Thursday, 14 April 2016

Shadows Over Innistrad Highlander set review


Writing a blog is an excellent way to procrastinate from applying for jobs.

As the titles suggests, this is my Shadows Over Innistrad Highlander set review.
I played the prereleasea couple weeks ago. Not the midnight release, too old for that shit. Just played two flights on the Sunday. Had a couple werewolves which were bombs. Shadows Over Innistrad, more like Bombs Over Baghdad.

As far as the mechanics go:
Werewolves don't really work in Highlander. Curves are too smooth and if you try to force night time, there are lots of cheap instants that your opponent can play to keep it day time.
Clues are probably too slow for Highlander. Combo and aggro decks can kill by turn four, no time for cracking clues. There's a chance there could be some artifact synergies with making lots of clues but I haven't thought about it.
Delirium is exciting. Much easier to 'get delirious' in Highlander than it is in Standard. There are plenty of playable delirium cards, some as cheap as one mana. To get the most out of those cheap delirium cards you'll need to build your deck to get delirium early without losing too much tempo, which is an exciting challenge.
Madness is a very powerful mechanic. You gain a card instead of discarding it, that's like gaining two cards. Not only that, the madness casting cost is typically very efficient.
Madness cards only really work with discard outlets which don't require much mana to discard cards, of which, there aren't many good ones. Also, there aren't enough good madness cards that you can afford to play underpowered discard outlets, so it's all a fine balance.

Now onto the cards. I've put them together in rough categories. They're not ordered by power level or anything like that.

Nahiri's interesting. She doesn't compliment an aggro deck and she is too slow for a combo deck. You see where I'm going; I actually think she's a control card. Her first two abilities aren't enough to make her playable, you need to be able to abuse that powerful third ability.
Emrakul is clearly the best creature that Nahiri can rip from your deck and plunge into your opponent's face. I can't think of a control deck which would want Emrakul though; we'll have to aim a bit lower. Sundering Titan isn't that far off the same effect and it costs seven less mana! If we're playing Sundering Titan however, we need to keep our number of basic land types low, which is tricky but do-able.
We also can't have Sundering Titan as our only searchee, we might draw it; so we need one or two more searchees. Inferno Titan and Sun Titan come to mind.
In case you weren't sure what I was doing with the word 'searchee', I was going for something like 'employee', as in something that you search is a searchee. I don't like the term 'tutor target' because you don't actually target the card...I realise most people understand that term. I'm just being weird.

I dunno. Seems like she does so much stuff that she must be good. I remember my second ever prerelease, it was Betrayers of Kamigawa. One of my rares was Umezawa's Jitte. I saw the rare symbol and it did too many things to read. I figured it must be good and put it in my deck. I almost got a match loss for marked cards; Jitte was covered in so much of my enemies' blood that the blood was leaking all over my sleeves.
That story doesn't convince me that Arlinn Kord will be good in Highlander and I'm sure you're not convinced either.
I imagine Arlinn games will go either of two ways: The first way is that they kill the 2/2 wolf and then attack Arlinn to death. The second way is that the 2/2 wolf chump blocks to keep Arlinn alive, then the next turn you bolt one of their dudes and ride Arlinn to victory.

So close to "Jace, the Mind Sculptor +1 mana", that I can't dismiss him as unplayable.
He's the best colour.
Blue has enough disruption that 5 mana isn't too slow.
To reitterate, I basically see him as JTMS +1 mana.

I had already discussed with my friend Brett why I liked this guy in his UR Prowess deck, so I thought I'd just copy paste that speil here and hope it makes sense, excuse the lazy punctuation:
"well it's a 7/8, let's say it flips 3 turns after you play it. You play it turn 2, flips turn 5 and attacks for 7, then attacks for 7 again turn 6. That's 14 damage over 5 turns. A 3 power dude would deal 12 damage over 5 turns (no haste). That's how I'm looking at it.
Occasionally you would flip it 2 turns after, 21 damage, that's insane.
Obviously you might top deck it when you're hellbent and then it may not flip for 4 or 5 turns, that's not great but it's still a huge threat. Plus you get to block that whole time. Even when it's flipping 2 or 3 turns after, you'll get to block with it more than a regular creature would, which would only block the first turn, then be tapped afterwards if it was racing.
I think you should test it out.
And I don't think you need to protect it. It's just a 2 mana creature, no big deal if they kill it. The most mana you'll fall behind is 2, to a Snuff Out and that's an extreme case. It can't be bolted. They'll have to swords or path it, which are premium removal spells. Outside of those you'll be at parody with mana"
Yeah, I think that all made sense out of context.

This card is awesome with Channel. In fact, that's probably a whole new combo:
Pay GG for Channel
Pay 5 life and BB for Behold the Beyond. Get Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and Children of Korlis and something else, say Lotus Petal.
Cast and activate Petal to cast Children of Korlis.
Pay down to 1 life.
Sacrifice your Children to gain life back.
Then as long as you have enough life and mana to spend on Emrakul, that's the game. I wonder how much life you need to be on to go off - let's math!
The below equation assumes we have cast Channel and we have BB floating to help cast Behold the Beyond and we have no untapped lands.

That seemed over-complicated but I had fun. Gotta put my engineering degree to use some time.
Obviously you can go off on a lower life total if you have more mana than just GGBB available.
I think this goes straight into the existing Channel + Lich's Mirror combo deck.

Not the biggest pay-off for getting delirium but if you're already getting "Fungus"

Without delirium he's bad but he's still a card.
Note that he triggers on your opponent's upkeep, so with delirium he's a 3/3 blocker straight up, which is key against aggro decks.
This guy is a must-answer threat.
Sweet synergy with persist creatures.

With delirium and enough removal for their blockers, this guys hits like a truck. 6, then 9, then 12 damage. Unreal if you can set him up.

Your deck must be built to get delirium if you want to play this. Very good against spot removal. You may even garner some value from milling yourself with the first ability.

The most powerful delirium card and my pick for best Highlander card in the set.
Let's talk more about delirium:
Fetchlands give you 'land'.
Blue gives you cheap cantrips and counterspells: 'instant' and 'sorcery'. Cantrips like Mental Note and Thought Scour can give you even more types.
Black gives you cheap discard and removal: 'instant' and 'sorcery'. However, your opponent may not have a creature for you to target, so getting a black instant in the bin isn't guaranteed.
Red gives you burn: 'instant' and 'sorcery'. If your opponent hasn't played creatures for you to burn then you'll have to go to the face, which isn't great unless you're all-in aggro. Faithless Looting is a great card for delirium.
Green doesn't help delirium unless your deck wants to play ramp spells, which most decks don't but lets say green is good for 'sorcery'.
White has some cheap instant removal but not much. It also has the sorceries, Steelshaper's Gift and Open the Armory.
Getting creatures in the bin can be tricky in Highlander. There is a lot of exile removal and Scavenging Ooze or Deathrite Shaman can exile. Also, lots of decks won't kill your creatures for you, they might be trying to combo off instead or they may simply have big blocking creatures which you can't trade with. Skullclamp is a great way to kill your creatures but that's a bit win-more. Getting a creature in the graveyard is a bit matchup dependent.
As for the other types: Enchantment, Artifact, Planeswalker and Tribal - they're all relatively very rare and hard to bin.
Stepping back a bit, it seems 'land', 'instant' and 'sorcery' are easy to get in the graveyard early, whereas 'creature' is hard and the others are even harder. To reliably get delirium I think you need to be really aggro to force your opponent to kill your creatures or you need to be playing some discard or self-mill. You can't just put delirium cards in your deck and expect them to turn on early. You need to plan for it.

Fine without madness but you really want that madder casting cost.
Here are the cards I could think of which let you madness Avacyn's Judgment (drives me mad that Americans spell 'judgement' differently): Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, Frantic Search, Wild Mongrel, Psychatog and Dack Fayden. A grixis delve/madness deck could be sweet. Could also add Faithless Looting, Careful Study, Izzet Charm, Mental Note and Thoughtscour.

You really want to cast these for their madness cost on turn two but that's almost impossible. The best you can hope for is turn three when you can use the discard outlets previously mentioned in the Avacyn's Judgment paragraph. However, a lot of those cards aren't aggro cards. These vampires certainly are aggro, so the deck may not be focused enough. 
You could also use Fauna Shaman, Survival of the Fittest and Lotleth Troll as outlets.
Finding a madness card with Gamble when you're hellbent is cute.

Pretty deece. She could just get Lightning Bolted, which would be unfortunate but she could also give a huge four-drop haste, which would be awesome. Not really a good madness enabler as you'll probably have spent all your mana on the creature which triggered Olivia.

The versatility is worth the life loss. From first impressions I'm going to say this is the best three-cost removal in Highlander after Council's Judgment.
You would board this out against aggro decks.
The flavour text on this card makes me cringe. I'm embarrassed for whomever wrote it, "a cruelty beyond imagining"? "a pain beyond description"? Really? Sorin was in a pain beyond description?
"a pain beyond description"

I was going to put Sorin in the 'Honourable mentions' section but after thinking about him a little more I think he's playable. You'll need to play enough disruption that you don't die to combo before casting him but other than that, game on.

This would've been so much better if it didn't have that last line of text. As it is, I can see it in some highly synergistic graveyard and Birthing Pod beatdown decks.

If you're playing heaps of cheap creatures with tap abilities then I think this is sweet. Note that it's a bit of a nombo with Skullclamp but if your points are elsewhere then no worries. 

This one's interesting. Exile removal is very important in Highlander due to Skullclamp and all the creatures with death triggers. The format is also fast enough that your opponent will lose significant tempo by cracking the clue, perhaps enough tempo that you don't mind giving them one at all.
There may be some crazy deck where you want your opponent to control an artifact. I don't think there's a deck like that yet but it could become a thing.
The 'exile all with same name' is obviously less good in Highlander but it's still relevant. There are many good token makers out there. It should be noted that you won't give extra clues for exiling multiples tokens.

You could get blown out on tempo by a cheap removal spell but her flash ability reduces that risk. I expect people to try out Avacyn early and find her to be good but very cut-able. Like any other non-hasty expensive creature, you'll want disruption for combo to give Avacyn time to do her thing.

Devastating sideboard card against midrange Skullclamp decks.

Cute sideboard card against burn decks. Nice and cheap to be Snapcaster Maged or Jace, Vryn's Prodigy'd

Finds Skullclamp. Also finds Sword of the Meek and Splinter Twin.

The humans keep on coming. Wizards need to be careful with how many human tribal cards they print since there are sooo many good humans. Other good human tribal cards in Highlander are: Champion of the Parish, Cavern of Souls, Xathrid Necromancer, Angelic Overseer, Angel of Glory's Rise and Mayor of Avabruck.

The best Suntail Hawk ever. Love the art, *poke* hehehe. Can just imagine choosing which creature to tap by pointing at it just like Topplegeist is.
To get the most out of Topplegeist you obviously need to aim for delirium but you'll also want to play equipment. X/1 fliers are prime material for equipment decks.

Deceptively good one-drop. If I try out my white weenie deck again, this nasty granny will be in there. Gossipmongering feels too insidious to be white. Feels more blue or black. Very cool card though.
A minor interaction I thought of is how she can save a Goblin Rabblemaster token,

Exile, exile, exile. I keep saying it. There are a few cards almost the same as this: Demonfire, Red Sun's Zenith and Disintegrate. I like them all.

3/2 haste is a good rate in an aggro deck. There have been a few other three-power three-drop haste creatures but most of them have restrictive mana costs, e.g. Dreg Mangler and Boggart Ram-Gang.
You'll want some cheap removal for blockers like Trinket Mage
Don't expect her to flip but that doesn't matter.

It's amazing how few red one-drops there are. Rakdos Cackler, Stromkirk Noble, Goblin Guide, Zurgo Bellstriker and Grim Lavamancer are the best ones. Jackal Pup and Firedrinker Satyr are playable but you're not happy to play them.
Can't imagine Falkenrath Berserker's ability being relevant but oh lordy, if it ever is...

Looks like she's swinging a rusty gate.
Damn, that is a lot of blood. I love the art in this set, it pushes the envelope.
This is an aggro only card and probably only for sideboards since it's bad against other aggro decks.
Great at taking down planeswalkers. Hits really hard.

I've always liked two-power first strikers in Highlander. Particularly in red where you can combine the first strike damage with a burn spell to take down big creatures.
The first strike is great against Jitte and some value creatures like Strangleroot Geist, Kitchen Finks and Hallowed Spiritkeeper.
The delirium ability is just gravy.

Honourable Mentions:
Eh, not great but he puts out good damage with delirium. He's Skullclamp-able. I felt like I had to mention him.
He's terrible on defense.

I don't think this is playable yet but one day there may be a bunch of instants and sorceries which let you target it a bunch of times, e.g. Seeds of Strength or Gigadrowse (do replicate spells even work here?).
Also, hypothetically if Spellskite could redirect to other creatures, could you use it's ability over and over again on Silverfur Partisan to make heaps of wolves?

This is a very unusual effect. Reminds me of Earthcraft, however Earthcraft is wayyy more powerful because it ignores summoning sickness. Good with Intruder Alarm but not as good as creatures which tap to create tokens (I've always wanted to combo Intruder Alarm with Marrow-Gnawer).

Flavour special!
There's been a lot of speculation that Emrakul is 'the mystery' of Innistrad. Mostly fuelled by her glaring absence from Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch. Also, Zendikar is strongly tied to Innistrad through Nahiri and Sorin's storylines. Wizards have done such a good job with this story. I genuinely get excited looking for tidbits.

During my examination of all the cards for this set review, I spotted a few things which you could reasonably link to Emrakul's presence.

Check out that 'root' stuff. Looks a lot like Emrakul's tentacles, like she's corrupting the whole plane.

General Eldrazi styled flesh. Dunno how they're getting 'elrazified', perhaps from the moon's light or maybe the plane's mana is corrupted and just channeling it links you to Emrakul? Nah, that'd be pretty OP.
These artworks totally freak me out.

What the fuck is up with that Skirsdag priest's eye? I tried finding a bigger image of the art so I could get a better look but couldn't find one.
I think it looks like an Eldrazi tentacle coming out of his helmet's eye hole. Maybe the Skirsdag are unknowingly worshiping Emrakul and getting mutated by her. I dunno...Satan's pretty cool!

Anyway....that's what I think of Shadows and how they're all over Innistrad and there are cards.

All hail our lady and saviour Emrakul!

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