorin, Grim Nemesis. Jace may see play in Standard after Jace, Vryn’s ProdigyJace, Vryn’s Prodigy rotates out this fall, but still may see play in more casual formats. Where Nahiri may end up is really hard to determine, as decks have dwindled in Modern – even before the Eldrazi Winter of 2016 – and in Standard, I feel Arlinn Kord is a much better Planeswalker for 4 mana, and in colors that tend to see more play together. In a vacuum, I find Nahiri interesting, but ultimately think it’ll be hard to find a deck that can pull out the potential of her abilities.
Regardless of whether you call him Reverse BobDark Confidant or Rob, he’s a Limited bomb and has some potential mid game in a color that runs out of fuel and fizzles out if it doesn’t end it’s game as soon as possible. A 3/2 with Menace makes him a beater that does die to removal, like almost many good creatures. If he survives until your next turn, it puts your opponent in the position to try to make the choice which benefits them the best. In Red, you hardly need lands so revealing a Land isn’t too relevant. In Modern, he either adds fuel for Grim LavamancerGrim Lavamancer if they have you toss a Land to a graveyard, or he gives you the fuel you need to finish a game after you’re in top deck mode. If you don’t hit a land, they take some damage, or give you an extra removal or burn spell, on top of your draw for the turn. As always, many say he dies to removal. I think he’s the three mana card that Red has needed for a long time, and if he doesn’t become a staple in decks playing Red, he will at least see fringe play.
I really wanted to put this guy in my Top 8 because the flavor, artwork and everything about it seems pretty amazing. Ultimately, many of the cards I’m most excited about are cards that can find homes in existing decks or projects, and Thing In the Ice is a card which I want to play, but will have to carve out a home for. It would easily be my honorary 9th if I went the obvious route and did a Top 13 for my inaugural entry for my inaugural Top 8 series in honor of it being Innistrad.
It’s a Legendary Frog Horror with build-around-me mechanics that I can’t wait to see get abused in Commander. I don’t have too much to say about The Gitrog Toad other than that I think combo players everywhere are probably buying up Crucible of WorldsCrucible of Worlds right now.
Well, that’s all for this entry of MTG Top 8 and our look at the Top 8 cards I hope to open and play at my Shadows Over Innistrad prerelease events this weekend. At midnight going on April 2nd, I’ll be at one of my favorite local game shops opening my first packs of this set along with friends and my partner, and taking note of my Top 8 Moments of Innistrad’s Return. What cards are you most excited to see, or are you hoping to open in your prerelease kit? Let’s get excited and talk #MTGSOI at @_QueueTimes on Twitter or in the comments below!
Good luck, card slingers!