Last week, we got a chance to sit in on a press-only preview of the newest Magic: The Gathering set, Strixhaven: School of Mages. The set releases on Magic: The Gathering Arena and MTG: Online on April 15th, and begins a physical rollout of pre-release and release after that. Doug Beyer, Principal Game Designer for MTG and Mike Turian, Principal Product Designer for MTG spoke at length about the story and the mechanics of the new set, so there's a lot to cover. Let's jump right in.
Welcome To Strixhaven
"With this set we really wanted to focus on the instants and sorceries of Magic: The Gathering," says Beyer. "This is the first time we've really focused in on spells in that way, so we wanted a world that really showcased spell magic. That's why we created this new fantasy world that's focused around Strixhaven University where mage students go to level up their spell casting."
As the title suggests, Strixhaven: School of Mages is all about a university devoted magic, and its five colleges represent five very different fields of study, each headed up by a legendary dragon (though we didn't get to see their cards in the preview). "So each college here represents the combination of two opposing mana colors in magic," says Beyer. "And each one is mimicking the magic and the academic specialty that its founder dragon favored. So each of these colleges was founded by an elder dragon and the colleges now follow that magical specialty in their own ways."
Lorehold - Leave No Stone Unturned
"Lorehold is called the college of archeomancy, they study the history of the world and revive the ancient past by literally bringing spirits back of ancient historical figures. They represent the colors of red and white in Magic, and their mascot is spirit creatures that represent those fallen historical figures." - Beyer
Prismari - Express Yourself With The Elements
"The Prismari are the college of elemental arts," says Beyer. "They are kind of our art students. This is the art school where people carry around portfolios with them everywhere they go. Except here they carry around fire, water, ice, lightning, thunder. All that elemental magic. Prismari are focused on blue and red, and are elemental creatures that are kind of their expressions of artistic creativity."
Quandrix - Math Is Magic
"Quandrix is the college of numeromancy, which is the study of the mathematical patterns and symmetries that underlie nature," says Beyer. "And it's represented by the magic colors of green and blue and their mascots are fractals, which are creatures made of living mathematical patterns."
Though they didn't mention it on the preview event, pay close attention to the mechanic Ward in the above card Adrix and Nev. This could very well be a new evergreen mechanic, potentially replacing the protective power of Hexproof, based on the teaser and other hints from head designer Mark Rosewater.
Silverquill - Sharp Style. Sharper Wit.
"The Silverquill college is the college of eloquence," says Beyer. "They wield the magic of the word, whether that's the spoken word or the written word. Battle poetry and arcane insults. Their mascots are inklings which are creatures made from living ink. And their colors are white and black."
Witherbloom - Get Your Hands Dirty
"We've seen math majors, history majors, Witherbloom are kind of our biology majors," Beyer explains. "They are the college of essence studies. Their magic is green and black and they focus on spells that channel the essence of living things to manipulate the forces of life and death."
As with all sets that involve multi-color cards, Strixhaven includes a set of rare lands called Snarl Lands. "This world has a lot of mana channeling through it," says Beyer, "especially places where two forms of mana interact. A Snarl is a kind of mana vortex, where two opposing, antagonistic forces of mana come together in a kind of a vortex."
The preview event also premiered new Planeswalkers, who encompass both famous students of Strixhaven and professors, including Liliana Vess, who returns to her alma mater as Professor Onyx.
The Mechanics of Strixhaven
Also released during the press preview event were the first details about some of the mechanics coming to Strixhaven.
"We're always looking for these fun core mechanics that really represent the world that we're going to," says Mike Turian. "And with Strixhaven we knew we wanted it to be about instants and sorceries, and giving it that focus. How come you're going to university? You want to learn new spells, you want to learn about all these instants and sorceries and the potential of spell casting. So with Magecraft the way we reward that through gameplay is by saying any time you cast or copy an instant or sorcery, you get a bonus."
Magecraft, as a mechanic, is seen in all five colors. And each follows a similar structure: cast or copy an instant or sorcery spell, get a small mechanical bonus. The bonus makes sense for each color (i.e. draw a card in blue, +1/+1 counter in green, etc.)
Lesson and Learn
This next mechanic, Lesson and Learn, is really rather new to the basic structure of Magic. "You actually go and get knowledge from outside the game," says Turian. "In this case, the knowledge represents a lesson card. So whenever you learn, one of your options is to go outside of the game, get a lesson card, and put that card into your hand. Alternatively, if you know you don't have a lesson you're interested in, you can simply discard a card to draw a card."
Now it is important to notes that there are restrictions to what they mean by "outside the game." As Turian explains, "If you're playing on constructed, you can choose any Lesson card in your sideboard. For limited, your sideboard is essentially all the cards you drafted and didn't play. In casual play, you can just go to town on whatever's in your collection. And if you're playing a game of commander, since you don't have a sideboard Learn/Lesson isn't as much of a thing. Although of note, you can just put a lesson card into your deck."
Finally, they revealed a really exciting new aspect to the game. "What makes Strixhaven relevant to the multiverse" asks Turian. "A big thing is, of course it is a premiere University, it is the place that every student wants to get accepted into and go to. But one of the ways we build up this reputation is, you have a feature like the Biblioplex, this library that has captured inside of it, and archived inside of it, all of these different amazing spells. Said to hold one of every spell ever cast in the multiverse. And so if it has these spells, that means it has amazing spells like Lightning Bolt. So, from there it's like 'Okay, it has these amazing cards like Lightning Bolt, how do we do that justice?" The answer, for the MTG team, was to create a card slot in each booster pack called "Mystical Archive," which could contain an Uncommon, Rare, or Mythic Rare card from across the history of Magic: The Gathering. These cards have their own set marker (aka they're not technically Strixhaven cards), and their inclusion doesn't impact their legality in formats other than MTG Arena's Historic. All of the uncommon cards in the Mystic Archive are already in Standard, like Duress pictured above.That being said, all Mystical Archive cards will be legal to play in Limited formats, including Draft and Sealed, which will lead to some truly absurd games of MTG.
Finally, the team teased Global Collector booster packs, which will contain cards from across the world in various printings and languages, including these beautiful Japanese variants of these Mystical Archive cards.
And that sums up everything we saw at the Magic: The Gathering Strixhaven press preview event! What do you think of the cards on display here? And the new mechanics? Will you be cracking packs looking for a Time Warp? Let us know in the comments below.