Lhurgoyf was one of the game's most iconic creatures when I first began playing. Heated four-player battles during recess were often won by a player topdecking Lhurgoyf when everyone's graveyards were full of creatures.
Times have changed and creatures are more powerful than they were back in 1995 (to help them compete with spells). With much pleasure, and a tad bit of curiosity, I present you with Splinterfright.
Splinterfright is the type of card that needs to be watched carefully. There are often snapshots of a format where a card like this is very powerful. The greatest deckbuilders gain a huge advantage by being able to pinpoint those specific moments and play the off-beat card that attacks it from that perfect angle.
Splinterfright is obviously better in decks that play a lot of creatures, but a deck with a healthy dose of flashback spells could also gain a significant advantage over the course of a long game.
Many cards from Innistrad block will interact from the graveyard, which makes Splinterfright's triggered ability do a lot more than just pump the Splinterfright.
Building a deck around Splinterfright is harder than it might seem to be, but Splinterfright isn't really a card you build around. Decks that play thirty or more creatures would be wise to try a copy or two of this in their maindeck. If Splinterfright is reliably a 3/3 and your deck is more than half creatures, then you're going to be really impressed with this creature's ability to fight.
Let's say you have exactly 30 creatures in your deck. Then you could expect your Splinterfright to gain, on average, +1/+1 every turn. The randomness of this ability is more of an advantage than a disadvantage. The new information is revealed at the beginning of your turn. Your opponent may be prepared to fight Splinterfright if it stays 2/2, but can't profitably block the 4/4 it might become.
This element of the unknown will often make your opponents make bad attacks and let you win races that you had no business winning. If your opponent has a 4/4 and we have a 3/3 Splinterfright alongside an army of other cheap creatures, then your opponent probably won't attack. Now, if we "mill" two creatures, then our opponent just left back a 4/4 for no reason, because it will just die if it blocks. If we don't mill two creatures, then we just spent a turn filling up our graveyard while being applied no pressure by our opponent. It seems like a win-win.
For example, a mono-green Overrun deck may not seem like the best place for Splinterfright, but the first copy of Splinterfright does a lot for the deck. Normally, opponents packing cards like Day of Judgment will think they have the game locked up after they cast their board-sweeper. Splinterfright answers the Day of Judgment with a very credible threat that's only going to get bigger as time passes. I'd probably try two copies of Splinterfright in these types of decks and maybe trim it down to one if I find drawing both copies to be a big enough problem.
Splinterfright | Art by Eric Deschamps
But what happens if we decide to build a deck around Splinterfright? Some of the cards from Innistrad that interact favorably with Splinterfright are at higher rarities, so I'll try to avoid those until we see how easily they can be acquired. There are a few cards, though, that I've wanted to try playing with that seem like they could be really strong in this type of deck.
Jace's Archivist has a very powerful ability. If we play a deck that can empty its hand quickly, we can use the Archivist to gain excellent card advantage and perhaps fuel a Splinterfright to gargantuan proportions. This effect is especially strong against control decks. You use a bunch of mana creatures to dump your hand, and you make your opponent discard a sculpted six-card hand and draw six new cards while you get to draw a fresh new grip of six from zero.
Birds of Paradise is perfect for this type of deck. We can use it to power out hands where we're able to dump everything and start activating Jace's Archivist, and we can always chump block with it and make our Splinterfright a little more frightening. Birds is especially good here because it produces blue mana. That makes it the only one-mana accelerant in Standard that can actually ramp us into Jace's Archivist.
Boneyard Wurm is Splinterfright's little brother. It does a lot of the same work, but it cost less mana and doesn't fuel the fire while it hangs out on the battlefield. Chances are a good that if we're building a deck that tries to abuse Splinterfright, then Boneyard Wurm is also going to be pretty good here. Only costing two mana is a surprisingly big deal when we're playing with Jace's Archivist. We can slowroll lands and upgrade them into spells and continue to empty our hand thanks to the low mana costs of our high-power creatures.
Deranged Assistant fits this deck very well. It creates mana, which helps us dump our hand to the Jace's Archivist, and, perhaps just as importantly, it fills our graveyard with creatures. It's nice to get a card that does multiple things that you want your deck to be doing. Our deck is going to have a lot of cards that greatly benefit from having more creatures in the graveyard.
Kessig Cagebreakers was recently previewed by MTGcast, and it seems like an excellent addition to a deck that's aiming to abuse a card like Splinterfright. This guy attacks for 9 damage if you have three creatures in your graveyard. Your opponent will need to have a removal spell immediately for this one or will likely lose the game the moment you untap and attack with it. If you have a Kessig Cagebreakers in your hand, then it might be wise to cast a Splinterfright even as a 1/1. The Splinterfright may be vulnerable and not affect the current battlefield, but the extra creatures you might dump into your graveyard could make your Kessig Cagebreakers very lethal very quickly.
Acidic Slime is a nice catch-all for this type of deck. Acidic Slime does an excellent job of dealing with Sword of Feast and Famine or any problem enchantments your opponent might have to throw at you. The ability to destroy one of your opponent's lands is also very strong in combination with Jace's Archivist. You can keep an opponent stuck with expensive spells stranded in hand, then make your opponent discard powerful cards to the Archivist while you get to draw a bunch of goodies.
Llanowar Elves doesn't seem incredible here, but any creature that costs one mana and produces mana by tapping seems like it's correct in a deck that really wants to empty its hand and have a lot of creatures. A lot of players will offer trades against a Llanowar Elves. Most players will assume that the mana acceleration granted by the Elf is important enough to trade with whatever 1- toughness creature they might have. This is a trade that our deck will gladly make every single time. Having another creature in our graveyard and getting a one-for-one trade is definitely the type of thing you want to be doing when playing this sort of deck.
Merfolk Looter is the card that makes this deck work. The ability to fill our graveyard with creatures while finding the most important spells necessary for killing our opponents is just about the greatest thing we could ask for. I'd play four copies of Enclave Cryptologist too if it weren't rotating out of Standard.
Viridian Emissary may seem like a strange choice, but it's a great card to force some action with. Your opponent will basically never block and kill the Emissary, because it will give you some nice card advantage, accelerate you, and make cards like Splinterfright, Boneyard Wurm, and Kessig Cagebreakers all a lot more powerful. Basically, Viridian Emissary is always getting in for 2 points. If for some reason it does hit the bin, you only gain more of an advantage.
Ponder is almost always a good card, but it's especially nice in a deck like this. You can use your Splinterfright and Jace's Archivist to mill away unnecessary cards while you cherry pick the best cards from the top of your deck into your hand.
I fiddled around with the numbers a bit and ended up with the following decklist:
This deck has a surprising amount of play to it. Your threats get really scary if the game ever goes long, and you often force opponents to use removal spells in the early game. When you cast a turn-one Birds of Paradise, you're actually quite happy if your opponent uses a Dhock or Disfigure to kill it. A card like Jace's Archivist is going to be dealt with immediately and make your Splinterfright, Boneyard Wurm, and Kessig Cagebreakers more threatening.
A turn-two Merfolk Looter makes this deck function much better than otherwise, but it isn't an issue if they use a removal spell on the Looter because it only makes the graveyard mechanic stronger. The deck takes an interesting route of filling its graveyard with guys. Your creatures that are best at filling your graveyard are often the creatures that your opponent will be most inclined to kill on sight. In doing so, your opponent fills your graveyard.
Getting hit by a Sword of Body and Mind is one of the best things that can happen to you when you're playing this deck. It's comical that the Sword that gives things protection from both of our colors would be so useless against us. By milling us for ten, our opponent will make all of our threats almost instantly lethal.
This is only the beginning of what you can do with a Splinterfright. In Modern you'll be able to use Splinterfright in Living End decks. You may also see it show up in a Black-Green Aggro Rock deck that uses discard spells, Dark Confidant, Vengevine, Bloodghast, and other powerful creatures from those colors.
Splinterfright is an exciting new rare from Innistrad. I believe that it will probably find a place as a one-of in many decks that play Green Sun's Zenith and, given the right card pool, it could become a powerful Constructed tool to build around.
If you haven't been following the Innistrad preview season, then I strongly suggest you take a look at the Card Image Gallery. Innistrad Limited looks like there will be a lot of interaction between multiple zones of the game. This will likely result in a healthy and complex Limited environment that rewards thoughtful play.