Shadows over Innistrad: Ghostly Tide Review (Part 2 of 2)
As we look ahead towards Eldritch Moon and the implementation of the one-deck-per-week schedule, we’ve got some loose threads to tie up. Ghostly Tide, the Blue/White Spirits/Skies deck, is the last to be reviewed for Shadows over Innistrad, and in addition to three decks from Battle for Zendikar, we also need to conclude Oath of the Gatewatch’s Surge of Resistance.
But playing one deck at a time, we put Ghostly Tide through its paces, with Josh taking the field armed with Unearthed Secrets, the deck themed around investigate. Would his forces prevail, or would his defeat prove to be his deck’s biggest mystery?
The tit-for-tat summonings continue into turn 3, when my Dauntless Cathar is matched by a Byway Courier. Finally, on turn 4 there’s a break. I play a Plains and pass, while Josh swings in for 3 with the Courier to score first blood. At the end of his turn, I pop the Vessel, getting two 1/1 flying Spirits.
Now turn 5, I swing with the side for 5. With Josh down to 15, he flashes in a Pack Guardian at the end of the turn, throwing away a land to get a 2/2 Wolf token alongside it. This lets Josh retaliate with a substantial counterstrike, coming in for 11. I flash in a Stormrider Spirit to block the Wolf, and Josh responds with a Confront the Unknown to make the trade (and put him up a Clue). I still take the brunt of the assault, falling to 8 life.
Next turn, I claw a little of it back with an Apothecary Geist, returning 3 life to me as I control another Spirit. I also drop a Seagraf Skaab to shore up my defenses. Josh summons a Watcher in the Web and passes. We’re at something of a standoff.
Now turn 7, I attack with my Dauntless Cathar, which Josh accepts in trade for his Byway Courier. We both profit, as he goes up a Clue, while I get extra value out of the following Emissary of the Sleepless. Back to Josh, he plays a land and ends his turn. Next turn, I draw and pass, and at the end of my turn Josh pops a Clue to draw a card. Over to Josh, he summons a Tireless Tracker, and at the end of his turn I flash in Stormrider Spirit.
Now turn 9, I swing for 7 in the sky behind my Stormrider, Emissary, and Apothecary Geist. Josh blocks the Emissary and Geist with his Watcher, which I then blast with Puncturing Light. With Josh bown to 15, I then activate the graveyard ability of the Dauntless Cathar that died two turns ago, putting a 1/1 Spirit into play.Back to Josh, he plays a land- making a Clue courtesy of the Tireless Tracker. He then pops that Clue, drawing a card and putting a +1/+1 counter on the Tracker. He then bounces my Emissary to the top of my library with Gone Missing, giving himself a replacement Clue before passing.
Next turn, I swing in for 9 in the air, with four 1/1 Spirits, the Apothecary Geist, and Stormrider. Josh can’t stop any of it, and falls to 3. I replay the Emissary, and Josh has no way to get through for lethal before the inevitable. He concedes the game.
Just as before, Josh (now on the play) and I swap some opening land drops before things start to heat up, beginning with my turn-3 Dauntless Cathar.
Next turn, Josh casts Press for Answers on the Cathar to delay it, gaining a Clue. I play a Niblis of Dusk and pass. Back to Josh, he brings out Drownyard Explorers, gaining another Clue. I have no creatures to add, but I go get in the first attack in the air for 2.
Now turn 6, Josh summons the Briarbridge Patrol, then swings for 2 with the Explorers. I flash in a Stormrider Spirit to block, and they bump off one another. Over to me, I counterattack for 5 with my Spirit and Niblis, then add an Apothecary Geist to the field. By close of turn, I haven’t been scratched, and have a healthy 10-point lead over Josh. Next turn, Josh plays Ongoing Investigation and passes. I send in the air force for another unstoppable 7 points of damage, before playing a Vessel of Ephemera. Josh pops a Clue at the end of my turn.
Thoughts & Analysis
There were two decks at the outset of my Shadows over Innistrad reviewing that I thought were sub-par: this one, and Angelic Fury. The Red/White deck lacked an overall cohesive theme in general, and had some genuinely bad cards in it (or, at least, cards that were bad in that context). Ghostly Tide at least had a theme, but it seemed somewhat underwhelming compared with some of the other decks.
Happily, both decks ended up exceeding expectation when put to the test. That doesn’t make them great decks, mind, but that they clicked together and performed better than expected. In Angelic Fury, enough lined up for some effective red zone attacks with indestructible shenanigans. Here, there was just enough stall to let the deck have the time it needed to win in the air.
As is custom before a playtest, Josh and I played a “friendly” game with these decks, mainly to get a sense of what the decks could do before “making it count.” In that matchup, I went for a slower, build-myself-up route, playing conservatively. I got hammered. As it turns out, the Unearthed Secrets also likes to play the longer game, and it happens to do it a lot better. A steady supply of Clues saw Josh win that game with- get this- 72 life.
That loss gave me two appreciations regarding this deck. First, I needed to remember the lesson of one of the most significant and important articles of Magic: the Gathering ever written: Who’s the Beatdown by Mike Flores. If you’ve never read this, I strongly encourage you to do so. As it happens, in this matchup, my slower Skies deck ended up being the beatdown deck, and I lost in part because I played it like it was the control deck. As a result, I played much more aggressively in the games recounted above, and it appears to have paid off.
Second, I had a chance to play Drogskol Cavalry, the deck’s premium rare. I don’t love the card, and while I could see how it tied into the deck’s themes in my initial assessment, I thought it a bit underwhelming. I can say that in the friendly game, that card kept me in it. Dumping eight mana into it every turn gave me life and 1/1 Spirits, and I think I undervalued the Spirit-generating ability. At first blush I envisaged weak, feeble things trembling their way above the red zone to peck my opponent for a single, measly point of damage each. In actual play, it reminded me very much of just how maddeningly difficult it can be to try and take down an opponent’s Elspeth through an army of Soldier tokens.
In short, I enjoyed playing Ghostly Tide more than I thought I would, although it wouldn’t be a top pick of the set if I was grabbing a deck to play for fun. It’s a tried-and-true overall strategy, but while it brings home a tribal theme of Shadows over Innistrad, it falls well short of the evocative nature of the set’s mechanics like madness and delirium- and the decks that highlight them.
Hits: Good concerted presence in the air, which is very hard for most opponents to deal with; deceptive focus in the creature suite
Misses: Deck underwhelms with some modest power effects, such as the dollop of lifegain from an Apothecary Geist or the Silent Observer; removal is clunky and inconsistent
OVERALL SCORE: 4.10/5.00