For last year’s Halloween, I put together a retrospective on Innistrad, Magic’s original spooky gothic horror set and a perennial pick for Best Set Ever. This year for Halloween, it seems like I’ll be writing about Innistrad once more – but in the present tense!
WotC has started to drip feed us details on the previously-mysterious Innistrad sets coming later this year, Midnight Hunt and Crimson Vow. As you can tell from that awesome package art, Midnight Hunt (releasing in September) will focus on Innistrad’s beloved Werewolves, while Crimson Vow (releasing in November) will star hometown boy Sorin Markov and the other infamous Vampires of the plane. Both are full-sized Standard sets with unique mechanics, but also “are synergistic and overlap in spots.” Essentially, this is going to be a third Innistrad block, and there will be huge pressure to live up to the standards of the first two.
WE’RE REBOOTING THE FRANCHISE
There’s still only a small amount of information that’s been released about these sets, and even less that’s been published officially on the WotC website. But the heaviest messaging so far has been hammering home the idea that these sets will bring back the OG Innistrad I wrote about last year — the one before the Lovecraftian horror of the Eldrazi or the becalming presence of Avacyn, Angel of Hope.
That means going back to the grim, dark, cruel world where humans shelter around guttering fires while every sort of movie monster creeps and crawls around them in the shadows. Those monsters –- not just werewolves and vampires, but ghouls, geists, skaabs, demons, devils, stitchers, witches and hydras – will once again be the stars of the show instead of fading into the scenery. And the lack of such an overriding central theme as Emrakul’s madness will allow a more diverse exploration of individual horror tropes and themes, something these sets have always been spectacular for!
We may not have much more information to go on for these sets right now, but that just gives us the opportunity to flex our delicious brains and try to guess at what Innistrad: Midnight Hunt will look like!
As usual, I will be offering up predictions for the set: safe bets foreshadowed by senior WotC staff alongside my own wishful thinking for what would make the set pop. My predictions aren’t based on any actual leaks — I know as much as you do — but where they are based on publicly available information, I’ll try to link it.
Safe Bet: Flashback
We know this from one of our very first previews, Join the Dance. Nearly every recent Magic set has gone back to one of the game’s tried-and-true “modal” mechanics, whether it be cycling in Ikoria, kicker in Zendikar Rising, or flashback here. I think it’s a good trend that ensures a lot of solid, playable designs, and flashback has tenure from the original Innistrad. This is apparently the first time we’re going to see it on gold cards, which is neat, albeit in the way you would never really notice unless someone points it out.
Just a Hunch: Transform
Transform is also virtually confirmed to make a comeback in some way, but the exact nature and extent of its presence in Midnight Hunt is much less apparent. We’ve obviously had an explosion of new dual-faced cards over the past year, but the ones Innistrad introduced back in 2011 used a very different design space. MaRo has confirmed that at least the starring Werewolves will remain TDFC’s instead of MDFC’s, but will they have new triggers for their transformation? Will there be non-Werewolf TDFC’s as there were in the past? Will any new cards or mechanics exploit the overlap in DFC types by “changing the face” of a target, rather than the “transform” action? (I would say a couple, yes, and no, respectively).
Wild Guess: Scavenge
There’s plenty of hints and circumstantial evidence to suggest the set having a +1/+1 counters theme, from the name of a Midnight Hunt Commander precon (“Coven Counters”) to the lingering support for such an archetype in post-rotation Standard. WotC has designed a lot of mechanics around counters in the past, and this seems like a good chance to artfully recycle one.
Scavenge originally appeared in Return to Ravnica, but is obviously a lore fit for a plane filled with monsters and dead things like Innistrad. Its use of the graveyard is on-theme, but also distinct from reanimation or Raise Dead mechanics to add variety. The Coven Counters deck appears to be green and white, which made me think we might get something like outlast as another flavorful adopted mechanic. However, a lot of the counters support from other Standard sets is in green-black (notably Zendikar Rising) and green-white seems to have a different theme going on in Midnight Hunt proper. Scavenge makes the most sense as a bridge between those colors and mechanics.
Safe Bet: “Coven”
Although it’s hard to make a surefire prediction about new mechanics, WotC has definitely given a lot of clues about the mechanical and flavor identity of green and white in Midnight Hunt. The first is the preview card above, Join the Dance, a clear homage to pagan cults in The Wicker Man and Midsommar. Previous Innistrad sets captured the terrifying potential of human tribal with a red-white tokens theme, representing the unthinking rage of mob violence. This time, the Humans deck appears to be in GW; viewed through a sinister lens, that color identity seems to lend itself more to willing, even joyous sacrifice of the few for the good of the many.
In a short video FAQ, members of the design team mentioned that without Avacyn’s protection, surviving humans must rely on “older, and perhaps darker forms of magic”, and that “with the sun rising later and setting sooner each day, they turn to the hope of the Harvesttide festival and a ritual with warlocks to maintain the balance.” Judging by that and the name of the Coven Counters deck, I would expect an alternative type of go-wide payoff, drawing from the collaborative nature of a “coven” and channel the strength of many humans into a single creature (the May Queen?), somewhat like exalted.
Just a Hunch: “Bless”
MaRo has also soft-confirmed that Innistrad’s angelic flights will return in Midnight Hunt. Given the reboot of OG Innistrad aesthetics, I would expect them to show up as goodly-yet-distant protectors rather than the corrupted murder machines of Shadows block. Archangel Sigarda and her Host of Herons were the only angels who didn’t turn evil in that storyline, and she survived the whole ordeal to become the new figurehead of good on the plane. But diminished as their strength now is, the Angels’ primary benefit to Humans is inspiration and moral guidance. How can we show that mechanically?
The single best design decision made in the last year was resurrecting the phasing mechanic as an alternative to the easily-exploitable “exile then return” effects white was using previously. I think WotC can drive home the relatively distant role of Angels in Midnight Hunt by having them phase out, but with the added twist of abilities that trigger when they do. These “blessings” would help your smaller creatures fight harder in the Angels’ absence, allow the Angels to play well around friendly sweepers and set up synergies with cards like Guardian of Faith.
Wild Guess: “Turn”
With the focus back on Werewolves and Vampires harder than ever before, I think WotC will be looking for new design space to add onto the existing mechanics around those tribes.
One thing all of Innistrad’s baddies have in common is turning their victims into more of them. Previously, this was represented by transforming cards, but that doesn’t quite capture the flavor of turning opposing creatures to your side. More than a few Vampire cards have tackled this theme in the past, but all the implementations are somewhat clunky. And where are my ways to make more Werewolves, revenants and cultists?
I would love to see a new “turn” mechanic as the centerpiece of Midnight Hunt, which lets you steal or at least change the type of opposing creatures. This would have a ton of play in the set, disrupting opposing tribal synergies and letting you abuse powerful “tribal hate” cards. Imagine turning their creature to vampirism and then hitting it with a Stake Through the Heart!
PLANESWALKERS AND THEIR MACHINATIONS
Safe Bet: Sorin’s Big Fat Goth Wedding
Vampires have been a dominant feature of Innistrad’s macabre variety show since the get-go, and Sorin Markov is their most prominent representative. His level of power and influence over his home plane harkens back to the role Urza took in earlier Magic canon: a merciless if technically benevolent demigod whose personal choices and failings have shaped all Innistrad’s important events.
And now he’s getting hitched!
The only other Vampire character with Sorin’s staying power in the collective memory is Olivia Voldaren, the head of the biggest rival bloodline, who gained de facto authority over Vampirekind as Sorin spent centuries on other planes. After his own family house got spectacularly destroyed by Nahiri in Shadows block, Sorin had to make a somewhat desperate alliance with Olivia. And judging by his pose in that Crimson Vow box art, their pact left him with little choice but to join the Voldaren family, until undeath do they part.
What will this mean for the future of Innistrad, let alone other planes Sorin has meddled with like Zendikar? Probably nothing good.
Just a Hunch: Wrenn Putting Down Roots
Another one of our very early spoilers tips us off to the enigmatic dryad planeswalker Wrenn appearing in Innistrad (and Standard!) for the first time. Since she was introduced in the storyless environment of Modern Horizons, essentially all we know about Wrenn is that she possesses trees in order to planeswalk. She also rather callously leaves the trees unnamed and moves on once she’s “used them up,” hence the shift from Wrenn and Six to Wrenn and Seven here.
Wrenn’s schtick and presentation have been very ambiguous (is she a hero or a villain here?), but either way, she seems likely to appear as the secret deity behind the Harvesttide festival. That “burning and renewal” approach to nature worship is just too in line with Wrenn’s style to not use her here.
Wild Guess: Who’s the Villain? It’s Ob-vious.
One very important Innistrad faction who were barely mentioned in WotC’s hype material are the Skirsdag — a secret and powerful cult of demon-worshippers who lurk within the institutions of human society. Originally, they were followers of Griselbrand, but they’ve shown they aren’t fussy so long as they have the most powerful Demon on Innistrad bossing them around. Currently, that’s Ormendahl, but what if the Profane Prince had to compete with Magic’s only demonic planeswalker? I know who I’m sacrificing my next Goat to…
Old mate Ob Nob here was last seen on Ravnica for War of the Spark. Nearly every other planeswalker cooperated against Bolas, but Ob Nixilis stayed true to bad guy form. He sucked out the energy from countless Eternal soldiers, to the point that his body became visibly swollen from power, and then he ditched!
With Bolas gone for good, Obby is set up as one of the most dangerous threats left at large in the Multiverse, and what better power vacuum for a classic manipulator Demon to step into than this shattered version of Innistrad? The big story threat in Midnight Hunt is the onset of an endless night; Karn foreshadowed that The Immortal Sun would be the only way to permanently deal with Nixilis. Seems like a neat way to tie the character and story arcs together while giving a real challenge to Sorin and any of his friends who might show up.
Safe Bet: Tribal Set!
Original Innistrad was one of the most successful tribal sets of all time, using a combination of low-cost lords and softer tribal synergies to keep the spotlight on monsters clashing under its gibbous moon. Since we’re back to focusing on those same monsters, you can expect the same tribal mechanics to reappear and shape (though probably not dominate) the Draft and Sealed environment.
Judging by color distribution and the few spoilers we have so far, I’d expect to see major support for Humans (GW), Werewolves (RG), Vampires (RB), Zombies (UB), and Spirits (UW) — the classic tribes of Innistrad, more or less. There’s the chance to do enemy color pairs instead to shake things up and tie back into the college colors of Strixhaven — maybe Zombies in WB as they take on a different character after the destruction of Thraben, angry geists moving into UR without the influence of the church, Human cultists in GB, the united Vampire armies replacing the corrupted angels in RW, and the Werewolves in UG to represent their growing insanity. Or perhaps that switch will be how WotC marks the divide between Midnight Hunt and Crimson Vow?
Just a Hunch: “Whenever one or more cards leave your graveyard”
Given how many disparate influences are going on in modern set design, it’s nice to have a central mechanical theme to tie them together. Ikoria had mutate, Strixhaven had magecraft, and Adventures in the Forgotten Realms had dungeons. In that vein (ah ah ah!), I’d like to see the little-used “cards leave the graveyard” trigger featured across all colors at common and uncommon for Midnight Hunt.
It’s a nice tweak on the morbid mechanic from Innistrad past, it emphasises the graveyard without making every color care about recursion, and having a bunch of new reasons to care about exiling graveyards will be important for combatting UB Rogues in Standard after the escape cards from Theros Beyond Death rotate. It can tie into flashback, Raise Dead effects, graveyard hate, and more! And best of all, it hasn’t been done yet at the set mechanic scale.
Wild Guess: “Revenant” reprintings
WotC is certainly not slowing down with their showcase frames or fancy reprintings. The Mystical Archive promos from Strixhaven have revived the idea of Masterpiece runs; the biggest challenge to putting one in a set seems to be finding a theme that fits while uniting a collection of powerful reprints.
I can easily see the return to Innistrad being used to justify a bunch of macabre Masterpieces featuring graveyard mechanics, from dredge to flashback to encore to unearth. Maybe this could also extend to reanimation spells, or other graveyard mechanics like delirium or threshold. But the chance to redo cards like Vengevine or Scrapheap Scrounger with new and more gruesome presentations seems like a slam dunk, and if the distribution model follows Mystical Archive, then these cards will absolutely have a big impact on how Midnight Hunt drafts.
Safe Bet: Zombie Tribal
The other deck to be released with Midnight Hunt is confirmed to be called Undead Unleashed. That just about gives the game away, and it does make sense to put some focus on the rotting hordes of Innistrad in between a Werewolf set and a Vampire set. This could be the chance to revisit fan-favorite commanders Gisa and Geralf with Innistrad’s typical mix of blue and black Zombies, or we could see a shift towards some other pair.
Just a Hunch: Reprints from previous Commander precons
WotC has discussed their desire to shift these regular precon releases more towards the needs of players who are learning the game through Commander. That’s part of a broader move to make the game’s biggest format more accessible, which has been achieved in part by printing powerful new staples directly into the precons. However, the limited print runs for these products has made many of these cards immediately expensive, which doesn’t seem in line with WotC’s objectives. I wouldn’t be surprised to see past precon cards like Fierce Guardianship, Bastion Protector or Tome of Legends catch a reprint, or even other ballooning staples like Smothering Tithe, all in the name of keeping Commander accessible.
Wild Guess: The commander of “Undead Unleashed” will be Zombie Thalia!
I wanted to finish on a spicy one, and I’m sure this would make as many people outraged as it would make me happy should it come to pass. But we’ve had some time pass in-world since the events of Shadows, and WotC has hinted they will be taking the chance to “reanimate” some past Human tribal cards in Zombie form to drive home the grim state of Innistrad.
Undead Thalia would be even more memorable than the corruption of Bruna and Gisela in Eldritch Moon, and there are a ton of cool things that could be done with the concept mechanically. I’d personally love to see her as a WB legend with abilities that allow a combined Humans-Zombies deck, which hasn’t really been done before and has an appropriately apocalyptic feel. But you could just as easily shed the white completely and have an inversion of her famous taxing ability that makes spells in your graveyard cheaper, or duplicates the effects of Heartless Summoning to let you play any creature as a cheaper, weaker, Zombie version of itself. There’s just so much opportunity for cool.
THE CLOCK STRIKES MIDNIGHT
Well, time’s up for my Midnight Hunt predictions!
More than anything, I hope this discussion prompts you to think about what you’d like to see from the set, and from Crimson Vow. Innistrad is a plane beloved for its rich storytelling potential, and there’s a lot to be excited about in this double-header, even if you’re not riding the nostalgia train from a decade ago. I look forward to us all joining the dance hand-in-hand this Halloween season!
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.