Last updated on May 10, 2022
Inspired Idea | Illustration by Alix Branwyn
Hello everyone and welcome to my second review article for Innistrad: Crimson Vow. Last time, I talked about every card in the set for limited; and today I’ll be going over the 25 cards that I think are going to have the biggest impacts on Magic’s many constructed formats.
Most of these picks will be for Standard as that is what Standard set releases tend to impact the most, but there are a couple here that are more suited for older formats. I also won’t be giving these individual grades, nor will they be presented in any particular order. If I think a card is playable, it’s playable. I will mention if I think they’re format-defining or anything like that. Well, without any further ado, let’s jump right in.
End the Festivities
I’m sure to many this looks weak, and it is a very minimal effect, but it’s a strict upgrade to Blazing Volley, a card that many sideboards in eternal formats already played. I wanted to mention it for this reason, but it’s not going to break anything. It could definitely see a little bit of play in Standard too should there be a deck that is weak to it.
This is one of the more dubious predictions on this list, but I think this makes for a great control finisher. The card it reminds me of the most is Monastery Mentor, only having flash makes it more versatile. Hating on the graveyard is a big upside, though if you build your deck to make the best use of the ability then it might not work so well. You probably don’t want to exile your opponent’s creature if your deck is full of instants to make creatures with. It also works great in multiples and I think has a number of applications for control and midrange-based decks.
Circle of Confinement
White doesn’t get access to great spot removal and it gets two great ones that appear on this list. We’ve had cards like Suspension Field and Baffling End before and they’ve both been excellent in Standard. The ability to stem the bleeding from an aggro deck by picking off their small creatures is something that white always struggles with, making this a perfect inclusion. This shouldn’t see any play outside of Standard as it is just worse than Baffling End, which is legal in every other format. At the very least this will see a lot of sideboard play, but it could very easily make main decks too depending on how the format shakes up.
Savior of Ollenbock
White gets a lot of great midrangey creatures in this set and Savior of Ollenbock is the cream of the crop. The most relevant side of this is as a way of exiling opposing creatures while being a better aggressive threat than both Brutal Cathar and Skyclave Apparition. It can also trigger multiple times, making it an almost unbeatable threat against decks that can’t remove it easily and were just planning on blocking. When your opponent doesn’t have creatures to exile, it lets you reanimate your own, which makes this so much more versatile than its counterparts against creature-light matchups such as control.
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is one of the most noteworthy reprints we’ve had in a while. Legendary creatures almost never get reprinted as they represent storyline characters that tend to evolve and develop over time, requiring new versions of them to be created. Returning to the original and best version of Thalia is a great decision and one that should have a big impact on Standard and Pioneer (it was already legal everywhere else). Izzet Epiphany is one of the best decks in standard going into this release and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben does a good job of hosing it. I have seen a lot of people claiming it’s the end for Epiphany, but that’s certainly not true. One more weapon against a deck like that is extremely welcome, even if it can be worked around. Given how good Thalia is against spell-based decks, I’m expecting Spikefield Hazard to start showing up in greater numbers than before, so beware of that when building a deck that wants to play its own X/1 creatures.
We saw Valorous Stance for the first time back in Fate Reforged and it was incredibly powerful back then. A strong removal spell for control decks and an absurd modal spell for midrange, this card practically warped deck construction around it. I even tried it out a few times in Modern and it was great. Like I’ve already said, white midrange gets a lot of love in this set and this is one of the best cards for it, where both modes are incredibly useful throughout the game.
Voice of the Blessed
Ajani’s Pridemate never looked so good. Standard has access to quite a few pieces for a Soul Sisters deck such as Lunarch Veteran, Cleric Class, Trelasarra, Moon Dancer and Cleric of Life’s Bond. I’d imagine we’re not far off from seeing a whole deck come together if we haven’t already, so I’d look out for this fan favorite archetype on the ladder. In Pioneer and Historic, we also have Ajani’s Pridemate and a bunch more support for this deck, so I can definitely see something taking shape there too.
We kick blue off with a weird little spirit that can do a lot of work. Standard didn’t get a lot of good spirits in this set, so it will need a blue-based midrange deck to find a home. I doubt it will be good enough for those though, as the dragons and Epiphany decks are already pretty full. The place where I think it has a solid home though is in the tribal spirits decks in Pioneer and Modern. Both of those decks have fallen out of favor a little over the pandemic and could use another tool or two to pick back up. This could very well be that tool, providing both graveyard hate and card advantage in one neat little package.
This giant kraken looks like an ideal control finisher for standard. We’ve had all sorts of similar big blue creatures in the past such as Pearl Lake Ancient and Nezahal, Primal Tide. They’ve always been pretty good, making some main decks and a lot of sideboards. Hullbreaker Horror looks like a new one to add to the mix and has the right set of abilities to be very annoying. With flash and being uncounterable, it completely messes up control plays.
Let’s say your opponent casts their Alrund’s Epiphany with mana left open for some counterspells. You can flash in this, then cast any instant to return Alrund’s Epiphany to their hand right off the stack and none of that can be countered with the spells legal in Standard. Not to mention that being a 7/8 will let you close out a game really quickly once it lands.
Jacob Hauken, Inspector / Hauken’s Insight
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy was an extremely powerful card when it was around in Standard and Jacob Hauken, Inspector looks remarkably similar. He’s not looting away cards, which unfortunately doesn’t do much for graveyard-based decks like Jace did, but the enchantment he transforms into is arguably stronger than Jace’s Planeswalker side. While costing six mana to transform isn’t ideal, you will be able to cast a spell off of Hauken’s Insight for free on the turn you do so.
I think the best thing to do could just be to cast Alrund’s Epiphany right away, letting you immediately untap with Hauken’s Insight out and run away with the game from there. Frankly, any big spell you cast like this should be enough to make transforming Hauken worth it, so the real question is what deck wants a big card advantage engine like this? I have a feeling we can find quite a few that will want him…
Back again for another bite at the apple, Syncopate has proven itself to be a Standard all-star time and time again. We have plenty of strong counterspells in Standard that can outclass it in the late game game, but none of them have the option of countering any spell on turn two, something Syncopate does very well.
5/6 with flying and trample for four mana is just a ridiculously huge threat. All three of my black choices happen to be four mana midrange bombs, so this has a lot of competition, but the sheer amount of stats on this thing scream playability to me. Where I see this doing the most work is out of the sideboard. You can bring it in for control mirrors after they’ve taken out most of their removal or against aggro decks to have a massive brick wall that they can’t get through.
Henrika Domnathi / Henrika, Infernal Seer
Henrika Domnathi really is just a legendary Vampire Nighthawk and I’m all for it. The most common line of play will probably be to play her and draw a card for her first trigger, then transform her the following turn before she attacks. In a pinch, you could just use her as a four mana edict effect to take out one big threat, which is a nice bonus to have access to. Once she transforms, she’s a huge flier with lifelink which should be able to take over a game quite quickly or just trade for a big threat in combat thanks to deathtouch. The best part about her is the number of options you have access to, making her a very strong and flexible card all round.
Sorin the Mirthless
It’s been a while since we’ve seen a Planeswalker like Sorin in Standard. Sorin looks a lot like some of the more classically designed walkers, like Chandra, Torch of Defiance or Elspeth, Knight-Errant. In any shell you play Sorin the Mirthless with, he’ll provide a steady flow of unconditional card advantage to help you take over a game.
I’m a little worried about losing too much life with his +1, but I’ve played far too many Dark Confidants in my time to let that influence me. The lifelinking tokens he creates with his -2 should do a good job of mitigating that life loss anyway.
From what I can tell, black hasn’t been seeing a lot of play in standard recently, with Mono Green Aggro and Izzet Epiphany taking most of the top spots, but Sorin could swing that all back around. The Mono Black Control deck that surfaced at the start of the format could really benefit from a powerhouse like this, so hopefully this will be enough to change the landscape of Standard for the better.
When I first read this, I thought it was one of the worst mythics I’d ever seen. I know it’s part of a cycle, but it just looked a like a simple rare or even a strong uncommon. Then I started to think about how it might play out and it started to look more and more like a mythic and I’m happy they didn’t push its power level too much more.
I think the best home for this is in older formats, where it’s comparable to Eidolon of the Great Revel, a card that has been a staple in burn decks ever since it got printed. While Eidolon has a creature version of Pyrostatic Pillar, a powerful burn card in its own right, Cemetery Gatekeeper is like a more flexible creature version of Ankh of Mishra.
Virtually every deck needs to play lands to get going, but if you drop an early Cemetery Gatekeeper and exile a land (which there should be abundance of in eternal formats), then is your opponent forced into not playing lands until they find an answer? More than likely yes. This looks like a very decent aggro card in standard and a great hate card in Modern for decks like Amulet Titan, while just being a very strong card to add to the big pile of burn spells available in these formats.
Chandra, Dressed to Kill
Chandra’s back and ready for action. In any deck that’s heavy on red cards, she essentially lets you draw a card for a +1, which is a really big upside on a three mana Planeswalker. Her other ability isn’t half bad either, giving you a mana back right away and threatening other Planeswalkers a little bit. In fact, thanks to giving you mana right away, there will be turns where she essentially costs just two mana.
The color restriction on her abilities does mean that she really ought to be played in a deck that’s heavy on red cards, but that shouldn’t be too hard to accomplish. She looks like she’ll play out well in any of those decks, no matter whether they’re aggressive, controlling or somewhere in the middle, so I expect she’ll see plenty of Standard play moving forward.
Fiery Cannonade getting an upgrade like this should be a very useful card to have around in Standard. Control and midrange decks usually need weapons to help them fight against aggro decks and this should be perfect. There are some nice targets to hit with this already, most notably the 2/2 tokens created by Ranger Class and Esika’s Chariot. I don’t think this will define Standard or anything like that, but it should be a very useful weapon to have access to.
Mono Green Aggro has been stomping its way through Standard since the last rotation and now it has the perfect one-drop, something it didn’t have at all before. I’m not sure a card like this has what it takes outside of Standard, but there are enough four-drops and greater for it to be a powerful threat there. There’s not much more I can say about Packleader, it’s just a phenomenally efficient, aggressive creature with a perfect home ready and waiting for it in Standard.
Speaking of perfect homes, the green member of the Cemetery cycle also slots right into the Mono Green Aggro deck. At a 3/4 vigilance for three mana, it’s just efficient enough to make the cut while giving you a nice discount on some spells for the rest of the game. The graveyard hate side of this is definitely not irrelevant either, making this almost like a new Deathgorge Scavenger and perfect for all sorts of different decks beyond just Mono Green Aggro.
I am a ramp player. I love casting big creatures; it’s my favorite thing to do in a game of Magic. This beautiful beast is the payoff of my dreams. Why not slam down a huge trampler that draws a dozen cards when it enters? The fact that it drops all of your lands into play means this could easily find a home in a ramp deck with a lot more lands than usual and each time you play one of these your hand gets filled with spells.
Removing the inherent disadvantage to playing with say 26-30 lands is something that very few other big finishers can enable you to do. I can’t wait to start brewing around this and I hope it starts seeing play.
Mulch showed up last in the first Innistrad set, where it helped to define graveyard-based decks of that era. Right now in Standard, it looks like we have a lot of good enablers for some sort of graveyard deck, thanks to cards like Old Stickfingers and Reclusive Taxidermist. Mulch and Tapping at the Window look like good enablers for this kind of deck, so I think all we need to do is find a good list and start taking on the ladder.
Ulvenwald Oddity / Ulvenwald Behemoth
At least in my circles, this is probably one of the most talked about cards on this list. The comparisons to Questing Beast have gotten people talking right away. While I don’t think it’s quite that good, it’s definitely powerful. The late game ability to suddenly transform into an 8/8 does give it an angle that Questing Beast never had, making this a very different card.
Torens, Fist of the Angels
Creature-based midrange decks are getting a whole lot of help with this set and Torens, Fist of Angels looks like a great payoff for them. Just triggering off of every creature you cast without needing to pay any mana or satisfy any other conditions means that Torens will start overwhelming your opponent very quickly. You can sit back, create a bunch of tokens and then attack with all of them which should grow them all in one go.
Mazemind Tome saw a lot of play throughout its time in Standard and while Investigator’s Journal is not guaranteed to draw three cards each time, in certain matchups it can potentially do more than that. In theory, any deck can run this, increasing the number of applications it can have. Midrange decks should like this most of all and even more so in aggro and midrange matchups.
Lantern of the Lost
This latest Relic of Progenitus variant might be one of the best we’ve ever seen. I expect Lantern of the Lost to see play across a variety of formats. Standard could use some efficient, universal graveyard hate, which is a good start. Costing one mana makes it searchable with Urza’s Saga in eternal formats and unlike Soul-Guide Lantern, you can exile the graveyard and draw a card at the same time, making it the most effective variant and very similar to Nihil Spellbomb.
The ‘Slow’ Land Cycle
Completing this land cycle should be a great boon for Standard. We now have all ten Pathways and all ten of these lands, making multicolor land bases pretty easy to put together. We have a tri-color set on the way next spring and having access to all of these dual lands should really help to make whatever decks we build consistent.
Wash Away | Illustration by Brian Valeza
That’s the end of my reviews until the next one. There are dozens more cards in this set that have the potential to see play in constructed, I just picked the 25 that I thought had the most potential. Do you have a favorite card in the set that didn’t make my list? Let us know in the comments.
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