I always enjoyed Madness and I'm excited to see it make a return to Standard with Shadows over Innistrad. Today I'm going to be talking about what we can expect out of the madness mechanic. At the time I'm writing this article, not all of the cards have been previewed, so we don't have perfect information, but we do have a great starting point to discuss some different decks we can build using this mechanic.
First let's talk about enablers. We can't cast spells with madness without ways to discard cards. Here are the madness enablers that exist in Standard prior to Shadows over Innistrad that we can consider for our madness decks.
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is a Standard powerhouse and Shadows over Innistrad will only make him stronger. Unlike most of the other madness enablers, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is a source of card advantage when using madness because he turns cards like Fiery Temper and Incorrigible Youths into cantrips. The greatest thing about Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is he allows you to cast madness spells at instant speed. This is not relevant for spells that are already instants like Fiery Temper, but being able to play a surprise blocker that also draws you a card is quite appealing. Your opponent will never know what to play around and will be afraid to attack you, leaving you in complete control.
Chandra, Flamecaller. This six-mana Planeswalker will take a while to set up, but once she's online she can provide an insane madness turn. She lets you discard your entire hand, allowing you to cast all of your madness spells in one shot while drawing a hand of new cards. I don't expect her to be the primary focus for madness decks but rather a utility card with multiple uses. Chandra, Flamecaller probably isn't making the cut in a vampire aggro deck but she seems great in Blue/Red control decks that run Fiery Temper and Just the Wind.
Liliana, Defiant Necromancer is a great madness enabler and a source of card advantage, as your opponent will be forced to discard a card while you gain value. The problem with relying on Liliana, Heretical Healer as a madness enabler is that she does not enable madness until she flips, meaning that you have to work extra hard just to be able to play your madness spells. I think Liliana, Heretical Healer will work best in an aggressive madness deck that is already playing creatures that enable madness, like Heir of Falkenrath and Ravenous Bloodseeker.
Tormenting Voice. This card has always been nothing but filler in limited. You were never really unhappy to play it as a twenty-third card but usually cut it if you had something better to do. With madness around, Tormenting Voice suddenly becomes playable in Standard as a discard outlet. Two mana is an aggressively-costed Divination and as long as you are casting a madness spell with it there is no downside. I expect this to be the go-to draw spell in madness control decks, especially for players on a budget.
Avaricious Dragon. A forgotten mythic from Magic Origins, I hope that madness is the mechanic that pushes this card into Standard. I have played with Grafted Skullcap in Standard and was pretty excited when this effect returned and was attached to a creature, but unfortunately the creature was just too risky to play in today's Standard decks. Hopefully the madness rewards will outweigh the risks of putting this card in your madness decks.
Oath of Jace. Oath of Jace is a bit on the expensive side, but it's a great madness outlet for inexpensive madness spells like Fiery Temper. The downside of this madness enabler is that it forces you to play your madness spells during your main phase only. However if you are really desperate for more blue madness outlets, Oath of Jace is a viable option.
There are not many individual cards pre-Shadows over Innistrad that are suitable madness outlets, but the ones we have are amazing. It's hard to top Jace, Vryn's Prodigy as a madness outlet. It's an incredibly efficient card. Imagine activating his loot ability, drawing a card and then madnessing out a Fiery Temper. Then, when Jace, Vryn's Prodigy flips, use his -3 to cast the Fiery Temper from your graveyard. You've just paid four mana to deal six damage and draw a card. Not bad!
The aggro version of the deck will be Red/Black and consist mostly of vampires. It's the most obvious deck to build, as Shadows over Innistrad has given us Aquamoeba and Arrogant Wurm. If any of you were playing Magic back during Odyssey Block Standard, you probably remember the most dominant deck in Standard, U/G Madness. U/G Madness worked by playing a two-drop such as Wild Mongrel or Aquamoeba (hmm, seems very similar to Heir of Falkenrath and Ravenous Bloodseeker…) and then on turn three your best play was to discard your Arrogant Wurm (Incorrigible Youths) and cast it for three mana. To top it all off, U/G Madness even had Jace, Vryn's Prodigy in the form of Merfolk Looter! It's pretty obvious that these new vampires are callbacks to the U/G Madness deck from 15 years ago and Wizards wants us to recreate this deck in a new form.
This list is very rough because we do not have perfect information. Not all of the cards from Shadows over Innistrad have been spoiled yet so it's possible that there are cards missing. However this list gives us a good idea of what this deck is trying to do. It's the most aggressive madness deck we can build with what we have available.
We have eight one-drops in Falkenrath Gorger and Zurgo Bellstriker. I chose not to include any 2/1 creatures that cost B in this deck because it would be too tough on the mana. We want our manabase to consist of mostly Mountains, so ideally, our one-drops should be red. Our one-drops right now are excellent. Usually red one-drops have a downside of some kind but these do not. Falkenrath Gorger has upside and Zurgo Bellstriker even has a toughness added. Let's be real, we aren't blocking if we're playing this deck, so Zurgo Bellstriker's downside is practically non-existent. Zurgo Bellstriker is legendary but in this deck we are looking to discard cards to satisfy effects of Olivia, Mobilized for War and Tormenting Voice so drawing multiples is fine.
The two-drops we're playing are our discard outlets, Heir of Falkenrath and Ravenous Bloodseeker. Both of these creatures attack for three most of the time, and Heir of Falkenrath even has evasion which is not something we usually get in a red aggro deck. These discard outlets are fuel for our strongest play, a three-mana Incorrigible Youths, which allows a seven-point attack on the third turn.
Olivia, Mobilized for War is another excellent creature for this deck. She is both aggressively costed and a madness outlet. I'm very excited to build decks with Olivia, Mobilized for War and this deck is a great starting point for her.
We need ways to close out the game once our creatures have been dealt with and Fiery Temper and Exquisite Firecraft do that very well. Tormenting Voice is also great here as a utility spell that also allows you to madness. There will be times where we will be out of gas and have a land to discard, but in perfect scenarios we will be discarding a Fiery Temper.
The manabase in this deck is not perfect but this is all we have to work with right now. We can have a more consistent manabase by playing some Evolving Wilds but we'll have to sacrifice speed to do so. There are also some great non-basic utility lands in this format like Foundry of the Consuls, Westvale Abbey, and Blighted Fen. In a deck with these color requirements you really can't afford to play many, but I included a Westvale Abbey because it's a great thing to use when you're out of gas.
Other things to try:
Sinister Concoction. This is not the best rate for a removal spell but it's one of the better options we have if you want to both have a madness outlet and kill any creature. Grasp of Darkness and Ultimate Price are better spells but both have their limitations. Sinister Concoction kills anything and you don't have to worry about having an Ultimate Price in hand when you need to kill an Eldrazi or a Grasp of Darkness when a Sigarda, Heron's Grace is on the battlefield. Sinister Concoction is also a madness outlet that can be activated at instant speed, and it helps you get delirium. It's definitely worth looking into.
Elusive Tormentor. This card is hard to kill and also provides us with a madness outlet. I wouldn't play it in an aggressive vampire deck but if you are playing a deck that uses madness and is a bit more midrange I can see its appeal. He seems like a great finisher in a control deck.
The second madness deck is a more controlling deck that uses Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Chandra, Flamecaller as madness outlets. There are many directions in which you can take this deck. You can be full-on control with lots of counters and removal with Planeswalkers or big flyers as your win conditions, or you can take a more combo approach with Sphinx's Tutelage or big, splashy spells like Rise from the Tides. My proposed list is a more generic control build.
It looks super fun. Madness is definitely a subtheme in this deck, but when we're playing powerful cards like Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Chandra, Flamecaller, there's no reason not to play the strongest madness spells.
The main theme is "bounce all the things." There are seven spells that bounce all nonland permanents in play. The first four are Thing in the Ice. This card is great. It blocks early and then when the time is right you can reset the board and have a 7/8 creature on the battlefield. The best thing about it is that it bounces non-horrors, so you can play multiple copies and not have to worry about bouncing your other ones (the 0/4 side is a horror as well).
The other "bounce all" spell is Crush of Tentacles. This is another sweet card for this style of deck, as there are a lot of one-mana spells that can help you cast this with surge as early as turn six. Fiery Temper and Just the Wind need a Jace, Vryn's Prodigy or a Chandra, Flamecaller to help you, but there are also four copies of Fiery Impulse. You can even play Epiphany at the Drownyard for one mana if you really need to.
The rest of the deck is removal and counterspells. Clash of Wills is an excellent card that I think will see more play now that we are losing Disdainful Stroke. It's a two-mana counterspell which is very hard to come by these days and in a control deck it's really important to be able to counter something when on the draw. Scatter to the Wind has great synergy with our spells that are bouncing all nonland permanents.
There is still a week to go for Shadows over Innistrad previews and it's likely that haven't seen all of the madness spells and enablers in the set. In the meantime, these lists are great starting points for madness decks and I am looking forward to seeing what else Shadows over Innistrad has to offer.
See you next week and enjoy the rest of preview season!
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