Innistrad: Crimson Vow Set Review - Black
(Henrika, Infernal Seer | Art by Billy Christian)
Darkness Falls Once Again on Innistrad
Welcome everyone to another review of Innistrad: Crimson Vow! Today I'll be covering the new offerings for the color of the: black! Vampires take center stage in this set, and you'll get to see what new terrors have befallen our favorite gothic horror plane. Zombies, Demons, Vampires, and the best Scorpion ever printed... all of this and more are yet to come, so let's jump right in!
I'm already a fan of
While we can assume spells will be hitting the graveyard, commanders likeor can push the issue by milling opponents. Like many Zombies you'll see in this review, 's recursion continues to pay dividends. not only lets us create multiple copies of the Desecrator, but since the Encore ability sacrifices the tokens, we'll get to benefit from both its ETB and death triggers! I'm not sure if I would run this in , but it's certainly worth a look, especially since Teysa already runs other on-death removal.
Henrika Domnathi // Henrika, Infernal Seer
A legendaryis a surprise, but for how popular Nighthawk card is, it's a welcome one. At a glance, reminds me of . They both give you utility options on a four-mana flyer, but Rankle has the edge if we're looking for continuous value. Most of Henrika's value comes from her inevitable back half, which will pump up a team of well-keyworded creatures. I expect is delighted by the pump, is excited to get buffer Snakes, and might like the extra help pumping up her Faeries, too! Orzhov commanders are especially keen here; likes the sacrifice on the front half, and the extra help on the back half. likes putting counters onto the lifelink side of Henrika, and the pump is great for Inklings, too!
Sorin, the Mirthless
Sorin's new look is the age-old template that planeswalkers were asked to fit: card advantage, protection, and a game-ending ultimate. While those three hold true for constructed formats, the ultimate is less than game-winning in Commander. Sorin's first ability is effectively an upgraded version of the famous's ability. However, Sorin graciously makes sure that we can never actually kill ourselves in the pursuit of power. Creating a 2/3 Vampire token with his -2 ability isn't that impressive as a blocker, even with the utility of flying and lifelink. While Sorin's ultimate is thematic for the plane of Innistrad, spending four turns to deal 13 is not as impactful as I would hope.
It turns out Sorin's biggest advantage is exactly what I just critiqued: none of his abilities are threatening on their own. I enjoy running innocuous planeswalkers that can sit on the board and accrue value. Sometimes they'll be attacked to chip away their loyalty if they're getting too close to their ultimate, but I've found that these types of 'walkers don't have a target painted on them from the get-go.
While drawing cards is always good, some commanders, like, or the other members of the Commander 2017 Esper precon care about the top of your deck. While this doesn't manipulate many cards, it does let us reset the top of our deck if it's not what we want. In a similar vein, cares not about the price to pay for cards. Among the newer legends, I think might like this solely because our new wallflower helps fuel her sacrifice ability, and Anje offsets the life loss from Sorin's draw.
For many creatures, being big isn't enough to make the cut in the 99. There are some exceptions, such as, and to be clear, is very close to passing that test. A 5/6 creature with flying and trample is not what you often see at four mana. Usually these creatures are left with horrible downsides, but that isn't quite the case here. The downside for bringing this massive Vampire to the fray is that each opponent will receive a steady stream of Blood tokens. This gives our opponents options for card selection, and I usually am adverse to giving any form of value to my opponents.
However, there are quite a few commanders and cards that make this downside work for us, rather than for our opponents.and make those Blood tokens work in our favor, and with the increasing presence of Treasure tokens, has found a growing presence in the format. Even the venerable has a taste for Blood, it seems. With these options and colors, we can find quite a few commanders that would have the same tastes as this Vampire. turns Blood into bodies, is a miniature , and will make your opponents very scared to go anywhere near those Blood tokens anytime soon.
Frankly, that's just the synergy we get from giving Blood tokens to our opponents. We haven't even gotten to the fact that Purveyor will start swinging for the fences if it survives for a few turns. It's not every deck that'll want this thing, but if your deck already has enemies scared to cycle through cards, this can add more punch to your 99.
(Of note, Purveyor's attack trigger is going to receive Day 0 errata before release to include "until end turn" on the attack ability; this is not anothersituation.)
Concealing Curtains // Revealing Eye
To be brief, I don't thinkhas much of a shot at seeing play in Commander. It seems geared towards Constructed formats. I could see some arguments for , as it's a one-mana creature with 4 toughness, or even for some of the discard commanders mentioned above. Unfortunately for this Wizard of Oz cosplayer, it has too many hurdles to overcome. Targeted discard is woefully inefficient in a multiplayer format, and the sorcery speed of this effect limits its utility compared to something like , which has flash. Speaking of the Clique, it only appears in about 2,500 decks, and that one has combat capabilities and a relevant creature type for tribal decks. We'll pay no attention to the man behind this curtain.
When Wizards of the Coast initially previewed, Mark Rosewater explained that it was created as an homage to . While the lineage of the design is a fun tidbit, that's where the comparison stops. In Commander, their designs are different enough to divorce them from one another. Being a sorcery and three mana puts it many steps behind a card that has defined cEDH for quite a long time. How does it fare on its own? Well, tutors help you find any card you want; in a way, they act as a second copy of any card in your deck. That versatility is lessened by removing over a tenth of your deck from the game before you even get to go looking. Most decks are built with redundancy in mind, but if you need that one card to win, this runs the risk of removing it.
My first instinct was to find a way to weaponize that exile against our opponents.and the new could engineer a situation to force your opponents to continuously exile their decks if they want to play instants and sorceries. There are risks there, obviously, since it would involve giving away tutors, but giving Umbris +13/+13 on every instant and sorcery cast is amusing. This is still a three-mana tutor, so a deck that runs redundant combo pieces would maybe enjoy it, but it doesn't feel like we need to play this when we have such a lavish suite of tutors in the format already. Then again, maybe you're like me, and you enjoy semi-conditional tutors with a little risk instead of just playing the powerful classics like .
Remember when Demons had downsides? Overused jokes aside, this reads quite powerful. Each turn our Demon army is only going to continue growing stronger as long as we have fuel. Yes, it cuts us off from having other creatures in play (eventually), but that's worth creating a steadily growing army of 6/6 flyers. There are plenty of decks that will look at the sacrifice trigger as an upside as well.
The hurdle this Demon faces is the same hurdle that many seven-mana cards face: how does this immediately impact the board? I doubt anyone will argue that this has stiff competition at this mana cost, but someone out there is definitely going to have fun with this thing. Since's trigger only looks at non-Demons, I think that it's safe to say that or other Demon-focused decks are an obvious home. loves Demon tribal, and Dreadfast will eat up the occasional Devil to make more copies of itself. or the new nicely recur those Apostles to continue the sacrifices.
While those are the obvious picks, I'm going to advocate for using this card in. Worry not about feeding your ever-growing army of Demons: each new token copy of Dreadfeast Demon comes with their own personal Squirrel snack!
Dying to Serve
While many players have lamented the growing use of 'once per turn' triggers,is one of the more compelling versions of that effect. Discard decks often have ways to discard on command. For example, with someone like in the command zone, we have the potential to create a Zombie every turn. However, we're still limited by the number of cards we have in hand. While this doesn't enable huge bursts of value, you don't need to overextend with this card. You can play slow and steady and accrue an army over time. At three mana, this is also cheap enough to be played early in set-up, or later when you have a board presence. In both cases, it offers a steady stream of bodies. Zombies decks have a number of ways to discard cards, such as , and some commanders like can do it themselves, and there are plenty of other discard payoffs in Zombie decks too, like , so pick your favorite tribal commander and have fun!
My top pick for this enchantment is actually going to be. Extus often plays cards that involve discard as an additional cost, which makes great use of the Magecraft trigger. By playing discard enablers and constantly returning creatures to hand, Extus solves the potential problem of running out of cards to use as fuel, so can serve on into perpetuity.
Recursive sacrifice fodder likeand and are some of my favorite cards in the game. needs a Blood sacrifice to return, but we've seen a few legends, like and , that lean into the new tokens. Because Forebear generates Blood tokens so slowly on its own, most other decks will pass on this. This card really needs Blood token support to shine. However, this card is perfect for our new Anje. Combine it with and we can recur it every turn to chip away at life totals.
Given how complex so many cards have gotten in recent years, it's nice to have something simple: a two-mana kill spell for planeswalkers. That's the gist. It'll play nicely in sacrifice decks as an emergency sacrifice outlet, but otherwise there's not too much to say about this. If we had a black version of, then we'd be talking, but we'll have to settle for the top two legends who have black and are playing Darien: or the Partner pair and .
Did Zombies need another way to more tokens? No, but yes! Zombies are one of my favorite tribes in the game, and the continued expansion allows multiple archetypes to be explored within the tribe. While those archetypes usually revolve around sacrificing or making more Zombies, it's always nice to receive additional options.is a pet card of mine, and having a new version that doesn't blur tribal lines is lovely. Play this with to create an ever-expanding horde, to get a steady stream of sacrifice options, or maybe you just want to loop with so you always have fodder around.
I've been more neutral on Blood tokens than most critics, but that changed when I read a comment that likened their ability to 'Cycling: 1'. That changed my perspective quite a bit, and makes evaluating these cards a bit different. While I lamented the lack of synergyhad with itself, that's not the case with . Creating a Blood token every time a nontoken creature dies is fantastic. It also isn't limited to once per turn!
Blood works well with discard strategies, but if we generate them en masse, I would argue that Bloodcaster is most at home in an artifact deck. This is mostly because I'm looking for ways to keep this card from flipping; turning Blood into 2/2 Bats each turn doesn't excite me the same way an artifact-focused Vampire would.adores this card, as any nontoken artifact creature we sacrifice would effectively generate four colorless mana. I don't really have to mention that this is another cog for the combo either. Bloodcaster looks absolutely perfect for , who can lean into artifacts already with her Clues, and both she and the Bloodcaster gain many benefits when creatures die.
Uncommons & Commons
- allows us to pseudo-Explore for Zombies. This is an incredible amount of mill support, and it even will trigger off of tokens! in particular will churn through his deck quickly with this.
- is not too impressive, but I could see myself playing it in the aforementioned artifact-centric . At worst, this is two artifacts for one mana, which might be fond of.
- is a three-mana 5/5 if you're playing him with . Players have seen how powerful or can be, and this now lets us be caber tossers.
- swaps the numbers around a bit, but at the end of the day it's yet another variant, and I'm here for it. It'll lose out to the original if you have to pick one, but I enjoy redundancy.
- is the next iteration of black's "three mana: draw two". We still lose two life as expected, but our upside this time around is a Blood token. If you need artifact and/or discard synergy, give this a look.
- generates Blood consistently, but slowly. I'm not sure where this has a home, but Vampires have plenty of sources of lifelink to enable this. Maybe the new could use this in "expensive mana sink tribal."
- is no , but I will never say no to more utility support for mill. Doubling as both a sacrificial body and a effect for two mana is more than enough for me to consider this.
- is not a card I would normally talk about. and other burn equivalents are not good in Commander, the damage effect is just gravy on this thing, rather than the core of its appeal. You're playing this for the ability to create two artifact tokens. If you don't have synergy for that, it's an easy skip, but two artifact tokens will matter for decks that use cards like .
We'll end with this uncommon, which deserves its own space and a closer look, because... well... black? Black ! When the community response to a new card is to compare it to another card that appears in an impressive 10% of available decks, you take notice.
There are key differences between this and the flying fish, but the parallels are easy to draw. They both present the option to pay three mana, sacrifice themselves, and draw two cards. There are a few wrinkles once we get past that comparison, though. Keeping the Scorpion on board requires us to sacrifice another creature, as opposed to paying more mana. Also, if that's the option we choose, then we've also traded flying for deathtouch.
Realistically, I expect this card to be a staple for a long time. Its popularity might be a tempered by black's other draw options, but this will be a serious consideration for many decks. Unlike the venerable Dana Roach's infamous deathtouch tribal list with , you've got another flexible option here, too. This Scorpion is even a Zombie, so it's not just 'keyword tribal' decks, but actual tribe tribal decks that take interest, too! I know I'm going to find a spot for this in to venture further into the dungeon, and I think that's just the beginning for this little guy., which finds itself primarily in blink strategies, could find itself in a variety of fun archetypes. or can recur this every turn if needed, or even use it to sacrifice another creature they want to replay. could join in the similarly recursive . doesn't mind a deathtouch blocker to protect herself, especially if she can blink it to draw more cards later. If you're playing in your Aristocrats deck, you might want to switch it over to the Stinger, to help proc more triggers while you draw cards! Heck, if you're playing 'keyword tribal' decks, such as one
And the Sun Begins to Rise on the Darkened Sky
That's it for the set review! While Innistrad sets tends to quite focused on its tribes, Crimson Vow eschews that patten ever so slightly among its black cards. We get a mix of new role-players, almost an entirely new archetype with Blood tokens, and we revisit some old favorites! It's always exciting to come back to Magic's Gothic home, and I will eagerly looking forward to our next visit.
So what are my personal picks from the set?
- : How can you not love this much utility? It may be a bit boring, but it's going to grease the wheels in many decks.
- : I could have picked for this slot, but Zombie-Explore is too unique to turn down, and I'm excited to revisit the swarm.
- : There's just something fun about a legendary . I don't know how I would build her, but there's a simple joy to her design that I can't shake.
What are your favorite black cards in this set? Which cards do you think I'm overvaluing or undervaluing? Let me know in the comments!