Insider: Shadow Lands and the Waning Spoiler Season

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Last week I made the mistake of trusting an alleged number crunch that suggested there could be no five card land cycle in Shadows over Innistrad. I apologize for accepting what was clearly false as canon. As you all know by now, we have a full cycle of allied shadow lands.


As I mentioned in my review of the lands, they play rather awkwardly with battle lands. When it comes to two-color allied decks, just playing the full eight is an easy choice to make sure you get your colors, though the sequencing is awkward to make sure your lands come into play untapped on the proper turns---not to mention that shadow lands off the top are just tapped lands.

Even with access to another cycle of allied lands, building three-color "shard" decks with good mana is proving difficult. If you start with the full four battle and shadow lands of both allied pairs you have already eaten 16 land spaces and have two colors with only eight sources in the deck.

Tossing a set of painlands or creature lands into the fold cleans up the mana a little bit, though suddenly playing a battle land or shadow land untapped is looking unlikely, with only four to six more slots for basics. Another option is Evolving Wilds, though it doesn't help with the awkwardness of the shadow lands in a deck that wants quite a lot of non-basics.

Realistically, I'm thinking that allied three-color decks are mostly going to be splashing the third color. An allied three-color deck might be possible, though enemy manabases look much more promising.

With an enemy manabase you get to start with eight painlands if you so choose. Not always the most forgiving manabase, though there's a lot to be said for casting your spells on time. The next givens are a set of Evolving Wilds, which leaves you with eight sources of the allied pair in your wedge and twelve sources of your base color using only twelve land slots.

Adding four of an allied land and three of each basic, you end up with 25 lands and 15 sources of each color. You can replace some painlands with creature lands, play with some number of basics and even add another allied land or two from here as well.

The numbers just end up working more cleanly here with lands that make casting your spells on time easier. I'm sure Frank Karsten will end up with a sweet statistical breakdown of how to build these manabases, though this surface level analysis is a solid baseline.

So here's an interesting question. If you want to build a wedge manabase, do you bias your mana towards more battle lands or more shadow lands? I believe the answer is battle lands, and that it's not close.

Shadow lands coming in tapped off the top of the deck is a problem, and I also think Evolving Wilds is just going to be a huge part of these manabases. Wilds not only doesn't reveal to a shadow land, but also means you're more likely to have the requisite two basics to make your battle land come in untapped. Just one more reason to be buying into battle lands. If you've been watching these lands, they're already on the rise.

While two-color decks are totally serviceable, the reason I'm interested in three-color decks is of course to jam as many excellent cards into the same shell as possible. People will undoubtedly be working to play Reflector Mage and Collected Company in the same deck, though there are plenty of other "good stuff" packages worth exploring.

Given the information we have revealed right now, I want to find a way to play Archangel Avacyn with this package:

Nothing fancy here. No desire to use Jace to enable madness. Just a mishmash of very powerful spells to test the waters. While the supporting cast isn't entirely clear until we both have the full spoiler and know exactly what kind of answers we want for the format, it's good to at least know that we can play something close to this:

As I said, the numbers are rough, but the idea is clear and it will be easy to move things around. There is a shell for great removal, an amazing planeswalker suite, some good tempo spells, and the mana is acceptable. As I build decks going forward, it will be important to assess whether these decks can beat all of these great spells, and also whether they combine to be even comparable to a shell like this.

The biggest draw to this shell, and indeed the most important test for this format, is the ability to either cast your own Gideons or get out in front of opposing ones. Collected Company could still give Gideon a run for its money, though now that that mana isn't good enough and the namesake card from Four-Color Rally is gone, I fully expect Gideon to see a massive resurgence.

The more I see from the spoiler, the more confident I get in this position. It's unclear just what kind of heights Gideon can hit being from an Expedition set, though the fact that it has barely ever dipped below $20 is a good sign that it will be able to increase in value as it sees more play. I'd be amazed if Gideon didn't at least break $30 in the coming months.

The power level of Gideon is one of the reasons I think a particular spoiler from Shadows over Innistrad is undervalued. I wrote a piece on the free side about Goldnight Castigator in which I explained how Castigator will definitely be a maindeck or sideboard card for red decks, and the only question is which will be the case. Given that Castigator comes in and wrecks Gideon the turn that it comes down, it's possible that Castigator is excellently positioned to shine in Shadows Standard.


The drawback on this card is clearly something that must be taken seriously, though four is a very high number for evasive haste damage, and tanking Gideon is likely to matter a lot. This card is pre-ordering for around $5, and I'm confident in picking up a few sets. A good aggressive red deck or even a Boros deck featuring Gideons of its own would be looking for some good filler from the rest of Shadows, though there is still plenty of set left to see.

Other than that most of the set seems to be properly valued or overvalued---and there's no shortage of cards that are overvalued. A potential breakout card as pointed out by Jim Davis is Traverse the Ulvenwald. Is delirium easily achievable? I believe it is with Vessel of Nascency.

vesselofnascency traversetheulvenwald

A Worldly Tutor that puts the creature directly into your hand with the utility of fixing your mana in the early game adds an insane amount of consistency to a deck. Whether this is better than just jamming Collected Company is unclear, though the incentive is real. As Jim Davis points out, this is a tremendous boon to the ramp deck as well.

These are currently pre-ordering in the $2-3 range, which for a regular rare is a bit on the risky side. Given the buy-in here, I don't like buying more than two sets, but this card could easily end up as a $6-8 card if there are one or two decks that jam it as a four-of---which I can easily see happening in the form of ramp and delirium.


There's still a lot to see with regard to Shadows over Innistrad, though we'll have the full spoiler soon. There are likely to be synergistic pieces for decks revealed as of yet, though most of the big reveals are out of the way. At this time I'm still convinced that Avacyn is a reasonable buy at $25, though unfortunately there's not much in the way of sleepers.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan Overturf
@RyanOverdrive on Twitter

One thought on “Insider: Shadow Lands and the Waning Spoiler Season

  1. Traverse the Ulvenwald might actually be better in eternal formats where it’s easier to trigger Delirium due to them being more spell-based formats with fetchlands legal.

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