Strixhaven seems like it is going to usher in a Standard that you actually want to play. There are powerful cards... There are cards that are going to see four-of Staple play all the way through Legacy... But it doesn't seem to me that this is a set where whole mechanics need to be rewritten, or its 4/4s for four have to be so quickly banned.
Instead, it seems to me that this is going to be a set like the original Ravnica: City of Guilds, Khans of Tarkir, or maybe Visions; where good cards can be played in lots of different ways, games have time to breathe, and as a result, interacting competently with the opponent is rewarded.
What a time to be alive!
Anyway, there is no special structure to the cards I want to talk about today. I mean, other than they are interesting; or I anticipate they will be important in Standard (or beyond).
Body of Research
Body of Research is, quite simply, the most interesting card in Strixhaven.
To begin with, it answers a question that you didn't even know you wanted to ask. Namely, just how big does a vanilla creature have to be for you to pay six mana for it?
This is easy:
This is easier:
Torrential Gearhulk is a Mulldrifter. It does an interesting thing - it does a potentially very powerful thing - when it enters the battlefield. Torrential Gearhulk has countered cards while putting a very respectable Mahamoti Djinn-sized body on the battlefield. It has exiled cards in the same way. It has bought back the Inspiration du jour or played Timetwister. It was big - if not the biggest thing in the format probably big enough - while doing something you might want to do.
Primeval Titan was - is - a Titan. When the line was drawn between Baneslayers and Mulldrifters, Baneslayer Angel (still Standard-legal) was literally the strongest large creature of all time. Chapin had no context for the Titan cycle. Yet.
But then came not one but five cards that were Mulldrifters on the way down, even bigger than a Torrential Gearhulk on six, but just kept generating value turn after turn. Would Primeval Titan just die to Doom Blade? Sure. But it might have won the game first. I mean, the game might not technically have concluded yet... It would just have been over.
But what about that Mahamoti Djinn size? 5/6 flying for six mana used to mean something. 5/5 fire breathing for the same was the early icon of the game. Not just that, but Shivan Dragon came back for a Standard soiree or two a decade and a decade-and-a-half after its initial run. But who would play a 5/6 (let alone a 5/5) for six mana that didn't do anything else?
The game has been harsh on Baneslayer Angels the past few years. The fireworks go off for Omnaths and Uros. Or at the very least you have built-in two-for-ones that ruin beatdown like Lovestruck Beast.
So, what is a reasonable vanilla power and toughness? Would you play a 6/6 for six? Um, does it make 10 power in Zombies the turn it hits play? Can they easily block it? What about a 7/7? Nah? A 10/10?
A 10/10 is kind of interesting, isn't it? It's there on rate - kind of an uncharted rate, at least - but still might not be good enough. I think I'd put it on 12/12. 12/12 is big enough for a vanilla that I might pay six mana for it.
The expectation on Body of Research's Fractal is upwards of forty power (and toughness!)
It's a really fascinating card. Not only does it answer the question of size, it queers the age-old. Does it just die to Doom Blade? Sure! But what if the opponent doesn't have a Doom Blade? What then? This gigantic Fractal doesn't explode the local vegetation, spit fire, or distribute an Arc Lightning. All it does is kill the opponent completely to death.
Provided it hits!
But as a vanilla, it also doesn't have flying or trample. No matter how big it is "on paper" the Fractal can be held off with the tiniest Saproling.
In Standard, how can we possibly make this card worth running?
Will this card be best in Ramp? As half a combo Fling-style? Per our opening paragraphs, the joy here is that it's probably going to be effective (and fun!) in a variety of different kinds of decks. I've even thought about it in Battle of Wits. You know, for the LOLs.
I think it compares kind of nicely to a Glistener Elf. Some buff cards can look even better on this one!
When everything is going right, Clever Luminmancer can hit even harder than a Soul-Scar Mage. The problem is, this might be a Boros beater without a real home. Part of Soul-Scar Mage's kit in Modern is just the ability to come out on turn one so it can flip the switch on Light up the Stage or Skewer the Critics on turn two. Zero power isn't going to do that.
It's also a little worse than Steppe Lynx. Steppe Lynx had all kinds of similar-looking numbers printed on it; both in the text box and the bottom-right. But Steppe Lynx (equally inoffensive unenhanced) could be turned on without needing mana on the second turn. Clever Lumimancer either needs to be played with stuff like Gut Shot or you'll need to make an actual mana investment before it does anything.
I am more in the Glistener Elf camp than the Soul-Scar Mage one. But I really think this card needs to be played with Blue. Cheap cantrips - cards that don't just trigger its buff but keep it going - to keep doing what it wants to do.
Hear me out for a second. People are happy to draw two cards at instant speed for four mana. They do it all the time.
The most prominent Glimmer of Genius archetype played literally no energy cards! Scrying for two was nice, but against the aggressive opponents of Approach's era, Hieroglyphic Illumination spent far less time in the sideboard.
Believe it or not, the original Inspiration was a mirror breaker in its day.
So how about this card? What makes the Strixhaven version worth the Green splash?
Besides just being Inspiration-esque, this card can Ramp you four-to-six. I'm not saying I would immediately tap out for Body of Research... But I would be very tempted to immediately tap out for Body of Research.
Or, if you're boring, you can just play your land and say, "Go." You'll have mana to cast your next Eureka Moment with two open for some interaction.
This card seems like a sweet little digger to me. As a sorcery it's a bit less sexy than Telling Time... But I can still imagine someone casting this on turn two.
You'll want to wait until turn three if you can, though. That way, if you have a land in your top three, you can play it while still banking another card. It's also very good very late, when hitting your land drop (or even making an inexpensive proactive play) doesn't mind an initial two mana investment.
Pilgrim of the Ages
I've been an avid player of Borderland Rangers and Civic Wayfinders for as long as there have been Borderland Rangers and Civic Wayfinders. I like the 3-drop that searches up a basic so much that when Pilgrim's Eye was first spoiled, my friend Brian David-Marshall predicted I would play it in Standard.
It has an inherent inevitability in that text box . This card can draw cards; defend; draw cards upon cards while defending you super late in the game.
But what is most compelling about Pilgrim of the Ages is that it is White. It's no big deal for Green to get this ability. But White? This is new ground.
Rip Apart is my pick for what will be the most widely popular card in Strixhaven. It's more flexible than Abrade - a card that saw deep main deck play in its Standard, plus is a mainstay of Pioneer and other larger formats.
As a sorcery, it's obviously a little clunkier than Abrade; but being able to target Planeswalkers and enchantments means that this card is almost never dead if played main deck. This is coming from someone who is generally less than enthused by his main deck Frost Bites.
Still, the 50% increase in power seems like a reasonable consolation prize!
Valentin, Dean of the Vein
Lorehold Excavation is the Strixhaven card of my heart.
Body of Research is the most interesting card to think about.
Rip Apart will be the most popular.
But Valentin, Dean of the Vein is the best.
On its face, Valentin is quite comparable to a Healer's Hawk. When I first saw Healer's Hawk, I thought the card was absolutely busted. Then I realized it shared a Standard with Goblin Chainwhirler. Yet... It went on to immediately win the Pro Tour. The Hawk never let up, contributing to multiple different styles of White-based attack last year.
Menace isn't quite flying... But there is also no Goblin Chainwhirler in the current Standard.
More than that, you get the little token-making add-on (something Healer's Hawk did not have). You don't have to get a lot of value out of Valentin's extra superpower... Any amount of exploit is going to look great. This card is already good enough (or close to it); and, more than anything else, costs a whopping 1 mana.
I mean, except when it doesn't.
Kicking it on four mana isn't the worst.
At the very least, you know that when you have Lisette in play, you have at least two different kinds of life gain... Somewhere in your deck.