Thran Utopia #24: Innistrad in Sight

Since we’re right in the middle of preview season and I’m cramped for time, the good and obvious way to combine these two would be to take a gander at the Innistrad Card Image Gallery and say something about a few of the cards that caught my eye. I’ll do these card thoughts in more than three words – when the set is spoiled completely, I want to start a Threeview-series where I review each card in three words. Also there will be a bit of talking about the set’s mechanics and flavor. They are two very prominent aspects of the set, so one can’t not talk about those.

The sum of flavor

Mark Rosewater repeatedly said that in Innistrad, flavor rules. This means that the cards are mostly designed top-down: you take a concept and make a card to fit around it. It used to be the other way around, that flavor was forced to fit whatever mechanics were in a set at the time. Since then, we’ve had flavor and mechanics going hand in hand, and Innistrad marks the first time that in a set, flavor takes precedence over the mechanics. “If it isn’t horror, it isn’t in”, according to Rosewater.

What this means is that the set oozes with flavor (even the term oozes is flavorful in horror!). Every card taps into some aspect of classic gothic horror and should be recognisable to observers. It encourages the player to go and explore the genre. It reminds me a bit of Time Spiral block: every once in a while I’ll encounter and older card and recognize the card in Time Spiral it inspired. Years from now, I know there’ll be horror movies that make me go “hey, this is just like that card in Innistrad!” This is very impressive, but it’s even more impressing that the set also has an overarching structure that ties these horror tropes together. It all looks amazing on paper, and I’m betting that first-hand play experience won’t differ all that much.

While I have been talking about the theory behind the flavor, I haven’t said a word about the execution of this theory. But man, do I love this set already. I love me some fantasy but with a darker twist, and Innistrad is a perfect fit. I am pondering collecting the whole set, or maybe start by just buying a box or something. I’m stoked for the novel already, but we’ll have to wait for almost a year still!

Transform of the Werewolf

It’s not like I’m the first one to comment on transform, but I just wanted to touch upon it, since it’s clearly the big elephant (werewolf) in the room. I’m one of those guys who has a lot of faith in Wizards and their process of making cards and sets. (This sense is helped by the fact that I was hibernating during Mirrodin-block.) This means that I have faith that the whole transform-mechanic will turn out alright. Down below I’ll comment further on some transformers.

What transform does for me the most though, is signifying that nothing is sacred in Magic. We’ve seen a lot of taboos broken, but none as ground-shaking as printing a card with two sides. This tells me that truly everything can be changed if the environment calls for it, and that is to me a good sign that Magic is a great game and has a lot of years to go. It also means that with every set, you’re not gonna know what you’re gonna get.

On to the cards

First off, this has amazing artwork. Second, I once tried to build a nice white-black Spiritcraft deck but failed. Post-Lorwyn, this madame can get me back cards like Nameless Inversion and Crib Swap, and therefore I might just rebuild the deck. I’ve always had a weak spot for Tallowisp, and this card might win me over. Having a little Tribal Spirit-component in the block will not hurt either.

This is an interesting Lord, and for Humans no less! It needs to be dead to work, and that is an interesting angle. Tribal creatures are normally not exciting for me, but having to jump through this hoop might make it worth it for me. Also of note that it is a very, very solid Limited beater.

Should I go down the Human Tribal road, then Mentor of the Meek is just the kind of card I want in it. I suspect the flavor of Innistrad will get the better of me and force me to build one or another deck. I’m usually a passive flavor-appreciator: I like it, but rarely do something with it. The flavor of Innistrad might be so much that the cup overfloweth and that I just have to do something. Besides, I have only theoretically built a flavor-based deck with my BioShock deck a while ago. I would love to try something out with real cardboard.

Wizards has been trying for the past few blocks to give unblockable and/or shrouded (and nowadays hexproof) creatures a flavorful face. This time in Innistrad, they have succeeded. I like the fact that you can ‘see’ him and your opponent can’t – he’s your ally, after all, so he has no gains in hiding from you. Also, can you say ‘Sword-bearer’? On an unrelated note, an invisible guy in the rain gives me serious Hollow Man flashbacks. On second thought, that note is not unrelated since it mentions flashback. Score!

Here we have our first transform card (I swear that in my mind I keep calling ’em flip cards). It lacks the Werewolf-framework for flipping and flipping back (see? I did it again!) and actually reminds me a bit of the Zendikar quests. It deals with counters, which means I’m automatically interested. This change in me happened with proliferate, my favorite mechanic ever. Also, the card presents a classic horror scenario: the egg people don’t know what’s in it. “What could it be? It’s not from an ostrich…”

And this, boys and girls, is the best card spoiled so far (you could give that title to Liliana or Garruk, but miss Vess is too restricted for decks whereas we don’t know the true power level of a transforming planeswalker). I’m so glad it is a rare, ’cause I will be needing quite a few of these. I don’t even know what decks, but I just know I need ’em.

This is another card I quite like. Not because of power level, but because it beautifully pictures the essence of zombies: once they’re there, they will keep coming. Also, this means that the Zombies are slow, and who would like to build an inherently slow Tribal deck more than yours truly? The problem is that not only are the Zombies slow (a lot of them enter the battlefield tapped), by being tacked onto expensive spells, they become even slower! This, ofcourse, is the recipe for another Stidjen-deck. Here’s an expensive Zombie spell:

And here’s another!

This last card, though, is again very flavorful. It’s the premise of a Zombie horde, but a slow one (since they enter the battlefield tapped and it cost a whopping eight mana). It also showcases the 13-subtheme of the set which is, again, very flavorful. Basically Army of the Damned and Endless Ranks of the Dead have me itching to build a (blue/)black Zombie deck, but the challenge will be to make sure I have enough early defense and mana to get the deck rolling.

Yet another red X-spell, but one I actually like. The problem with this class of cards is that you feel bad for using them early. The Red Zenith circumvents this, but you lose it in your deck. This one, once popped, stays in the ‘yard to come back later. It’s a good option for the red control deck I’ve been dying to build for forever.

Mayor of Avabruck is a transform-card and a Werewolf at that. All Werewolves have the same transform conditions, which makes it very clear and flavorful. I like the Mayor for being a two-way Lord (that makes tokens he can also pump), and I know somewhere a Human Werewolf deck is in the making.

I skipped on Liliana because I don’t find her that exciting. This automatically means I like Garruk more, which is true. It’s a very interesting card gameplay-wise, to say the least. Do you attack his day-version? Can you trick your opponent into (not) attacking Garruk? Overall it seems like a fun and potentially powerful card. Wizards has yet again surprised us with a planeswalker whose power is not clear at first glance (other planeswalkers that strayed from the tight mold where Jace the Mind Sculptor, Gideon Jura and Sarkhan the Mad).

Olivia Voldaren is reportedly part of a cycle of mythic creatures for each tribe in Innistrad (with Garruk pushing the mythic Werewolf off to later in the block). I find Olivia again highly flavorful, having the option of sucking her victims lifeless, or turning them. Great, great flavor. Might even see tournament play.

This cycle of lands was just bound to happen, and happen it did in Innistrad. While they feel a bit odd in a set with allied Tribes, I’m glad they’re here.

Now there’s a powerful and fitting reprint with perhaps the best art in the set! Really – there is nothing more I can add. I could talk about how Ghost Quarter may or may not replace Tectonic Edge in Standard, but that’s not what you want to hear from a casual guy like me.

Calling it a day

So that’s a wrap for this week. Since by the time you are reading this I will be in Italy, there might have been spoiled some goodies that I missed (I wrote my article last Wednesday with the cards on the Card Image Gallery). Next week I’ll be back for either some new deck thoughts or more spoilers, whatever I feel like doing. See you then!

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Posted on September 11, 2011, in Articles, Thran Utopia and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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