Strixhaven Draft Guide: May 2021 Update
Strixhaven has been with us for a little over two weeks already, and I think this is a good time to reflect on how the metagame is shaping up so far. In my Limited Guides prior to release I made some predictions about the set and highlighted key cards in each archetype. It seems about time to check in and see how I did, and reframe the set in some ways. To assist me in this I will be running through a sample of my 7 win Premier Drafts during my run to Mythic on Magic Arena during the April season. I think it will be helpful to discuss the components that made these decks so successful and emphasize certain card interactions and synergy that can be especially powerful.
In my prerelease guides I suspected Silverquill was going to be a Tier 1 Aggro option, while I liked Prismari as the control option. I felt Lorehold was going to be the worst college, lacking effective synergy and having fewer aggressive options then Red and White are used to having. Witherbloom felt middle of the road to me, while Quandrix was a bit of a wildcard. I suspected if the format was slow enough Quandrix would be one of if not the best archetypes, but if things became Aggro-dominant the Blue-Green decks would struggle. And… Not to brag but I kind of nailed it! Things are shaping up pretty much how I figured, with Quandrix and Prismari being fairly dominant in the relatively slow metagame we have right now.
Card advantage is king right now, and Blue is generally where you want to be. Non-Blue decks can still be strong, but they tend to rely on tempo and Lesson/Learn synergy to keep the pressure on control decks. Otherwise they tend to run away with card advantage or command the board with huge Fractal/Elemental creatures. Let’s take a look at a few examples of this sort of deck.
Tier 1 Control (Quandrix and Prismari)
While true Control decks aren’t entirely a thing in Limited, these archetypes are oriented toward generating card advantage over the course of the game and winning with high mana value spells. Additionally, this kind of deck has many tools for interacting with the board and slowing down the tempo. Here is a successful Quandrix build for example:
As we go through my different drafts you may notice some things I do when sorting my spells. The leftmost column contains the stuff that will often be played off-curve. This helps me get a better sense of the shape of my deck and I do this while I draft to make sure I am building a proper curve.
Additionally, in Strixhaven the creature/noncreature balance requires extra consideration. At first glance this deck only has 13 Creatures, falling well short of the 16-17 I would recommend, but this isn’t really the case. Serpentine Curve and Leyline Invocation both produce creatures, and my Learn spells Divide by Zero and Field Trip can fetch creatures as well. When evaluating decks in Strixhaven it is really important to consider their sideboard:
When you factor in these Lesson/Learn spells my deck is still in the 16-17 Creature sweet spot. Another important consideration with Strixhaven is that while the hybrid-costed spells tend to do best in their home college, they aren’t necessarily archetype-specific. So while Pest Summoning has the most synergy with Witherbloom, I still love to have it in my Quandrix and Silverquill sideboards. In fact, while drafting hybrid spells technically keep you more open than single-colored spells.
If I commit to Green, for example, I am locking myself into Quandrix or Witherbloom, while if I take Quandrix Pledgemage I am actually open to Prismari as well. While the double-cost does strain your mana base somewhat, this isn’t too much of a problem in 2-color decks, and if you are 3-color you are likely to be in that college.
Environmental Sciences is a premium Common and a card I am always happy to have in my sideboard, and that goes double if I am Quandrix or 3-color. A ‘free’ Ramp is right at home here, and I have seen the 2 life be much more impactful than you might expect. A lot of my Strixhaven games have been very close, and tacking 10% onto your life total can be instrumental in stabilizing.
Another factor in my Quandrix success has been being greedy with 2-drops. In both my 7 win deck above and below I am playing only four:
So far in the metagame it has been possible to get away with this and pack in some higher mana value stuff for a couple reasons. For one thing the format is just generally slow. Most decks are tapping in to the card advantage which Learn/Lesson spells provide, but this lessens their tempo. But the biggest reason in my view is the abundance of 3-drop ‘answers’ these colors have:
Biomathematician does a great job at gumming up the board, while Frost Trickster, Divide by Zero, and Bury in Books can all work to slow your opponent down. I do think as players get more sophisticated at building Aggro (more on this later), Quandrix will need to tighten up a bit and be less greedy. But, the fact remains that if Blue-Green can survive to 8 lands it can be near impossible to deal with.
And while Prismari can be built a bit more aggressive due to Prismari Pledgemage and tempo/burn spells, it also seems happiest controlling the board and ramping into big ticket spells. Because of this, merging the two into a Temur archetype can be a very natural pairing:
There isn’t too much to say about this deck besides Ardent Dustspeaker is a big overperformer, and Grinning Ignus is more playable than you might expect in the right deck. They work together in a big way here, and with Zimone and Dragonsguard Elite there are even more mana sinks to justify the Ramp on top of the 6+ mana spells. You do have to invest a bit in the mana base to get a deck like this to work consistently, but even the Scry lands present a nice mana sink themselves in the late game. This deck did end up short on Lessons, so I ended up cutting Field Trip which felt weird. Enthusiastic Study would usually get cut first, but in this deck the Trample could be really impactful and it helped keep Ardent Dustspeaker attacking.
It doesn’t add too much risk to play 3 Learn spells with only 2 Lessons (you are very unlikely to draw all three), but I was also on the lower end of Creatures. Counting Elemental Masterpiece, Magma Opus, and 1 Learn spell (Elemental Summoning) as Creatures I was at 16 for this deck, which tends to be the minimum for me in Limited unless there is significant synergy enabled by the extra non-creature spells.
So that gives you a sense of the style of deck that seems to do best when you draft Blue. But, I have also been having a lot of success with Silverquill and feel that it is the best Aggro option, getting under those greedy Blue decks quite nicely. Let’s explore some 7 win Silverquill decks!
Tier 1 Aggro (Silverquill)
While these decks are filled in differently, there are some really clear connections between them, and this will be true of most good Silverquill decks. Let’s start with some Creatures:
Combat Professor is the real deal and should be a very early pick. If you see these making it to the middle of the pack it is a reasonable sign that White is open. On its own it is a mini Serra Angel and being able to target the buff is just amazing. Combat Professor also pairs really well with Lorehold Pledgemage, and this combination can be played in Lorehold or Silverquill. In my view it is even stronger in Silverquill, where not only do there tend to be a large amount of Instant and Sorcery spells due to the Learn mechanic, and those cards will sometimes generate +1/+1 counters which is well suited for First Strike.
Before we take a closer look into the Learn and +1/+1 counter synergy, I just wanted to shout out Witherbloom Pledgemage for being a strong threat in any deck which can cast it. It is best positioned against the two colleges which cannot, Lorehold and Prismari. Prismari is happy to spend its turn five casting a 4/4, and it is also difficult for the relatively low powered Lorehold creatures to contend with. Against both archetypes it edges out the four damage of Heated Debate. Demanding a hard removal spell such as Rise of Extus is overperformance for a five mana common.
Just like with the Summoning cycle, it is important to keep an open mind about any hybrid-costed spells as they can often find good homes outside of their college. Rise of Extus in particular is great, and provides one of the best ways for Silverquill to Learn. What I consider the two best ways though may or may not surprise you:
These cards are amazing because they allow you to stay Aggro early and provide you fuel for the fire later. Drafting many of them does force you to invest in Lessons, but these colors also have some of the best options there as well as there being a couple solid colorless ones:
Having three ways to replenish creatures is great, so even if Inkling Summoning isn’t making the rounds you should be fine making Pests or Spirits. Necrotic Fumes is a nice situational Removal (unfortunately it doesn’t combo with Eyetwitch though). I don’t love giving my opponents’ cards, but Introduction to Annihilation is another good situational removal card, often getting rid of a crucial blocker before going wide. Finally, I think Expanded Anatomy is criminally underrated. It is such an amazing card to have the option to fetch, especially in Silverquill with the +1/+1 counter theme:
Tenured Inkcaster is the obvious payoff for having some +1/+1 counter enabling, but you also have creatures like Leech Fanatic, Silverquill Pledgemage, and Promising Duskmage that provide great value for them. And if you are able to score a Shaile, Dean of Radiance, it is well worth tooling your deck this way. That particular draft also featured some really strong Rares in Mavinda, Students' Advocate and Selfless Glyphweaver:
These cards are very powerful and create some cool combos with spells that are generally filler like Professor's Warning. Another great +1/+1 counter engine to find is Sparring Regimen, which led another of my Silverquill decks to 7-1:
I tend not to discuss Rares very often in my articles since they are seen with much less frequency, but some will inevitably pull you toward certain colors. Now, you might be thinking that I got really lucky to get so many good Rares all in one deck. But, staying open early on in drafts is one of the most important things you can do in Strixhaven.
While drafting the previous deck I caught some signals in packs 1 and 2 that made me feel like Silverquill was the place to be, and it paid off big in pack 3! Just look at my pack 3 pick 3 here where I had the choice between the Silverquill Dean and Swords to Plowshares. Finding the open college/color is much more important than forcing one that is ‘better’.
Which brings us to Witherbloom and Lorehold, two colleges that you absolutely should Draft (when they are open). No, this is not shaping up to be another Guilds of Ravnica where I would advise you to draft Dimir or Boros unless nobody at the table was picking another guild and you were getting passed bomb rares in it. Nah, Witherbloom and Lorehold can be good and let’s face it, with the inclusion of the Mystical Archive you are statistically more likely to be passed Rares!
Tier 2 (Witherbloom and Lorehold)
I dig Witherbloom more than I did Golgari back in GRN. The removal package is excellent and you can table some nice threats. The deck above for example is the only one I managed 7 wins with, but it worked well. It didn’t even benefit multiple good Rares, and instead presented a nice curve and gained a lot of life. Witherbloom is actually more like Orzhov in RNA, and grinds out games. This works way better against Lorehold and Silverquill which lack a way to generate major card advantage, but Witherbloom can still put pressure on Blue decks as well. I think Access Tunnels put this deck over the edge, presenting some much needed reach damage.
It probably caused Moldering Karok to go up the most in value, but there are plentiful targets and altogether I am really high on Access Tunnel for Witherbloom. The Lifegain theme is also something I think is underrated:
Blood Researcher plus Overgrown Arch is a nifty combo, and there are various other playables which enable/payoff the mechanic. Don’t get me wrong, this creature-base is not amazing by any means, but it is serviceable and the extra life keeps you competitive. Your removal suite is what is going to make or break the deck though, so I would only drift into Witherbloom if it was open and I was getting passed stuff like Mage Duel, Mage Hunters' Onslaught, or even Mortality Spear.
An oddball card that I really like in the archetype is Crushing Disappointment. Losing two life with your opponent is a good thing when you can gain it, and the card advantage is expensive but much needed. Ultimately, Witherbloom can work but it can be really bad when it doesn’t come together. And Lorehold can be even worse when it isn’t built correctly:
This is a deck where Lorehold was super open and correct to draft, but it still only went 4-3. Sparring Regiment was an easy first pick, and from there Lorehold opened itself up wide. I was passed a few good Rares, but it just didn’t quite come together right. Now, I think the deck was good and maybe I was subject to some variance, but looking back at it I am not convinced these are the right themes to build around.
There is basically a Storm theme, with cheap spells and two copies of Show of Confidence. I thought this would be a nice compliment to my Creatures, especially Twinscroll Shaman and Lorehold Pledgemage.
And to be fair, this was fireworks when it worked. I had a couple games where these interactions looked unfair. But there were also times where I couldn’t stick an important creature or got slowed down by a Blue deck long enough for them to establish significant card advantage.
I think Lorehold is better off more Creature-heavy. The tempo stuff is cool but I think you are better served with Instants like Enthusiastic Study and strong Lesson options behind them. Now to be fair, this deck had a great Learn/Lesson setup, and I think I had the right idea tooling Lorehold to be more Aggro. Even though the college isn’t geared that way, Red and White are still themselves and you can be an Aggro deck if you want to. To me the most glaring omission in my deck was Combat Professor. That is such an important card to Lorehold and I really don’t want to be in the archetype without it. And just because you are alone in Lorehold doesn’t mean Silverquill won’t snatch them up or if they are even in the packs to begin with.
If I had to pick the best Common in the format I would probably offer Combat Professor.
Good Luck in May
I will continue to climb the ladder in hopes that we will have another Limited Mythic Qualifier Weekend soon, though there is the May Arena Open coming up which is Sealed. I am sure by June we will uncover more about the set and the meta will shift, so I am likely to check in again then.
May is a busy month for me, but I am hoping to write some more general articles again over the summer. The most significant one I ever wrote was my Limited Strategy one, which I am still very proud of but would like to do something at that scope again this year. Until then, let us enjoy Strixhaven and hope it has the legs to get us to the Dungeons and Dragons Core Set in July!