This past weekend we saw the first bunch of official Shadows Over Innistrad spoilers. While Archangel Avacyn and Relentless Dead are powerful cards which tell amazing stories, and Tamiyo’s Journal and Declaration in Stone do cool, flavorful things with Clue tokens, I want to talk about a more humble uncommon. A card which does a whole lot in not so many words.

Let’s talk about Aberrant Researcher / Perfected Form.

Flavor Win

Before getting into the mechanics of this card, let’s talk about its story. It’s a 3/2 flying human insect. It’s the continued story of Delver of Secrets, after transforming into an Insectile Aberration. Apparently, his humanity was anathema and he needed to continue the transformation until it was completely eradicated. This is a great, unobtrusive callback to one of the most influential cards in the original Innistrad. It’s new take on an old card. It feels like a reprint, but is its own new thing. That’s some beautiful design right there, and that’s even before discussing what the card does (which, granted, was one of the original Innistrad’s great strengths).

Snapping Drake

The Vanilla Test

There are a bunch of ways to evaluate a card’s potential, but let’s first consider the base statistics. Historically, a 3/2 flying has been pretty good, though lately their stock has been dropping. While Snapping Drake was great in Ravnica: City of Guilds and Assault Griffin was good in M12, the more recent Cloud Manta and Moon Heron in BfZ and the original Innistrad were lower tier commons. They tended to suffer from not synergizing with what blue decks were doing (playing Eldrazi, utilizing the graveyard) while being bad on defense. A 3/2 flying for four is still good, but it doesn’t synergize with what a blue deck is usually doing. In other words, we’ll have to see what the context of SoI is to know just how good these base stats are.


The Flipside

That said, the card’s got more text. If it transforms, you get a 5/4 flying. That’s dragon territory. Almost every 5/4 flying in Magic is rare (with stats like those, you can win the game by yourself). Venerable Lammasu, the most vanilla 5/4 flying, cost seven mana and was decent (though unexciting and underpowered). If you can quickly transform the researcher into his Perfected Form, then you have an undercosted beater.

Now, transforming into Perfected Form is about as difficult as transforming a Delver of Secrets, but unlike Delver, both halves of Aberrant Researcher are playable cards (unlike Delver, which is a 1/1 for one). In Limited, you’re getting a much better deal, since your worst possible card is a Snapping Drake.

Think Tank


Unlike Delver of SecretsAberrant Researcher doesn’t let you pseudo-scry with self-mill or shuffle effects, doesn’t let you keep the card on top, and always mills you, whether you like it or not. While these tell a cool story (the human finesse he had is waning, or perhaps his desperation is waxing), it weakens a lot of the play. Fortunately, there’s Delirium, a graveyard- hungry threshold mechanic which Aberrant Researcher is happy to help with. I can imagine that there will be a bunch of decks that don’t want to flip their Researcher (at least, not immediately) simply because of the value he provides to other cards. If so, I applaud Wizards for making a 3/2 flying that can turn into a downside-less 5/4 flying that is nevertheless better in some situations.

Cloaked Siren

It should come as no surprise that I’m a huge fan of Aberrant Researcher. The amount of meaning crammed into two vanilla creatures’ artwork, flavor text, type lines, and basic stats is incredible.  It has only one ability, a fairly simple one, and yet that ability can set a goal, be a deck enabler, or be a minor downside (all depending on what your deck does).

I love the design because it’s a take on a fairly stock creature (the 3C 3/2 flying) that feels completely at home on Innistrad. Chorus of the Tides, Cloaked SirenAscended Lawmage, and Fencer Clique were all fine creatures, but none fit their world or theme as well as does our human insect. Much of this is made possible by transform, a mechanic which allows a card to grow, change, and tell an entire story with little to no text. I’m delighted to return to my favorite plane, Innistrad, and look forward to even more great designs.

—Zachary Barash

Zachary Barash has been playing Magic on and off since 1994. He loves Limited and drafts every available format (including several that aren’t entirely meant to be drafted). He’s a proud Cube owner, improviser, and game designer (currently going for an MFA in Game Design at NYU). He has an obsession with Indian food that borders on being unhealthy.

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