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Sleepers and Busts for the Shadows over Innistrad Standard

Starting tomorrow, the focus of the next few weeks will be Shadows Over Innistrad as spoilers roll out. As a result, I wanted to take advantage of this window to talk about some older cards that might have a future in Shadows Over Innistrad Standard, depending on how the next few weeks play out. Like all Standard formats, we currently have quite a few powerful cards that are not seeing much play, not because they are bad cards, but because they are lacking a home or are in a bad spot in the metagame. These are cards that, on their face, have a power level good enough for Standard. They just need things to go their way, and they could end up being staples. Of course, like any time a new set enters Standard (and especially at rotation) we also have some cards and mechanics that will be worse in the new format than they are right now, and we will talk about a few of these as well. Today we'll be looking at some sleepers and busts for Shadows Over Innistrad Standard. 


  • Decks in Shadows Over Innistrad Standard will primarily be one or two colors (occasionally splashing a third), instead of four or five colors like what we have today due to the loss of fetch lands.
  • Graveyard cards/decks/synergies get better thanks to Shadows Over Innistrad, which has a strong graveyard sub-theme thanks to delirium
  • Zombies, Humans, Spirits, Wolves/Werewolves, and Vampires get better thanks to Shadows Over Innistrad, which appears to have a tribal sub-theme much like the original Innistrad. That said, we don't know if any of these tribes will get enough support for a true tribal deck in Standard.
  • Artifacts matter cards get better thanks to Clue tokens.
  • Eldrazi decks will continue to be good in Standard. Actually, they might be even better since a lot of powerful options are leaving the format. Plus most of these decks are one or two colors, so the downgrade in mana bases doesn't impact the decks in any major way. 


Sleepers are cards that are currently flying under the radar, but have some chance of breaking out in the new Standard format if things fall right. Of course, we don't know for sure since we've only seen a handful of cards from Shadows Over Innistrad, so it's too early to start constructing decks or anything like that. It's possible that some (or all) of these cards fall by the wayside in the new format, but each has some potential upside that makes them worth considering. 

Stoneforge Masterwork

Early spoilers and the original Innistrad suggests we'll be seeing more tribal synergies as Shadows Over Innistrad spoilers continue to roll out. They aren't going to print a chase Mythic like Relentless Dead with such strong tribal flavor, but not print any other Zombies, right? We know we'll be getting more Zombies, Werewolves/Wolves, Spirits, and Humans. The question is whether or not any of these tribes will be good enough to form their own Standard deck. 

Obviously, the power level and playability of Stoneforge Masterwork depends largely on how aggressive the tribes happen to be. When the card can give a creature +2/+2 on turn three it's pretty strong. Plus it scales up every time you resolve another tribe member, which means the card has a home in Zombies, assuming they get at least one strong one-drop. However, it might be Spirits that have the most potential with Stoneforge Masterwork. The dream scenario is a Lingering Souls type card, which could make Stoneforge Masterwork playable all by itself. Even without a card on par with Lingering Souls, Shadows Over Innistrad providing a bunch of aggressively costed, evasive Spirits might be enough. 

It wasn't that long ago that Ghostfire Blade, an inexpensive, powerful but restrictive equipment, suddenly found a home and went from $0.50 to $2.00. Of course it was aided by being part of the breakout deck at Pro Tour Magic Origins. Stoneforge Masterwork is fairly similar, assuming you are looking to go wide with a tribal deck. It may be even better than Ghostfire Blade in matchups where you don't have to worry about your board getting wiped. 

Over the long term, I really like cards that are the best at what they do, and Stoneforge Masterwork is (almost) as cheap as it gets for the effect. It's unlikely to be topped by another equipment, so if a deck ever wants to give a creature +1/+1 for each other creature that shares a creature type with it, it's going to use Stoneforge Masterwork, regardless of format. As such, the more cards that get printed and the better tribes become, the better Stoneforge Masterwork gets. Even discounting Standard, casual players love tribal decks and equipment is a popular casual sub-theme, so I wouldn't be surprised if, barring a reprinting, Stoneforge Masterwork eventually ends up being a few dollars from kitchen table demand alone. 

Overall, I think there is some chance that Stoneforge Masterwork gets a Ghostfire Blade-like spike in price at some point during its Standard life, especially considering the tribal focus of Shadows Over Innistrad. Even if it does not, it is an equipment with long-term kitchen table potential, which makes it a great deal when copies can be picked up for $2.50 a playset. 

Sanctum of Ugin

Green-Red Eldrazi is essentially a post-rotation deck, except it's powerful enough to be tier one even with all the crazy wedge cards from Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged in the format. It loses almost nothing at rotation. Rattleclaw Mystic becomes more copies of Hedron Crawler or a yet-to-be-revealed mana dork from Shadows Over Innistrad, and people are already cutting Ugin, the Spirit Dragons for Chandra, Flamecaller. As such, it seems likely Green-Red Eldrazi will be one of the default best decks at rotation, and it seems likely to hang around the top tiers of the format for the next year. 

This foreshadowing bodes well for Sanctum of Ugin (and to a lesser extent Shrine of the Forsaken Gods). The amount of new supply entering the market will be tiny as the community is focused on Shadows Over Innistrad block, Conspiracy II, and Eternal Masters, but demand will shoot up as some number of Jeskai Black, Mardu Green, and Four-Color Rally players decide that Green-Red Eldrazi in the place to be once their deck rotates. However, maybe the biggest reason to pick up some copies of this colorless land is the upcoming Modern bannings. 

If Eye of Ugin ends up getting banned in an effort to curtail the dominance of the Eldrazi deck, Sanctum of Ugin could end up being an even bigger winner because Tron will be looking for a replacement. I've already seen a few Tron lists running the card, and while it doesn't offer quite the same inevitability of Eye of Ugin, it's still a good way to lock up a game. Casting a Karn Liberated and sacrificing Sanctum of Ugin to get a Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, or casting a Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and searching up a Wurmcoil Engine is still a big game. If Eye of Ugin does indeed end up getting hit by the ban hammer, I wouldn't be surprised to see Tron lists starting with multiple copies of Sanctum of Ugin. Having potential demand outside of Standard is another reason to pick up your copies of Sanctum of Ugin today.

Financially, I think Sanctum of Ugin can shoot up to $2-$3 from Standard demand alone, assuming Eldrai Ramp continues to be tier one. If it is widely adopted in Tron, which we hypothesized to be one of the best decks in Modern when Twin was banned, it could spike past $5 with a big showing at a future Modern Grand Prix.

Artifacts Matter Cards

Pia and Kiran Nalaar

One of the most interesting aspects of Shadows Over Innistrad are the Clue tokens, which happen to be artifacts. As a result, "artifact matters" cards like Thopter Spy Network and Pia and Kiran Nalaar stand to gain a lot from rotation. 

Thopter Spy Network is an extremely powerful card, but it hasn't seen much play because having an artifact sitting around to trigger it every turn has been difficult since Darksteel Citadel rotated — all this changes with the addition of Clue tokens to the format. While we haven't seen a ton of cards that make Clue tokens yet, we've seen enough that it seems a safe bet they will be a major part of the format. All you need is a Thraben Inspector on turn one, and you'll have an artifact on the battlefield for the rest of the game. It's not like opponents are going to spend cards trying to kill Clue tokens, especially when you can sacrifice a Clue in response to the artifact destruction spell to draw a card. 

When you can guarantee you will have an artifact sitting around, Thopter Spy Network becomes a hybrid Bident of Thassa / Bitterblossom. It could see play as a finisher in control decks (as it did when Darksteel Citadel was still around) or in an artifact deck using Thopter Engineer, Pia and Kiran Nalaar, Hangarback Walker, and maybe even Stoneforge Masterwork to replace Ghostfire Blade. While it is too early to tell if such a deck will be tier one in Standard, what I know is that I'll be attempting it. It feels like all the pieces are there, it's just a matter of putting them all together. 

Pia and Kiran Nalaar seem nuts with Clue tokens, which provide ample fuel for the "sacrifice an artifact: deal two damage" ability. The best part of Pia and Kiran Nalaar is the pair is playable even without help. While being an intro pack Rare may limit their financial potential in the paper world (as does the fact they are already $5, which is absurd for an intro pack Rare), I'll be keeping a close eye on Chandra's parents on Magic Online, where they could double or triple in price if an artifact / Clue deck breaks out in Shadows Over Innistrad Standard. 

Deathmist Raptor/Den Protector

Den Protector

At one time, Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector were the best things you could do in Standard, but lately they've fallen by the wayside in the world of four color good stuff decks. However, with Shadows Over Innistrad we get the return of the madness mechanic, along with a ton of discard outlets and self-mill like Mindwrack Demon. Assuming the new Standard is about graveyards, which seems likely given the spoilers we've seen so far, the opportunity cost of inserting the Deathmist RaptorDen Protector package into a madness / self-mill deck is low enough that I wouldn't be surprised to see these cards jump to the top tiers of Standard once again. I mean, discounting everything else, how do you out grind a deck playing four Relentless Dead, four Deathmist Raptor, and four Den Protector

The wild card is just how much graveyard hate Wizards will put in Shadows Over Innistrad. If there are things like Containment Priest, Relic of Progenitus, or Leyline of the Void, suddenly this theory falls apart. The good news is Wizards often waits until the second set of the block (or the first set of the following block) to hose the mechanics of the first set in a block, so it's possible that graveyard decks have a window to rule, either from rotation until Eldritch Moon, or until the fall rotation. Even discounting graveyard based decks, Collected Company is on everyone's short list of "best cards in the format" for Shadows Over Innistrad Standard, and the Deathmist Raptor / Den Protector package can slot into those decks as well. 

Financially, both of these cards are at six month lows, which adds to the appeal. People are used to paying $15 for Den Protector and $25 for Deathmist Raptor, so if they are asked to pay this amount again they probably won't think twice about it. Of course, both cards rotate in the fall, which means you'll want to move your copies by the time Pro Tour Eldritch Moon comes to an end to avoid the "heading towards rotation" decline, but there may be a window for a quick double-up if these cards put up a good showing at either of the next two Pro Tours. Take a look at the price chart of Anafenza, the Foremost for an example of how a good Pro Tour showing can impact the price of a card, even a card nearing rotation.

Other Possible Sleepers

  • I'm still holding out hope that Drana, Liberator of Malakir could break out in the new Standard, which very well could mean a double up into the $10 or $15 range. While I'm not sure there is enough support for Ally Tribal, some sort of Mono-Black Aggro list that curves Relentless Dead into Drana, Liberator of Malakir into Mindwrack Demon could have legs. 
  • Flaying Tendrils seems really important in a format where Relentless Dead may very well be the best card, but as an Uncommon it will not be financially relevant. We've seen some really expensive Uncommons lately, but my theory is that this has more to do with the insane mana in Standard than the cards themselves. For example, in a normal Standard,Silkwrap would be a staple in White decks, which may make up 20% of the format, assuming all colors were played equally. However, in Oath of the Gatewatch Standard, where everyone is playing four colors, a lot more decks have the potential to play Silkwrap, which drives up the demand and the price. Plus, Flaying Tendrils's double Black mana cost further limits the number of decks that can play the card. 
  • Quarantine Field is another good answer to Relentless Dead, flipped Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, and just about anything else. While it is a bit expensive on its face, once you cast it at X = 2 or X = 3, it becomes very, very strong. In the past, using Quarantine Field to exile planeswalkers and Eldrazi was risky, mostly because Ugin, the Spirt Dragon was such a good, clean, efficient answer. Now that Ugin is rotating this enchantment get better.
  • Avaricious Dragon could end up being a playable card if madness ends up being good in Standard. The body is solid and evasive, and drawing an extra card every turn is great, but thus far it hasn't seen play because discarding your hand is such a big downside. However, if you are discarding Fiery Impulse, Incorrigible Youths, and other powerful madness cards, there isn't much downside at all. I didn't cover it in the main body of the article just because we haven't seen that many good madness cards yet, but I'll be watching the spoiler closely. If there is a critical mass of playable madness cards, it might be worth picking up a playset. 
  • Sidisi, Undead Vizier might be the best Zombie in Standard pre-Shadows Over Innistrad, and it has a lot of natural synergy with Relentless Dead. Being able to exploit a Relentless Dead for no loss of value seems good, and the 4/6 deathtouch body is huge against anything but Eldrazi. Sidisi even stonewalls Reality Smasher and Thought-Knot Seer
  • Last but not least, Icefall Regent is a really sneaky answer to Eldrazi that also provides a fairly fast clock in the air. If Green-Red Eldrazi moves to the top of the format, it could see an upswing in play as a way to hold back an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger or Kozilek, the Great Distortion. It even gets around Kozilek, the Great Distortion's countering ability because the Green-Red Eldrazi deck has nothing in the five-drop slot. 


Busts are cards and mechanics that are either getting hyped for no good reason, or simply got worse due to the changes in the format. Like the sleepers, none of this information is set in stone because we still have a ton of Shadows Over Innistrad cards to be revealed. As such, it is possible that some busts end up looking better than they do right now, but based on the information we have today, they don't appear to be in a great place moving forward.

Risen Executioner

Yes, Risen Executioner is a Zombie lord, but you have to wonder if the people that bought it out this past week even took the time to read the card. It's very likely the worst Zombie lord ever printed. First off, it's a 4/3 for four, which isn't horrible, but also isn't exciting by the standards of modern day Mythics. It can't even block. Really, Wizards? A 4/3 for four that can come back from the graveyard for a million mana can't block, but Relentless Dead not only gets to block, it also has menace? Literally the only "good" line of text on Risen Executioner is "other Zombie creatures you control get +1/+1," and I'm not even sure how good that will end up being. It will depend primarily on the printing of a bunch of aggressively costed Zombies in Shadows Over Innistrad

I'm not saying it's impossible that Risen Executioner shows up in Standard, but I am saying the card is pretty bad. Bad cards have shown up in tier one Standard decks before, but not all that often. Regardless, there's no way I'm buying my copies for $6 a piece. If Risen Executioner can overcome its shortcomings and break Standard, great, but I'm perfectly fine waiting for this to happen before buying in, even if there is a slight risk I end up paying more a couple months from now.

Anything With Converge

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

While converge gets worse in general, thanks to the end of too-good-to-be-true mana in Standard, some cards will get hit harder than others. Bring to Light is essentially dead since it's really a five-color card hiding behind its Blue-Green mana cost. While it's possible we see a dedicated five-color control list, gone are the days when we could just jam Bring to Light in pretty much any deck and expect to cast it for full value. 

Painful Truths will likely still be playable, but Read the Bones will be fighting for its slot in more and more decks. In a dedicated two-color deck, Read the Bones will always be the better card, since you get to scry, so the real question is how many decks will find it worthwhile to splash for a third color? I expect some will, but Painful Truths isn't so much better than Read the Bones that you are going to warp your manabase to run it. I wouldn't be surprised if Read the Bones sees more play than Painful Truths moving forward.

Radiant Flames suffers from the same problems as Painful Truths. In a two color (or mono-colored) deck Kozilek's Return will always be better since it's instant speed. For Radiant Flames to continue to be relevant, it will need three color decks like Jeskai and Mardu to be playable post-rotation. While I expect there will be a few, there will be far less than there has been over the past 18 months. Further complicating Radiant Flames's future is just how many x/3's will be in the format. If the format is about killing Relentless Dead, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, Goblins, Spirit tokens, and Zombie tokens created by Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, it's possible Kozilek's Return will be better even in three color decks, since it allows for most control over the timing and potentially allows you to kill an opponent's Relentless Dead while the don't have the Black mana available to return it to their hand. 

Finally, all converge cards suffer from the colorless problem. Since we are in a Standard where colorless cards create what is essentially a sixth color, a UB deck that wants to play Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher is really a three color deck. In turn an Esper deck playing colorless Eldrazi is really a four color deck. As players are building for the new Standard, some will choose colorless as their splash color, which further dampens the prospects of converge cards, since "colorless" isn't a color to power up converge. While I think all of these cards (except Bring to Light) will continue to see play, they will see far less play in Shadows Over Innistrad Standard than they have been over the past six months.

Anything With Landfall

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

The rotation of fetch lands pretty much ends the possibility of a competitive landfall deck in Standard. The cards just aren't good enough when you are only getting one landfall trigger each turn. The cards that allow you to play multiple lands (like Mina and Denn, Wildborn or Explosive Vegetation) don't really fit in an aggressive shell. While this statement isn't a huge surprise, considering most of these cards were fringe even with fetch lands in Standard, pretty much any card with the landfall mechanic will decline.

Other Possible Busts

  • Drana, Liberator of Malakir makes the bust list as well. As I mentioned earlier, I'm holding out hope that Mantis Rider was the real problem, and with the 3/3 vigilant blocker out, Drana, Liberator of Malakir will have a chance to shine. The problem is there are still a ton of Dragons in Standard, all of which stonewall Drana, Liberator of Malakir
  • The command cycle takes a hit thanks to the downgrade in mana. While decks will still be playing Kolaghan's Command and Dromoka's Command, the number of decks that can play two-color cards decreases significantly. With fetch lands and the Battle for Zendikar duals, Kolaghan's Command could show up in RB Dragons, Jeskai, Mardu, Abzan, and Five-Color Bring to Light. Now it will be difficult to play this card outside of straight Red-Black. 
  • Multicolor cards in general take a hit, for the same reason as the command cycle. Sure, you can play Reflector Mage in Blue-White, but in Shadows Over Innistrad the potential of splashing it in Abzan will be gone. 


Anyway, that's all for today. What are some of your sleepers for Shadows Over Innistrad Standard? What are some of your busts? As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments. You can reach me on Twitter (or MTGO) @SaffronOlive. 


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