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Strixhaven Pauper Review

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Is it really already time for another Pauper set review? Kaldheim feels like it was just here yesterday and now we're off to school at Strixhaven: School of Mages! I thought I'd be back sooner with Time Spiral Remastered, but as there weren't any new downshifts, I had to wait for this cool set. There's some great cards for Pauper and some other neat outliers in the mix as well. I'll be skipping Commander 2021 since the only new common, Study Hall, is only really relevant in Commander.

Let's jump right in with some lessons!

Environmental Sciences
Expanded Anatomy
Introduction to Annihilation
Introduction to Prophecy

If you haven't been paying attention to the specifics of Strixhaven, lessons are new types of spells that you can basically draw from your sideboard if you cast a spell with learn. First, we have four colorless lessons. None of these are terribly exciting and are clearly overcosted, but they still offer some solid flexibility in a pinch. There's even a decent chance that some decks might be interested in colorless Lay of the Land or Preordain like we've got here in the maindeck.

Elemental Summoning
Fractal Summoning

Inkling Summoning
Pest Summoning
Spirit Summoning

There're also five colored lessons that each serve to summon each color pair's school mascot. Unlike the utility of the colorless spells, most of these are fairly dull and uninteresting. The best might arguably be the Inkling Summoning since you get an evasive creature out of the deal.

I'll talk about the spells with learn individually, but the long and short of it usually seems to boil down to one question: are you willing to give up a sideboard slot for any of these? Sideboards in Pauper are fairly tightly Constructed after years and years of building and it can be hard to justify giving up any of them for cards like these. Time will tell, though, as this is fairly uncharted territory in Magic.

Beaming Defiance

Having access to cards like Karametra's Blessing, Gods Willing, Mutagenic Growth, and Emerge Unscathed makes this a pretty tough sell for something like Heroic. The difference between one (or even zero) and two mana is a lot. I'd only recommend this if you're having a hard time finding any of the above cards for your paper decks and only as a temporary replacement.

Defend the Campus

There's probably going to be someone out there looking at this card who thinks the modal aspect of this makes it worthwhile. Sadly, four mana is simply too much to be relevant in Pauper, so I'm going to go out on a limb and say this probably won't do anything anywhere.

Eager First-Year

This would be really cool for decks like Boros Bully or Heroic if we didn't already have access to Seeker of the Way. This might be worth running if you need a 5th or 6th, but generally those lists are tight enough as is I don't see it really showing up in the format.

Expel

Swift Response already exists and doesn't really see any play. An extra mana for exile (which isn't quite as relevant in Pauper) isn't going to break the card or anything.

Guiding Voice

On one hand, I really like this for Heroic. It simultaneously fuels your creatures and digs up whatever lesson you might need in the moment, as there are actually multiple that feel like they could work in this kind of deck. The problem is the +1/+1 counter is minimal (remember Light of Hope, which has serious versatility, sees no play in the archetype) and then you need to take up likely multiple sideboard slots for the lessons. So, while there's some great lessons for the deck (especially Expanded Anatomy), it's arguable that you'd rather have the actual sideboard slots for, you know, sideboarding. You can always rummage (discard and then draw) if you don't want a lesson too, so there is that, but it still feels like it's not quite there. If there's any of the Learn cards that see play, it's this one, but I'm not entirely convinced.

Pilgrim of the Ages

Some people will point to Kor Cartographer, but that card notably puts the searched land directly onto the battlefield, whereas Pilgrim puts it to your hand. The repeatability is nice and all, but it's very expensive, and by that point you likely don't need the land anymore. What's more, the only decks that run that many basic Plains are Mono-White Heroic and White Weenies, both of which really don't want this.

Star Pupil

Did someone say Arcbound Worker? This is notable in that you can also move ability counters created by some of the various spells from Ikoria. I could see this as a thing in certain White Weenie builds and counter heavy decks, but not many other places beyond that. It's simple and elegant enough, though, that I like it and would expect to see it from time to time in the future.

Study Break

While Learn does offer some pretty interesting ground for us to explore and provides extra flexibility, I'm not sure it's enough to make a tap two creatures instant good. They've never been that great in the past for the most part and it might not be nearly enough here. The fact that it basically reads "tap two creatures and draw a card of your choosing" does make it a little more enticing, but probably not enough given the power level of the common lessons. Ardenvale Tactitian also gives a creature - a sort-of cantrip in a way - and doesn't really see play, nor does Expose Evil which can actually draw cards without needing to rummage. I wouldn't expect this one to make a big impact.

Arcane Subtraction

Much like Study Break, this kind of effect has shown up at common before and yet hasn't really ever made it in the format. Many of these also straight up draw a card without other requirements so I'm even less confident in this card's playability. Still, the ever-present flexibility to take a specific card you might actually want is hard to overstate.

Burrog Befuddler

This is another in the line of cards like Faerie Duelist, Zulaport Duelist, and Brinebarrow Intruder that have shown up over the last few years. Those ones have all seen play, but I don't think this one will be nearly as good. Only giving -1/-0 instead of -2/-0 is a big deal, as is having a casting cost of two mana with the only added benefit being an extra point of power. This style of cards being more control and tempo-oriented means that we're not exactly looking to be the more aggressive and instead want to be as mana efficient as possible. Give me any of the three aforementioned creatures over this any day.

Bury in Books

This is the cheapest instant speed Time Ebb effect I believe we've seen thus far, and arguably better still since it doesn't go directly to the top but second from the top. Still, I think most players would rather just play Snap or Vapor Snag if looking for a bounce effect or else would look for a removal spell if paired with Black or Red.

Curate

We've seen a lot of interesting takes on Preordain-style effects and this is a really neat one, especially at instant speed. At the end of the day, though, I think the current cantrips are going to just win out as there's only so much that can be used in a given deck.

Frost Trickster

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I think this is the first time we're getting a more or less strictly better Frost Lynx. That card was already solid and made appearances from time to time in Pauper in the past, and giving it evasion like this could push it to be a more regular card that we see in the format. Given how a lot of Blue decks currently function as is, I think this is unlikely to make the cut on a serious level, but I feel like we'll see it infrequently as a one or two-of.

Pop Quiz

This has some big Think Twice vibes to it, but I think generally speaking you'd just rather the extra draw from that card instead of the Learn given the power level of the lessons themselves to other cards in your deck. On top of that, Think Twice rarely ever sees play these days outside of maybe the rare showing of Dimir Teachings and that alone makes me feel like this is unlikely to see play. That said, there is an outside possibility in something like Dimir Reanimator due to the rummaging part of learn, but even then, I think I'd rather have other discard outlets instead.

Resculpt

Ravenform has seen a non-zero amount of play since the release of Kaldheim but even then, it's largely showing up in sideboards of lower tier decks. The sorcery speed made Ravenform kind of rough, but at least it was only a 1/1. This making a 4/4 better make whatever you're getting rid of worse than taking repeated beats from this token. It's possible that there's a bit more of a desire to play this in the Turbofog lists that card has shown up in due to instant speed and the stats difference not mattering much versus fog effects, but I generally don't think it's going to show up all that much.

Serpentine Curve

This feels like a fantastic card for Izzet Pieces and other control decks. The deck previously relied on Flurry of Horns and sometimes it and similar decks would win through Goblin Wizardry. Having this gives you a much bigger and more consistent win-con of a creature rather than relying on continually casting more spells to pump your creatures. Might be a little rough in that having only one creature over two means it's a little easier to get chump blocked, but I'd imagine being an actual control deck would help mitigate that issue.

Arrogant Poet

If there ends up being a Mono-Black Aggro deck ever, this might just be solid enough to make the cut, but as of right now it's fairly unexciting.

Crushing Disappointment

Is this better than Sign in Blood, Night's Whisper, or Read the Bones? Probably not, but dealing out some extra damage to your opponents isn't nothing. Would expect to see this show up here and there but likely disappear just as quickly.

Hunt for Specimens

Making a small creature and drawing a card isn't too bad, but this still feels like too little value to me. That said, I could easily see this into something like Introduction to Prophecy being a solid play in a pinch and even then probably only in something like the Golgari Sacrifice list.

Lash of Malice

Now this is nice. While Defile has taken over its reins quite strongly at this point in Mono-Black Control, Disfigure still shows up a fair amount in the format and there's a lot of times where this can be just better. It can easily backfire if your opponent is jamming larger creatures where you'd want Disfigure so you can block and still keep your creature. If your meta leans on smaller critters and you run creatures with toughness big enough to survive this and turn it into a combat trick that way instead, then I'd suggest giving this a shot.

Mage Hunters' Onslaught

Removal and making combat trickier for your opponents to navigate? Seems pretty interesting to me. The only thing I don't like with this is the high mana cost (for Pauper at least) and the sorcery speed. It's a neat card that might pop up now and again but I doubt it'll make waves or anything anytime soon.

Professor's Warning

This feels quite good in Black, but at the same time I can't help feel like it plays in the same realm as Supernatural Stamina. That can both make your creature pseudo-indestructible and also can allow your creature to do more damage to take out a bigger blocker. Despite that, the card's never seen a whole lot of play, so it makes me wonder if it would really be worth it, but the flexibility here gives me pause to at least consider the card.

Specter of the Fens

There isn't much to note here except for the fact that in the decks that want it, it's basically an extra Bloodrite Invoker. There're exactly two reasons I could see this being played: one, it attacks and blocks better than Bloodrite due to flying and higher toughness, and two, the lower ability cost can arguably mean less clicks on Magic Online. I think the latter of those reasons is actually not as true because Bloodrite deals 3 instead of 2, but I believe people will still mention it as part of an argument in favor of the card. End of the day, though, just play whichever one you prefer.

Dragon's Approach

This card seems neat, until you realize that there's almost no dragons that are legal in Pauper, they're all pretty bad, and you're better off trying to burn your opponent with other cards instead.

Enthusiastic Study

This is a neat card with good stats and a cantrip as well. The big problem with this one is the mana cost. While it does seem pretty fair for everything happening on the card, three mana is still a lot in Pauper and even more so in aggro decks usually running less than 20 lands. As such, I don't think it'll make the cut, but I like the space being played with here.

First Day of Class

This one's pretty high on my list of Pauper playable cards for the set and could very well put Goblins back on the map thanks to some combos this enables. The potential here is so strong I think that learn might as well be flavor text. Here's how it works:

There're several ways you can make this work to your advantage as well. Skirk Drill Sergeant - common thanks to Vintage Masters on Magic Online - allows you to essentially flip over your deck and kill your opponent with the creatures since they all have haste. Alternatively, you could use any kind of Fireball effect or even use something like Makeshift Munitions to turn your infinite mana sacrifice engine into one that can actually win you the game in an instant.

There's a number of clear ways this card seems powerful and I doubt it will be solely Limited to Goblins when the dust settles. There's quite a few persist creatures in different colors and a good solid number of ways to do things with creature sacrifice. If there's one card that could spawn entire new archetypes or versions of archetypes, it's this. Expect to see it quite frequently in the future.

Fuming Effigy

This feels like the kind of card Tortured Existence lists can really make work to their advantage, as they frequently cycle through cards in their graveyard to other places, making this an easy way to whittle down an opponent's life total in a deck that normally plays at a glacial pace. What's more, it's a solid beater and blocker, and is easy to get back if it dies thanks to the nature of Tortured Existence as a deck. Feel somewhat confident that we'll see this in the future as decks in the archetype that feature Red come back a bit more.

Heated Debate

Uncounterable instant-speed removal is pretty awesome and rare at common, but at three mana I think I'll take my chances against the counter magic.

Illustrious Historian

As an aggro creature, this is kind of medium, but having the ability to get a second creature out of it in the late game if you flood isn't nothing. I doubt this will see play anywhere, but I'd also say it's not something I'd be terribly shocked to see someone bring to an event at some point.

Pigment Storm

This is the first trample damage spell we've gotten at common with the first and only other black-bordered one before this was Flame Spill, an Ikoria uncommon. Unfortunately, this is nowhere close to doing what Flame Spill did as it's sorcery and five mana for five damage. If you really needed a Lava Axe, I guess this might be better, but not by much.

Bayou Groff

So, this just goes straight into Stompy, right? The deck already runs Nest Invader and sometimes Young Wolf - both of which provide easy sacrifices to this - and it turns on Hunger of the Howlpack as well. There's a lot of games where you get stuck with a weak 1/1 that can't do much, so to turn it into a big ol' 5/4 while turning on other pump spells just seems very strong. It's not even a huge stretch to say you can even likely cast this for five mana as Stompy can very easily flood out. There's also something to be said about the fact that you can sacrifice a creature with Rancor on it, get Rancor back to your hand, and then put it onto the Groff here. It probably sees play in some other decks as well - like Golgari Sacrifice - but all told this just seems one of the most slam dunk cards of the set for Pauper.

Charge Through

If you happen to be in Red as well as Green, then Crash Through is generally just gonna be better. As is, there's potentially a home somewhere for a cantripping single target trample spell. However, given most Green decks already have several better options for granting trample on a more permanent or constant basis (Rancor, Elvish Herder, Setessan Tactics, Cartouche of Strength, Wildwood Invoker, etc.), I'm going to say this probably isn't worth running.

Field Trip

I can't even remember the last time Rampant Growth saw any real play and a quick search shows neither Nature's Lore nor Three Visits are seeing any play despite the Kaldheim snow duals. The fact that this only gets a basic and costs three mana mean even with the learn ability, it's still probably not all that worth it.

Mage Duel

There's a number of Green Aggro or Midrange decks out there right now running a ton of spells that I think this could see some play at some point. That said, it's got some fierce competition with Savage Swipe, Epic Confrontation, and Ram Through. Ultimately, I think it's a card that we'll see people try but won't end up making the cut in the end.

Reckless Amplimancer

Elves makes enough mana that having something like this as a late game mana sink could be reasonable, but then again, we've also got Wildwood Invoker so I'm going to say I'd rather have that instead.

Tangletrap

We've got cards like Crushing Vines and Broken Vines already that see zero play. I don't think this is going to be much better, even if it is that much cheaper to cast. Most of the time we simply don't need to take out a large flier like this and if we do it's probably a Spire Golem. At that point, I feel like I'd rather just have a Nature's Chant, Naturalize, or Return to Nature in my arsenal instead.

Blood Researcher

Generally speaking, I'm not a big fan of this kind of card, but at the same time I feel like there has to be a way to gain life frequently enough (perhaps Essence Warden and the like) to make this a large enough threat that it's playable. I don't expect to see it often, but I imagine it'll make some appearances from time to time.

Cram Session

Two mana for four life and draw a card isn't a really bad deal, even if you're ultimately limited in the choice for cards you can draw with it. Of all the learn cards I've seen, I feel like this one is going to be one of the more likely playable ones. Even then, though, I still can't help but feel like it's not something you'll want to rely on because of how much you'll be sacrificing sideboard slots for the lesson cards themselves.

Elemental Masterpiece

Much like Serpentine Curve, this feels like it could easily be a player in something like an Izzet Pieces deck that already relies on tokens to close out the game. This costing seven mana feels like it becomes pretty difficult to both cast and protect, but having the option to instead discard it to make more usable mana feels pretty versatile. I still feel like I'd rather have the other options already in use over this myself to end games faster

Eureka Moment

When was the last time you saw someone play Growth Spiral or even Coiling Oracle in Pauper? Drawing an extra card is nice and all, but I don't think it's worth four mana for this kind of effect.

Infuse with Vitality

Guaranteed killing a creature, gaining life, and making your creature pseudo-indestructible seems like a great deal to me. However, as I mentioned before, it's not very common that we see these effects (like the Supernatural Stamina I mentioned earlier) or even really combat tricks in general make it to Pauper. There's enough going on here that I like it and find it to be interesting, but I feel it won't make the cut.

Lorehold Pledgemage

This seems like a weak sort of creature for Blitz type decks or decks that already run Seeker of the Way, but the first strike is notable enough to make me at least want to consider this. I don't think it'll make it into Pauper, but it's not far off. Would expect this to show up in something like Arena Pauper though.

Make Your Mark

Now this card is actually interesting. I can't find any Gatherer rulings or the like at the time of my writing this, but if I understand this card correctly, you can target an opponent's creature, kill it, and you'll get the token - not your opponent. Even if you decide not to use it in that way, it still feels like a neat thing for Heroic decks to have access to. I could definitely see this seeing play - especially as a one mana instant.

Needlethorn Drake

I can't help but feel like Tidehollow Strix is generally just better, especially since we don't really see Simic as a color combination very much in Pauper. Still, this is something newer to those colors in Pauper, as Winged Coatl is three mana and all, but I still can't imagine this will really make that big of a splash in Pauper.

Prismari Pledgemage

This is one aggressive creature. Lots of low to the ground decks run plenty of spells and this can easily get in some heavy damage repeatedly in the right build. It's not that much of a stretch to see this in something like, say, Burn where you constantly have a steady stream of instants and sorceries coming through.

Spectacle Mage

I feel like people are going to see cost reduction on a solid evasive body for a relatively low cost and think this is great, but in reality, most instants and sorceries in Pauper aren't five mana. Heck, even Goblin Electromancer just doesn't see much if any play these days, and so I doubt this is going to show up hardly at all.

Spiteful Squad

Hey look, it's the modular thing again! But here, four mana for two counters is a lot worse than one mana for one counter. Don't expect this card to show up anywhere.

Stonebound Mentor

My first thought was that this is a solid body but not that solid in terms of Pauper. Its ability isn't even that great for Tortured Existence decks because unlike Fuming Effigy, this is two colors that aren't usually run together in that type of deck. As I thought on it a bit more, though, I realized it might have an outside shot at being tried and tested in some of the various Boros lists in the format. With cards like Prismatic Strands, Battle Screech, Faithless Looting, and Firebolt - as well as cards returned by Reaping the Graves - it's not hard to imagine enough incremental value making this card worth running. That said, it does still feel too susceptible to removal to realistically be good enough, but I do like what's going on here and feel like someone's going to try making it work.

Teach by Example

Pauper gets a Fork style effect for (at least I believe) the first time ever! The difference is you can't copy an opponents' spell and you have to set up for it, but I have to imagine there's going to be several ways to make easy use of this card in the format. Burn can use it to copy larger bolt spells (double Fireblast anyone?) or you can use it in Flicker decks to get extra Flicker value. I look forward to seeing what having a fresh effect like this in the format does to things overall.

Thrilling Discovery

Every once in a blue moon we see Tormenting Voice, Thrill of Possibility, or Cathartic Reunion show up in Pauper. While discarding two cards (three if you also count this) is still quite a lot, but the option to skip that and just gain a little life is solid. Being in Boros (or should I say Lorehold) makes this a bit of a tougher sell considering the former three cards all largely show up in Rakdos Reanimator lists, but I think the potential is there for this to show up from time to time.

Excavated Wall

Steel Wall has definitely seen play in the past, and playing this as a way to fuel self-mill strategies while holding your opponents' creatures at bay seems awfully solid in my book. Can very easily see this in Tortured Existence lists to help in both of these manners.

Letter of Acceptance

There's just no way this can even hold a candle to Bonder's Ornament, but I have to imagine it can be a solid budget replacement on Magic Online where the Ornament is actually quite pricey (roughly 12 tickets as of this writing). Even then, we already have Magnifying Glass if you're looking for the repeated card advantage over mana fixing.

Lorehold Campus
Prismari Campus

Quandrix Campus
Silverquill Campus
Witherbloom Campus

There's been some real strong competition for these common dual lands lately. Generally speaking, the go-to has always been the Khans of Tarkir gain lands, but that changed a bit when we got the snow duals in Kaldheim. While those lacked any real bonus like the gain lands or these, they did offer the double perk of both being snow lands and having basic land types, which relevancy in several decks. Each of these lands lacks life gain or relevant card types, but it makes up for that with repeatable scrying.

Let's set things straight right now: most decks will want the latter land types over these. Pauper is usually a format of low land counts, small mana costs, and so on. Most decks that would even want a dual land (several of the format's archetypes are mono-color) don't usually have the luxury of spending effectively five mana a turn for a scry one. That said, I do think this kind of land has a couple homes. Tron is the one that most obviously comes to mind. If there's any deck with mana to spare, it's Tron, and it's always a deck hungry to draw into relevant cards, making these fairly tasty choices. The others I could see would include the likes of Orzhov Pestilence and Boros/Mardu Monarch - both of which go long into the game and want to make sure they're continually drawing gas.


And that wraps up this lecture! Hopefully you all took some solid notes and can make some good use of what you've learned here today in your future games of Pauper. Just make sure you stay on top of your work. You never know when someone might test you.

I'll have another lesson in June with the release of Modern Horizons 2, and if it's anything like last time, I'll be reviewing every single common card! Until then!

Kendra Smith

Twitter: @TheMaverickGal

Twitch: twitch.tv/themaverickgirl

YouTube: Kendra Smith

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