Impression #1: Prismari is the Best College.
A few things about this make my assessment shaky, but I do think Prismari cards will make the biggest impact. Sure, there’s the Winota combo deck that’s technically Lorehold, but it’s only using Blade Historian. That just means we have a good Boros deck in Standard.
Quandrix and Witherbloom, however, are a little closer of competitors. Things like Eureka Moment and Quandrix Cultivator are promising, and I’m impressed with decks that use the nasty combination of Witherbloom Apprentice, Pest cards, and Plumb the Forbidden to generate an aristocrat’s style sacrifice blowout. But, even with all of that, the cards that will stand the test of time, the ones that will show up in the best decks, will be the Prismari spells. Specifically, Prismari Command and Expressive Iteration. These two cards are easily splashed for, impactful, and have the most utility. Prismari Command is by far the best of its cycle. It’s got ramp, card draw, damage, and a fringe-useful shatter effect—all generally potent abilities. And if you don’t think Expressive Iteration is good, then you didn’t read the card. It essentially reads “Scry 3, draw a card, and you play a land off the top of your deck” (assuming you see a land in those three cards).
Impression #2: Magecraft Won’t Do Much in Standard—It’s for Historic.
First off, I think it’s cool we have a keyword ability like this, and especially one that counts copies. This brings us to the real bonkers thing about the ability: that it works with Storm. Even if the newly introduced Grapeshot doesn’t do twenty damage when cast, you still get an absurd amount of triggers. If you have Professor Onyx, you probably will kill them on the spot. Same with Witherbloom Apprentice. The combinations are so bonkers and will be so common, I wonder if someone will crash the client. I hope that the next Historic Anthology introduces more rituals, or more one-mana cantrips, just so we can have a viable Storm deck in Historic.
Impression #3: The Two Most Powerful Cards Are 3-Mana Creatures.
Taken by themselves, without even considering the decks that might be built around them, the two best cards in Strixhaven are Sedgemoor Witch and Elite Spellbinder. It would not surprise me if they both saw heavy Modern, Pioneer, maybe even Legacy play. It would also not surprise me to see them in an Esper control list.
Sedgemoor Witch is strong just because of how many things she does. With menace, she’s likely to get a hit in once or twice, and even if she’s killed right away, her Ward will drain for one hit. And then there’s her Pest ability—which also works with Storm—that makes her both gum up the board and get you a nice upswing in life.
As to Elite Spellbinder, do I need to explain why a flying, well-stated creature that does early turn disruption is a good card?
Impression #4: Lessons and Learn Effects Are Not That Good, and That’s Okay.
When designing Strixhaven, I have to imagine they were absurdly careful to not make any Lesson too strong. They’ve been burned before by outside-the-game abilities (read: The Companion fiasco), and there was every chance they would make the same mistake here. But no, they learned their lesson and we now have a solid toolbox of underpowered options fetchable at different points in the game. Recent decklists have proven that Spirit Summoning and Reduce to Memory are good enough for high-level play, and Basic Conjuration and Containment Breach might soon follow. I hope we see this mechanic in later sets, though I’m unsure what lore context would make that possible outside of revisiting Strixhaven in a few years.
Impression #5: Mana-bases Are Full to Bursting.
In Standard, you can use the Triomes (which count as their respective land types), the Modal Lands, Scry Lands, and now the Snarls. And then there’s the World Tree, which makes mana even easier. This adds up to a Meta where three or four colors are entirely possible. Temur and Sultai have been around for a long time, but I bet we’ll see other color combinations come around, taking advantage of blending multiple College’s mechanics.
And then there’s Historic. There’s everything I mentioned before, plus Check Lands, Fast Lands, Shock Lands, Fabled Passages, and Guildgates. I don’t know who plays Historic Brawl, but that format seems nuts. I’d also love to see a newer take on Five-Color Niv Mizzet utilizing this absurd toolbox.
And those are my opinions on Strixhaven. I like it a lot and am impressed as heck with the design team’s work. The flavor is great. The mechanics are fun. And, perhaps best of all, there are no utterly game-breaking cards. No one’s yet found an Oko or Uro or Omnath, Locus of Creation. Since Kaldheim, they seem to have the balance down of making good, powerful, and interesting cards without breaking the game. So long as Dimir Rogues and Boros Winota don’t take over, I think we’re in for a fun new round of the best card game in the world.
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