In our last feature, a review of Hold the Line, we mentioned the intriguing place in preconstructed history occupied by Innistrad. Hold the Line was the first time a mono-coloured Event Deck had been of a repeat colour (following the mono-White War of Attrition from New Phyrexia). Left unsaid at the time was a similar factoid: this is also the first time we’ve seen the repeat of a multi-colour deck as well- and the first for a three-colour deck. Read more
1998’s Urza’s Saga had a number of superlatives associated with it, not all of them proud and glorious. For instance, Mark Rosewater has labeled the set his “biggest mistake” in his Making Magic column on the mothership, and even went on to add that this set “was is the only time in the eight years that I’ve been working at Wizards that R&D as an entirity got pulled into the president’s office and was yelled at.” It was also the first set of a block that would go on to have the most cards ever banned from organised play.
Welcome to the first Whispers of the Muse piece for Innistrad. This week we’ve received not one, but two requests for a second look at Spectral Legions, the Blue/White ‘skies’ deck featuring some of the many Spirit-centered cards on offer. Let’s see what they had to say. Our first letter comes from Bradley B, who had the following to say:
All good things must come to an end, and in saying that we’ve reached the final review for our long-anticipated Innistrad decks. We’ve had an absolute blast with these in a way we didn’t with Scars of Mirrodin, and are quite taken wit hthe set’s overall themes and flavour. We’ll have another dose coming up with Dark Ascension (and the Innistrad Event Decks at the end of the month), but we don’t want to just leave it there. Since Innistrad was in essence a reimagining of 2001’s Odyssey, that’s the set we’ll be reviewing next!
But of course, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. We still have Spectral Legions to put through its paces, and to do so I’ve enlisted Jimi’s help. She’s selected the flashback extravaganza, Eldritch Onslaught, and here are the notes from our clash.
One of the most common White/Blue archetypes also happens to be one of the game’s least interesting when it comes to Intro Packs. Although it’s hard to argue against the enduring recurrence of the popular ‘skies’ deck, there often isn’t a whole lot that can give the strategy a unique and intriguing flavour. Its not that Wizards hasn’t tried. Alara Reborn’s Legion Aloft was the first of this type, and it gave the skies strategy an artifact theme. Still, it was a bit of a hodge-podge amalgamation of defender creatures and gimmicky ones like the Aven Mimeomancer.
Worldwake next tried to get in on the act with Flyover, which featured a synergy between a high number of flyers and the Archon of Redemption, which gave you life for each one. Even the nonflyer support contingent of cards like the Surrakar Banisher and Kor Cartographer could get in on the action thanks to the Wind Drake, but overall the deck couldn’t shake a somewhat pedestrian feel. Outside of the Archon, cards like Apex Hawks and Lightkeeper of Emeria were serviceable, but not especially exciting. It felt more like ‘a collection of cards’ rather than a deck, which is a fair charge to level to most anything without Vampires in it from Zendikar and Worldwake.
Can the Humans of Repel the Dark withstand the death-obsessed fiends of Deathly Dominion? Jimi and I aim to find out, and see how the morbid mechanic plays out in the heat of the moment. Will I be able to crank out massive bruisers against which to prayer can withstand? Or will Jimi’s Humans come together and drive back the dark after all? To find out, we sat down for our usual three games, and here are the notes.
At the first meeting of the design team for Innistrad, lead designer Mark Rosewater had everyone present list out every theme and trope they could think of, writing them on a whiteboard. By the end of the session, there were a ton of ideas floating around. To be certain, you had the list of monster types like Vampire and Werewolf. Transformation was a big one, as evidenced by the dual-faced cards. And of course, lurking in the background like a shade was the one concept that appears in virtually every horror movie or story ever made: death.
Ordinarily, death signals the end of something. A person passes away, their remains are properly disposed of (if they are so fortunate), and the material possessions they collected over their lifetime are distributed to those surviving them (if again, they are so fortunate). Whether the end comes in silent claiming in the middle of the night or in a violent flurry of biting and tearing, it comes for us all. In Deathly Dominion, Innistrad’s Black/Green deck, death represents something else. Opportunity.
In our deck review, we found Eldritch Onslaught to be a most intriguing construction in the same wacky and spell-heavy Izzet mould as Mirrodin Besieged’s Mirromancy. This time, rather than abuse a Galvanoth for extra card advantage, the deck wants you to exploit the flashback mechanic. Towards that end, it packs in a number of self-milling options, ways to get your own cards into the graveyard. Each flashback card dumped in this way is a way to expand your options to affect the board state and ensure victory.
To serve as the opposition today, Jimi is playing the Black/Green morbid-based Deathly Dominion. Let’s see how they fare against one another!
Mirrodin Besieged’s Mirromancy was in some ways the most intriguing Intro Pack release of the block. Since the transition from the Theme Deck to the Intro Pack which begun with Shards of Alara, set-released precons have tended to follow a rather simplistic strategy: load up with creatures, and use noncreature spells as support. Although a viable strategy, like anything else it can grow stale with overuse. The Theme Decks had a long tradition of variety, with a number of decks leaning more heavily on spells rather than creatures (most famously The Sparkler from Stronghold, which had only three creatures- and two of them Walls!). In many cases, like the decks of Magic 2011 or even Conflux’s Naya Domain, even a relatively high noncreature content didn’t necessarily mean that they were going to take anything other than a back seat to your beaters.
Mirromancy for the first time in the modern Intro Pack era turned this formula on its head. Your spells weren’t there to support your creatures- they were legitimate and consistent win conditions of their own. Indeed, the deck’s foil premium rare- which usually gives good insight into the deck’s aims and means- itself was designed to support a spell-heavy deck. Sure Galvanoth was a 4/4 body, but his free-cast ability thrived on a spell-rich (and by necessity somewhat creature-poor) environment. Blisterstick Shaman was a ping-on-a-stick, and Fire Servant was there to support your burn cards. In that light, Eldtritch Onslaught is Mirromancy’s successor, right down to the Izzet colour scheme of Blue and Red.