elcome to the second week of Dark Ascension previews here on DailyMTG.com. There are many powerful spells in Dark Ascension, but today's preview card might be one of—if not the—most aggressively costed cards in the set. Tokens have been popular to some degree for the past few years. It began with a black-red deck that Stuart Wright built for Pro Tour Hollywood. The power of Bitterblossom and Spectral Procession were enough to make White-Black Tokens the most powerful deck in Standard just one year later. Various token strategies have seen success since then. In today's Standard and Modern formats, token-driven decks are some of the most powerful decks available.
Spectral Procession is the most efficient token-producing spell ever printed. If you're doing it right, then you acquire three separate flying bodies for just three mana. The card is backbreaking in most instances where it resolves. Usually, combined with Glorious Anthem effects, opponents are forced to have some type of board sweeper or they quickly die to the flying army. Today's card will likely be compared to Spectral Procession. Many will say it is better, many will say it is worse. The truth is, it's very good, perhaps too good, and I'm guessing it turns out to be better.
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad is very impressive. The new planeswalker conjures up fond memories of Elspeth, Knight-Errant. However, Sorin, Lord of Innistrad requires two colors. Many fear this restriction will limit the number of decks that want to play with the Lord of Innistrad.
Today's preview card will guarantee that Sorin, Lord of Innistrad sees Constructed play. Not just in Standard, but in Modern, and perhaps even Legacy.
Enough hype, feast your eyes on Lingering Souls.
Yes, this is a real card. Did you think Honor of the Pure was a fringe card? Well, it's certainly not anymore. In fact, this card might be enough to make white-black token strategies into one of the premier decks of Modern. The card is quite terrifying on just about every level.
Lingering Souls provides four evasive bodies for a single card. Anthem effects, like Honor of the Pure, make the card into a better Broodmate Dragon. If you're lucky enough to have two anthem effects, then you're actually creating 12 points of flying power from a single card, and that might happen as early as the fourth turn. It's not even that far-fetched. Imagine this scenario: I play a land on turn one; I play another land and cast Honor of the Pure on turn two; I play another land and cast Lingering Souls on turn three; and on turn four I play my fourth land, flashback Lingering Souls, and cast Honor of the pure. That's 12 points of flying power on the fourth turn. From just two copies of Honor of the Pure and a single copy of Lingering Souls.
The card greatly increases a deck's resistance to board-sweeping effects. Oftentimes, token strategies struggle with board sweepers because they're too busy using cards for anthem effects. The control deck is able to blank the anthem effects by countering token production or using cheap board sweepers to prevent the token player from establishing any board presence. Lingering Souls punishes players who want to win a war of one-for-ones. It requires an opponent to have two counters to deal with a single card.
The card also provides a great deal of resilience against discard effects. Let's say you decide to use your Liliana of the Veil's +1 ability to make both players discard a card. If you discard a Lingering Souls you actually just made your card into a two-mana, sorcery-speed Midnight Haunting. That's pretty impressive! In Modern, the card will be an excellent way to get ahead of decks that are packing Blightning or even Augur of Skulls. The card even helps battle against Hymn to Tourach in eternal formats.
Lingering Souls will punish everyone who doesn't adapt to it immediately. Today's current Standard environment is full of 1-toughness creatures. Decks full of them will find themselves getting four-for-oned every time by Lingering Souls. People will need to start playing creatures with respectable bodies if they're going to stand a fighting chance.
It's really absurd when you think about it. Personally, I doubt there will be many white-black decks, in any format, that don't elect to play with Lingering Souls. The implications of this card are really far-reaching. Curse of Death's Hold becomes a lot more important in Standard, but control players will be disappointed when their Curse of Death's Hold is preempted by an Honor of the Pure, effectively turning Curse of Death's Hold into a five-mana sorcery Disenchant.
In Standard, we're likely to see some seriously dedicated token strategies, especially in the first few weeks of the format. Sorin, Lord of Innistrad really pushes Lingering Souls into the realm of absurdity. Sorin's emblems are good for any deck with a high number of creatures, but imagine the value of a few Sorin emblems when your deck has four copies of Lingering Souls. Cards like Doomed Traveler, Gather the Townsfolk, and Midnight Haunting will join Lingering Souls to create a viciously potent token strategy. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if we started seeing Intangible Virtue as a method to beat the mirror match or even as a main-deck redundant anthem effect.
Things might get even crazier, though. There might actually be enough effective token production in Standard to justify playing Rally the Peasants as an "I win" spell.
Players will have to dig pretty deep to find ways to beat these types of strategies. I foresee a lot of players trying to abuse the interaction between Glissa, the Traitor and Ratchet Bomb. This seems like one of the only effective methods available for dealing with the new token strategies. Things are still quite scary even if you include the Glissa package. A token deck will likely include Dismember, Oblivion Ring, or Go for the Throat. Glissa, the Traitor might be game breaking if she sticks around, but it's not as easy as it might seem to lock someone out of the game with a Ratchet Bomb.
Still others will search even more diligently to find effective methods of battling the oncoming token menace. Havengul Lich and Heartless Summoning turn a single copy of Perilous Myr into one of the most ridiculous machine gun effects ever seen. Heartless Summoning reduces the mana cost of Perilous Myr to zero, but also reduces its power and toughness to 0. The Perilous Myr dies the moment it touched the battlefield, which causes it to trigger and deal 2 damage wherever it pleases. Havengul Lich allows you to cast the Perilous Myr from a graveyard. Once this is assembled, you are able to deal 2 damage for every colorless mana you can produce. I've been truly amazed at the interactions I've found in just the small sample of Dark Ascension we have seen thus far.
In Modern, Lingering Souls will be a welcome addition to the token strategies that are already enjoying so much success. These decks will become very powerful once they're given the addition of Lingering Souls. I wouldn't be surprised if Zealous Persecution found its way back into the spotlight as an incredible game breaker in mirror matches and an Overrun-plus-removal spell against just about everyone else. Sorin, Lord of Innistrad will likely make an appearance here, and we might see Ajani Goldmane make a major impact on a Constructed format for the first time since Pro Tour Kyoto.
Night of Souls' Betrayal is an effective answer to Lingering Souls. It's also worth noting that Remand successfully remains at parity with the flashback on Lingering Souls. (When a flashback spell is Remanded it is still removed from the game.) Decks with a dedicated suite of countermagic will be able to counter the initial Lingering Souls with a card like Mana Leak, Condescend, or Rune Snag, and counter the flashback with Remand. It might be relatively narrow, but this is one of the few ways to remain ahead when your opponent is grinding past you in terms of tempo and card advantage via Lingering Souls.
Blightning and Liliana of the Veil are both relatively popular in the current Modern format. Lingering Souls does an excellent job of combating both of black's most efficient three-mana card-advantage tools. Liliana is especially comical against Lingering Souls. Her –2 ability loses very badly to an onslaught of tokens and her +1 ability results in giving an opponent a tempo advantage if the opponent is lucky enough to have Lingering Souls in hand.
Lingering Souls's budget applications are interesting. It's definitely going to be subpar to play Lingering Souls without Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, but there might be a low-curve version of the token deck that's able to maximize the value of a card like Rally the Peasants. Let's take a look at what one of these decks might look like in Dark Ascension Standard.
Lingering Souls | Art by Bud Cook
Remember, there's still a huge portion of Dark Ascension we haven't seen. There could still be a number of powerful cards for this deck we don't even know about.
This deck wants to play a lot of one drops. It's important that we maximize the probable number of creatures we have in play, especially during the early turns of the game. Doomed Traveler is perfect here, which is quite interesting to think about. Upon first glance, I didn't think very highly of Doomed Traveler; I certainly didn't think it would be one of the best one drops in Standard, but it's worth noting just how strong Doomed Traveler is when combined with cards like Honor of the Pure. This deck takes advantage of Doomed Traveler's positive interactions with Rally the Peasants and Signal Pest.
Memnite is another excellent way to cheat on mana. A creature that costs zero is very well-positioned in this type of deck. It won't be unusual to cast two creatures on the first turn. You're going to be threatening 6 damage on the third turn if you're lucky enough to curve a Memnite and Signal Pest into a Gather the Townsfolk.
Hex Parasite will help us defeat opposing planeswalkers and give us the opportunity to turn on the fateful hour mechanic for our Gather the Townsfolk. Hex Parasite is probably a sleeper card right now. It allows players to abuse the fateful hour mechanic. If this becomes especially popular it will probably give rise to red decks that punish players for being at very low life totals by burning them out.
Signal Pest is perfect in a token-based strategy. It's similar to a one-mana anthem, but it's better than that in situations where your opponent doesn't have spot removal and you're lucky enough to have multiple copies.
Gather the Townsfolk is another powerful token generator from Dark Ascension. This card will likely see a good amount of play and it seems especially perfect in a deck like this, which takes advantage of token production and has the ability to turn on fateful hour with Hex Parasite.
Midnight Haunting is an obvious inclusion.
Midnight Haunting | Art by Matt Stewart
The battle cry on Accorder Paladin is perfect here. Accorder Paladin is similar to Signal Pest. It's a pretty crazy world we're living in when two-mana creatures with 3 power actually have advantages built it.
The only cards that should be difficult to acquire here are the lands. If you're unable to find the nonbasics, I would recommend playing nine Swamps and twelve Plains. The Blackcleave Cliffs let the deck use the flashback on Rally the Peasants if the game ends up going that late. Isolated Chapel isn't necessary, but it makes a huge difference and I figured the deck was easy enough to acquire that it shouldn't be too much trouble to find a few rare lands to fill out the deck.
Standard post-Dark Ascension
This decklist is surprisingly powerful and extremely easy to acquire. If you're looking to get into Constructed Magic with Dark Ascension, this might be the perfect deck for you!
Lingering Souls is one of the most impressive cards I've seen in quite some time. You won't be safe for long. In just a few weeks an army of Spirits will be crashing toward you in the red zone. The question is, will you be swinging back with your own Spirit ensemble?