Back when the first Innistrad set came out, i put together a small review; how the tribe felt as a whole, reviews for individual cards, as well as non-werewolf support cards that worked with the theme and cards i would like to see in the future that compliment the tribe. Now that we’re going back to our favorite horror-themed plane, i decided to write another review.
Disclaimer: Werewolves will (theoretically) be part of both this set and the next set, Eldritch Moon. That means the tribe will, by default, be missing pieces until the next set comes out. Also, unlike Humans, Spirits, or Zombies, which exist on multiple planes, werewolves are an Innistrad only thing. So they will be lacking much of the support other tribes get. They won’t have an Anafenza, for example. So please keep that in mind. We still have another set for our tribe to expand in (unless we get Avacyn Restored again….grumble grumble).
So while the key mechanic of werewolves, transform, has stayed the same, the tribe itself has gone through a major redesign. Previously, your goal as a werewolf player was to play one of several “Lords” or “Anthems” (cards that by themselves were fairly weak, but boosted each other up in strength) and have creatures that were simply bigger than your opponent. Mayor of Avabruck, Kruin Outlaw, Instigator Gang, and Immerwolf were all examples of this. The pack was stronger than any one component. And when it worked, it worked well. Turn 4 swing for 20+ was perhaps Magic ChristmasLand, but still certainly possible.
However, the biggest problem was the transform mechanic itself. With one exception, none of your werewolves wanted to flip into your human side. Their human side was strictly inferior to the werewolf side. They didn’t get special bonuses for transforming back and forth. In practice, playing werewolves felt like asking your opponent permission to bash his face in. “Hey, if it’s not too terribly inconvenient, could you not cast think twice at the end of my turn, thereby keeping my army weak peasants while you build to your inevitable board sweeper? Oh. Well, that’s ok. Maybe next time, if you don’t flash it back. Or draw another one. Thanks, friend.”
How did transform work out? Well, again with one exception…it didn’t. In order to flip your werewolves, you had two options. A) Your opponent passed their turn without casting a spell, and B) They didn’t respond to the end of your turn with an instant. An entire tribe being shut down by “in response to your end step, i cast an Think Twice. Your next end step, I flash it back.” is not fun. Wasting two turns doing nothing and getting shut out by a single cantrip is not the best feeling in the world. Now, yes, there was moonmist. And yes, it was frequently a blowout when you cast it. But that was four cards out of your 60 card deck. Hardly reliable.
I keep mentioning “one exception”. That exception was Huntmaster. Arguably the best werewolf, and without a doubt the most played, he was unique in that he *wanted* to transform. When entering the battlefield or turning into his human half, he was a 2/2 that created a 2/2 wolf token and gave you two life. Nifty. When transforming into his werewolf side, he was a 4/4 trampler that did two damage to target opponent and two damage to up to one creature that player controls. Now this, this was where werewolves wanted to be. Their key mechanic went from being a crippling weakness to something you wanted to happen. With huntmaster, your deck naturally included more instants and sorceries because you wanted to control that flip back more. Many times, triggering it yourself was a smart move.
This brings me to the werewolves of today. Yes, finally. Wizards announced a new change to how the tribe functioned. Rather than simply going big and going home, our furry friends would operate similar to the Theros Heroic decks; creatures and pump spells. You can’t just load up your deck with Moonmist, Lead the Stampede, and all the werewolf lords you could grab anymore. Now, you focus on pumps and a small amount of efficient creatures.
What does this mean? Well, it means we’ll often times be the ones triggering our own “transform back” clause as we nuke defenders and pump attackers. So, with this in mind, we need to look for some of the following for werewolves to be truly competitive.
- A way to force transform. As mentioned before, Moonmist was oftentimes a blowout.
- Something to do with our mana that isn’t spells. As our transform mechanic is essentially a game of “mother may i?” with our opponent, we need more reliable ways to trigger it without wasting our turn.
- Cards that want us to transform back and forth.
- Cards that punish our opponents for casting on our turn.
- Cards that allow us to ignore transforming back to the weaker side.
So, without further rambling, let’s look at the werewolves and wolves, and see what we’re working with.
Werewolves and Wolves
Duskwatch Recruiter: a 2/2 for 1G. His human side lets you look at the top three cards of your library, and reveal/put in your hand a creature card. Flipped, he’s a 3/3 that makes creature spells you cast cost 1 less. This is what we want to see. Fairly durable, both sides have good upsides. He helps you spend mana so you’re not wasting turns trying to flip your werewolves, then makes the werewolves you find cheaper. A solid addition.
Hermit of the Natterknolls: Another great werewolf. A 2/3 for 2G isn’t a horrible body. Drawing a card if your opponent casts a spell on your turn is no Voice of Resurgence, but it’s hardly bad. He transforms into a 3/5 that nets you two cards when your opponent casts a spell on your turn. Few opponents are going to force a flip back to human on your turn and give you 4 cards. Basically, once he flips, any other werewolves you play are going to flip if you pass the turn. A great defensive werewolf (wow that feels weird to say), and one who’s toughness means he can carry enchantments and pump spells easily. No “in response to you casting X, I bolt him.”
Hinterland Logger: Eh. We had to get to the chaff eventually. I love her flavor text, and her flip side, a 4/2 trample, is certainly decent. But a 2/1 for 1G is just not worth the slot in your deck, especially with other werewolves to consider. Speaking of…
Lambholt Pacifist: The Lambholt Bully is a fun card. 1G for a 3/3 lets her and her little bird stop a huge chunk of potential threats. Requiring a creature you control to have a power four or greater in order to attack is easy in a deck that wants pump spells, though i fail to see how that makes her a pacifist. Even without a pump, she eats Sylvan Advocates and other pumps all day long. Coming in the turn before a howlpack resurgence is an added bonus, as well as fun curve. Unfortunately, her flip side is comparatively disappointing. Simple a 4/4 vanilla. Still worth the slot.
Solitary Hunter: A Solitary Vanilla. 3G for a 3/4 or a 5/6. Pass on our friend here, you have better things to do with four mana.
Pack Guardian: While flash is certainly nice, and fits into the “skip your turn so your dudes flip” theory of werewolf, I’m not convinced a 4/3 that conditionally makes a 2/2 when it enters the battlefield is where you want to be.
Quill Wolf: A Grizzly Bear that requires 6 mana to get a temporary upside. Yes, we want mana sinks that aren’t spells. But this isn’t one of them.
Sage of Ancient Lore: I…want to like this guy. I do. But by the time you cast this 5 drop, your hand is likely empty. His cantrip ability triggers when he enters the battlefield, meaning if he was the last card in your hand, he dies before this goes off. His flip side is better, but again, his power/toughness are based entirely off cards in hand (you and your opponent this time). That late in the game, i just don’t see him being powerful enough.
Silverfur Partisan: 2G for a trampling grizzly bear seems weak at first glance. However, he pumps out wolves whenever any wolf or werewolf character you control is targeted by any spell. That feeds directly into the pump theme wizards is going for, and is fairly powerful. If Zada’s CoCo Ruffs turns out to be a deck, this is going to be a cornerstone in it.
Thornhide Wolves: Nope.
Breakneck Rider: a 3/3 for 1RR is ok. Flipped, he’s a 4/3 with a conditional Full Moon’s Rise pump attached. While many feel this is good enough, I’d argue that you should stay away from it. 3 CMC is a crowded slot this time, and I feel that in a world of Silverfur and Geier Bandits, he’s just not quite there.
Convicted Killer: When you’re weaker/on par with a creature cheaper than you, not much needs be said. Even at 1R, I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending this.
Ember-Eye Wolf: Slow Monastary Swiftspear with no prowess? Mana Sink or no, not worth it. You have better two-drops.
Gastaf Arsonists: a 5/4 for 4R. Flipped, he becomes a 6/5 menace, with menace. If it turns out we reliably get to 5 mana and want a creature that big, this is where i see us going. Definitely brewable, but for now i remain unconvinced.
Geier Reach Bandit: Yeah, i see this making the cut, hands down. A 3/2 haste as a human is passable. Not great, but passable. Flipped, he becomes a 4/3 that allows any werewolf that enters the battlefield to do so transformed. Hey, we kinda got a forced transform card! The fact that it hits werewolves that enter the battlefield, and not necessarily cast, enables fun blink/briarbridge shenanigans.
Howlpack Wolf: Nope. It’s downside isn’t horrible, but again, 3 CMC is crowded.
Kessig Forgemaster: Ok, I’m probably liking this too much. I admit that. But I’ve always loved the “ping anything that gets in my way” style cards. A 2/1 for 1R that does 1 damage to anything that blocks or is blocked by it. Stats we’ve seen before, and never *quite* good enough for standard. Flipped, she is a 3/2 that does 2 damage instead. Deathtouch, menace, trample, the potential shenanigans are endless.
Scourge Wolf: 2/2 first strike for RR that gains doublestrike if you have delirium. Maybe. You’ll be running plenty of creatures and instants/sorceries, and potentially Evolving Wilds. Brewable.
Ulrich’s Kindred: 4 mana to give one attacking wolf or werewolf indestructible? I’d pass. Even the base stats aren’t worth getting excited over. The trample is nice, but that’s really it.
Village Messenger: a 1/1 haste for R that flips to a 2/2 menace. Solid, reliable, good.
Wolf of Devil’s Breech: And here’s where i get yelled at. I actually don’t mind this guy. “Worst mythic ever printed”? I don’t see it. A 5/5 wolf that potentially clears out blockers, ganks planeswalkers, and if needed activates madness. Combo’s with the Silverfur Partisan(and Omnath, oddly enough). See my comments on other five drops, but if it turns out we do want one, the Wolf might be in the running.
Arlinn Kord: Ahhh, the werewolf planeswalker. Everything we wanted Garruk Relentless to be, and more. Both sides are very relevant, and she is an auto-include in the four-slot of any werewolf deck that can afford her.
Non-Tribal Support Cards:
Zada, Hedron Grinder: Target her with a pump spell, then all your wolves/werewolves get a copy targeting them. With a Silverfur Partisan in play, this means each wolf/werewolf creates another wolf token. With each pump spell. Sure, i see that fitting in.
Cult of the Waxing Moon: I this card more for what it represents, than the actual card. It’s stats are pretty eh, as a 5/4 for 4G. It’s also a human shaman, and *not* a wolf or werewolf, so no tribal fun there. Why do i love this then? Because it pumps out a 2/2 wolf every time one of your permanents transforms into a non-human creature. Neglected Heirloom? Free wolf. Westvale Abby? Free wolf. Any human transforms to it’s better werewolf side? Free wolves for everyone. Oprah would approve. But just like the tax on a free car, this may end up being more than we bargained for, cost wise.
Briarbridge Patrol/Tamiyo’s journal: I mention this combo because, well, it’s nice. Sac three clues to Tamiyo’s journal to tutor up a card. Then, at the end of turn, Briarbridge puts a creature from your hand directly into play. No casting needed. Cards like Rabid Bite allow your Briarbridge to safely deal damage and up your Clue count.
Eldrazi Displacer: If mana bases support 3-4 colors, this may very well sneak in. Bounce werewolves to let your flipped Geier Bandit auto-transform, save your guys from being killed, lock down blockers, etc. Still, 3 CMC is crowded, and putting in two new colors for one card is probably not going to be worth it.
Trail of Evidence: get a Clue whenever you cast a pump spell? Probably not worth a blue splash, but we’ll have to see what Eldritch Moon brings us.
Neglected Heirloom: The transform equipment. Like werewolves themselves, it goes from weak to potentially awesome. +3/+3 and first strike is great for an equipment you cast for 1, and likely equipped for 1 as well. And with a deck full of transform creatures, flipping it is easy.
Westvale Abby: If wolf tokens are plentiful enough, and between silverfur and Arlinn they should be, saccing 5 should happen often enough. And as a 9/7 flying lifelink indestructible haste, it can close games and still slice a tomato like that.
Collected Company: Many people’s snap-include. If this was original Innistrad, I would agree. It lets you skip your turn, playing this on your opponents (thus flipping any turn 3 play you had). Greier Bandit into this will often prove powerful. However, I’m just not sure with the direction werewolves seems to be heading (a pump-based tribe) we’ll have enough creatures to warrant it. Shipping back Howlpack Resurgence, pump spells, Arlinn; none of this feels good to me. Maybe Greier into double Neckbreakers will be enough for the tribe. Brewers, focus on Lambolt Pacifist, Breakneck Riders, and Village Messengers to out-aggro your opponent.
Howlpack’s Resurgence: I’ll be honest, my first thought on seeing this was “oh great, they made an over-costed, half-assed Full Moon’s Rise, then slapped Flash on it as an apology.” And losing both trample and the ability to sac it to regen all your werewolves, while costing a mana more are all marks against the Resurgence. However, flash is just good, for reasons we’ve repeatedly gone over. And most importantly? It actually hits your wolves. Full Moon’s Rise was one of two werewolf anthems/lords from the first set that randomly ignored wolves. And that is important. Wolf tokens are shaping up to be a sub-theme of the tribe. ignoring them is a big no-no. For the spell-based werewolf deck, one with Arlinn, Silverfur, etc? I see this as damn near an auto-include.
Cards I would like to see in the future:
More cards that give you benefits when your cards actually transformed. I’d prefer this on the werewolves themselves, but spells work.
Hunter’s Training: RG Enchantment. Whenever a human you control transforms, do 1 damage to target opponent or up to one creature. Whenever a non-human creature you control transforms, you gain 1 life.
Tolovar’s Blood-Rite: 3RG, instant. Transform all werewolves you control. Then, choose one: For every human you control, put a +1/+1 counter on target creature you control, or For every non-human werewolf you control, that creature deals 1 damage to each creature target opponent controls.