Has anyone else noticed the power creep in Standard? It's not just the singular powerful cards like Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound or the aggressively undercosted Eldrazi. It seems like the average power of even the mid-level cards is increasing.
Remember what bulk rares used to look like? They were garbage cards that had basically no playability outside of Limited and sometimes not even then. Today’s bulk rares are sweet Commander cards or fringe-playable Standard cards. It’s rare that we see a truly unplayable card like we used to. Now we get all the good cards.
Additionally, we are seeing more playable cards for constructed formats in each set. Not only do we have a tier one deck, but we have enough awesome cards for multiple tier one decks. The average player can pick up someone’s Standard deck and have a reasonable chance of beating anyone at their FNM simply due to the inherent power level of the cards in every deck.
No longer are you required to scrounge for medium cards to round out decks. Rather you must decide which great cards will make the cut. You have so many great choices but you have to narrow them down into one deck. This takes some skill, but leaving every deck super powered has flaws as well.
Today we will focus on all the wonderful new options available in the removal department. Shadows over Innistrad (SOI) places some incredible new tools at our disposal. The shed is bursting open with different ways to disrupt your opponent.
This thorough list from SOI includes many of the set's best cards. I’ve broken the cards down by color so let’s sort through the tool box for the best options.
Declaration in Stone
This new sorcery is a cheaper version of Maelstrom Pulse that targets creatures. Not only that but it deals with indestructible creatures as well! You can freely remove every Gideon, Ally of Zendikar or Nissa, Voice of Zendikar creature token with no repercussions. There is a drawback for other creatures but how much of a drawback is it?
So, in order to get this amazing rate on Declaration in Stone, we have to give our opponent a clue token most of the time. Sweeping all of the same token isn’t insignificant though and the fact that you can do so with no downside is quite relevant. Letting our opponent draw an extra card is definitely potent, but how good is it going to be? Let’s do some comparisons.
Starting off, we need to think about how quickly we will be killing our opponent. For instance, if we can kill them on turn four or five, giving them a clue token is likely irrelevant because they won’t have time to utilize it.
If we aren’t killing them until turn ten though, like in a control deck, that clue token starts looking like more of a downside. Even so, having a removal spell that hits any targetable creature isn’t something we see these days. We live in a world where most removal spells narrowly deal with a specific niche of threats.
Declaration in Stone reminds me more of Thought-Knot Seer. Instead of ripping a card out of their hand, you allow them to spend their resources putting the card into play. Then later, they get a new random card. With Thought-Knot, they have to find a way to kill it and that takes mana and a card. Declaration is slightly less difficult because they only need to take time and spend two mana.
In the end, just like Path to Exile, I think Declaration in Stone will see tons of play in Standard. We will find that this drawback is an acceptable cost to pay to remove any threat.
Sitting around $4 is where I would expect this to be, but I think we'll likely see a typical dip in price after release. Should that happen, I think this card is a good investment. If it becomes the premium removal spell I expect it to, then it should crest over that $4 mark. This is a great spell to trade into and you will definitely want a playset for yourself.
I wanted to mention the Puncturing Light reprint to highlight the difference between cards like this and Declaration in Stone.
Cards like this, Silkwrap, or Immolating Glare are what we are used to from cheap white removal spells. The Swords to Plowshares type removal spells that I am lumping Declaration in with are the exception. I doubt Puncturing Light will see any play, but as a comparison it helps us shed some light on the situation.
Although it would be easy to compare this to a weaker version of Declaration, I included it here for its Disenchant abilities. Can you tell I think highly of Declaration yet? With how narrow our removal spells are becoming, Disenchant effects have definitely taken a hit. These spells for two mana aren’t the norm anymore.
Instead though, what we get with Angelic Purge is versatility. It’s unlikely that we would play this over a better removal spell, but having the ability for your sideboard answer to also hit a creature is something we don’t typically get either. If you are looking for a Naturalize effect, consider Angelic Purge for some sideboard slots.
Descend upon the Sinful
As an aggro player, I love that Wrath of God cards are taking a step down in power level. No longer do we have to worry about losing the game on turn four when our field is wiped. Instead, we have to play around more expensive sweepers that have added bonuses.
Descend upon the Sinful is unlikely to see much play. For a six-mana sweeper though, it does provide a huge boon if you have delirium. Cards like this create the option for a control deck with this as its only win condition. I expect this to be infrequently played but you may see them as a one- or two-of in a control shell.
Unload this mythic ASAP. Try to get your $3 out of it and get them for half that later if you happen to need them.
Lastly we have the most iconic card of the set, Archangel Avacyn // Avacyn, the Purifier. While this dark angel isn’t a traditional removal spell, I suspect that more of my creatures will die to flashed-in Avacyns than most other removal spells in the set.
There is no hiding her power level here. Avacyn should be one of the most played removal spells in the set. Her flip side could be absent from the card and she would still be in my Top 10 list for this set. With her double-sided awesomeness, she pushes the boundaries of what five mana means for a Magic card.
Regardless, if your plains-wielding opponent has five open mana, you will need to respect Avacyn. She will be there lurking in a wide variety of decks.
In our vampire and werewolf set, we get some new counters to add to our repertoire. Many players interested in Modern have noted Invasive Surgery as a potential powerhouse. It could also see play in Legacy as a better version of Envelop. This gives us potential to make some money on foils of the card, so keep your eyes open for them.
As far as Standard goes though, the format would have to shape up very strangely in order for this card to see play.
We also have another version of Cancel in Broken Concentration as well as an expensive counter that could see play with Confirm Suspicions. These are good to be aware of but they shouldn’t direct the flow of the format much at all.
Where blue will have the most impact from a removal standpoint is with some good bounce spells. Press for Answers may be good enough as a pseudo-Repulse, but the real winner is Just the Wind. My initial impression of this card is that it might be played in every blue deck.
If you are playing blue in Standard, most likely you are utilizing the most powerful Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Just the Wind is the perfect pair to that planeswalker. So many spells are great with Jace but Just the Wind is certainly near the top of the list. I mentioned in my article a couple weeks ago that he may be on his way up in price again and considering how Shadows is turning out I think that outcome is likely.
Jace, Unraveler of Secrets
Last up we have second place Jace, Unraveler of Secrets. He may be taking a back seat right now, but his abilities pair well together so that could lead to some minor play. Where I think he will find more success is after the next rotation when we don’t have a broken Jace competing with him for deck space.
Even so, I think we could see a 4/1 or 4/2 split to jam more Jaces into your deck. At five mana bouncing a creature may be too slow but being able to protect itself it one of the key elements of a good planeswalker.
One-mana removal spells tend to be powerful just because of how cheap they are. With delirium though, this already decent kill spell turns into an enabler for other cards in your deck.
Most decks will have a target for this enchantment, but even bigger creatures are less threatening when they shrink. In addition, putting it in your graveyard to help other cards is just fine as well. Overall, Dead Weight should see tons of play taking out all manner of aggressive creatures.
Biting Rain & Murderous Compulsion
Both Murderous Compulsion and Biting Rain are decent on their own, but adding madness to these decent removal spells increases their power. Murderous Compulsion is a strict upgrade to Assassinate and even Death Stroke. You have a much better mana cost, but the real upgrade is the ability to cast it as an instant when you use the madness ability.
The same goes for Biting Rain. This time around madness looks like it will work its way into multiple decks.
Initially when I read this card it seemed like there was a lot of text and it was filled with many drawbacks. When you pair it with madness cards though it starts to seem more like an enabler instead of a card with a list of downsides.
I love the fact that Sinister Concoction kills any creature too. If you were thinking about playing Grasp of Darkness, you may want to replace it with a better Concoction or at least play a split of the two cards.
To the Slaughter
The best removal spell in the set has one of the worst names. To the Slaughter strikes me more as a phrase than a name. That aside, this card is either scary or underpowered. I wouldn’t go building every black deck with this card, but if you can enable delirium you will definitely be leading your opponent To the Slaughter.
Living in a magical world of kill your worst guy plus your planeswalker wins so many theoretical games. It will be hard to sequence with this removal spell though. You may have the urge to play it on turn three, and that may be necessary, but it will be much better in the mid or late game once you have a bunch of cards in your graveyard.
Because of this delicate balance, I don’t think we'll see four copies of this spell in a deck. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it drop under its meager $3 price tag.
A final note on black's removal suite. I found it interesting that there weren't any reasonable ways to interact with your opponent's hand in this set. There are other tools available in Standard, but surprisingly none from Shadows.
Avacyn's Judgment & Burn from Within
I’m always surprised when a set contains two similar cards like Avacyn's Judgment and Burn from Within. Theoretically Burn from Within is great because it rids you of problematic indestructible creatures, but unless that is a primary issue, you will probably look to Avacyn’s Judgment for this type of card.
I like this as a two-mana spell or a sweet late game spell to trigger with madness. Your red Madness deck should definitely consider Avacyn’s Judgment as a versatile tool to utilize.
Lightning Axe should kill most threats in Standard and it gives you a great madness outlet. It didn’t see any play last time it was printed but this reprint gives you another great option.
This is a perfect example of a card that may not be played in lots of decks but having it as another option for removal isn’t something we’ve been used to in the past. There are so many options for your deck that you can change up your list from week to week to adapt to how the metagame is evolving.
Madness Lightning Bolt. This is another spell that was glossed over with both of its other printings, but not this time. Every deck would love to play Bolt and players will find madness outlets so they can cast this spell.
Dual Shot & Geistblast
Finally, red gets a couple of interesting cards that may sit on the bench in this format but they are intriguing nonetheless. Geistblast is a slow shock that rewards you in the late game and Dual Shot is a new version of Forked Bolt. Neither of these spells are going to warp the format, but they might grab a sideboard spot or two.
There was a long time in my Magic history when I wished for Plummet. I advocated for that card being printed long before it saw the ink of a real set. Now, we have another option for that slot with Clip Wings.
Options are great and there is an interesting dynamic between these two green spells that kill flyers. Standard seems like a format that might want both of these removal spells. There seem to be many decent flyers that will be impactful.
I’m not convinced that we need a playable Naturalize, but Root Out gives you a clue token for just one extra mana. Granted it is a sorcery but that’s not too much of an issue. If artifacts or enchantments become problematic, look to Root Out the problem.
Green also gets ways to fight. We have an option to use any of our creatures to fight or team up with our werewolves to take out a larger threat.
It’s likely that neither Moonlight Hunt nor Rabid Bite will see play because killing your creature in response to a fight spell like this is too much of a blowout to come back from. Being aware they exist is important, but it’s more likely that you would play Dromoka's Command than either of these spells.
Vindicate 2.0 seems great except that many players won’t be playing both black and white mana. Anguished Unmaking suffers from a poor name but it gets to be an instant which is a huge upgrade. You may lose three life, but that’s worth dealing with any problematic non-land permanent.
I don’t like the mana cost in this format, but it may not prove to be as much of a downside as it initially seems. Now all the Cube owners need to decide whether they will replace their Vindicate or add a Vindicate variant to their cube.
This version I chose to show is the Game Day Top 8 promo and those should fetch a decent amount of money. Trade into those if at all possible. If Anguished Unmaking starts seeing a ton of play I think it may go up in price, but it should go down first so you have time to get copies of the card.
Sorin, Grim Nemesis
I find it interesting that all of the planeswalkers in SOI have some type of removal built into their abilities. Sorin, Grim Nemesis lines up similarly to Chandra, Flamecaller except as a single target rather than a sweeper.
His starting loyalty of 6 is impressive as well. If you use the plus ability to draw a card and deal your opponent some damage he can have 7 loyalty on the first turn. That can be tough to deal with for any player.
I like this planeswalker a lot but his mana cost will hold him back. Wizards is giving us good reasons to play six-mana planeswalkers. Both Sorin and Chandra are great example of this. Elspeth, Sun's Champion isn’t an anomaly any longer but rather a comparison tool.
I wouldn’t buy in on Sorin yet though. As with all the walkers in the set, they are inflated right now and should descend after release.
Red-green has been one of my favorite color combinations since I first started playing. My biggest dilemma in my Cube is what Gruul cards to include because there are so many I love. Arlinn Kord // Arlinn, Embraced by the Moon seems like it will fall into that category as well. This planeswalker has everything I love about this game wrapped into one amazing shell.
One card that can make creatures, kill creatures, and pump your team seems too good to be true. Maybe the low loyalty will hold this card back from greatness, but with so many great abilities paired together, it’s hard to go wrong.
We will need to find Arlinn at least one home in Standard, but the card is so potent that shouldn’t be an issue. We may need to reevaluate the red and green cards based on how they play with this great card. You may only be able to use this as removal every other turn but skillfully using the abilities should win many games.
As great as the card is, though, it should still come down in price. Look to scoop them after the inevitable drop from hyped preorder prices.
Nahiri, the Harbinger
One of my favorite cards in the set may surprise you. I think as time passes, we will come to understand how powerful Nahiri, the Harbinger really is.
Earlier I mentioned Murderous Compulsion and this planeswalker is another version of that spell. The difference is that it’s a permanent that sticks around before or after executing that ability. She is good on an open board or a cluttered one and I think she will show much more potential than her critics give her credit for.
I love that Nihiri is in this set. She is such a cool character and her abilities are great also. For me, this card is a definite win on many axes.
Well that’s all for me this week. As you can see, there is a ton of removal in Shadows over Innistrad. You have a plethora of options to build with from this set alone. Let me know in the comments if you enjoyed this approach to reviewing a set. We looked at many cards in the set through the lens of the removal they offer as well as the what their financial future might look like.
Until next time,
Unleash the Shadow Force!
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