eing a human on Innistrad isn't easy. You've got vampires, werewolves, and zombies grazing on friends and family. Ghosts neighborly and nasty (mostly the latter) haunt your every step. Unspeakable horrors (well okay, demons) rise from the very depths of the land. And, while we're at it, let's toss in assorted other anti-human agents employing a full range of slimy, toothy, or bladed implements of doom.
Doomed Traveler | Art by Lars Grant-West
By the way, things are also getting much worse.
Art by Clint Cearley
Welcome to the first (of two) preview week for Dark Ascension. I, like you, have been itching to get into the next act of Innistrad's story, as gloomy and horrific as it appears to be. And while I've briefly wondered whether my desire was rooted more in excitement than an undiagnosed infection of lycanthropy, the end result is the same: I'm howling in a blind madness for more.
Today's preview, however, isn't part of the doom-and-gloom feel of the end of humanity. It's a trope just as classic as the beasts of the night or an encroaching, threatening darkness: shared hope. Hope that the just and pure will prevail. Hope that mercy and life will be granted. Hope that a light and a prayer will stave off the creeping death circling every perimeter.
Even in the darkest hour, the power of shared hope is powerful. That hope is the Increasing Devotion of Dark Ascension.
Avacyn, have mercy!
One Little, Two Little, Five Little Tokens
It wasn't too long ago that I reviewed how much I love tokens. It seems that the preview powers-that-be read that.
You might think that given the recent run of cards that interact favorably with tokens I would be tired by now.
Nope. Not even remotely close. (My apologies.)
While I haven't queued up Rhys the Redeemed for any Commander action recently, it's only because I've been forcing myself not to. It's hard. I've begun to suspect that I have tokens in my blood, or at least on my brain.
Increasing Devotion is, at a glance, a pretty plain card: five mana for five tokens that have a total of 5 power and 5 toughness. Conqueror's Pledge, a not-so-far-gone cousin, is six tokens for six mana, with the same breakdown in stats. Regular mode is as ordinary as can be.
But that's not why we're here. Increasing Devotion is quite extraordinary. After making our five tokens, we get to use flashback for ten more. Compared to Conqueror's Pledge, we end up with fifteen tokens before one can usually kick the Pledge for twelve.
It sounds so simple, but let me say that again: Fifteen tokens, fairly fast. Yes!
When I see something like Increasing Devotion, several other cards that can produce tokens come to mind.
Chatter of the Squirrel, Doomed Traveler, Origin Spellbomb, Spiritual Visit, Sprout, Tukatongue Thallid, Vitality Charm
Broodhatch Nantuko, Dripping-Tongue Zubera, Fists of Ironwood, Myr Sire, Raise the Alarm, Shrine of Loyal Legions, Sprout Swarm, Transluminant
Bant Sojourners, Blade Splicer, Cackling Counterpart, Caller of the Claw, Even the Odds, Flash Foliage, Gilt-Leaf Ambush, Growth Spasm, Master's Call, Midnight Haunting, Mobilization, Penumbra Bobcat, Promise of Bunrei, Pulse of the Tangle, Roc Egg, Sosuke's Summons, Timely Reinforcements
Acorn Harvest, Ambassador Oak, Beacon of Creation, Cenn's Enlistment, Elephant Ambush, Emeria Angel, Fresh Meat, Hero of Bladehold, Hunting Triad, Master of the Wild Hunt, Mausoleum Guard, Mongrel Pack, Notorious Throng, Penumbra Spider, Rite of Replication, Symbiotic Elf
Belfry Spirit, Bestial Menace, Centaur Glade, Cloudgoat Ranger, Conqueror's Pledge, Deranged Hermit, Geist-Honored Monk, Kessig Cagebreakers, Knight-Captain of Eos, March of Souls, Mitotic Slime, Penumbra Kavu, Precursor Golem
To be fair, I excluded blue, black, and red tokens. It's also not an exhaustive or even extensive list, as I stopped far short of the full range of converted mana costs for token making. And in the interest of full disclosure, I actually have two different decks in mind.
I'm approaching each of these decks through the Two-by-Four lens of deck construction, as featured during Graveyard Week, and the first is a bit of a fun mess. The idea is three-fold:
- Play some creatures who provide you with tokens when they die (or take damage, as in Broodhatch Nantuko).
- Find ways to make them die, mainly through combat or activation costs.
- Keep attacking with a growing swarm of insubstantial critters!
Increasing Devotion, and it's counterpart-in-crime Mongrel Pack, are the big sources of tokens. With any sacrifice outlet handy you can easily convert your Mongrels into tokens, and thanks to the beefy land count it's inevitable that you'll be able to make use of your Devotion's flashback.
But this deck is just the usual fare: Make tokens, gain value, beat down. Pretty simple. Here's something to kick things up a notch.
This deck isn't as nice. Like the first iteration above, this is a multiplayer deck. It's slow, a little awkward, and packed to the gills with tokens (with a hint of life gain). But it's also bringing a little trickiness with it.
Overburden is the first four-of, and you'll need to reference the up-to-date rules text: only nontoken creatures cause the land bounce. With a little luck (modified since we have four in the deck) you can snake out an early Overburden and put everyone else at a half-step behind for some time as you casually sling out tokens.
The real gotcha comes with the other four-of, Teferi's Realm. This, too, requires the up-to-date rules, but the essence is that its effect doesn't apply to any tokens. If you choose "creature," then all nontoken creatures go away. When all of your creatures are tokens it's easy to see why this might be a good thing.
These two enchantments together, alongside fellow game disruptors Cornered Market and Bazaar of Wonders, aren't a combo: an opponent can choose "enchantment" for Teferi's Realm to remove the effects of Overburden. But the ability to keep your creatures while mitigating the opposition—opponents' blockers, enchantments such as Ghostly Prison, or artifacts such as Ensnaring Bridge—is well worth presenting the key to unlock possibilities.
More Human Than Human
There's something else that's special about Increasing Devotion. It doesn't make Soldier or Spirit or Bird creature tokens; it makes Human tokens. What can we do with a bunch of unruly, rallied Humans?
This is the humanity of Innistrad in a can. You have your small fries doing big things (Champion of the Parish and Selfless Cathar), camaraderie and teamwork strengthening the whole (Hamlet Captain and Mayor of Avabruck), and a few ways to pull out all the stops (Mentor of the Meek and Citanul Hierophants). Angelic Overseer and Increasing Devotion serve at the top end of "things that will attack for us"—casting the latter usually ensures the power of the former.
But just rallying the masses isn't enough. It's what you do with them that makes the difference.
Goblin Bombardment is a total blast to play with, as long as you have fleshy fuel for the flinging. With plenty of creatures that like to get tossed (or at least see their friends chucked) it shouldn't be hard to burn your opponent down. Thanks to token-making noncreature spells, Past in Flames helps us refuel late in the game, while Pandemonium turns Increasing Devotion (and other token spawning) into unadulterated face-melting.
Imagine a sequence like so:
Delicious, seared tears should fall from your opponent's face!
Admittedly, Increasing Devotion is on the cheery side of Dark Ascension: the people of the plane rallying together, working together, while fighting to their last breath.
Increasing Devotion | Art by Daniel Ljunggren
How quick those last breaths will come.
Speaking of cheery things, last week's breakdown of the first three years of Serious Fun play formats was a smashing success! I'm certainly pleased with how pleased you were to see such a diversity of activities. In fact, the poll results showed just that:
Do you plan to try any of the new-to-you formats shared today?
Most of you, like me, found something interesting to try from the buried annals of Anthony Alongi. Remember that, someday, probably sooner rather than later, you'll see a few more years of fun things rolled up for your perusal. I hope you'll stay tuned until then!
This week I have a hypothetical question for us:
What would happen to you if you lived on Innistrad?
Sure, it's fun to imagine a cityscape like Ravnica or the summer revelry of Lorwyn. But the Multiverse is a dangerous place, and landing on any number of locales can easily be the last planeswalk we'd take.
Join me next week, when we meet something decidedly inhuman. Enjoy the previews until then!