Shadows Over Innistrad was a big hit at the prerelease. Gothic horror is back! The new set is a refreshing change of pace from months of Eldrazi from Zendikar. Creatures are mostly small and bad! Graveyards matter again! Good times will be had.

I had the good fortune to crack open Sorin, Grim Nemesis in my sealed pool. My black cards were underwhelming, but I managed to scrape together a white-green deck that could splash Sorin along with Dead Weight and Ghoulcaller’s Accomplice.

Abzan Forever

Creatures (12)
Thraben Gargoyle
Ghoulcaller’s Accomplice
Moorland Drifter
Deathcap Cultivator
Militant Inquisitor
Stoic Builder
Hermit of the Natterknolls
Wild-Field Scarecrow
Dauntless Cathar
Solitary Hunter
Emissary of the Sleepless
Kessig Dire Swine

Spells (11)
Sorin, Grim Nemesis
Vessel of Nascency
Vessel of Ephemera
Angelic Purge
Bound by Moonsilver
Dead Weight
Rabid Bite
Slayer’s Plate
Strength of Arms
Corrupted Grafstone
Lands (17)
Warped Landscape

Sideboard (29)
Explosive Apparatus
Shard of Broken Glass
Runaway Carriage
Aim High
Confront the Unknown
Crawling Sensation
Howlpack Resurgence
Moonlight Hunt
Root Out
Town Gossipmonger
Stern Constable
Cathar’s Companion
Chaplain’s Blessing
Alms of the Vein
Creeping Dread
Farbog Revenant
Grostesque Mutation
Macabre Waltz
Pale Rider of Trostad
Rottenheart Ghoul
Sanitarium Skeleton
Stromkirk Mentor
Twins of Maurer Estate
Vessel of Malignity

Prereleases are all about trying out the new mechanics. My pool didn’t offer much in the way of madness, skulk, or investigate. But delirium showed up and I decided to give it a whirl. Vessel of Nascency and Wild-Field Scarecrow provided great enablers. While I didn’t have huge payoff cards like Mindwrack Demon or Kindly Stranger, there was plenty to work with.

Kessig Dire Swine impressed me the most. Card is huge! Even without delirium it dominates combat. Creatures are not big. Even flipped werewolves match up poorly with the giant 6/6 pig. Delirium turned out to be easy to turn on in this deck, and the added trample was great. Deathcap Cultivator was also great, with late-game deathtouch a real bonus to an already great mana accelerator.

In one game I had the absolute dream curve. Turn one Vessel of Nascency. Turn two Deathcap Cultivator. Next turn play Corrupted Grafstone and pop the vessel, drawing Kessig Dire Swine and immediately turning on delirium. Turn four 6/6 trample go. Two rare mana accelerators won’t show up in your limited decks too, but turbo delirium is a real possibility with the vessel.

It seems like Wizards distributed the playable cards more among the various card types than usual, to make delirium more plausible to hit. Non-creature creatures like Vessel of Ephemera help, but overall you will struggle to find a ton of great creatures. That opens your deck to playing vessels and other trinkets. Having extra cheap cards to cast also help protect you from aggro werewolf curves. Games are tough to win when your opponent flips a werewolf on turn three because you lack early plays.

Speaking of werewolves, I think they are more powerful than our first trip to Innistrad. Red-green was a clunky deck back then, but the werewolves look souped up now. Red isn’t stuck with a bunch of mediocre four mana 3/2s. My pool had three sweet enablers, in Howlpack Resurgence and two Moonlight Hunt, but the only werewolf I had other than the two sweet ones that made my deck was my promo rare, Geier Reach Bandit. No other red werewolves. It was too bad. Creatures are small enough that I expect red removal will be better than usual.

Standout Cards

Hoo boy. Some folks have already compared this card to Sphinx’s Revelation, and it’s not a ridiculous claim. You want free or cheap discard outlets to get full value, but even casting this fairly for five mana seems strong. I won a game where my opponent made four zombies, thanks to fliers, but From Under the Floorboards will stabilize and finish a lot of limited games in the coming months. It could herald a return of black control in Standard too. Madness looks like a real card advantage engine for grindy decks. Combine this with Gisa’s Bidding and go to zombie town!

I have a feeling people are seriously underestimating this card. I faced one opponent who had the sweet combo of Cryptolith Rite, Groundskeeper, and Call the Bloodline, plus Indulgent Aristocrat to live the dream. That’s a slow engine, but a real one. I don’t think that’s quite going to be the Spider Spawning deck of the draft format, but it looks sweet when you can pull it off. You don’t really need the rare, either. Life is good, though, when all your creatures are also Birds of Paradise.

More generally, Cryptolith Rite has the potential to do stupid things. Convoke is a powerful mechanic for turning early board presence into dominating advantage. You have to deal with summoning sickness, which convoke ignores, but you can get some serious ramp going with this card. Watch out for it in constructed!

I could even see this baby fitting into a crazy Modern deck. Jeskai Ascendancy is my first thought, but I don’t think that deck needs help turning its creatures into elves—it needs Ancestral Vision! I’m not sure you’d want to pair Cryptolith Rite with Thopter Foundry either. But the potential is there for brewers to explore. I am expecting great things.

This card is going to be ubiquitous at top tables in large sealed tournaments. A colorless finisher that is very hand to answer? Perfect for any deck with a decent number of creatures. In the worst case scenario where you can’t play enough creatures, Westvale Abbey still makes them for you, albeit slowly. Just the Wind and Compelling Deterrence will be important cards to combat Ormendahl, Profane Prince, probably even worth splashing out of the sideboard. Structural Distortion might see some play too.

Standard will probably warp around havign answers to this card in all decks. The unsung storyline going into the Pro Tour is how best to use utility lands to splash Thought-Knot Seer. We have tons of sweet lands that make colorless mana, but it’s hard to top a 9/7 indestructible, flying, lifelink, haste demon. Sea Gate Wreckage is my other favorite, although Mirrorpool is making a strong play of late. Both of those require a significant dedication to colorless mana, though, as you need another source to activate their powerful abilities. Westvale Abbey only asks that you play some creatures, or lock the game long enough for it to make five of them for you. Demons don’t usually make such generous offers.

Pack Guardian is ridiculous. It destroys most ground attackers as a surprise blocker and randomly lets you make an extra 2/2 for some reason. You might even turn on delirium at instant speed. Six extra attacking damage on your end step? Random value out of recurring lands from your graveyard? Oh, it’s also a wolf to get pumped by the various wereworlf boons.

I had the misfortune of playing against a deck with two Pack Guardians. I tend to play into flash creatures at the prerelease, because I want to experience the new format organicly rather than trying to squeak out edges. Walking into the first one was a good thing to get out of the way before it matters. Walking into the second one, however, felt pretty bad. In a format of small creatures, a 4/3 flash that can tack on a free 2/2 will be a star. Maybe pro players will finally admit that drafting green is good.

I mentioned it above, but Wild-Field Scarecrow deserves a second shout-out. Great blocker, delirium enabler, and mana fixer. Sign me up! Artifact creatures pull double duty turning on delirium, although you probably don’t need help getting creature among your four types. Three mana 1/4s are good enough already when a format has smallish creatures. Most importantly though, this thing provides colorless mana fixing in a set that doesn’t provide much. With less playable creatures in sealed pools, being able to splash a few cards from a third color will be a boon to any deck that can do it. I expect Wild-Field Scarecrow to be an unsung hero of the format. I dub him Delirium Clemens.

Carrie O’Hara is Editor-in-Chief of Hipsters of the Coast.

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