Welcome to Strixhaven: School of Mages! Watch your step, because there’s ink... pretty much everywhere. Also, if you’re even remotely opposed to animal sacrifice, then Witherbloom College is not for you. Just getting that out in the open before we start. All right, my name is Andy, and I’ll be your tour guide today as we explore the magical riches that Strixhaven offers those seeking mystical knowledge. We’ll start by meeting some of our faculty members and our founders. Then we’ll meet back here for lunch. I hope you all brought a bag lunch, because the cafeteria food in Strixhaven is... well, I don’t recommend it. Lots of pest meat. Then we’ll venture into the five colleges to explore all the wonder that our prestigious school has to offer.
Off we go!
The five schools of Strixhaven are Witherbloom (black/green), Prismari (blue/red), Silverquill (black/white), Quandrix (blue/green), and Lorehold (red/white). Each college has a founder, all of whom are Elder Dragons. So you now have 5 new options if you’re looking to be an Elder Dragon Highlander purist. Each of these dragons is extremely powerful, so let’s look at all of them.
Beledros Witherbloom, the black and green dragon, is probably the most powerful of the bunch. While it costs a lot to cast, it ramps you as soon as it comes out with its ability to untap all of your lands by paying 10 life. You get a pest at every upkeep, not just your own, so you already have built in ways of getting some of that life back. Still, I’d want to add a bit more lifegain into the deck to make sure that we can consistently do the untap ability without taking ourselves out of the game. The best card in this deck will probably be
Vilis, Broker of Blood, which will draw you 10 cards every time you activate Beledros’s untap ability. So you’ve basically got a makeshift
Griselbrand with these two on the board, without the drawback of being, you know, banned. I’d also include
Font of Agonies as an easy way to ping big threats off the board.
Galazeth Prismari, the blue and red Elder Dragon, also gives us some extra mana by allowing us to tap all of our artifacts for a mana of any color. This is comparable in many ways to
Urza, Lord High Artificer, but different enough to be distinct. For one thing, Galazeth also gives us access to red, and gives us mana of any color. But we have that drawback of only being able to use the mana on instants and sorceries. Not a huge drawback, but worth noting. And being able to tap all of your treasures for mana without sacrificing them is awesome. As if we needed another reason for the price of
Dockside Extortionist to go up.
Shadrix Silverquill in black and white is a really fun commander if you’re looking to do some politics. Give your opponents one or both of Shadrix’s combat-triggered effects to garner their favor. Or maybe politics isn’t your thing and you want to take away the benefits your opponents get from Shadrix. Then you might run cards like
Kaervek, the Spiteful. But I think the politics angle could make for a much more interesting and fun game. Throw in some cards like
Orzhov Advokist or
Varragoth, Bloodsky Sire to really get people on your side.
Seven mana is a big ask for a red/white commander, so I honestly probably wouldn’t consider running
Velomachus Lorehold as the leader. But if you’re not put off by the cost, I think multiple combats is the way to go with this one. So you’d want to include cards like
Aurelia, the Warleader,
Port Razer, and
Relentless Assault. I’d also run the super risky but ultra fun
Chance for Glory for when you’re ready to close out the game but just need one more turn to do it.
Etali, Primal Storm is a great include for this one, as you’ll be getting even more free spells. You’ll also want to run some protection so your opponents can’t stop your assault, so cards like
Grand Abolisher and
Silence will be important.
And lastly we have
Tanazir Quandrix, the green and blue Elder Dragon. While it’s hard to find a green/blue legend that isn’t an absurd value engine these days, (yes
Gor Muldrak, Amphinologist – I see you) Tanazir stands out as being something pretty different for this color pair. We’ve got an ETB of doubling the +1/+1 counters on one creature. That’s just one creature, not all of them, so it’s not like a giant red flag or anything. Yes, you can bounce and flicker it, but still, just one creature. Then we’ve got an attack trigger. This is somewhat unusual for a green/blue legend, as we’ve only ever seen it once before, with
Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath. But what the trigger does is really powerful, giving all of your creatures base power/toughness equal to Tanazir’s. So we’re looking to load up the board with lots of little creatures and make them bigger for swinging. My suggestion would be
Maskwood Nexus and
Coat of Arms. Make Tanazir huge, then make all of your other creatures doubly huge, then attack.
Faculty and Staff
Let’s look at some of the other legends that are going to have an impact on Commander.
The MDFCs were first introduced late last year in Zendikar Rising, where we only saw lands on the backside. They came back with Kaldheim, introducing all of the other permanents on the backside. Now Strixhaven is here to up the ante by giving us instants and sorceries. If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that Wizards is going to keep experimenting with the double-faced cards for quite a while (watch me be totally wrong with this).
The first one we’ll look at is
Jadzi, Oracle of Arcavios // Journey to the Oracle. The Oracle costs a colossal 8 mana to cast on the creature side, but a much more palatable 4 mana if you just want to cast the sorcery. However, one has to keep in mind with having an MDFC in your command zone that casting the cheaper side only makes the other side more expensive later because of the commander tax. Thankfully, Journey to the Oracle has a way around that problem by returning it to your hand if you have 8 or more lands. Once you have Jadzi out, they have an awesome way to protect themselves, similar to
Nezahal, Primal Tide, except Jadzi goes to your hand instead of exile.
But I’m burying the lede a bit here with Jadzi. Their Magecraft ability is just incredible. Whenever we cast or copy an instant or sorcery, we can look at our top card. If it’s a nonland card, we can cast it for just one generic mana. If it’s a land, we put it on the battlefield. If we cast an instant or sorcery this way, Jadzi will trigger again. So the more instants or sorceries in the deck, the more value we get. Use a
Sensei’s Divining Top to set up the top card, have a bunch of mana, and baby, you got a stew going.
Next we’ve got
Extus, Oriq Overlord // Awaken the Blood Avatar. I’m not sure why Extus has Double Strike, except to give it more oomph as a potential blocker. Being able to return a nonlegendary creature to your hand from your graveyard every time you cast an instant or sorcery seems like it could have a ton of potential. My first instinct is to do an aristocrats build, throw in
Teysa Karlov and go for cheap creatures with death triggers. With Extus out, you can cast a
Village Rites, sacrificing a creature as part of the cost, then use the Magecraft ability to bring that creature back to your hand. Plenty of fun stuff you could do here. The sorcery side is less exciting to me, unless you wanted to aim for a multiple combat steps build.
Hofri Ghostforge provides graveyard recursion shenanigans in red and white. What a treat! I’m super stoked about this one, and I can’t wait to jam all kinds of great creatures with ETB triggers in the deck. And the fact that the creature card goes back to your graveyard when the token leaves the battlefield is just icing on the cake. There’s a temptation to go spirit tribal here, which would be even more tempting if there were some decent creatures with the Soulshift ability in these colors. Sadly there aren’t (go back to Kamigawa, you cowards!) So we’re just going with ETB value and a lot of recursion.
Let’s take a look at some of the planeswalkers in Strixhaven. First up, we’ve got Liliana in disguise,
Professor Onyx. Onyx’s Magecraft ability is to drain each opponent for two life and you gain two life whenever you cast or copy an instant or sorcery. This has caused the card
Chain of Smog to spike in price because it creates an infinite combo. Two-card infinite combos are definitely not my cup of tea, but if that’s your thing, then give this combo a try. Just make sure your pod is cool with it. Aside from the Magecraft static ability, Onyx’s activated abilities are all pretty stellar as well.
And then we have
Mila, Crafty Companion // Lukka, Wayward Bonder. Mila is great if you’re running a super-friends strategy and gives some situational card draw. Will that deter people from targeting your stuff? No, not for just one card. But still, it’s a nice effect. The Lukka side however is really solid. All three abilities complement each other really nicely, and the minus 3 ability’s exile drawback can be avoided if your creature dies before end of turn. I can really see Lukka being a decent commander and because of Mila on the front side, that’s actually possible.
Other Spells and Creatures
Now we’re gonna look at everything non-legendary in Strixhaven.
Harness Infinity is one of the splashiest cards in the set. It took one look at
Morality Shift and said, “That’s cute” and one-upped it. Will this immediately win the game? Not likely, unless you’re able to sacrifice
Psychosis Crawler to
Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord. Then you’re probably ending the game if your graveyard was big enough. Otherwise it’s just a really cool way to suddenly have a ton of cards.
Body of Research also makes a huge splash by making a jumbo creature for just six mana. This creature has no abilities, so what you do with it is unclear.
Simic Ascendancy will win you the game on your next upkeep, which can be right away if you’ve got
Sphinx of the Second Sun on the board. Or how about you cast
Prime Speaker Zegana with your huge fractal on the board. You’ll draw your library, so you can win with
Laboratory Maniac or
Jace, Wielder of Mysteries. Or if you’re also playing red you can just
Fling the fractal.
Ecological Appreciation reminds me a lot of
Emergent Ultimatum, except far easier to cast. With this spell you only get creatures, but being able to get two of your best creatures on the board is really strong and can immediately put you in a dominant board state.
Plumb the Forbidden is one the best uncommons in the set. If you’ve got an army of tokens, this card can draw you into a large chunk of your deck. And since it’s an instant, you can save it to respond to a board wipe. Yeah, you lose life. But drawing a ton of cards is worth it.
Accomplished Alchemist is going to be huge for any life gain deck with green. And having 5 toughness is nice protection.
Archmage Emeritus has officially retired
Lunar Mystic from playability. This wizard is a spellslinger deck’s dream, and I can’t wait to play it. Drawing a card for every instant or sorcery you copy is huge for Storm decks.
An 8/8 with Trample for just 3 mana? Yeah, that sounds pretty nice. But honestly the side of
Augmenter Pugilist // Echoing Equation that I’m most interested in is the side that makes all of my creatures a copy of the same creature until end of turn. And being able to target a legend? The sky's the limit with this one. I’ll just let you use your imagination.
Double Major follows the same theme as Echoing Equation in avoiding the Legend rule. Got a commander that you’d love to have two of? Here you go. Enjoy!
Culling Ritual has the potential to be a huge bomb, or to be a dead card in your hand. More often than not I think it’s going to be the former. Keep in mind, most tokens have 0 mana value. This is a great way to deal with someone who’s playing cheap mana rocks, or to blow up a ton of treasures from someone’s
Smothering Tithe. And then you get mana for it!
Semester’s End is like
Ghostway, except better. Although it costs 1 more mana, you get to flicker your planeswalkers as well, and everything comes back in with an additional counter. A great way to get value out of ETB effects or save your stuff from a board wipe.
Strict Proctor has the potential to see a lot of play at tables that don’t groan at Stax decks. Unfortunately it is symmetrical so you’ll get taxed as well. But this can be a powerful way to slow down players with a lot of ETB triggers. It’s another “Do you pay the 2?” card, and a lot of people hate that. Nevertheless, this card is very strong.
Strixhaven Stadium makes me chuckle. It’s a game within a game, and changes the dynamics of your game in a way that’s similar to the Monarch mechanic. What’s interesting here is that you don’t have to get all ten points on the same player. You can get the Stadium up to 9 points and then kill any one player by hitting them with a single creature. I’m so excited to see this played in Commander games. Even if it kills me.
Wandering Archaic // Explore the Vastlands mostly interests me for the creature side. Sometimes they’ll be able to pay the 2, but forcing people to hold up 2 extra mana if they want to cast a counterspell is 100% worth it.
Fracture is a new removal spell that could definitely catch on in popularity. It’s really efficient, and there’s no downside besides not being able to kill creatures.
Reconstruct History gets you back one of everything except a creature. For just 4 mana! This is a really powerful effect for the late game. That board wipe you cast earlier and wish you still had? Take it. It’s yours.
Solve the Equation as good as Mystical Tutor? No, not even close. Is it still going to be played in a lot of decks? Hell yes it is. I’ll be ordering a handful of them. This card is a boon for spellslingers on a budget.
The End Step
All right, I could go on and on. There are some great cards I didn’t mention here, and probably some real gems that I overlooked. But I think it’s fair to say that this set is overflowing with toys for all the players who love to sling some instants and sorceries. Magecraft is a powerful ability that is likely to have a huge impact in multiple formats. As for me, I’m most excited to upgrade my budget
Kess, Dissident Mage deck. You can check out my pre-Strixhaven deck tech right here.
So what cards did I overlook? Anything on this list that you think I’m over-hyping? Hit me up on Twitter at @AndyZupke and let me know. And come back here in two weeks where I’ll cover the best new cards from Commander 2021. So many new cards!
Until next time, take care everybody. And play lots of games!