Now that we’ve had a few weeks with Magic: The Gathering Strixhaven, the latest Magic set, behind us, we’ve been able to adjust to its new mechanics and really take in what it means for the future of the game. With some great theming and a nostalgic look to the past, here are our thoughts on the entire set.
Magic: The Gathering Strixhaven New Mechanic: Learn
Strixhaven is a set obsessed with trickery. It tells you one thing and goes the other way. Learn is one such mechanic that plays into this theme well. As an added ability to a card, it says “You may reveal a Lesson card you own from outside the game and put it into your hand, or discard a card to draw a card”. On one hand, it's a fairly basic cycling card that allows you to go through cards quickly. On the other hand, it’s a totally unpredictable spell card. In casual play, this means you can grab a lesson from where you like, in competitive you grab from your sideboard. Although less powerful in competitive play, this could still shape the flow of battle heavily. One great card to grab is Field Trip. For just three mana, you can search your land for a forest, put it onto the battlefield and search for a lesson card. Early on, this could be a devastating way to ramp.
Magic: The Gathering Strixhaven New Mechanic: Magecraft
Fitting right into that theme is performing sorceries right in front of your eyes. Magecraft says what it does upfront but becomes much more deadly the further on you get and the longer you allow it to do what it likes. In its basest terms, Magecraft activates an ability any time you cast or copy and instant or sorcery spell. This could do something light like adding +1 to damage for a turn or something much more destructive. The blue card Archmage Emeritus draws a card every time it happens, a great way of making your blue deck draw even more. For a control blue deck, this is an excellent way of guaranteeing card draws basically every turn. Though a little less secretive than Learn, this card has a lot of little benefits that only grow with time. For a game that’s all about the control of information, this will leave you on top.
Magic: The Gathering Strixhaven New Mechanic: Ward
The first evergreen ability from this set, Ward will mean a lot for Magic: The Gathering going forward. Luckily, it’s something we’ve already seen before. It just has a nice new name. Ward is an interesting ability and something that means a lot to a set all based around the magic of it all. It states “Whenever this creature becomes the target of a spell or ability an opponent controls, counter it unless that player pays x”. This is essentially just a tax on a card that allows you a little more confidence that they will stay unharmed. In cards like the legendary green/blue card Adrix and Nev, Twincasters, it makes her more formidable. She doubles token creation passively but now also requires players to pay 2 to target her. She’s powerful enough to be a threat but often not quite powerful enough to wipe out your mana resources, a great inbetween for the ward ability. It thrives under the radar, on creatures that aren’t quite worth it, until they’ve built a nasty combo and wiped the floor with you.
Magic: The Gathering Strixhaven: White
White is in an odd place this time around but not one I’m really mad at. There’s a satisfying pace to combat here that is accentuated by some interesting combat abilities. It doesn't play with the weird and wondrous abilities you might expect from Strixhaven being a very “You get what you see” style deck. There’s a little more in here to offer information and a few aggressive cards that really stand out. The likes of Expel offers flexibility at a low cost being a 3 mana instant card that exiles target tapped creature. Mavinda, Student’ Advocate is a flying 2 / 3 for 3 mana that allows you to cast instant or sorcery cards from your graveyard. The spell costs 8 more if it doesn’t target your own creatures - encouraging self buffs, something White is known for. White provides a surprising amount of decently strong cards, something worth keeping an eye on for the future without being a mainstay. You won’t find something here that will be played all the time but you will find some strong cards.
Magic: The Gathering Strixhaven: Blue
Blue is much like white. It has some pretty good cards but nothing that stands out that much. The Strixhaven is about that joining of ideas and the destructive results they could have so its all about adding them together creatively. For this purpose, there’s plenty to look for in blue. Multiple Choice is an interesting card to keep your eye on. For 2 mana, you scry 1 and draw. For 3 mana, you return a creature to their owners hand. For 4 mana, you make a 4 / 4 blue and red elemental creature. For 5, you do all of those. Each individual part is pretty good but combining them all makes this an oddly devastating card. It gives you so much information whilst putting down a little blocker too. They don't take advantage of the new mechanics as much as you might think but it's worth looking at Archmage Emeritus, Waterfall Aerialist and Dream Strix for a few that use them well.
Magic: The Gathering Strixhaven: Black
Black feels like one of the more standout colours this time around. With a great planeswalker and some really strong spells, this is one to watch. It plays into what you expect from a black dark but it adds enough in there for some creativity. Professor Onyx is an excellent planeswalker this time around. For 6 mana, she comes in with 5 loyalty and the passive ability to gain 2 life and make the opponent lose 2 life every time you cast or copy an instant or sorcery spell. Another great card is Sedgemoor Witch, a 3 mana 3 / 2. It takes advantage of both Ward and Magecraft. It comes with menace, Ward for 3 life and magecraft to make a 1 / 1 black token creature with “when this creature dies, you gain 1 life”. This is an excellent card that is a high target but getting rid of it requires a removal spell and requires the player to lose 3 life at minimum. Black, this time around, is loaded with cards like this — high target cards that damage the opponent to get rid of.
Magic: The Gathering Strixhaven: Red
Red is a little underwhelming off the back of the black set. There are some pretty decent cards in there but they don't play into the theme quite as well and they don’t use the mechanics quite as well as they could have. There are few cards worth mentioning but they are mostly fairly middle of the pack. Crackle of Power is a great way of wiping out pieces of a board or eliminating multiple small creatures. For two red mana and 3 x, it deals “five times x damage to each of up to x targets”. This means for 8 mana, you can deal 10 damage split up among multiple sources. It's expensive but really strong for 5 or 8 mana. Heated Debate solves a similar issue, being a 3 mana card that deals 4 damage to target creature or planeswalker and cannot be countered. Red has a few excellent removal spells but not much else worth talking about.
Magic: The Gathering Strixhaven: Green
Green is one of the better colours this time around, with a decent mixture of abilities and interesting mechanics. Green isn’t hugely complex but it is pretty huge. Starting out, the Dragonsguard Elite is an excellent card worth mentioning. With the way it plays into new mechanics and builds with time, this is a great choice for any deck. It comes with the magecraft ability that adds a +1/+1 counter on them when you cast or copy an instant or sorcery spell. You can then double counters on them for six mana. Coming at a casting cost of just 2 and base stats of 2 / 2, this is an excellent card. If you cast it by turn two, you could have 10 /10 within just a handful of turns. Another great one that plays into the new mechanics is Gnarled Professor. For 4 mana, you get a 5 / 4 creature with trample and learn. Without the learn ability, this would be a solid card. With it, the card is great.
Magic: The Gathering Strixhaven — Verdict
From weeks of testing out the latest set, there is so much to like here. The new abilities all work in the set, with none of them feeling out of place thematically. They all add their own unique flair and Ward becoming an evergreen ability is something that likely should have happened a long time ago. While there doesn't appear to be much here that is overpowered, there are plenty of cards that have made themself a threat for the future, with interesting abilities and ways of playing with the formula. This is a really solid addition that plays it safe but plays it well. The same can be said for the theming and aesthetic. There’s a real nostalgia at work here, no doubt made to coincide with the Time Spiral Remastered set. I really like Strixhaven college and everything it has to offer me. The unique japanese art cards are great collectors items and those who like to play casually shouldn't get something out of its magic centric theming and new dynamics. The way each colour represents different schools and philosophies plays into the meta analysis of players in really interesting ways that are fun to explore and great to look at. Strixhaven is that push I wanted from Kaldheim and its something I can’t wait to follow next.