The Tricks of the Trade: Innistrad Edition

Posted in Limited Information on October 11, 2011

By Steve Sadin

It's important to know what's coming. If you don't try to anticipate what cards your opponents could have, you will inevitably walk into almost every trap that your opponents lay for you.

Did your white-mana-packing opponent "foolishly" attack with all of her creatures and allow you to swing back for lethal damage? Well, don't be surprised when her Village Bell-Ringer ruins your day.

Did your green-red opponent wait until he played his eighth land before casting Balefire Dragon? Then he probably has a Ranger's Guile for back up.

Having perfect knowledge of the tricks in a given Limited format gives you the ability to outplay your opponents in ways that you never could if you were just haphazardly playing around some non-specific trick that your opponent might have.

So instead of just blindly exclaiming "I hope he doesn't have anything!" before sending in with all of your creatures, or hesitantly sweating over the fact that "She might have something, so I shouldn't attack," you need to ask yourself, "What could my opponent have?"

And in order to do that properly, you need to study up, and learn all of the tricks in Innistrad.

To make this process easier for, I've put together a guide with a complete color-by-color breakdown, as well as a cheat sheet for what to think about depending on how much mana your opponent has open.

Ready to learn more?

Then read on!


White Commons
Feeling of Dread
Moment of Heroism
Smite the Monstrous
Spare from Evil
Urgent Exorcism
Village Bell-Ringer

White Uncommons
Midnight Haunting
Rally the Peasants

With the exception of Feeling of Dread and Spare from Evil (the latter of which can come seemingly out of nowhere because of how infrequently it's played), white's tricks are relatively easy to play around.

Rebuke, Village Bell-Ringer, and Smite the Monstrous can all be very good if you aren't thinking about them. If you're prepared for them, then you can make sure that they don't do much to harm you.

    Playing around Rebuke and Village Bell-Ringer

You can infer a lot of information from what mana your opponent has left open—information that you can keep with you throughout the entire game. If your opponent leaves up three Plains and gives you an opening to attack with a valuable creature, there's a good chance there's a Rebuke and/or a Village Bell-Ringer that he or she is looking to mug you with.

So how do you play around this?

Just don't attack!

If you spend your turn casting another large threat, then pass the turn without attacking with any of your juiciest creatures, your opponent will have wasted that mana he or she left up for Rebuke—all while you are rapidly developing your board.

Some notable exceptions:

If you actively want your opponent to kill one of your creatures so you can enable morbid, or you need to get rid of that Rebuke because you have an otherwise unstoppable creature waiting in your hand, then by all means attack.

    Playing around Smite the Monstrous

A couple of weeks ago I drafted a reasonable Green-White deck. However, my only removal spells, two Rebuke and two Smite the Monstrous, were quite conditional. While I had a distinct advantage against opponents who didn't have any bombs, I knew I would be in a lot of trouble if I played against anyone who played any game-breaking cards (and didn't give me an opportunity to kill them).

Tim Landale, my opponent in the first round of the draft, played a Bloodline Keeper on turn four, and I knew I was in a ton of trouble. The only way I would be able to kill it would be if he attacked with it while I had three mana open for Rebuke (which just wasn't happening), or if he made four 2/2 flying Vampires, then transformed Bloodline Keeper into the ghastly Lord of Lineage and thus made sure I was able to kill it with Smite the Monstrous.

However, Tim never transformed his Bloodline Keeper, even after he built up a board with the requisite five Vampires. Tim knew that the only way I could claw my way back into the game would be if I got a chance to Smite the Monstrous his 5/5 Lord of Lineage—and that wasn't something he was willing to have happen. Instead, Tim continued pumping out 2/2 fliers turn after turn and casting spells as normal, while I had to leave four mana up at all times so I wouldn't die immediately to Lord of Lineage.

Unsurprisingly, I lost that game.

Will you always be able to play around Smite the Monstrous as profitably as Tim did against me the other week?

Of course not.

But if your opponent has available and you have the choice between casting a 3/2 flier or a 4/4, then do yourself a favor and cast the 3/2 flier rather than let your opponent kill your bigger creature on the spot.


Blue only has a single nonrare combat trick: Hysterical Blindness. However, it also has two rare tricks in Snapcaster Mage, and Cackling Counterpart, and three counterspells (Dissipate, Frightful Delusion, and Lost in the Mist).

Hysterical Blindness can be quite good when players get into tight races or huge bloody combat steps, but its limited usefulness causes it to rot away in a lot of sideboards.

Blue is known for being one of the trickier colors, but in Innistrad Limited, you don't have all that much to worry about if your opponent has passed the turn to you with blue mana open. Yes, there are a few counterspells (you would do well to respect the possibility of Lost in Mist anytime your opponent passes the turn to you with open), but this time around blue has no instant-speed bounce spells, no way to tap creatures at instant speed (other than a Feeling of Dread in the graveyard, and you'll see that coming), and no removal spells.

While you shouldn't jump through any hoops to play around Frightful Delusion if you haven't already seen your opponent cast one, if it seems like your opponent has gone out of his or her way to leave up , and you have a reasonable spell to cast that will leave you with an extra mana left over, then you might as well respect the possibility that your opponent has Frightful Delusions rather than watch one of your best spells get countered and another card hit the bin besides.

If you're not worried about getting your spell countered, and it doesn't seem like Hysterical Blindness will do much, then you have nothing to worry about on your turn from an opponent who has only Islands untapped.

    Dissipate or Rebuke?

If your opponent is playing white-blue and has two Islands and a Plains untapped, then you should strongly consider casting your creatures before combat.


Because your opponent is representing both a counterspell (Dissipate or Frightful Delusion) as well as a Rebuke or Village Bell-Ringer.

If your opponent doesn't counter your key spell that you cast pre-combat, then you'll know that there is a very good chance that he or she is holding a Rebuke or Village Bell-Ringer, and you should thus plan your attacks accordingly.

If your opponent does counter your spell, then you're free to attack away.


You might want to charge in without casting a spell first if you have a combat trick of your own that you want to cast (which will trump Rebuke and/or Village Bell-Ringer), if you want a creature to die to enable morbid, you want to get that trick out of your opponent's hand so you can attack freely later, or you have a spell that you desperately want to resolve and you would have no problem letting one of your creatures get killed if that meant that you could cast your trump spell without any fear of it getting countered.

    Black and Red

Black Commons
Altar's Reap
Corpse Lunge
Victim of Night

Black Uncommons
Tribute to Hunger

Red Commons
Ancient Grudge
Brimstone Volley
Harvest Pyre
Vampiric Fury

The instant-speed removal spells in black and red are versatile enough that you won't be able to completely play around them in the way that you can against white's removal spells. That said, you shouldn't just walk into them either.

Don't just cast a Spidery Grasp or a Moment of Heroism on your best creature and expect it to live if your opponent has two Swamps and a Mountain untapped, because it probably won't.


Green Commons
Ambush Viper
Gnaw to the Bone
Ranger's Guile
Spidery Grasp

Gnaw to the Bone should not be in your deck except in the rarest of circumstances. If you have two copies of Mulch, an Armored Skaab, a couple of Forbidden Alchemies, and a ton of creatures to go with them, then you very well might want to maindeck a Gnaw to the Bone, and it could make a lot of sense to board in this life-gain spell if you know that your opponent has an abundance of Brimstone Volleys and/or Nightbird's Clutches that will eventually torch you out of the game. Otherwise you just shouldn't be touching this life-gaining instant. There will be times when your opponents will have it, though, particularly if you're playing a hyper-aggressive deck.

I'm beginning to suspect that Moonmist is quite a bit better than it looks at first glance. If your opponent makes an eyebrow-raising attack with one or more Werewolves, then there is a very good chance that you are getting set up for what would be a devastating Moonmist.

Note that once your opponent has several Werewolves on the board and a Moonmist in hand, it will be tough for you to completely mitigate its effectiveness, so you should look for opportunities where you can get it out of your opponent's hand while enduring the least amount of pain possible.

Green doesn't have that many combat relevant tricks, but the ones that it does have are pretty good. Ranger's Guile can counter your removal spells, and Spidery Grasp allows green to mug creatures out of nowhere in much the same way that white can with Rebuke and Village Bell-Ringers.

The difference? A single removal spell can turn an otherwise good Spidery Grasp into a nausea-inducing one for two.

    Important Things to Remember about Pump Spells in Innistrad

There is no way to give a creature trample at instant speed (at least barring some sort of very specific multi-card combination like Instigator Gang / Wildblood Pack and Moonmist). This means that you can safely put your lowly Doomed Traveler (which you might want to see die anyway) in front of a gigantic 7/7 Krallenhorde Wantons without any fear of taking trample damage.

While you don't need to keep an eye out for surprise trample, you do need to be aware of the possibility that your opponent is trying to set up some sort of morbid effect.

There is no single card aside from Rally the Peasants + flashback that can give a creature more than +2 power in a turn.

    One Mana

The fact that Geistflame and Ranger's Guile are the only one-cost combat-relevant instants in the format means that you can act without fear of surprises if your opponent has only a single Swamp, Island, or Plains for untapped mana.

    Two Mana

Victim of Night and Harvest Pyre (and the extremely specific Urgent Exorcism) are the only instant-speed removal spells for two mana, and Moment of Heroism is the only pump spell at two.

(Note that Harvest Pyre and Victim of Night each have their own restrictions. If your opponent has red open, but no cards in his or her graveyard, then your creatures are safe from everything but Geistflame. If your board consists only of Vampires, Werewolves, and Zombies, then Victim of Night isn't going to be killing anything.)

If your opponent isn't playing black or red you don't need to worry about him or her killing (or countering) any of your creatures at instant speed with only two mana. If your opponent is playing white, you do have to worry about Feeling of Dread tapping down your two best creatures for a turn and Moment of Heroism giving something +2/+2 and lifelink.

While they don't see play that often, tribal decks also have some really strong plays at two. Moonmist, Spare from Evil, and Vampiric Fury can all cause otherwise advantageous combat steps to go terribly awry for you.

    Three Mana

Once you get to three mana, there are a ton of possibilities.

A white deck can destroy an attacking creature, untap all of its creatures (and add a 1/4 Human to its side of the board), pump out two 1/1 flying Spirit tokens, or give all of its creatures +2/+0 for the turn.

Blue decks can give all of your creatures -4/-0 for the turn or counter one of your spells with Dissipate or (the admittedly limited) Frightful Delusion.

Black decks can force you to sacrifice one of your creatures or Corpse Lunge you (provided that your opponent has a creature in his or her graveyard).

Red decks can use Brimstone Volley to deal 3 damage to anything, or 5 damage if a creature has died this turn.

And green decks can Spidery Grasp, winning an in-process combat or untapping one of their best creatures to mug one of your attackers.

If you think that you're safe when your opponent has three (or more) mana open, you probably aren't.

    Four Mana

Smite the Monstrous is the only trick in the format that costs four. So if your opponent is playing white and has four mana open, you should try to wait to cast any 4+ power creatures.

    Five Mana

The only five-mana instant in Innistrad is Lost in the Mist. While Lost in the Mist can be extremely effective when it resolves, it's pretty easy to play around.

If your opponent is playing blue, and leaves up five or more mana, you probably don't want to cast any spells if you can help it—or else you risk turning an otherwise dead card into a potentially game-breaking Cryptic Command.

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