Expressive Iteration Is The Most Powerful Card In Strixhaven

The larger a format, the better Expressive Iteration gets. Todd Anderson builds with the Strixhaven preview in Vintage, Legacy, Modern, and Pioneer.

Expressive Iteration, illustrated by Anastasia Ovchinnikova
Expressive Iteration, illustrated by Anastasia Ovchinnikova

Prismari students dance in the tension between passion and perfection.

Expressive Iteration will see play in basically every format, but will shine brightest where it can be the heart and center of a Prowess-style strategy. It’s one of the most powerful draw spells I’ve ever seen, because it puts an emphasis on one specific type of card without directly referencing it.

Expressive Iteration

The clause stating that you can play the exiled card until the end of turn will allow you to play a free land a high percentage of the time. As long as you’re patient on casting it, Expressive Iteration will be one of the smoothest pieces of card draw you’ll ever play. Like Brainstorm before it, casting it on the turn correlating with its casting cost isn’t exactly recommended, but can certainly be used however you need it to be used in a pinch.

On the third turn, Expressive Iteration will likely draw a card, put a bad one on the bottom, and provide a free land drop. Sound familiar? Light Up the Stage is used in a very similar way, though the bottleneck comes from needing spectacle. The two cards might play nicely together, but I’m thinking Expressive Iteration will see play in virtually every Izzet deck, whereas Light Up the Stage is mostly restricted to hyper-aggressive red strategies featuring a ton of one-mana spells.

As the game progresses, Expressive Iteration will become one of your best topdecks. Not only does it help find specific answers to whatever situation you’re getting boxed into, it can generate a little card economy as well. For two mana, that’s reminiscent of Chart a Course but without a lot of the bells and whistles. Or rather, we need a different subset of bells and/or whistles to get full value out of our new toy.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Cheap Is Good, Free Is Better

Expressive Iteration will shine in older formats because of their nature to boil down every slot to the most efficient version of every effect. There’s a reason the average casting cost in decks decreases as you gain access to more cards. Over time, there should be enough cheap cards that fill all the spaces, which in turn makes cards with timing clauses a bit better. Ideally, our deck would be full of cheap or free spells so we can always get full value out of Expressive Iteration. What format has more cheap cards than Vintage!?

Once you get into Vintage, all bets are off. There are so many free spells that a first- or second-turn Expressive Iteration off Moxen or other fast mana isn’t out of the question. It will dig for your better stuff while creating a little economy along the way. That card economy can help fuel your protection spells like Force of Will and Force of Negation while also being blue itself to pitch. My gut says that just about every Izzet core will want four copies simply because it’s very nearly a two-mana draw-two, but it might even be better than that.

Here we see Expressive Iteration complementing a somewhat generic “good stuff” deck. A few copies can go a long way in Vintage, so it’s important to not go overboard until we find out just how good (or great) it actually is. It might be better in a Paradoxical Outcome deck, if only because you’re playing more zero-mana artifacts to hit. Any deck playing Mox Opal should probably be playing Expressive Iteration in the very near future.

As we move further up the pole, Legacy starts to sound a little juicy. With Dreadhorde Arcanist gone, we don’t have to put as much of an emphasis on one-mana spells. Hopefully that opens up some space to play more card advantage spells that alleviate some of the tension brought on by Force of Will.

When combo is such a potential threat, the need to play four copies or more of Force puts us in some rough spots when we play against fair decks. Brian Braun-Duin was one of the first to start trimming Force of Will back in the day when resource control was so difficult. The dominance of Dreadhorde Arcanist helped fuel the torrent of resources required to smother the format in control decks. Will Expressive Iteration fill that gap again?

But I’m not looking to slot it into an existing archetype. I’m looking for it to create space inside an existing metagame. The first place I want to try it? An old favorite.

I’ve played a lot of Jeskai Ascendancy over the years. It doesn’t take much to clown your opponent and make the game feel like you’re playing a different format. We’re not trying too terribly hard to get the engine rolling because Jeskai Ascendancy kind of just does it all once it’s on the battlefield.

You could make an argument to build this deck a number of different ways, and the current iteration is just a placeholder for a larger idea. Mostly I just want to showcase how powerful Expressive Iteration can be in a fair-ish blue deck that also happens to feature some zero-mana artifacts. Emry, Lurker of the Loch is missing because I didn’t want to shove all-in on the artifact theme, but I’m sure there’s some version that also gets Urza into the mix.

Jeskai Ascendancy

Jeskai Ascendancy thrives on cards that generate bursts of resources. Treasure Cruise was outrageous since it gave you the raw resources necessary to loot, but since its banning the deck has felt like it just needed a little push. I’m sure there’s a hybrid somewhere that plays a lot of artifacts and truly puts Expressive Iteration through its paces.

Play One Way

When you start to talk about Expressive Iteration in Modern or Pioneer, the conversation changes a bit. Jeskai Ascendancy could work there too, as the Emry / Ascendancy combo is pretty valuable even without access to Mox Opal (Mox Amber does the job decently in its stead). If you want to go that route, I’m sure Expressive Iteration will be excellent. I’m looking to exploit it in another archetype altogether.

This deck doesn’t pull any punches and is even using one of the weirdest prowess cards in existence — Burning Prophet. It looks like a throw-away at first until you realize that filtering away all the excess lands means you’re never going to run out of steam. It hits hard with Crash Through and Mutagenic Growth, two cards I’d like to see more of if people aren’t playing flying creatures. Crash Through was always one of the scariest tools they had at their disposal when I was trying to fend them off. Blocking is already hard enough and Crash Through makes it almost impossible.

Expressive Iteration shines here because we hit all the buttons:

  • Multiple spell count to fuel prowess
  • Light on lands so digging for them is more important
  • Cheap and/or free spells at our disposal

If the format is more interactive, a burst of cards from Expressive Iteration feels like cheating. An aggressive deck chock-full of cheap threats and utility spells makes a mid-game Expressive Iteration completely busted. The incorporation of Mishra’s Bauble is icing on the cake.

Modern can be really fun, but I’ve got my eye on one last format where I think Expressive Iteration will change the way we think about red aggro. Pioneer has given us many cool and interesting decks that feel a lot like old Standard decks but also generates some clones of Modern or Legacy archetypes that are a little weaker.

Burn has been one of the better decks in Pioneer for a while, but I’ve never been a fan of Boros Charm in the format. I know it’s powerful, but there aren’t enough Lava Spike types in Pioneer to check my box. If I wanted to deal all twenty damage with burn spells, Boros Charm is an obvious choice. Instead, we’re left trying to deal the brunt of our damage with creatures, which means we need to build a little differently.

Now we’re talking! The blue splash here is light, but it almost feels free. Outside of dealing ourselves a little bit of damage, all of our lands can tap for either blue or red while entering the battlefield untapped. There’s a good possibility that we should be using fewer blue sources or trying to play more blue cards. I’m sure there are some cool Wizards for Wizard’s Lightning we could try out in that slot. Ghitu Lavarunner hasn’t done me wrong yet so I think I’ll keep it around for now.

I do think Expressive Iteration is good enough to splash on its own, but this version needs to play it more carefully. It’s a third-turn play as opposed to a second-turn play in all the other formats we’ve talked about. Without access to free spells, we have to be a little more patient, but our third turns will be absolutely broken in terms of refresh rate and mana efficiency. The land we find off Expressive Iteration should be able to cast most spells in our deck. Once our mana is set up, a mid-game Expressive Iteration can claw you back from the brink, finding two burn spells or just a few threats once our opponent has wasted all their creature interaction.

Express Yourself

Expressive Iteration is such a powerful card that I believe it’ll find a home or help build new archetypes in effectively all the formats it touches. It’s incredible. It reminds me of the days when Strategic Planning was one of the cooler plays in Legacy, since putting a card into your graveyard almost felt like drawing a card. It enabled many awesome strategies and ended up being a successful part of Pioneer. Now that we’re starting to see more cards explore that same space, I’m hoping Expressive Iteration will follow in its footsteps.

As an Izzet mage at heart, I’ll happily adopt the college of Prismari. Izzet was all about creation through science. The cool part of Prismari is that you’re creating magic through art. Expression is built into the magic that the college wields, meaning each spell can be interpreted a few different ways. That’s why many are modal, while others are extremely specific.

Each spell is brought to fruition in a different way based on who’s casting it, but that just means each spell is unique to the caster in some way. A choice, an effect with different targeting capabilities, or even just a student who’s particularly adept at copying their neighbor’s homework. Prismari does the Izzet clan proud with Expressive Iteration, and I’ll happily be casting it for some time to come.