After Last Week’s Sneak Preview, Should We Be Excited About Strixhaven?

Does Strixhaven get you excited? Are Sealed Arena Opens more fun than Constructed? Three SCG creators answer these questions and more.

Witherbloom Command, illustrated by Dmitry Burmak

Welcome to Fact or Fiction! Today, Sam Black, Todd Anderson, and Bryan Gottlieb give their takes on five statements about the current state of Magic: The Gathering. Don’t forget to vote for the winner at the end!

1. After watching last week’s Good Morning Magic, you’re excited about the future of white as a color in Magic.

Sam Black: Fact. Everything suggested feels natural given white’s history and I’ve enjoyed previous examples of these cards. Knight of the White Orchid is one of my favorite cards to play ever, since it balances being on the draw and creates interesting decisions about not playing a land. 

Similarly when I think about white getting more flash, I loved Whitemane Lion even if it wasn’t that strong, along with Stonecloaker and Restoration Angel. The stronger the card in this space, the more I think I’ve enjoyed it so far. 

There’s less precedent for doing cool stuff to access things in other colors with rule-setting, but I think this sounds like fun design space. Penalizing actions creates more counterplay and interesting decisions than simply outlawing them, and if you can only do something if your opponent lets you (by breaking a rule), I don’t think I’d see it as breaking the balance of the color pie no matter what that thing was, even if it might break the flavor a little. 

Finally, I love Master Skald at common, and Shepherd of the Cosmos at uncommon in Kaldheim, which both point to more white card advantage and potentially graveyard/Sun Titan-style ramp in Shepherd’s case, so more of that sounds great. 

This announcement as a whole felt much less like a change to white’s identity and much more like a statement that they plan to print more of white’s cooler cards. Sounds great to me!

Todd Anderson: Fact. Gavin Verhey is an eloquent speaker and I genuinely believe he wants what is best for Magic in the long run. If he says more cool stuff is coming down the pipeline for white, I believe him and will look forward to seeing that in practice. For a very long time, the only thing white really offered was a creature-based rush strategy or a support color featuring some removal and/or lifegain. White really got lost in the fold, but that’s just part of game design. It’s nebulous to pin down because the white identity is that of “good” or “justice,” but life and stories should recognize the grey area.

Exploring the themes inside of a specific color is part of what is so cool about Magic. Mixing two or more colors together to see how their themes interact with each other is quite literally my favorite part of Magic (and most games). Blending two colors and themes together via multicolored spells is like creating a symphony of ideas and the successful builds often allow themes to shine through. White hasn’t resonated with me for a long time, but I hope that changes in the near future. With some of the cool cards printed in the last few sets, as well as Gavin’s understanding of what white needs for balance purposes, I think we’ll be quite pleased with the direction of white in the coming years. Gavin knows what’s up.

Bryan Gottlieb: Fact. Sometimes narratives take on a life of their own. Has white been the weakest color in Magic for a while? Probably. Is it by the margin that discourse would suggest? Almost certainly not. Regardless, efforts to spice up a color and add more diversity to its play patterns are always going to find support from me so long as they’re not just power creep for power creep’s sake. Given most of Gavin’s stated goals, it’s clear this is a thoughtful re-examination of white’s role in the game that still clings to the classic hallmarks of its color identity.

If there was a part of Gavin’s video that made me bristle, it was the insistence that white needs more card draw. The impossibility of running out of cards in hand or things to do has been one of my biggest gripes with the current era of Magic. Effectively managing resources used to be a key aspect of the game. Now it feels like every player and archetype always has access to a full grip. Instead of white getting more card draw, I wish that we’d just tone down access to card draw in other colors so that the idea of playing without a persistent card advantage engine could become competitively viable again. With the printing of things like Showdown of the Skalds, I’d guess that we’re not putting the card draw genie back in the bottle anytime soon. If that’s the case, we may as well find good ways to get white in on the fun.

2. You prefer Sealed Deck Arena Opens to Constructed Arena Opens.

Sam Black: Fact! I love Limited. I’d rather draft, but preparing for and playing in the Sealed Open was an absolute delight. 

One big advantage we don’t talk about much of Sealed compared to Draft and even Constructed is the value of personal help and feedback. I think maybe it doesn’t get discussed much because getting help building a deck might feel like it raises issues of competitive integrity, but at the end of the day, after getting feedback, you still have to decide which cards to submit, just like in Constructed. 

Magic is a social game, and I love how Sealed Deck brings players together. When I’d attend a Constructed Grand Prix in the past, I’d sleep in until my byes were over and then go play, but with Sealed, I’d want to get up and go to the site to help people with their decks and get feedback on mine.

Particularly during Covid-19, I love that Sealed deck gets people messaging each other and sharing pools and working out strategies together, and I personally reached out to more people than I have for any other Arena event and had more people reach out to me, and that’s truly Magic at its best.  I might prefer drafting over Sealed, but honestly, that argument might convince me that Sealed is a better experience for Arena Opens. 

Todd Anderson: Fiction. I haven’t played a round of Limited in years. At some point, Limited stopped being a widely played format at a competitive level, but I was always more into building Constructed decks. I want to slam powerful spells against each other until someone taps out. I want to use the deckbuilding process as a way to get a leg up on my opponent. There’s enough randomness and volatility in the Magic engine that adding more to the deckbuilding process isn’t really my cup of tea. That isn’t to say that the Sealed Deck Arena Open wasn’t a fun experience for everyone involved, but it’s just not my bag.

In the future, I’d love to see one of these running on most weekends with varying formats. I think they’re important for garnering interest in competitive Magic, though I would like those formats to reflect whatever upcoming tournaments are on the horizon. A Sealed Deck Arena Open followed by a Constructed Championship a week or two later just feels hollow.

Bryan Gottlieb: Factiest Fact That Has Ever Facted. Limited is the reason I fell in love with Magic. It’s still my favorite way to play the game. Anything that gives players a reason to care about competitive Limited play gets nothing but unabashed support from me.

I’ve spoken a lot about the value of commonality in Magic, and how important it is to give the community an experience we can all share with each other. The swell of information on Kaldheim Sealed and the incredible discussion it has inspired shows just how valuable it is to both content creators and consumers to have everyone focused on the same goal. The past week has felt kind of like a dream. It reminded me of the early 2010s, when my social media was filled with friends swapping pools and debating pick orders rather than trying to figure out ways to keep the government from killing us. Good times…

This is me begging — please give us more Sealed Deck Arena Opens. Let a new generation of players fall in love with Limited.

3. With Weekly MTG giving us a sneak peek last week, you’re excited about the world of Strixhaven.

Sam Black: Fact. I’m almost always excited about new Magic worlds, but here I particularly love seeing a slightly different take on the color pairs’ possible identities from what we saw in Ravnica. Personally, I’ve always kind of identified with Orzhov (second to Izzet) but the church stuff was pretty alienating. Silverquill feels like a much better fit, and I’m excited for it in particular. 

I also like that, compared to Golgari’s “we focus on the death part of the life cycle,” which feels like a black approach to green, I think Witherbloom has more of a “we use plants to do dark magic” green approach to black/witchy style to it. I’d guess the other distinctions could be framed similarly.  Mostly, I think it’s transformative to move from A+B=C (red+white=Boros) to A+B=A+B — Boros is one take, Lorehold is another. There’s not a single right way, just different interpretations. 

Todd Anderson: Fact. New sets are always a blast to open and explore. New game pieces are always a pleasure to brew with until you realize that the engine is beginning to break down. The Commands from Strixhaven don’t look like they’ll be breaking much, and are all quite solid in their own right. What I’m most excited about in Strixhaven is the world of Magic School and all the baggage that comes with that.

It feels like each of the schools in Strixhaven focus on combining two colors of Magic to produce some wicked spells. Advanced Witherbloom Magic might end up being one of my favorite topics to study once we finish enrolling. I’ve already picked out my robes and bought a ticket for the train. I’m on my way there now. See y’all in April!

Bryan Gottlieb: Fiction. I really just wanted to stay quiet on this one. I have zero desire to dampen anyone’s fun, and if you’re excited about the world of Strixhaven, I’m not out here trying to change your mind. But the Fact or Fiction wizard called upon me for my opinion, and I’m pretty sure I’m legally required to provide it.

What I’ve seen of this world so far feels extremely derivative of an already derivative fantasy world. For the most part, Magic deals in tropes and that vibe has always worked for it. But this feels a little less like Delver of Secrets winking and nodding towards The Fly, and a little more like Rick, Steadfast Leader.

We’re really doing the sorting into houses thing? These types of things are fun when they happen organically but trying to get me to identify as a Quandrix is so fetch. Will I be asked to put on the “Categorizing Chapeau” and then attend a feast in the “Grand Foyer”? Am I trying out for everyone’s favorite wizarding sport, “Vizzerditch”? Will the Goblins all be overtly anti-Semitic?

A little too on the nose for me, thanks.

4. With the introduction of Kaldheim and the changes to numerous B&R lists last week, Standard is your favorite competitive format right now.

Sam Black: Fiction. Sorry Standard, but bans are exciting, so Standard is the format that has changed the least in the last week. Once the other formats settle, Standard could become my favorite at some point, but given how slowly Modern changes, it feels like getting a better handle on where bans leave the format is much more valuable in a way that makes investing time into it feel a lot more rewarding.  I feel like Standard could only be my favorite when everything else was shaken up so much if the gameplay in Standard were much better or if I were very bitter about bans, and neither of those is the case. 

Todd Anderson: Fiction. Standard has been pretty fun over the last few weeks, but we’re slowly starting to see the complete metagame. My favorite format is one that is unsolved. I like puzzles, and I like moving pieces around inside of those puzzles until I start to see a clear picture. In Standard, I feel like Mono-Red Aggro❄, Mono-White Aggro❄, and Sultai Ramp (Yorion) are the three dominant heads. The rest of the format is playing catch-up and I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.

I’m starting to dip my toes into the older formats, with Modern being at a high priority. I feel like it’s the most open, and the largest to explore given the sheer number of cards that were banned. It seems like most of the major players are still there, but nothing is choking out the smaller archetypes from being competitive. I’ve played everything from Wilderness Reclamation to Mono-Green Tron to Burn and back again, rarely battling against the same archetype more than once per League, and I’m starting to understand the things that are important and the things that aren’t.

Standard is excellent, with multiple decks at the top and plenty floating just beneath, but Modern feels like “Old Modern” right now, and that’s an incredible feeling for deckbuilders.

Bryan Gottlieb: Fact. With the end of the Sealed Deck Arena Open, I suppose Limited is back to being a non-competitive format for the foreseeable future. Therefore, I’ve got to give the nod to Standard. There is a wide range of viable archetypes, the format changes on what feels like a moment-to-moment basis, games are significantly better than they’ve been in Standard for the past couple of years, and I’m still finding new decks that I want to build.

There are still some Throne of Eldraine-based wrinkles left in the format that I think we’d all love to see ironed out (looking at you, Edgewall Innkeeper), but for the most part, this is what a successful Magic format should look like. That being said, Magic Online Challenge results suggest that Modern and Pioneer are both rejuvenated in the absence of Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and friends. I want to give those formats some time to settle down before I declare them saved, but early indications are also very good.

5. We’ve run out of Fact or Fiction questions this week so answer this one instead — What piece of advice helped you level up your game the most?

Sam Black: I answered this Tweet on Twitter with “play around everything.” There’s a lot of advice out there that’s really great, I imagine, about ways that you can take improving at Magic as a serious pursuit, by really studying your replays and analyzing all your mistakes. I’ve never done that because honestly, technical play has never been my priority. 

Advice about how to do work to get better doesn’t help if you’re not willing to do the work.   “Play around everything” was valuable because it wasn’t something to practice. It was just an expression of a mindset. It took something that felt like some kind of superpower and told me that it’s something one can actually do, and that good players are doing it. My instinct is usually just to get a feel for “how likely is this to go well” versus “how good would it be if it went well,” but I mostly stop at “my opponent could have a removal spell” rather than “these are the exact spells my opponent could cast right now; what are the implications of all of them?” and once someone said it, I realized that was lazy.

You can think about each specific thing that might happen, rather than just rough generalities about types of things that might happen, and it leads to much sharper decision-making. 

Todd Anderson: Learning to lose. Losing is part of any game. Even if you’re the best in the world, there will be off days and there will be people who end up getting better than you at some point in their career. Recognizing your limitations is an important step to understanding your skill level. Following that, you will likely start to see that every loss contains little nuggets of information that can bring you some peace. When a loss is your fault, which it usually is, the only thing you can do is take that loss in stride and try your best to prevent whatever happened from happening again.

In life, you’ll face all sorts of trials and tribulations. Each failure should be seen as a learning experience. Take the emotion out of it, break down the problem, and figure out where your solution faltered. Magic is a game with so many complex pieces that understanding all the interactions perfectly might not be enough to get the job done. Accept that losing is part of the game, and part of life, and stop being so upset about it.

Bryan Gottlieb: One singular piece of advice has shaped my Magic play and my life more than any other, and it comes from one of the GOATs, Jon Finkel.

Focus on what matters.

There are two concrete ways I apply this mantra. The first is in a broader, attitude-based approach to the game. There’s so much noise in a game of Magic, and an honest assessment of how my brain works leaves me to confront the fact that I’ll occasionally overlook some obvious things. In the moment, this feels like an indictment of my value as a player. If I were actually good at this game, there’s no way I’d forget about this on-battlefield trick, right?

Wrong. Magic is about the end goal, and that’s winning the match. Mistakes will come, but what matters far more is how you bounced back.

The second application is in moment-to-moment decision-making. I view every potential action in a game of Magic through the lens of, “Does this matter?” For someone who identifies as a control player, this is critical in my assignment of resources. Do I need to counter that creature or is it apt to be invalidated in a few turns? Do I need the life points that this risky block will give me or can I afford to gather more information? How am I ultimately pulling ahead and winning this game? All these questions are answered by persistently evaluating what truly matters in a game of Magic.

Extending this approach to my life was the real breakthrough though. So many of the small trials and tribulations that can break down both happiness and relationships can be discarded when you just ask the question, “Does this matter?” I’ve been married for over seven years now, and I can count the arguments I’ve had with my wife on one hand. So much of our success as a couple comes because we both believe in the value of focusing on what matters. Of course we do silly things that bother each other, but when we think about the bond we share, they just seem so inconsequential.

I extend this approach to my friendships and familial relationships as well. Sometimes good people are going to do things that disappoint you. If you can look to their core to see who they are as a person, you’ve found what matters and it becomes easier to let the small stuff go.