A Review of Magic: The Gathering’s Strixhaven Expansion, Part 4 of 4: Commander 2021

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With the imminent release of the new Strixhaven set, B Phillip York and FromTheShire are evaluating the first years as they make their way into the academy. Note that as our typical coverage is focused on Commander, we’ll be primarily examining the set’s cards through that lens, though where we think something might have use in another format we’ll make a note. For more on how the set will shake out in Modern, consider checking out The Dive Down Podcast, who do some pretty great analysis of Modern. If you missed our review of the set itself, check it out starting here!

 

Lorehold Legacies

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Osgir, the Reconstructor

Phillip: Effectively cloning an artifact in your graveyard twice is a nice bonus, though it’s vulnerable to flicker effects and graveyard hate, it’s very good value. It does require tapping, and comes in at 4 mana value, but even so playable as a commander or just in your deck, the +2 power ability isn’t particularly powerful, but it’s obviously intended to be used to put the artifact into your graveyard for cloning, though given Osgir has vigilance you can see attacking, saccing for more damage then copying an artifact after combat. This card definitely has enormous potential with eggs, or egg-themed decks, and most of those are white.

FromTheShire: Osgir is pretty perfect flavor wise, combining caring about artifacts and the graveyard ‘reanimation’  of red like Feldon of the Third Path with vigilance and an exile effect from white. The absolute first addition if you’re upgrading this deck is Anointed Procession for even more of that sweet token value. I would also add a Pull from Eternity to cycle your best artifact back into the game to make tokens with again. Artifacts can be one of the more powerful things in Commander, so getting two more copies of something like Myr Battlesphere is something I’m all about.

 

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Alibou, Ancient Witness

Phillip: This is a pretty solid golem, which is a tribe that a lot has been printed lately.  This is a card that actually potentially has some nuance to it, red has the ability to get extra attack steps, and straight-up blowing away enemy commanders on a triggered effect is pretty powerful.  The downside of course is it’s so blatantly obvious, and threatening, other players might not let it sit on the board.  There’s an increasing amount of Boros artifact interaction though so I think this could definitely be built around.

I actually think that if I was to build this deck, I would make Alibou my commander. Haste is very powerful because it allows you to surprise your opponents with big beaters they can’t prepare for. Spot removal is always handy, and because the damage can be done to any target, you can also go face with it if there’s a player sitting behind Propoganda effects, even if you attack a different player. The scry also provides some very nice card advantage in a color pairing that has historically struggled with it.

 

Angel of the Ruins

Phillip: So the obvious play here is to cycle this and then use a reanimation spell on it, reanimate, one of the enchantments, anything that will let you cheat out a big fattie.  It’s also a 5/7 flier, so I think this is definitely a viable card in some wonky reanimator decks.  It’s also generously triggered, with an up to, and two separate targetings, and it’s an etb so could be abused by blink effects.

This is a very useful effect stapled on to a good body. Because of being on that relevant creature the CMC is pretty high – typically I would prefer this effect to be on something like a 2/2 with appropriate cost reduction so you can actually get it out reasonably quickly and then start recurring or flickering for value. As is, you’re likely going to be looking for ways to cheat this into play like Feldon.

 

Bronze Guardian

Phillip: The real upside here is ward 2 for all your artifacts, but double strike on something with * power is pretty scary.  It’s not that hard to get a lot of artifacts into play, many decks work around that theory very nicely.  And treasures and clues and food are all artifacts, so there are many ways to generate tokens.  Not too many of those are in white, but Smothering Tithe certainly is.

Solid card. Double strike is always nice to have, especially on a creature that can grow to have a huge power pretty quickly. Ward isn’t bad although I think most of the times it will be more annoying than truly stopping your opponents from dealing with problematic things – it’s certainly no hexproof. That being said, it is annoying ENOUGH that extending it to all of your artifacts will probably mean the Guardian is going to eat the first piece of removal, and if you can make 2-4 copies of this it will actually be pretty solid protection.

 

Digsite Engineer

Phillip: This card could so easily go nuts with something like Urza, Lord High Artifcer in play.  Generating X/X tokens for 2 mana is enormously scary, and there are a huge number of cards that combo really brutally with this, such as Impact Tremors or Terror of the Peaks.

Another card I really like. Once you have the mana to pay the 2 on top of your cast, you should also have enough artifacts in play that you’re going to be pumping out some beefy tokens that continue to grow as you advance your board state.

 

Losheel, Clockwork Scholar

Phillip: This is an interesting card, obviously mean to support an attacking artifact creatures deck, drawing cards of creature creation is great, and there are many ways to create token artifacts on your opponent’s turns, so I think this potentially abuseable.  Mono-white rough though so I’m a bit disappointed this isn’t a partner commander.

Both abilities are nice. Preventing the combat damage means you can swing in freely without worrying about blockers which is great for aggressive decks, and while the card draw only happens once per turn there are plenty of cards that are staples that do the same, like Phyrexian Arena. This is no Arena, but incremental card draw is great.

 

Audacious Reshapers

Phillip: This card is potentially huge, especially in a format with a ton of cards that tutor a card to the top of your deck.  Dumping out Bolas Citadel rapidly or an Aetherflux reservoir is enormously powerful (or both).  You can also use this to get a lot of value off generated food, treasures, clues.

This can be used to cheat out some huge things, especially if you can manipulate the top of your deck. It’s instant speed as well, so feel free to turn a Treasure into a Blightsteel Colossus at the end of your opponent’s turn for maximum friend making. Sacrifice outlets are also broadly good for things like getting your Blightsteel out of the way of an incoming Swords to Plowshares, or getting another of your big threats into your graveyard so you can recur it.

 

Laelia, the Blade Reforged

Phillip: Exiling for card advantage is a new red color pie ability that seems really good, and is pretty scary with a red commander.  If Laelia isn’t stopped the card advantage and growing power will pretty quickly run over your game, and you can safely put her in a deck with nasty stax cards like Blood Moon or Magus of the Moon.

Haste, card advantage, synergizes with what both it and Osgir are doing to grow big, what’s not to love?

 

Ruin Grinder

Phillip: This could be worked into decks that revolve around reanimating artifacts and creatures, something that Boros is apparently now doing a fair amount of.  The ability is a a bit of a group hugh but there are ways to force your opponents not to draw cards, unfortunately, it’s a may so it’s not a game-winner like wheel of fortune + hullbreacher.

Wheel effects are one of the ways red gets card advantage, and having one attached to exactly the kind of body this deck is built to recur for value is great. Because of that recursion, you are also set up to still use cards you wheel into your graveyard which eliminates some of the ‘feel bad’ that especially newer players can get about discarding cards. the menace on this body is nice as well, as is the cycling in case you draw this early. 

 

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Triplicate Titan

Phillip: This is a really cool card and I like this thing they are doing with giant golems that replicate on death.  I’m sure it’s abusable in some way or another.  Colorless mana is also not that hard to come by, and again, it’s a golem, which means they’re definitely going to be printing some more “whenever a golem” or “when you cast a golem” type deals.

A great value engine in the vein of Wurmcoil Engine, though the tokens it makes are less useful. The original body is arguably better though, flying, vigilance, and trample is a really tough combo to deal with in straight creature vs creature combat.

 

Excavation Technique

Phillip: This is a strange card in some ways, destroy target permanent effects are powerful, but it gives 2 treasure, but you can copy it, but then an opponent gets a copy and he might blow something of yours up.  But then you’d get two treasures.  One thing I don’t like about cards like this is they can make the game take a long time as someone tries to figure out how a spell would resolve and what someone would target.  Nonetheless, there are a lot of ways to abuse other people having treasures.  Dockside Extortionist for example.

This is one I’m not as hot on. The political aspect is interesting, but it’s sorcery speed, 4 mana for at most 3 permanents, and they get to make Treasure tokens. I think I’d prefer a Generous Gift or a Return to Dust or something similar most of the time.

 

Wake the Past

Phillip: Seven mana is a lot but it’s a Boros “return all” effect, and there are a lot of artifacts that cost 0 or can be made to cost less and be cycled through, ways to get mana out of artifacts, and what not, so I can see this being played in a big swingy reanimator deck that generates a lot of mana.

Extremely powerful mass reanimate. This will absolutely end games since it also gives everything haste.

 

Archaeomancer’s Map

Oh baby. Some of the best ramp white has ever seen. At absolute worst this is 3 mana for 2 lands to hand, which is like…..fine. If you’re hitting that fail case, you’re probably in decent shape. In other cases this is going to be strictly better Cultivate with a dash of Burgeoning thrown in. 

 

Battlemage’s Bracers

Phillip: Battlemage’s Bracers so giving a creature haste is nice, and it has a very logical progression where you drop it then equip to give a creature haste, I’m not entirely sure what you’d want to copy but lots of things get real dangerous when you can copy them for 1 mana.  Kenrith for example could get really crazy, and there are workarounds for this that make it go infinite quickly, like untap effects.

Haste is very powerful, doubling abilities is powerful, I’m all about it. There’s frequently something busted that can be done as a result.

 

Cursed Mirror

Phillip: I think you could definitely do stuff with this, 3 for a copy of a creature, it enters as a copy so you’ll get etb’s and it has haste, which is potentially really big.  After that, it becomes a pretty bog-standard mana rock, though 3 for a mono-color mana rock isn’t good.

This is definitely cool. The meta is shifting to 3 mana rocks not really being worth it anymore, but having a turn with a hasty clone of something makes this a solid consideration.

 

Monologue Tax

Phillip: So this is a huge card, getting treasure off the second spell people cast each turn will be a lot of treasure.  It would be totally broken if it was a treasure for each spell beyond the first, and as is it’s a huge boost, and helps white overcome some of it’s deficiencies in things like asymmetric ramp.

Eh. The flavor and art are outstanding, but it only triggers once per turn so I’m on the fence. I suspect most of the time this just doesn’t do enough for a slot, but there’s a high variance per playgroup so I could easily be wrong. Worth testing in actual gameplay.

 

Prismari Performance

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Zaffai, Thunder Conductor

Phillip: Like, this seems good, but I think the most powerful part of it is the scry 1 for something like Dragon’s Approach still if you are casting big spells then you get big tokens, or effects, but how often are you doing that?

Zaffai is very solid, and scales nicely as the game progresses. The scry provides a constant trickle of value, the tokens provide a way to mix it up in the mid game, something spellslinger decks can lack, and then in the end game your big X spells do big chunks of bonus damage. Nothing crazy or new here.

 

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Veyran, Voice of Duality

Phillip: As a commander Veyran is pretty scary. Getting +2/+2 for each instant or sorcery you cast or copy is basically super Prowess, but it also affects your other permanents (so would actually make other prowess effects super prowess) so this is definitely a potential 1-punch commander and an interesting include in a copy deck.

Now here’s the Commander I’d be building around of the 2. Their Magecraft ability is pretty much Prowess, which is fine, but we’re here for the second ability. Doubling up your team’s actual prowess triggers, magecraft triggers like on Archmage Emeritus, token creation like Zaffai or Talrand, Sky Summoner, damage like Guttersnipe….there’s lots of fun stuff you can do here. Know what I like more than a Thousand-Year Storm? A Two Thousand-Year Storm. Sign me right up.

 

Dazzling Sphinx

Phillip: While 5 mana is a lot, slamming into players and getting to cast their instants for free is really powerful, there are potentially huge spells out there and if you can find a player with a taking turns deck or something like that this could be very swingy.  That’s pretty balanced by the CMC and the fact it doesn’t have haste.

If left unchecked, this is a great value engine. Free spells from your opponents has a lot of variance but you’re almost never turning them down unless it’s like a board wipe you don’t want, and even then you get to tuck it to the bottom of their library.

 

Octavia, Living Thesis

Phillip: This is a 10-cost meme card.

The theme is on point, and it’s not as outrageous as it might initially seem to get 8 spells into your yard, but 8 is still a pretty healthy amount. In exchange you get a big creature with no evasion that makes other creatures big with no evasion that still dies to board wipes. When you get the trigger on a flying token it’s going to feel good, but you’re doing a not insignificant amount of work to get there.

 

Sly Instigator

Phillip: This is ok as a sort of control card, but it costs 4 so I just don’t think it does enough since it makes the creature unblockable and doesnt stop it from tapping.

Card ability matches its name perfectly. Probably not worth the slot most of the time for me, but you can absolutely make some political hay with this.

 

Inferno Project

Phillip: Potentially huge, but 7 cost for a big fattie that has no real enters-the-battlefield effects or haste is kind of meh. Best use I could think of would be some kind of sneak attack combo where you take the counters and put them somewhere else maybe via the ozolith

It’s nice that this counts the total CMC so it can actually be pretty huge by the time it comes down. Thankfully it also has trample so you can actually connect with all that power.

 

Radiant Performer

Phillip: I could see this having hilarious unintended consequences, but the best pairings would be something like giving your creatures hexproof then reacting to a swords to plowshares with Radiant Performer.  The real winner would be land destruction though that would probably have to come from you, and it’s way to much mana to be reliable.

Kind of a bizarre version of Zada, Hedron Grinder, the possibilities here are only limited by your imagination. It’s in this deck for your big X spells, but don’t hesitate to snap it off for a hilarious Swords to Plowshares or similarly hilarious target.

 

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Rionya, Fire Dancer

Phillip: So there’s a lot of things you could do with this that are pretty gross, for example copying Godo, Bandit Warlord means the game is over.  There also making token copies of creatures with huge enters play effects, like Dockside Extortionist.  Mana is a lot, but the potential upside of this is really strong, so she has potential as a commander or a combo piece.

This could be a fun stand alone Commander, and it also works well in this deck. Can I interest anyone in half a dozen Inferno Titans? Anybody?

 

Inspiring Refrain

Phillip: I like this idea of revolving suspended cards, I think it’s neat, I think the costing is pretty accurate and it will see play, especially in stax decks.

It’s nice to get more suspend cards, especially ones that call back this mechanic. Suspend it early and laugh your way to the bank as the cards just keep rolling in.

 

Muse Vortex

I think this is much more of an Animist’s Awakening than it is a Genesis Wave, and only one of those sees any play. Only getting one spell is a bit of a letdown, especially in a deck you want to build around X spells which will get no value from being cast this way.

 

Creative Technique

Phillip: Grabbing card value is okay, and this could go really nuts with Laelia, the Blade Reforged.  Also, a way to help an opponent get an answer to a player about to win.

This is an interesting spin it to win it card that goes in something like a Jhoira of the Ghitu deck, not one full of X spells.

 

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Fiery Encore

Phillip: So it’s a storm card that will potentially let you clear the board, also generate a lot of discard and draw triggers and spells, so it’s definitely playable in an environment all about spell spamming, but it’s pretty expensive, all things considered.

Seeing a new Storm card is pretty wild, considering that the scale Wizards uses to gauge how “Oh hell no” reprinting a given mechanic is is literally called the Storm Scale. They’ve learned from the past somewhat and made this unable to target players at least.

 

Rousing Refrain

Phillip: This is pretty interesting, basically just a mana source that also spams out spells but I don’t think the investment is likely to be worth it unless you really have a good stax lockdown.

Another suspend card that keeps coming back and providing you with a nice burst of mana each time, especially given how often at least one player at the table is sitting at 7+ cards in hand.

 

Surge to Victory

Phillip: Six mana is so much, but this could potentially copy a huge spell a ton of times and also let you pump a creature hilariously, and red is the best color for double strike.

This can get pretty buck wild and I’m here for it. The current dream is getting absolutely silly with Rite of Replication, even without being able to kick it.

 

Reinterpret

Phillip: This is a really weird counterspell but it has a lot of potential upside to 2:1 on mana.

A simple country counterspell with upside, this can get you a bunch of free value or cast something at an odd time and be tricky.

 

Elementalist’s Palette

Phillip: This is going to see plenty of play in big flashy decks, alongside commanders like Zaxara, the Exemplary, and it’s an okay mana rock on it’s own so I can definitely see ways to abuse it and then finish with it.

Kind of a colorless Rosheen Meanderer that grows over time. Can get huge if left unchecked, but you should fully expect this to eat a Krosan Grip around the time it has 6 counters on it.

 

Quantum Quandrix

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Adrix and Nev, Twincasters

Phillip: Yeah, this is definitely uh, a commander that’s a parallel lives so it’s pretty clear what you do.  Also slots into absurd token generator decks and gives ward, functions with neato cards like Smothering Tithe or Dockside really well, Ward 2 is solid and 4 mana isn’t really too much, but 2 toughness is pretty rough, making you vulnerable to most damage or toughness-based board-clearing effects.

Oh boy, having Parallel Lives as a Commander is uh, really good. There’s a reason it’s currently like a 50 dollar card, both because the effect is very powerful and because it’s very very popular. Adrix and Nev aren’t reinventing the wheel, but you’re going to see them everywhere.

 

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Esix, Fractal Bloom

Phillip: So there’s definitely a lot of really stupid things to do with this, if you can get a 6 cost creature out and then create tokens you’ll get a lot of whatever you want, pretty telegraphed, but if it connects probably a knockout.  I’d love an explanation for why you can’t copy Esix with this ability.

Depending on your board, this can get absolutely insane. Would you like it if your Avenger of Zendikar made a bunch of other Avengers rather than plants? Yeah, me too. Now what if you have a doubling effect or two on board?

 

Curiosity Crafter

Phillip: This is yet another Coastal Piracy type effect, meaning blue can really effectively run some kind of deck that depends on hitting with tons of creatures for card draw.

Awwwww yeah, ya boi is back for more Bird support! This ability is extremely useful for any token deck, especially when combined with all of the other copies of it. Token decks really need to snowball and kill people before they can get detroyed by a boardwipe, and this goes a long way towards getting you there.

 

Deekah, Fractal Theorist

Phillip: So this so easily goes infinite and does goofy things, I mean obviously, it is what it is. I almost don’t know how to say anything about it. Cast infinite forks get infinite tokens, get tokens by countering spells, control deck, 5 investment to get rolling is really rough though.

For the cost of the activated ability I wish it was more than 1 token but it’s not a bad one to have access to. Provides some solid token generation though.

 

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Spawning Kraken

Phillip: Have fatties spawn fatties I guess. If you have a huge 8 cost or 10 cost blue creature you can get 9/9 Krakens, I get some weird combat deck like that is doable.

This is more or less a plant for the Koma, Cosmos Serpent deck, and it’s an extremely good one. That deck can already get out of control pretty quickly, even more so when the Serpents it’s pumping out start turning into 9/9’s.

 

Guardian Augmenter

Phillip: Yeah unconditional hexproof for a commander off flash is really big. I think this can be part of a combat damage partner deck for sure. Huge boost to commander damage and protection for it.  Enormously useful.

You’re mainly here for the very useful hexproof, with a side benefit of pumping your Commander(s).

 

Ruxa, Patient Professor

Phillip: I love the idea of a vanilla creature commander that of course is itself not a vanilla creature and gives them all the thorn elemental ability. Hilarious. Sadly I think there would need to be more vanilla creature triggers in order to really leverage this.

This is a welcome addition for the Ayula, Queen Among Bears deck. Creature recursion, pumping your 2/2’s, and making them deal their damage as though unblocked are all great to have.

 

Replication Technique

Phillip: This is probably fine but costs 5, but it should win you the game so it’s okay on those terms. If you aren’t winning off making two copies of a specific permanent then you have no business trying to resolve it.

Unlike a lot of the Demonstrate cards, this one can’t really surprise you, and as such it’s the one I can see actually playing the most. It gets you any permanent, and you can easily asses the board and see who doesn’t have anything threatening to make a second copy of.

 

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Oversimplify

Phillip: Yeah that’s um, I hate cards like this. Black and white are supposed to have the board clear, then they give the best board clear of all to blue and green so, kind of infuriating. So everyone get’s an equal sized token at the end. Amazing card for planeswalker decks.

This is suuuuper nice to have in these colors. Giving your opponents a big vanilla creature is vastly preferable to whatever horrific stuff is making you pull this trigger.

 

Perplexing Test

Phillip: This just doesn’t seem anywhere near good enough to play.

This kind of flexibility is always nice to have. Whether you’re clearing the way for your token army to get in for massive damage or making the opposing token deck weep as it swings in for lethal, the card is great.

 

Theoretical Duplication

Phillip: This card has obvious enormous potential to grab you a copy of something you want.  It’s an amazing way to counter an opposing hullbreacher or opposition agent.

Another card that is situational, but very powerful. Whether it’s messing with someone trying to do a recursion loop or just getting a copy of your opponent’s best creature for 3 mana, there’s a lot of room for getting your mana’s worth.

 

Fractal Harness

Phillip: I think the real thing to do with this is ignoring the fractal token you make, and equip it to a commander that get’s +1/+1s and go to town.

The actual token it creates is kind of whatever, especially since it won’t survive like the Germ that comes with say a Batterskull if you recur it or cheat it out, the doubling +1/+1 counters is very good.

 

Sequence Engine

Phillip: As a sorcery, only this is pretty disappointing imo, but even so it’s a pretty strong value engine for just making fatties.

This might stay in this specific deck just because it makes Fractal tokens and there are a limited number of cards that can do that, on the whole I don’t think this makes the cut in most decks.

 

Geometric Nexus

Phillip: I think this card is totally playable, drop it and stax out, then as the game goes late you’ll drop out huge fatties during the end step and commence the beatdown.  Charge counters themselves are also a specific kind of counter and can be used to do some abusive things.

This has a similar issue as Sequence Engine, vanilla creatures just aren’t worth it most of the time, even if they are as huge as they will likely be if you get this out early.

 

Paradox Zone

Phillip: I think the size of the creatures this thing can generate will make people salivate, but it’s definitely deep into battlecruiser territory.  5 for a 2/2, then a 4/4, then an 8/8.  Would you play an 8/8 with suspend 5?  Sure if it goes on it will get absurd, but games really oughtn’t to go that long.

Paradox Zone is probably over the line into playable in other decks, and it’s definitely solid in this deck in particular. Not having to continue to invest mana for more tokens is a big plus, and as much as vanilla creatures aren’t USUALLY worth it, exponential growth does get you there sometimes.

 

Commander’s Insight

Phillip: This card is borderline playable, it is an instant which is really nice, but UUU is hard to attain for a lot of decks, it’s also target player which has some interesting consequences with cards like Deflecting Swat everywhere.

A good demonstration of the power creep over time, this is strictly better Stroke of Genius, which is already a popular card. Instant speed X spell card draw that can also be used to deck an opponent if you have infinite mana, nothing complicated here.

 

Silverquill Statement

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Breena, the Demagogue

Now we’re talking. Orzhov is a favorite of mine and Breena is both better than you think, and also an interesting way to make people care about politics in the colors. Most Commander players tend to spread their damage around during a game because of the shifting board states and this only encourages that behavior by rewarding attacking someone who isn’t in last with cards, and you with counters. This also incentivizes actually attacking, which is especially important with these precons, as they have had issues in the past with the decks falling into board stalls where nobody is actually attacking. Even though they start small, they can easily hit 7 power in one wheel of the table, and on a 3 mana flying body that can get dangerous extremely quickly. It’s entirely possible for Breena to Voltron their way into being a one hit kill without you even investing in it in just a few turns.

 

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Felisa, Fang of Silverquill

Phillip: Generating tons of creature tokens is really dangerous in Orzhov colors, there are a lot of enters play and leaves play triggers, and effectively doubling those effects is potentially game-winning or debilitating.  A vampire wizard that does that creates black/white creatures is really hitting a lot of important notes in terms of triggers and sources of interactions, so this is one of the best commanders in the set, and very flexible.

Felisa rewards you for leaning into the counters route by giving you some really nice resiliency. One of the big problems for creature based decks is emptying your hand out only to have your board wiped and being left with nothing, and she instead ensures that when you do get wiped you will be rewarded with a swarm of flying Inklings. As a side note, I think they are a really cool and good new creature type, and I hope we get more support for them down the line.

 

Combat Calligrapher

Phillip: This political dimension to inklings and Orzhov is neat, and actually giving your opponents creatures is potentially dangers due to death triggers and enters play triggers, so I think this has definitely potential for some decks, though probably not at the most competitive level.

I’m a little unsure of how I feel about this one. The political aspect is certainly nice, and how dangerous could giving your opponents actually combat relevant creatures be? The answer is going to vary wildly, and you have little to no control over it once this is in play. The Quandrix deck in particular is going to love you if they get to start making double Inklings, and never forget that you’re one removal spell away from all of them heading in your direction.

 

Guardian Archon

Phillip: I just hate cards like this, weird tricky effects that might do something swingy and unpredictable for 6 mana on 5/5 flier.

This kind of card is always fun, if not the most effective. It would be nice if it at least protected your whole board since you only get to play the trick once unless you’re flickering or reanimating.

 

Nils, Discipline Enforcer

Phillip: I think this is a neato effect that’s definitely playable, there are some neat cleric cards and you can just put the +1/+1 on your creatures and just play the political dimension when you need.

This is a solid tax effect. It subtly encourages attacks against your opponents since their now bigger creatures can still attack each other without paying, and that fact also makes it less likely for the entire table to create a handshake agreement to kill you as frequently happens to Propaganda playing “pillow fort” decks that want to sit behind a wall of these effects. Against a dedicated counters deck, this can easily mean that they full on can’t afford to attack you until the Enforcer is removed, which is great.

 

Scholarship Sponsor

Phillip: This is a really strange card, and it has a weird equalizing group huggy thing going, but I just don’t see any real benefit to it.  Maybe if it was a cleric there’d be some kind of recursion loop you could pull off.

The effect is certainly powerful, but it might be a little too fair. Undoing all the advantage that land ramping green player has done to get ahead on lands with a single card is pretty fun though!

 

Author of Shadows

Phillip:  This is an interesting card, and could quite good in a kind of mill deck that has a way to flick the author over and over, but at 5 mana value, even with 4 of it being colorless, it seems to expensive and fragile and complex to be worthwhile.

A good piece of creature based graveyard hate. Commander decks regularly abuse their yards and this lets you clear them out, steal the best permanent from among them, and keep your own yard in play for you to continue to abuse.

 

Bold Plagiarist

Phillip: I do think this card could be hilarious and nab a bunch of counters, but then you have a fattie with counters, for 4 mana that doesn’t seem like the kind of net you need to see.

I like this one, and it can really get there if flashed in at the right time, or even just have a chilling effect on the counters player at the table. The addition of ability counters in Ikoria makes the fact this gets any kind of counters even more interesting.

 

Fain, the Broker

Phillip: I do like these infinite mana sinks that really require infinite mana.  I mean 12 mana to create a 2/1 white and black flier is sort of hilarious.  What I do find neat about this guy is sacrifice at more than instant speed lets you net value vs removal, and it gets you etbs you might well need in black with various triggers that could be quite useful.

Sacrifice outlets are in good in general, especially in these colors, and this offers a nice mix of ways to gain value. The untap ability makes Fain extremely dangerous even just in the sort of big mana Cabal Coffers and Crypt Ghast kind of decks black loves to play, much less with infinite mana.

 

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Keen Duelist

Phillip: This is like the political Bob I guess, but dangerous since you might eat an expensive creature’s cost and get land for it. Card draw is card draw, especially with lots of ways around to prevent opponents from drawing. I think this will definitely see a ton of play.

This is outstanding – a great callback to one of competitive Magic’s most iconic creatures, “Bob” Dark Confidant. Nice card advantage as well as being plain old fun, as the whole table eagerly awaits the flip to see who is taking big damage, and who got off easy with the reveal of a land.

 

Promise of Loyalty

Phillip: Neat but too expensive when Wrath of God is around.  Preventing attacks is all well and good, but many creatures are dangerous for what they enable, not for punching, especially in commander.

A very nice boardwipe. Forcing players to sacrifice rather than destroying is extremely relevant, because there are far more ways to prepare for the latter than the former. Not a lot of Sigarda, Host of Herons waiting to ambush you at instant speed. Normally allowing them to keep their best creature has significant downside but the vow counter removes that nicely.

 

Incarnation Technique

Phillip: I think this is definitely playable, you can usually identify a deck you don’t care if they get a reanimation effect off, and you can use this after a buried alive to put to combo pieces into play and win the game.

At the base rate this is a little underwhelming, though having a straight up return to the battlefield is always nice. On the other hand there are a lot of ways reanimating 2 creatures can win you the game, or you can find an opponent with no yard or a nonthreatening one, in which case the Demonstrate makes it quite good.

 

Stinging Study

Phillip: Neat to see a card that rewards you for having an expensive commander, drawing 3 or 4 for 5 is reasonable at the cost of five life.

Another one I really like. Instant speed card draw paying life….the number of times I have activated Greed in my life alone tells you this is worth it even with a 3 drop like Breena, much less with some of the much larger CMC commanders you can pair it with.

 

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Inkshield

Phillip: It’s too bad attacking is so bad in commander, or else this would be really good, but it is, so it isn’t. Generating a ton of 2/1s is potentially game winning, not just from having a swarm but also from all the enters battlefield effects and death effects that come later. The way I would see this card shining is in a deck that’s political and even forces attacks to make sure it can benefit.

It’s pricey, but when you catch someone swinging in for lethal with this, the whole playgroup will be talking about it for days. Fogs effects are underrated in the format to being with, and one that can easily win you the game on the crack back? Hell yeah.

 

Tempting Contract

Not as good as Tempt with Discovery but I still like it. If your entire table is disciplined, this is 4 mana to do literally nothing, but a lot of the time there’s at least one player who breaks the code and allows themselves to be tempted, and once that happens, suddenly the offer looks a lot better to the other players the next time around. After all, they don’t want to fall behind that guy do they?

 

Cunning Rhetoric

Phillip: This is a really cool card. It’s a good way to protect yourself and your planeswalkers, or net value in defense of them. If you’re going to try to make a planeswalker commander deck I think cards like this can really enable it.

Shockingly, as the owner of a Gonti, Lord of Luxury deck, I’m extremely about this. Stealing other people’s stuff is great, dissuading attacks against you is great, everything about it is great.

 

Witherbloom Witchcraft

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Willowdusk, Essence Seer

Phillip: It’s really a shame it’s “another” target creature, because this could potentially be a nasty punching commander. Even so gaining life and losing life when you want is really easy, and this can enable a huge punching session or else cards that can do crazy things with counters like Sage of Hours.

A great Commander for the new Golgari gain and drain archetype, Willowdusk isn’t flashy but boy can it make your board threatening in a hurry. It’s conditional which I’m not a huge fan of, but the deck will still be a lot of fun.

 

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Gyome, Master Chef

Phillip: I think this guy is definitely playable, 4 for a 5/3 is very reasonable and sacrificing food to make things invulnerable is very useful. Netting foods off your creatures entering ought to give you a steady supply of value.

Gyome on the other hand is simply outstanding. He’s a Troll Warlock cooking up tasty treats and making your most important stuff indestructible! That stew is so good it will literally protect you from the Wrath of God Himself.

 

Marshland Bloodcaster

Phillip: So, yes, 2 to cast any spell and lose life instead is potentially huge. The problem is casting some huge haymaker spell ought to make you win the game, in which case nobody will let this guy sit on the field.  It’s 5 mana for a 3/5 flier, so he has a respectable butt on him to avoid damage, and he’s black which means some creature control won’t land, but really this is almost certain to absorb a swords to plowshares unless you can pay a whopping 7 and give it haste somehow.  But I’m sure this card will be all over battlecruiser play.

You know what I always say, one of the most powerful things you can do in the game is cheat mana costs, and the Bloodcaster lets you do it in a big way. This is a kill on sight for your opponents, even if you don’t have ways on board to untap it, which you absolutely should.

 

Tivash, Gloom Summoner

Phillip: I like the idea of this card but the execution is lacking. You could build a deck around putting out demon tokens but it’s very vulnerable to just board clear, and  there’s better things to do with life gained (like use it to cause life loss directly)

I would like Tivash more if they let you pay ‘up to X life’ because sometimes you really need both a blocker and a big chunk of that life you just gained, but this is still a way to get some scary sized flying creatures in to play.

 

Veinwitch Coven

Phillip: Anytime you see this sort of thing it’s a dangerous card. Veinwitch Coven is a game-winning card potentially, in combination with a couple of different lists of things, altars or various things, and combine that with an ETB or a death trigger and its gg. The nice thing about Veinwitch coven is it’s a value engine until that point, with respectable power/toughness and menace on a vampire warlock, which, tribe/profession is one of the hotnesses in this set.

Very nice recursion engine. You should be gaining lots of bits of life with this deck, which means none of your creatures will stay dead for long.

 

Blossoming Bogbeast

Phillip: Lifegain is so easy this is potentially an engine that will let you wipe people out, but it’s potentially just a 5/5 with trample for 5, so the only real buff is if you’re spamming a lot of creatures.

A nice buff even if you only get the +2/+2 from it attacking, and trample is always something you want, especially in a go tall stompy deck like this one.

 

Ezzaroot Channeler

Phillip: I love the idea of a lifegain deck that uses it to drop the Eldrazi titans, and this could easily make that happen, sadly it’s tough to search for and isn’t legendary, but it might be able to fit in to a life gain deck.

Uhhhhhh, yeah, this is very, very strong. Dropping huge bombs for only a couple of mana? Love it.

 

Sproutback Trudge

Phillip:  A recursive 9/7 is pretty scary.

Glad to see that this tramples, without it this probably wouldn’t make the cut. With it you have a nice recursive threat that will frequently be very cheap to cast.

 

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Yedora, Grave Gardener

Phillip: This is a very weird effect and it potentially could be huge, triggering a ton of landfalls or letting you ramp amazingly.  It’s definitely buildable around or would fit well into certain kinds of decks, turning your dead creatures into forests means you’ll respond to a board clear with even bigger threats.

This effect is totally new, and it’s outstanding. Now that we’re seeing it, it seems like a glaring oversight that this hasn’t been in a Golgari deck before, given that guild’s emphasis on death creating life etc. Kill my creatures all you want, their death only fuels me. Wait until you see my final form!

 

Essence Pulse

Phillip: -X/-X is always a powerful effect, and life gain is easy, so this can be pumped to really clear the board, and in a synergistic life gain deck it has the kind of trigger you need, but most of the life gain synergies come from relatively small creatures, so in that sense it’s a non-bo.

A little bit finnicky, but in this deck or a drain/gain one it’s really good. Like I said earlier, a lot of decks are prepared for “destroy” based board wipes, hardly any are prepared for -X/-X ones.

 

Healing Technique

Phillip: Returning cards to hand is nice, and it’s a pretty safe demonstrate, since you can pretty much predict what they will get back, but 4 for the effect is too much.

Not bad, and in this deck specifically it’s probably better than an Eternal Witness. In other decks I’d rather have the Witness.

 

Pest Infestation

Phillip: This is definitely playable because it combines useful control with the gain of pest creatures, which themselves give you a ton of life gain triggers when you need them, especially if you are building around that sort of thing with sacrifice effects.

Another card that goes very well in a specific deck. If you just want a mass sweeper there are much more efficient ways to do it, you want this if you also have a plan for taking advantage of the Pest tokens it creates.

 

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Revival Experiment

Phillip: Potentially returning five cards to your hand is enormous card advantage, but at 6 mana value that means it’s unlikely you can execute on any of them right away, so I don’t think this really stands up to more expensive cards in the 6 range.

Oh baby. This is one of those huge value, crazy interaction, game winning kinds of reanimation. Even purely for value this is so, so good, and it only scales up from there.

 

Blight Mound

Phillip: I’m not so sure about the rush pest deck, but the non-token death trigger is potentially huge, for decks that care about death it doubles the deaths, and gives you life gain, potentially another source of life loss for your opponents.

The buff to Pests is fine, you’re really here for the creation of new ones. In this deck in particular the lifegain is great, and the rate of token generation actually makes this perfectly playable in the wide range of decks looking to make tokens and do something with them for value.

 

Trudge Garden

Phillip: Nice to see fungus’s showing up again, I remember using Tim to whale on a Fungusaurback in the day to get a huge beater.  Gain life and pay 2 to get a 4/4 is very reasonable, and this translates all your pests into beasts when they die, especially if you have an Ashnod’s Altar to sacrifice them at.

Not bad, and it’s nice that the tokens have trample. I’m not sure if you’ll have the mana to take full advantage of this in a deck with lots of small bits of gain like Pests dying but I’m certainly willing to give it a shot. Only really goes in this deck or things like GW token builds.

 

Witch’s Clinic

Phillip: I think this card is just kind of bad, there’s much better colorless lands you could run, and paying essentially 3 life to give a commander lifelink is just, so rarely likely to matter.  If this was spirit link / vampiric link wording then you could use it in a weird kind of defense, but it lacks even that utility.

A solid rate for giving lifelink, and it’s stapled on to a land so it’s not costing you anything to include it, broadly speaking. This can absolutely pull you back in to games where you are in a whole lot of trouble, and obviously has very nice synergy with this deck in particular.

 

Overall Deck Thoughts

FromTheShire: With the new cards out of the way, how are these decks as actual decks, and are there any particular standouts as there have been in years past? So far the new cards seem very good overall, but there is nothing in this set that leaps out as the next True-Name Nemesis that becomes a Legacy staple and drives the price of one deck through the roof. That seems to be born out with the current pricing: at the time of writing, all 5 decks are within 7 dollars of MSRP on TCGPlayer. In the past we have had decks that were actually selling for 70+ dollars at release because of the cards in them, and the fact we aren’t seeing that here is an encouraging sign that Wizards balanced these pretty well.

Currently the best selling deck is Lorehold Legacies, followed by Quantum Quandrix, then Silverquill Statement, then Witherbloom Witchcraft, and finally Prismari Performance, which is the only one slightly under MSRP. That makes sense to me because it’s probably the order I would place my personal interest in them as well. People have been asking for unique takes on Boros for years now, and Osgir actually offers that, as well as two of the top three most expensive singles in Archaeomancer’s Map and Monologue Tax. Simic has gotten a ton of love recently and is very powerful in Commander, and token based decks are extremely popular. In fact, Adrix and Nev are the second best selling single in the entire set, and it’s not hard to see why! The Silverquill deck adds some interesting political angles for Orzhov, and the Witherbloom deck similarly expands some of the life gain synergies of black into green for a build that is similar to but separate from existing archetypes. Personally I think the Prismari deck is currently underperforming because it isn’t really doing anything new and unique like the other decks are. It’s a perfectly fine starting point for an Izzet spellslinger build, but we’ve seen a lot of those over time. That being said, it does speak to the overall quality of this year’s decks.

Wizards is never going to sell a perfectly honed deck right out of the box, partly because they want to drive sales and partly because a lot of the fun in Commander is building and tweaking your deck, and with that in mind these decks are better than a lot of preconstructed decks of the past right out of the box. The mana bases are pretty solid, which is helped by the fact these are 2 color decks, and the decks just aren’t filled with the true duds we have gotten before. Yes there are suboptimal cards you will later upgrade, but with any of these decks you can crack them right out of the box and sit down at an average game and hold your own and win games against anybody.

If you are a newer player, these decks are solid value for your money, and are no brainer pickups for getting started. For existing players with deeper card pools to pull from to upgrade or build from scratch, it is definitely possible that you might be able to get away with picking up a few key singles to build your deck. I suspect that it will still make more sense financially to buy and tweak the precon, as these are usually packed with good reprints and sell for well below the singles price of the entire contents. For instance, if you wanted to build Adrix and have Esix in the deck, you’re already at about 31 dollars vs 40 for the whole precon, and it doesn’t take long for the additional Sol Rings etc to add up. At this time, to purchase the singles in the Lorehold deck that cost more than 50 cents, aka “bulk”, would run you about $105, $95 for Silverquill, $85 for Quantum, $80 for Witherbloom, and $60 for Prismari. (Thanks to The Professor at Tolarian Community College for doing the math here)

 

Thanks for joining us for our review of the new Strixhaven cards! If you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at contact@goonhammer.com.

 

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