Taking a Second, Third, Fourteenth Look

Posted in Top Decks on September 29, 2011

By Mike Flores

I haven't played with any Innistrad cards yet (except in my imagination) but it seems like this is shaping up to be a set that deck designers and tournament Spikes alike are really going to love. The set has powerful chase cards like Liliana of the Veil and Snapcaster Mage... but is also full of cool cards and interactions that will give Constructed structure and nuance (without being overbearing in terms of linear incentives).

The article you are reading is dedicated to circa fourteen cards that are probably going to be pretty good (if not situationally great) in Constructed, at least some of the time... that I didn't necessarily realize were great the first time around. Some are obviously powerful, others aren't. Some are extra answers for problems you didn't know existed (yet), and others are building blocks for the next stage in Standard. Some are quiet daggers slipped between ribs at a dinner party or under cover of night; others are elbow drops in the middle of Madison Square Garden. Sound interesting? All of them are.

    Bonds of Faith

What a cool card! Pacifism has been close to being Constructed playable a couple of times during its fifteen-ish year history, and we have actually seen variations like Temporal Isolation as tournament staples in some formats.

Bonds of Faith is a functional Pacifism, but one that beatdown decks don't have to lament running main deck. The opponent has no creatures? Whatever. Just make that 1/1 a 3/3 and get in there! Or, you can be clocking with 1/1s and 2/1s and so ons... and then your opponent drops a Stop Sign Dragon or Sphinx or whatnot... and you "Pacifism" it (and then get in for lethal). Bonds of Faith is really and truly better the second time around than at first glance.


There are decks that can't actually beat this card. Narrow combo deck with no main-deck bounce spell? You can name "Grapeshot" or whatever their kill spell is, and they just aren't going to kill you! You can group control decks that just run some particular kind of Dragon or recursive spell in a shell of control cards under the same umbrella.

Sure, there are decks that can beat a main-deck Nevermore, but even then, the card can buy you time. Going to lose to a Day of Judgment? Name it with Nevermore and fearlessly drop all your dudes. Worried about getting your game-winner Dissipated? You can use Nevermore like a preemptive counterspell of your own, or as a kind of Duress.


Um. Yeah?

"Probably should have Dissipated that, brah."

Then I wouldn't have the Dissipate I need.

"How is that different from the situation you are in?"


"Yeah. Kill ya, brah."

I don't know if Nevermore is a main-deck card, but I do know that there are lots of spots where especially a nonblue or nonblack deck can use it to pave a path to victory despite being seemingly outgunned.

    Back from the Brink

Is this card Debtors' Knell for 2011?

There are a couple of limitations... like you can only get back creatures from your own graveyard, and you can only get them back once (no Yosei, the Morning Star + Debtors' Knell + Miren, the Moaning Well soft lock), and you actually have to pay the mana cost to get (your own) creatures back (once).

Not only is this the only Debtors' Knell we currently have at hand, but as much as you might not want to pay that mana, there is a world of difference between six and seven.

Back from the Brink might not be a main-deck all-star, but it seems like more-or-less the ultimate trump at the end of a long attrition battle between battlefield-based control decks, a source of ample card advantage, and all around cool. That is, this is the card, when topdecked on camera in the finals of the Masterpiece mirror, just might have Rich Hagon hootin' and a hollerin' like the $16,000 Lightning Helix (even if it takes a couple of turns).

    Delver of Secrets

The potential return on one mana is pretty breathtaking on this card. Most players would probably be willing to invest two mana for a 3/2 flyer (and remember, unlike a Werewolf, Insectile Aberration doesn't transform back when things stop going your way).

Along with Invisible Stalker and a certain Invitational conversation-starter, this card may help build the backbone of an all-new BlueSkies.

Speaking of which, you really want to have a lot of instants and sorceries in your deck for the hook-up with...

    Snapcaster Mage

I didn't actually miss this card at any point (and given they hype, how could any of us?)... but Snapcaster Mage is so good it bears repeating.

Comparisons against Eternal Witness don't really state what is going on with this card. Snapcaster Mage is two mana versus Eternal Witness's three mana (great for the new guy), but then again, Eternal Witness let you get anything (Snapcaster Mage doesn't). Then of course there is flash versus no flash, which is harder to pin down.

... But the most compelling thing about this card is onetime tournament mainstay Scrivener.

Believe it or not, Scrivener was a tournament playable bullet in Survival of the Fittest decks run by designers as well known as The Rock innovator Sol Malka or even Hall of Famer Darwin Kastle!

Now how about we make that comparison! Cheaper (by far), plus flash, more flexible ability... same power (and better looking). You just can't say enough about a Snapcaster Mage.

    Stitched Drake

This one took me a second. Then a second look.

Then it took me a third look.

Once you get past its baseline increase in cost, you basically just have a (from an ongoing perspective) superior Serendib Efreet. Serendib Efreet is a grossly overpowered Magic card, a full +1/+1 better than playable (if ill-shapedly so) three-drop options like Ribbon Snake, and infinitely tougher and more flexible than Rishadan Airship (a favorite of Pro Tour–winning Hall of Famers in its day).

It is a little awkward to get out on turn three (I can't think of a simultaneously economic, consistent, and ecological strategy in Standard)... but what if you just consider it an "untap mechanic" spell from Urza's Saga? Great players went gaga over Spire Golem because you could play that while leaving lots of mana untapped. After an early flurry (that leaves you with at least one dead creature), Stitched Drake can play the Dragon... that you don't actually have to tap all the way out for. It can handle the average Swordsman, and kills pretty quickly for a three-drop blue flyer (i.e., it's not easy to block).

See the possibilities? How about why it took three looks?

    Bitterheart Witch (plus Curse of Death's Hold)

The Bitterheart Witch / Curse of Death's Hold combo belongs 100% to Brian David-Marshall. I wouldn't have thought twice about Bitterheart Witch, but BDM already had something he wanted to do with it.

To BDM, Bitterheart Witch is kind of an Academy Rector. You don't necessarily mind the small size because you want it to end up dead. Attack away! I want to block! Yes Bitterheart Witch costs more than Academy Rector, but Academy Rector ended up banned.

Similarly, the card you want to get is Curse of Death's Hold. It is like a Night of Souls' Betrayal that only affects the opponent. Remember how powerful Night of Souls' Betrayal was for players from Kenji Tsumura to Kai Budde? Well this is the one (that, again, costs one more) but isn't legendary or anything.

Our idea is to sideboard one Bitterheart Witch in Birthing Pod decks against decks that lose to Curse of Death's Hold. You can get up to five consistently in a Pod deck, and Birthing Pod gives you an outlet to set up the Curse without baiting the opponent into an attack. This plan locks down every threat in an Infect deck (Glistener Elf, Blighted Agent, Inkmoth Nexus) and does quite the number to White-Blue as well (Snapcaster Mage, Timely Reinforcements). Luis Scott-Vargas made the point that this combo isn't fast, but as a two-card combo that you can hit a large percentage of the time, it is pretty consistent and quite cheap in terms of sideboard space.

    Bloodline Keeper

This is my favorite transform card in Innistrad.

Originally I just thought of it as a black Emeria Angel. You can't get multiple creatures via landfall, but black creatures are inherently more durable than white ones, and Bloodline Keeper's flyers are 2/2s instead of 1/1s (plus, we are done with Lightning Bolt in Standard).

But the super cool thing about this card is that it is basically an Overrun. You pay five mana (given sufficient Vampires on the battlefield) and you swing with all of them at +2/+2. Bloodline Keeper isn't just a double faced card, it's a kind of split card—Emeria Angel // Overrun (kind of)—or... a Swiss Army battle axe.

    Dead Weight

Dead Weight is generally weaker than Disfigure (but potentially better in situations where a Disfigure wouldn't unconditionally kill the target); however, given the presence of Dismember, it's difficult to imagine a readily available Disfigure now in the era of Snapcaster Mage.

It's fine, it's fast, and it does what you want against cards like Stromkirk Noble. Ergo, "it's good."

    Instigator Gang / Wildblood Pack

I was not generally the biggest fan of Innistrad Werewolves for Constructed (more on that next week), but Instigator Gang has some pretty compelling upside. Did the opponent miss a land drop, or just have no good turn-four play? Did you win the lottery? Eight damage is a lot. And what if you have other small creatures? Built. In. Overrun.

Instigator Gang is like a red Bloodline Keeper in the sense that it is "just" X/3 for four mana, but can potentially win the Game 1 the spot (or, in this case, with a kind of suspend 1). Particularly dangerous when either the opponent or both of you are in topdeck mode.


More or less a strict upgrade to Creeping Mold...

...that kills planeswalkers!

I don't know how many you will be willing to run main deck, but the fact that it can take down Gideon Jura (or whoever) puts us in a spot where we are at least entertaining the discussion. The profile of this spell is probably "flexible potential main-deck card that is never actually that bad" rather than "sideboard card," because sideboard cards typically have to be fast and focused. This is flexible enough that I could be off-base this time around, though.

    Witchbane Orb

First part of the rules text actually leaves a false trail. Whatever Curses! What is actually interesting is the second part... Witchbane Orb is a colorless Ivory Mask.

White decks have enjoyed an improved Ivory Mask in recent years, keeping them safe from red burn spells, black discard spells, and even Livewire Lash inevitability. Now, any color can take advantage of this spell kind of effect (and even white gets an easier mana cost).

    Ghost Quarter

Just thought I would give this a mention based on my original assessment of the card. When it first came out, I thought that Ghost Quarter was possibly a sideboard card, possibly awful (but I still recognized its possibility of being good).

I ended up playing Ghost Quarter in Standard against Urza's Tower (and friends) before that summer's Standard season was up; Ghost Quarter has since seen much more impressive inclusions, up to and including the 1 main / 3 sideboard in Brian Kibler's Pro Tour Austin–winning Rubin Zoo deck.

Ghost Quarter gives up card advantage... sometimes. Not always, though (what if the opponent doesn't have anything to fetch up?). Even when the worst happens, Ghost Quarter is out there mana-efficiently answering special lands, like...

    Stensia Bloodhall

I included this land in some of my springboard / sketch decks last week... but that is more or less because I like special lands and I wanted to make sure to play whatever in-color option was available (plus, it can can kill the opponent when all else fails).

So... Why Stensia Bloodhall instead of something else in terms of specialty lands? It isn't cheaply making tokens, pumping up all your guys, or making your Big and Dumb(tm) green guys slightly more problematic on attack or anything like that. I chose Stensia Bloodhall because it can kill a planeswalker. Here's the super-cool part: You can keep a planeswalker off of ultimate, even when its controller has a fist full of countermagic and a fortress of blockers. It isn't a get-out-of-jail-forever card, but it is a fine stand-in for a get-out-of-jail-free one, and like the rest of the potentially hidden gems in this article (Snapcaster Mage notwithstanding), deserves that second look.

Happy brewing! This is the best time for it, and this seems like a set where we will be able to for a long while.

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