Innistrad Prerelease strategy: The color and the shape
Mike Eaton, Play Unplugged
This weekend, stores around the country will be celebrating ye olde Innistrade prerelease . . . e. What should you take into account when you play, given that the full visual spoiler is up over at Wizards of the Coast?
I have almost no idea.
See, here’s the thing about Innistrad: It’s all over the place. We’ve got cards that can flashback bounce — exile your best spell before it resolves — create thirteen creatures and deal thirteen damage to all creatures . . . I’ve been playing mostly very straightforward sets, lately, and I didn’t do very well at the last super-fast, super-new prerelease I attended (Zendikar).
So, here’s what I have for you: Let’s talk about what’s in each color that I’ll be looking to play if I crack it, because I hope it’ll be good. I guess we’ll all find out when we get to the show.
A few cards that will box me into white: Angel of Flight Alabaster (If I get spirits to support her) and Angelic Overseer. If I pull either of those, I will have no excuse to drop White. They’re big fliers, and they are their own card advantage — being either difficult to kill or making it difficult to kill the rest of your army, respectively. And if you pull those, Avacynian Priest can stop them — so that’s a keeper. White is full of flier-token-creation; I would say that if you can make a ton of tokens, you’ll be better off. Creature advantage is the key in Limited; if you can find a way to make them big, so much the better (and Intangible Virtue can do that), but if you can get a lot of them at the right time, you’ll have the army you need. Pulling a couple of the prison cards, like Ghostly Possession, might help you stop some big nasty while your little guys fly in a-swingin’.
Here’s how I will play blue: Flying/Unblockable – also, bounce. (Unless I draw multiple counterspells, I find them unreliable as a strategy). Here’s what else it does: Play with the graveyard. That’s what I will not be doing. But I will probably play Forbidden Alchemy if I get one, and it might push me into blue-black. Despite how many creatures are in this format, I have a feeling everyone will have some, and it might play slightly like Rise of the Eldrazi in that case. If I find that happening, I might just do well — and the 7-mana flashback cost on Forbidden Alchemy might just get used. As to all those graveyard effects, I simply posit that they exist, and that using them will be a good idea if you get milled. Beyond that, I’m afraid this casual player has no strategy to offer for a piece of madness like Mirror-Mad Phantasm.
If you crack the right cards in black/white, you might just overwhelm your opponent with tokens for good — and a few copies of Altar’s Reap, two-card draw at Instant speed — will give you mad advantage. This card is at common, and with enough tokens to support it — or just in response to something dying — I think this might be the best common in the set. You must play black if you have Army of the Damned. The demons are good guys, as big fliers, but if you get very little black and they’re all you have, they’ll probably just get bounced away or otherwise stopped, and that will leave you dead. Make sure you have a standing army around your demons. On the other hand, Curse of Death’s Hold is a card to build around; it could potentially eat all tokens before they can do anything, by making them all -1/-1! Endless Ranks of the Dead would be a beautiful 4-drop after a few turns of zombies, and if you can play black/blue and counter mass removal like Sever the Bloodline, you’ll eventually be able to swing for lethal and block anyone else on turn after turn.
Liliana . . . yes. Anything she does will be fine. Use Skirsdag High Priest if you think you can get your opponents to kill creatures who aren’t Skirsdag High Priest. A few early Vampire Interlopers can deal enough to clean up afterwards. And if you have anything huge at all in your deck, in any color, and you think you can do this all at once, find a way to discard it and then fish it out with Unburial Rites. You’ll be glad you did.
Balefire Dragon and Blasphemous Act will both kill everyone ever; if you’re OK with that, play the crap out of Red when you see these. Also, be acutely aware that someone will likely have them, and you’ll have to deal with them. Can you? Brimstone Volley can deal 5 damage at Instant speed if a creature dies; and, honey, since this is Limited, many will. It only costs 3 mana, so don’t let your life dip too low against Red if you think you have any way to pull out a victory. Charmbreaker Devils is a card to build around; it’s huge, and it gets your spells back to play all over again, and that’s a lot of advantage. If you have a ton of big guys that aren’t afraid, Curse of the Nightly Hunt could be a death knell for your opponents; they’d better be sideboarding enchant removal if they ever want to keep a little guy on the field.
Desperate Ravings could be almost as good as Altar’s Reap; in this environment, discarding your best card might not even be a problem, and drawing two cards in red could get you the last two burn spells you needed. Falkenrath Marauders could be an awful surprise for your opponent, coming in with two and staying with four or more. And if you have an early token or a creature you can eat without fear, Infernal Plunge is the kind of mana advantage we haven’t seen since Rite of Flame and Dark Ritual; it’ll bring out some of the nastier stuff we just talked about long before your opponent has seen it coming. An early Stromkirk Noble could be an early end, with all those counters coming. Rolling Temblor is a token-wiper, in theory.
Look, I’m sorry, but sometimes I’m slow on the draw: Garruk Relentless confuses me. He just does. I know that if I fight some small creature and then use him to get Deathtouch wolves, he’ll be awesome, but I bet he’ll die ultra-fast. The thing is, I look at his abilities, and I just know he’s amazing. I just hope you’re better at using him than I will be. Other than the wild one, let’s see, here. Right off the bat, I see three cards you need to be playing: Ambush Viper (SURPRIZE!!! DEATHTOUCH), Boneyard Wurm (fill your deck with guys to kill and he’ll be your Big/Big), and Bramblecrush (remember how cool Bolas’ first ability is? It’s that. But green). Any of these will be a glorious and welcome topdeck, although I guess Ambush Viper is more situational (“Sorry, big guy!”). A couple of Caravan Vigils will allow you to play almost any hand, and to thin your deck, to boot! Essence of the Wild is great even if you don’t get any tokens-makers; if you do (especially Garruk), abuse the life out of them and get that 6/6 army running!
Mulch has always been amazing for digging, especially if all you care about is the card in your hand, and you don’t care what you have to lose to get it; if you have lots of flashback, it’s a win-win! Prey Upon could get your big guy through a chumper if that’s all the opponent has left, and then you can swing right through. Spidery Grasp is one of the nastiest surprises I can think of — +4 toughness and untapping at instant speed. One card I’m excited to see is Tree of Redemption; it’s a giant blocker that conceivably becomes lots of lifegain if you pull it out late. You’ll have to play Splinterfright early, or risk knocking yourself out before he gets through — and make sure you have a way to get rid of him too, in case a white enchanter decides to stop him in his tracks, leaving you to mill out of the game.
If you get one, build your deck around the colors. That is all.
Cellar Door is a tiny mill card with a possible added zombie at the end; I think it’ll be solid for a long game. Creepy Doll is good as a blocker, but if your opponent has evasion, you’ll want to sideboard it out for game two; it’s only good here for being indestructable. If you’re playing graveyard effects and you find your opponent isn’t, Ghoulcaller’s Bell is way fast, and it has no downside. At common, you’ll want to keep graveyard effects around just to board them in against this thing, if you can. Inquisitor’s Flail is amazing on an evasive creature; cheap double damage. Mask of Avacyn will be useful if Hexproof is at all the force it was during M12. And Traveler’s Amulet can help with mana-fixing and thinning, but it’s not as essential as some other cards like it have been.
Oh, the lands. Basically, once you pick the rest of your colors, then you can worry about the lands. None of them are exceptionally bomby, and you’ll want to have a solid color base by the time you’re ready to spend the mana you’ll need to get your most out of these guys.
And . . . there we have it! It looks like Blue and White have a lot of cards that point to a particular strategy, while the other colors have a lot of different, unique cards that will contribute to your decks in different ways. Personally, white and red look really strong to me, and I hope I get some creature-freezing and mass destruction, along with some big, evasive bodies. Won’t really know how to play blue effectively, but I bet I’ll lose to it a bunch. And black and green are pretty full of choices. I’ll be glad to see a lot of either of them if I don’t see what I want from red or white.
After the prerelease, tell us how you do! We love to hear from our readers on Twitter @PlayUnplugged, or on Facebook at our fan page. You can also tell me over Twitter @Mikeatonjr how in the world I’m supposed to either deal with or play around this blue, graveyardly menace.