How goes the haunting, my fellow magicians of the macabre? We’re getting deep into the spooky season now; Halloween approaches, and with it, the sinister intermission between the two halves of Magic’s ongoing Innistrad double feature!
Yes, there’s still plenty of screams to wring out of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt in the remaining month before Innistrad: Crimson Vow hits shelves. Indeed, I have already wrought one blog of fearsome predictions for these paired Innistrad sets, some of which already foreshadow the scares to come in Crimson Vow. But in order to build some classic horror atmosphere (and get in ahead of WotC’s own previews), I’ve decided that now is the time to unleash my Crimson Vow set predictions upon the land.
Lock your doors and bar your windows… or leave them open, and ponder the terrors which will soon enough surround us all!
SAFE BET: Soulbond
In a set centered around the joining of two souls in unholy matrimony, what could be an easier fit than this?! Flavorful, powerful, and highly unique, soulbond holds appeal for all of the traditional player identities. It’s even a native Innistrad mechanic, having debuted back in Avacyn Restored. Soulbond may have limited design space, but the base characteristics of the creatures printed with it open up those possibilities. Imagine giving Lightning Mauler’s “soulbond for haste” text to a 5/5 flyer!
There’s also plenty of potential for more advanced soulbond effects. Both creatures could get “+X/+X, where X is the other’s power,” or “whenever this creature dies, if it was bonded, return it to the battlefield.” The open-ended timing of how bonds are formed is notorious for creating havoc with Deadeye Navigator, but in all other cases, it’s an invitation to make cool, spontaneous plays. So why not bring it back and print a fixed Navigator (that gives creatures a “phase out” active) while we’re at it!
JUST A HUNCH: Bloodthirst
I promise this prediction is only 50% because of the name – but you have to admit, that’s a real advantage if they bring it back. The theme is obvious enough that bloodthirst has been used as a signature Vampire mechanic before, albeit not in Innistrad sets. But there’s a couple of reasons to suspect this might be the time for it to reappear:
First of all, the Vampires in Midnight Hunt showed us our most combative, damage-focused view of the tribe yet. And without the sacrifice- or discard-focused shenanigans of the last two Innistrad blocks, the Vampires should be due for a new mechanical tentpole. Based on Vampire Socialite, Stromkirk Bloodthief, Florian, Voldaren Scion and others from Midnight Hunt, that central theme already cares a lot about “drawing blood” each turn to keep the excitement high. Bloodthirst allows you to easily keyword the most common version of these effects (and perhaps all of them) without even needing to put new rules on the books.
WILD GUESS: Processors (or similar)
I don’t think this one really ties into Vampires at all – if anything, it’s closer to what the mad Nephalian invokers might delve into – but the other colors and tribes do need their own mechanics at some point. The key motivator here, though, is one of balance and design. A mechanic which potentially deals with cards in exile just seems like it would help the present environment.
Recent sets have included cards or effects which manipulate cards in your own exile zone, not least of which is the foretell mechanic on cards like Saw It Coming and Alrund’s Epiphany. These cards can be frustrating to beat once you see them foretold, so having some kind of counterplay seems reasonable. But in other situations, the “cost” of returning an opponent’s exiled cards to graveyard could be much more real – like if their only exiled cards are used-up flashback spells!
SAFE BET: “Bloodtithe”
One of the biggest shifts manifesting itself among Innistrad’s vampiric nobility since our last visit is the institution of “blood tithes” by the Voldaren. This seems like a cruel, unadorned scheme to extort blood from the human citizenry, whom Olivia’s brood view as little more than cattle.
This forced tax on life lends itself well to a reimagining of the “tribute” mechanic from Born of the Gods. Tribute creatures gave opponents the choice of “paying tribute” by adding +1/+1 counters to them, or suffering some consequence “if tribute wasn’t paid.” But making that tribute cost instant life loss would be a more interesting choice, since opponents wouldn’t be able to avoid the consequences by just killing off the creature.
Stronger Vampires could trigger the decision on more than just ETB, say “whenever CARDNAME attacks, bloodtithe 1.” And if Vampires continue to care about opponents having lost life this turn, sprinkling in triggers like this would really make the decisions interesting – albeit torturous – for their prey.
JUST A HUNCH: “Liege”
With a strong tribal presence but limited tribal support in Midnight Hunt, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more substantial help for these themes in Crimson Vow. One way to make things interesting would be to introduce a new tribal-focused mechanic; I’m imagining something to help work around the vulnerability these decks have to targeted removal. Being confined to a single tribe often leads to tribal decks having a wider variance in card quality between its great cards (usually lords) and its weak ones.
This leaves them at risk of constant blowouts, where any removal on a lord mid-combat can have dire consequences. I imagine some new bombs having a “liege” ability, which lets their controller redirect targeted effects or damage to another creature which shares a creature type. This would potentially need a few restrictions – maybe the new target has to be untapped, or nontoken – but the concept is clear. Encourage the appearance of on-type bombs in tribal decks by letting the low-grade monsters act as bullet shields!
WILD GUESS: “Swarm X”
Another theme I suspect may crop up in Crimson Vow is tokens, and one of the less-Vampire-specific mechanics may offer us a new take on those. I’d like to see “Swarm X” appear on creature cards, implying “when this creature enters the battlefield, if it’s not a token, create X tokens that are copies of this card.” Imagine “Pit of Vipers,” a 1/1 deathtouch snake for 1GG – which has swarm 2.
Turning token generators into actual creature cards isn’t new, but it does make them easier to justify outside of specific go-wide aggro lists, since they synergize with cards like Ranger Class. And as with most of the mechanical ideas I support, there’s tons of cool scalable ways you could test the design limitations of it. I hope that we see an ability design of this sort – if not now, then soon.
SAFE BET: Sorin’s Family Feud
The absolute worst-kept “secret” of Midnight Hunt was all but blown open by the published storyline, which saw planeswalker Sorin Markov return to the final crypt of his grandfather, Edgar… only to find it empty.
Edgar Markov has yet to feature in a “proper” Innistrad set but has already earned quite a reputation among Commander players. And while the box art definitely shows Olivia Voldaren marrying a tall man in Sorin’s family finery, the idea that it’s the Markov progenitor and not our favorite goth planeswalker would be a delightful twist. Sorin’s lordship over Innistrad has rarely been challenged, but can he resist the shame of being sent to his room? Or worse – having to call Olivia “grandma”!?!
JUST A HUNCH: The Stakes Are Raised
There’s plenty to recommend a clash between elder and younger Markovs in terms of character drama, but Magic usually prefers a broader conflict at the heart of a set. Chandra’s story on Kaladesh, for instance, was backed by a broader revolutionary struggle. Since Crimson Vow is meant to be important for Vampires, I can see WotC ratcheting up the stakes from “winner controls Vampire society on Innistrad” to “winner controls all Vampires across the multiverse”!
How does this happen? What would the actual effects be? The most obvious answer here is that Edgar/Olivia plans to trump Sorin by stealing or sacrificing his planeswalker spark. Or perhaps another ancient artifact of Innistrad’s past (or Emrakul’s corruption) allows them to conduct interplanar summonings. Either way, there’s now no question whether other planeswalkers have a motivation to stop the plot and break up that wedding!
WILD GUESS: The Baron is Back, Baby!
There is one even more extravagant plot twist WotC could pull here, especially with the title of “ultimate Vampire ruler” on the table. When it comes to nostalgia and Magic’s real-world history, Baron Sengir is the game’s all-time #1 bloodsucker. But with his lore chaining him to the forgotten plane of Ulgrotha, he has been all but written out of the modern-day story… until now.
The appearance of the Dark Baron would add a real threat of change to the status quo on Innistrad, and bring this beloved character back into the spotlight as an all-powerful lord among Vampires. We even have the perfect mechanism to explain it! The last glimpse of Sengir in official lore described him leading a vast army through a dormant planar portal called the Dwarven Gate. While that portal isn’t meant to work, Mark Rosewater has gone to the trouble of joking about its destination at least twice in the last few years. It might just have been a joke, after all, but these sorts of throwaway comments have proved prophetic before…
PAYOFFS FOR EXISTING STANDARD CARDS
SAFE BET: Advanced, Vampiric Day/Night Cards
The day/night cycle was too weighty a mechanic to fully explore in one set, and too much fun to leave behind that soon, anyway! I’d expect this follow-up to more fully expand on the theme, giving us more new daybound//nightbound cards (including more non-Werewolves). But I’d also like to see at least one new way for cards to care about the day or night status, especially if it’s specifically Vampire-flavored.
Another inter-set parallel we can expect is at least one Vampire in every color. Making those odd white/blue/green bloodsuckers day/night-related could be a nice way to separate them mechanically from the main RB tribe, and explore sun-specific Vampire tropes like “daywalkers.”
JUST A HUNCH: Token-Specific Buffs
Whether or not WotC used a time machine to read this article back during Crimson Vow development and stole my “swarm” mechanic, I do expect to see some kind of specific support for token-themed decks. Cards like Esika’s Chariot, Poppet Stitcher and Battle for Bretagard are historically unique effects for such an archetype, and there are plenty of powerful token creators — from Treasure to Treefolk to your traditional horde of 1/1’s.
Whether we get straight-up token lords along the lines of Prava of the Steel Legion or perhaps some more unique utility, taking advantage of decayed Zombies and other tokens in Midnight Hunt would be an awesome way to evoke the monster-movie hordes which helped inspire Innistrad.
WILD GUESS: Changelings – Innistrad Style
Another mechanical theme right on the cusp is changelings, who got some extremely powerful cards in Kaldheim. With just one or two more on that level, we would enable a multitude of almost-there tribal decks such as Elves, Giants, Wizards, Spirits, Dwarves and Clerics. Even better, we’d be able to run exotic setups like party, so-called “tribal–tribal” (mixing obscure bonuses with changelings) and even changeling tribal with full confidence!
It may not seem like Crimson Vow is a likely candidate to give us a fresh crop of changelings. But when you think about it, are Shapeshifters not one of the all-time classic horror threats? Whether it’s the gory predator of The Thing, the subtle infiltrators from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or the unsettling doubles in Jordan Peele’s Us, there is plenty of precedent for doppelgangers and changelings in the Innistrad milieu. I say go for it, and hopefully give us some of Magic’s all-time creepiest art in the process!
TIL UNDEATH DO US PART
I think that’s enough scary stories about Crimson Vow for one night. But don’t worry, the real nightmare will be upon us November 19th! Just remember this warning when Baron Sengir’s dark army bursts into the wedding chapel right at “or forever hold your peace.” It’s gonna be such a screamer!
Tom’s fate was sealed in 7th grade when his friend lent him a pile of commons to play Magic. He quickly picked up Boros and Orzhov decks in Ravnica block and has remained a staunch white magician ever since. A fan of all Constructed formats, he enjoys studying the history of the tournament meta. He specializes in midrange decks, especially Death & Taxes and Martyr Proc. One day, he swears he will win an MCQ with Evershrike. Ask him how at @AWanderingBard, or watch him stream Magic at twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard.