Back to school we go!
Strixhaven is almost here, bringing us into the world of Magic's biggest wizard school! With new Elder Dragon legends as well as a wild new mechanic in Learn, Strixhaven brings a lot to the table with each of its five enemy-colored colleges.
One important thing to note is that the power creep knob has definitely been turned down in Strixhaven, which means that there aren't a lot of cards that jump off the page like something like Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath or Embercleave would. That's a good thing! Instead, many of the cards in Strixhaven require you to put in some work to unlock their potential, which is exactly the kind of Magic I like playing.
While this does unfortunately mean that it will be a little tough for them to break in at first when faced with the sheer power of Throne of Eldraine, it also means that we're heading in the right direction when it comes to design. It also means that they're much more interesting! Unlocking the power of Witherbloom or Silverquill is going to be a lot more in-depth than just putting creatures and Embercleave into the same deck.
That all being said, with the full card list finally available I'll be providing my usual first impressions of the set right here, going over the cards that jump out to me as being underrated (love) or overrated (hate).
Love - Expressive Iteration
Prismari has a lot of really, really expensive spells, but I care far less about those than what looks like one of the most solid cards in the entire set. Expressive Iteration is really close to - Draw "two cards" with upside.
Like Brainstorm, you're not going to want to play Expressive Iteration on curve. The Red "impulsive" card draw effect that requires you to play the card this turn is limiting in that way, as you need to have mana to cast the card you select for it.
Or a land drop!
It's extremely important to note that Expressive Iteration says "play" not "cast," which means it can play lands. This is incredible. As you cast it, select a land to exile and the best spell for later, and just play the land immediately. And of course, later in the game you can just select two spells to cast. The card selection here is nice too, allowing you to bottom something not useful, with the only slight against the card being the card goes to the bottom of your library and not the graveyard.
Still, this is an excellent mix of a cantrip and pure card draw. From aggressive prowess decks to control decks, Expressive Iteration is an exciting new tool.
Hate - Clever Lumimancer
There's a lot of hype right now around Clever Lumimancer, mostly for older formats like Modern and Pioneer, but I see a lot more Steppe Lynx than I do Monastery Swiftspear here. Yes, under ideal circumstances Clever Lumimancer is going to kill your opponent very quickly... so does Steppe Lynx. The concern is for when things don't go perfectly.
Without casting a spell, Clever Lumimancer doesn't do anything. It doesn't attack, block profitably, trigger Light up The Stage, or anything else. It dies to any sort of swift breeze, falling to all normal removal as well as being atrocious against popular cards like Wrenn And Six and Lava Dart. It's also White, a color not normally well suited for Prowess style decks. Obviously, this isn't a major problem as mana in Modern is so good, but it is relevant for other formats.
Lastly, Magecraft is a lot worse than Prowess, especially for sideboarded games in Modern when you need your Alpine Moon or Rest In Peace. This also means that it plays poorly with Mishra's Bauble, which is a key card if Lurrus is a part of your plan and one of the usual major draws to White in a Prowess deck.
Don't get me wrong, Clever Lumimancer will see some play in Modern and maybe Pioneer, but it's very much a fringe player.
Love - Professor of Symbology
Learn is a strange mechanic. It's not quite a cantrip, as all of the Lesson spells are wisely designed to be worth less than a card at their mana costs, but it is card advantage as well as selection. Even getting something as simple as Inkling Summoning is actually quite reasonable, as a single card that can curve you from two to three is quite good in the same way that adventure creatures are good. And of course, there's also the benefit of finding unique effects like Academic Probation or Necrotic Fumes, as well as flood insurance in Mascot Exhibition.
That's a lot of options for a two-mana 2/1!
But wait, there's more! It's easy to forget that Learn can also be a simple rummage effect (discard a card: draw a card) too. While that's not good enough as a primary effect, it's a great option to have if your deck has graveyard synergies. Discarding something like Skyclave Shade or Archfiend's Vessel is a great way to gain some synergy and card advantage.
Hate - Mortality Spear
It's easy to look at Mortality Spear and see an Assassin's Trophy with no downside, but realistically how often are we gaining life on command? Sure, we can play this in a turn we also activate Scavenging Ooze or attack with Elder Gargaroth, but realistically this is a challenging thing to do. Even more so, when we do get the cost reduction, we will often be playing Mortality Spear at sorcery speed anyway.
Love - Lorehold Command
Lorehold Command is the best Command for Standard play in Strixhaven.
In older formats, the efficiency of Witherbloom Command or Prismari Command likely wins out, but Lorehold Command gives you a lot of very powerful options ranging all the way from Flametongue Kavu to Mulldrifter to Heroic Reinforcements with upside, which is a huge range for a single card. Yes, five mana is a lot, but it's hard to ask for much more from your curve topper and being an instant certainly ups the flexibility.
There's not much more to say, Lorehold Command is just very good in any aggressive or midrange deck looking for a big and splashy effect.
Hate - Shineshadow Snarl and friends
Look, we're all going to put the new enemy reveal lands into our decks. Dual lands are a necessity for Constructed and when lacking other options even the mediocre ones are playable. But oh boy, we aren't going to be happy about it.
We've done this song and dance before with Game Trail and Port Town and the reality is that these are only really playable in two color decks. Even in two color decks they're going to enter the battlefield tapped far more than you'd like, and while it may look like they synergize with the Triomes I promise you that you're not going to be happy with playing your Triome off curve (not on turn one) just so your reveal land can be on curve.
This is mostly just a warning not to overestimate or push these lands too far. They're very passable in straight two-color decks, but don't expect much more.
Love - Quandrix Cultivator
Wait Jim, isn't Solemn Simulacrum already legal in Standard?
Yes it is, but the year isn't 2006.
Modern day Magic is all about getting on the board and tempo. While a decade ago you could hope to get a block and trade from your Solemn Simulacrum, the reality these days is that it's almost assuredly chump blocking by the time it comes down. Quandrix Cultivator provides you with the same ramp plus body aspect, but a 3/4 lines up much better against removal and as a blocker than Solemn could ever hope to, making it worth more than a random card in hand.
Furthermore, Quandrix Cultivator is in the same colors as both Emergent Ultimatum and Genesis Ultimatum, which both stand to be very relevant cards going forward. Oh yeah, and Yorion, Sky Nomad still exists too!
Quandrix Cultivator lines up too well to not see play, with the only real downside being forced to only get a basic land rather than a dual.
Hate - Rip Apart
Here I am, ready to rip apart Rip Apart.
Rip Apart is fine, but this is a flexible but glorified sideboard card. Abrade is good because it is an easy to cast instant, and it also saw a ton of Standard play because it was an artifact-based format and killing cards like Heart of Kiran was extremely important. Rip Apart lacks all the nimbleness that Abrade has, in exchange for being able to hit planeswalkers (not super relevant as it often won't kill them) and enchantments (often not super relevant).
Rip Apart is a decent maindeckable answer to The Great Henge, but you're probably dying to Embercleave before you ever even get a chance to cast this. As a removal spell this is worse than the rarely played Roil Eruption and as a sideboard card it's on par with Disenchant.
I'm not impressed.
Ten New Brews!
There's a lot of very interesting cards in Strixhaven. While it lacks the raw power of a set like Throne of Eldraine, it contains a whole host of cards that are contextually awesome. However, it's not easy to figure out that context right away! As such, I can't wait to get started brewing!
As always, I'll be doing the special #sponsored MTG Arena Early Access Stream next Wednesday the 14th, where I'll be brewing up my usual Ten New Brews and playing them all on a long stream. They will of course end up on my YouTube as well, and next Friday I'll be going over every single decklist as I assess its results and future prospects.
You're not going to want to miss it!