If you comb the depths of Innistrad this time around, you will find all sorts of amazing cards to brew around, new linears to explore, and brand new themes to capitalize on. One of these is a linear that already had some support in Standard, but never enough to be "a deck." I am referring to instant and sorcery support, which is now backed by prowess as well as spell mastery.
Cards with spell mastery see play, but there has not really been a deck built to abuse instants and sorceries beyond the minor spell mastery kicker effects. It's not part of Shadows over Innistrad's overarching theme, but there are a few individual cards that reward you for playing heavy instants and sorceries. Some of these are rather loud in that regard, such as Rise from the Tides or Thing in the Ice, while others like Brain in a Jar are a little more subtle. Given what we already had to work with, I went ahead and noted every card that felt like a payoff for playing heavy instants and sorceries.
This list is not too long, but it does pack a lot of powerful stuff that doesn't see much play otherwise. Narset Transcendent, for example, is a very powerful Planeswalker if you can successfully utilize all of her abilities, but doing so has proven difficult.
The list is a little deceiving as I included most of the spell mastery cards on it, but it is true that if we want to explore this direction, there will be some spell mastery involved. That said, there is a lot of variety and potential direction to go here. In reality, I don't see this kind of shell working without blue in it, but mono blue, blue/white, blue/black, blue/red, and combinations of those all seem viable. Let's just skip straight to the brewing!
As I mentioned during my set review, Engulf the Shores is one of my favorite cards to add to control's repertoire. Giving blue mages the ability to reset the board for cheap opens the doors on what blue decks can exist. You don't have to automatically include a black or white sweeper anymore, allowing you to do some different things with your manabase. If you do play Engulf the Shores, you want to have a high number of Islands, meaning either mono-blue, or a heavy blue deck dipping into black or white where it can pick up the appropriate Battle land and keep the Island count high.
I posted a blue/white shell in my set review, so allow me to lead with that:
Despite being two colors, the deck still hits a virtual Island count of 19, making Engulf the Shores quite strong. On the other hand, we also have access to a virtual 13 white sources, meaning that we should be able to cast Declaration in Stone or Narset Transcendent in a reasonable time frame, especially once we factor in Jace, Vryn's Prodigy looting and Anticipate digging.
Still, there are some costs to going a second color, so it is not entirely a freeroll. I wanted to see what a mono-blue version of the same deck might look like.
This list likely has a few too many weaknesses to compete in its current form, but the concept of a heavy bounce shell with countermagic to catch things as they come back down seems pretty strong. I wanted to experiment with Corrupted Grafstone in here, but the deck has a lot to do on turn two, and that coupled with the fact that it doesn't always add mana on turn three left me trying Magnifying Glass instead. Magnifying Glass has a bigger impact in smaller numbers and allows you to grind out a long game similar to how a Planeswalker functions.
One thing you may notice missing from the above lists is Thing in the Ice. This card picked up in price recently, and probably for good reason. A 0/4 comes down early to buy you time against most aggressive creatures, something blue can always use. Then, as you just cast instants and sorceries, something you wanted to do anyway, you chip away at the ice. A 7/8 creature is already a big reward, but this one comes with the trigger of bouncing all other creatures to their owner's hand. That is a very similar effect to Engulf the Shores, as they both protect you against aggressive rushes and result in an Evacuation, except Thing in the Ice then goes on to win the game, seven damage at a time.
Specifically looking at our blue/white shell from above, Ojutai's Command goes from being solid, to be an all-star as it now returns both Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Thing in the Ice along with the host of other options available to it. Our need for Engulf the Shores and Crush of Tentacles goes down quite a bit once we get access to Awoken Horror on the flipside.
Thing in the Ice is not the only sweet two-drop to be built around using instants and sorceries, but it might be the strongest. It just does so much for such little cost, but Brain in a Jar offers some exciting plays too.
Brain in a Jar is the AEther Vial that instants and sorceries have long awaited, although its power level is certainly more in check than Aether Vial's was. Brain in a Jar offers the player a way to save mana but it also offers card selection and the ability to cast sorceries at instant speed. Much of the time, this just means firing off a Ruinous Path as an instant, but we can go deeper. For example, maybe we cast a Duress on our opponent's draw step to nab a card before they can cast it.
When you start to add these things to Brain in a Jar's resume, it looks a little more attractive. My first thought was to build a counter-burn deck of sorts, but with a heavier control element to it.
I think this list is ok, but it doesn't do any of the cool stuff that Brain in a Jar is capable of.
The coolest thing I could find to cast on my opponent's turn was Day's Undoing. Getting around the entire drawback of the card was hugely appealing. Granted, giving your opponent seven cards is a legitimate risk, but what if you only do so once the game is locked up?
In theory, if I activate a Brain in a Jar to play Dark Petition with spell mastery, I should have enough mana afterward to cast a Behold the Beyond. If I do this, grabbing Day's Undoing, a win condition, and probably a sweeper of some kind, I am pretty well set up to win the game and have a back up in Day's Undoing to reset everything and do it again if that fails.
Here is the list after I trimmed it for a few hours:
This list is far from polished, but I like what is going on here quite a bit. Winning games is rather laborious, as you need to find your one or two win conditions and have them work, otherwise you need to recycle your deck and do it again. This makes winning a grindy process, but you should have such a mana and card quality advantage by this point in the game that only the clock is your real enemy. One-game matches are a real concern for this deck.
This is an idea I want to explore further, as Day's Undoing + Brain in a Jar is just too cool to not try while the combo is in Standard. What ideas do you have for it?
Shadows over Innistrad has yet to hit Magic Online, but once it does, you can expect brews like those above as well as many more to start being made into videos. This set looks awesome to brew with and I am excited to take a crack at it. In the meantime, we still have the Shadows over Innistrad release as well as the Pro Tour to go through and both of those should shed more light on Magic's darkest set.
Next week we will be exploring Modern with the new banned and restricted announcements, so if that is your format of choice, be sure to come back then. Until next week, thanks for reading!