Hey friends! It’s time for another set review here on Cardsphere. Today we’re going to look at the cards from Innistrad: Crimson Vow, as well as the new cards from the Crimson Vow Commander product. We’re going to dig through the set to find the best cards and the ones I think are going to see wedded bliss with many Commander decks. Before we start, just a quick note. This set is very themed around certain creature types. So there are many cards that will be fantastic in, say, a vampire deck, but otherwise useless. I’m not going to take time talking about those cards, because they’re not useful across many types of decks and won’t have universal appeal throughout the format. All right, let’s go.
We’ll start off with the cards that can play lead singer in your deck. We’ll begin with a legend that’s going to cause some salt, with
Toxrill, the Corrosive (and yes, I’m aware of the irony of a slug causing salt.) Toxrill costs a huge 7 mana, but the effect you get is massive. What you’re doing with Toxrill is basically putting a -1/-1 counter on each creature your opponents control at every end step. Then when those creatures die you get a slug, which you can then sacrifice to draw a card. The closest commander we can compare Toxrill to is
Massacre Girl, which is a board wipe on a commander. Toxrill doesn’t wipe everything on entry like Massacre Girl, but it certainly hampers your opponents' gameplans, similar to
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. Throw in some proliferate effects and you’re keeping the board clear. Just don’t be surprised if Toxrill gets killed often and without remorse.
Along similar salty lines, we have a commander that is only available in set boosters and collectors boosters.
Umbris, Fear Manifest is a 1/1 for 5 mana that gets +1/+1 for each card your opponents own in exile. Then when Umbris or another nightmare or horror enters the field you exile cards from an opponent’s library until they hit a land. Some people aren’t a fan of losing their cards for the entirety of the game, but I don’t think this is a big deal. You don’t see most of the cards in your deck in any given game anyway. The great thing about Umbris is that if it dies, you don't have to start over when you re-cast it. Those cards are all still in exile, and your Umbris is still big.
If two blue/black commanders isn’t enough for you, then let’s throw in
Runo Stromkirk. Runo gives you a ton of value for just three mana. A 1/4 flyer, if you reveal a 6 MV creature on the top of your library on your upkeep, you flip Runo over to Krothuss, Lord of the Deep, which gives you a tapped and attacking copy of a creature you control when it attacks. And if that creature is a sea monster, you get two of those copies. Giant sea creatures are an extremely fun way to play, provided you can make enough mana or find ways to cheat them out.
Did you think Innistrad had only one legendary frog? Think again!
Grolnok, the Omnivore doesn’t care about lands, but it does make for an extremely powerful recursion commander. Why Grolnok is especially good is that the cards that are exiled don’t get lost if Grolnok leaves the battlefield. So as long as you have your commander, you’ll have access to all the permanent cards that you milled, because they still have croak counters. You’re not likely to be attacking with a ton of frogs, unless you built a Changeling deck, but there are plenty of other ways to mill yourself.
We’ve seen how powerful commanders can be when they sneak in creatures for attacks, with the likes of
Kaalia of the Vast and
Ilharg, the Raze-Boar. And Olivia Voldaren is back, in the form of
Olivia, Crimson Bride, to show us how to do that with the graveyard. Whenever she attacks you get to bring a creature back from the grave tapped and attacking. And you get to keep that creature for as long as you control a legendary vampire. There are many ways to sneak creatures into your graveyard, with cards like
Final Parting. So Olivia, Crimson Bride is going to be a powerhouse commander. She costs a lot, but that just means you’ll have extra time to fill your grave with creature goodies before she walks down the aisle.
The last legendary creature from the set that I think will have a significant impact in Commander is the only one from the Commander decks that caught my eye. It’s
Donal, Herald of Wings. With Donal, you get to copy each nonlegendary flying creature spell you cast once per turn. The copies come in as 1/1s, so significantly powered down. But you weren’t really planning to block with that extra
Consecrated Sphinx anyway, were you? Donal could see some decent play in the command zone, but where he’s going to show up the most is in the 99 of the many blue/white flyer decks out there.
Now let’s take a look at the creatures who can’t be your commander. We’ll start with a pretty decent replacement for
Mentor of the Meek. It’s
Welcoming Vampire, and it draws you a card whenever a creature with power 2 or less enters the field under your control. The drawback here is that it only triggers once per turn. So you don’t have to pay the mana like you do with Mentor, but you can’t chain out a bunch of weenies for extra card draw on a turn. However, if you have a way to make creatures on your opponent’s turns, like with token makers, then that will be extra cards for you.
Hullbreaker Horror is a step up from last year’s
Brinelin, the Moon Kraken, even if it’s unable to sit in the command zone. A 7/8 for 7 mana that can’t be countered, and can be cast at instant speed, this kraken will basically give you an
Unsubstantiate whenever you cast a spell (Unsubstantiate can only bounce creatures, while Hullbreaker Horror can bounce any nonland permanent.) Expect to see this one showing up in a lot of games, because it is immensely powerful, and quite possibly the best card in the set.
Mirrorhall Mimic adds to the long history of clone cards in Magic. But where this differs is that if it’s in your graveyard, you can cast it for its Disturb cost, and it will become an aura version of
Progenitor Mimic. It’s a 2 for 1, and I’m a big fan of that kind of value on a card.
Cemetery Desecrator is just dying to make its way into all kinds of reanimator decks. Looping this thing back and forth from the graveyard will be a nightmare for your opponents, and a very difficult threat to deal with. The key thing to note is that you can exile a card from any graveyard, not just yours. So you’re not losing your precious resources. Also great for mill decks!
Let’s move over to red for a couple of creatures that could give
Guttersnipe a run for its money.
Kessig Flamebreather deals one damage to each opponent whenever you cast a noncreature spell. It’s one damage less than Gutternsipe, but it looks at all noncreature spells, not just instants and sorceries. Great for artifact or enchantment heavy decks. And within the same set we have a very similar creature in
Lambholt Raconteur. The front side is a Daybound werewolf with the exact same effect as the Flamebreather, but the Nightbound side, Lambholt Ravager, pumps it up to two damage per spell.
If you thought the flying sharks from
Shark Typhoon were too cute, then
Manaform Hellkite might be for you. Two mana less than the Typhoon, and a creature itself, the Hellkite does have the huge negative of forcing you to exile the tokens you make at the end of the turn, but also has the huge positive of giving the tokens Haste. So I can’t say it’s strictly better or worse than Shark Typhoon, but it's a great card either way.
We’ve got another werewolf that will be great for decks that aren’t werewolf themed, with
Avabruck Caretaker. This mythic is a 4/4 with Hexproof that puts some +1/+1 counters on a creature at the beginning of combat. When it’s Night, she flips to Hollowhenge Huntmaster and gives all of your permanents Hexproof. This is an extremely good ability to have for staving off spot removal spells.
And then we have a couple of powerful beasts. First up is
Cultivator Colossus, one of those stupidly powerful green creatures that you read and think “It doesn’t really do that, does it?” It’s got Trample and power/toughness equal to the number of lands you control. And when it enters the battlefield, you can put a land from your hand onto the battlefield. When you do, you get to draw a card and do that again. And you can keep going and going until you don’t have a land to play. There are so many ways to combo with this, including
Abundance, which will dig through your entire deck...
A bit less powerful, but still a lot of fun, is
Ulvenwald Oddity, a 4/4 trampler with Haste. You can pay 7 to transform it to Ulvenwald Behemoth, an 8/8 that gives all of your creatures +1/+1, Trample, and Haste. Sounds like an excellent finisher for a stompy deck to me.
Included in the set boosters are some Commander cards that you won’t find in the two pre-constructed decks. Among them are a creature of each color that brings back the Soulbond mechanic. Worth noting are
Breathkeeper Seraph, which brings back the bonded creatures when they die,
Mirage Phalanx, which makes a copy of the bonded creatures at the beginning of combat, and
Thundering Mightmare, which puts +1/+1 counters on the bonded creatures whenever an opponent casts a spell.
We’ve got three planeswalkers in Crimson Vow. First up is
Sorin the Mirthless. Sorin’s plus 1 ability is an optional
Dark Confidant effect, and is a strong bit of card advantage. But his other two abilities are a bit lacking. His minus 2 gives you a vampire token, and his ultimate of minus 7 deals 13 damage and gains you 13 life. To be honest, I think I’d rather run
Next up is
Chandra, Dressed to Kill. She has two plus one abilities, one of which gives you mana and deals a damage, and one impulse draw. Then her ultimate, at minus 7, gives you a sweet emblem that deals out damage when you cast red spells. This ult is sweet, but as always, it’s best not to judge a planeswalker by their ultimate. Thankfully, her first two abilities are solid for the 3 mana value she costs. I’ll definitely be picking one up for my Rionya deck.
Last we have
Kaya, Geist Hunter. Her plus 1 is a solid combat effect, while her minus 2 doubles the tokens you make until end of turn. Any token, not just creatures. She’s got a very enticing ultimate, which exiles all cards from graveyards then makes you a spirit token for each card exiled. This can be really solid in the late game, and even game ending if you’ve got a
Corpse Knight on the board, but you can expect that players with hefty graveyards are going to target her. So I’d probably only run her if I know my own graveyard is going to be full.
Instants and Sorceries
Now let’s take a look at the nonpermanent spells. If you thought Midnight Hunt had some powerful board wipes, Crimson Vow is here to show you that Innistrad isn’t quite done with hitting the reset button. First up is
By Invitation Only. For 5 mana, you choose a number between 0 and 13, and each player sacrifices that many creatures. This is incredibly powerful when your opponents are running Indestructible and/or Hexproof creatures. While it will be the most powerful in go-wide decks, since you can pick a high number and still have some creatures left, it can be good in any deck that can run it. Not as efficiently costed as
Vanquish the Horde, but far more powerful. Then we have blue joining the mass removal game with
Consuming Tide, a 4 mana sorcery that makes each player return all their nonland permanents to their hand except for one of their choice. And to top it off, if you end up with fewer cards in hand than an opponent, you get to draw a card.
Next up is a counterspell that got a few people in a tizzy when it was revealed. I’m talking about
Wash Away. For one blue mana you can counter any spell that wasn’t cast from a player’s hand. Yes, you can counter commanders for just one mana. Should you? Depends on the commander, to be honest. And then there’s a Cleave cost. Cleave is a new mechanic in Crimson Vow, and it’s an alternate cost, where if you pay this cost, you get to cut off part of the text on the card. So for two mana more, Wash Away becomes
Cancel. More on Cleave in my closing thoughts below.
Moving over to red’s hot new wheel that’s just for you. It’s
Change of Fortune, a sorcery that makes you discard your hand and draw cards equal to the number of cards you’ve discarded this turn. This is going to be huge in Madness and Cycling decks, and really it could see play in a lot of other decks as well. Sometimes it’s nice to just have a fresh hand.
Then we’ve got
End the Festivities, which costs you 1 red mana and deals 1 damage to each opponent and each creature and planeswalker they control. Great against tokens, and probably an auto-include in
Firesong and Sunspeaker decks. Or a great combo piece with
Shriveling Rot or
Death Pits of Rath.
Reckless Impulse is very simple, for two mana you exile your top two cards and you can play them this turn. A really solid card that could see a lot of play, especially with
Prosper, Tome-Bound. I’ll be grabbing a few for my budget decks.
Cartographer’s Survey had me on the fence for quite a while. Four mana, look at your top 7 and put two lands into play. The fact that it doesn’t say basic lands makes this a winner.
If you’re looking to get stuff back from the grave for cheap,
Retrieve could be the spell for you. For one more mana than
Regrowth, you get a creature and a noncreature permanent. The exile is unfortunate, but still a very solid card.
Over in the Commander decks we’ve got a powerful new blink effect with
Disorder in the Court. Pay X, a blue, and a white, exile X target creatures, make X clues, then return those cards to the battlefield at the next end step. A really solid include for blink decks, and also a good way to deal with approaching threats. Especially if they’re tokens, because those ain’t coming back. The clues you get are just icing.
Predators’ Hour does a hell of a lot for just two mana. Until the end of turn your creatures get Menace, and when they deal damage to an opponent those players exile cards from their library. Then you have the ability to play those cards. Not just that turn, for the rest of the game. And you can spend any mana to do it! I expect to see this one a lot in creature-heavy decks with black.
And last up for instants and sorceries is
Sudden Salvation. This is an interesting political card, since you can use it to get stuff back for your opponents. More costly than
Brought Back, but a bit more versatility. Obviously the christmasland play is bringing back someone’s
Phage the Untouchable. Unlikely, but a boy can dream.
Artifacts, Enchantments, and Lands
Last but not least, we’re gonna dig through the rest of the permanents that we haven’t covered. Not many here worth noting, unfortunately.
First up is an incredibly solid anthem effect for counters decks, even if it’s not efficiently costed.
Sigarda’s Summons is, sadly, not in color for hydra decks, but it’s great for any Abzan (green/white/black) deck that dishes out counters. The flying is what really puts this one over the edge.
Glorious Sunrise is a repeating modal effect. And you know how much I love modal cards. Throw this one into any green stompy decks.
Haunted Library has an effect that I’m not usually a fan of. That’s triggered abilities that say when X happens, pay Y and get Z effect. I don’t generally like them because I don’t like holding mana up for them. This one, however, seems like it’ll be worth it. Especially if you’re planning to take out a lot of creatures.
Lantern of the Lost is a bit of a rehash on
Soul-Guide Lantern, but without the card draw option. Still worth playing though, as SGL has gotten a bit pricey for an uncommon.
Wedding Ring is a cute, meme-tastic type of card that people are going to have really fun experiences with. I look forward to seeing it played, because sometimes it’s nice to just see fun cards.
And finally, we didn’t have to wait long for the cycle of lands started in Midnight Hunt to be completed. Crimson Vow gave us the rest of the cycle, and just as with the dual lands in Midnight Hunt, these are very strong and will see a lot of play. In fact, they’ll be among the most played cards from the set.
All right, there you have all the cards in Crimson Vow that are worth looking at for Commander. As I said in the intro, there are several cards in this set that will be huge in creature type matters decks for vampires, zombies, humans, and spirits. The same was true for Midnight Hunt. For instance,
Necroduality is going to be played in any zombie deck that can afford it. And
Laid to Rest will be great for humans. But outside of these cards, I don’t see a huge impact to the format coming from this set. There are some absolute bombs in this set, don’t get me wrong.
Hullbreaker Horror and
Cultivator Colossus are incredible. But as a whole, the set is far from the power of sets like Throne of Eldraine or Theros: Beyond Death.
Part of the weakness of this set is in the new mechanics. You’ll probably notice that I didn’t mention a single card in my article that involved Blood tokens. That’s either because the cards were too vampire-specific, or because they’re just not good. Outside of vampire decks, I expect to see little to no use of Blood in commander games. We saw the disappointing
Odric, Blood-Cursed card which gives you Blood tokens for each ability on creatures you control when he enters the field. Aside from the fact that he has no keyword abilities himself, most people don’t like playing commanders that are only good if your board is well-developed.
Training may see a little more play in go-wide green/white token decks, or +1/+1 counter decks..
Torens, Fist of the Angels is a decent commander for that strategy, but a 2/2 that wants to attack isn’t great in the late game, so you’re mostly going to play him for the tokens.
Disturb, originally introduced in Midnight Hunt, picked up quite a few more good cards in this set, and I expect those cards to see some moderate play.
Which leaves us with Cleave. I only mentioned one Cleave card in my review here. Frankly, the mechanic is a bit undercooked. My main issue with it, aside from being just messy in practice, is that the Cleave costs are all too expensive. I mentioned
Wash Away earlier. This card would have been an instant staple if the Cleave cost were just one mana less. Same is true for
Dig Up. Other Cleave cards, like
Inspired Idea and
Lunar Rejection, are just flat out bad cards.
There are a handful of cards in this set that I’m really excited about. But the same can be said for pretty much every set. The flavor, as with any Innistrad set, is outstanding.
Dying to Serve and
Concealing Curtains both had me grinning, but not because they’re good cards. Where this set suffers is in catering too much to supporting specific creature types rather than being universally appealing. Does that mean it's a bad set? No, it just means that it's not for everybody.
There you have it, my friends. It seems like just yesterday we got the announcement that there would be two Innistrad sets this year. And now we’ve seen all the cards, so tell me what you think of my analysis. Any cards I missed or over-hyped? Hit me up on Twitter at @AndyZupke. You can also catch me streaming budget Commander Sunday nights at twitch.tv/scraptrawlers. Check back in two weeks for more Crimson Vow. Until then, take care. And play lots of games!