Limited Build-Arounds in Shadows over Innistrad

Posted in How to Play Limited on April 26, 2016

By Josh Bennett

Innistrad is one of Magic's best-loved planes. It's a world of gloom and menace, where ghosts and witches cross paths with mad scientists and their monstrous creations, where terrified Humans bar their doors against the night and Vampire nobility hold opulent revels until the break of dawn. It's the sort of place that would make Edgar Allan Poe say, "Well, this isn't what I had in mind at all," and "I would like another whisky, please."

It wasn't just the evocative setting that made Innistrad a hit. The horror themes were woven directly into the set's mechanics. You could raise an army of townsfolk with makeshift weapons to fight back the tide of darkness. You could play Frankenstein and loot your graveyard of corpses to assemble patchwork abominations. You could hex your opponent and watch them struggle against the inevitability of your Curses. Even better, Innistrad offered the creative drafter access to some unconventional strategies that became known by their centerpiece cards. Burning Vengeance. Spider Spawning. Laboratory Maniac.

R&D knew that players would be looking for new pet cards to experiment with. To that end, they seeded Shadows over Innistrad with synergistic payoff cards. Here's a look at a few of the standouts.

The set's biggest signpost build-around-me is Call the Bloodline. With madness as one of the set's main mechanics, a reusable discard engine is a powerful thing. In addition to mundane plays like letting the Twins of Maurer Estate show up as a "surprise" blocker with a 1/1 friend in tow, Call the Bloodline is an army in a can. You can go wide with a little help from Sanitarium Skeleton or Groundskeeper. If you need to speed up your enemy's demise, mix in an Indulgent Aristocrat or a transformed Pious Evangel. Even without dedicated combos, the ability to set up delirium at will should not be overlooked.

If you're lucky enough to open a Thing in the Ice, it is well worth crafting your deck around. Former Player of the Year Jérémy Dezani swept his Day One Draft pod with a blue-red deck that keyed off the frozen Horror. He had this to say about the constraints the Thing forces on your deck: "You really want about twelve spells [in your deck] for Thing in the Ice, but you need to be careful about your creatures. It helps if you can get cards like Dance with Devils and Devils' Playground—noncreature spells that generate creatures. The good thing about blue is that a lot of its spells are cantrips, so provided you're not under too much pressure you shouldn't find yourself short of creatures." The "spells matter" theme also offers big payoffs for Pyre Hound and Rise from the Tides.

I asked Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad Champion Steve Rubin if he had any pet cards in the set, and he quickly pointed to Vessel of Nascency. It fronts the line of delirium enablers, sits unobtrusive on your mana curve, and is good both early and late. "The thing about [playing] Green-Black Delirium [is] you get a lot of powerful cards that other decks just don't want. You don't have to sacrifice your early picks. And with the Vessel you turn them on a lot earlier."

Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas is no stranger to unorthodox play in Limited, and he was ready with a dandy of a build-around: Epitaph Golem. The idea is you tip over your whole library into your graveyard, whether with Vessel of Nascency, Shard of Broken Glass, Autumnal Gloom, or Crawling Sensation. At that point, the Golem is your personal Vampiric Tutor, setting up every draw step with the perfect card. It's not quite Laboratory Maniac, but it's close enough. It even has the benefit of forcing your opponent to play it out for a number of agonizing turns. That is, if you're that sort of person.

I asked Luis if there was hope for Crawling Sensation outside of Epitaph Golem decks, because on the surface it seemed like the Insects it generates wouldn't be reason enough to play it. He said it was unlikely, but there were ways to make it work. "If you manage to put together something like Groundskeeper, Crawling Sensation, and Stern Constable, that's hard to beat."

It's all about finding that critical mass of synergy. Fleeting Memories is a bit clunky, but add in some Graf Moles to ensure that you have time to operate and a Magnifying Glass to provide a steady supply of Clues and you've got yourself a winning recipe.

And there's still more to be discovered in addition to these gems, so get out there and start experimenting!

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