Innistrad: Crimson Vow
This article is one of our set prospectives, a series in which we survey the Cube community about the cards they intend to play in their cubes from a particular set. Our survey is conducted between the set’s full-spoiler and official release and is meant to measure and document Cube designers’ first impressions of new cards.
Innistrad: Crimson Vow is Magic’s first wedding-themed set — a vampire wedding, no less! We collected surveys from over 221 cubes from 194 unique designers. In the past, we’ve segregated our survey results by the rarity restrictions of our respondents, but as Cube design has evolved, we’ve felt these distinctions are less representitive of format. The designers who respond to our survey are already diverse, as the Arena-legal cube, Desert Cube, and the “all creatures are Legends” cubes will attest. See where these respondents fall on the Cube Map.
Cube designers are testing a median of 7 cards from this set, giving about 2 cards a rating better than 2.5 (strong likelihood to succeed), putting VOW firmly into a tier alongside past sets like Commander Legends and Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, sets heralded by the cube community with below-average enthusiasm. The maximum number of cards tested by any respondent is 49.
|Thirst for Discovery||88/232||2.4|
|Ulvenwald Oddity // Ulvenwald Behemoth||49/232||2.2|
|Sorin the Mirthless||47/232||2.1|
|Torens, Fist of the Angels||33/232||2.1|
|Voldaren Bloodcaster // Bloodbat Summoner||31/232||2.0|
|By Invitation Only||26/232||2.1|
|Halana and Alena, Partners||25/232||2.0|
|Concealing Curtains // Revealing Eye||22/232||2.0|
|Lantern Bearer // Lanterns' Lift||21/232||2.0|
|Henrika Domnathi // Henrika, Infernal Seer||20/232||2.1|
|Wedding Announcement // Wedding Festivity||20/232||1.9|
|Faithbound Judge // Sinner's Judgment||19/232||1.8|
|Voltaic Visionary // Volt-Charged Berserker||19/232||2.0|
|Savior of Ollenbock||16/232||2.0|
|Mirrorhall Mimic // Ghastly Mimicry||14/232||2.2|
|Eruth, Tormented Prophet||14/232||1.9|
|Avabruck Caretaker // Hollowhenge Huntmaster||13/232||2.1|
|Twinblade Geist // Twinblade Invocation||13/232||2.0|
|Volatile Arsonist // Dire-Strain Anarchist||11/232||1.9|
|Dying to Serve||11/232||2.2|
|Toxrill, the Corrosive||10/232||1.9|
|Jacob Hauken, Inspector // Hauken's Insight||9/232||1.8|
|Gift of Fangs||8/232||1.9|
|Foreboding Statue // Forsaken Thresher||8/232||2.1|
|Kaya, Geist Hunter||8/232||2.1|
|Chandra, Dressed to Kill||7/232||2.2|
|Dollhouse of Horrors||7/232||2.0|
|Blood Petal Celebrant||7/232||1.7|
Thirst for Discovery is the most-tested card from VOW with 76 testers and an average rating of 2.4 — a score on par with past highly rated cards like Power Word Kill and Barrin, Tolarian Archmage. Only a third of our respondents are testing Thirst, however. This reception falls well below our historically most highly rated cards, but also below several card-draw spells including Abundant Harvest (2.5 rating) and Consider (2.6 rating). Taken together, these data suggest that the 3-mana blue card draw slot is less universally sought-after among our respondents than the 1-mana versions of that effect.
“Since one of my goals is always to increase cross-synergies in my cube, VOW is bringing some cards that I'd like to try even if they're ‘downgrades’ from some other things I've run.”
Welcoming Vampire’s “once per turn” clause is disappointing, but the fact remains that a 3-mana flyer that can recoup card advantage before priority ever passes to the opponent is a strong option for many cubes, especially low-curving ones.
Sorin the Mirthless is by far the highest-performing planeswalker on recent surveys - Sorin’s suite of mutually complementing abilities (and several stunning alternate art treatments) make him a good candidate for many cubes.
The success of Fell Stinger in this survey suggests the popularity of Aristocrats-adjacent archetype support among our respondents. The Stinger is a novel effect in this nexus of mechanics, with a self-triggered sacrifice and a reasonable statline otherwise, which is a recipe for broader success in our survey.
The marquee mechanics of VOW did not make much of a splash in our survey results, with a notable exception: Graf Reaver. Tested by a third of our respondents with an average rating of 2.2, this Watchwolf/Carnophage hybrid is the latest iteration on planeswalker destruction. As we discuss in our community survey podcast episode, all creatures naturally destroy planeswalkers through combat, so the exploit ability is almost a fail state for the Reaver, but it can be appealing to the Cube curators who dislike planeswalker gameplay.
“VOW has more large splashy effects, which means they are worse for higher-power environments, since MV is so important to the relative value of cards.”
Of the much-anticipated Cemetery cycle, the Prowler and Gatekeeper are the most-tested among our respondents. The situational grave hate and dynamic abilities are appealing combined with the above-average statlines on these brawlers.
Hopeful Initiate is the foremost Training card tested. As a one-mana white aggressor, it fits our expectations from past surveys, where cube designers actively seek out new spice and novel mechanical interactions for their mono-colored aggro decks. The Initiate’s interactions with other creatures’ power, +1/+1 counters, artifacts, and enchantments easily clear that bar.
Cleave boasted one strong Cube contender: Dread Fugue, with an average rating of 2.2 and tested by a quarter of our respondents. Though Cleave can be flavorless or clunky, one-mana hand hate is desirable enough an effect to pique the interest of singleton cube designers, who can’t find as many unique variants of Duress or Thoughtseize as their format wants.
“People are overstating how difficult it is to comprehend the Cleave mechanic. In testing, people who had never seen a Cleave card before had a good grasp on the mechanic by the end of the session.”
The champion for Blood, Voldaren Bloodcaster, is nonetheless a poor performer overall in the VOW survey results, tested by only 12% of our respondents who gave it an average rating of 2. Though its floor is that of a Mistral Charger with upside, the double-faced nature of the card likely hindered its reception among our respondents, who consistently test these cards at lower rates than the single-faced alternatives.
Crimson Vow, despite its novel theme, was not a set that achieved broad recognition by the Cube community. Small pockets of designers show excitement about new pieces of card advantage or different midrange options, but many other designers rejected Olivia’s marriage proposal and are hesitantly testing only a few cards. Time will tell whether our respondents’ lukewarm reception of VOW is justified!
“This set is characterized by a lot of cool ideas that fit neatly into the pillars of sacrifice (with exploit and blood tokens) & enchantments (with the new take on disturb) that just don't spark joy.”
Here are my own thoughts:
Blood tokens grant “perpetual” cycling.
Ever stared at that sixth land in your hand, hating it for not being literally anything else? Blood tokens have got you covered. Blood may require a unique token, but forget about needing "synergy payoffs", because Blood at its core addresses the mana screw/flood dichotomy at the core of Magic. It doesn’t need anything else to be good, and the fact that our highest-performing Blood-maker comes in the form of a black Mistral Charger with plenty of upside and a sweet Dracula alternate art should recommend it for those who support high-power Black Aggro decks.
Wizards doesn’t reinvent the wheel as often as singleton cubes might want. Duress is a near-perfect Magic card — simple gameplay, a desirable but situational effect, as much raw efficiency as a common can get, and an evocative one-word name. In fact, it’s so good for the Standard metagame that it has seen a reprint nearly every year since its debut in Urza’s Saga. Precisely because the design of Duress is so balanced, Wizards of the Coast rarely iterates on the 1-mana hand hate effects, but a side effect is that this starves cube curators who use a singleton restriction of a critical mass of hand hate. This is one component why we see such demand for Dread Fugue, despite the overall dislike among Cube designers for the Cleave mechanic. Negate, Path to Exile, and Faithless Looting are other examples of classic effects that are tuned just right and are likeliest to be reprinted as-is (or even de-powered for Standard reasons). This is one area where the singleton restriction can really conflict with cube designers’ gameplay goals, but luckily, leaning into this tension can really spark design inspiration.
“The third visit to Innistrad feels watered down on both a mechanical and thematic level, and I'm disappointed in its inability to deliver on compelling graveyard synergies.”
If you’re not inspired by this set, check out the set’s inspiration.
I don’t have anything else to say about cardboard game pieces, so I’ll use this to talk about vampires. The original novel Dracula by Bram Stoker is hardly the first tale of bloodsuckers, but it is one of the foremost Gothic pieces of literature, delightful for its epistolary style and inversion of Victorian gender norms. For the less bookish, Hammer Horror films like Dracula (1958), featuring the indefatigable Christopher Lee as the Count, are a great opportunity to sink one’s teeth into film history. And for the comedy hacks in the audience, What We Do In The Shadows, from the minds of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, is a raunchy but touching mockumentary following a group of vampires who immigrated to Staten Island and never really got with the times.
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