25% of all cards that do something “at random” have been printed in the last 2.5 years (i.e. from Alara Reborn forward). Whether in cascade, Commander, or (c)Innistrad, many powerful effects have been randomized to be less grievous/broken.
I want to break randomness.
Many people shy away from random effects, but they can be quite good if you design with the effect in mind. With Innistrad giving us a bunch of cards with random effects, here’s a punctual primer on parlaying the (p)random.
The Random Has Two Colors
White: There is only one monowhite card that does anything at random: Planeswalker’s Mirth. It’s part of a Planeshift cycle that made an opponent reveal a random card from their hand so you could get an effect; here, it’s gaining life. Others could pump or depump a creature, deal damage to the targeted opponent, or let you cast the card if it was an instant or sorcery. The Planeswalker’s cycle was odd all the way around and generally out of character for each color’s abilities.
Blue: 4 cards, 3 of them from the black-bordered world. One of them is a Planeswalker’s enchantment, another is in black’s flavor, and the third is Merfolk Spy. Not much to comment on here.
Black: The second-most abundant color for randomness, black is all about making someone(s) discard at random. The two exceptions are its Planeswalker’s enchantment and Innistrad’s Ghoulraiser, which gravedigs random Zombies. Random discard’s always been highly effective and annoying, so much so that only 4 of the 17 monoblack cards that do so are in Modern (and two were reprints).
Red: 49 cards here! Betcha didn’t know that. You didn’t know that in part because 15 of them were from Odyssey block as ways of giving red some green-sized creatures or more powerful removal; the drawback for such power was for you to discard a card at random. That’s far from the only use, as many red uses of randomness are to bleed the color pie into red, such as permanent destruction (Capricious Efreet), looting (Desperate Ravings), tutoring (Gamble and Wild Research), reanimation (Search for Survivors), and recursion (Charmbreaker Devils). Ignite Memories was good enough to see tournament play, but the rest have mixed reviews as a batch. Unlike black’s slice, red randomness has been on the rise as a design tool (7 monored random cards are in Extended), and nobody disputes that it fits there anyway.
Green: This is the new one; 3 of the 6 monogreen cards are from Innistrad. The new designs (Make a Wish, Moldgraf Monstrosity, and Woodland Sleuth) differ from red in that it doesn’t give green new abilities, instead raising the theoretical power level of existing green. This is an intriguing design direction, and whether it’s pursued after Innistrad (say, in M13) should give us a good picture of R&D’s take on randomness as a whole.
Artifacts: Mostly before Ice Age and ending with Planeshift, artifacts tend to have some random-discard-for-bonus effects or random psuedo-card draw, such as Skyship Weatherlight.
There are some semi-random effects that don’t use the word; most of them involve the top card of your library or something similar. How to use them isn’t very different v. cards that say “random” on them.
So what do we do with these cards? Making opponents discard at random is usually fantastic; nobody’s had to do more than stick it in a deck and profit, though even random opponent discard can be manipulated to your benefit. Some of them should be answered individually, but here are the basic things you can do to control what you’re doing with them:
Don’t worry about it. This one’s overlooked but fine depending on the card. Maybe you just like the variety/thrill of doing something random. Maybe the effect’s value is high enough that it’s worth anything; Gamble, Devastating Dreams, and to a lesser extent Kindle the Carnage can be fine. Although cascade’s use of true randomness is shuffling rather than a reference to the spell you get, it’s still basically random in theory, and getting extra value out of the spell is fine enough in many decks. Make a Wish’s base power level probably is sufficient to slot into decks that aren’t built around; Moldgraf Monstrosity definitely is that way.
Make it so everything that happens randomly is good for your deck. I’ve used Drastic Revelation to be good with both halves of my deck, suddenly dumping nasty abilities to Necrotic Ooze or dumping spells so that Dralnu can flash them back (or Ooze pretending to be Dralnu). I’ll sculpt my hand a little bit for maximum value, but the card’s doing enough in the deck to where losing a good spell or two is fine; I’ll just get them back later.
You could make a deck where you discard randomly but have tons of madness spells, or use other random effects to get guaranteed value. I’m completely pumped to include Charmbreaker Devils in my Tariel Commander deck. Sure, it returns instants or sorceries randomly, and I have 26 possible targets, but 21 of them get rid of permanents or life totals. Oh no! Instead of Into the Core, I got Hero’s Demise! Stinks to be me…
Minimize the randomness to maximize the benefit. This probably is the most popular method, particularly since it works with a lot of players’ desire to reduce randomness in other aspects (and the lessons from other areas are more transferable to here). Want to reduce the random aspect of drawing cards? Scry. You can augment random discard of opponents with…more discard. (Okay, that one wasn’t hard.) What about discarding random things from your hand? You could get all the good stuff out of it first (and by that I mean use all the things that matter to the current board state). If recursion is your thing, then selective graveyard exile for a benefit could help you out. My Tariel deck runs Suffer the Past for that reason, but there are plenty of other ways to do the same thing. Necromancer’s Covenant already was solid in Commander, but making sure the next creature entering that graveyard will fight for you next is a synergistic way of reducing randomness.
Innistrad randomness cares primarily about the graveyard, but it does it in a way that isn’t demanding you build around it. That said, if your deck can take advantage of minimizing that randomness, so much the better for you. Regardless, don’t be afraid of the word random on a card. That might weaken it on the initial reading, but there are plenty of support cards in every format to work with it, and the rewards can be powerful.
Bonus: Ten Innistrad Cards That Impressed Me More Than I Thought They Would
I did 2 Sealed events and a draft over the weekend (started the first Sealed 4-0 in a field of 66 players before ending 4-2), so my impressions are based on those events.
Abbey Griffin: It bops you in the eye and then deals with a few attackers as well. There are more annoying (read: larger) predecessors, but flying/vigilance on basically any body can be frustrating. It impressed me more than I thought it would because I didn’t have it on my radar at all, but I had to respect it when bashed by it.
Doomed Traveler: How many one-drop commons do you know that can force a ground stall? That’s more a Limited situation than anything else, but it’s still there. It plays well with a lot of other cards.
Rally the Peasants: The flashback matters a lot. It means you can use it as a semi-finisher, i.e. just deal a solid bit of damage when you have nothing else to do, and threaten the kill on a later turn. Or you can give +4/+0 to your forces out of nowhere. There’s that option too.
Abattoir Ghoul: Stops a lot of offenses and defenses, as no one wants to give you the life gain from either end.
Morkrut Banshee: Morbid’s going to be a great thing in multiplayer, and not just because more creatures die there than elsewhere. The trick with morbid is that, if you’re used to playing your important stuff on your second main phase, players in a complex board state, i.e. many multiplayer ones, aren’t used to thinking about morbid as a reason the attacker’s holding mana open. I didn’t think about it all weekend unless I had a morbid card in hand; my opponents largely were the same way. Morbid adds another layer of depth to lines of play, and for an uncommon the Banshee gives a serious blowout. Don’t forget that if one of your small creatures dies to a larger one, there might be enough damage on El Grande for the Banshee to off it.
Curse of Stalked Prey: It’s kind of ridiculous with one-drops. I had it in both Sealed pools, played it in the first when I had 4 one-drops, and didn’t play it when I had none. I think that’s the right call, but I’m not sure. The lower the curve, the more the Curse does for you.
Rakish Heir: Kinda the same deal as the Curse in terms of optimal use. The biggest deal is when the Heir stacks with Vampires that already get +1/+1 counters. I found that out the hard way.
Somberwald Spider: Another morbid favorite. “I’ll trade on the ground; I’m just stopping damage until my big flyer takes over the g…hmm.” Given how good 4-to-5 power flyers are in any format, a 4/6 reach is right at that sweet spot of board presence: big enough to deal with stuff, but small enough to be costed nicely.
Butcher’s Cleaver: I lost almost entirely to this card in one match, as my opponent just kept putting it on random Humans and letting them block. The comparison to Loxodon Warhammer isn’t quite right because the trample encourages attacking. The Cleaver excels at blocking, which makes it a beating of a different, but sometimes equally nasty, sort.
Trepanation Blade: This seemed to be the breakout of my prerelease, as I kept hearing bad beats stories all over the place. I didn’t understand until my second Sealed pool had two of them. It helps that the attack trigger always gives at least +1/+0.