Welcome back! I’m Drifter and I’m back with the fifth MTG Arena Zone set review in a row, my first solo run, with thanks to Terence for formatting and hosting! Similar to other set reviews you might’ve seen in the past, I’ll be going through and rating every single card using the system below, in colour order alongside a guild pair that includes that colour. All of these will be released daily on the site between the 10th and 15th, the day of Strixhaven’s release on Arena, beginning with White and Lorehold, and ending with Mystical Archives, Artifacts, and Lands (which is all one final article).
After the review has been entirely published, we’ll be compiling a full tier list for your viewing pleasure, which will be updated regularly over the coming months – check out the Kaldheim, Kaladesh Remastered, Zendikar Rising, Core Set 2021, Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, and Theros: Beyond Death Tier Lists, which link to their attached reviews and written updates, for an illustration of what’s to come!
Please read on for my introduction, some background on the aims of this review, some points of clarification, and the ins and outs of the system I’m using. After that, I’ll review each and every White/Lorehold card, and tomorrow will be every Blue and Quandrix card. Enjoy!
Who is reviewing?
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!
Why have a mission statement?
Limited reviews are some of the most finicky things I’ve ever written; they measure all sorts of different and wacky things. Magic is a ridiculously hard game and the ratings of cards are so contextual that having a universal and objective way of measuring precisely how good a card is is impossible. Even when you’re just considering whether to pick a card, there are a multitude of variables to account for. To name just a few, let’s take a card as seemingly innocuous as Smitten Swordmaster from Throne of Eldraine as an example: How early in the draft is it? How likely are you to be in Black? How many 2 drops do you have vs how many 2 drops do you expect to need (more in aggressive decks)? How many knights do you have or expect to end up with? Is there anything specific about the format that makes the Swordmaster pick better or worse – is black especially good or bad, are 2/1s often liabilities because ping effects are abundant or because there are lots of 1/3s or 0/4s, are 2 drops especially important because there aren’t many, are the Adventure decks just so busted that you should try to move in on those? Maybe you shouldn’t move in because, if they are busted, everyone’s going to snap up the payoffs like Lucky Clover… (especially if they’re powerful enough to get banned). What kind of balance should you strike then?
This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I could give that example for many different cards.
The reality is that in a draft, most of us won’t be considering all these factors, because we just don’t have time or we can’t be bothered, or with practice these things will just come naturally without thinking. But a good review has to, and if you’re doing them early then you don’t have the practice. A good review must account for all the factors that lead to making a draft pick, but do so in a vacuum rather than through direct comparison to other cards, and that’s very difficult because as you can see above, there’s really a lot to it… so you can approach a review in many different ways: a lot of them are pick orders or aim to assess the quality of p1p1s for this reason, or they just seek to capture the rather mythical concept of “general power level”. To maximise usefulness, I feel like we really need to state what we intend to do and what angle we’re approaching from specifically.
The mission statement of this set review (and later tier list):
I am rating how good the cards are likely to be in the composition of the final deck, taking educated and researched guesses at what average well-drafted decks in the format will look like, and how well the cards will fit into them. For example, if a card requires auras to be useful, I’m considering how many auras you’re likely to get, how good the payoff is for getting there, how bad the failcase is if you don’t quite get there, and other considerations like how well the card fits into the format’s ideal curve – some formats have a lot of good 4 drops, so the weaker 4 drops get a ton worse, and some formats are fast so 6 and 7 drops get a lot worse. Whenever there are specific good cases for the card (like if a card is really good in aggro and not in other decks), I’ll state them and factor them into my ratings.
In this way, at least in theory, this should give a good idea of how early one should be picking the cards and how to weight them – if a card isn’t all that likely to actually work out, then it follows that you shouldn’t pick it that highly. It’s not an exact science, because players tend to under and overvalue things a lot and, as the draft meta adapts to and counteracts their whims, it changes and evolves. Draft self-corrects all the time, and a good drafter has to account for these changes. That’s not something I can solve on day one though – my updates to the tier list will have to address that.
Let’s clarify some things:
- Mystical Archives are being saved for the final article, alongside Artifacts and Lands.
- My reviews tend to include a lot of general advice in them, and my writing style tends to be a bit long-winded! For this set, I’m trying something new: check out the Context Corners I bubble in every so often, to better understand some of the conclusions I reach, and what you should be thinking about when you evaluate Limited cards!
- This is primarily a Draft review and should be taken as such. I’ll try to highlight outliers when a card is much better in Sealed than Draft, but overall there are a few things one should remember about the Sealed format: Sealed is slower, you’re less likely to face aggressive decks (but if you can build a good aggressive curve, it’s even more worth doing), expensive cards and those which generate value are better, splashes* and mana sinks are better, and playing extra mana sources is more often right than in Draft. That doesn’t nearly cover all of the differences but if you keep those factors in mind, you’ll go a long way. For a more in-depth sealed strategy guide, check out this link!
- All reviews and tier lists are more accurate early on in the Draft, when picks are less contextual; this one is no exception.
- This is a first impression; the set is not out yet so I have not had the pleasure of playing with it. I’m going to get some things wrong and there’ll be some uncertainty of how things shake up. The tier list will be updated, this review will remain the same, feel free to make fun of me later on! This review, like every other review, is not the end all be all. I don’t recommend following it blindly, so much as taking it as a good guideline. Raszero and I will disagree often, but you have our individual ratings and thoughts to inform your decisions.
- Yes, I know that all cards you cast count as spells in Magic, but for the sake of convenience, I will be referring to instants and sorceries only as spells in this review – those are the set theme, after all.
- I make a distinction between beatdown and aggressive decks in this review. To understand what I mean, click here.
- The reviews and tier list are built with human drafts in mind – they’ll still be useful for bot drafts but not as much so, since drafting those optimally involves exploiting holes in the bot algorithms.
- Early on, colourless cards tend to be better as they fit into and will enhance any deck, so they leave you more open to drafting different decks and will be good wherever you end up. We don’t take this into account in our ratings, since this only applies strongly in the first five or so picks, and then the effect drops off in importance gradually and is negligible after p2p3 (pack 2, pick 3) or so. P1p1, you want to take good colourless cards at about a grade distinction higher e.g. B instead of B-.
- Early on, multicolour cards tend to be worse since they fit into fewer decks, and will be wasted picks if you don’t end up in those two colours. However, cards that are good splashes are often largely saved from this effect, depending on the format’s fixing. We do factor mana cost into our ratings – if a card is easy to play in two colours, it won’t get much of a grade knock for this effect, but if it’s colour-intensive, it definitely will. P1p1, you want to take good multicolour cards at about a grade distinction lower if they’re good splashes e.g. B- instead of B, or more like 1.5-2 distinctions if they’re bad splashes.
- Sideboard-only cards are graded as though they would go in the maindeck e.g. they generally receive bad ratings but good descriptions, unless a set is so good for that effect that you can maindeck it.
- I will refer to splashes frequently in this review. FAQ: *What are splashes? When should I splash? What makes a card a good or bad splash?
Nuances of Strixhaven
a) Check out our Strixhaven limited overview article for a summary of the mechanics. As we go through the reviews, I’ll provide my unique perspective on each of the mechanics, and how they’ll really play out/how best to approach building around them – here’s a sneak peek.
b) This is a guild set – I recommend you try to draft within one of the supported pairs most of the time (BW, RW, UG, UR, and BG), as you sacrifice synergy and gold cards not doing so. If you have the fixing, you can expand and be three-colour, but the fixing isn’t good enough for that to be your default. It’s not the end of the world if you have really high card quality and end up outside the guild colours, but it won’t be common case.
c) Every colour pair has a token mascot this set. All the tokens have both the colours of their pair:
- Lorehold (R/W) has 3/2 Spirit tokens, and various synergies surrounding those. Remember that they don’t fly this time!
- Silverquill (W/B) has 2/1 flying Inkling tokens.
- Quandrix (U/G) has 0/0 Fractal tokens, which get a certain number of +1/+1 counters based on how well you meet a certain restriction.
- Prismari (U/R) has 4/4 Elemental tokens.
- Witherbloom (G/B) has 1/1 Pest tokens that have “When this creature dies, you gain 1 life”.
Essentially what that means is that there a lot more tokens in this set than usual, since they’re tacked onto various commons and uncommons as value, and that has various effects, such as making bounce spells better and certain creature statlines worse – e.g. 2/1s and 3/1s aren’t going to be very good at attacking against Witherbloom, and as a result there are fewer of them this set than in most. 3/2 fliers that you have to actually spend a card on are pretty bad against Silverquill, so you might want to board them out if you happen to have them.
- 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 is such a weak effect that it’s not enough to justify putting most Learn cards in your deck, because they’re usually somewhat underpowered to balance your drawing a card off them. Still, there are some Learn cards that are powerful enough that you’re happy to play them anyway, especially at uncommon, and once you have too many of them and too few Lessons, this goes up in value a bit (as does every other weak Lesson).
Usually you take this card when there’s absolutely nothing else for you in a pack, and in the occasional rare game, maybe it will do something, such as when you run out of other better Lessons to get, or when you just need one creature out of the way to go for lethal. Never dream of maindecking this card.
Lorehold/Boros surprisingly is more value-oriented than aggressive this set, and it has a Spirits subtheme, so it will have more use for this card than in most sets. Silverquill/Orzhov’s token mascot (all five of the colleges have a token they’re associated with and their cards produce) is a 2/1 flier, which makes this card better if you’re Orzhov, for reasons I’ll explain below.
None of this outweighs its mediocrity – you’ll regret playing cards like this when your opponents have their own evasive units, or just have a more late-game oriented deck than you. You only want to take it very late in a pack, or when your deck especially needs cards like it.
Drifter’s Context Corner: When is a card like this actually good?
- When you’re playing fliers. The main weakness of flier decks is that their creatures tend to be somewhat understatted, so it is very important to have good blockers to stop your opponent simply racing you. The dream of a fliers deck is to stall the ground.
- When there are lots of 3/1s and 2/1s for it to block at common/uncommon. This set has only a few, even factoring in tokens, but you can sideboard it in against people who have more than usual if you don’t already have that axis covered by your other blockers.
- When you have Spirit payoffs – but consider whether they actually work well with this card, or whether you have enough good ones to actually justify it! If a card grants your Spirits +1/+0 on turn 5, a 2/4 attacker by then isn’t going to be very exciting. Check out payoffs here!
- When the format is fast, and you just need more 2s as a result. This format does not seem fast.
Snakeskin Veil is a solid card, but this one costing 2 is a massive downgrade – it becomes much harder to hold, since that’ll often take up your entire turn. I expect this to be used to win combats much more than to counter removal, at least until the late game, and it’s not super exciting in that role. Additionally, some of the other tricks have Learn tacked onto them, so there’ll be better competition running around.
Still, aggressive decks might be reasonably happy with the first copy, and Orzhov looks pretty aggressive.
Drifter’s Context Corner: Why don’t I rate most combat tricks that highly?
- You don’t want too many of them. The more you have, the harder it is for you to curve out, and the more chance at least one of them is stuck dead in your hand, since they require creatures to do anything.
- The more removal you have, the less you need them – their best use is in killing stuff, and you already have that covered better if you have plenty of removal! Heavy removal decks want to have creatures to block with, so that you don’t have to remove random 2/2s, and tricks lower your available creature slots. That being said, if they have a good additional effect (like Run Amok in Kaldheim), that can make them better than removal, and conditional removal can have its own greater downsides.
- Really bad against instant-speed removal – it puts your opponent up a card and you down a lot of tempo, if they remove your creature in response to a trick.
- Much worse on the defense – if your opponent is attacking and has a bunch of mana up, you’re just asking to get destroyed by those pesky removal spells! As such, tricks are better if you’re beating down, especially early on, when they can’t punish you with removal. That being said, lots of Limited decks have the potential to do that on turns 2 and 3 – you just need well-statted units and good numbers of them, rather than to be playing ramp or utility spells or whatever.
- Awkward to hold up. There’s a lot of opportunity cost to having to hold up mana turn after turn for a spell that you might not actually be able to use, especially on the defense.
This is the sort of card that looks much better than it actually is, even in a set built to support it like this one. It’s often good on turn 1 in your aggressive deck, but your aggressive deck doesn’t really want to be casting spells to buff it in the early turns – it’s very important to be playing creatures and expanding your board presence in the early turns of those decks. There are some spells in the set that make tokens, but they’re usually Lessons, and are therefore a little underpowered for balance reasons – it’s much better to go and get them out of your sideboard than to actually cast them. Still, this card does retain late game power more in this than most sets, because Learn spells are so good with it and give you two full triggers of Magecraft, and a 4/5 is relevant for most of the game. It’s especially good with Guiding Voice, since that may well enable a fabled triple spell turn!
There are plenty of decks where I see this being a C or C+ – in a deck with lots of cheap removal and some of those token spells, where you can just keep blowing away your opponents’ creatures and getting in for free damage, in a deck with decent token producing spells, or those with good Learn spells and lessons. It also gets better with other magecraft creatures and especially if you have multiple copies of it, since you can dedicate more of your strategy to it at that point (e.g. run some weaker cheap spells), and the gains per spell you cast will stack up. Threat of activation can be sweet with it on the defense or when they’re on a low life total – they may not want to attack into this if you have mana up.
I’m keeping it at C- because it has a lot of failcases and the upside really isn’t that great most of the time, unless you really build around it, and even then you’ll have some draws where it’s pretty bad.
The fact that you can distribute this buff is huge upside, because you’ll get enable so many attacks you wouldn’t otherwise have, and vigilance is at its best on bigger creatures. When you get a free attack, this is much better than just +1/+0 – it has the potential to deal tons of damage, and you can do it every single turn! It also attacks as a mini-Serra Angel, since you can use the ability on itself, stopping enemy 2/2s in their tracks even if they fly.
I’m happy to take this card pretty early but this format has a lot of good 4 drops and some of the gold ones will be even better, especially since those are more likely to have synergy. Still, it’s really good!
Defend the Campus
Smite the Monstrous, the second effect on this card, is strong but situational – it just doesn’t always have targets against nongreen decks, and the cost of having it rot in your hand turn after turn is something people don’t always factor in as much as they should. This card is much better though, because it has another pretty situational mode but the combination of the two is enough that it’ll cover many more situations – especially if you’re beating down, going for lethal or trading up with the first mode can be very nice! Silverquill (Orzhov) looks like an especially decent colour pair for that first effect, since it has access to plenty of both fliers and tokens to go wide and ensure damage gets through for the buff.
That being said, it’s still just a fine card and you don’t want too many, especially outside beatdown decks since the first mode won’t come up very often. I would be reasonably happy to play 2 of this card in aggressive decks, 1 in most other decks, and be very happy to put it in my sideboard for certain matchups e.g. against green or when my opponent has auras.
The “dream” of this card is that you’re an especially aggressive deck, one with lots of evasion/burn to close out games, and your opponent just won’t have the time to use the ability before they die. Your average beatdown deck won’t want this, but even in this dream scenario, it’s really not that good – you would still way rather have other removal spells, because if you flood out just a little, your opponent is a card up. This format looks slow enough that I would really not count on being a dedicated aggressive deck very often, especially with lifegain as a major theme in Golgari and every colour pair spitting out tokens to block you, and there’s some evasion/burn in Silverquill but not tons.
The other use case is if you’re really desperate for early game in your slower deck, and have lots of ways to draw cards and generate value to make up for the card disadvantage later on. So really, to want to play this card, your deck has to have some sort of fundamental weakness!
In the vast majority of decks, it’s absolutely awful. It’s like Unsummon at sorcery speed, where they pay 3 instead of the card’s converted mana cost, and that card would be really bad, but it would at least trigger your Magecraft and destroy tokens, in a set that really cares about both those things! Also they can attack with the creature immediately after they destroy this aura, so it gives it pseudo-haste… just don’t draft this card.
Drifter’s Context Corner: What’s the difference between beatdown and aggressive decks?
Decks in Constructed and Draft are very different. Many decks in Draft want to be ahead and attacking in the early and mid-game, and have draws that are good at that, but they’re not like constructed aggressive decks at all. Those are specifically low curve, they don’t have high end, and they make up for that with tricks and burn spells: ways to close out games against weakened opponents when their creatures can no longer attack. They completely collapse when they’re behind, so their gameplan is to always be ahead for as long as they can.
That’s just not how the vast majority of decks in Draft are. Sure, they’ll have more early game, but they’ll still have ways to play from behind because it’s so much harder to curve out perfectly in most Draft formats, and it’s very hard to break the play-draw tension or beat your opponents when they curve out better than you as a dedicated aggressive deck, because your early game cards aren’t that amazing. Your beatdown 2 drops will get stopped a lot more by opposing 3s and such, and you’re often forced to sacrifice synergy and having every card on-plan for the sake of card quality. Fast decks can still win a lot of games in Draft just by including a little high end or value, or by having a backup plan and playing in a dynamic way, because your opponent doesn’t have busted haymakers and planeswalkers to punish you for not killing them by turn 5. Rigid gameplans just don’t work as well in a really dynamic format, where games are so different from each other. For that reason, most decks in Draft (we’re talking 90%+) are some flavour of midrange.
I think the distinction between dedicated aggression and what goes on in Draft is important and not always clear in people’s minds, so I use different terminology – I view beatdown decks as the much more common sort, and aggro decks as the more dedicated rarer sort. Midrange beatdown decks form part of that 90%, whereas aggressive decks are part of the 10%. A deck like Selesnya Counters in M21, one of the best decks in the format, would qualify as a beatdown deck, but not an aggressive one – it doesn’t necessarily have no high end and often it will try to grind people out or go over the top of them, but it still wants to attack early and often, and it still has some characteristics of aggressive decks.
This is kind of a fake modal card, in that things have to have gone very wrong for you to ever want to use the 4 mana mode e.g. you need to be mana screwed – your opponent will come out ahead in most scenarios if you use that mode because they’ll just keep their two best things. It’s nice that it has the option, but the rating is just for the 6 mana mode It is net benefit that it kills other nonland permanents at least – you can’t play them either, but your opponent might well lose them since they won’t know about the sweeper.
The main issue with this card is that costing a full four W pips makes that hard to cast even in a two-colour deck – there are going to be many common cases where you won’t be able to cast it till turn 9 or 10 at the earliest, so it’s going to rot in your hand and force you to play in an awkward way/commit stuff to the board to avoid dying. With 11 White sources, a large amount for any Limited deck, I’m only 43% to cast this card on turn 6 on the play, and 51% on the draw, and sweepers are an effect where you really need to be able to cast them at the right time.
I think the risk is worth it for some decks, especially those with fixing (and you should take duals and such higher if you have this card) since sweepers are really hard to see coming in Draft, and you don’t usually need to cast them as early in Constructed, but this card is not a high pick at all.
This is a fantastic mana sink, especially if you have other creatures with +1/+1 counters, and Silverquill/Orzhov’s entire theme is about those – there are a tremendous number of commons and uncommons to support this. It’s a little understatted but the initial counter is a solid way to enable attacks or make an evasive unit that much more threatening.
It’s worth noting that there are a lot of mana sinks in this set compared to a regular format – even the dual lands let you scry repeatedly, and the Learn mechanic is in itself a late game mana sink – so each individual one is less important, since they’ll be competing later on. I do think you want a few other ways to put counters on things before you’re really happy with this card, but that is trivial in Silverquill and still very doable in Lorehold.
This is a 2 drop that has the potential to attack into 3 drops, since threat of activation forcing a trade can be very real. Still, you won’t always have the spell, and it’s a 3/2 for 2 even if you do, which is fine but not exciting. It’ll mostly be a 2 mana 2/2 and Limited has really moved past where the bear statline is a decent or early pick, so I would really want plenty of spells or ways to give it evasion or something before I was anything better than mildly disappointed to have it in my deck.
This card combines solid statline with great disruption! Usually you want to take an expensive spell, as they might not be able to cast it for a long time since the effect persists even if the Spellbinder dies, but just settling for making their removal make more awkward or ruining a curve play is great too. Remember to send PV a thank you note if you open it!
This card is solid, but has a few weaknesses. It gets much worse if you’re a deck that’s attacking a lot, because you won’t be able to rely on their having tapped creatures, though some beatdown decks still really want it, like fliers. It’s not great because you will sometimes have to take a hit to enable it, since holding it up can be really awkward if they play around it, and you don’t want too many conditional removal spells that have the same condition so you don’t want to take it too early. Any reasonably defensive deck that doesn’t have a wealth of better removal options will play the first copy and plenty will play two, which means Lorehold wants this card a lot more than Silverquill.
This is a card thats very low cost to include, as long as you have plenty of creatures (remember, you can’t cast it without a target!) and a couple of good Lessons – +1/+1 counter and drawing a reasonable card is well worth 1 mana. I won’t take it too highly since I’d rather make sure I can jump through those hoops first, but I’ll be happy to play it in lots of decks.
This is an especially terrifying card in Silverquill or any beatdown deck, but you don’t need to do anything or have any special synergy – it’s just that good in a set with so many spells. This will make your creatures a nightmare to block early with threat of activation, then later on, you can just save spells in the late game until you can one turn kill them or force them to chump so many times that they can’t come back. You want a good distribution of spells and creatures, but this format makes that exceptionally easy. With Learn cards, you can get two casts out of one card pretty easily, so it’s a great topdeck even later in the game, since that’s when your Lessons really start to shine.
Mavinda, Students’ Advocate
This is a great ability on a card with a fine statline to boot. The base case is that all your combat tricks and a bunch of other commons like Guiding Voice and Make Your Mark become better when you have this card, and Silverquill specifically adds a lot of decent tricks and Black cards that target, but in the late game, recurring your removal and other spells will be enough to win most games if it survives. This also has synergy with Lorehold/Boros’s set theme which gives you bonuses when you exile cards from your graveyard, but that is just gravy on top of your delicious meal.
I would be hard pressed not to first pick this card, barring strange situations with Mystical Archives or foil cards in paper, and would be looking to splash it always in Green (which has a bunch of synergies revolving around getting to eight lands this set, and much more ramp than usual to support them).
Pilgrim of the Ages
This is a solid card, providing an immediate 2 for 1, and then later on giving you a good way to use your mana and triggering Boros’s set theme, which gives you value when cards leave your graveyard. It’s much better in Boros anyway, since their decks are much slower and more value-oriented than the Orzhov ones.
This riff on Gravedigger is a reasonable value card but not super exciting, since most of the creatures you return with it won’t be that exciting to recast and it’s very understatted. It’s worse in Lorehold than Silverquill because Lorehold will have more spells and fewer creatures with mana value 3 or less, but it is a Spirit for your synergies there. This format is full of better 5 drops and ways to use your mana late, so I doubt you want to be taking this that highly, but the first copy is probably fine in many decks, and you’ll usually have ways to buff it with counters in Silverquill.
Professor of Symbology
This is one of the best 2 drops in the entire format, drawing you a card (though sometimes the card you draw will merely be worth 3/4 of a card or whatever) and giving you a decent body that can trade with other 2s and really put them to shame. You won’t always have great Lessons, but I’ll be taking the first 1-2 good ones I see pretty highly at the start of the format, and you don’t need to draw a good card to be happy here.
In the late game, sometimes you’ll run out of Lessons and this’ll be worse, but you still get to loot a land away (that upside is huge for all of the Learn cards) and that’s the absolute worst case scenario!
Reduce to Memory
This strikes me as a decent Lesson, since it answers what you want and you’re not down a card if the Learn was a reasonable card. If this was my first decent Lesson I’d take it at about a C just to ensure my Learn cards got something reasonable, but I wouldn’t take it over cards that were above replacement level unless I was pretty late in the draft/had a lot of Learn cards or just a lot of playables. This is a card you should never maindeck, just don’t do it.
Drifter’s Context Corner: Why are Lessons weird to grade?
Lessons have a major case of diminishing returns – the first couple of good ones you get are enough to take subsequent ones much lower. As a rough guideline, I’d take the first decent Lesson at about half a grade higher than I gave it and then lower each subsequent one by one grade, but it obviously depends on how many Learn cards I had and how late in the draft I was. I think it is important to ensure your Learn cards get something reasonable but not to go overboard. I believe the first couple of Lessons at least will worth about as much as a card, since the downside of them usually being weaker than other cards you can put into your deck is balanced by being able to pick the best one for the situation, and their always being spells rather than lands in the late game. I think you want to have about 1 reasonable Lesson for every 2 reasonable Learn cards, but that’s just an approximation.
Having Lessons that fill different roles is very important to decks with plentiful Learn spells, so if you don’t have a creature lesson yet but do have a removal lesson, you may well want to take a card like Spirit Summoning higher just to have the option (and lower if you already have one), which is something that’s kind of hard to rate for.
The final thing is that some of the better Lesson cards deserve both a maindeck and sideboard grade, so I’ll try to discuss maindeck strength in my reviews, but rate primarily for sideboard strength alongside Learn cards, since I do expect that to be where the vast majority of them are at their best.
This card isn’t a Lesson, but it might teach a few of you a thing or two about Limited card evaluation. Card disadvantage is bad, giving your opponents cards is bad. Period.
So this card has a lot of interesting use cases, but I don’t think those are enough to add up to that great a card. First of all, it’s like Basri's Solidarity in that it puts a counter on all your creatures, so that’s the base case, except that you can’t flicker tokens, which really matters in this set as they’re the main way to go wide. If Solidarity cost 4 mana and didn’t work on tokens, it would have been a pretty bad card, but this at least has some upsides on top of that.
You can block with your creatures and then flicker them to prevent some attacks from hurting you, you can use it to reuse enter the battlefield abilities (of which there aren’t too many good ones at common/uncommon, but Pillardrop Rescuer and Returned Pastcaller are certainly nice), or to save a creature from removal. The problem with all this is that it still costs 4 mana – it’s hard for this range of effects to add up to something that’s actually worth such a huge investment, and there’ll often be times where you hold it up in case your opponent plays removal but then they don’t, and you just have to cast it at the end of their second main phaes (end step won’t work if you want the creatures around on your turn!) as Basri's Solidarity to avoid wasting mana.
I don’t really see it fitting what either Lorehold or Silverquill do, unless in the latter you’re learning hard on the counter synergies and not making that many tokens. I’m going to give this a higher grade than I should really give it just because I want to believe in the ETB plan, and it presents a lot of flexible and potentially powerful options, but I could easily see it falling into the D range.
Show of Confidence
This card looks like it’s doing something potentially powerful, but it’s an awful topdeck and it seems pretty hard to set it up in the vast of majority of decks in a way that it’s worth the mana. The idea is that you cast a cheap spell then go to combat and use it to blow out some blocks with your attackers, and if it kills anything then it is very good, but I suspect most decks will not be able to set that up reliably and there’ll be plenty of other times where it rots in your hand for a while and then you end up casting it as a flash aura that gives two counters. The ability to split the counters is legitimately very powerful (you might get to kill two creatures!), and vigilance can help break open some race situations.
The place I think it best befits is the Clever Lumimancer Magecraft beatdown deck, but both are uncommons and it adds an additional layer of awkwardness to an awkward strategy. Still, I do think this has the potential to be very powerful, and Learn spells help it a lot in the late game since they give you an easy way to doublecast into this for three counters.
This is a totally unreasonable card that will win many games of Limited with not much effort at all, as long as you’re playing a good number of creatures, which it’s hard not to do in White even in a spell-heavy set. It makes any creature you have reasonable attacks with into a huge threat in short order, and essentially renders your opponent unable to attack with the pseudo-vigilance. It will constantly force them to trade down their better creatures for your worse ones, and every creature you draw gets that much better. It does take a little extra support when you’re playing against Green or other decks that have much larger creatures than you, but anything works – a removal spell, a trick, an evasive unit… and if they’re constantly stuck unable to attack in a board stall, you’re going to draw your evasive units.
When you have this sort of card, you should tiebreak towards creatures in the draft stage, and work hard to ensure you have a good curve of them, and preferably some evasive ones. Oh, also it draws you a free card to boot, just for good measure – if that Lesson is a creature like Inkling Summoning or Spirit Summoning then all the better, but anything that enables your attacks is also great.
This card is definitely what Silverquill wants to be doing, since there are a lot of sacrifice synergies and counter synergies in that colour pair. The idea is to load up with counters from other sources then trade it off or sacrifice it and make one of your other creatures huge, potentially at instant speed with something like Village Rites. Just being able to put one counter on it, trade it off, and then make your flier huge is great too. I think this will be good in most Silverquill decks but it’s pretty weak if you don’t have the synergies. Still, there are really loads in that colour pair so I’m happy to give it a high grade and think you should take it at low C+ if you’re already in Silverquill.
In Lorehold, this card is pretty bad and I would avoid it unless you’ve managed to pick up enough +1/+1 counter producers in just White. It’s just too low impact to be worth spending a card on usually.
This card seems pretty bad, having looked at the available synergies. The repeatable ones are almost all very expensive and it starts off very weak so you would need it to trigger several times before you were at all happy with the body. The decent cards that enable this are removal spells – cards like Expel, some of the Lessons that exile, and cards like Go Blank. The problem is that at that point, you need to not only have lots of cards for this strategy, but the payoff for doing all that is that you might have a 3/3 or 4/4 by turn 5 or 6 – it takes so much work to get a very mediocre statline. At that point, your mana sinks kick in and it can continue to grow, but this is more work for a payoff that remains mediocre. At least after you do all this work, you could potentially 1-shot them with Stonerise Spirit, another mediocre card, to give it flying (if you’re playing against a goldfish)!
The only card I’m even a little excited to play this with is Tome Shredder in Boros, and the latter card being a good common gives me a little hope – if you pick up 2-3 of those and have a good number of spells and other cards that exile, I’m pretty happy to play the first copy of the Familiar, but it’s still not that great – it grows to a 2/2 on turn 3 if you had a 2 drop spell (so the literal perfect curveout), and then you need to continue to play spells to feed the Shredder. Remember that the opportunity cost of topdecking this later still applies – what if you draw it after you’ve exiled some stuff with Shredder?
Another place where this card might be worth it is if you have a ton of other leave the graveyard payoffs, and therefore want to be doing all that work anyway, but that extra 3/3 or 4/4 on turn 5 is still just never going to add that much. I really think this card needed to start off more expensive with better stats.
I am not fond of 2 mana 1/2s, flying or otherwise. The problem is that they don’t do enough to justify the card you spend on them, unless you have really a lot of ways to buff them – 1 damage is just not a relevant clock, and they don’t block anything. This card compares extremely poorly with Battlefield Raptor, since that card can block x/1s and hold back other fliers/attack through them with buffs.
This would all be fine if the mana sink attached to it was very good, but the payoff for spending 4 mana is very mediocre. This card is fine in a deck with several of the good spirit or “leaves the graveyard” payoffs like Quintorus, Field Historian, Blood Age General, and Stonebound Mentor, and there’s plenty of crossover between those two synergies in Lorehold. I’d usually stay away from this card in Silverquill – you’re likely to have better evasive units and better buff targets.
This is a symmetrical effect that is never that exciting, and can really punish you as well as your opponent. Sure, you can prioritise playing all your enter the battlefield cards before you play this, but your opponent will eventually still get value off them – 2 isn’t that much more really, and this card has a very defensive statline so it doesn’t capitalise on the time you gain. You play this card entirely for the statline, where it’s a fine blocker and lines up pretty well against opposing Silverquill decks with their 2/1 flying tokens, but it’s really not very exciting. Still, Silverquill does like small flying bodies to throw counters onto, and it’s much better than Stonerise Spirit.
I’m kind of surprised they didn’t give this rare two additional effects and another wall of text in the year of our lord 2021, but those are the breaks.
This card is a pretty unexciting way to Learn – most of the Lessons are weaker than cards you could just play, and this card is unplayable unless you have a decent one. I think there are enough better Learn cards that you shouldn’t resort to playing this too often, especially since Lessons have a serious case of diminishing returns so you don’t want too many of the Learn cards that aren’t good by themselves.
This strikes me as a fine playable in most decks, but it’s much better in Silverquill where you have fliers and common lifelink/deathtouch creatures. I think you actively want it there, and then it gets better if you start loading counters onto it or whatever, which Silverquill is very good at doing! I would rate this as a B- in Silverquill and just a C in Lorehold, where I expect it to just be Alpine Watchdog most of the time.
Flamescroll Celebrant / Revel in Silence
The spell side of this card doesn’t matter much for the purposes of rating – you’ll almost always cast the 2 drop, but very occasionally it will be nice to stop your opponent from adding anything to the board the turn before you kill them, or to trigger Magecraft effects. Having the option is nice upside.
The 2 drop is solid, with a fine body and a firebreathing ability that is relevant at any point in the game. I wouldn’t expect the first ability to do much most games, but this set has an unusual number of mana sinks in it and it can certainly make those very annoying to use repeatedly!
Mila, Crafty Companion / Lukka, Wayward Bonder
The creature side of this is decent but low impact, since the first ability is just flavour text, so this is a 2/3 for 3 that makes removal more annoying (and will probably eat the first removal spell they cast). That won’t do much against some decks, especially against Green where you probably won’t be able to block much for very long. I expect it’s a card you run out if you don’t have other 3 drop plays, or if you’re playing against Black or Red, and if not then you save it for later. It gets some nice additional value against repeatable abilities e.g. you’ll be able to draw a card every time they tap down one of your creatures with Kelpie Guide! This is a card that you’d be reasonably happy to play by itself, probably in the C+ area, which is always a good start on a modal card.
Lukka is a little underpowered for your usual mythic planeswalker, since it doesn’t protect itself or provide card advantage unless you have creatures to discard. There will be spots where you straight up can’t play it because it’ll just take too much damage (though 6 loyalty is a good amount) and the minus ability is pretty bad unless your opponent is on a low life total or you have creatures to bring back with good enter the battlefield abilities. It has good synergy with Lorehold’s set mechanic and provides some natural flood prevention. The best part about him is that this ultimate emblem is busted and easy to reach in just a couple of turns if you’re at parity or ahead, and the beauty of it is that you can just play the fox when you’re not!
All in all, this is reasonable body or reasonable late game threat – neither side is particularly exciting but it fills your 3 and 6 drop slot alike and the sides patch each other’s weaknesses well, which adds up to something much stronger than either of its halves. Not being splashable on either side hurts, but this card does more than enough to be a fantastic early pick.
Plargg, Dean of Chaos / Augusta, Dean of Order
Wow, now this is taking modal cards to the next level! Both sides are fantastic, with Plargg being a 2 drop that’ improves your draws early and then offers a great mana sink late, and Augusta giving your other creatures some combination of vigilance and +1/+0 or +0/+1, whichever you want at will. When you’re in a board stall or playing an attritiony game, Plargg will break the parity for you, and when you already have a threatening board (really just a couple of other decent creatures will do), Augusta really gets to drop the hammer!
The combination of two fantastic modes means I doubt I will ever be passing this card if I’m in Lorehold. Plargg is a better splash than Augusta, but Augusta is the stronger card and fantastic on curve.
Unlike most of the other hybrid mana cards, this one absolutely demands that you’re either Lorehold or some weird mono colour deck, but it’s very easy to cast when you are, as long as you’re not mucking around with splashes too much. On the turn it comes down, it’s likely to enable an attack or two immediately, and then enter the fray itself as a 2/3 double strike for 4, which is not bad at all, especially if you buff it up.
Lorehold isn’t particularly aggressive and doesn’t have too much evasion this set, which hurts this sort of card a bit, but if you have a clean attack with anything then this card will do more than enough. It’s a total nightmare for fliers/other small creature decks, since they’ll pretty much never be able to block or race you!
This is one of those “kill this card or die” mythics, because it will make combat an absolute nightmare for your opponents. It’s fantastic no matter how many Spirits you have, since its second ability affects all nontoken creatures, but getting the buff twice for your nontoken Spirits and making them have immediate value is great upside, and this card gets better in a deck with a bunch of those. Obviously if they do kill it, you might only be able to get one free attack in or whatever, but aura and bounce removal are awful against it.
I’m very excited to splash this card, especially in Silverquill where I can benefit from Black’s sacrifice synergies, since it’s good everywhere, but especially great when removal won’t be a clean answer to it.
This is a very underwhelming gold uncommon, with an ability that’s situational and low ceiling. There are really a ton of Spirits at common, so this ability is pretty good at breaking up board stalls, but in a lot of cases you’ll just be able to attack with them for 1 or more damage anyway – imagine playing this with Stonerise Spirit, where you could just attack for 1 in the air rather than use this ability, or with Fuming Effigy, a 4 power attacker! The Lorehold tokens are Spirits, but they’re also 3/2s, so you’d rather just attack with them in many spots.
Ultimately this is a bear that can break open some board stalls in the Spirit deck, and can do a few damage worth of pings in other cases (if you cast sorceries to enable this, you won’t even be able to block the turn you ping), all of which is okay but doesn’t really pull me into the archetype.
This card has an absurd and gamewinning combination of modes, none of which let the side down. You can use it to kill two creatures with the Lightning Helix mode and making a flash 3/2 to ambush another, you can blow out a boardful of blockers with the Unbreakable Formation ability, you can sacrifice a spare land to draw two… the Helix mode is so good that I imagine it’ll be one you almost always use, but the world really is your oyster here. When a card presents you this many great options and there are no wrong answers, it’s a pretty clear indication that it’s crazy good.
This card is kind of like a strange version of Ill-Gotten Inheritance, that is more value-oriented and enables the “leave the graveyard mechanic”. While that sounds really good, I think it’s weaker than it looks for a few reasons:
a) It’s not providing guaranteed damage or life gain, and sometimes you will really want one more than the other.
b) The mill isn’t a may. Since it’s not providing guaranteed damage either, there’s a very good chance it decks you – this is the kind of card you can definitely leave in play for ten or so turns, and then it just kills you, especially if you draft multiples. You can get around this by being a more beatdowny deck, but beatdown decks don’t want this kind of card that much – they want mana sinks that still have decent bodies and affect the board. The kind of slow grindy deck that wants this is not going to be able to kill fast enough a lot of the time, even with the 3/2s – if your opponent just has a board and waits, you’re going to struggle.
c) The tokens entering tapped is a really big deal, since it gives your opponents a lot of outs to race you, which is what this kind of effect incentivises doing anyway.
I think those three problems really kill this card for me, since they give your opponents so many options on how to handle and play against it. There’ll be some decks where I still want it, especially alongside stuff like Quintorus, Field Historian so I can get two 3/2s per activation, and it combines well with Lorehold Apprentice, but it won’t be something I go out of my way to pick highly. I really need to include some stallbreakers and evasive units to be happy, and having those alongside all my Spirit/graveyard payoffs will add up to a pretty large deckbuilding and drafting cost.
This is a deceptively great common, going into red and white decks alike and being a solid threat wherever. It attacks well through many boards and is often a nightmare to block, since your opponent won’t be sure how many spells you have, and will often just want to play it safe and not risk losing creatures for free. Ordinarily, a 4 toughness unit would be able to handle a 3/2 first strike, but if you have mana up then your opponent may well need to double block it or just take the damage. When you add counters into the mix, which White has a ton of synergies surrounding, it becomes even more frightening.
I expect to first pick this card in some weaker packs, since it leaves me very open and means I have a solid playable wherever I end up. It’s much better if you’re a beatdown deck, but it doesn’t even block badly, stopping x/2s the turn it comes down and threatening to go after larger prey when you have mana up. The majority of decks with a good number of spells will be happy to play it, and this is very much the format for that.
Make Your Mark
This card’s ceiling is that it lets you trade up a 2 drop for a 3 drop and you get a 1 mana 3/2 out of the deal, which is great. The problem with it though is that most of the time it’s not going to work out that way – creature statlines won’t always match up perfectly like that and the situation will often not come up, your opponents can have instant speed removal to blow you out, and often you’ll just have to settle for the 3/2 alongside a removal spell or something. A lot of the power of a 1 mana 3/2 is getting it on turn 1, rather than turn 4 or 5, and this card will rot in your hand until you’re able to set up a good situation for it – it doesn’t take much for an opponent to realise that something weird is happening when you attack your 2/2 into their 2/3!
I think if you’re an aggressive Magecraft deck and can force them to block because you’re applying so much pressure, then the stock of this card does go up – if you have a bunch of Lorehold Pledgemages and Clever Lumimancers then this may well be a card you want, but it’ll be bad in most decks.
Quintorius, Field Historian
Quintorus is great in a colour pair with eight common Spirits, and the main draw of the “leave the graveyard” Lorehold theme. There are very few evasive Spirits in this set, but the buff will still enable plenty of attacks you didn’t otherwise have. I think the overall theme is a bit weak and underpowered, but the enablers will all be worth it if you pick up a couple of copies of this card, or any of the other really powerful Lorehold uncommons (which we’re about to see!).
If Lorehold doesn’t end up being one of the best colour pairs, which I suspect is the case, then this card may well go late and lead to some pretty disgusting decks when you get the right pieces together.
This card is busted in a really obvious way, since drawing two cards a turn is good and gaining a bunch of life for free is good. It does take a turn to get going, but they better have a removal spell immediately. Remember that it’s bad with cards with very situational effects especially counterspells (if you happen to be splashing it in Blue), but having to take a turn off your value train isn’t the end of the world.
Reconstruct History is slow but did you expect otherwise from a name like that one? The ideal case is to prioritise cheap interaction and cheap cards with weird types, and then use this as a gamewinning late game trump. It’s pretty hard to envisage beating it if it ever draws three, and it’s not that hard to make that happen, since Lorehold has an array of good cheap spells, and it’s even better when you’re triggering the few good “leaves the graveyard” payoffs. I expect to splash it in other pairs frequently also, so I’d recommend taking it early and often.
I quite like this card, but I think its main problem is that it’s a bit low impact, and there are a ton of mana sinks and other more synergistic gold cards that it’s competing with. I doubt I’ll want to have more than one or maximum two in the average deck, and I don’t want to take it too highly as a result. The problem is that Menace doesn’t scale that well into the late game and it’s going to get double blocked a lot, so it’s not going to be that good at attacking through the board stalls Lorehold is trying to set up. Still, it’s a perfectly serviceable card and I consider it a high C.
Why yes, I would like a huge threat that draws a removal spell, thanks for asking. With Spirit and leaves the graveyard synergies, this gets even better but I’d be happy to play the first copy in any deck, and if you have two of these then you can just chain off and get infinite value! It’s also very splashable, though unfortunately neither Selesnya nor Gruul are supported, so you’re going to have to pick up some duals or Letter of Acceptance.
Maindeckable artifact and enchantment hate is sweet to have around, especially when it’s attached to an efficient powerful removal spell.
This is a solid Lesson, and I would take it at more like low C+ if I didn’t have a decent one yet. It’s not a card you should maindeck unless you’re desperate or have a lot of Magecraft synergies, but solid nonetheless.
Scrying repeatedly is really nice, but I was honestly expecting a bit more since cards leaving the graveyard tends to be a lot of work with the enablers the set offers, and you don’t need the scry as much when you’re getting a bunch of late game value, which is what all the good enablers do. Still, it has a solid body and enables Spirit synergies as well, so you can’t go wrong.
I’ve always been extremely unimpressed with Cathartic Reunion in Draft – there aren’t enough graveyard synergies and cards you really want to discard, and having two spare lands in your hand is a very late game proposition, so it ends up rotting in your hand a lot and is a terrible topdeck. The payoff for all that work is that you’re up just one card.
Still, this is a colour pair that has a graveyard synergy theme, albeit a weak one, and there are Magecraft synergies. More decks will want this than normal and 2 life is decent upside, but it’s not enough to earn a high grade.
This card will do a good enough 7 mana win the game impression that it’s going to get a bomb grade. They have to kill it immediately, and you’re up a lot of value and damage even if they do. By turn 7, people are less likely to have removal in draft anyway – games tend to be very back and forth because it’s harder to get a massive advantage, so you end up having to use the cards in your hand by then.
Don’t be fooled into thinking you should draft expensive spells higher so this card gets more value – it doesn’t need the help.
This card has a super strong rate to begin with, and then White has a bunch of ways to load counters on it, at which point it gets totally absurd. Still, you need to do a bit more work with it than the more busted rares and have it at the right time – you’ll most likely only be able to get it through in the early turns, and at that point you may not have a creature to bring back with a low mana value, especially in a spell-oriented set. Getting it through isn’t always trivial either, since you need tricks or for your opponent to have low toughness units. This combined with scaling poorly into the late game means I think the average case will be very good, but not worthy of a bomb grade.