Innistrad: Midnight Hunt’s return to the spooky Magic: The Gathering plane has plenty thematic bark, less gameplay bite
Innistrad: Midnight Hunt sees us returning to the spookiest plane in the Magic: The Gathering multiverse, albeit one that’s now devoid of the otherworldly denizens from the last time we visited there in 2016’s Eldritch Moon. Back then, the plane was being taken over by the Eldrazi - basically MTG’s versions of the eldritch old gods - and the already horror-themed inhabitants were being warped into new, and substantially more tentacly, shapes.
Now, though, we’re back for the first of two forays into more familiar terror. Midnight Hunt is focused on werewolves. The lycanthropes have all been gaining power as the nights on the plane continue to get longer, leading the humans of the world to seek solace by forming their own covens to try and fight back.
The lore is pretty good, but the set itself has a lot of work to do to match up to the releases we’ve had so far this year - with Modern Horizons 2 being an absolutely powerhouse, and the D&D flavour of Adventures in the Forgotten Realms making for one of the most enticing sets in recent years. Thankfully, Midnight Hunt mostly manages to keep up, despite not being quite as good as the last few MTG offerings.
Let’s dive into the mechanics of the set first. Midnight Hunt finally gives us a system to better understand werewolves, along with the allure of the moon itself thanks to the new day-and-night system. Creatures can now be daybound or nightbound, meaning they can only take that form when it is day or night. Day becomes night when a player casts no spells during their own turn, and night becomes day when a player casts at least two spells during their own turn.
The new day-and-night system allows for a lot more strategy when casting your spells and also makes werewolves feel a little more potent.
This is a big change from tracking each creature individually and enables you to play creatures in their transformed forms more often - which allows for a lot more strategy when casting your spells and also makes werewolves feel a little more potent, which is definitely a good thing for those who’ve been hoping to make a decent Commander deck using them (or just anyone who’s keen on fangs and fur).
Humans, as already mentioned, formed covens this time around - and their new mechanic is called coven as a result. This is a mechanic that triggers when you control three creatures with different powers. While it does have some potent effects, it’s a tricky thing to manage in a lot of constructed formats as there’s so much good removal available at the moment. It’s a nice mechanic in theory but, unless you’re playing Limited, it feels as though it’s going to be something that you only benefit from rarely.
Naturally, Innistrad also has a few mechanics regarding the graveyard, too. The set adds a swathe of instant and sorcery spells with flashback, but also brings in the new Disturb mechanic to allow creatures to return in new forms. Rather than just having a lot of spirits in the set, we instead have various creatures becoming them if you cast them from the graveyard using disturb. It’s interesting to see life and death more aptly covered, and disturb is an interesting ability that allows for some fun lines of play.
I love Decayed in terms of lore and flavour, but in terms of gameplay it feels a bit off.
Of course, if the soul can return, then so can the body. Innistrad has always been replete with zombies and, in Midnight Hunt, many zombies play around with the last new mechanic in the set: Decayed. Decayed is a keyword that predominantly affects zombie tokens. It means that those tokens can’t block, and if you attack with them you have to sacrifice them at the end of the turn.
I love this mechanic in terms of lore and flavour, but in terms of gameplay it feels a bit off. Making tokens has always been something zombies have done anyway, and suddenly nerfing them with decayed feels odd. Take Poppet Stitcher, for example - a three-mana 2/3 that creates 2/2 Zombie tokens with decayed when you cast an instant or sorcery. It can transform but, focusing on the normal version, we’ve seen cards create tokens like this before with the likes of Young Pyromancer creating 1/1s and Talrand, Sky Summoner making 2/2 flying Drakes. It’s hard to see decayed as anything other than a peculiar drawback to Zombie tokens in general - and we’re not sure the tokens would be overpowered without it, or that the inability to block with these tokens is necessary.
Decayed actually hints at what it feels like Midnight Hunt is all about: playing aggressively. With so many ways to reuse your cards, it feels as though we’re meant to be constantly turning our creatures sideways and attacking ferociously instead of playing a little more strategically.
Death on Innistrad has never been permanent, and Midnight Hunt feels as though it represents that incredibly well with its mechanics.
You can recast your spells with flashback, bring back your creatures with disturb and zombies nearly always make a second appearance thanks to decayed. Death on Innistrad has never been permanent, and Midnight Hunt feels as though it represents that incredibly well with its mechanics, so why should anybody worry about losing a creature when playing?
It does, however, make for a Limited environment that feels very geared towards aggro over any other style of play. While this generally makes it more player-friendly for those who are newer to the game, it does mean that you’ll feel punished for trying to take a more considered approach to your deck construction in a draft or sealed event. That’s a real shame given how many cool control cards there are here, like the incredibly potent new Teferi, Who Slows the Sunset, who is sure to be a control favourite in any format they’re legal in.
Overall, I like a lot of what Midnight Hunt does in terms of world-building and how it represents things mechanically, too. It’s nice to finally have a decent way of tracking whether or not your werewolves are in their human form or not - it makes far more sense to either have all or none of them transformed or not, given that’s how the moon should work.
However, coven feels a bit too familiar to the likes of battalion and pack tactics. Those mechanics often require a substantial board state to pull off, which means that they’re rarely mechanics you build around or rely on, but ones that grant nice bonuses in the rare occasions where your creatures haven’t been butchered. Decayed also feels odd, with no real upside whatsoever; the inability to block and the necessity of the sacrifice feel like a huge punishment just for being a rotting corpse.
You should be able to tell that I’m a little mixed up when it comes to Midnight Hunt. I really do adore how everything’s been implemented, in the same way I loved how Dungeons & Dragons was woven into Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, but I think the power level of the set is a bit mixed when it comes to the new mechanics, despite there being some very powerful cards in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt to flashback and some good creatures and planeswalkers, too.
Of course, my issue with the set could be less to do with the set and more to do with the fact that we’ve had roughly one new set every month this year. With Innistrad: Crimson Vow releasing in November, it means that we’ll be down in the spoiler mines again in little over a month. Maybe Magic: The Gathering is just burning people out with the constant need for hype it demands of us, and Midnight Hunt just happens to be my breaking point?