Well played Wizards, we are marching toward Fall and Halloween is the first major holiday post summer. Innistrad: Midnight Hunt is a nice pairing for this time of year with its spooky mix of Werewolves, Vampires, Zombies, and Warlocks. Welcome to Part 1 of my breakdown of the set where we will first spotlight its Mechanics. Part 2 will follow with an exploration of archetypes and the best cards to draft within each color.
In this new format we are getting some throwback mechanics and cards as well as a few that are brand new. I have to think that there were a pile of ideas to pull from once the decision was made to print 2-sided cards, and the featured mechanic (Daybound/Nightbound) was one of them.
Of the new ones I do think it is the most intriguing so let’s start there along with the other what I would call ‘primary’ mechanics. After that we will explore some of the ‘secondary’ mechanics which are featured on some cards but are not as ubiquitous in the format.
Daybound and Nightbound
Not going to lie, when I first saw the keyword my mind went straight here:
This is the key mechanic for the set though, and has the potential to be quite confusing to players, so let’s take it seriously and I will explain how it works and can be used as succinctly as I can.
For starters, each game begins as being neither day or night. But, certain cards can cause it to become either day or night. Once it is day or night, there is no going back and the game will always be in one of those states until it ends.
If a player doesn’t cast anything on their turn and it is day, then it will become night at the beginning of the next turn. If a player casts two or more spells on their turn and it is night, then it will become day at the beginning of the next turn.
The cards most aligned to this mechanic are double-sided Green and/or Red Werewolves which flip back and forth depending on if it is day or night. But, there are also spells which benefit from it being day or night and some that trigger when it changes between day and night. Let’s look at some specific cards to help tease out the nuances of this:
Kessig Naturalist, for example, transforms into the Werewolf Lord of the set when it turns to night. The card looks very powerful, as do many of the Werewolf cards during night as would be expected. But in practice I am not sure how easy it is going to be to control whether it is day or night, especially with a creature deck. It is going to be really awkward to skip your turn in order to bring on the night, especially since it doesn’t even change over until the next turn. Doing so also opens up the possibility of your opponent tempo-ing out two spells in order to flip it back to day before you are able to get a night attack in with your Werewolves.
This is where a card like Unnatural Moonrise could make things a bit easier. The effect allows you to go from day to night on the spot which could be quite devastating, especially if you have something like Kessig Naturalist on the board. It also importantly has flashback, which disrupts an opponent with 2 spells thinking they are going to be clever and restore the daylight. More on the flashback mechanic later!
Personally I am not feeling too keen on drafting Werewolves at this point, though. Relying on changing between day and night to turn on your attackers just seems too clunky and situational to me. I fully expect some good decks to come together, but I think it’ll be much more consistent to simply take advantage of the board state changing or playing cards with minimal downside like Olivia’s Midnight Ambush. Two mana for a -2/-2 Instant is perfectly reasonable, and it becomes premium removal during the night. Both this and Shady Traveler (one of just two non-Rare non-GR Werewolves along with Baneblade Scoundrel) feel ‘pushed.’
Overall I am feeling Black in this set and think it is positioned well based on my initial perusal. Sunrise Cavalier and Firmament Sage also appeal to me because I think it’ll be pretty typical to end up in board states which flip back and forth between day and night. These sort of cards have the potential to accumulate some serious advantages over longer games.
Hopefully this helped wrap your head around Daybound/Nightbound. I’d like to say it is the only confusing mechanic in the set, but alas, Coven is up next:
The key thing here is ‘powers’ is referring to the actual power stat on your creatures. So, these cards in conjunction provide you a 0/4, a 1/1, and a 3/3 which turns on Coven. Simple enough once you get past the odd nomenclature, but the most confusing part to me is more about the mechanic as a whole. I get that from a flavor standpoint they wanted a Warlock counter-point to the Werewolves. And ‘Coven’ makes sense as a keyword.
However, the actual execution is really clunky in my opinion. For one thing, there aren’t too many cards which actually have this keyword. And of those cards, most of them are below average spells which merely become average when you have three differently powered creatures. Some of the Coven spells are individually strong enough to target in drafts, but it isn’t the sort of mechanic you would necessarily build around in a dedicated way unless you happen to assemble several of the good ones.
It kind of has to be this way since it is so easy to end up with three different-sized creatures, but why make this a mechanic in the first place? Were there really no other good ideas for what Coven could be? It just seems like such a nothing mechanic to the point where it isn’t even really worth discussing. To make matters worse the last two primary mechanics are effectively twins (Flashback being a fun throwback, while Disturb serves as a Creature variant):
Both Flashback and Disturb allow you to cast things out of your graveyard. Flashback recurs Instant and Sorcery spells which have it, while Disturb brings back creatures. All colors feature Flashback, while Blue and White have the market cornered on Disturb. Both mechanics end up being a final hurrah since the cards are exiled afterward (Disturb creatures being stricken are exiled once they go down with the sickness, or something). 2-for-1 spells like this tend to be incredible in Limited, so let’s take a look at some examples to illustrate why this is:
Overwhelmed Archivist is a powerful exemplar for a deck archetype which features self-mill alongside these recurring spells. I have no doubt this sort of deck will accrue amazing card advantage over time. The question is how much pressure they can withstand in what is looking like a Strong Creature format.
Shadowbeast Sighting for example is another pushed common which sets the bar quite high, allowing you to get two 4/4’s out of one card. Creature quality is high across the board and it will be interesting to see how all of the different archetypes come together (more on those in Part 2). Disturb isn’t only a control/value mechanic either, with creatures like Covert Cutpurse enabling attack-focused decks:
Maybe a card like Covetous Castaway can help control-oriented decks block early while winning in the air late. Time will tell!
On the noncreature side of things there aren’t really any non-Rare Flashback cards that are broken or even great. There are good ones to find though, as 2-for-1’s are always welcome in this game. Even a card like Homestead Courage which looks innocent enough and may be written off by some offers decent value. The best it gets is a cycle of desirable Uncommons:
Cards like these are going to push some players toward splashing a third color. Evolving Wilds is in the format and there aren’t any common tapped lands, so I think it is going to be a more attractive pick than usual. There are certainly multicolor and ‘single pip’ bombs worth splashing, but I am not sure Midnight Hunt will support 3+ color decks generally. For the most part I expect decks assume Aggro, Midrange Aggro, Midrange Value, or Control Value strategies. I am honestly not sure which will prevail and all seem viable, whether dedicated 2-color or splashing a third in some cases.
I think most drafts will be shaped by the availability of specific Archetypes and best common and uncommon spells for each color which we will go over in Part 2. For now, I want to leave you with some secondary mechanics which are supported to a lesser extent in this format but still inform its style.
Not only do creatures in Midnight Hunt transform via day and night, but by a variety of other means as well. These cards hint at themes offered by their respective colors, and show off some pretty great transformations. Delver of Secrets is a really fun throwback to the original Innistrad. I can’t believe it has been ten years already… makes me feel old and a bit…
I actually really like the decayed card concept. The Zombies will basically sit on the board and do nothing until there is an opportune time to attack, and that feels perfect. There aren’t all that many decayed Zombie generators in the set, but these are two that should see quite a bit of play.
There are a few cards running around with this keyword as well, but these are nowhere near good enough to give me a raging clue.
Ward is also represented, but I think that one is still fresh on our minds from the last couple sets. Of course there are also some specific synergies like GB focusing on the graveyard and UR focusing on Instant/Sorcery spells, but these aren’t mechanics and will be explored in my next article along with the other various themes of the set!
So long for now
Part 2 will be out in a couple days with an overview of the Innistrad: Midnight Hunt archetypes and the best cards to draft for each color.