A Farewell to Innistrad

With the official release of Kamigawa Neon Dynasty, I thought I would be fun to look back at our recent to return to Innistrad and discuss the cards from Midnight Hunt and Crimson Vow that made an impact in how I play the pioneer format.

Looking Back

February 18th sees the official release of Kamigawa Neon Dynasty and while other writers in the magic content sphere are frantically filling their time with new decks full of all the exciting cards that set will bring into the game, I thought I would be fun to look back at our recent to return to Innistrad and discuss the cards from Midnight Hunt and Crimson Vow that made an impact in how I play the Pioneer format. This is by no means meant to be an extensive look at every card from those sets that found a home in the format, but instead a highlight of the cards/decks that I most enjoyed in the months following the release of Midnight Hunt and Crimson Vow.

Wrenn and Seven

The first two cards on my list didn’t make as big of a splash in the Pioneer format as much as they did in my personal play, and Wrenn and Seven probably embodies that the most. Before the release of Midnight Hunt I definitely stayed away from multi-color greed piles, with Bant Spirits probably being the most adventurous deck I’ve played in terms of colors. That of course all changed when I saw this pumpkin spiced beauty hit the spoiler drops. A plus that finds us lands and fills the yard, a 0 that lets us dump lands onto the board, a minus to make a big dumb idiot of a token, and then an ultimate that takes us straight to value town. I quickly ordered four borderless copies and then went for a ride down the midrange highway ending up on the following decklist created by MTGO grinder DreamsOfAshiok.

Wrenn and Seven is a key support piece for this deck, allowing us to his consistent Omnath, Locus of Creation and Feldiar Retreat triggers off the +1 or flood the stack using Wrenn’s 0 ability. Another thing that I really liked about this deck was being able to play both Growth Spiral and Expressive Iteration  in the same shell, which was something I had been interested in doing in the leadup to Midnight Hunt so finding this deck was like a dream come true. As much as I really enjoyed playing this build of 4-color midrange and and it’s subsequent revisions, it really didn’t keep up with the meta shifts the format went through during the last several months. Where things stand right now, Omnath is just too slow and gets out sped by practically everything seeing top tier play at the moment. Which is why you’re seeing decks like Jeskai Ascendancy, a deck I really want to put more time into, transition to doubling up on Paradise Druid and Sylvan Caryatid and foregoing the 4-color mean bean machine.

Voice of the Blessed

I first made the Soul Sister’s deck without thinking much of it, but thanks to Crimson Vow’s Voice of the Blessed and its Midnight Hunt friend Lunarch Veteran the deck can quickly rack up some damage. 

I could gush for a whole article on how much I ended up liking this deck, and I highly recommend watching the VOD on the Crew3 youtube channel from when I first took it for a spin because – yeah this deck performed well above my expectations. Voice of the Blessed did exactly what I thought it would do, be an Ajani’s Pridemate with even more upside. And, it turns out being a Pridemate with upside is pretty darn good. Any time I hit four or more counters on one, it felt like the game was pretty much over, as a 5/5 flier with vigilance can be pretty hard for a lot of decks without hard removal to beat. Oh, and that goes doubly so if your opponent can’t answer a Voice before it becomes indestructible. 

Now, Voice of the Blessed might be the poster child for this section but I would be remiss if I didn’t at least talk about Lunarch Veteran’s impact on the archetype. Since the beginning Soul Sister’s has felt very much like an outer fringe player in the format, always missing something keeping it from even being tier two playable. Honestly, I think Lunarch Veteran was it giving the deck access now to two turn-one sisters between Veteran and Ajani’s Welcome, which allows the deck a higher consistency for getting counters on Voice and the other Pridemate-likes as soon as they hit the board – meaning they immediately move out of the range of cards like Play With Fire and Stomp as long as a Soul-Scar Mage isn’t on the board. If you happen to have some Heliod, Sun-Crowned lying around still and the Collected Companies, I can’t stress enough how fun this deck is and would highly recommend taking it to your LGS’ Pioneer night.

Graveyard Trespasser

Pioneer plays host to a bevy of great three-drops, and Trespasser quickly became one of my favorites (sorry Rotting Regisaur). Let me be clear here: I capital L-O-V-E, love Graveyard Trespasser. Every line of text on her is great: three mana value means it takes a revolted push to take it of the table, three toughness means it dodges all the Shock variants floating around the format, ward means that if opponent can use a removal spell on Trespasser it’s going to cost them extra – and in this case it’s a whole extra card out of their hand. Finally, it’s got a repeatable ability that attacks the graveyard while giving us a little accelerant to the clock. Oh, and if Trespasser flips, it gets even better. Since the release of Midnight Hunt I’ve pretty much been slotting Trespasser into any deck that I think wants it, or – heck – can at the very least just play it. Of course, though, my favorite deck was the ever evolving Rakdos Midrange decks that happily played Trespasser and a few other hot Innistrad includes.

Wow what a deck, so much interaction and every creature is a game-winning threat in it’s own right. And like I said, makes perfect use of Trespasser and gets plenty of other strong Innistrad includes like Bloodtithe Harvester, Bloodthirsty Adversary, and even Sorin the Mirthless. I’ve often thought Rakdos has been a strong color combo in the format, unfortunately one that’s been historically held back by the weaknesses of allied mana-bases. That of course isn’t to say Rakdos has never found success in Pioneer, by all means Rakdos Arcanist has long been in my mind one of the best decks in the format and the same now goes for its successor in Rakdos Blood. However, those decks never aligned with how I wanted to engage in the format. They’re too grindy and reliant on multiple pieces to really achieve critical mass. With this deck it’s as simple as interacting with our opponent early, playing an impactful midrange that can win on its own, and sending it. 

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

If you keep up with any amount of Crew3 content, it was obvious this was going to be the end of what I loved in the Midnight Hunt/Crimson Vow format. Spirits have long been my tribe of choice in Pioneer, but thanks to Thalia I think that ship might have finally sailed. It’s not that human tribal decks haven’t existed in Pioneer before Thalia, (like several decks I’ve mentioned, the new Innistrad sets merely improved on or provided new iterations on established archetypes) and Orzhov Humans was a deck I’ve long been familiar with and enjoyed playing. But hand disruption and Silverquill Silencers can only get you so far while slowing down the aggro plan. Enter Thalia and now we can get the beat downs going while actively slowing down the big spell decks like Izzet Phoenix while also serving as an immediate lightning rod for removal spells.  Now there has been a standard Selesnya Humans list for a little while now, but to me that’s just mono-white with Collected Company. My list below makes a little more use of the fact that we’re playing green by including a couple very exciting green humans.

Just like with Rakdos, even though I’m highlighting Thalia in this section, there are plenty of new additions to the archetype from Midnight Hunt/Crimson Vow. Brutal Cathar gives us on tribe mainboard removal which helps make up for not oplaying Skyclave Apparition, and since we’re a Coco deck we have some control over flipping the Cathar without having to stop progressing our board. Adeline, Resplendent Cathar is lowkey the biggest addition to the Humans archetype by continually adding to our board giving us some extra Thalia’s Lieutenant triggers, she also scales up with our board and can just end a game on her own after a big Supreme Verdict or other wrath. The final addition from the new Innistrad sets was, of course, Hamlet Vanguard. And while Adeline, Resplendent Cathar initially went under my radar during spoiler season, I was all aboard the Vanguard hype train – though in retrospect my appreciation of them has flipped. I think Vanguard still has a place in the deck by being a big beater with an annoying ward ability, but the nature of its ability not getting a bonus off a creature entering at the same time with Coco definitely holds it back some. 

The addition of Werewolf Packleader to my builds was something I definitely debated on for some time. At this point, I think the manabase can definitely support it, but still might take a little tweaking. I think the important thing when it comes to considering Packleader is that unlike other decks that normally play it, we aren’t likely to trigger the draw ability even if played on turn two, so we’re generally fine playing it out on turn three or four. Having the above-rate body beefs up our Cocos and give us some additional card advantage has been very good to me in games, and I definitely recommend trying them out if you’re going to play Selesnya Humans in the future – which is something you should definitely do, because I’ve been having a blast playing the deck in paper and online

Midnight Hunt and Crimson Vow both blew me away with their impact on the format as a whole, and the way I’ve been personally enjoying it. The cards I’ve taken the time to talk about today are by no means the full extent of that impact, see cards like Consider, Play With Fire, Tovolar’s Huntmaster, Galvanic Iteration, and the slow lands. Kamigawa Neon Dynasty has a tough act to follow after the Innistrad Double Feature, but based on early reactions, I think it’s ready to shift into high gear and take the lead.

  • Editor-In-Chief

    Having started playing Magic shortly before the release of Return to Ravnica, Ruckman’s Magic lifespan covers the breadth of the Pioneer format. Despite not being a stranger to the Top 8 tables of the old IQ and PTQ systems, most of his competitive experience comes from the other side of the event space, where he served more than five years as a level-two judge, only hanging up the black shirt for good at the beginning of 2022. Currently, you can find him making Pioneer content for Crew3 on your favorite podcasting platform or on Twitch/YouTube.

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One comment

  1. I really enjoyed this article. It not only highlights the cards most anticipated of the set and sees how they pan out, but also can serve as a time capsule. Your personal anecdotes really bring the decklists alive. It will be great to look back after more sets are released, to see how various decks evolve (such as soul sisters) and potentially rise to the top.

    I hope you guys continue this article series for the foreseeable future!

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