Shadows Over Innistrad Set Review and Decklists, Pt. 1

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Last week I laid the groundwork for our Shadows Over Innistrad analysis, looking back on previous set releases throughout Modern’s history to get a better grasp of where our expectations should be going into the set. For those that missed it, you can catch up here.


In that article, I briefly discussed [tippy title="Arlinn Lord" width="330" height="330"]1_arlinn[/tippy], [tippy title="Declaration in Stone" width="330" height="330"]Declaration in Stone[/tippy], [tippy title="Thing in the Ice" width="330" height="330"]1_thing[/tippy], and [tippy title="Nahiri, the Harbinger" width="330" height="330"]1_nahiri[/tippy]. Today, we’ll be taking a deeper look through the 154 cards spoiled in Shadows Over Innistrad so far and looking at some speculative decklists! With Shadows coming out April 8th and a highly likely Eldrazi ban accompanying it, we’re looking at a double dose of shake-ups to the Modern status quo. Let’s get busy!


Olivia, Mobilized for War

I initially overlooked this card in my review last week, but upon second glance I think it “might” be worth a shot. [tippy title="Olivia, Mobilized for War" width="330" height="330"]oliviamobilizedforwar[/tippy] is definitely fragile, but that didn’t stop players from running Olivia Voldaren from time to time, and oliviamobilizedforwarshe even cost a full extra mana! As they share a name, it’s a natural starting point to compare the two versions together, but once you get past their shared pedigree the similarities disappear pretty rapidly.

Olivia Voldaren, as a 3/3 flyer for 2BR, wasn’t breaking any records as far as rate was concerned, yet her activated abilities more than made up for her relatively weak stats. The ability to both shoot down opposing x/1s (mana creatures, Lingering Souls, combining with Lightning Bolt to kill Deceiver Exarch) and steal creatures on a stalled board was the real reason she saw play. A nightmare for Pod decks in that era, Olivia Voldaren almost exclusively appeared as a one- or two-of in Jund lists, often in place of Huntmaster of the Fells // Ravager of the Fells. Where the player fell on the Huntmaster/Olivia spectrum depended entirely on the metagame, as Olivia was better against Lingering Souls/grindy creature decks and Huntmaster was better against blue decks and at stabilizing.

The power level of [tippy title="Olivia, Mobilized for War" width="330" height="330"]oliviamobilizedforwar[/tippy] depends entirely on the synergies we build around her. A 3/3 for 1BR is slightly less embarrassing, but still way under curve if we are not benefiting from her ability. As far as that trigger goes, there are two directions we can take her: Vampire Tribal, or Madness.

So, this list is almost assuredly trash. [tippy title="Olivia, Mobilized for War" width="330" height="330"]oliviamobilizedforwar[/tippy] is a solid aggressive card and great madness/hellbent enabler, except for the slight problem that there really aren’t any exciting madness/hellbent cards we really want to play. Infernal Tutor is probably the best reason to be hellbent, and once we are, what are we going to do? Infernal Tutor for Lightning Bolt? No thanks.

falkenrathgorgerWhat this list does do, however, is show us how far we can push the aggressive end of Olivia. [tippy title="Asylum Visitor" width="330" height="330"]Asylum Visitor temp[/tippy] is the best “hellbent” payoff I’ve seen, acting as a better Dark Confidant if we can just dump our hand. 17 one-drops helps with this, and being able to play eight Dark Confidant effects means one is more likely to stick.

[tippy title="Falkenrath Gorger" width="330" height="330"]falkenrathgorger[/tippy] is interesting, it turns all our Vampires into madness cards and when combined with [tippy title="Olivia, Mobilized for War" width="330" height="330"]oliviamobilizedforwar[/tippy] we can chain as many Vamps as we can afford onto the battlefield with haste and +1/+1. This seems cute, but imagine a turn sequence like this:

  • Turn 1: Stromkirk Noble
  • Turn 2: Thoughtseize, Vampire Lacerator, attack for 1 (or play a two-drop)
  • Turn 3: Olivia, attack for 4
  • Turn 4: Gorger (discard Visitor) madness in Visitor, discard and madness in another Vampire Lacerator, attack for 17 (3/3 Olivia, 3/3 Stromkirk, 3/2 Falkenrath, 3/2 Visitor, 3/3 Lacerator, 2/2 Lacerator)

That’s obviously nothing compared to what the Eldrazi are doing nowadays, but they aren’t long for this world and we might be looking at a landscape where Abzan Company is one of the best decks. Company is capable of fast turns, but often they are looking at awkward grips trying to make them work while we’re unloading haste creatures and refilling our hand. Plus, the above scenario didn’t factor in Bloodghast at all. Aside from Burning Inquiry, new Olivia is the best Bloodghast enabler I’ve seen in a while.

Speaking of Burning Inquiry, maybe it has a place in the above list, but I’m more excited to see what Olivia can do in a true value style deck.

Another experiment, this time combining some new cards with the old Griselbrand-Breach deck into more of a midrange amalgamation. Rather than do nothing until the combo (hopefully) works, this list plays a solid board-control/midrange game, buying time with Lingering Souls and digging through the deck with Burning Inquiry/Faithless Looting to eventually Goryo's Vengeance back a Griselbrand for a fair swing for seven and a new hand. What excites me about this list is how it can transform after board to be more all-in or remove combo elements entirely. It will be interesting to see where I am on the “enabler” spectrum, and if I really need all that dig or if I can start trimming some for removal/more discard, which will make this list look a lot better.

Thalia’s Lieutenant

This gal is pretty simple to evaluate: a 1/1 for 1W that anthems your Humans when she comes in to play. As if she was anticipating the “win-more” naysayers, she also grows with every Human you play after her. While she’s pretty one-dimensional and might not be good enough to hang with the hyper-synergies present in other linear aggressive decks like Affinity and Eldrazi, for some reason I like this lady. Maybe it’s the art, maybe it’s because she’s Human: there’s just something about this card that quietly whispers “Blue Collar Under-Appreciated American” that I can get behind. So, naturally, we’ll toss her into the most annoying, unfair deck we can find.

[tippy title="Thalia's Lieutenant" width="330" height="330"]thaliaslieutenant[/tippy] is a gigantic upgrade for Naya Blitz decks, pushing their aggressive draws even farther at its best, and acting as a slower Champion of the Parish at its worst. Really the only reason to play Humans over Affinity or Zoo is the Champion of the Parish draws with Burning-Tree Emissary and thaliaslieutenantMayor of Avabruck // Howlpack Alpha. [tippy title="Thalia's Lieutenant" width="330" height="330"]thaliaslieutenant[/tippy] gives the deck some much needed consistency and more power to boot. Now that we have enough solid Humans we can cut the Ghor-Clan Rampager/Boros Charm combo that was always a little too awkward and focus on doing what we do best: attacking.

Kytheon, Hero of Akros // Gideon, Battle-Forged was deemed “not good enough” the first time around, but if we’re buffing even 2-3 Humans on average with [tippy title="Thalia's Lieutenant" width="330" height="330"]thaliaslieutenant[/tippy] then all those one drops start to look a lot better. Plus, with battle cry triggers, Kytheon would let us run headfirst into Tarmogoyf and the like with impunity. As anyone who has played this deck knows, Naya Blitz players love their impunity. Keep an eye on this one. Barring any major spoilers I’ll more than likely be battling with this immediately post-ban.

Traverse the Ulvenwald

This is the type of card that almost gets there on rate alone, but can be busted wide open with the right synergies. In Modern, we know from traversetheulvenwaldTarmogoyf experience it’s relatively easy to activate Delerium, but once we do, what are we looking for? We’re never trading a card for a basic land, so the failstate here is useless, and though searching up creature bullets is fine, I wonder if it’s really worth it? Sure, being able to grab Spellskite against Infect is decent, but is it worth taking up a sideboard slot that could have just been another Spellskite? In matches where we need that bullet creature, it's not like we can cash in the tutor for something "normal." We're almost always just getting that creature, so we might as well play an extra copy of it in our board. In “normal” decks, is playing Traverse really that much better than just an extra copy of whatever you were looking for? What I mean by "normal" is archetypes that might play one toolbox creature (such as that Spellskite), not an archetype that has a multitude of options at its disposal.

By that, I mean Abzan Company. Assuming we can activate delirium (we’ll get to that) being able to immediately search up any combo piece rather than “oops-ing” into it with Collected Company seems insane, and is worth taking a look at. We do have Chord of Calling, but the difference between G and XGGG with a board of creatures is huge. Yes, with Chord you can opponent-end step the spell, but wouldn’t it be so much better to just main-phase your tutor the turn before (or turn of!) rather than having to wait?

Here, it really comes down to whether we can afford to play non-creature spells to afford [tippy title="Traverse the Ulvenwald" width="330" height="330"]traversetheulvenwald[/tippy]. But that pulls us away from Collected Company. I’m not entirely sure what the answer to this question is, as a Traverse Abzan combo deck would probably look a lot different than a traditional Collected Company list, but it’s worth exploring. It is possible that the answer involves incorporating [tippy title="Traverse the Ulvenwald" width="330" height="330"]traversetheulvenwald[/tippy] into the Spike Feeder combo deck, as that combo can’t be helped by Collected Company anyways. I'm thinking something along the lines of Matthew Rogers' Pro Tour list, but with some more removal and Traverse added. I'll be tinkering with this and should have a decklist soon after release: let me know if you plan on working on this as well!

Shadows Lands

The new Check-Lands cycle seems interesting with shocklands and what-not, and is definitely more powerful than the battle-land cycle (for Modern at least). Even so, I’m not sure if they will quite get there.


In three color decks, manabases contain more fetchlands than actual lands, which means even with a land in hand these guys still might fail and come in tapped. In addition, low land counts mean any land past the third isn’t a guarantee, so if we’re expecting to play this in the first three turns than why aren’t we just playing fastlands? I would rate them behind the Scars of Mirrodin fastlands in terms of playability, and those only see minor play in a few archetypes.


We're a little over halfway through the set and we already have a lot to talk about. The four-mana planeswalkers will definitely not make the transition into Modern, but the set contains enough oddities and unique effects that I imagine we’ll see at least one (or more) of them pop up, at least for a while. Currently, we have no breakout Snapcaster Mages, Liliana of the Veils, or Geist of Saint Trafts to discuss, but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t get one in the full spoiler. As you’re reading this, the full spoiler should be out tomorrow, so here’s me crossing my fingers from the past that one of the Big Three gets reprinted. Or, something else flashy gets printed between now and publication that we can talk about next week. Until then, good look brewing and let me know in the comments what you find out! (And how bad my lists are...)

Thanks for reading!

Trevor Holmes
The_Architect on MTGO

13 thoughts on “Shadows Over Innistrad Set Review and Decklists, Pt. 1

  1. Trevor, please, we won’t see reprint of any of the Three. Liliana is just busted and we have enough planeswalkers in set already. Snapcaster contains keyword that’s not used in mechanics this time around. Geist won’t appear either, there’s already it’s enchantment thrown at us.

  2. I think the Vampire tribal aggro list is lacking the consistent pump that an archetype of this nature needs to be successful. Olivia requires madness enablers in order to be successful, and any other scenario leaves you stuck attacking with weenies that are easy to fight off (not to mention that Olivia herself is soft to Bolt). If she is to be successful, I think it will be in more of a combo shell (preferably one that can take advantage of her immediately or has the means to protect her), because she doesn’t play nice with the typical aggro deck requirements of a 3-drop.

    That Humans deck, on the other hand, is quite intriguing. I don’t really like Boros Elite, but everything else in the mainboard looks downight tasty.

    1. Roland,

      I see your concerns and I believe you are right, the Vampire deck definitely needs a lot of work but I think we are not “there yet” as far as Vampire tribal is concerned.

      As for the Humans deck, I can’t wait for this set to come out online, grabbing the rest of the 75 now. It’s gonna be insane!

    1. Sure, but we’re only ever playing 2-3 Gurmag Angler costed threats. Every other time, Sin Prodder will just be a 3/2 Menace for 3 that pings our opponent for 0-3 damage (think about this guy flipping lands). Opponent’s will always choose to take a couple damage over giving us a free card (which would probably threaten to do more than that amount of damage anyways). Maybe I’m missing something but I don’t think this guy is good at all.

      Asylum Visitor is interesting, it won’t fit in every black deck though. 8 Rack and other combo lists that have us going hellbent is where it’s at, or maybe a low to the ground Jund aggro list that just wants four Bobs. Much more interested to see how this guy plays.

  3. I haven’t tested, but I think that Delirium will be harder to reach than most people think. I think that this comes from tarmogoyf “usually” beeing a 4/5. as a jund player my impression is that goyf is a 4/5 most of the time because I kill or discard one of my opponents creatures, but Delirium only cares about your own graveyard.

    1. I can understand that, most of Goyf’s power comes from Thoughtseizing a creature or something in the first couple turns. Delirium might be harder to activate than I thought (though there is the Thought Scour decks…)

      1. Yeah, Delirium buffs Thought Scour but also buffs grave hate in sb. It’s an interesting balance.

        I ended up swapping my grixis control list back to running Thought Scour because of delirium, and it’s pretty great. Almost makes it worth the weakness to grave hate. However, I’m swapping over to infect since I got a great deal on the legacy pieces.

    1. Four mana is a lot of mana, and most of the Human one-drops are pretty underwhelming. With Company, you want combo synergies, or grabbing two 3 three drops for “cheap”.

      Possible, but I don’t think so.

  4. Gotta say,
    Good job on making a basic outline for the Humans deck. Slowly building mine up with more SOI goodies. I am just trying to figure out if I want Naya or GW. Now is there talk of a more inclusive deck list involving the tribe? Right now still testing but also compiling.

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