Strixhaven Set Review

Strixhaven Set Review

Strixhaven is the newest Magic set so it’s time for another set review. Strixhaven is all about instants and sorceries, it has a very strong school theme and offers a new take on faction based sets. Join me as I look at what worked and what didn’t.

Like all my set reviews, I focus on my favourite cards in the set. This could for new designs, beautiful art, excellent flavour or fun gameplay. These are all more important to me than power level, so don’t be surprised if I skip stand out cards for constructed. I absolutely love the stunningly beautiful mystical archive cards but reprints aren’t eligible for my set reviews.

Top Rares and Mythics

Strixhaven Stadium

Like many players I love alternate win conditions like Near-Death Experience and Battle of Wits. One of my favourites is Azor’s Elocutors which lets you win if you can nullify every threat your opponent plays for five turns. Strixhaven Stadium has a similar feel to it. The stadium also gives you one counter per turn and your opponent can fight back to stop your victory. I like that the Stadium adds a third interaction. You can also attack to speed up the clock and in fact you must do to win the game. This back and forth really does feel like a sport.

The stadium is also a mana rock too. Alternate win conditions like some I mentioned earlier are often “do-nothing enchantments” that do nothing until you win the game, which is harder to do when you spend mana on cards that do nothing. A little utility like this makes it less punishing for players who are focused on trying to do something different.

Professor Onyx

Lilliana is back! After leading an army of zombies during War of the Spark and betraying Nicol Bolas, Lilliana is living a quieter life on Strixhaven under a new name as Professor Onyx. I like how the disconnect between the card name and the card types tells the story on its own. It’s also interesting to see more hints into the larger story. Since War of the Spark concluded a story that spanned many years, the following sets have all had disparate stories. I expect that there is a larger story connecting them together and the characters and worlds we have seen recently will be important to the next big event.

I’m not sure if Lilliana is part of this big story though. This appearance feels more like a natural continuation of her story as she deals with the events of War of the Spark were Gideon sacrificed himself to save her. This is shown very nicely on the card Confront the Past. I love the flavour text showing how much of an impact his sacrifice had on her.

One of the most exciting parts of spoiler season is when players discover new uses for previously unplayable cards. Chain of Smog was a bulk card and completely forgettable, but with Professor Onyx or Witherbloom Apprentice on the board you get an instant win. There are over 21,000 magic cards so it’s impossible to be aware of all of them. Part of the fun of Magic is discovering cards that you didn’t even know existed and seeing them get a new lease of life.

Wandering Archaic

Wandering Archaic is one of the most unexpected cards in a while. Strixhaven has a lot more colourless non-artifact non-land cards than normal. In fact almost all cards that fit this description are associated with Karn, Ugin or the Eldrazi. Ikoria had some colourless creatures like Farfinder because artifact creatures wouldn’t have suited the mutation theme, but Strixhaven does a lot more with colourless spells than we have seen in the past.

Ignoring spells like Ghostfire and the devoid mechanic, there were only five colourless instants and sorceries in the game before Strixhaven which were all eldrazi spells. Instants and Sorceries being colourless was part of the weirdness of eldrazi and they are very strongly associated with colourless. I believe Strixhaven is a deliberate effort to show that colourless spells can do much more than just artifacts and eldrazi. Strixhaven has five colourless lessons like Introduction to Prophecy which represents a first year student before they choose a college. This works really well and I expect these colourless lessons to be high picks in draft.

Wandering Archaic is much weirder. Strixhaven is set on the plane of Arcavios but we don’t see much of it apart from the school. The archaics are the oldest beings on the plane, and like the star arches shown on Field Trip are thought to have been around since the Arcavios’s dawning age and are shrouded in mystery. These enigmas do bear a striking resemblance to eldrazi and unsurprisingly many have speculated on a connection. I’m sure there is no connection but I find the star arches in particular to be too similar to eldrazi patterns to be dismissed out of hand. If there were a connection I expect it will be many years before we get an answer.

Accomplished Alchemist

The Black-Green college is where the biology students hang out. Focusing on the duality between life and death translates into a life-gain archetype in game. This archetype has been done many times in white-black, so these colours have plenty of rewards for gaining life. Green has many ways to gain life but has lacked payoffs for doing so. Strixhaven gives green the missing pieces to the puzzle with cards like Accomplished Alchemist. Some players have complained that green is stealing mechanics from white, but the alchemist is a turbo-charged mana elf which would never be printed in white. Given the right support, you can produce absurd amounts of mana from this elf.

Fortifying Draught is a similar example where a Giant Growth variant belongs best in green. The uncommon legendary student Dina, Soul Steeper is the main sign post for this archetype, but also supports a sacrifice theme. Unfortunately many of the best green life-gain payoffs are in the Witherbloom commander deck and not in boosters, so the draft archetype might suffer as a result.

Kasmina, Enigma Sage

One of my favourite parts of War of the Spark was that amongst all the familiar faces, new planeswalkers were also drawn into the battle for Ravnica and we could only speculate on who they were and where they came from. We briefly saw the Wanderer on Ikoria with the card Blade Banish, but the Enigma Sage represents the first time we have fully met one of these planeswalkers and learned about who they are. It’s great to finally get the payoff to one of my favourite parts of one of my favourite sets.

Kasmina plays the role of mentor to Will and Rowan, bringing them to Strixhaven to study. We don’t know why she’s doing this, but her ability to share loyalty abilities is perfect for a mentor. It mirrors the ability of Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God who stole abilities and is a great way to add loyalty to planeswalkers that can’t gain loyalty like those from War of the Spark. Especially fun is that you can get an extra wizard from Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor.

Callous Bloodmage

There are a lot of modal spells in Strixhaven. Modal spells are a great way to design exciting cards that combine effects from multiple colours. The flexibility of these cards makes them powerful and they usually see play in constructed formats. A cycle of enemy commands like Lorehold Command complements the allied commands from Dragons of Tarkir such as Kolaghan’s Command but they seem to be less powerful and less exciting than the original two-colour commands.

Callous Bloodmage is my favourite modal card in the set. The third mode is graveyard hate that is essential in many formats. Running cards like Relic of Progenitus that might not synergise with the rest of your deck can be boring. The bloodmage is reasonable graveyard hate that has still plays well when you don’t need to exile a graveyard. Two bodies and the pest trigger is a great buffer against aggressive decks and creatures that replace themselves are always great.

Harness Infinity

As soon as you look at the name, the art and the mana cost, you know this is an epic spell. I absolutely love the art, and in most sets it would easily be my favourite art in the set. This spell is capable of being a bonkers card draw spell. It’s often said that graveyard decks use the graveyard as a second hand, and now other decks can too. This is the first green-black mythic instant and being an instant is so important. This can easily put twenty cards in your hand, but if you do it on your turn you won’t have mana left to cast your spells before you discard to hand size. By casting it on another player’s turn you can untap and play a few cards and then choose the best seven cards to keep. If you don’t mind the sorcery speed drawback Praetor’s Counsel is probably better, but the epic feeling I get from Harness Infinity makes me love it far more.

Another epic spell with a similar mana cost is Body of Research but this is one I don’t enjoy. I loved Animate Library in Unstable as a joke card, but Body of Research just makes a ludicrously big creature without any of the fun rules interactions of Animate Library. Normally to make a huge creature you have to spend huge amounts of mana or combine different cards together in an interesting way. The fun part of making a huge creature is the puzzle you solved or the challenge you overcame to do so. Paying six mana is just too simple to make this card fun for me.

Daemogoth Titan

Ever since Lord of the Pit when Magic first released, players have been sacrificing creatures to play huge demons. Apart from the demon trapped inside Elbrus, the Binding Blade, Daemogoth Titan is the biggest demon printed in Magic and it only costs four mana. To actually use it in combat you need to spend more, but the demon is remarkably patient. Older design philosophies would have forced you to sacrifice the demon if you couldn’t sacrifice another creature so I appreciate that you can wait until you are ready to start sacrificing creatures.

Another undercosted demon in Strixhaven is Daemogoth Woe-Eater. This demon is more like a classic demon in that it always hungers and forces you to sacrifice creatures every turn. However it also differs from those classic designs in that it gives you real compensation for doing so. Most interestingly of all, you still get this compensation if you sacrifice the Woe-Eater to other abilities like the titan. I like how generous this is compared to previous designs that could be extremely punishing.

Crackle with Power

A brand new mana cost is always fun and Crackle with Power is only the second triple X spell after Astral Cornucopia. I like how the spell scales so well with the mana you spend. For five mana it’s a common removal spell, at eight mana it’s a huge play that swings the game in your favour and any higher it gets even more explosive. This card is even better in this set with all the support for big spells in Prismari. Getting to eight or even eleven mana feels achievable when you have cards like Maelstrom Muse or Spectacle Mage. I expect that five damage for five mana will be the mode used most often but I love the potential for really memorable plays like dealing fifteen damage to three different targets.

Rowan, Scholar of Sparks

Modal double faced cards have returned again following Zendikar and Kaldheim. I strongly believe that the MDFCs in Strixhaven are the least interesting so far. The land MDFCs in Zendikar didn’t suffer from having huge amounts of text on both sides and since lands are so important to deck construction these were always going to be hits. It was guaranteed that players would be invested in epic characters like the gods of Kaldheim, but the MDFCs in Strixhaven have similar complexity without being as exciting. I expect many of these MDFCs will be pretty forgettable.

Rowan and Will are probably my favourite MDFC because it makes so much sense to combine them into one card. They cannot planeswalk without each other, and have even appeared on a card together before as The Royal Scions. I like that they share the same ability to make spells cheaper and that it stacks if you control both siblings.

Unfortunately it’s very difficult to play both sides of a MDFC in limited and commander which makes these double-faced self-synergies much less exciting. There is a cycle of deans like Kianne, Dean of Substance who all have the same ability to synergise with themselves. It’s hard to get hyped for cards that can’t reach their full potential in multiple formats like this.

Top Commons and Uncommons

Thunderous Orator

I love cards like Majestic Myriarch and Soulflayer that can harness the abilities of other creatures to become a combat monster with many different abilities. They are almost always rare or mythic rare but it has now been printed at uncommon. This is great for availability and by being a simpler card, it also becomes more efficient at two mana. Aggressive white decks already love cheap creatures so this is perfect. Play Skyhunter Skirmisher or Aerial Responder on turn three and the Orator is ready to attack with three keywords. I’d love the challenge of trying to collect the entire collection of abilities.

Another great card for these aggressive white decks is Elite Spellbinder featuring current world champion Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa. Following Fervent Champion last year, this is an even better invitational card. I’m really glad the best professional magic players can be rewarded in this way and this is a fantastic card to be represented on. This single target tax effect is a new ability for white and it’s a great tempo ability. Delaying a board wipe by two turns can easily decide a game. Interestingly it also shuts down other abilities and uses for cards. You can’t foretell Doomskar or discard a Griselbrand to reanimate it if they are exiled by spellbinder. I hope this taxing effect becomes a more frequent ability for white as I expect it will play really well without being broken.

Dragon’s Approach

The four-of limit is one of the most important rules in magic, stopping constructed decks descending into degenerate chaos but this rule didn’t always exist. Before tournament required balanced formats you could stuff your deck with as many copies of Plague Rats as you wanted. It wasn’t the most powerful thing you could do, but people loved it. In Fifth Dawn we got Relentless Rats which was the first card to break this rule. Now for the first time we have a sorcery with this ability, easily making Dragon’s Approach my favourite common in Strixhaven.

The simplest use doesn’t look very good. Casting five copies of this costs fifteen mana and gives you no creatures for blocking so your opponent will have an easy time killing you while you wait for a free dragon. But if a dragon costs fifteen mana is it really free? If you can mill four copies into your graveyard you only need to cast one Dragon’s Approach. If you are paying three mana to tutor and play a huge dragon that’s powerful and cool. This becomes a really interesting deck building challenge that you don’t usually get from commons. How do you mill yourself and which dragons do you include?

Alternatively you can abuse the fact that every card in your deck has the same name. This is perhaps one of the best cards of all time to pair with Thrumming Stone and I’m sure there are many more wild combos. I can’t wait to see what fun and creative decks the community can come up with.

Quintorius, Field Historian

One of the goals of Strixhaven was to create colleges that feel different from their Ravnica counterparts. The most extreme example of this is Lorehold, the college of history and learning from the past. History and the past are represented mechanically in game through the graveyard, so Lorehold is a graveyard focused deck that probably wants to slow the game down until it’s ready to exploit a stocked graveyard. This couldn’t be any further from the aggressive armies that Boros loves.

One of the themes of Lorehold is that it gets benefits when cards leave your graveyard. It’s a weird thing to care about and only three cards actually benefit from this, so the theme is really under-supported. Quintorius is definitely the best of these, but I doubt it is enough to carry the archetype. I’m not a fan of this particular mechanic, but it’s sad to see it given such little support.

Reconstruct History

A Lorehold card I much prefer is Reconstruct History. Instead of exiling cards from your graveyard for a few small spirit tokens Reconstruct History lets you draw up to five cards. Three cards for four mana is a great deal and not too difficult to do, but trying to get the maximum five cards is a really fun dream to go after. The biggest problem with this card is that red and white have the least self-mill which makes it much harder to use. Red has some discard effects like Faithless Looting but white is traditionally very bad at filling its graveyard quickly. This makes building around Reconstruct History a very interesting challenge that I’m looking forward to. This looks like a much more successful take on red-white than the under-supported exile theme.

Pest Summoning

My favourite creatures in the game aren’t even cards, but just tokens. Pests are some how cute and gruesome at the same time and are the mascot of the Witherbloom college. Each college has a mascot and a summoning that makes their token. What makes these summonings so powerful is that they are lessons. Every pack of Strixhaven has a lesson in it, and they aren’t as strong as normal spells, but they can start the game in your sideboard and be retrieved when needed.

To do this you need to use the learn mechanic on cards like Cram Session and Pop Quiz. There is a great web of synergies between lessons and learns. Once you have many lessons in your sideboard, every learn card in your deck can tutor up the perfect card for the current board-state. If you draft one copy of Environmental Sciences then every learn card in your deck can fix your mana. It’s incredible that picking up one card can let you play more colours and splash the best cards. I’m sure both lessons and learn will be incredible in draft. There are going to be tough picks in draft between the sweet rares, powerful gold cards, exciting mystical archives and the lesson and learn cards. I look forward to some incredibly hard decisions in draft.

Emergent Sequence

Grizzly Bears and Rampant Growth are iconic green staples that don’t see print very often any more. A two mana two-two isn’t good enough by modern standards and Rampant Growth is a little too strong. Putting extra lands on the battlefield gives you a permanent mana advantage that is too difficult to interact with. The middle ground created by combining the two is really cool. It gives standard ramp decks an extra two mana ramp effect whilst not shutting off interaction.

The other neat thing about emergent sequence is that it synergises and enables many different things. The Quandrix college has a sub-theme of controlling eight lands so this helps power up cards like Scurrid Colony and Kelpie Guide. Other cards like Tenured Inkcaster appreciate the +1/+1 counters and other cards like Golden Ratio work best with many creatures. I love a design like this that supports many different archetypes.

Waterfall Aerialist

It’s not everyday you see a new keyword introduced into the game. Ward is like a weaker version of hexproof, which is a good spot for a mechanic to be. Hexproof and protection can both lead to frustrating games, but a conditional defence like ward leads to more interesting gameplay. Paying four mana for a creature that does nothing but die to a cheap removal spell can be really painful. Ward softens the blow by making your opponent pay an additional price to even up the exchange. Opponents can still play interactive spells, but they have tougher choices to make when trying to destroy your stuff.

What I love about ward is that the cost can be almost anything. Blue might ward a creature with a mana tax like on the aerialist, but red and black can force you to pay life as seen on Owlin Shieldmage. It’s interesting how a keyword can be adapted to the flavour of different colours like this.

The name ward may be new, but we have actually seen it before. Wizards have experimented with effects like this in recent sets with cards like Swarm Shambler and Tectonic Giant. In fact Boreal Elemental and Terror of the Peaks have the exact same ability as ward. It’s cool to compare the different versions Wizards tried and makes you realise that there were plenty of clues in previous sets to the arrival of ward. Maybe by paying attention to current sets we can spot more experiments and predict future changes to the rules.


Sets based around two colours like Strixhaven are inevitably compared to Ravnica and dismissed as a derivative copy. I think these comparisons are unfair and overlook interesting differences. One striking similarity though is the quality of the two colour removal spells. Ravnica has given us classics like Abrupt Decay and Dreadbore which are powerful, cheap and often very flexible removal spells. Strixhaven has a similar suite of spells. Rip Apart and Vanishing Verse are clearly going to important in constructed formats, but Fracture is my favourite.

Fracture answers some of the hardest permanents to interact with very efficiently. It’s clearly a sideboard card, but sideboards are incredibly important in many formats and a sideboard card with many jobs can give you more room in the sideboard for other effects. Fracture may be simple, but it gives you the ability to prepare for a wider range of match-ups which can feel impossible in a format like Modern.

Go Blank

I always save a spot in my reviews for my favourite art in the set. Seb McKinnon has dominated the competition for this award but a new challenger has arrived. After a couple of showcase cards in Throne of Eldraine, Wylie Beckert started with Finishing Blow in the last core set and great art like Reclaim the Wastes and Soul Shatter in Zendikar Rising. She has only painted nine cards in total, but she’s already becoming one of my favourite artists in the game.

Honourable mentions go to the incredible patterns of Dragonsguard Elite and Verdant Mastery which are so rich and colourful. I would love to see more backgrounds like this. Another incredible art I must mention is on Hunt for Specimens which makes a swamp look like the most beautiful place on earth.

Clever Lumimancer

We’re all used to seeing rares and mythics being pushed in power level for constructed formats, but when lower rarity cards get the same treatment it feels special. Clever Lumimancer has some very real potential in a spells-based aggressive deck. Earning comparisons to Monastery Swiftspear, the Lumimancer trades haste and base stats for a bigger boost from every spell you cast. Played on turn one it can attack for huge amounts of damage on turn two. What is probably most interesting about this wizard is that it is white, which isn’t traditionally the colour for this play-style. Giving these decks a reason to play white makes for more options and more diversity.

This is one of the most exciting magecraft cards. One of my favourite things about Strixhaven is that has quite a different structure than most sets. Usually mechanics only appear in two or three colours and there is inevitably a draft archetype formed around the mechanic. A mechanic might be found in all five colours like landfall or kicker on Zendikar, but a particular colour pair always gets the lion’s share of the new toy. Faction sets are usually more restrictive. On Ravnica for example you never see the mechanic from one guild in a third colour. Strixhaven ignores the template and gives all its mechanics to every colour, letting every colour have fun with magecraft, lessons and learn.

Teach by Example

For the third time since I started my set reviews a Fork variant makes my list following Dual Strike and Doublecast. I don’t like to cover the same types of cards over and over again, but Teach by Example is so good. It’s the first time we have any type of copy effect at common which makes it much more accessible for casual players. The addition of hybrid mana is also huge. This type of card naturally slots into a blue-red spells deck, but copying a red spell with Doublecast is so colour intensive it’s much harder to run blue. Again this is so good for casual play where expensive mana bases aren’t available.

Another exciting new fork variant is Double Major. The ability to copy permanent spells debuted on Lithoform Engine but now we get it as in a much simpler and cleaner format. Like Teach by Example making this cost only two mana is very exciting as you have to pay this on the same turn as the creature you copy. I’m sure there will be some crazy combos you can do with this that let you copy a creature infinitely many times.

Golden Ratio

As a mathematician it’s no surprise I was intrigued at how the theme of a mathematics college would be done in game. Just playing any version of the game requires basic maths, but can you make fun cards about maths? You can’t require the players to do complicated maths and expect it to be fun, so how can you express the idea of maths?

Exponential Growth is the one card that really captures a mathematical concept using both the flavour and gameplay. Once you have enough mana you will see how exponential growth can get out of control. At the other end of the spectrum there are cards like Aether Helix where a beautiful piece of mathematical art makes the card feel mathematical even if the text on the card has nothing to do with helixes.

Golden Ratio is my favourite Quandrix card which is a very interesting design to me. The art really glues the card together. The golden ratio is an iconic number in mathematics and the related golden spiral has frequently appeared in art. The spiral depicted in the art is a magical stampede of creatures of different sizes which is exactly what you need to do to draw lots of cards with golden ratio. The idea of counting creatures with different powers has nothing to do with the golden ratio but it still feels very mathematical. Card art is always important, but this art is fantastic because it creates a really cohesive card for a cool concept that I don’t think you could design a card for otherwise.

Frost Trickster

Once upon a time, Wind Drake and Frost Lynx were examples of premium common creatures. Times have changed and while these cards are still iconic for limited junkies, a new bird has surely won their hearts. Freezing a creature is great for offence or defence and flying is one of the best abilities a creature can have in limited. Frost Trickster shows how far the power level at common has come.

Excavated Wall

My last card is a really simple one that is intriguing for casual graveyard decks. Every colour has access to some graveyard based strategies such as reanimating creatures or casting spells with flashback. Not all colours however are good at getting cards into their graveyard. Excavated wall helps keeps you alive until you can put your game-plan together and it can help fill up your graveyard too. I like that you can block and mill on the same turn. It’s slow and paying mana every turn is probably too prohibitive, but white in particular is really bad at self mill or discard. This rather plain card might be exactly what some decks need.