Shadows Over Innistrad exists, and that means it is time for a very special set of 13 very interesting cards that I love from this set. They aren’t the most competitive, or the most important, but they’re the ones that get my mind roiling and ensure I’m having a really good time, and so I think they’re the most interesting cards to talk about. Buckle in for this objectively true list of thirteen spooooky cards!
There have always been cards in Magic that lock down creatures and prevent them from doing things, and white has generally been the color that does that. Whether it is a Pacifism or a Faith’s Fetters, these cards have always been really good at making creatures want to calm down and chill out from all the fighting. Bound By Moonsilver locks those creatures down in a giant set of magical stocks that can be infused by death magic to teleport a creature into them. It’s pretty metal stuff.
You’re some young goofy human who wanders over to the next farm plot looking for some cheese or a cup of sugar. Sure, you live in Innistrad, a literal nightmare world full of stuff that creeps everyone out all the time, but it’s the daytime and the threat of werewolves, zombies and vampires is down from the stable 100% likelihood to a tight 75%. It’s foggy, and you see a scarecrow in the distance. It’s not that important. It doesn’t scare you, but when you get closer you realize it’s some weird Frankenstein monster that’s been huddled up all night to tear your face off with one of its multitude of limbs. You think better of the sugar and mosey on home.
This is some of the most flavorful wonder in the whole universe of Magic: The Gathering. You’re being a weird wizard like you always want to, and suddenly a comical mad scientist whacks you in the back of the head and starts operating on your brain. She’s removing all of your sorceries. You won’t know any of them anymore, if you knew many to begin with, and the shocking thing is that she’s talented enough at magical brain surgery to get all of your other faculties back in order before the next turn. This is a great card.
This card is a vampire wizard, which is a kind of wizard that is only one step behind a fabled, yet impossible, wizard wizard. It gives you some knowledge in exchange for a little bit of your life, and it does it over and over again as long as you don’t have any magical abilities available to you. I love this kind of flavorful interaction, and it’s a great dramatization of Dracula coming to hang out with his weird buddy/servant guy in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, an amazing film by master director Francis Ford Coppola. What I am saying is that Asylum Visitor is the answer to the question “what if Coppola directed a Magic set.”
Sometimes this card will summon a crapload of zombies from under your house. If you can manage to discard it and play it for its Madness cost, you can basically just open the vaults of weird zombies from beneath your house and just let this whole weird world power itself out into the universe while you laugh. But at the same time, we’re wondering why you’ve been hoarding zombies, you weird wizard you.
The Hansel and Gretel story always needs a witch. The kids get abandoned by their terrible dad, and they somehow make their way to the witch’s house. Through their brainthinks and cool abilities, they straight-up murder her, probably murder their terrible stepmother, and the very sight of them shames their father into fleeing into the countryside. That’s probably the story. Kindly Stranger is clearly feeding off that story, but what I love about it is that it transforms into a cool statement about that fairy tale: the witch was possessed by a scary-ass demon who is going to come at you like you’re living a 1980s horror film.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Mary Shelley had written the basic information from which they built the skeleton of Ghostbusters? Me neither, but there’s something about the art here that makes me think that her imagination could have made possible. Not only is it going to kill a ghost or a vampire, but you can later recycle it to make another spell you play even more powerful. It’s a very thrifty card.
Magic: The Gathering is a game that resides in choice. Every turn of the game is a sequence of complicated choices that involve your opponent, their decisions, what cards they have available, and what cards you have available, and you’re constantly trying to think about where these daisy chains of decision will land. Fork In The Road dramatizes some of those decisions on a card. You’re always at a fork in a decision tree, and some of those lead to death. Pitching a land into the graveyard is a metaphor for death. It’s a very serious card.
Every werewolf and wolf in the universe scoots out of the darkness. They punch you right in your face over and over again, and it’s a real bummer. The wizard who controls the wolves laughs and laughs and laughs until you just grab all of your cards and throw them into your backpack and go home because the wolfmaster really is a huge jerk who gives you a thumbs up whenever you make a choice in the game. Good card.
Shadows Over Innistrad has a theme in blue and white centered around spirits and all kinds of weird stuff that spirits can do. I have to admit that I am a really big fan of making decks where I can swarm my enemies with a bunch of freaky ghosts, and Drogskol Cavalry gives you life for every spirit that you summon to the swarm pile. Additionally, he poops out more ghosts for you to attack with, so it’s a win/win situation every time.
This card is a weird rules nightmare that goes against most instincts for the game that people have generally developed over the past twenty years, but this is a card that is so spooky that it scares the magic out of your brain before coming back to the battlefield in the shape of a child to kick you right in the teeth and then scaring the hell out of you again. I am scared of, in order: children, ghosts, and having my memory/brain/faculties robbed from me. This card does all of those things. It’s unfriendly, but I totally get it. A+, would look at again.
The story of this set involves a mystery on Innistrad, and the mechanism for solving that mystery is Jace Beleren, a planeswalker, reading the journal of Tamiyo, the Moon Sage. This is that journal, and every time you look at it you can get some real interesting information in the form of a Clue that can draw you a card. If you’re not into that, you can hold onto those Clues to do some really intense mystery solving that will search out any card in your deck. Basically the story of this card is “Jace is following in the footsteps of somebody who has figured literally everything out” and that’s a real solid blow to the ego of this sassy blue planeswalker.
There are lots of vampires on Innistrad, and a chunk of them are of the Interview With The Vampire variety. Imagine this: a world of horror, but in one spot there are sexy dude vampires wandering around with their chests exposed and lamenting their very existence. They probably run at each other and fly around and have incredibly complicated relationships that get rearticulated every hundred years when different music comes into style. I have read a great number of The Vampire Chronicles and I would love to talk more about that series’ relationship with Magic: The Gathering so tweet at me about that.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com. His latest game, Epanalepsis, was released on May 21. It’s available on Steam.