Revisiting Archetypes is one of the most fun things for me. If I build a deck and it feels not quite strong enough, I whisper to it “I will come back to you, don’t worry, soon, very soon” and gently put it back into the Deckbox. And by soon I mean 4-5 Sets, until a few cards get released that grab my attention and remind me of that Archetype. Shadows over Innistrad has a ton of Cards that makes me want to come back to a lot of these temporarly abandonend affairs – and this is what this article is about (will be short but hopefully interesting).
Not-All-In Gruul – Gruul is always scary to me. Scarier than Naya and while I doubt that this feeling is actually justified, Gruul does have some cards that scare the hell out of me: Blood Moon, Price of Progress and Magus of the Moon. All the Cards that punish my color greed, all the cards that can win the game by themselves. So what does Gruul get from this set?
The first 3 cards have one thing in common, that I usually miss in Gruul lists: they can provide card advantage while still being reasonably aggressive (“aggressive enough”). They give Gruul an angle it does not have. They might help to create a Low-Curve Midrange Gruul Deck that is not helpless vs. blue decks (especially with recently printed Cards like Courser of Kruphix, Den Protector and Goblin Dark-Dwellers – which create advantages as well). While I am a huge fan of Duskwatch Recruiter and Tireless Tracker (like I stated in our Set Review) and think those cards have the power to become Highlander Staples, I do not like Arlinn Kord too much. But that is only because I think she is overrated and not the Windmill-Slam All-Star some players want her to be. Do I think she is playable in Gruul? Absolutely, she is fine in Gruul I am sure. She also gives Gruul some play and does not just add “another beater” to this already pretty forward archetype. “But isn’t the Straight-Forwardness of Gruul its Strength?” – I think that holds true for All-In Aggro Gruul, but maybe there is another Varation of this color combination here? Lastly Traverse the Ulvenwald gives us a tutor, that is incredible when Delirium is turned on – to be fair having Delirium in Gruul is probably not the easiest to achieve but also not out of the question.
Mardu Midrange – Mardu Midrange is an absurd Value-Machine. Great Walkers, Great Flexible Removal, Great Creatures – it seems to have it all. While we haven’t seen one of these decks break through, I think it’s just a matter of time until we see a “4cBlood without green acceleration but instead an even stronger mid- and lategame” do very well on a bigger stage. That’s what Mardu Midrange is essentially, 4c Blood without Green. Also I think that is what makes players shy away from this Archetype: “Why would I play 4cBlood without Green, isn’t the Green for free?” – it sure feels like it is, but you are paying a price. Mardu Midrange has better topdecks than Blood (eventhough you lose Stuff like Siege Rhino and Bloodbraid Elf) since your deck is not diluted with Elves and Lotus Cobras, your Mana is a little better and you are a little more synergy-based and less goodstuffy (For example: Soulfire Grandmaster, Monastery Mentor etc…) Mardu got some absolute Top-Level Additions from this set:
Like I stated in our Set Review, I believe Sorin, Grim Nemesis is the strongest Walker in the Set and will become a Staple in Highlander. It won’t be all over the Place since 6 Mana is a ton of Mana in this format, but Sorin Grim Nemesis closes out games fast, runs away with Games fast, can help you stabilize and is super hard to kill – the only time Sorin is not great is when you are behind on Board and your Opponent “went wide” – like with tokens or many small Creatures. In all other scenarios (especially on an empty board) Sorin might be the most ridiculous thing you can do for 6 mana. I would go as far as say that it is stronger than Elspeth Sun’s Champion. Anguished Unmaking is an instant speed Maelstrom Pulse that costs you 3 Life and seems like it was made for Mardu. Mardu can negate the lifeloss (Ajani, Helix, Kalitas, Finks, Sorin etc.), has the most efficient removal (Swords, Bolt etc.) to make up for the fact that this card is not efficient (Playing Bolt and Unmaking – 4 Mana to kill 2 Threats – FINE!) and Mardu appreciates it to do some stuff instant speed (lately also got the fantastic Crackling Doom) – overall this spell is incredibly flexible and slides right into this archetype. Archangel Avacyn is ridiculous and gives Mardu Midrange another incredible 5-Drop after Goblin Dark-Dwellers (which are also at their best in the Mardu Archetype). Avacyn does it all, will be a staple in a lot of decks and Mardu is happy to have her. The Outside Shot here is Nahiri, the Harbinger. I have been quite impressed by her and think she is the 2nd best Walker in this set. The “Loot-Ability” is her protection when the opponent does not have something relevant to kill, since it brings her to 6 Loyalty, which is a crazy number on a 4 Mana walker. So how good is this Loot Ability in Highlander and in Mardu? First of All, it gives Mardu some Filtering which is always appreciated in non-blue Decks. While Mardu curves out Turn 6 with Sorin, I would assume it is a deck that usually does not want to have more than 5-6 Lands in play. Nahiri’s + Ability is very close to Drawing a Card when you discard a Land (non-utility Land) since Lands do not carry their weight after turn 5/6 in a Deck that wants to drown the opponent in Card Quality. Nahiri’s -2 is of course very strong and suits the Mardu Theme of “CAN KILL ALL THE THINGS” – Vindicate, Anguished Unmaking etc. While the new Olivia is stronger in an aggro deck, I could see her do work in a 25-27 Creature Mardu-Midrange Deck as well.
Azorius Skies/ Tempo
Azorius Tempo is an Archetype close to my heart – I just love it. I think it is one of the best “Enlightened Tutor”-Decks out there, since it can grab Back to Basics, Sword of Fire and Ice and Parallax Wave – a package of cards that couldn’t be more different and are all very impactful whether you are behind, ahead or just want to win (B2b). It also, unlike Jeskai, can play some of the strong “Double-White” Creatures early, like Precinct Captain, Knight of the White Orchid and Mirran Crusader and the “Tripple-Blue” Cryptic Command.Topplegeist is the best Flying Man ever printed and slides right into this Archetype. Azorius is able to turn on Delirium pretty easily (you are probably already playing Thought Scour and Mental Note for the 2 Delve Spells) and then Topplegeist is a 1-Mana Creature that is at least worth 2 Mana – that is how good it is. Tapping their biggest threat every turn is something Azorius Tempo thrives off – after all it is about pushing through damage in an efficient way. An even if Delirium is not turned on, a Flyer that acts as a sorcery “Tap your Blocker” still carries its weight. Love this card and it makes me excited to go back to Azorius Skies. Rattlechains has an ability that is not relevant when it comes to the question “Are we including this in Azorius Skies?” It gives Spirits Hexproof when it enters the Battlefield, which is nice and maybe relevant in every other game, but we include it solely because of its 2-Mana 2/1 Flash Flying Stats. That’s good enough to warrant an inclusion – we want Evasion, we want Flash, we are fine with 2 Power for 2 – and when my Rattlechains once in a while protects my Topplegeist I am even more ecstatic. Speaking of Spirits and Rattlechains’ Cornercase-Ability: Bygone Bishop is a card I can see in Azorius Skies. While 2 Power for 3 is not the best fit for a tempo deck, we get Flying and a very relevant Ability. 90% of the Creatures will trigger his ability and Clues guarantee that we are not running out of cards. I am not super confident about this card, but I think he is at least worth testing. Now to the 5 Mana Beater in Tempo!? Archangel Avacyn. Again this seems a little anti-synergistic – 5 Mana Creature in a Tempo Deck but it has “Flash” and its Enter the Battlefield Ability that gets better with more Creatures makes me think we could play this as the solely 5-Drop. I think some cards are so strong that they are a must-play even if they go against the decks nature a little bit.
I hope you enjoyed this article and I hope you have fun revisiting Archetypes with new Shadows over Innistrad cards.