he haunted farewell train to Innistrad is right on the horizon. After two great years, it's finally time for the block that brought us cards like Snapcaster Mage, Huntmaster of the Fells, and Terminus to rotate out of Standard. Theros will be bringing in a whole new plethora of goodies to fill in Innistrad's shoes—just you wait—but there's still a twinge of sadness that goes with saying goodbye to anything this beloved.
Innistrad block is one of the greatest blocks in Magic's history. It's all about horror, monsters, and losing your mind. And what better way to honor the last week I'll be talking about it in Standard than doing something that's absolutely, well... mad?
You've unlocked this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension—a dimension of sound. A dimension of sight. A dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance; of things and ideas.
Welcome to insanity. Population: us.
Eddie Taylor's Descent into Junkness
The Battle Plan
Descent into Madness is a truly mad card. It's like a modern-day Smokestack (of "Stax" deck fame), slowly grinding away each player's resources until there's nothing left. It looks like the card is fairly symmetrical... but ever since the beginning of Magic, when players discovered that Wrath of God could destroy four of their creatures to your zero, there have been ways to break symmetry. This deck is no exception.
How does one break the symmetry on Descent into Madness? Lots of excess permanents!
The way this deck accomplishes that goal is with cards like Abundant Growth, Ground Seal, and Lingering Souls. The first two are essentially superfluous permanents, drawing you a card once and then being fodder later on. Token generators, while eventually a potential win condition and also useful for buying you some time, can be sacrificed just as well—especially Lingering Souls, which ends up creating four tokens in one card!
Once your opponent's board state has been reduced to rubble, it should be fairly elementary for any Spirit tokens still lingering around or an active Planeswalker to finish the opponent off.
What happens if you don't draw Descent into Madness? Plan B is to just work on controlling the game. Cards like Terminus and Abrupt Decay can keep creatures under control while your Planeswalkers generate advantage. This plan B can certainly be improved, and some of the tweaks are going to be taking a look at that.
What can stay, and what is simply too crazy to keep around? Let's take a look!
As the card that the deck is built around and wants to draw every game, I definitely want to play four. Even drawing multiples isn't that bad since you can either try and get multiples rolling in successive turns, or, worst case, you can always exile it from your hand to your first Descent into Madness.
Moreover, the question is how much this deck should be a Descent into Madness deck. You can't always count on drawing it early. Do you want cards like Strionic Resonator to speed your Descent into Madness along?
In general, I prefer trying to always make sure there's a good backup plan in decks that have a tremendous focus on one card. That way, even if your key card doesn't show up in your first twenty cards, you still have a reasonable game.
What does that mean? Adding a couple more win conditions. At the same time, I'd like them to be compatible with the rest of my strategy.
There are plenty of good options here. Thragtusk is a card you certainly couldn't go wrong with, netting you some life while stabilizing the ground and even giving you a token when he goes away. Increasing Devotion provides you a bounty of tokens you could block with or sacrifice away.
However, I don't have much extra space for redundancy here. Fortunately, there's a card which fits perfectly: Assemble the Legion.
Assemble the Legion is great for a few reasons. First of all, on its own it can entirely take over the game. This deck is already designed to buy time, and, like Descent into Madness, every turn you get with Assemble brings you closer to inevitably winning. The deck is already ideally built to do just what Assemble wants, since it's very mechanically similar to Descent, so it should mesh well with the other cards in the deck.
Second of all, if you have both going at the same time, it's completely insane. Assemble the Legion makes guys every turn for your Descent into Madness to sacrifice. And then, once your opponent's resources are stripped bare, it can make a lethal dose of soldiers.
Assemble is a red card—but in a deck with Farseek, Abundant Growth, Verdant Haven, and access to Prophetic Prism if it wants it, I'm not concerned about finding a red mana.
One of the dominating cards of Innistrad block, Lingering Souls is a great fit here. Whether buying time or serving as four sacrifices to appease the Descent into Madness, it's a lot of power in one card. I definitely want to keep all four.
These Planeswalkers are great in this deck for a couple reasons. For one, they serve as a win condition once Descent into Madness has finished its handiwork. Second of all, they produce tokens every turn, giving you continual fodder to your black enchantment.
My one complaint is that Garruk is another card at five mana, and I'd prefer to bring the curve down a little bit. Fortunately, this color combination affords another perfect Planeswalker for the job: Sorin, Lord of Innistrad. Besides being thematically appropriate as the actual lord of Innistrad during my farewell to Innistrad, he's another four-mana Planeswalker who generates tokens. To top it off, his ultimate is pretty saucy under a Descent into Madness as well—that's a huge permanent swing in your favor!
With Farseek to accelerate us to four mana on turn three, I'm probably going to want five or six of these Planeswalkers total. A split between the two works well for me: you ideally want to draw one of each.
And speaking of Farseek, the green sorcery is a fundamental cornerstone card this deck definitely wants four of. It pushes you ahead toward your four- and five-mana threats a turn earlier. You ideally want to cast Descent into Madness on turn four, and this helps you do that perfectly. Plus, it puts another permanent onto the battlefield for when it's finally time to Descend.
While mana acceleration that costs three and only puts you ahead one land isn't anything crazy powerful, Verdant Haven has a few things going for it here.
For one, it still puts you to five mana on turn four—the big number for this deck. Laying out a Descent into Madness (or Assemble the Legion) on the fourth turn really puts your opponent on the back foot right away.
Second, it's a spare permanent once Descent is rolling. While it's not the kind of thing you're excited to exile—it's like exiling a land, more or less—it does put an extra permanent out there you can exile away.
Third, it helps recoup you a couple points of life. While pretty minor, when you're trying to stabilize with a Descent into Madness out, every point counts.
I don't want to draw a hand full of Verdant Havens (and this deck doesn't have a ton to ramp into if you do), but three is a number I'm pretty comfortable with here.
As a one-mana cantrip (a card which does something small and draws you a card) that also helps fix up your mana, Abundant Growth is an ideal card to have here. It digs you closer to your engine cards while also being fodder for Descent into Madness. Plus, as a one-mana spell that draws a card, it makes me feel more okay with this deck's low land count.
Like Abundant Growth, Ground Seal is a permanent you can cast (and later exile) that immediately replaces itself while also having a minor effect. Two mana is certainly a little more impactful on your game plan than one mana, though. If you draw a bunch of these, they are going to be harder to "cycle" away than a one-mana spell like Abundant Growth.
I definitely want a couple of two-mana permanent-cantrips like this. The other one you can consider is Prophetic Prism, which does help out the mana a little bit. Whether Ground Seal is the right one or not depends on your metagame. I'm going to switch over to Prism to help cast my off-color spells and smooth out my mana, but if people in your local area are playing a lot of cards like Unburial Rites, Snapcaster Mage, and Scavenging Ooze, I'd definitely switch back.
There are a lot of good removal options in Standard right now. While normally I'd consider cards like Doom Blade here, Eddie made a good deck design decision here: Abrupt Decay is absolutely the right call for this deck.
Why? One card in particular: Detention Sphere.
It's easy for a Detention Sphere to hit the battlefield the turn after you cast a Descent into Madness and then throw off your whole game plan. While a Sphere will still stunt your progress for a turn (unless you have seven mana to play Descent and leave up Abrupt Decay), it's a lot better than permanently losing your enchantment. I definitely want to keep all four of these.
This deck definitely wants to have a board-clearing effect available. For one, to reduce creature onslaughts to ashes. But also, once Descent into Madness is active, clearing your opponents' permanents is especially good since it reduces their options further.
The question, though: Is Terminus the right wrath for this deck?
While you can miracle it, this deck has a lot of cantrips you'll be playing on your turn. And six mana for a Wrath is a little slow. Fortunately, there's another perfectly good option: Supreme Verdict.
While, like Assemble the Legion, it is off color, I'm confident that this deck can hit a blue mana source early on. Sign me up for four!
With all of that in mind, that brings the deck to:
Gavin Verhey's 5-Color Stax
Anything remotely interesting is mad, in some way or another. This deck is pretty crazy... but once Descent into Madness gets rolling, it's an extreme uphill battle for any opponent to come back from. With the addition of some extra Planeswalkers and Assemble the Legion, it also has a solid plan B—or at least the tools to stall the game until a Descent or Assemble can take over.
There are definitely a few different ways you could take the deck from here. If you wanted, you could go the ramp route with cards like Ranger's Path and Sphinx's Revelation, playing for a bit more of a long game. Alternatively, you could make a version with a plethora of cantrips (and perhaps Strionic Resonator) that just plans to find Descent into Madness quickly every game while churning through the deck.
There are a few weeks left until Innistrad goes away—it's been a set that's a sort of harborer of good, and fun, and madness. Hopefully you enjoyed this look at one such deck. I'll miss Innistrad—but I can't wait for you to all see Theros!
Which decks just barely missed out on being mad enough to be featured above this week? Let's take a look!
Yuki Serizawa's Wurms' Path
Mickey Landsman's Burn Artist
Andras Cravioto's Heartless Demons
Bryan Melilli's Burn at the Stake
Maarten Gaasbeek Janzen's Call from Beyond
Coire's Lab Sphinx
Johnnie Alexandro's M13 is Leaving Too!
Kevin McHenry's Ajani's 9(x2) Lives
Yuriy Slabicky's Heartless BUG
Nik's Burning Secrets
Max Jaffe's Bloody Buddies
Masayoshi Toumon's Vampires
Braden Dafoe's Fun With +1/+1s
M. Fischer's 4-Color-Humans
Jonathan Gutierrez's UB Drownyard
From Madness to Myth
It's hard for me to believe, but starting next week I'll finally be able to show you some Theros cards! It feels like so long ago we started working on the set, and I can't wait to finally have the chance to show it off. If you enjoyed Innistrad's approach to flavor, you will almost certainly love Theros.
Since we're rotating an entire format, it's going to be a little tricky to build decks this far in advance around a card I want to show you—so no challenge this week. I'll have one for you next week, though, so feel free to come back then and check it out.
If you have any thoughts on this article, I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to post in the forums or send me a tweet and I'll be sure to take a look.
I'll be at the Magic PAX party this weekend, as we unveil some pretty exciting Theros goodies. If you're there, I'll see you there! If not, be sure to stay tuned to all forms of social media so you can hear about everything we show off. (Or, at the very least, check out the website on Monday to see a recap.)
If I don't see you there, then the next time we talk will be when I'm showing you off a Theros card—I can barely wait!
Talk with you then!
When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he wanted a job making Magic cards. Ten years later, his dream was realized as his combined success as a professional player, deck builder, and writer brought him into Wizards R&D during 2011. He's been writing Magic articles since 2005 and has no plans to stop.