The Dark Ascension prerelease is almost here. Are you prepared for it? I’m going to review each of the commons in the set, so that you’ll know which cards to watch out for, which to avoid playing, and what this all means for the Innistrad archetypes you’re used to. Remember, even though common cards don’t make for splashy previews, they make up the majority of what you’ll be seeing in Limited, so knowing them ahead of time is vital.
This post will cover white, blue, and black. I’ll deal with the rest of the commons in part two, which will be up soon. I don’t think deckbox.org has the individual Dark Ascension cards up yet, so for now, you’ll want to pull up the card image gallery and follow along.
Bar the Door
White got a few self-undermining cards in this set. This one has someone talking about how the door is sure to hold, but the subtext, with the art and all, is that he’s desperate and in denial about how good his security measures really are. Run with cards that expect your creatures to die, like Elder Cathar or Skirsdag Cultist.
Burden of Guilt
There’s a surprising amount of tension here. It’s concepted as someone not fighting because she feels guilty, but the flavor text suggests that people are rallying despite being sad. It’s misplaced focus, and Thalia’s stilted delivery doesn’t help.
The main use for this card is filling out a Thalia deck in draft (alongside other late picks like Rebuke, which has text that doesn’t actually work as a rebuke), but it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to make that come together in Sealed.
At first glance, you might evaluate this card as a straightforward inspiring statement about the human spirit. But it has the drawback of not saying anything profound. Steel alone won’t stop them? We knew that. We’ve seen the monsters. Humans fighting them with weapons isn’t working. This won’t bring any new value to your resourceful/defiant human decks in block. Instead, it’s primarily a Standard card. It combos with several steel-related cards from Scars of Mirrodin, especially Slice in Twain, another card that says something ridiculous about steel’s properties.
Gather the Townsfolk
Solid card. It delivers on the “humans are pulling together and fighting back” flavor that the previous two cards failed at. Even if you don’t get many other cards with that theme, this is playable just based on the clever way it describes the fateful hour mechanic in flavor terms.
Loyal Cathar / Unhallowed Cathar
Like many double-faced cards, this is a strong two-for-one: you get two separate pieces of flavor text for running this one card. Innistrad set a pattern for these with Civilized Scholar / Homicidal Brute and Thraben Sentry / Thraben Militia. Both of those cards had day side text about how it sure was unlikely that anything would happen to flip them, and night side text about what happens now that, surprise, the cards flipped.
This new card puts a twist on that theme: the day side is the one saying that transformation is likely, and the night side is the one saying no, surely it’s not going to transform. Not a direction I think anyone predicted for Dark Ascension, but it does manage to maintain the same level of unsubtle irony. The “Thalia says things that are incorrect” deck is getting a good piece here. May see Constructed play.
This guy is actually focused on his guard duty, making the card closer to Mausoleum Guard than Thraben Sentry. But unlike Mausoleum Guard, he understands that the situation is serious. It’s unfortunate that there aren’t any Olgard of the Skiltfolk cards to combo with it besides Bar the Door, but this card is playable in its own right.
Niblis of the Mist
Chilling effects aren’t something we’ve seen directly on geist cards before, except for a dismissive mention on Battleground Geist. It’s a versatile tool for geist decks that goes beyond what we’re used to from Burning Vengeance. If you pick up this and Niblis of the Breath, you may be able to surprise opponents who are still thinking in terms of what geist decks could do in Innistrad.
Ray of Revelation
Turns out the tomb inscription line on Innistrad’s Naturalize was only the beginning. This card gives another interesting look at what tomb inscriptions are like in Innistrad. If someone plays it against you, watch for the way it uses the artwork as an indirect connection between card name and flavor text: there’s a ray of light, it’s shining on this tomb, here’s what it reveals. It’s easy to leave yourself open to that trick if you’re not expecting it.
The only white card that mentions devils. This can be played in two ways: as a splash in a red devil deck, or as a sideboard card against opponents who run lots of devil flavor texts. See Black Cat for my thoughts on why the two Cat cards don’t work together as well as you might hope.
Another good vigilant patrol card. This and Midnight Guard are solid defensive cards, but white’s still missing an active threat at common. Even the white rares are more defensive than usual. I think the main role of white in Dark Ascension Sealed is going to be as support for keeping yourself alive until you can cast flavor text bombs from other colors.
“Currency” is the wrong word choice here. Not only is the metaphor of people spending valor in their transactions forced and confusing, the register is off. This doesn’t work as something being said during a fight, during a pre-battle speech, or during training. Unplayable.
This card and Erdwal Ripper offer two different takes on the Erdwal. Artful Dodge says it’s a good place to hide; Erdwal Ripper says it’s a place where you’ll be easy to catch. The best way to reconcile them is to assume that no humans, not even the ones who live there, “know the alleys and sewers of the Erdwal,” only the vampires and other monsters who go there. What this means for you in practice is that this doesn’t fit into a sneaky human deck very well. Consider it for a splash in a red or red/black vampire deck.
Bone to Ash
An unplayable do-nothing card. Ludevic rambles for a bit without getting to any point other than “That’s a bad way to go.” Fortunately, this set has fewer Ludevic cards than Innistrad. He’s not as bad as Geralf when it comes to half-hearted jokes, but he still doesn’t quite fit the gothic horror theme. People who want to play with dumb jokes will go with Geralf cards instead, people who want gothic horror will avoid them both, so Ludevic ends up being unplayed.
I would say this is a somewhat reasonable pick if you first-pick a Ludevic’s Abomination and are intent on forcing a Ludevic deck, but the way draft order works now, that’s not a possibility.
Chant of the Skifsang
The idea of sailors using magic instead of nets is certainly interesting. I’m not sure how much sense it makes here, though. If humans have magic that powerful, and it’s common enough that even the sailors are skilled magicians, you’d think they’d be doing better against the monsters. There are ways this could be justified — maybe all Nephalian wizards go into the fishing business, maybe these spells don’t work on land, maybe sea monsters all happen to be weak against magic — but as is, that’s a weakness in a card that otherwise does a nice bit of storytelling. Still, you should be prepared to have this card played against you. Especially if you play against someone who likes the show Deadliest Catch.
Even the House of Galan! Who… we’ve never heard of before. The theme of people resorting to pre-Avacynian magic comes up elsewhere, notably on Favor of the Woods, but it doesn’t support the kind of irony this card seems to want. Why should mystic scholars be expected to avoid exploring other kinds of magic? You could play this card and also give a description of the House of Galan that explains why this is actually noteworthy, but then you’ve two-for-oned yourself.
A really versatile blue common. It deals with seagrafs, geists, and sailors. If you’re making a deck that relies on any of those, this is a solid inclusion. The only weakness is that “seagraf” is still just as ugly a word as when it first appeared on Nephalia Drownyard, but there are enough graf cards in Dark Ascension that you’ll have to suck it up and play them anyway.
Contradicts Skaab Goliath, which is a plus as far as I’m concerned. Use this in the blue zombie mirror and you may be able to disrupt your opponent’s strategy.
Nice indirect way of talking up this creature. The first sentence starts you off thinking the danger will be the bird making you fall, then the second sentence gives a much better way of stating it. This card belongs in a controlling deck, one where you’re saving your threats rather than rushing them out onto the battlefield as soon as the paragraph starts.
Also, I have to say: “Manfried Ulmach, Elgaud Master-at-Arms”? His name and title barely fit on one line. Couldn’t they have found something shorter to call him?
Straightforward aphorism. Could have been in a core set; there’s nothing here that makes it fit into Innistrad in particular. No real downside to playing this card, it’s just rarely going to be worth a slot in your Sealed deck. That said, it does work decently with Think Twice, another card that avoids any ties to the setting. Borderline playable, a late pick that you’ll occasionally end up running.
A little bit too cute. Cards that try too hard like this always get overvalued initially, especially at the prerelease. If you see this card from your opponent, odds are their pool didn’t have as much depth in blue as they think.
Another “milling is sanity damage” card. The parallelism in the text is a strong effect, but I have reservations about saying physical wounds are no big deal. Innistrad has a lot of dangers that aren’t to the mind, and you don’t want to minimize them. If your deck has red or green cards that present damage from monsters as a significant thing, don’t run this card. Major antisynergy there.
A good deal better than the Geralf cards we’re used to from Innistrad. As far as terrible things stitchers do to people go, I would rather run Sensory Deprivation than this, but both are solid cards on their own.
There’s been some talk of making Cat decks now that we have this and Sanctuary Cat, but they don’t actually complement each other very well. Not only do they have opposite views of what the cats are like, they handle narration completely differently. Sanctuary Cat has neutral, descriptive narration, while Black Cat takes a more active voice by addressing you. None of that gets in the way of the card’s playability, but if you do play it, make sure it fits into your plan for reasons beyond Cat tribal. It pairs well with Screeching Skaab and other cards that talk about their effect on you.
Chosen of Markov / Markov’s Servant
This is one of the parts of Dark Ascension I’m the most excited about. The flavor text on the two sides is a single sentence broken up with an ellipsis. We saw one card like this in Innistrad: Ulvenwald Mystics / Ulvenwald Primordials, an uncommon. Dark Ascension has three, all at common. What’s more, they all have different approaches to the idea of transforming (more on this as I get to the other cards), so you can build a pretty versatile deck around them. Also noteworthy is that all three manage to keep the word count low by double-faced card standards. Ulvenwald Mystics was a strong card, but it did have the drawback of using a few more adjectives than it really needed, especially on the night side. Now that we have cards like this to shore up that weakness, this could be an archetype to watch for.
Nicely atmospheric. It’s rare to see a card that opens with something on the level of “the faint smell of cloves.” The sentence leaves the right amount to the imagination, builds with a poetic rhythm, and describes it very aptly as paralyzing. “Fathomless” is an odd adjective to use, though. Does a tomb being really big make it scarier to anyone? This could just be a matter of individual play style, but for me, Claustrophobia was one of the standout cards in Innistrad.
Oddly wistful tone here. Normally the vampires are happy to have tortured or fed off of humans, but this guy’s almost nostalgic about the days when they were still around for him. This echoes the set’s backstory, and how Sorin was motivated to create Avacyn to protect humans from dying off. If you happen to open Sorin Markov, this card’s value goes up significantly for you.
The Blessed Sleep is also mentioned on Unburial Rites, Urgent Exorcism, and the new Ray of Revelation, making this another card that goes well in the white/black decks everyone is excited about. Personally, I think that archetype is overhyped; the Blessed Sleep isn’t bad as an afterlife concept, but with all the ways dead people can turn into monsters in Innistrad, it’s not at all certain that anyone reaches it.
I’m calling it now: green/black “you can’t take it with you” decks are going to be big. Mulch covers commoners and nobles being the same once they’re buried in the ground, and Highborn Ghoul complements that by explicitly showing that this also doesn’t make a difference for reanimated corpses. The closest thing Mulch had to a support card before was Gallows Warden, which doesn’t have the same focus on class. You’ll see pros drafting this archetype before long.
Reap the Seagraf
I could see first-picking this card. Great horror imagery, and a nice way of indicating the flashback. This will play especially well with Griptide, putting out enough threats themed around shore danger that opponents won’t be able to get past the coast.
“Direful” stands out as an odd word choice, but one that fits the gothic horror theme. Good sideboard card against white decks, which rely heavily on keeping Thraben defended.
“Human cattle” is the sort of thing I’d expect a vampire to be saying. It’s a little odd that it’s a demon-worshipping human saying it here, but still, a viable inclusion in a vampire deck. And speaking of red/black decks, this card is even more obviously begging to be played with Skirsdag Cultist.
Kind of a bland attempt at a pun, I guess? Well, not so much a pun as an awkwardly extended metaphor. We see cards like this pretty often. It’s playable, and works as indirect removal, but don’t expect too much value. If your black card pool has a couple bombs but is otherwise shallow, this can end up being maindecked.
Innistrad only had one card with a planeswalker quote. It was one of the worst cards in the set, so I was hoping we wouldn’t see more planeswalker quotes in Dark Ascension. The bad news is that there are several, but the good news is none of them are as bad as Bramblecrush.
On this card, Liliana Vess is announcing that she’s about to turn someone into a zombie. It’s not clear what exactly she hopes to find out about evil from doing this, but the line does deliver on the main point that someone’s coming back from the dead through dark magic. Borderline playable, and that’s saying something for a card about a character who was created as an anagram of “a villainess.”
That’s it for part one. Hopefully you’ve got a better idea of what to look for from those three colors now. There aren’t any common multicolored or artifact cards in this set (aside from a couple with no flavor text, which don’t really count as cards), so part two will just cover red, green, and lands. I’ll try to have that up later tonight, so that you have some time to read it over before the prerelease.