It's time again for the Top 10 of Shadows over Innistrad (SOI)! What follows are my picks for the biggest Constructed cards from the new set, the ones I see defining Standard (or other formats) for the next year to come. I'll explain why I chose them and what I see in their financial future.
As always, I'll start with the honorable mentions that didn't quite make the list proper. Without further ado...
Shadows has a ton of late-game threats and I’ve been impressed by almost all of them. Goldnight Castigator is the one that has seemed lackluster. Your opponent can often kill you on their turn due to the double damage drawback. With such a huge liability against even a modest board, I think the card isn't worth it most of the time.
The other cards like Sorin, Grim Nemesis, The Gitrog Monster, and Sigarda, Host of Herons have been great so far. They only fill a small niche though, which makes them fall out of contention for the Top 10 cards in the set.
Sorin sometimes has a tough time keeping up with all the threats on the board and you need a strong presence to keep him defended. If those things happen, Sorin can have a huge impact on a game while dealing your opponent tons of damage.
I need to see more Gitrog Monsters in play to make a better judgment on that one, but I think it will be a solid inclusion in many cases.
Sigarda, finally, is a huge bomb. The problem is you probably only want one in your deck and she’s only going to be good in the very late game. Great sideboard card against control but not one I’d be excited to play a lot of copies of.
Financial Takeaway: Of these finishers the only one I would try to get my hands on is Goldnight Castigator. I think picking up a play set under $20 could net huge rewards if a burn style deck takes off in Standard. This is minimal risk with potentially high reward.
The rest of the cards in this section have the wrong trajectory. It would take a lot for any of these cards to increase in value, so trade them into other staples.
The removal is great in this set. There is so much of it that I even wrote a whole article about it last week! Nahiri, the Harbinger, To the Slaughter, and Anguished Unmaking are all great cards in this category. My favorite of these so far has been Nahiri.
They are, however, situational. At first glance it might appear like Anguished Unmaking doesn't fit this description, but that life loss is a real thing. Three life for each removal spell will add up quickly against an aggressive deck.
Hitting any nonland permanent is not something we've seen much of though, and that makes Anguished Unmaking an important tool. If aggressive decks are forced out of the format, then we could see this spell take a more prominent role.
Financial Takeaway: As with most of the honorable mention finishers, I think the typical downward trend of most cards from their presale prices will apply to these cards as well. We may see them getting played in Standard, but I don't think their price will grow despite minor amounts of play.
My favorite part of Innistrad is the flavor of the world. So far Limited has been a tremendous amount of fun with games that are fresh and interesting. So many of the creatures are cool and unique, and this translates to Constructed as well.
Deathcap Cultivator is great but its power relies on green and black being good because otherwise we could just play Leaf Gilder. Sometimes Cultivator will have deathtouch but I don’t think we can rely on that frequently, making it more like a solid uncommon than a rare.
Prized Amalgam seems great but it has been taxing trying to decipher how best to use it. My gut says that someone will figure this out and we will all be scrambling to pick up copies. Do yourself a favor and grab a sub-$5 playset or two in case someone breaks it.
Diregraf Colossus is one of my favorite cards in the set. This does everything I want in an aggressive tribal creature. The problem is that the zombie tribe is weak right now. Even when we get more zombies in the following set, a lot of things have to go right for this card to make a big impact.
Drownyard Temple provides an interesting effect on a game. I’ve been trying to figure out whether this effect is amazing or underwhelming. Honestly I’ve been on both sides of this topic so I don’t know which it is.
Being able to discard this land and later play it from your graveyard is something we’ve never seen before. Weird cards like this tend to spike drastically if they do spike.
I’m being cautious in pricing with this land. My starting price for this card is low, as is the buy price. You can always increase your effort to obtain cards, but you can’t unbuy a card you overpaid on. This is one of my cards to watch in this set though, so keep your eye on it too.
We’re almost to the Top 10 and Mindwrack Demon nearly made the list. This threat is cheap for the effect it can have on the game. As one of the only self-mill cards in the set, it has a chance to really impact the format as well.
Financial Takeaway: The "synergistic creatures" above, along with Mindwrack Demon, are some of the cards with the most potential for gains out of Shadows. Much of their price future depends on seeing play in older formats as well as in Standard, but if they become staples, they could double up after success at a big event.
Deathcap Cultivator may look unassuming when compared to Rattleclaw Mystic, but that card was also the Buy-a-Box promo which held the price in check. Deathcap is currently about the same price as Rattleclaw's peak, but it doesn't have the same limiting factor. Pick up a cheap playset and sit on this sleeper until it breaks through.
Top 10 Shadows Over Innistrad Cards
10. Arlinn Kord
Look a planeswalker on the Top 10 list! I know this isn’t a surprising move but putting Arlinn Kord // Arlinn, Embraced by the Moon at number ten might be. From playing with this planeswalker, which happens to be my favorite color combination, I haven't been blown away by the power level. I’m not saying Arlinn Kord // Arlinn, Embraced by the Moon is bad but it’s worse than my initial impression indicated.
I think the main problem is that the starting loyalty is so low. It’s easy for your opponent to attack and kill this planeswalker though a single wolf token. As a result I don’t think you can run this in a midrange or ramp deck because it will lack protection.
My initial testing suggests she would be best in an aggressive deck where you're pressuring your opponent. This makes it harder for them to attack her for fear of the counterswing, and allows us to take advantage of the plus abilities. Unfortunately I'm not sure the cards in the format are suited to building this type of strategy.
Pairing her with other planeswalkers that make creatures is another possible avenue. Making a plant army with Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and then pumping them every turn with Arlinn seems like a shell I’d be excited to build around.
Arlinn may not be the epic card we were expecting, but I think it can still be a solid role player. She also has absolutely amazing flavor as a werewolf planeswalker that transforms at will. She'll probably command some casual pedigree in the future.
Financial Takeaway: Sell, sell, sell on this one. I expect the price to drop quickly before the Pro Tour. She may be a flip card mythic but that won't help the price hold where it is.
9. Jace, Unraveler of Secrets
Here I was all set to tell you how we got a huge downgrade on our Jace and we were back to his normal power level. This time though, Jace is sticking his nose into everyone else’s business and we will take notice. After playing with and against the newest version in a long lineage of Jaces I have concluded it is one of the best cards in the set.
When we look at this card we probably focus on the fact that he costs five mana. That seems to be the worst number these days. Wizards has figured out how to create six-mana planeswalkers that can win you the game, but they haven’t translated that knowledge into the five-mana slot yet. Four mana is usually the sweet spot between efficiency and power but five is just an awkward spot that is hard to nail down.
Let’s break down his abilities. Jace, Unraveler of Secrets has a +1 to scry 1, then draw a card, and a -2 to bounce a creature. He also has an ultimate that basically wins you the game by all but locking your opponent out of playing spells.
Both the +1 and -2 are relevant and powerful abilities. They are also normal things you would want to do over the course of the game in basically any deck. Many times we see planeswalkers with interesting and hard-to-evaluate abilities, like Arlinn Kord, where we have to figure out if they're good or not. With Jace, the two abilities are obviously good. We want to draw extra cards and scry, and bouncing creatures not only protects him but also helps slow down your opponent and get to a better board position.
That five mana could be a sticking point, but imagine for a second he cost just four. This Jace has an ability that nets you a card with selection, an ability that bounces a creature, and an ultimate that's basically game over. Sound familiar?
That's right, he has the same ability set as the big man himself, Jace the Mind Sculptor. The difference is a mere mana (along with that random fourth ability tacked on for no reason).
When you think about him in that light, Jace, Unraveler of Secrets seems a lot better. He's basically a more balanced, five-mana version of the powerhouse from Worldwake. Clearly the power level difference is large. But you can downgrade JTMS quite a lot and still end up with a good Magic card. He even gets a higher loyalty to make him a little harder to kill.
I think this Jace will see tons of play in Standard. Maybe even in addition to Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound, but at the very least as a replacement when he leaves the format.
Fincancial Takeaway: At $17 I don’t like this card as an investment unless you're planning to play it right away. Once it drops closer to the $10 range though, I would start picking up copies. If the price sticks around its presale amount for over a month though, no dip is coming and you should close in on finding your copies.
8. Relentless Dead
I spent a lot of time thinking Relentless Dead wouldn’t be good because there are too many exile effects in Standard and because it won't have a home right away. Once I honed in on the actual card, I found myself thinking highly of it. Hopefully this is a plant for more sweet zombie friends to join the format down the road. We could also see a black-based deck without a heavy zombie them that utilizes Relentless Dead.
On its own, we have a bear of a threat on our hands. This isn’t your typical two-mana 2/2. Relentless Dead is a nuisance with three relevant abilities.
The first, menace, gives us some important evasion. Menace can be difficult to deal with because even if they have two blockers you can always use a removal spell on one to attack past the lone remaining defender. Menace is a newer kind of evasion and I don’t think we're giving it enough credit yet.
The second and third abilities both generate card advantage. If your zombie dies, you can return it to your hand. You may have to decide if that's better than getting back another zombie from your graveyard to play. This may depend on how much mana you have available, but if you get to use either of these abilities the game should go well for you.
In order for these abilities to be effective, you need to keep mana ready. I’m not sure how easy that will be. In a perfect world, you will always have mana to use either ability but the truth is you'll often need those resources for other things. That means Relentless Dead will be very skill-intensive to play correctly.
Financial Takeaway: With no immediate horde for this zombie to run alongside, I expect its price to halve within the first month. If someone finds a place for him, then he could stay with his current crazy price tag of almost $20.
7. Olivia, Mobilized for War
Olivia mobilized for war alongside the vampire army, and they flew hastily into battle. Most players have been thinking about Olivia only in the context of her vampire tribe. Remember though, there is no barrier to playing her in other decks. Once we break free from the tribal wars that have chained our minds, there will be so many other possibilities for her.
Olivia is the leader of any army you give her and she will show the other creatures how to Reckless Charge across the battlefield. You probably can't haste up everything, but a few timely haste threats with a permanent +1/+1 should be enough to get the job done. She also provides a wonderful madness outlet.
Olivia, Mobilized for War is a great threat no matter which red and black creature deck you are playing. I’m sure whatever version of Vampires turns out to be the best will contain this vampire leader, but I think there is room in Standard for more than one deck with Olivia. There could be a red-black midrange deck, or maybe Jund or Mardu will make a comeback. Unlike Relentless Dead, Olivia is a lot easier to build around and can go in a lot of shells.
Financial Takeaway: With multiple possible decks for her to synergize with immediately, I think $14 is a fine price to pick Olivia up at if you need her. I wouldn't be surprised to see her dip a little and then regain those losses. She may even crest her presale price if one of her decks is strong enough.
6. Shadow Lands
Many players are skeptical about our newest mana fixers in Standard, but I’m thrilled about these shadow lands. Personally, I like that the mana will be worse than last season. When the mana isn’t that amazing it creates interesting constraints for deck building.
The shadow lands may not be as good as the cycle of fast lands like Copperline Gorge, but most of the time they seem the same. If you had a negative opinion about these new lands, think about them in that light and you will put yourself in the right frame of mind.
Financially they're better positioned than their brethren from Battle for Zendikar. The BFZ lands were kept down by fetch lands decreasing the number that saw play, as well as the drastic amount of product opened in order to crack Expeditions.
Financial Takeaway: There are no such barriers for the lands from this set. That makes them a much better investment. Port Town, Choked Estuary, Fortified Village, Foreboding Ruins and Game Trail will see lots of play and I see a bigger price tag in the future as well.
My strategy for every set is to get at least one playset of each land at as low a price as I can find within the first month. Lands have a broader application than any creature or spell because more players will need them. I also buy lands at a higher percentage because I always want to be well stocked on real estate so my player base can run anything they want.
5. Falkenrath Gorger
Many players have commented on how amazing this card is. Red creatures that are cheap and efficient have historically had drawbacks. I played a lot of Jackal Pups, and even pup’s upgrade Firedrinker Satyr, throughout my career and they were good. Now we are to a point in Magic history where those cards are obsolete.
This is important for constructed formats as well as things like Cube. Foils of this vampire should be worth a bit more than normal due to the popular tribe it’s part of as well as Cube owners needing to replace older versions of this type of creature.
This isn’t a generic 2/1 though. All of your vampires getting madness might not be relevant all the time, but it’s pretty amazing. There's a lot of upside.
I think players are undervaluing how potent this ability really is. Take a card like Call the Bloodline as an example of an effect that turns this ability into a powerhouse. Instead of casting your creature normally, you can add a 1/1 vampire to the battlefield for an extra one mana. You can do this with every creature as long as Gorger is in play!
At the end of the day, we have a 2/1 for one mana, but giving out madness can be a huge deal. I think Vampires will definitely be a deck in Standard but I think the build will be more subtle than just jamming the most obvious aggressive vampires into sleeves and trying to rock that. Whatever the build ends up being, I think Call the Bloodline will be an important part of that shell as well.
Financial Takeaway: In a set with so many money rares, which is exactly what promises a ton of profit, I don't think there is room in the financial landscape for Gorger to be worth a lot of money. It could climb to $5 but I'd be surprised to see it slip over that amount.
$2.5 should be about the lowest it can get and even if it drops lower you aren't losing much value. Get them when you need them, otherwise having a playset to trade to that person building Vampires will never be a bad idea.
4. Westvale Abbey
Stalking Stones is crying in the corner from the power creep of Westvale Abbey // Ormendahl, Profane Prince. Not only can you make a human token army but you can also summon a giant monster that your opponent will lose quickly to. This colorless land has been crazy good in testing so far and it’s expected to have a huge impact on the format.
There are ways to answer Ormendahl, Profane Prince once he kills everyone in the Abbey and comes out to play, but they are limited. It hasn’t been that difficult to accumulate five creatures in play by the time I have six mana, and every game I’ve made the demon monster I’ve won.
Don’t be fooled though, this land is quite skill intensive. There are plenty of times you can crack it when it's probably strategically incorrect to do so. Against white decks, for instance, you should probably never make that line of play. They have many ways to exile any creature, and you might just find your whole board exchanged for a single Declaration in Stone or Stasis Snare.
Either way, this is a great card and it will be one of the pillars that shapes the format.
Financial Takeaway: There are many money rares in this set. I think once the market floods with the draft rares, Abbey will come down in price. But in the first couple of weeks it will be so hot, you could see an increase to keep up with initial demand. I'll be holding my copies until after the Pro Tour unless I'm offered a lucrative deal.
3. Thing in the Ice
With Thing in the Ice // Awoken Horror we have a Modern playable in addition to a Standard build-around. It’s easy to see why this creature is good, and I fully expect it to make waves somewhere.
One thing I’ve found is that you can slow-roll the flip when necessary, which makes for some interesting standoffs. Then your opponent has to decide whether to commit more threats to the board to force you to flip it or just keep attacking with their small assault force. Beware of your line of play though as the trigger is mandatory---you don't want to flip it at the wrong time because you cast an extra spell too early.
At this point it’s uncertain how much play it will see in either format. Standard will most likely have at least one decent deck that supports this strategy. Whether that will be a tempo or control deck remains to be seen. This card is so much fun to play, and lots of players will be dragging their Thing in the Ice into their brews.
Financial Takeaway: Initially I think our ice cube monster will trend downward simply due to supply, but in the long term I like this card a lot. Playability in both Modern and Standard doesn't happen every day. I would compare this rare to Kolaghan's Command or Atarka's Command and look to those cards for a similar price path.
2. Declaration in Stone
Coming to the end of the Top 10, we have possibly the most surprising and controversial pick on the list. At number two I chose Declaration in Stone. If you read my article from last week, you know how much I love this spell. You may give your opponent a clue token but the biggest drawback in my mind is that it’s a sorcery.
Like many other players I started out with two copies of this all-inclusive removal spell, then quickly increased to three, then four copies. Declaration in Stone’s price has doubled in the past week as well which tells me other players are catching on to its power level.
Exiling is especially relevant in so many situations. You can remove Ormendahl, stop delirium from becoming active, or prevent Hangarback Walker from granting tokens. Not many spells can say the same thing. And all this for two mana. This spell will be dictating the flow of Standard for the entire time it’s legal.
Financial Takeaway: While I was writing this article, I was prepared to say get your copies ASAP before they spike. Well, that already happened while I was writing, so let's readjust.
This card is amazing and should be a four-of in multiple decks throughout the entire length of its legality. It may be good enough for Modern but I don't think so because it's a sorcery.
Relying on this card to increase from its current spike would be a bad idea but it could very well stick close to the $10 mark. I hope you picked some up at the prerelease, but if not, now or in a week should be a safe time to invest.
1. Archangel Avacyn
To finish up we have the least surprising card on the list, Archangel Avacyn // Avacyn, the Purifier. This angel is obviously powerful and we all know it. She isn't unbeatable or broken or anything, but the combination of flash, vigilance and indestructible for a turn makes it extremely hard to prepare for her. Talk about format-defining cards, and the conversation has to start with Avacyn.
I love that they're making these iconic creatures from the story playable for constructed formats. For too long, we’ve had these great characters with huge mana costs that were relegated to the realms of Commander decks. No longer do we have to watch these legends slot into multiplayer decks alone. Now we can demolish our opponents with the creatures from the stories.
Avacyn is amazing without even processing the implications of her flip side. We would all be happy with our instant-speed, indestructible Serra Angel. But there's more to her than just that!
Taking advantage of the flip side will prove challenging, though. My first thought was to play her in an Aristocrats-style deck that can sacrifice a creature to make the flip happen whenever it would be most impactful. This has the downside of giving your opponent the option of forcing her to flip in order to kill your other creatures---so be careful how you build your deck.
The short story is that Avacyn will save the day for many players during her time in Standard. I even think she could find a home in Modern.
Financial Takeaway: She is worth every bit of her $30 price tag, and if you need her early in the season, don’t be afraid to make the investment. Depending on how much she takes over the format, she could even go up further. As a mythic angel, flip card that will define Standard, she shouldn't fall very far and it's more likely she will rise in value.
I went through many changes to this list throughout the writing process. Some cards didn’t start on it while others were cut to the Honorable Mention section. What that really means is that there are a ton of playable cards in this set.
They also happen to be diverse and different from cards we’ve seen in the past. I think Wizards hit a home run with this set. So many of these cards are amazing but they don’t overlap into the same decks. That means we should have a powerful, but diverse metagame that shifts as we get new cards to pair with Shadows.
Many of these cards in past years would have made the Top 10. This is a phenomenon I’ve been noting more and more. Wizards is printing each set with a denser distribution of powerful cards.
We need to take that into consideration when trying to nail down the future price of cards. If there are tons of good cards, all of them can’t be worth money. We saw this with Khans of Tarkir. The fetchlands helped hold down prices from that set but I think even without them we would have seen a similar price distribution.
That’s all for this week. What’s your opinion about the cards from this set? Did I pick the Top 10 correctly or do you think I missed something? Let me know in the comments. See you next week when we start looking at what’s happening in the metagame and what that means for prices!
Until next time,
Unleash the Shadow Force!
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