Archetypes of Innistrad
Innistrad block has been around for a while now and instead of doing a straight up card review, I thought it would be interesting to take a different approach. Innistrad, more so than other recent blocks, presents you with specific archetypes (rather than simple colours pairs) to draft around. Different archetypes have key cards to pick up which other drafters might not take a second look at despite being it being in their colours; Moonmist is great in a Werewolf deck but chaff in a Spider Spawning deck.
If you’ve enjoyed Innistrad (or Avacyn Restored) draft, or an element of it, you may want to try putting some of these archetypes in your own cube. And the beauty of crafting your own format is that you can supplement them with old cards from different blocks to create a fresh, new way take on these strategies.
But which of these archetypes, if any, could be added to a peasant cube? And what cards throughout the history of Magic can be used to take the archetype in a new and interesting direction?
Let’s start with a classic. Mill strategies are nearly as old as the game itself, and Innistrad brings some interesting new tools to the table. Curse of the Bloody Tome provides a clock just in itself whilst Shriekgeist lets the mill player go on the offensive. Dream Twist is a powerful one shot effect that, while it won’t win the game by itself, will be a strong addition to a deck that aims to mill as many cards as quickly as possible.
Milling has been a popular alternate win strategy since the release of Millstone in Antiquities in March 1994 (less than one year after Alpha hit the shelves) and its popularity has not waned in the past 18 years. Even though Millstone has been a rare in every subsequent printing, it was originally an uncommon so it’s legal to run in peasant cube!
While it’s unlikely you’ll build a cube to accommodate dedicated Dampen Thought or Drowner of Secrets, mill can still be a viable strategy in peasant cube. Often the best way to approach this is to make a core of repeatable mill available with cards such as Hedron Crab or Duskmantle, House of Shadow and then supplement this with one-shot mill effects like the aforementioned Dream Twist or Tome Scour.
The problem with mill strategies is that they can often be all-in-or-bust. If you can draft all of the good mill cards you’ll end up with a strong deck, but if the cards just don’t show up then you have a pile of cards that can’t win a game against an. This can be too high a risk and result in players passing strong mill cards to avoid getting screwed in packs two and three. This can be mitigated by including cards which have a function beyond just milling such as Flint Golem – which can put players in a difficult position of having to choose to die to damage or mill – or Belltower Sphinx – which is a respectable big creature in-and-of itself. Cards like Vision Charm give the player multiple options both in-game and during the draft. They can pick it up aiming to play mill but if that doesn’t pan out they can use its other modes and not have a dead card (although the charm’s other abilities aren’t that great). Ultimately it is a trade off and up to the cube designer to find a balance between narrow mill cards which will go later and therefore reward dedicated mill drafters; and more functional cards which will give the mill drafters more versatility at the risk of losing them to other drafters who are less interested in the mill aspect of the card.
One of Innistrad’s twists has been the self-mill strategies where you actively want to put cards into your graveyard either for incremental value or a big payoff. While any of the targeted mill cards mentioned above can be used to fill your graveyard, Innistrad provides tools to fill your graveyard while also getting a bonus. Armored Skaab can hold off opposing forces while furthering your goals, Forbidden Alchemy can sometimes be more about what you don’t put into your hand than what you do, and Mulch can draw you four cards without revealing any lands. Looking back, the best example of this is the dredge mechanic from Ravnica block with cards like Stinkweed Imp and Moldervine Cloak which can mill you while letting you draw a relevant card
Of course you have to do something with the cards you’re putting into your graveyard and Innistrad takes that in two directions.
One way is creature based. This is primarily green and black’s domain, although blue’s skaabs like Stitched Drake fit here too. Boneyard Wurm gets bigger the more creatures you have in your graveyard and at two mana can close out a game quite quickly in an aggressive deck. Gnaw to the Bone on the other hand can buy you time to find the cards you need or set up a big Spider Spawning and the presence of flashback not only grants your card advantage, but you can still get utility out of it if you mill it while trying to fill the ‘yard with creatures.
Ghoul’s Feast from Mercadian Masques can deal a ton of damage out of nowhere while Wall of Tombstones can come down on early defense and continue to block your opponent’s threats as they play bigger and bigger creatures. Svogthos, the Restless Tomb is another threat that doesn’t take up a spell slot in your deck, but unfortunately won’t count towards the number of creatures in your graveyard after it get killed.
The second approach Innistrad takes is the spell route, which is predominantly red and blue. Draw spells like Desperate Ravings and Faithless Looting filter your hand while filling the graveyard. Burning Vengeance then gives you value every time you play one of these from the ‘yard. Mystic Retrieval can gain value on the draw spells or return some win cons to close out the game such as Fireball or Death by Dragons and can even act as a tutor in conjunction with cards like Cephalid Illusionist and Mental Note. Geistflame, along with most flashback spells, can be used to gain torrential card advantage over your opponents and allow you to win that way instead of one big kill condition.
One final way that self-mill can be utilised is reanimation. This wasn’t featured too heavily in Innistrad beyond Unburial Rites but small amounts of early self-mill can break the symmetry of Exhume or fuel Diabolic Servitude.
Tokens have become a bigger part of magic over the last few years and Innistrad is no exception. White has some key uncommons for a tokens archetype with Lingering Souls and Intangible Virtue. Crusade-type enchantments are usually reserved for rare and are therefore beyond the scope of peasant magic but Intangible Virtue gives a powerful, but narrow, weapon to the strategy. Innistrad’s offerings of Midnight Haunting and Gather the Townsfolk can be supplemented with Mirrodin’s Raise the Alarm, Lorwyn’s Cloudgoat Ranger, and Shadowmoor’s Spectral Procession to give the cube a good curve of token makers in white.
While, as discussed, anthem effects on enchantments are often rare, there are some creatures that pump your team such as Celestial Crusader which is more vulnerable to removal but can attack for damage by itself if you have nothing else to pump. Alternatively you can include one-time mass-pump instants and sorceries like Break of Day and Marshaling Cry which get more value the more creatures you have; three 1/1s deal six damage as opposed to one 3/3 which will end up dealing just four.
Although token swarms have been primarily white for some time now, that was once the domain of green. You can look to Squirrel Nest for a repeatable source of squirrel tokens, which have been phased out and replaced by saprolings as greens go-to 1/1 token. Thallid might be a bit slow with only one token every three turns, but Sprout Swarm could dominate games in TSP/PLC/FUT drafts. Green is also good for making big tokens with cards like Beast Attack and Roar of the Wurm. In fact it can make tokens of all sizes, sometimes (as with Bestial Menace) all in one card!
In red, you have the option to make small tokens with Dragon Fodder and the game-ending Goblin Offensive or big tokens like with Death by Dragons with little in-between. Personally, I like red-white tokens as an archetype as it does something both colours do well and the overlap between them is scarce in most other places.
Black and blue both have the ability to make tokens of various types and sizes but generally they don’t do it nearly as well as the rest so I won’t go into them here. If you are interested in giving your cubers the option of building token decks in any colours of their choosing by all means have a look at gatherer, but it is likely that they will have to be base white or green.
Although not necessarily an archetype like the others we’ve covered so far, Avacyn Restored has a big flicker theme. I’m not going to list every card you can flicker for value as the list would be huge, including pretty much all ‘enters the battlefield’ and ‘leaves the battlefield’ abilities. Cloudshift is a simple spell that can gain a huge value when combined with cards like Mulldrifter or Nekrataal. Ghostly Flicker can get double the value. Speaking of Mulldrifter, not only do cards with the evoke mechanic all interact favourably with flickering, you can evoke a creature out, stack the sac trigger, then flicker it in response. When it comes back into play the game treats it as a new object so not only will the sacrifice trigger that is on the stack do nothing when it resolves, it won’t trigger a second time AND you’ll get to use the enters/leave the battlefield ability twice!
The Avacyn Restored flicker effects all specify that the card comes back into play under your control so you can Threaten your opponent’s creature, attack them with it, then flicker it so you retain control of it even after the turn ends. This is pretty much exclusive to AVR so while Momentary Blink and Flickerwisp can give you more flicker effects for the deck, don’t rely on them to pull this trick off.
Nephalia Smuggler is a repeatable flicker effect, as is Mistmeadow Witch from Shadowmoor. Another repeatable source is Astral Slide although its effectiveness is reliant on the number of cycling cards available in the draft, and you’ll often end up with an ‘astral slide deck’ rather than a ‘flicker deck’.
Instant flickering is of course favourable as you can use it to make your creature dodge a kill spell in addition to any free value you get from that creature leaving or re-entering the battlefield. It can also combo with something like Faceless Butcher in another stack-trick: if you play Faceless Butcher, stack his first ability which targets an opponent’s creature, then flicker him before it resolves, the leaves play ability will trigger before the creature has been exiled. That will resolves before the ETB ability, fail to return anything, then when the exile ability does resolve, the creature it targets will be gone forever. Then because he has entered a second time, you can remove another of your opponent’s creatures (although this will come back when your butcher dies).
As you can see, while flickering may not be an archetype proper it can still be a fun build-around-me theme to let your players explore.
End of Part One
Well, that’s the main archetypes of Innistrad block done, but it also had a large tribal theme through the block. There are also a few smaller themes too that don’t warrant a whole section but probably should get a mention. But that will have to wait until part two. So until then, I hope this article has given you a few ideas for new direction to take your cube, or a few new cards to strengthen archetypes you already have.