jcf's picture
By: jcf, Jose Freitas
May 06 2021 1:00pm
0
367 views


After having a blast with Time Spiral Remastered, I did draft my share of Strixhaven: School of Mages.

STX been here for a while now and it will remain for a couple months, in many ways it is a nice set for limited. I have to say I am already missing Time Spiral Remastered.

There are things I like about the set and things I don't. I will cut to the chase and start with the points I don't love, so we can put that out of the way and move on to the nice features of Strixhaven.


The dark side:

This set is heavily leaned towards enemy colors pairs, and while I don't have a problem with that in general, I don't love how pushed this characteristic is.

In fact, there are so many playable or above average golden cards, that it is quite hard to not draft an enemy color pair, or at least a deck fundamentally based on an enemy color pair even if it has other colors in it. 

I feel like assembling the pieces for your deck often ends up being a rigid process. There certainly are choices but usually you don't have a lot of open paths to explore once you are set in a direction. And you must pick a direction relatively early, cutting your color pair as hard as you can, because you really don't want to be in a closed color pair when drafting Strixhaven I believe. 

I don't love how there a couple bombs that are close to unanswerable, Blot Out the Sky in particular bothers me a bit. This card is really hard to answer and it will take over most games very fast. I have to admit there aren't that many of that kind. Most bombs have reasonable answers or need at least some set up to be really effective.

vs

Add those Tangletraps to your sideboard! They might come handy! 


On the bright side, I really like how unique it feels, there are several qualities to this set that feels very original and unexplored in earlier sets.

1 - Spells Matter is an overall theme:

(Non-creature) Spells matter is not a totally new feature. There were several sets before carrying this characteristic, usually specific to Izzet or blue based decks. But as far as I am concerned, this is the first time Wizards launch this feature covering each and every color. This works really well with the flavor of Strixhaven - a school where students are learning to cast spells - and brings a distinct limited environment. Also this overall feature sinergizes quite well with teach/learn.

2 - Teach/Learn changes everything

The most ressemblance I can find with teach/learn is flashback.

In many ways, casting a spell with teach is similar to flashback since we get to cast a second spell after that one.

There are differences, the most important one is you must actually pick lessons while drafting to make use of your learn spells. This means you might have a harder time trying to utilize this strategy if your color pair is not open - for example. Also, often you must make choices, do I pick that lesson slightly increasing the quality of my teach cards or do I pick this really solid maindeck card? It adds an extra layer of complexity to your picks and makes the sideboard a more relevant zone.

Also it is interesting to note how creating those slots for lesson cards, sort of pushed the overall pickability of cards up. Having to pick lessons means you don't have the same amount of picks for mainboard cards. In a way, it is the same as building a 26/27 non-land card deck instead of 23. If you ever built a 26 non-land cards deck in other formats, you know how hard can it be to assemble 26 playable cards while drafting. I feel like they solved this issue by cutting down the unplayable cards as low as possible. 

3 - The color pair roles are switched:

This can be subtle sometimes, but the color roles are all crazy in Strixhaven! And we love it!

Don't get me wrong, colors can be in their traditional roles in some buids. but overall the tendencies can be quite different from the traditional path.

Let's start with Lorehold:

Red and white! This is supposed to be really fast, agressive and combat efficient, right? With tokens populating the board and mass pump spells bringing a knockout win, right?

Well, not really this time. While Lorehold does carry its share of agressive spells and creatures, some of the best builds I seem so far are actually... midrange.

First, we have pretty good removal and even mass removal in rare slots:

Heated Debate, Expel, Igneous Inspiration are perfect examples: Hold the bay while you set up your board.

Lorehold creatures are not that agressive, they don't usually have evasion. Ok, Relic Sloth does but he is sort of lonely in that task. they are not the biggest around also. Feels like they are more about creating value later in the game than being really agressive early.

Look at Pilgrim of the Ages: one of the best white creatures for this color pair in my opinion. It brings a little bit of ramp, a hard to deal with threat or blocker in the late game. Perfect for midrange decks.

Illustrious Historian is another card that follows this trend. It is more about generating value than being a great agressive 2 drop early game.

Reconstruct History is another interesting example. This card can generate an insane amount of value sometimes, but it works better in a longer game *and* in a deck with artifacts. Not something you are looking for in a really agressive deck.

Returned Pastcaller is an incredible card, but it is a six mana one. Again: more suited for longer games.

Lorehold Excavation, again, a powerful card that can take over longer games, doesn't really shine in a very agressive deck. It needs a couple turns to have an impact.

Seems to me that Boros is about warriors and engaging in war. Lorehold is about studying war, history, and the spirits of warriors. Boros is about aggression, Lorehold is about constructing a body of knowledge and eventually overwhelming your opponent with it.

I would also say Lorehold is the best color pair for learn lesson spells. Although this thematic is pretty solid in every color pair.

And then we have Silverquill:

Traditionally, this is the color pair that pays you off for gaining life, offers a wide range of removal and some grindy options.

That makes Orzhov one of the best options for midrange in many limited environments. In STX: while midrange is certainly possible with this color pair and removal is plenty, it really shines at being - oh well - aggressive.

Feels like Silverquill stole the "most aggressive archetype" title from Lorehold this time.

In Strixhaven, this color pair is really good at putting out flyers, pumping them up, protecting them and taking blockers out of the way.

Look at cards like: Arrogant Poet, Owlin Shieldmage, Shadewing Laureate, Exhilarating Elocution, Killian, Ink Duelist.

They are awesome and, can you get more agressive that that? Even some of the best removal, like Closing Statement pays off for having agressive creatures in play.

Cheap protection spells, like Beaming Defiance and Professor's Warning doesn't hurt either in making this color pair the most aggressive of all.

Looks like blue is not the one dominating the skies this time. At least not alone!

Quandrix:

Usually blue and green are about ramping, casting *big* creatures or tokens and having some bouncy effects or spells. So you can survive and hit hard with those big monsters mid to late game.

All boxes check in this case, we have payoff cards for having eight lands into play, like Kelpie Guide and Zimone, Quandrix Prodigy. Some big token producers like Fractal Summoning and Leyline Invocation, and some bounce for sure that can support this school.

But there is a subtle twist here also: while casting non-creature spells can benefit every color pair in this set. Quandrix has the strongest payoff for doing so: both Quandrix Apprentice and Quandrix Pledgemage give you the best return for casting spells compared to other schools. Traditionally, this should be Prismari's specialty.

Also, Quandrix give you more options to substitute a few creature slots with token creating spells than any other school. Allowing you to slightly increase the non-creature spell count in the deck.

What about Prismari?

 

Talking about Prismari's specialty, it seems to be reducing big spells cost with cards like: Spectacle Mage and Maelstrom Muse.

Eventually taking advantage of spells in your graveyard with cards like: Torrent Sculptor and Draconic Intervention.

Or alternatively, playing a more tight tempo game with cards like:  Prismari Pledgemage, Symmetry Sage and also borrowing Quandrix Pledgemage from Quandrix.

The big spells deck is certainly possible to assemble, but not really easy. In my experience, you need a lot of cost reducing dorks to make that deck work. Not to mention you need to take those expensive high impact spells pretty aggressively, and that can be risky in a format that seems to be learning to be faster in my opinion.

That said, the archetype is tons of fun and can be really powerful when it does come together.

Prismari is probably the most traditional color pair in Strixhaven, reducing instant and sorcery spells cost or playing a tempo game is nothing new for Izzet colors.

The novelty here is the incentive to play big spells, not something Prismari/Izzet is trying to do in most limited environments.

Witherbloom:

Traditionally, Golgari is a color pair that gives you value for manipulating your graveyard and payoffs for sacrificing creatures or permanents.

The sacrifice theme is certainly here. The graveyard manipulation, not so much. There is Brackish Trudge, but that looks more like a payoff for gaining life than anything else.

And that brings us to the twist: usually gaining life is white's specialty. In Strixhaven, Witherbloom will give you the best benefits for gaining life and the best tools to gain life also.

Cards like Blood Researcher, Dina Soul Steeper, Mortality Spear, Pest Summoning and Witherbloom Apprentice are perfect examples of that feature.

Seems like Witherbloom/Golgari stole one of white's most traditional feature for a while. The life gain deck can be quite strong when it comes together well. If you see those Blood Researchers fooling around, grab them!

The sacrifice theme also sinergizes with the life gain theme, since you can often sacrifice tokens that gain you life when they die.

That's it for today, my friends!

I hope you are enjoying Strixhaven: School of Mages limited environment. It does feel a bit prescripted for me, but it is quite balanced, the flavor is awesome and some games can be fun and unpredictable. What do you think about this draft environment? Let us know in the comments! 

See you next time!