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Playing Around Instant-Speed Tricks in Shadows over Innistrad Limited

One of the first things I do after a new set comes out is memorize all the instant-speed tricks available in the format. That way I can make informed decisions before and during combat, as well as when casting spells that target my own creatures. I usually start by breaking the tricks down into five categories:

  • Instant-speed creatures: Flash creatures, token generators, and spells that let you play creatures at instant speed.
  • Creature removal: This includes bounce, tapping, and other temporary removal.
  • Pump/protection: Pump spells primarily affect combat by giving a creature +M/+N, while protection spells are primarily used to save a creature from removal or an unfavorable combat by giving it hexproof, protection from a color, or preventing damage. However, +M/+N can save creatures from removal, and protection from a color can help creatures survive combat, so I combined these categories.
  • Sideboard cards: This includes color hosers, artifact and enchantment removal, and conditional removal (e.g., Clip Wings, which only affects flyers). You don't usually need to play around them in game one.
  • Other: Everything else, including counterspells, card draw, and life gain. While they can sometimes be relevant, I don't tend to play around these cards in Limited.

The table below shows the count of tricks in Shadows over Innistrad in each of these categories by color. The only sideboard cards were Clip Wings and perhaps Dual Shot, so I rolled them into the Removal category to simplify. There are also two spells that are counted twice: Strength of Arms and Welcome to the Fold are both counted as Instant-Speed Creatures, in addition to Pump/Protection and Creature Removal/Bounce respectively.

  TOTAL Instant-Speed Creatures Creature Removal/ Bounce Pump/ Protection Other Spells in “Other” Category
White 10 2 4 4 - -
Blue 13 2 3 2 6 4 counterspells (Deny Existence, Broken Concentration, Invasive Surgery, Dissension in the Ranks) + 2 card draw (Catalog, Epiphany at the Drownyard)
Blue (Madness) 3 1 1 - 1 1 card draw (Nagging Thoughts)
Black 4 - 2 1 1 1 card draw (Merciless Resolve)
Black (Madness) 7 4 2 - 1 Alms of the Vein
Red 10 1 6 3 - -
Red (Madness) 6 2 2 2 - -
Green 8 2 2 4 - -
Multicolor 1 - 1 - - -
TOTAL 62 14 23 16 9  

Shadow over Innistrad has 46 instant-speed tricks, plus 16 Blue, Black, and Red spells with Madness, which can only be cast at instant-speed if you have access to a discard outlet. About a third of these 62 spells are removal, about a quarter are pump/protection, and another quarter are instant-speed creatures.

Instant-Speed Creature Removal

Red has 8 of the 23 removal spells that are instant-speed or have Madness, making up a third of the total. White, Blue, and Black have four each, while Green has two and there is one Multicolor removal spell.

  • The White removal in Shadows over Innistrad is relatively easy to remember because most of them have analogues in Battle for Zendikar or Oath of the Gatewatch: Puncturing Light is very similar to Searing Light, Silverstrike is very similar to Immolating Glare, Humble the Brute is very similar to Smite the Monstrous, and Expose Evil is a bit like a White version of Adverse Conditions.
  • Blue has three instant-speed bounce spells and a spell with Madness that can steal creatures.
  • Black can give a creature -4/-4 or make an opponent sacrifice a creature at instant speed. With a discard outlet, Black can also destroy a tapped creature or give all creatures -2/-2 at instant speed.
  • Red has instant-speed removal that can do one, two, three, or five damage, and two spells that cause your opponent's creatures to fight themselves (Inner Struggle) or another blocker (Dissension in the Ranks). With a discard outlet, Red can also deal X damage divided among any number of targets or borrow a creature mid-combat (and cause it to fight a former ally).
  • Green can make each opponent sacrifice a flyer or can have its Wolves and Werewolves "hunt down" a single creature.
  • The only Multicolor removal spell is Anguished Unmaking, which is a Rare, so it won't show up very often.

Only Red and Blue have one-mana removal spells: Dual Shot, Lightning Axe and, with a discard outlet, Fiery Temper and Just the Wind. At two mana, Just the Wind can be cast without a discard outlet, and Blue also gains access to another bounce spell (Compelling Deterrence). With a discard outlet, Black can cast Murderous Compulsion and Red can cast Avacyn's Judgment. White and Green also have some more conditional removal at two mana in the form of Puncturing Light, Expose Evil, Clip Wings, and Moonlight Hunt.

The following four instant-speed removal spells can affect multiple creatures.

There are also four more spells with Madness that can kill multiple creatures at instant-speed if you have a discard outlet. (I count spells that borrow/steal creatures at instant-speed in this category since they can kill two creatures under the right circumstances.)

Instant-Speed Pump/Protection

Red has five of the 16 pump/protection spells in the set, White and Green have four each, Blue has two, and Black has one.

  • As with the White removal spells, most of the White pump/protection spells in Shadows over Innistrad also have analogues in Battle for Zendikar or Oath of the Gatewatch. Strength of Arms is similar to Lithomancer's Focus, Survive the Night is similar to Make a Stand but affects only one creature, Eerie Interlude is also similar to Make a Stand in that they both protect all your creatures, and Tenacity is a bit like a White version of Unity of Purpose.
  • Blue can remove a creature from play briefly (and give it a +1/+1 counter if it is a Spirit) for one mana, or give it -4/-0 for two mana.
  • Black can give a creature +3/+1 and Lifelink for two mana.
  • Red can give a creature +2/+1 for one mana or +1/+1 and Double Strike for three mana. It also has an Aura with Flash that gives the enchanted creature +3/+0 and First Strike for four mana. It has two more Enchantments with Madness, a two-mana Aura that grants +2/+2, and a three-mana Enchantment that gives attackers First Strike (and gives Vampires a +1/+1 counter each time they deal combat damage to a player). These two are the only pump/protection effects with Madness.
  • Green has four pump spells, one at each converted mana cost between one and four. It can give a creature +1/+1 for each Clue for one mana (it gives at least +1/+1 since it also makes a Clue), or +2/+2 (and reach and untap it) for two mana. For more mana, you get permanent pump effects: an Enchantment that gives +1/+1 and Trample to all Wolves and Werewolves you control for three mana, or 2-3 +1/+1 counters for four mana.

Most colors have a one-mana pump/protection spell: White has Strength of Arms, Blue has Essence Flux, Red has Rush of Adrenaline, and Green has Confront the Unknown. At two mana, Blue also gets access to Jace's Scrutiny, Black gets access to Grotesque Mutation, Red gets access to a Aura with Madness that gives +2/+2 to the enchanted creature, and Green gets access to Aim High. All these one- and two-mana spells are Commons, so it is worth memorizing them since you will encounter them frequently.

Instant-Speed Creatures

Shadows over Innistrad has 14 instant-speed creatures, which may seem like a lot, but half of these require a discard outlet to be played at instant speed, and half of the rest are Rare or Mythic.

If your opponent doesn't have a discard outlet, you'll mainly want to play around Stormrider Spirit, Dance with Devils, and Pack Guardian. If they do have a discard outlet, you'll also want to play around Black being able to cast a 3/5 or multiple 2/2's once they get to three mana, and around Red being able to cast 4/X Vampires for 2-3 mana.


The instant-speed removal in Shadows over Innistrad can deal with a large range of creatures since there are different spells that deal 1-5 points of damage to a creature, as well as instant-speed bounce, which was mostly absent in Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch. All colors have playable pump/protection spells at Common at one and/or two mana, and you should familiarize yourself with those. Unless you're playing against a deck with discard outlets, there are only a couple of Common/Uncommon instant-speed creatures you have to play around.

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