Strixhaven Limited Review
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Welcome to my initial analysis of Strixhaven. These are my first impressions so things may be wrong. Let me know if you disagree with any of my opinions.
- Main Themes
- It's funny that Thunderous Orator has vigilance. I just know the first version had vigilance mixed in with the keyword soup. And then the designers were like "well this doesn't quite work, let's rephrase as "Orator has vigilance as long as you control another creature with vigilance". And that put it over the word count limit so they just through up their hands and gave it vigilance.
- Wouldn't it be more flavorful to phrase Divide by Zero as "nonzero mana value"? Maybe for power level reasons it was important that it not be able to bounce the negative mana creatures that'll be released in the next unset.
- This set overall feels very complex. Most sets have tokens that are mostly 1/1 or 2/2. This set gives each enemy color pair it's own unique token with unusual stats.
- Why did they feel like it was so important that magecraft trigger on copies? Is it really worth the extra clause?
- Hall Monitor is a delight.
- Go Blank is such a beautiful card. I look forward to casting it too. Mindrot doesn't need much of an upside for me to jam it.
- I really want to go off with Excavated Wall and Cogwork Archivist and draw my bomb rare every turn.
I love the learn/lesson mechanic so much. As anyone who has played edh with me will tell you, I really like playing bad cards. And learn/lesson is a great reason to play two bad cards! Not a single lesson less than rare would be playable in a 2021 limited deck. The learners are a little better but the commons are also unplayable without lessons to fetch.
I like what this mechanic will do to drafts. Once upon a time it was a challenge to get to 23 playables in a limited deck. Sets were full of one drops which didn't have 20 lines of text and cycles of auras that were dunce caps in disguise. But lately it feels like every draft I waffle between colors the whole first pack and end up with 26 playables and sealed pool and every sealed pool could be any two colors basically. If you want to play with lessons you need to get at least a little past 23. Depending on how many learners you picked up you'll probably want to get to 26 or 27 total playables. Lessons not going in your main deck means there are 9 unplayable commons. Which is quite a bit. The presence of lessons will make it riskier to speculate during draft and harder to spend picks picking up random sideboard cards.
There are four colorless common lessons, one hybrid common for each color combination, one uncommon and rare for each color and one colorless mythic. Even the rares wouldn't be super tempting to put in your main deck.
Strixhaven is a multicolor set with the five enemy colored pairs represented. Each enemy color pair has 6 total commons. Three gold and three hybrid. This is a lot. The most recent comparison is to the latest two Ravnica sets. Each featured a disjoint set of five guilds. Those sets only had 3 gold and 1 hybrid common for each guild so this set has 50% more multicolored at common. At higher rarities the numbers are comparable with 30 total multicolored cards for stx at uncommon and 30 at rare or mythic compared to 32 and 34 respectively for RNA.
In some sense the enemy hybrid cards are an incentive to play allied colors. If you play an allied color combination you have access to 4/5ths of the hybrid cards compared to 3/5ths for the enemy color combinations. This effect will likely be dwarfed by the importance of access to the powerful gold cards. The draw to be a Tarkir shard color combination will be quite large.
Each enemy pair has it's own synergy emphasis. They're of varying importance. My first impression is the Temur color combinations will want to go hard on spells and synergy whereas the other color combinations are more about just building good limited decks.
The signpost gold cards Exhilarating Elocution and Spiteful Squad introduce the theme. At uncommon there are a ton of good cards that incidentally give you a counter: Closing Statement , Humiliate , Shadewing Laureate .
In monocolor there's Star Pupil , Guiding Voice , Novice Dissector and Promising Duskmage . There are also a few cards that seemed designed to carry counters. Such as Unwilling ingredient and Arrogant Poet .
BG: life gain
Every single BG common either gains life or rewards you for gaining life. That said the rewards tend to be a lot more interesting than the enablers. Magic players don't get out of bed to just gain 2 life. Outside of Blood Researcher you have to get creative to find payoffs for gaining life at common. Arrogant Poet and Crushing Disappointment are sort of pay offs in that it's a lot easier to pay life when you're gaining it. At uncommon there's Dina, Soul Steeper , Fortifying Draught and Honor Troll . All the payoffs should be almost always good since there's so much incidental life gain.
GU: 8 lands
In green and blue there are a variety of cards which care about you having 8 lands in play. At common that's Vortex Runner and Scurrid Colony and at uncommon Zimone, Quandrix Prodigy and Kelpie Guide . It's sort of a fun line of text to make cards scale into the late game.
Of course the general idea is to build a ramp deck and not to focus on "8 lands". CCards like Eureka Moment and Field Trip will help you ramp. Leyline Invocation is a sweet payoff though you might want some Charge through s if that's your primary plan.
Also look for Environmental Sciences to go with your field trip s. The ramp decks usually want to take whatever the most powerful payoffs they see are.
UR: instants/sorceries in graveyard
This is the deck I'm most looking forward to drafting. I love the tension between cards like Serpentine Curve which reward you for having a lot of instants and sorceries hanging out in your graveyard and cards like Fuming Effigy , Tome Shredder and Pillardrop Warden which reward you for taking cards out of your graveyard. It'll lead to interesting and difficult sequencing decisions.
Temur in particular seems attractive because I imagine the spell decks will be interested in playing Charge through and Leyline Invocation .
Note also the presence of magecraft in the set. There are 5 hybrid commons and one white one. The UR one itself doesn't seem particularly attractive unless you need the two drop but the adjacent ones seem very powerful.
The color combination also has instant/sorcery payoffs that aren't strictly about them being in the graveyard like, Maelstrom Muse , Practical Research , Rootha, Mercurial Artist and many others.
This color combination is probably more about building a good aggressive curve then a real spirits tribal deck. But spirits are neatly contained in Boros. There are no stray blue spirits. Spirit payoffs are: Blood Age General , Lorehold Apprentice , Quintorius, Field Historian and Returned Pastcaller .
Boros has significant overlap with it's neighbor izzet's plan. Cards like Stonebound Mentor and Thrilling Discovery are major spells payoffs. I'm not sure if there are distinct 'spirits' and 'spells' boros decks one should be aiming at or it's more accurate to just focus on taking good cards in boros and see what spell and spirit doodads you pick up.
This is my tentative ordering of common power level. I prefer ranking to ratings because power level isn't constant set to set. I haven't yet played with the cards so these are just my first impressions and of course some cards power levels vary greatly on synergies. Let me know if I'm over or under rating anything.
Also note in the multicolored sections I ranked gold cards than hybrid cards as I don't feel it makes sense to compare them directly. Only 1/10 two color combinations can play a given gold card but 7/10 combinations can play a given hybrid card.
It's possible I'm overrating this card a little bit. I just love value so much. And there's no pacifism to steal this guys thunder. A clean two for one that develops well and has a lot of utility in the late game. It also plays well with the various synergies if you're trying to ramp, loot or put counters on bodies.
This card is strangely great. Almost strictly better than a 4 mana 3/3 vigilant flier. Some of it's power having haste, letting smaller, non-evasive guys get through or letting your biggest boy play offense and defense are all major upsides.
This is the best possible version of this effect for three. You can use it as a trick or take a hit. It isn't damage based. It exiles. Just watch out for vigilance. It's possible this should actually be the top white common and I'm biased by more situational versions of this effect.
Arcbound worker functional reprint. Not sure what the flavor is here though. Why is the star student dying? A high pick if you care about the counters.
I'm not sure exactly where to place learners. The power level of this card and the next is so contingent on what you're fetching. I definitely wouldn't play it without a lesson. This one and the next one can be powerful tempo plays on certain boards. It's possible I should have them higher.
I love a card that puts two situational but sometimes powerful effects together. These two modes even cover each others blind spots: If your opponent has no 4 power creatures than all you 2/Xs can probably attack if they get +1.
I might have this guy a little low. I'm judging it primarily on rate but the ability will certainly end some games when it comes up. A 1/2 has a little less utility in this set than normally because a lower percentage of the weird tokens are 1/1 humans or soldiers. It can hold of some pests though. That said I expect to play this less than half the time.
Gotta keep things fresh. But actually maned serval stole this guys thunder about a year ago.
Second from the top is a big upgrade versus top. It'll give three turns before they get to attack again.
I have this counterspell a little higher than I normally would.
Frost lynx has never looked so good.
I really like the upside on this card. 3/3 unblockable ends the game really quickly. It'll help you make a board stall and then help you win it.
I really like the idea of drafting a lot of these along with curates and pop quizzes. It's good in multiples. It's possible I have it too high though.
4/4 is big enough that you'll probably want to target your creatures a little more than theirs. Either way it's a 2 for 1 in the red, but it's tricky enough you should be able to get a 2 for 2 fairly often.
Compares poorly with Zulaport Duelist imo.
What an upside on this card! It'll definitely push black decks to be slightly more aggressive to take advantage of the clause. Which is good because overall the set looks extremely grindy.
It shouldn't be too hard to enable this card. I'm not that excited about a 2/3 for 3 though so you have to do something.
This is a sweet card. It's hard to really go off though. There aren't a ton of tokens which you don't pay a card to get. There aren't any pacifisms. It's good with pests at least.
A 2/1 flier for 2 would be great. It's not quite that but it plays really well with counters and life gain so there's a lot of ways to break the symmetry.
Cards like this and Vortex Runner make me think they were really worried about endless board stalls.
Delicious flavor. Good with looting effects and counters.
Note this card is a sorcery. I almost rated it a lot higher. If you're desperate for counters or life gain or have a lot of evasion you can maybe consider it.
I like this learner a lot since it's easy to get value from the front half.
I love (from a design standpoint) how this card canabalizes Serpentine Curve . It'll lead to interesting games. Plays well with Illustrious Historian , Tome Shredder and Pillardrop Warden .
This card does a lot but nothing well. I imagine a normal play pattern is to leave the 1/5 in play for most of the game but eventually recur removal or card draw if the game goes long.
I greatly prefer Enthusiastic Study though this is better as a trick.
I'm exceptionally low on this learner. It's hard to cast a creature sufficiently off curve to actually get the effect. A reasonable play pattern is to hold it as the last card in your hand and then home to top deck a cheaper creature to pair it with.
Finally an unplayable. Just have to read it 3 times to notice it doesn't do anything.
This is my favorite common learner. Despite the red learners slanting aggresssive I think the learning decks will generally be quite durdly. Good with Serpentine Curve (I guess I can't say that on every instant and sorcery but I really love the card) and Leyline Invocation .
Mostly a 5 drop in limited but it's good to have options. Good with pests.
A fun one for the 8 lands deck.
Leaving some value behind makes a trick a lot better. Good in abzan with the other counter matters cards.
A role player but most UG or Temur (or RG if you end up there) decks will want one or two. And the most synergistic UG decks will want as many as they can get and start cutting lands. Note you can target your opponents creatures. Also note it's good with both halves of the serpentine Curve.
This is better than a 6 mana 6/6 but that's a good baseline to understand it as. It being a 7/7-11/11 sometimes doesn't make it too much better. Nor does growing your future Serpentine Curve s. Being a token versus a real creature isn't a big deal because there are no common bounce spells in this set and in particular Divide by Zero misses it.
Karok and Cervin both seem like they're going to lead to some long games. I thought KHM lent itself to some intricate durdling games and I think this set will even more so.
I don't think this card should be maindecked in this set.
I don't think this card is that great. Putting the counters on a flier is nice. And sometimes you'll be aggressive. But there aren't a lot of tokens to really exploit it with. I think most BW decks should play this. But it's not a requirement like it normally is for oncolor gold cards.
In the context of pick orders it makes sense to rate this card against other commons. But not in the context of building your deck. Don't put this card, or any other lesson, in your main deck.
6 is a lot but I think I'll play this card in every B or W deck with at least one lesson.
Best friends with Elemental Masterpiece and Elemental Summoning.
This is quite a 7 drop. It's nice that it has a 2 mana mode to cover the classic pitfall of 7 drops.
I love this design, nestled between the two black themes.
This is a very good version of this effect.
I'd have to be really commited to learning to put this card in my deck. But the learning decks probably want to be durdly and there are a few other reasons to want to gain life. Notice every single golgari card either gains life or cares about gaining life.
Seems like an awkward card to play against. It'll almost always have good blocks and attacks.
When not if?
Just on stats this card is good. When you already have a fractal or two this will start to feel broken.
I guess they didn't learn their lesson from growth spiral. This is better in limited.
Baleful Strix doesn't look so good. Still a good limited card.
It'll be nice to have a 9 drop in the wings for a later lesson.
Not the best trick. I don't think one should play this often.
Removal is removal. And it's not a 2 for 1 if you got a full card worth of value from your learner. Every lesson deck will want one of these. Though I guess every lesson deck will want one of every lesson. It's a question of what you're willing to give up for them. This one in particular I'd give up a lot.
I think this will be an important card for the lesson deck. It's a good first lesson. If you're going hard enough on lessons you probably won't want to be constrained to a mere two colors as well.
I really want to have access to this lesson when I'm playing learners. It's the sort of effect which you don't want to maindeck because it's easy to get two for oned. But on some boards it's so valuable. If you have a flier and they don't for example.
I think this is one of the less valuable lessons. If you want an effect it's better to just get the effect not get a card that can dig for it. That said it's fine.
There's a lot of reasons to be 3 color. This is pretty good fixing.
Role player for Temur instant/sorcery in graveyard decks. Maybe if you're all in and need defense it makes the cut?
It's a way to combo with the "card leaves graveyard cards" and prevent decking. I don't think you should play it too often though.
The body on this guy and the next is bad enough that I don't think you want to play them very often. If you're desperate for fixing or you have some bomb instants or sorceries you can consider it.
- W: Beaming Defiance , Defend the Campus , Expel , Study Break
- U: Arcane Subtraction , Burrog Befuddler , Bury in Books , Curate , Pop Quiz , Reject , Resculpt
- B: Crushing Disappointment , Lash of Malice , Professor's Warning
- R: Enthusiastic Study , First Day of Class , Heated Debate , Sudden Breakthrough
- G: Big Play , Charge Through , Tangletrap
- RU: Teach by Example
- BG: Infuse with Vitality
- RW: Make Your Mark
- GU: Eureka Moment , Square Up
- W: Show of Confidence
- U: Divide by Zero , Snow Day , Test of Talents
- B: Flunk , Plumb the Forbidden , Umbral Juke
- R: Academic Dispute , Explosive Welcome
- G: Fortifying Draught
- BW: Closing Statement , Fracture
- RU: Creative Outburst , Practical Research
- BG: Mortality Spear , Tend the Pests
- GU: Decisive Denial
- W: Semester's End
- B: Baleful Mastery
- BW: Vanishing Verse
- RU: Prismari Command
- BG: Rushed Rebirth
- RW: Flamescroll Celebrant // Revel in Silence , Lorehold Command
- GU: Double Major , Quandrix Command
- RU: Magma Opus
- BG: Harness Infinity