Exploring Witherbloom Decks In Strixhaven Standard

Strixhaven Standard brings new tools to Witherbloom decks. Sam Black takes an exhaustive approach to the options and offers three early builds for the format.

hunt specimen strixhaven
Hunt for Specimens, illustrated by Randy Vargas

Lately, we’ve come to describe a class of decks as “Sacrifice,” which makes a lot of sense when Mayhem Devil’s involved, since that’s the action the deck is built around.  Today I want to look at a deck that can make a lot of creatures, and can sacrifice them, but that’s not necessarily the point.  It could go wide, it could make a lot of tokens, but none of those things are necessarily the point either.  There’s a lot of overlap in this space; clusters of payoffs and enablers, various pockets of synergy, etc.  Some versions of the decks I want to explore might be reasonable to frame as “Witherbloom Sacrifice,” others might be better categorized as “Witherbloom Lifegain,” but all of them revolve around interactions with expendable bodies, so I think “Fodder” is the best umbrella term.

Some of my exploration, particularly into attempting to take advantage of Lessons was informed by Ari’s article earlier this week, which made a compelling case that I should give some cards I’d considered just a touch too weak a second look.

I don’t know, at this moment, what deck I’m building.  I know that there’s a large space of overlapping synergies I want to explore, and I know that there are way more cards that I’d like to play together in this space than I could possibly fit into a deck, which is really where you want to be.  So I want to start by taking stock of the options and then figuring out how they can best be combined.

I find it best to consider my options by their mana cost.  With the space I’m imagining, I’d generally like to try to keep the curve very low, so I’ll prioritize cards that cost one to three mana, but there are a few notable four-mana cards.  I’ll start with creatures or effective creatures and then look at other cards.

One-Mana Creatures

Jaspera Sentinel

I love Jaspera Sentinel.  The second toughness is much better than it looks, reach is better than it looks, and adding any color of mana is great.  In a deck with lots of one- and two-mana creatures, Jaspera Sentinel is at least on par with Llanowar Elves.  Playing this is a priority.

Lovestruck Beast

Not exactly a one-mana creature, but also one of the best one-mana plays available, Heart’s Desire as a 1/1 that draws a three-mana 5/5 that has essentially no drawback in a deck full of 1/1s is about the best value you can get, and it even triggers magecraft.


Lesson cards are very weak, but Pest Summoning in particular can have a lot of synergies and applications in this archetype, and Containment Breach, Necrotic Fumes, and maybe even a splashed Teachings of the Archaics (given how low the curve might be) could form a pretty strong toolbox.  If you’re looking for a one-mana creature to sacrifice, Eyetwitch getting a card in your hand for your efforts is a pretty solid payoff. Also, flying’s kind of great.

Gilded Goose

Without other Food synergies, I think I prefer Jaspera Sentinel, but Gilded Goose is a strong card and plays well with lifegain synergies.

Serrated Scorpion

Another option when the entire purpose of your one-drop is to sacrifice it, this works better the more focused you are on draining your opponent, but that’s a significant element of what these decks are trying to do.

Valentin, Dean of the Vein

A decent body on rate thanks to menace and lifelink, Valentin, Dean of the Vein is a little bit of a hate card and little bit of an engine.  It wouldn’t be a consideration without the back of the card, but in a deck with lots of ways to gain life and make tokens, especially one that wants lots of cheap cards, the modality of having a cheap play and a synergistic finisher on the same card is fantastic.

Archfiend’s Vessel

Lifelink is a useful ability if you’re leaning into some lifegain synergies, but the body on Archfiend’s Vessel is pretty weak.  This is only a consideration if you’re good at having it enter the battlefield from your graveyard, which I don’t expect to lean into, but one could.

Chainweb Aracnir

Chainweb Aracnir is probably only a sideboard card, albeit a good one.

Two-Mana Creatures

Dina, Soul Steeper

This deck can be constructed in such a way that the first line of Dina, Soul Steeper’s text is extremely powerful, and adding a cheap sacrifice outlet to that makes Dina a fantastic finisher.

Witherbloom Apprentice

If you build your deck to trigger magecraft frequently, Witherbloom Apprentice is pretty interesting, especially when paired with Dina.

Bayou Groff

Eyetwitch into Bayou Groff, or better yet, Jaspera Sentinel into Eyetwtich + Bayou Groff is certainly a plan.  Is it the plan we want? Typically with fodder decks, I like to make my opponent’s removal as bad as possible by not really presenting anything worth killing, and this definitely takes some investment, but the idea of using this and Lovestruck Beast to enable The Great Henge certainly has some merit.

Bloodsky Berserker

If you’re going the big, fast, cheap route with Bayou Groff, Bloodsky Berserker is an interesting option to support that plan.  Some builds of this deck can be very good at casting multiple spells per turn very consistently.

Dragonsguard Elite

If you’re looking for even more growing threats, some builds of Witherbloom can also trigger magecraft well, and if you just want a lot of hard hitting two-drops, Dragonsguard Elite can support that plan.

Fiend Artisan

Yet another two-mana creature that could end up huge, Fiend Artisan will probably be at its best when Dragonsguard Elite is at its worst.

Lampad of Death’s Vigil

If you’re very serious about Serrated Scorpion and Dina, Lampad of Death’s Vigil could be used in small numbers to burn your opponent out.

Masked Vandal

If we’re sacrificing creatures anyway, we’re probably good at making sure there’s a creature in the graveyard and Masked Vandal offers a nice bit of utility and another body we don’t mind sacrificing.

Scavenging Ooze

The floor on Scavenging Ooze is very high, simply based on raw power level, and easy access to lifegain triggers is definitely something we could be in the market for.

Skyclave Shade

If you’re looking to sacrifice something, sacrificing something that you can return to the battlefield fairly easily, like Skyclave Shade, is a solid plan.

Tangled Florahedron

A card that can be a land or a cheap creature, like Tangled Florahedron, is great in a deck that’s looking to sacrifice creatures, and mana creatures play well here. The only problem is that Necroblossom Snarl doesn’t play well with DFC lands.

Hunt for Specimens

I mentioned why we might be interested in a Lesson package with Eyetwitch.  If we’re doing that, we might want more access to it.  We’re probably only interested in Hunt for Specimens if we’re leaning into magecraft.

Acquisitions Expert

If you’re looking for fodder that comes with some value, Acquisitions Expert is serviceable.  The rate’s not amazing, and these decks tend to prefer large games to small games, but it’s a tool to consider.

Three-Mana Creatures

Woe Strider

We’re playing Woe Strider. Two creatures and a free sacrifice outlet are basically everything we could want in a three-drop.

Bastion of Remembrance

I love Bastion of Remembrance and I’ve been waiting for its chance to shine.  A deck full of tokens to sacrifice with payoffs for gaining life is exactly that time.

Lovestruck Beast

It’s nice when ridiculously powerful cards, like Lovestruck Beast, also happen to have synergies with what we’re trying to do.

Sedgemoor Witch

Sedgemoor Witch is fantastic if you’re leaning into magecraft.

Ayara, First of Locthwain

The casting cost on Ayara, First of Locthwain is nontrivial, but not a deal-breaker, and there are a lot of black creatures we’d be happy to sacrifice.  I don’t want a lot of these and think there are mostly better three-mana options, but it’s an interesting consideration.

Lurrus of the Dream-Den

Lurrus of the Dream-Den feels pretty self-explanatory — cheap creatures, sacrifice them, cast them again..

Blex, Vexing Pest

I’m pretty skeptical, but we can get some decent value out of Blex, Vexing Pest as a lord, and there are probably matchups where Search for Blex would be great.

Silversmote Ghoul

We have a lot of cards that gain one life.  Are we combining them enough to gain three life in one turn? Hard to say, but if we’re playing learn cards, discarding Silversmote Ghoul to draw a card to get it back without needing to invest any mana is pretty awesome.

Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose

If I’m excited about Dina, am I willing to pay a third mana for the same thing? It’s probably weaker if you’re only gaining one life at a time, but if you’re gaining life in larger chunks, Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose is a much stronger card, especially if you have creatures with a lot of power to benefit from the activated ability.

Callous Bloodmage

I think all the options are just a tiny bit too weak, but Callous Bloodmage’s heart is in the right place.  Still, if I’m looking for two bodies for three mana, Woe Strider just seems a lot better, and if I’m looking for a body and card, I think this might be worse than Hunt for Specimens, and definitely worse than Llanowar Visionary.

Kazandu Mammoth

Kazandu Mammoth is better in a deck with a higher curve where a tapped land is less likely to hurt, and has the aforementioned problem with Necroblossom Snarl, but if we’re playing The Great Henge, we should consider it.

Scute Swarm

Are we going to play enough lands to make this work? I’m not sure, but nothing goes off quite like Scute Swarm once it gets going, so it’s another good option to keep in mind.

Four-Mana Creatures

Rankle, Master of Pranks

Rankle, Master of Pranks should be pretty obvious, a powerful aggressive card that plays well with fodder.

Toski, Bearer of Secrets

Toski, Bearer of Secrets offers a very strong payoff for going wide.

Esika’s Chariot

Esika’s Chariot is the most powerful card we can play that makes a lot of creatures in a single card.

Arasta of the Endless Web

I expect Arasta of the Endless Web is only a sideboard card, but it can definitely play well in this deck in some matchups.

Polukranos, Unchained

Most likely just a sideboard option, but Polukranos, Unchained could have some synergy in a version of this deck that’s looking for big creatures.

Gnarled Professor

If you’re looking for cards that learn and you’re looking for big creatures, Gnarled Professor might have a place, but I’m skeptical.

I hope that covers all the creatures we want to consider. Now let’s look at the supporting spells.

One-Mana Instants and Sorceries

Village Rites

I’m really into Village Rites if you’re playing magecraft cards; otherwise, it might not be worth it.

Cling to Dust

Cling to Dust offers a cheap magecraft trigger that replaces itself or it can gain three life to trigger lifegain things like Silversmote Ghoul.  Escape as an engine and incidental graveyard hate are nice perks.

Bloodchief’s Thirst

Bloodchief’s Thirst is just a reasonably powerful cheap spell.


Duress is another powerful cheap spell, most likely a sideboard card.

Two-Mana Instants and Sorceries

Eliminate Epic Downfall Feed the Swarm

Heartless Act Flunk Grasp of Darkness

Assorted removal spells, most likely sideboard considerations for the most part.

Plumb the Forbidden

I’m super-into Plumb the Forbidden with magecraft, especially when paired with Hunt for Specimens and Pest Summoning.

Agonizing Remorse

Agonizing Remorse is probably a sideboard card, but quite strong.

Tend the Pests

I think there might be something to playing Tend the Pests in the big-creature version of this deck that supports The Great Henge, especially if you can also pair it with Plumb the Forbidden, but that might be too many different angles.

Inscription of Abundance

Inscription of Abundance is a pretty strong card with good incidental lifegain synergies.

Other Cards to Consider

Call of the Death-Dweller

Call of the Death-Dweller can make two bodies and trigger magecraft, which might be what you’re in the market for, but it’s tough because there are so many good options for three mana.

Pestilent Cauldron

I think Pestilent Cauldron is too slow and not strong enough, but you could hypothetically play it with Silversmote Ghoul and Deathless Knight to fairly easily make a Pest every turn, but that’s a lot of work for not very much power.

Rise of the Dread Marn

Again, highly skeptical, but Rise of the Dread Marn could play well with Plumb the Forbidden.

Baleful Mastery

Baleful Mastery is essentially just another two-mana removal option.

Mortality Spear

Mortality Spear is actually pretty exciting.  Gaining life is fairly easy and a two-mana instant that kills any nonland is a pretty great payoff.

Witch’s Cauldron

I think the rate’s just not quite good enough, but Witch’s Cauldron is a nice way to stack lifegain triggers.

Witch's Oven

If we’re looking for sacrifice outlets and ways to gain life, Witch’s Oven is another option. It plays particularly well with Silversmote Ghoul, since it gains the right amount of life. If you’re using this and Gilded Goose, you could also consider extending into Trail of Crumbs.

Poet’s Quill

I suspect Poet’s Quill is just too clunky to make it, but we could be in the market for cards that learn, and this is a good way to add more lifegain, especially if we’re looking to use Silversmote Ghoul, which, again, this can conveniently discard rather than finding a lesson.

The Great Henge

I mentioned that there were some creatures we’d want to consider that enable The Great Henge, and it’s a very strong card that even offers some additional life gain.

Okay, so that’s a really long list of cards. Like, more than enough to build a singleton deck.  If you’re looking to build a pretty sweet Brawl deck, you could do it from only cards on this list, but what if we want to turn this into a competitive Standard deck?

Let’s look at a few possible shells.

I alluded to this deck at the end of my article last week, and this relies on the same basic synergy, where Plumb the Forbidden triggers Sedgemoor Witch when you cast it and again for each creature you sacrifice, instantly replenishing everything you’ve lost and ideally finding another Plumb the Forbidden.  If you have multiple Witches or if Witherbloom Apprentice or Bastion of Remembrance can get in on the action, this can get very explosive.

This is a The Great Henge deck that uses Tend the Pests to go wide with the big The Great Henge enablers, and can then use Lisette to make the Pests huge.  Scavenging Ooze gives you triggers for Lisette on command.  Valentin is a great place to put counters from Inscription of Abundance after sideboarding.

I’m slightly concerned about playing Bloodsky Berserker without Village Rites / Plumb the Forbidden, but I think there are enough cheap spells to get it started, and it’s easy to keep going if you have The Great Henge.

This deck uses The Great Henge particularly well because its creatures are so cheap, but it’s still good at getting a big creature to cast the Henge early.

This deck leans into the Poet’s Quill / Silversmote Ghoul synergy, where you can discard Silversmote Ghoul to draw a card with Poet’s Quill, and then if you gain three life, possibly because Poet’s Quill gave something lifelink, you get your Ghoul back, which you can then equip with the Poet’s Quill, and then if it trades in combat it comes back at the end of your turn.

Big creatures with Poet’s Quill are deadly with Vito, and Inscription of Abundance brings Valentin up to enough power to return Silversmote Ghoul.

Out of the sideboard you can add a Witch’s Oven / Trail of Crumbs combo to support the maindeck Gilded Goose, and Witch’s Oven can make Food by sacrificing Silversmote Ghoul, and Silversmote Ghoul returns when you sacrifice the Food to gain life.  It’s a bit more expensive than Cauldron Familiar, but still an effective way to grind with cards that are legal.

There are a lot of little synergies available here, and none of these decks could include all the cards I wanted to try in them.  It’ll take some work to tune, but it feels like there’s something strong in this space.