Whenever a new set is released, there are always a bunch of cards that generate excitement. Some of these cards will inevitably fail to live up to expectations (at least in the short term), but other cards will go above and beyond even their most vocal advocate's expectations.
With the Pro Tour just underway, let's take a look at some of the cards that the world's top players have been clamoring about all week long.
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
The Lord of Innistrad is a planeswalker that demands respect.
The Dark Ascension card that has been on everyone's mind since the day it was previewed is, of course, Sorin, Lord of Innistrad.
While there is no doubt that Sorin is a good card, people have been wondering if Sorin will rule over Standard in the way that Jace once did. Or will his impact on the format be a bit more subtle?
Long time control player and rogue deck designer Shaheen Soorani made the Top 16 of last weekend's Star City Games Open with a planeswalker control deck full of powerful cards – most notably three copies of Sorin, Lord of Innistrad.
Shaheen Soorani's Esper Control
While Shaheen's deck is certainly one way to build a Sorin deck, at this point, players still have more questions than answers about the best ways to use Sorin.
Will dedicated control decks like Shaheen's Planeswalker deck be the best home for Sorin? Or will Sorin end up as the cornerstone of a dominant White-Black Token deck?
Only time will tell…
White: Lingering Souls
This sorcery has had a – wait for it –"lingering" presence in the minds of players since it was revealed.
Lingering Souls seems poised to have a huge impact on Standard… if players can find a deck (or decks) that supports it. A Lingering Souls, coupled with an Intangible Virtue or an Honor of the Pure, is enough for a turn six kill.
But players don't need to build entirely new decks around cards like Gather the Townsfolk and Sorin, Lord of Innistrad in order to find success with Lingering Souls. They just need to find a way to make their mana work.
Harold White made his way to the Top 8 at last weekend's Star City Games Open in Richmond with a Delver of Secrets deck that splashed black for Lingering Souls – and further pushed his deck's Spirit sub-theme with Drogskol Captain.
Harold White's Esper Delver
Over the course of the next year, I expect to see Lingering Souls making its way into aggro-control decks like Harold White's Esper Delver deck; Esper, and Five Color control decks that use Lingering Souls as a cheap and reusable victory condition. This card's also notable in White-Black Token decks that are full of Intangible Virtues, Sorin, Lord of Innistrads, and Midnight Hauntings, as well a whole host of other decks that only the most inspired deck builders have begun to think about.
Blue: Thought Scour
Never underestimate the power of a one-mana blue cantrip. They are oftentimes capable of setting up some remarkable plays.
While Thought Scour might not seem all that exciting at first glance, it can do a lot of little things for you.
Thought Scour helps fill your graveyard with flashback spells, as well as other instants and sorcery spells that you can get back with Snapcaster Mage. It helps power up Runechanter's Pike, and it can get you past cards that you've put on top of your library with Ponder that you've decided you don't want to draw.
Oh, and unlike Ponder, it's an instant, so you can leave up mana for counterspells or removal, and then cast it on your opponent's end step if they don't force you to use your mana on a reactive spell.
So if you're looking for a cheap way to help filter through your deck, you should definitely give Thought Scour a second look. It can do more than you might think.
If you're looking for a black card that's sure to have an impact on Standard for as long as it's legal, then you need to look no further than Tragic Slip. But if you're looking for a really exciting card that has the ability to spawn entirely new archetypes, then look no further than Gravecrawler.
While it isn't clear that players have had enough time to put together powerful Zombie decks for Pro Tour Dark Ascension, Gravecrawler is a card that many of the top professional teams tried to build decks around.
Gravecrawler might not have its time in the sun this weekend, but don't be surprised to see it crawling its way to the top at a tournament near you soon.
Red: Faithless Looting
Careful Study is back. And this time, it has flashback. Oh, and it's red.
Faithless Looting gives players the ability to rip through their decks, and fill up their graveyards, at an amazingly quick rate.
Whether you're running it in your control decks to help you find whatever you need, your Reanimator decks to set up a quick and deadly Unburial Rites, or Havengul Lich combo decks to insure quick kills, Faithless Looting is the card that players want for setting plans up.
Green: Strangleroot Geist
With many big-name players backing the powerful green creature, Strangleroot Geist is expected to be a big hit this weekend.
Strangleroot Geist is my personal pick for the top card in Dark Ascension.
Strangleroot Geist is one of the best aggressive creatures ever printed, and while its double green mana cost is certainly restrictive, the fact that you can play it alongside cards like Predator Ooze and Dungrove Elder – the latter which explicitly rewards you for playing a ton of basic Forests in your deck – makes Strangeloot Geist's mana constraints worth tolerating.
Expect to see decks like Todd Anderson's mono green beatdown to flourish for months to come.
Todd Anderson's Mono-Green Aggro
Artifact: Grafdigger's Cage
Looking to use and abuse things from your graveyard? Think again.
Grafdigger's Cage is one of those cards where its impact is determined by how powerful the other decks that surround it are.
If players are cleaning up with Havengul Lich/Heartless Summoning/Perilous Myr combo decks, Gravecrawler decks, and other flashback heavy decks that take advantage of some combination of Faithless Looting, Lingering Souls, Unburial Rites, Forbidden Alchemy, and/or Snapcaster Mage, then Grafdigger's Cage has the potential to become one of the most valuable sideboard cards in the format.
Are we already at a point where players will be able to generate significant in-game advantages by plopping down a Grafdigger's Cage? Or will we have to wait a few more months for that to happen?
Land: Evolving Wilds
It's back, and with the enemy color lands from Innistrad, Evolving Wilds is better than ever.
Evolving Wilds has been around before, and it has rarely had much of an impact. So it's no wonder that many players simply overlooked Evolving Wilds when they were taking their initial looks at Dark Ascension.
But good mana fixing isn't something that you should ever simply write off.
During the week leading up to Pro Tour Dark Ascension, many of the top pros in the world discovered that Evolving Wilds was an essential tool that could allow them to splash cards like Lingering Souls, Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, Mana Leak, and a host of other cards at very little cost.
Simply put, Evolving Wilds makes decks that would otherwise be prohibitively inconsistent into potential powerhouses.
Will players rise to the top with Evolving Wilds fueled, Sorin, Lord of Innistrad decks this weekend? Or will old stalwarts such as White-Blue Delver of Secrets, and Red-Green ramp continue to rise to the top?
Follow along all weekend long to find out!