The newest Magic: The Gathering set Innistrad: Midnight Hunt will be upon us soon, and it sees the massively successful trading card game return to a world of gothic horror. Werewolves, zombies, vampires and spirits await in Innistrad, a plane first introduced 11 years ago and that remains popular today.
One of the most exciting additions will be the 19 new double-faced werewolf cards. Long term players will be familiar with the mechanic of transforming from a human form on one side to a werewolf on the other, but the new global day-night cycle offers a significant twist, meaning that a card can enter play as a werewolf if it’s nighttime. Be sure to check out IGN’s existing coverage of the new day-night cycle as well as new mechanics like Disturb, Decayed and Coven.
Innistrad: Midnight Hunt also sees the return of a mechanic from the original Innistrad set – flashback. This lets players cast spells from their graveyard, effectively allowing them to double dip. What kinds of cards will have flashback? I’m glad you asked. IGN has a mythic rare Legendary creature to reveal today that showcases the keyword. Introducing Lier, Disciple of the Drowned:
Lier looks quite powerful, but what kinds of decks would it be run in? “Lier is most likely to see play in a deck that has a mixture of card drawing and removal,” says Mike Turian, Product Architect. “At five mana, you will need to keep the board clear of threats and your life total up. You can do both with instants and sorceries. This will give you plenty of fodder for when you reuse Lier and take control of the game.
“Lier could also be powerful in a combo deck that generates lots of additional mana by casting mana-boosting cards a second time. Getting to cast instants and sorceries—ones that were only intended to be cast once—a second time is quite powerful. We have seen older cards, such as Yawgmoth’s Will and Snapcaster Mage, give the ability to cast cards from the graveyard so Lier could offer that same potential in a deck.
“Finally, Lier is a Legendary creature so that means he can be used to lead your Commander deck. Put Lier in a mono-blue deck filled with card drawing, bounce, and removal and you will be the bane of all of your friends as you have at least twice as good of a time playing as they do!”
The two pieces of art are also incredibly intense, so who is this character? “Lier is a powerful high priest of a cult that worships an ancient god of sea and storms,” Meris Mullaley – Narrative Design Manager, Worldbuilding Team tells me. “He preaches that because the surface is covered with horrors and monsters it is a sign humans shouldn’t live there. One day his sea god will return, overtake the surface, and welcome all to a paradise below the waves.
“Lier’s beliefs are one way in which humans have found ways to cope with the danger and horrors of living on Innistrad.”
“The look for Lier was really fun to play with,” Senior Art Director Taylor Ingvarsson enthuses in response to my question about Lier’s visual design(s). “Originating down in the coastal province of Naphalia, the denizens of this provence are usually covered in heavy water-resistant clothing to protect themselves from the elements. We wanted to push the idea of Lier’s zealotry to his ‘god of sea and storms’ by removing this protective clothing and allowing him to look confident and powerful in the midst of this dangerous coastal storm.
“For the visual motifs on Lier, we really pushed for a meld between Naphalia’s design language and that of the Stromkirk vampires of which their progenitor, Runo Stromkirk worships the same god of the sea and storms. You can note Naphalia’s inspiration by the fishing hooks, heavy leather gloves, and thick layers of clothing. While the Stromkirk vampires inspiration utilizes twisting heavy knots of nautical rope, the hooked shapes on his tabard akin to crashing waves, and strips of cloth that when whipping in the wind are akin to tentacles of great sea monsters. Lier’s zealotry is further exemplified by incorporating sea creatures into his staff and there is a massive crab over the shoulders giving him a creepy, yet elevated silhouette.
“I also have to say that I could not have been happier than to work with Ekaterina Burmak on this character. She really knocked this image out of the park and realized an awesome character for us.”
We’re Going on a Midnight Hunt
Innistrad is a rich world for Wizards to tap back into. Given it’s been five years since the last full card set based in Innistrad, I asked Meris Mullaley to set the scene for me. “Werewolves, zombies, vampires, and ghosts rule the night,” Mullaley says of the Gothic horror fantasy setting, “and the delicious (but resilient) humans do their best to survive. On Innistrad you might find yourself in the misty woods, a forbidding manor, or a haunted cemetery. It is a place that gives you a chill and crawling sensation under your skin and you are constantly watching the shadows.”
Midnight Hunt takes place on the eve of the Harvesttide Festival; a time when things have been thrown out of balance. “As we come back to Innistrad,” explains Product Architect Mike Turian, “the night is growing longer while daytime is shrinking. From a card design standpoint, this is captured with the creation of the Daybound/Nightbound mechanic on werewolves. Typically the Nightbound side of the card is more powerful, and with this new mechanic, once it is nighttime Werewolves will enter the battlefield on their back Nightbound side. So instead of having to transform them each individually, they now sync up with the current status of Day or Night.
“For Innistrad: Midnight Hunt,“ Turian continues, “the setting was decided on before we created the gameplay concepts. Innistrad always wants to tap into the gothic horror feel and that leads to loads of top down cards designed from thinking about how to capture that gothic horror setting. We create both the cards and the mechanics by asking ourselves what it is like to be a human that returns to the world as a spirit, or as a werewolf that desires nightfall.”
The return of flashback very much fits into this design approach. “Innistrad… has always looked to the graveyard as one of the ways to capture that feel from a gameplay perspective,” says Mike Turian. “Often that is with creatures that rise from the graveyard, however flashback allows spells to come back for a second time. Everyone loves casting their favorite spells twice and we saw how popular that was with cards like Snapcaster Mage from the original Innistrad set. In addition to connecting back to earlier sets, flashback adds a lot of fun to gameplay. Often as the game goes on, it’s nice to have a reserve of spells that you can tap into again. So flashback helps connect both to the flavor of Innistrad and the great gameplay that Magic: The Gathering offers.”
Given the emphasis on setting and story informing the gameplay, does Midnight Hunt tie into players’ last visit to this plane? “The last time we were on Innistrad,” explains Mullaley, “the Eldrazi were creating nightmares out of the standard Innistrad horrors. At the end of that story, Emrakul was trapped in the moon. The Travails – what residents call the situation with the Eldrazi – left an impact on the plane that you can see snippets of in the cardset and the web fiction. The situation with the day/night imbalance very likely has to do with its Eldrazi prisoner. However, in this return to Innistrad we wanted to focus on the original Gothic horror themes of the setting. So the mechanics, the story, and the cardset focus on werewolves, witches, and vampires.”
The art direction really delivers on those Gothic horror themes. I asked how the approach to card art differed for this set versus others. “In practice, none of our cardsets are singular in their emotional tone,” says Meris Mullaley. “They do each have their unique traits and Innistrad is primarily dark horror: Really foreboding, ominous and creepy. Knowing that we were going to be on Innistrad for two sets, we wanted to make sure that the hope and whimsy themes that have always been a small part of Innistrad had a larger footprint.
“Also, when your plane is experiencing environmental changes—for example, the day/night imbalance and the frost covering everything—the art team does extra work to keep those elements consistently represented across the whole cardset as best as we can.”
“Innistrad is always a fun challenge,” adds Senior Art Director, Taylor Ingvarsson. “It is really easy to crank the horror up to high and make humans feel too scared or only like prey on the plane. What I love about this plane so much is that even though Humans are on the back foot from monsters we always push for ensuring that every character has a sense of agency and the ability to always look cool. It doesn’t matter if you are a simple farmer getting in a hard day’s work or if you’re the most battle-hardened Cathar. You will always get an opportunity in Innistrad to look awesome fighting off nasty beasties.”
And lastly, what inspired the incredible showcase art? “Innistrad has been built around gothic horror themes from the beginning,” Mullaley explains, “and our showcase cards provide a way for us to express the worldbuilding themes in new ways. For Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, we regularly talked about the influence of gothic horror monster movies, and we took that inspiration a step farther to feature many legendary creatures with alternate art that alluded to the classic black & white monster movies.”
The introduction of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt will see a new Standard meta for Magic: The Gathering, with a number of old sets dropping out of the format. And Innistrad itself will certainly make its presence felt one way or another this year, with the vampire-themed Crimson Vow set coming two months after Midnight Hunt.
Innistrad: Midnight Hunt will be out on MTG Arena on September 17 and for tabletop on September 24. Physical cards will be available in Draft Boosters, Set Boosters and Collector Boosters, as well as in Commander Deck bundles. You can find out more about on the official Midnight Hunt site.