Hey Magic players! Strixhaven has dropped, and some of us already have prerelease kits in our hands. Unlike basically every other set in the last few years however, I’ve been deliberately blind to spoilers! I saw some really wordy double-sided Legends in the early going, and glazed like a donut. I didn’t even get through a single card. Turns out, in this school-themed set, they actually want us to read heavily and Learn things. Go figure.
I ordered a prerelease kit, and chose Slytherpuff, aka Witherbloom, because I enjoy the black/green combo. It’s strong but mostly fair. In Strixhaven, the combo is all about plant-loving goths. I expect equipment that includes large hats for going out in the garden safely under a hot sun, and probably a possessed diary. I’m hoping for some sweet plant monsters, and an undead professor that wants to tend them lovingly. What will my prerelease bring?
For starters, each kit contains a foil, ‘2021 stamped’ promo card. I got Teachings of the Archaics. It seems bad. Draw 2 for 3, which is the classicly OP Divination, or draw 3 for 3 for a drawback (opponents with substantial card advantage). It’s a Lesson, so I can summon it from the sideboard when I Learn, which is not something I can do in Commander. This is a fail for me. Hope there’s Standard demand. It also seems a little stupid that it wasn’t a BG card.
Each kit also contains a themed pack to support the school group in your chosen colours. My pack was mostly some very bad cards that make Pest tokens. There were 3 standouts, including Witherbloom Campus, an auto-include that is an excellent land option for Commander. The ETB-tapped condition gets a lot of flack from more competitive players, but they mostly work just fine. Adding scry on top is sweet. That’s always in demand, as is a low-opportunity-cost mana sink. Great stuff there.
Also interesting is Tenured Inkcaster. Vampire Warlock is an odd combo of types, but with an ETB ability and a fairly strong engine ability, by which I mean ability with a useful, repeatable trigger, it has some potential. There are tons of ways to get +1/+1 counters on creatures, and some decks can leverage this well. The plant tokens made by Avenger of Zendikar, for example, typically get +1/+1 counters right away (and appear in great numbers). Tenured Inkcaster makes it so they don’t even have to connect before they do some serious work. 5 CMC and a 2/2 body kinda suck, but neither of those is too big a problem in Commander.
I did get a Mythic in the pack! My big bonanza card is Professor Onyx. Yay, Liliana. An expensive planeswalker that forms a win-the-game combo with Chain of Smog (targeting yourself) is not really the kind of card I want. It’s certainly going to be a huge target if it resolves, and doesn’t do enough the turn it comes down to justify spending 6 mana on it unless you plan to Chain of Smog or unleash a flurry of spells. I’m sure many players would love this, but it’s probably going to sit in a box with other PWs I’ve opened. The collector in me likes it.
I’m not going to mention all the cards I opened in the rest of the kit, but I’ll touch on a few from each pack that raised my eyebrows a bit. Overall, I’m pretty lukewarm on the set. But there are clearly a few gems.
Pack 2 contained rare land Vineglimmer Snarl which is part of a derpy cycle that started in Shadows Over Innistraad. Frankly, the scrying commons are better. I also got the first of a few copies of Environmental Sciences which is just shy of being a Commander staple. If the land was put directly into play, so much better, but this can help a few mana-starved decks, including colourless ones. My Mystical Archive card was Strategic Planning. Ouch. Cool art, though.
Pack 3 contained Blot Out the Sky which I’m still trying to grok. I’m afraid it sucks. The Inklings fly, but have no tribal synergy with anything. They also come in tapped, which often means a boardwipe will sweep them away before they can even be a threat. The card can put an incredible amount of power on the board for the mana, but it’s at sorcery speed. The wildcard aspect is that if you pay 8+ mana, it nukes everything that’s not land or creatures. Is that good? I’m not sure. I’m going to try and play this one and find out.
The pack also contained permanent-destroyer Mortality Spear which is a nice option for decks that gain life easily. While there are cheaper-to-cast options at 3 mana, this is still a solid piece of removal and is totally playable. Zephyr Boots caught my eye as well as a cheap piece of equipment that add evasion in the form of flying and looting. Lots of applications there, including just card filtration. Bear in mind the looting is not optional if the creature connects.
Also in the pack, Dragon’s Approach deserves mention. You can exile it and 4 copies of it from the graveyard to summon a dragon directly from your deck. Like most of the other ‘any amount’ cards, this is likely to spawn some sort of nasty combo deck that spits a bunch of dragons into play before the opponents can deal with them. This will likely pair with cards that turn your hand over, like Wheel of Fortune, and dragons that have/give haste. Finally, my MA card was Eliminate which is probably headed for my cube.
Pack 4 contained stupid rare Verdant Masterpiece which is either a semi-political version of Explosive Vegetation with an added land-in-hand, or a really bad overcosted Explosive Vegetation with 2 added lands in hand. I say political based on the land coming into play for somebody else, which you can offer up as a bargaining chip or something. There are always corner-case applications for spells that can be cast for amounts other than their mana value, and group hug, politics and friendship decks really tickle some peoples’ fancies. But I think this is hot garbage. Oof.
The pack also contained an intriguing uncommon in Storm-Kiln Artist. It’s a dwarf, which might be relevant, and a shaman, which isn’t likely to be for a while, and it has a power-increase ability that might catch someone napping at some point. But the big win here is the ability that creates treasures on cast or copy. That’s fuel for more spells, plus artifact ETB, sacrifice options, etc. Red decks often need mana, too. This is potentially very, very good. The MA card was Electrolyze. Meh. Cool art.
Pack 5 had several interesting non-rares, because the rare… well I’ll come back to the rare. But first, I quite like Teach by Example as a solid copy spell. Introduction to Annihilation also seems totally playable, especially for colourless decks. In a pinch you can kill your own thing to draw. Fuming Effigy is a nice boost for red spirits if you like that sort of thing, and is a legit kill condition if you can leverage it properly, one card/trigger at a time. I also like Hall Monitor. He’s fun. And Letter of Acceptance is one of the best Manaliths ever.
Less great is Pilgrim of the Ages. I wish they would just retire the half-hearted attempts at white ramp. We see you trying, but the reason this guy is a spirit is that he died of embarrassment at being inferior ramp to Environmental Sciences. That’s probably a sleep-through lab course for the Quidditch team. Ugh. Just a reminder that best case scenario here is chump blocking then paying 9 mana total to grab a second Plains from your deck to your hand. Yeah, card advantage!
The MA in the pack was Adventurous Impulse. Blah. Cool art. …And the rare… was… Hall of Oracles…. … … Yeah. That’s a card. It’s Shimmering Grotto with slight upside. Or comparable in a lot of ways to Cave of Temptation, a common from Modern Horizons. Yes, it’s repeatable, but it’s narrow, suffers from poor timing, and is otherwise Unknown Shores which is also Shimmering Grotto. Not impressed.
Pack 6 contained my first Double-Faced-Dean (DFD, probably also an acronym for something really horrible. Thanks Internet!). I’ll start on the back side of the card I got. Nassari, Dean of Expression is pretty cool. There aren’t many Efreets and there are some SERIOUS Efreet hosers, but I love Stolen Strategy and this is the Command Zone version. On the front side is something less cool. Uvilda, Dean of Perfection is like a much worse version of Jhoira of the Ghitu. Slower, tap-intensive, and full of confusing ‘hone’ counters and not-so-great discounts. I’m tired. This card isn’t helping. I’m just going to turn it over and put it in an opaque sleeve and forget the blue side exists.
From the same pack came Overgrown Arch which is going straight into my Nethroi, Apex of Death deck. It does it all! Zero power, card draw plus discard, self sacrifice, and an incremental lifegain ability if it gets to sit there and block 1/1s for a few turns. Nethroi loves it!
I’m sure my cube will also love Rip Apart, which is versatile enough to make up for not being instant speed. Pillardrop Warden is interesting too. I like red spirits, what can I say? It’s a big butt blocker with a semi-relevant self-sac ability. And a dwarf. And according the very confusing flavour text, might be a giant? Are there giant dwarves? We have jumbo shrimp….
Wrapping up the kit is Team Pennant, not really great but cool for a niche equip cost modifier, and my sixth and most exciting MA card, Revitalize. In an earlier draft of this article there was a lot of exclamation marks at the end of the previous sentence to show my celebration and general dancing around at seeing this highly playable staple in glorious alt-art form, but I felt like it wasn’t fair to hold this potential heirloom of a card over all your heads.
Seriously, though: Revitalize??? Was this based on demand from an official poll? Can I see this poll? Was the pool on white cards that shallow? Keep the trolls to the creature type, please, Wizards.
I don’t know about yours, but my LGS gives out a couple of bonus packs with the prerelease kits, so here are the highlights from those packs, too.
Bonus pack 1 yielded a solid haul of decent cards. I like both Decisive Denial and Infuse With Vitality. I’d play with Infuse, and will likely shove Denial in my cube. I also like common card Crushing Disappointment, which hits everyone for 2 lifeloss and draws you 2 cards at instant speed. A Prismari Campus was nice to see, but the MA Agonizing Remorse is so not my style.
The rare was the very interesting friendly Eldrazi Wandering Archaic. At face, it sort of looks a bit like Rhystic Study or Mystic Remora, but I’m a bit wary. Also it looks like an Eldrazi. Doesn’t it? Maybe I’m paranoid, but no face, lots of arms and wandering in the wilderness are not usually a recipe for a Happily Ever After. Anyway, this is no Rhystic Study. This only triggers on instants and sorceries opponents cast, and can copy them. Unfortunately, a huge percentage of those spells in Commander are boardwipes, which aren’t really useful to copy. At 5 Mana value, the Archaic isn’t really costed to copy ramp unless you can power it out.
I’m not saying this is a bad card, because it’s certainly not. But I feel like there might be some undue hype around it. It is a cool colourless commander that isn’t Karn and (probably) isn’t Eldrazi. There’s even a back side, which is called Explore the Vastlands and is a straight-out group-hug land-and-spell put-in-hand kind-of-card. I personally would only cast this if I was in a situation where I needed to draw a game-saving/winning spell or lose. It makes sense with multiple copies in a 60 card format, but in Commander you’re more likely to enable an opponent you didn’t want to. So I’m just going to go ahead and flip that back over.
Bonus pack 2 yielded a Multiple Choice as the rare. I have already seen it cast and copied and even then it underwhelmed. At sorcery speed, this is more of a meme than a card. A Quandrix Campus was very welcome, and I guess getting a MA Negate is cool. As one final troll, the pack contained a sweet foil copy of Dina, Soul Steeper which I quite like, alongside a less exciting non-foil copy of Dina, Soul Steeper which I probably won’t ever use.
I’d also like to mention that the cards are already curling and they kind of smell bad coming out of the packs.
Overall, this is one of the least successful sets I’ve seen in a long time. I’m also not getting a ton of ‘Wizards’ School’ feels from it. There are school-esque tropes and card names, but I feel like this could be any magical workplace on any plane. I looked at the entire set and the power level looks low. I don’t see many cards I want at all. Many of the cards are overcomplicated callbacks to existing, simpler, more powerful cards, and Lesson/Learn combines a number of aspects of the game that I wish were eliminated, like tutors and sideboards. Learn is possibly best as a loot effect anyways, and might be obnoxiously strong on some cards in colours that don’t have reliable access to looting.
Magecraft should be strong, and will likely be a defining part of the set. Prowess has always done really well, and this is just a shade off that, and possibly better in some cases.
Like so much of Magic’s recent product and content, this could do with 6 more months to a year in development. Back to school with you, Strixhaven. Right now, you’re a C minus with some room for improvement.
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