Coming off of a great Draft set like Kaldheim, Strixhaven has a lot to live up to. The value-based mechanics and muted power level contributed to a varied Limited environment which has held my interest for its duration. Couple this with the fact that we are finally seeing higher stakes events in a Limited format (albeit Sealed). I do hope we see Draft next (ideally best of three), but I quite like Sealed as well though so I was pretty excited. I even opened a well above-average pool in Day 1:
In Day 2 it went the other way though, and I was greeted with another dud in the MCQW. I enjoy Sealed because you can almost always find at least a decent 40 among a few different deck configurations. Kaldheim wasn’t even a bad card pool for it, a glaring issue though was Snow. Opening a lot of Snow cards but not enough Snow cards was painful. Multicolor piles (especially with Path to the World Tree) often worked well even in Kaldheim Draft, so in theory Sealed could be a natural fit, but sometimes the mana base just wasn’t there, increasing inherent variance of pools.
In April I have turned my attention to Strixhaven, however. And apart from my relief from it not being a Harry Potter reskin, I must say this was my initial reaction:
While only three of the ‘guilds’ match three of the ‘colleges’ when compared set to set, the parallels are there:
Strixhaven vs. Ravnica
Instead of guildmages we get apprentices, and there are a multitude of split and double-costed cards associated with each color pair. I believe the hybrid cost on the card cycle Maelstrom Muse is a part of is unique to Strixhaven, but there are there are plenty of examples of costs that match up to multicolor spells in other sets:
But while on the surface Strixhaven may feel like a retread, when you start to look closer there are some very important differences between it and GRN:
- Strixhaven leans even more into the faction concept, and features many more multicolor spells. There are about 20 5-card cycles in the set which further highlight the colleges. This is to the point where I needed to rethink how I was going to do my article series. Once I have completed this Overview and discuss the features and mechanics of Strixhaven, I will be doing five distinct articles on each college. These will help conceptualize each of the five competing archetypes and will discuss their key features, unique mechanics, and best uncommon and common cards to support them. I think it is important to it this way because…
- Strixhaven colleges diverge almost completely from their corresponding Ravnica guilds. Lorehold (Boros) for example, is not Aggro-oriented and instead cares a lot about the Graveyard, something you would expect more out of Golgari colors. Silverquill (Orzhov) is actually the Aggro archetype, whereas we have come to expect BW to be more of a grindy archetype. Prismari (Izzet) still cares about noncreature spells, but goes bigger with them (as well as its creatures) rather than being a tempo archetype. And, while each of the color pairs feature their own unique style and mechanics…
- The primary set mechanics are shared between the colleges. Instead of having major guild-specific mechanics like Mentor, Convoke, Surveil, etc., each has access to Magecraft and Lesson/Learn, as well as MDFC’s. This is an interesting design decision since it creates some universal themes for the set, while setting up each college to generate their own spin on the mechanics.
Mechanics of Strixhaven
Let’s now take a deeper look into some of these mechanics and how they shape Strixhaven.
In addition to Witherbloom Apprentice shown above, each other guild has their own apprentice, each featuring Magecraft:
As you can see, Strixhaven is making a push for players to cast more noncreature spells, and each college benefits in its own way. These serve as decent signposts for aspects of each archetypes, so you will be seeing them again in their corresponding articles. There are an additional ten or so common/uncommon spells with Magecraft, for example:
My gut reaction is I am not really sold on this mechanic in Limited. In terms of composition, most Limited decks are not going to be running more than about 7 Instants/Sorceries, and I don’t see this mechanic changing that tried and true formula. What this implies is that by turn 8 in the average deck there is around a 75% chance of seeing 3 or fewer Instant/Sorcery cards (ran it a few ways in a hypergeometric calculator). I am just not seeing most of these payoffs being worth the mana cost (ahem: mana value) premium on many of the Magecraft cards. However, there is some synergy with our next mechanic which may just save our Magecraft maths:
Strixhaven features a 2-for-1 combination mechanic where you can cast Learn spells to get a small effect and then search outside the game (Sideboard) for a Lesson card and put it into your hand:
You also have the option to discard/draw if you don’t have any relevant Lessons to find. This shouldn’t happen too often since there are some filler colorless Lesson spells like Expanded Anatomy or Introduction to Prophecy which can slot into any deck. Fortunately, there are also a couple cycles of Lesson cards that span all of the colors that can do a bit more:
The uncommon cycle features cards with situational effects. Reduce to Memory for instance can upgrade a treasure token to 3/2 status or downgrade an opponents’ bomb. Necrotic Fumes may be main deck material depending on the build, but generally 2-for-1ing yourself is unwise in Limited. When it is tutored by a Learn spell though it does become card neutral. But, if you are light on removal and Learn spells it may just rot in your Sideboard.
Ultimately, I do wonder how practical it is going to be to run Learn/Lesson packages. Is the format going to be slow enough to cast multiple spells that do so little (even if it generates some card advantage)? The jury is out on that one, but I will say the common Lesson cycle feels quite a bit more practical:
This ‘summoning’ cycle serves a few different purposes. For one, it is further signposting for the ‘mascots’ which are unique to each college. Each can produce these tokens in other ways as well (more on that in their individual articles). Beyond that though, these represent a method of generating creatures while furthering Magecraft synergy. If retrieved from the sideboard using an Instant/Sorcery Learn spell, they can effectively generate two Magecraft triggers while still building creature presence on the board. It remains to be seen whether this sort of interaction will be viable or too durdly in the format, but it does look a little more promising with these in the mix.
Modal Double-Faced Cards (MDFC’s)
Last but not least, the new(ish) MDFC mechanic. Similar to Kaldheim, these spells are Rare so they won’t be extremely prevalent in Limited, but many look to make a huge impact when pulled.
Take the ‘deans’ for example. You may be seeing them again soon when I go over each individual college, as they serve as decent signposts for the themes of their respective factions, and let’s face it they are pretty cool cards. They do concern me a little though. From my analysis of the set so far, I am seeing a high number of bomb Rares while Commons appear quite underpowered. ‘Pushed’ commons have started to become a staple in more recent formats, but I think they were intentionally reduced in this set. There are still some, of course, and you will see them in the Important Commons sections in the archetype-specific articles. But, perhaps the power level of Strixhaven is trying to be tuned down to help enable the durdly Learn/Lesson stuff?
In my view, one of the dangers of designing a set this way is you can end up with a format where pulling certain Rares can trump ‘better’ decks which don’t feature such cards. It can be really frustrating to painstakingly Draft and build a really strong, cohesive deck of primarily Common/Uncommon cards only to get blown out by ‘luckier’ opponents. Luck as a factor is certainly a concession we have to make as card game players, but set design can help in this regard and I worry Strixhaven may end up being that kind of format, especially when you consider…
Each booster (even on Arena) is going to contain one card from a pool of 63 ‘Mystical Archive‘ cards. These are notable cards from throughout the history of magic, and they break down like this:
- 18 uncommons: 67% chance of opening
- 30 rares: 26.4% chance of opening
- 15 mythic rares: 6.6% chance of opening
The rarity is a little deceptive since many of them were upgraded from their previous common status. Shock, for example, is considered an uncommon and is probably the best one besides Eliminate. There are some neat Rares though, and many of them are quite good:
While there are plenty of dud Rares as well, my concern is that each player is likely going to add 1 additional Rare or Mythic to the pool of cards per draft. So, instead of 24 Rare/Mythic cards making the rounds there will be 32 per draft. I was already feeling a large disparity in power between rarities, and this fact will only exacerbate things. I will withhold judgement on this until I play the set and see how these Mystical Archive spells pan out. After all, on paper having a Planeswalker in every War of the Spark pack seemed kind of absurd until it wasn’t.
Next Stop – Lorehold
The set features many more interesting mechanics/keywords, but they tend to be college-specific. So check back soon for Lesson 2 where I will go through Lorehold college and its themes, mechanics, and best common and uncommon spells to support it. This will be followed with four additional articles for the remaining colleges!
Post release I could see looking at merging archetypes into 3+ color decks as well, depending on how the metagame plays out. Splashing was doable in Guilds of Ravnica, and I suspect it will be here as well with all of the split-cost spells. Farewell for now, but be sure to check back and study before your exams come April 15th on Magic Arena!