Strixhaven: School of Mages is finally here and I’d like to talk about my initial thoughts on its cards a few days before its release. It is always tricky to evaluate cards before having the chance to play with them, but at the same, it is also very exciting.
It seems to me that the power level of Strixhaven is relatively low compared to some of the sets currently in Standard. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is a good thing to say since we clearly don’t want another Throne of Eldraine.
I also think that means the impact of the set will likely be Limited as I don’t exactly see 《Embercleave》 decks suddenly disappearing from Standard, but that doesn’t mean I don’t expect a new archetype or two to show up and put a good fight.
I don’t think Lessons will be very good for constructed. Sideboards are already tight in most decks, and the whole mechanic seems like it will take a lot of work for just an acceptable effect. It does look very sweet for Limited, though.
Special mention to the Mystical Archive cards, a special set of reprinted cards that will show up on the Strixhaven packs. The legality of these cards will remain the same they would have without this reprint except one exception: Historic.
I fully expect these cards to drastically change the format to the point that it might even feel like a whole new format.
Card by Card
As for the normal set, let’s have a look at those cards I think are more promising!
While most of the Strixhaven cards are only going to be relevant in Standard, 《Clever Lumimancer》 is strong enough to jump straight into bigger formats. Not only it does have a relatively clean turn two kill combined with 《Chain of Smog》 but it also plays extremely well with cheap spells and Phyrexian mana cards like 《Mutagenic Growth》.
I think this is a very powerful card that could play very well with 《Clarion Spirit》 and 《Showdown of the Skalds》 in Naya/Boros decks in Standard. Adventure cards like 《Lovestruck Beast》 and 《Bonecrusher Giant》 play very well with this and it might be a better option for aggressive strategies than 《Felidar Retreat》.
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa’s card is finally out and I think it is a very good one! The effect is quite unique but it reminds me of 《Vendilion Clique》, which is a very good starting point.
The biggest strength of 《Elite Spellbinder》 is that things can’t really go very wrong with it, because even if it dies to a one mana spell, you are still even in mana and in cards, and it will only get better than that. I think it will likely often tandem with 《Skyclave Apparition》 in most Standard decks that want white creatures.
I like that this is more flexible than most of the 《Planar Cleansing》 variations we’ve seen in the past. The biggest issue with this type of effect other than its mana cost often comes with the fact that white removal often stays on the battlefield the same way 《Glass Casket》 does, and I’m not sure this can be solved while also paying four white mana. I like that it can undo some of the 《Emergent Ultimatum》 piles and I wonder if 《Devastating Mastery》 is good enough to be played in a 《Binding the Old Gods》 shell.
《Multiple Choice》 looks to me like a very flexible card that is never going to be the best we can do but is guaranteed not to be embarrassing in any matchup. Having so many options is powerful and I think this belongs to decks where the tempo is important and the bounce part is useful, like Dimir Rogues.
It could also be a filler in the curve for 《Emergent Ultimatum》 decks since it affects the board while helps you dig for your big expensive sorcery. I ultimately think this could be simply not good enough, but I do love the design and will certainly try this card as soon as I can!
While 《Lash of Malice》 is not necessarily better than 《Disfigure》, it is better than 《Dead Weight》 in non-《Lurrus of the Dream-Den》 decks. Instant speed makes all the difference in the world when you are trying to sneak a one mana spell in your curve, and I think this could replace some of the sideboard 《Heartless Act》/《Eliminate》 in decks that are interested in lowering the curve against aggro decks post sideboard, like Sultai Ultimatum.
《Sedgemoor Witch》 simply seems like a card with a good power/cost ratio. While it might see more or less play depending on how the metagame looks, if there is a right shell for it, this creature will be heavily played. I don’t think 《Sedgemoor Witch》 is powerful enough to create a whole archetype around it, but this is the kind of creature where you will get good value of your mana as long as you care about your opponent’s life total.
《Baleful Mastery》 seems very flexible and I expect it to become the 《Vraska’s Contempt》 of the format since I think both cards are similarly powerful. While gaining two life is very relevant when it comes down to how good a removal spell is, 《Baleful Mastery》 has a better mana cost.
Having the option of casting it for two mana to deal with a key 《Embercleave》 creature on the turn we used the mana in something like a planeswalker is quite powerful, and I think this will be very good as long as spot removals are playable at four mana since that would be the default mode anyway.
《Flamescroll Celebrant》 looks very strong to me in aggressive decks with 《Showdown of the Skalds》, since it is a reasonable curve creature that will be serviceable in the late game either by having a lot of power or becoming 《Revel in Silence》.
Aggressive Boros decks are quite good at establishing a good board presence but bad at interacting with sweepers or effects like 《Emergent Ultimatum》, and 《Revel in Silence》 offers a way to prevent an opponent of casting something like 《Shadows’ Verdict》 while never being dead thanks to 《Flamescroll Celebrant》. I think this could change how aggressive WR/x decks play in Standard.
《Dragonsguard Elite》 is like a card that will likely not see that much Standard play but might see some fringe Modern/Historic play since it plays very well with cantrips. The six mana ability, even if used rarely, will make the difference here since this kind of card’s biggest weakness is how bad they are on the very late game and this will be relevant as long as you have some extra mana.
《Vanishing Verse》 seems like an extremely good removal whose biggest drawback is being multicolored, which speaks about how good it is. It will deal with an assortment of expensive permanents in Standard including 《Embercleave》 and 《The Great Henge》. This is a card that could, by itself, justify a splash and I could even see it being strong enough to be a victim of its own success – we could see cards like 《Koma, Cosmos Serpent》 being better if 《Vanishing Verse》 becomes the default Standard removal.
I think 《Humiliate》 is likely a slightly worse version of 《Thought Erasure》, but that means it is vastly stronger than 《Agonizing Remorse》 as long as you can cast it and have some creatures in your deck. 《Humiliate》 can team with 《Vanishing Verse》 to have a very good disruption package in Standard.
Another flexible card that is not exactly busted but is guaranteed to be at least solid in most matchups. I think this could fit very well in some of the Temur Adventures shells since it is a removal spell that also happens to interact with the stack. Dealing with an opposing 《Edgewall Innkeeper》 or countering an 《Emergent Ultimatum》 with the same card looks good to me!
《Expressive Iteration》 is a stronger 《Anticipate》/《Divination》 that might make spell-based decks playable. Having cards like this is often the difference between a deck being functional or not, and while the power level is high it is not necessarily better than cards like 《Into the Story》.
Last but not least, the Shadows over Innistrad dual land is finally complete!
I think the Strixhaven dual lands are generally speaking worse than Pathways but I think they will still see some play. More specifically, they give us a reason to play two color decks in Standard as long as that combination has access to one of these duals since until now we had a situation where most two color manabases were not better than the three color counterparts. Decks like Izzet might welcome a dual land like 《Frostboil Snarl》 since it will make cards like 《Expressive Iteration》 easier to cast.
I’m very excited to play with the new Strixhaven cards!
Thanks for reading!