Strixhaven Limited Set Review: Red and Prismari
Welcome back! We’re delving into all manner of wacky giant spells and Elementals today as part of our fourth Limited set review of six, the Blue-Red Strixhaven college! Make sure to check out the introduction for some crucial background info if you haven’t already, and otherwise enjoy!
Who is rating?
I’ve been enthralled by Limited ever since I began playing Magic, almost ten years ago now. With a particular fondness for flashback and cube drafts, I’ve drafted more sets than I can count on every platform through wildly different eras. On Arena I draft infinitely, having profited 40k or so gems from it at this point, and have made top 100 mythic many times. Developing a solid approach and way of thinking through self-reflection has enhanced my skills over the years, and I feature those techniques in my writing and in each session of the Limited coaching service I provide (background here, testimonials available). Consider booking a session today if you’d like real-time feedback tailored to you, and to learn in a more hands-on way!
- S: Ridiculous bomb: has a huge immediate impact on the game and threatens to dominate it if unanswered. (Kaya the Inexorable, Emeria’s Call, Elder Gargaroth)
- A: Very powerful card: bomb or close to it, pulls you strongly into its colour. (A+: Goldspan Dragon, A: Esika’s Chariot, A-: Elvish Warmaster)
- B: Great playable: happy to pick early, pulls you into its colour. (B+: Demon Bolt, B: Sarulf’s Packmate B-: Sculptor of Winter)
- C+: Good playable that rarely gets cut. (Squash, Horizon Seeker, Ice Tunnel)
- C: Fine playable, sometimes gets cut. (Story Seeker, Elderleaf Mentor, Littjara Kinseekers)
- C-: Mediocre playable or decent filler, gets cut around half the time. (Breakneck Berserker, Frostpeak Yeti, Weigh Down)
- D: Medium to bad filler, gets cut a lot. (D+: Scorn Effigy, D: Arachnoform, D-: Ravenform)
- F: Mostly to totally unplayable cards. (Smashing Success, Open the Omenpaths, Invoke the Divine since it’s a sideboard card in most sets)
Grades are based on maindeck power level; if a card is good in the sideboard, I will mention it in the review. Every grade can have a sub-grade within it, but the differences are most pronounced in the C-Category, so they have their own description. Beyond that, a B+ means it’s almost an A, but not quite.
This card has a pretty high ceiling with some good 2 for 1 potential if you can ever eat a creature with it. 1 mana Learn cards don’t have to do that much to justify themselves, but this is hurt a little because you need a creature in play to cast it (being able to sink the 1 mana on turn 1 would be good if you didn’t have a hand well set up for it, and this way they can kill your creature in response to deny you both that and the Learn).
It does actually matter that you have the choice of granting reach or not – you may not want the creature to block your flier rather than the ground unit.
Here’s a card that will often run away with the late game if they don’t have an answer/blocker, and is great with support like tricks and removal spells. Still it does take some work to be good, since its body is mediocre and it doesn’t attack that well into Prismari’s Elemental tokens and some of the Fractal tokens. If you have the support, I’d take this more in the C+ range, but I wouldn’t take it too early to start with.
Blood Age General
There are a full nine commons that either make Spirit tokens or are Spirits in Lorehold, so I expect this card to be decent enough. Still it doesn’t block particularly well and Lorehold tends to be the slower side, and buffing a couple of the commons isn’t very significant – such as a 1/4 into a 2/4. A bear with solid upside, but not a super early pick I don’t think, and not a card that Prismari will want nearly as much.
Here’s a great card advantage engine on a 2 drop, if it has attacks, which it often won’t, but getting 1-2 of them in over the course of the game shouldn’t be too hard, given tricks, buffs, and removal. Audacious Thief was a very strong card in M20 Limited, though this first ability is a bit worse, since you won’t always have mana to cast the card you get if you have to use a trick, might not want to cast it immediately, and it won’t dig for lands. You can’t discard lands, but you can just dump your cheap spells and cast them after combat.
This has a lot of synergy with Learn cards since they let you loot, which is discarding, and that really pushes it over the edge for me. In Prismari, picking up a Soothsayer Adept shouldn’t be too hard and that synergy is a big game too!
Crackle with Power
The floor of 5 mana 5 damage isn’t too bad, 8 mana 10 damage to two things is busted, and it can scale up sometimes. This card strikes me as very strong in Prismari, with all its treasure tokens and ramp effects, but Lorehold will be perfectly happy too. Being able to hit players is a huge game – most of these effects don’t get to do that, and this one will end a lot of games in your ramp decks!
This sweeper can be really awkward sometimes, especially when you don’t have a spell-heavy draw, but there are tons of spells this set including a couple of Prismari spells that discard themselves, and Learn spells having the option to do that. The payoff is extremely high even if it’s only 3 damage, and you can scale it around your creatures and make it especially devastating.
So you need to cast five of these before this card does anything beyond a little damage at a very inefficient rate? And you might not even have a Dragon to get? This is not the approach to winning Limited games, whatever the Dragon might say.
This is insane with buffs and White has a bunch of ways to put counters on things, The effect is so powerful that they’ll often be forced to block this and let your other creatures through, and it only takes a timely removal spell or trick (check out Enthusiastic Study, the card after this!) on your part before they absolutely fall apart. This set’s two equipment, Zephyr Boots and Team Pennant, are both insane with it too.
I ding the grade a little just because it’s a lot worse in the later game so I might not splash it without good synergy, but it’s one of the best turn 4 plays in the entire format. I feel like I’m having to mention the big Prismari spells that discard themselves (namely Creative Outburst and Elemental Masterpiece) for every card, but they are good with this and decent by themselves! .
This card has some 2 for 1 potential but +3/+1 usually isn’t enough to save your creature, 3 mana is really a lot, and you have to be attacking to set up the common scenarios for this to be good. It’s nice to draw a card, but this is a huge tempo loss at pretty much any point in the game, and that’s not what you want in your beatdown deck.
Neither Lorehold nor Prismari are all that good at beating down, but you can still build in that manner, it’s just harder to get the right curve and the right amount of cheap interaction/reach when so many of your picks are bogged down by expensive spells and card draw, stuff that doesn’t go that well in your deck.
This card seems very contingent on having the many ways to cost reduce spells or create treasure tokens or otherwise ramp up to it in Prismari (which is pretty doable between Kelpie Guide, cards that make treasure tokens, Letter of Acceptance, and a lot of cost reduction) and it doesn’t seem good in Lorehold at all. That being said, I expect some Quandrix decks to splash it since they have tons of ramp to reach 8 mana and not much removal.
If you use it at instant speed, you often don’t get to put the mana into anything, and I see the mana as pretty slight upside in general, so it is almost entirely a card that kills two creatures – which is still very good.
Spending 4 or 5 mana on a card that often does absolutely nothing is not a good strategy for winning Limited games.
First Day of Class
It’s pretty awkward to play your cards 2 turns later just to give them haste and a counter, especially since neither Prismari nor Lorehold has really big creatures that would be super scary to power out. I think mostly you play this to enable Magecraft or counter synergies in beatdowny decks alongside cards like Lorehold Pledgemage, since Learn gives you a double Magecraft trigger and you can cast this on their turn to enable your payoffs if you need to.
Combos with Tome Shredder, but most enablers for this mechanic are really expensive. I don’t expect this to deal that much damage, or for Izzet/Lorehold to care that much about the damage – if you’re generating tons of value from the mechanic, the extra ping isn’t that important.
Makes your big Izzet spells significantly more castable is decent value, but I don’t usually like to play medium cards to enable my synergies unless I really have a lot of those, and there are only three really expensive instants and sorceries at common or uncommon in Prismari (Explosive Welcome, Creative Outburst, and Elemental Mastery). The tempo you lose from playing this isn’t necessarily something most cards in the set can bring you back from, and it does put you net down 1 mana.
I think it’s fine filler in some Prismari decks and mediocre in most Lorehold decks – though if you have expensive Lessons and Learn spells, it can still do the job.
It’s expensive to use this ability, it’s not what most Prismari/Lorehold decks care about doing, and has a useless body by itself.
Potentially the best red common, this kills most of what you want at a good rate.
This is a great 2 for 1 that does enough damage to kill plenty of creatures. It’s a premium removal spell and the set doesn’t have tons of big creatures to stop it. Even if it’s a little worse against Green, you can often pick up a more unconditional removal spell with it in the form of a Lesson.
This is medium as a lesson and a terrible maindeck card. Never generates card advantage, this is a set where you’re using your lands for much longer since there are so many mana sinks and expensive spells, and making a 3/2 late in the game isn’t going to be very exciting.
A decent value card, it’s rare for 2 drops to have a reasonable effect in the late game. Not super exciting but a fine roleplayer.
This card is mostly bad, since Act of Treason effects are only good if you have sacrifice synergies or against very specific decks. Usually they’d be good. out of the Sideboard against Green decks, but sadly that’s not even the case here, since the Green decks will have access to Fractal and Pest tokens to chump block with and you won’t be able to get around them that easily. If you do have 4-5 ways to sacrifice things, this becomes very powerful, and if you have loads in your Witherbloom deck then perhaps you can consider splashing this, or very rarely perhaps you’ll actually be a Rakdos deck!
Trample on a spell that does so much damage is potentially very good – you can target an x/1 to deal 4, or can use it after combat with a chump attack. Still, 5 mana 5 damage isn’t that exciting and a lot of the creatures in this set are tokens or things you don’t want to kill for so much mana – there’s less good targets available in a spell-heavy set, and better removal options.
This is a good body against beatdown since it shuts down Silverquill’s Inkling tokens and blocks most other things well. You can’t use the ability at instant speed which is unfortunate vs removal, but that gives it some late game utility and usefulness after the body is past its prime. A 1/5 Reach will often be useful and not worth sacrificing, but having the option is always great.
Expensive for 4 mana, but this provides a lot of value and has a lot of upside with future Learn cards. Not especially good if you’re being beaten down, but sometimes you can chump/trade with it and then Learn to bring it right back!
Start from Scratch
This is reasonable as a Lesson, both modes will definitely come up, and it’s flexible and nice to have the options in your board. I still wouldn’t take it too highly, since it’s very expensive and situational – I want to focus mostly on the first 1-2 Lessons I’m grabbing, and make sure those are good so I’m likely to draw a decent card, and this is more like a backup.
This is very good with the Prismari 7 drops and can enable splashes for you. It’s a very low tempo play and terrible body, though it will eventually be a reasonable blocker after you cast a few spells. If I draft this, I want to get some defensive 2 and 3 drops to ensure I can live long enough to play it and not take a million damage. It’s very good with mana sinks, and there’s plenty of them in this set, especially in Lorehold, so I don’t think this is terrible in either combination.
The base case of this is a pretty solid combat trick, killing most of what you want and leaving a little value behind. The slower decks that want the Treasure token aren’t going to be making that good use of this sort of card, but it’s not like beatdown decks aren’t happy to play their top-end a turn sooner, or to give themselves splash outs! It’s much worse on the defense when your opponent has a bunch of mana up, so you do want to have some good beatdown 2s and 3s to support it. It’s great with the Pledgemages specifically, and a solid enabler of Magecraft in general.
This is a heavy spell set so there are lots of targets for this, you only need 1 counter before you’re reasonably happy – and it even blocks as a 3/3 the turn you play it, if you have managed to play a spell by then. This has strong diminishing returns, since multiple copies compete with each other – you probably only want two in most decks. Really good enabler for the Lorehold set mechanic too.
There are some counters and buffs in White, but Lorehold is overall quite slow, and this is a really bad blocker/attacker before you buff it – Raging Redcap had a lot of Knight synergies this card lacks, and was in a more aggressive colour to support them.
I don’t see many Prismari decks playing this at all. In the right Lorehold deck, it can be solid, but White also has lots of good bearers of counters so I’m not inclined to rate it that highly. Still, it should be clear when it’s good and you should take it higher when you already have the support.
Rowan, Scholar of Sparks / Will, Scholar of Frost
Will is far far better than Rowan, and you play it by itself in Blue decks, since it protects itself and one activation of its draw mode puts you insanely far ahead. It’s still nice to have the option to cast Rowan, especially in spots where you can protect it well and it can threaten to ult, or when the cost reduction is good, and I might still play it by itself in a Red deck with good blockers and expensive spells, but it’s really not that exciting.
Torrent Sculptor / Flamethrower Sonata
Neither mode is incredibly exciting, but both are solid. Flamethrower Sonata is worse than just a removal spell, since you have to discard a good card to enable it, although it is often pretty good to discard Lessons to it. Torrent Sculptor forces you to have synergy with it/have curved out with a spell, and gives you a reasonable payoff for that – exiling a 3 mana card to get a 4 mana 4/4 with Ward is solid.
I would play Torrent Sculptor by itself if I had enough 3 drop spells, but I’d want to be Prismari to play Flamethrower Sonata unless I had a lot of cheap Learn spells.
Uvilda, Dean of Perfection / Nassari, Dean of Expression
Nassari is busted, drawing you two cards per turn while growing itself (though notably it can’t hit you lands). Uvilda is not super exciting but some fine gravy, and pretty solid in decks with expensive spells. I’d always play Nassari if I was red, but usually wouldn’t play Uvilda by itself in Blue unless I had plenty of synergy.
This is a really powerful effect, there’s plenty of synergy with it, and it really seems like what Prismari wants to be doing. Discards itself sometimes to enable your splashes or your “exile an instant or sorcery from your graveyard” synergies.
Culmination of Studies
Red cards are really unexciting hits with this, which makes it a pretty medium card, mediocre if you’re casting it for less than 8 or so mana, or you have a really heavy Blue/Gold deck and aren’t playing that many only Red cards. The problem is that at 6 mana, you’re pretty likely to just deal 2 damage, draw one, and make a Treasure token – it’s very hard to get a consistently good effect out of this. Another problem is that mill will often be a concern when you get to the high Xs, or you might well find yourself with not much left to actually win the game with – if you cast it for 6, then you could easily be 9 or 10 cards down.
It is solid with cost reduction, and I would certainly consider it if I had a lot of that, especially cards like Maelstrom Muse. It is nice that if you do cast it for loads, you can immediately play a bunch more stuff using your new cards and treasure tokens, and really go off!
This is extremely good with cheap spells and protects all your stuff from removal including itself, all while having a pretty solid body. It is awkward that it hurts your splashes, since I think Prismari will be splashing quite a lot, but playing it a little later is still great. I doubt I would play it in Blue/Red decks outside of Prismari unless I had really a lot of fixing, that being said.
I don’t think it’s quite a bomb, since it does require you to do a bunch of work and produces a lot of value rather than being immediately game-warping.
This is a great payoff for the Prismari synergies that make your big spells cheaper. It’s an effect that’s often gamewinning and great when you’re behind, and it resists removal. It’s very splashable so I wouldn’t even be too sad to first pick it.
This is a great Lesson since it’s one of the few that’s reasonably efficient and good in the late game, an early pick if you don’t have a great Lesson already. Pretty bad to maindeck, but not completely unplayable like other Lessons.
When you cast this on turn 3 or beyond, it’s often like better 2 mana Divination since you’re pretty likely to see a land in the top three and can always play that. Powerful source of card selection, and good Magecraft trigger. A bit worse in a set with lots of expensive cards, since they don’t combine as well with this – exiling when you can’t cast a card is often just the same as putting on the bottom of your library, and the failcase of Anticipate is quite bad in Limited, but not horrible, as at least you don’t lose card advantage.
A 3/4 flier for 4 is a great rate, and this gives you a free Manalith while it’s alive, albeit it can only tap for instants and sorceries. That’s pretty incredible value overall, and can enable your splashes. I think Prismari will be splashing a good amount, given all the Treasure generation. Makes your other Treasure tokens really good too!
This card is sweet! 2/4 flier for 4 is a good body, and you can curve this into some of the big Prismari spells, including Elemental Masterpiece and Snow Day. It also has great synergy with Learn cards, and can lead to some pretty brutal double spell turns on turn 5.
There’s a ton of synergy and ways to make this card cheaper in Prismari, and it seems like exactly what they want to be doing! Usually it kills two creatures, denies them a whole turn cycle of combat steps, gives you a reasonable body, and draws you a couple of cards – which won’t always be enough to win you the game or even have that massive an impact on some boards, but will get you much closer to it than most other cards in the set! I don’t think it’s quite bomb levels, more like an insane value card.
Scrying every turn is very nice and will enable you to draw many more spells, and dig for the ones you really want. This isn’t an amazing body but it’s a fine blocker, and I think some decks will want to play it as reasonable filler.
Draw four, discard one at instant speed is a very good rate for 5 mana, and the option to just discard two lands instead is nice. That being said, Prismari has a ton of ways to generate value, and some even better ones at higher mana costs. This can bridge the gap, finding your lands for those spells, and I doubt I’ll be unhappy with the first copy in any slower deck, but I don’t want to pick it that highly early on as a result – I’d rather focus on my early game and ensure I live long enough to win that late game.
This could be a fine card in Lorehold decks, since they don’t have much card draw and have access to Treasure tokens and such, and that will help them keep up against the other slow decks in the late game.
On turn 5, making this a 3/3 and dealing 3 is not super exciting, and until then it’s just a bear which is a pretty bad case for a Gold card. Prismari is going to have more big spells than usual, but they’re not going to care about the damage as much when they’re casting those big spells – those should be how you win the game anyway.
These are four reasonable modes, but none of them is incredibly exciting. Still, there’s a lot of flexibility here, since you’ll often use Shock + make a Treasure early on, and then later maybe occasionally they’ll have an artifact or otherwise you can loot away some lands. Still, this is a set where you want your lands more than most since there are so many mana sinks and big spells in Prismari. As with all Commands, this benefits from having insane flexibility a lot.
This is a great blocker early, casting spells to get free hits in isn’t too hard, and it seems like it enables surviving to your bigger spells really well. It doesn’t do much in the late game, but Prismari is often doing well in the late game anyway, since all its expensive spells and card draw are coming online, and it really needs this sort of roadblock to survive until then.
If you want to play this card outside Prismari, I’d suggest picking up some fixing – it’s very reliant on being played early, and it’s hard to do that unless you have like 10 sources of either Red or Blue.
Rootha, Mercurial Artist
Rootha is a great blocker, and provides another great late game value proposition for Prismari, which it doesn’t especially need more of but it’s happy to have. Specifically copying removal spells and cheaper spells on turn 5 is great with this, rather than trying to get to insane amounts of mana for Prismari’s really expensive spells. You can also do things like block a bigger creature or deny a removal spell by bouncing it using its own ability, so it has a lot of flexibility and is a really cool ability.
Being restricted to spells that cost 5 or greater makes this a lot weaker, but that’s Prismari’s set theme and this plays very well with the common 7 and 8 drop spells. On those, getting even one discount can be huge. It’s an okay if unexciting body, since Prismari doesn’t care that much about flying chip damage.
Teach by Example
If you have a lot of good 2-3 mana spells, especially removal spells, or Magecraft payoffs (do note that there are only three that work with this at common or uncommon, but you do get a full 3 triggers for them! Even then, giving Lorehold Pledgemage +3/+0 isn’t a huge payoff…), this card isn’t too bad, but it’s still very situational and it doesn’t work well with expensive spells at all, which is Prismari’s theme. Sometimes you can make two creatures with it and Spirit/Inkling Summoning, or Learn twice, and that can be pretty sweet.
I think it’ll play out too clunky for me to be super excited mostly, but I could see it being really busted in the decks with amazing support for it.