It all begins with a wedding, and why not a vampire wedding? No other card set in the Magic: the Gathering Trading Card Game has ever been hyped in such a way. Honestly, what better way to draw in those already obsessed with Gothic horror tropes to a plane with a well-established mythos such as Innistrad. The debut of Innistrad years back was a smashing success, building off the pop culture obsession at the time with vampires; granted, it was the bizarre breed of vampires from the extremely overrated Twilight book series that took it to a new level.
Of course, Magic the Gathering delivered one of its most well-received and acclaimed sets of all time with the original Innistrad. Dark Ascension was a good, but generally underwhelming follow-up, with Avacyn Restored closing out the then traditional three-set block visiting a particular plane in the MTG multiverse. In the long run, Restored proved to be a set that would age like fine wine, as did the OG Innistrad.
Shadows Over Innistrad, on the other hand, in the return to the plane turned out to be a welcome, but underwhelming reprise. The set was full of good cards, some of which still aged well, but nothing to the extent of Innistrad or Avacyn Restored. Eldritch Moon and the invasion of the Eldrazi brought with it a creature that broke the Standard competitive format. Because of the poor competitive scene that arose from the second set of that return to Innistrad, it has been remembered as a misstep.
However, it seems the third time is indeed the charm with this third visit to Innistrad. Midnight Hunt quickly proved to be an excellent addition to a brand new Standard format that saw the rotation of the overpowered Throne of Eldraine and Ikoria sets. Yet, the market has not eaten up this set nearly as much as you might expect considering the overall strength of the cards it brings with it.
Perhaps there is truly wallet fatigue involved, as Modern Horizons 2, Commander products, and the money-making machine of Secret Lairs have dominated many Magic players attentions. Also, the Adventures in the Forgotten Realm Dungeons and Dragons crossover hasn’t gone over nearly as well as expected; this is a strange market reaction that in time should correct itself, but that’s an entirely different story for another lengthy retrospective type of article.
So, it would make sense that Wizards of the Coast wants to kick off Crimson Vow, the follow-up to a very solid card set, with some fantastic event. However, do keep in mind that Wizards plans out sets at least two years in advance, so this marketing scheme has been many months in the making. We are cordially invited by Olivia Voldaren herself to witness a pair of popular and legendary characters from Magic exchanging their vows and, apparently, bear witness to something unusual.
I’ve never been one for the pomp and circumstance of how many weddings are organized, preferring to stick to focusing on the heart of what a wedding represents in the vows themselves. Of course, Gothic style weddings are fascinating spectacles and at the time in human history that Innistrad represents, weddings were actually a very big deal in the fabric of society. They were just as important, if not more so, than political appointments, as the joining of two souls in the bonds of holy matrimony meant a lot more in real life terms of power and wealth.
It’s also quite clever to make it a mystery who is being married, although inevitably, it would end up being a rather predictable match for those who were playing during the original Innistrad. Somewhat on theme, lead Magic designer Mark Rosewater released a whole slew of clues about what will be included in Crimson Vow; although, of course, he has done such teasers with each set for several years now. It’s really a genius marketing move to get people all aboard on the speculation train. Personally, I don’t like speculating much anymore, and while I certainly did get caught up in speculative hype in my younger years, as a crotchety elderly person in my mid-thirties, I prefer to stick to solid evidence.
What we knew for sure going into Crimson Vow was that Innistrad currently is in a state of perpetual darkness. Would it truly be time for Olivia Voldaren and the Vampires to take over? And, yes, the lucky groom is Sorin’s grandfather, Edgar Markov. Talk about an impactful wedding. The Voldarens and Markovs being married is a massive power play for Olivia. It’s not a bad way for Edgar to awaken, either.
Being the star of the show, Olivia, Crimson Bride, of course, was the first card to be spoiled from the set. Yes, she’s a six-mana Legendary Creature, but while she costs a lot to cast, she has both flying and haste. Plus, when she attacks, she gets to return a creature card from your graveyard to the battlefield tapped and attacking. The only downside is that creatures returned this way are exiled – removed from play – if there isn’t a Legendary Vampire Creature under your control. I’ll talk more about Olivia, Crimson Bride in depth in her own in-depth article treatment.
The Voldaren Estate, home of the wedding, was revealed as a tribal support land for Vampires. On the surface, it allows you to tap for any color of mana to cast a Vampire spell at the cost of one life. More importantly, this land reveals the new Blood tokens which allow you to pay one mana and sacrifice it to “loot” – discard a card, draw a card. While Voldaren Estate costs five generic mana to tap and create a Blood token, that cost is reduced by one generic mana for each Vampire you control. It could turn out to be a pretty decent Vampire tribal card, especially in, seriously, Edgar Markov Commander decks.
Sorin, the Mirthless is the new planeswalker for the younger Markov. In his regular set artwork, he’s dressing down, clearly not at all thrilled with the pairing of Olivia and his grand-dad. But, there are also approximately six million other art forms of him being printed. Then again, the Castlevania style art work for the “fang frame” is pretty sick. As a card, he’s a Dark Confidant for his plus loyalty ability, protects himself with a flying life-linking Vampire token, and an ultimate that’s playing on the lucky thirteen theme. Draining your opponent for thirteen life is pretty sweet, although getting to seven loyalty may be tricky in Standard.
As for the other planeswalkers in the set, I am especially thrilled to see Kaya back, as well as Chandra. We’ll get to them when their cards are officially revealed.
We also were teased about a popular and powerful reprint from the original Innistrad set. As many expected, it is Thalia, Guardian of Thraben that returns, the two mana Legendary Creature who taxes players for playing noncreature spells. The alternate Eternal Night black-and-white artwork is especially sick. So, if you’ve ever wanted to own a playset of OG Thalia, here’s your chance!
There’s also a new sort of Demonic Tutor, thanks to the new alternate Cleave casting cost. Also, Disturb and Exploit mechanics return, as well as a better version of Mentor in Training. Disturb looks to really help out the Spirits tribe, and Exploit gives us a creature version of Disallow.
Two neat Commander exclusive Legendary Creatures were also revealed. As Commander is my favorite Magic: the Gathering format, these creatures will get their own separate individual treatments. There’s another very interesting Set booster exclusive card, Wedding Ring, that I will definitely be writing about in the near future.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Crimson Vow is that there are Double Feature draft boosters which literally mash the set together with Midnight Hunt. Of course, that means that Midnight Hunt cards may end up being overprinted, potentially washing out a lot of their secondary market value. Of course, the Double Feature packs will feature the Eternal Night cards, so you’re at least getting a different version more frequently found in those packs.
Overall, I thought it was a decent debut spoiling some of the keys from the set. While a lot of people didn’t like the hosts, I thought they were fine considering how cheesy a script they were handed. Many people seem disappointed, especially as much of the focus was on Vampires, but keep in mind this is only a tiny part of the overall set that they revealed. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the new and returning mechanics, making this perhaps the best follow-up to an Innistrad set yet.
Stay tuned for more in-depth card reviews and witticisms regarding the OG Trading Card Game and its upcoming new game pieces.
~ Phoenix Desertsong