Welcome back, Lore Seekers, to my flavor gems of Strixhaven: School of Mages! Strixhaven is one of those rare sets that doesn't include the title of the plane in the name, which is Arcavios, but instead focuses on the 'feature' of the plane, Strixhaven itself. Today I'm going to talk about some of my favorite trope cards, the puns that made me chuckle, and some of the characters of the plane - including one that could have been executed better. There are also a couple Commander 2021 cards thrown in here for good measure. I'll be talking about the elder dragons of Strixhaven another time. Let's dive in!
I wanted to mention Eager First-Year first for a couple reasons. First, it's something we can all relate to, that nervous energy starting school for the first time, regardless of level. Second, I've notice people ask why it's not called Eager Freshman, and the answer is fairly simple: the Freshman/Sophomore/Junior/Senior names for different years of High School and College is a pretty American thing (despite having older origins). There's a lot about Strixhaven (down to the demon bursar, who I'll talk about in a moment) that is pretty American and doesn't make a ton of sense without understanding of the abysmal state of American higher education.
Who can forget the First Day of Class, as you try to make sense of your schedule and rush around campus to your next class before you're late. I appreciate giving the creatures haste here, for just that reason.
Semester's End is relatable as that end of the school year celebration. I also love the flavor of the flicker effect here, as the students are leaving after the semester and coming back different than they were.
Star Pupil has an interesting flavor, as a stellar student who gives back to the University afterwards. Personally, I duck phone calls for donations from my University.
Study Break is great flavor, tap two creatures to learn! I appreciate that so many of these top down cards are ridiculously easy to grasp the flavor of.
Serpentine Curve seemed like a reference to the Bell Curve for me, the means for how grading on a curve will sometimes happen. We all hate that person who screwed up the curve for the rest of us, just as we have the person who casts this against us. Thinking about it now, I'm not sure this is even referencing what I'm thinking about.
Flunk is the reason why studying is so important. If your hand is full of knowledge from the Library, you'll pass! If not... you fail, and a creature dies. Some of the flavor here works a lot better when you remember what the flavor of your hand is.
Go Blank is a traumatic card for me, someone who can remember all the material right up until I'm asked to produce it. Whoops.
Enthusiastic Study is not a flavor name I can relate to, but I really appreciate the sheer glee with which this student is lugging the most massive of textbooks around.
Cram Session might belong in the puns, but given it's a school trope and my most frequent studying method, I thought I'd put it here instead. Even if the student is cramming their face while studying.
Strict Proctor is a cool reference to Stern Proctor from Magic's other famous school of magic, Tolaria. Both cards are restricting what you can do, and I appreciate that the art even seems to be reference to the older card.
Tempting Contract features flavor text from Diriga, demon bursar. The 'joke' here is that here in the good ol' US of A, we're frequently encouraged to sign away huge chunks of our future in exchange for an education, and saddled with a ridiculous amount of debt for jobs that frequently don't actually pay enough to pay off the debt. On Strixhaven, if you need financial aid, you sign a demon contract. FUN REFERENCE.
I'm sure there are more I missed, but it's time to talk puns.
Arcane Subtraction's "The class learned little that day" makes the parts of my brain that enjoy puns buzz. Bury in Books is an idiom meaning having a lot of reading or studying to do, making it literal here is great. Tome Shredder is the dog that ate your homework, a common expression for the terrible excuses kids give for not doing their schoolwork. Making a Bookworm a Bookwurm is just all around excellent. Double Major has strong Riku of Two Reflections vibes in that it's literally someone doubling themselves to pursue two courses of study. Magma Opus instead of Magnum Opus, or masterpiece, is just fantastic. Hall Monitor is the pun that took me the longest to get. "Why isn't it a wizard lizard?" I thought, not realizing a monitor is a type of lizard.
Strixhaven also gave us a cycle of five students, emblematic of each college, along with a set of mini-story cards to go along with them.
Killian Lu's story deals with his overbearing father, the dean of his school. Killian deals with the expectations put upon him and eventually discovers his own inner light, rejecting the Oriq's predations. As Killian is asian-coded, the tiger dad stereotype comes into play here, and rather than have me, a white dude, try to explain it to you, I'll instead link you to the excellent discussions from the Asians Represent Podcast and Goblin Lore Podcast.
On the latest episode of The Wrap Up, the crew examined the creative process behind Kamigawa, representations of Japanese culture in #MtG, and more!— Asians Represent Podcast! (@aznsrepresent) April 19, 2021
Featuring: @danielhkwan @DeeEmSteve @mightyyshrimp @kilnfiendpotter @starchaeologist
Dina's arc, while not well established in the cards, deals with the grief of having lost her sisters to a wasting disease. She dedicates her life trying to find a way to bring her sisters back, only to learn to process her grief and move on.
Quint was kicked out of military school and joined Lorehold College instead. He thrived there, but at first his assigned spirit mentor didn't seem like he was going to be much help... until Quint's diligence paid off with the discovery of a lifetime: the lost city of the Loxodon!
Rootha is an art student who is never satisfied with her work, and has trouble truly expressing herself because of a childhood trauma. With the help of a new mentor and friends who care, she's able to break through her block and creates a masterpiece.
Zimone is a prodigy who becomes curious about her grandmother's disappearance. She begins investigating the equation her grandmother was said to solve, and realizes odd gifts she gets from her grandmother are actually the solution! The Oriq try to recruit her, but she's having none of their nonsense.
The Fiora Connection
One thing that bugged me about this set is that our professor planeswalker Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast didn't appear here, instead we got Lukka. Sharp eyes have noticed, however, that there seems to be a Fioran connection beyond simply the Mystical Archive. Curate seems to depict a Cogwork Librarian, and Cogwork Archivist indicates an original work with the same technology. One wonders if a certain planeswalker artificer specializing in cogwork might have paid the school a visit...
That's it for this week, folks! Join me next time as I revisit the Elder creature type in the age of Strixhaven!