Innistrad, similar to cards from Time Spiral block or older cards, have a lot of cards with specific functions or meanings. In Innistrad, most cards are references to gothic horror stories and make use of horror tropes in some way.
- The werewolf mechanic has been designed after Werewolf lore, Humans who turn into monsters when a full moon is present at night. In the game, the day and night cycle is represented by the activity of the people playing the game. During the day, people play more spells, but at night people play fewer spells. Werewolves in the set transform accordingly.
- Stalking Vampire can transform at will between a bat and a vampire. This ability of Vampires has also been put into card frame with Sengir Nosferatu
- The double-faced card Civilized Scholar transforms into a Homicidal Brute and thus mirrors The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
- Cloistered Youth shows a little girl being possessed by a demon, a common occurrence in the horror genre made most famous by the book The Exorcist and the film based on it, though both could be considered more modern horror than classical horror as they were published in the 1970s.
- Delver of Secrets shows a human transform into a flying insect, which has similarities with The Fly by George Langelaan on which several movies are based and may also draw on Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis.
- Thraben Militia is one of the rare white creatures with trample. The card is an angry mob on the hunt for a monster after it has killed, and been spotted by Thraben Sentry. The trample may be a reference to the card Angry Mob.
- The number 13, often seen in western culture as a bad omen and subject of several horror stories, shows up in several places in the set, including Ludevic's Abomination, Army of the Damned and Into the Maw of Hell.
- Nevermore references Edgar Allen Poe's classic horror poem The Raven.
- Alchemy, as mentioned by Forbidden Alchemy and Undead Alchemist, is a protoscience which attempted to transmute substances in other substances, i.e. tin into gold. On Innistrad it seems to be research to create life from dead corpses.
- Claustrophobia is named for a real psychological disorder which manifests unease and panic when the person afflicted with it is in small spaces. The art depicts the classic horror scenario of being buried alive in a coffin. The six feet in the flavor text describe the common depth of a grave, with "put six feet under" becoming an English phrase synonymous with dying and subsequently being buried.
- Rooftop Storm: A common occurrence in horror stories about mad scientists. The primary source for this is the 1931 film adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in which Dr. Frankenstein uses the power of lightning, harvested through a lightning rod mounted on the roof of his laboratory, to animate his monster. Frankenstein's Monster is a Zombie in Magic.
- Stitched Drake, Skaab Goliath and Skaab Ruinator require creatures from the graveyard to be exiled. This is another allusion to Frankenstein lore as Frankenstein's monster required a corpse as a base or the brain of a corpse. Grave robbery for body parts or a brain is often depicted in the retellings of Frankenstein.
- Grimgrin, Corpse-Born is the closest representation to Frankenstein's Monster itself, being composed of multiple corpses stitched together.
- Use of corpses for scientific experimentation is again revisited in the flavor text of Deranged Assistant.
- Invisible Stalker: Modeled after The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells about a scientist who turns himself invisible and goes mad in the attempt to become visible again. The invisible man is a common horror trope due to his being hard to anticipate or defend against, thus presenting a highly potent threat and inducing paranoia.
- Bump in the Night references the common fright of noises heard in the night, lying in bed, not knowing the source of them. Children often have them and the noise is usually attributed to things that need no worry, such as natural phenomena (i.e. the wind) or pure imagination. On Innistrad however, one should probably be more worried about what stalks through the night. Also compare with Feeling of Dread
- The art of Bump in the Night also portrays a common visual trope in horror stories, where a shadowy figure whose presence was previously entirely hidden is briefly illuminated through a bolt of lightning. Incidentally, the card also has a player lose 3 life, which can also be accomplished with a Lightning Bolt.
- The art of Endless Ranks of the Dead shows a common horror scenario, in which the shadows of a horde of zombies appear on another side of the barrier, such as a window. The number of zombies steadily increases, threatening to break down the barrier. The people behind the barrier are left in the horror of their impending demise.
- Village Cannibals portrays the common use of Cannibalism in Horror.
- Several Vampires such as Bloodcrazed Neonate, Rakish Heir, and Stromkirk Noble have a mechanic of gaining counters when dealing damage to a player, mirroring the ability of vampires to gain strength from sucking blood.
- Full Moon's Rise and Moonmist both reference the Full Moon that causes Humans to turn into Werewolves. The later also references the card Fog.
- Evil Twin references the trope of the Evil twin, where an amoral doppelgänger takes the place of a person. The twin may or may not murder the original in those stories.
- A Wooden Stake is a common weapon in mythology to destroy Vampires by driving it through their heart.
- Blazing Torches are often used by mobs of people on the hunt of the monsters.
- Pitchforks, e.g. Sharpened Pitchfork is another weapon employed by angry mobs.
- Grimoire of the Dead shows a book that has the power to reanimate the dead. It is a reference to the widely known Necronomicon invented by H.P. Lovecraft in the Cthulhu mythos. According to Lovecraft, "Necronomicon" means the Book of the dead.
- Army of the Damned is also a reference to a Lovecraft story. In "Herbert West, Reanimator", the protagonist of that story finds a way to bring back the dead alive but with a terrible cost. In the end, everyone that he has brought back to life comes tearing down his basement wall to tear Herbert apart. The box seen on the ground refers to a package that he received right before this happened. It contains the head of his former superior who was decapitated by a hovercraft before he was made a zombie by Herbert.
- Sturmgeist is a possible reference to Dream Vestiges from Dungeons and Dragons.
- Mark Rosewater considers Innistrad to be a fixed Homelands in relation to tackling gothic horror themes. R&D actually talked about if Innistrad was supposed to be Ulgrotha many years later, but decided the negative association of Homelands would hurt more than having a callback would help.
- Many names in the set make use of Germanic loan words. This includes the German words "Geist" (e.g. Battleground Geist, means Ghost in English), "Falke" (Falcon, e.g. Falkenrath Marauders), "Wald" (Forest, e.g. Ulvenwald Mystics) and "Geier" (Vulture, e.g. Scourge of Geier Reach).
- The Flavor text of Devil's Play refers to the old folk saying "Idle hands are the devil's plaything", regarding the stupid things people can do when they are bored.
- Grave Bramble is a plant with protection from Zombies, a reference to the widely popular video game Plants vs. Zombies.
- Make a Wish depicts a girl using a Wishing well
- Cellar Door originated from a brainstorming session of the Design team about horror and potential card names that tie into horror. Cellar Door is often seen as a beautiful phrase in the English language, regardless of the actual meaning of the words. It is said that the refrain The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe was written to resemble that phrase.
- Creepy Doll is modeled after a song by Jonathan Coulton.
- One-Eyed Scarecrow discourages flying creatures, just like the original Scarecrow, and the intended purpose of Scarecrows.
- Mark Rosewater (August 27, 2017). "Why do you consider Innistrad to be a fixed Homelands?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
- Mark Rosewater (April 16, 2017). "What's your favorite hidden Easter Egg in a Magic card?". Blogatog. Tumblr.