Innovations In (Future) Standard From SCG Tour Online $5K Strixhaven Championship Qualifier #4

Which Strixhaven previews have homes lined up in Kaldheim Standard? Bryan Gottlieb highlights five cards that fit into SCG Tour Online decks.

Professor of Symbology, illustrated by Jason Rainville

The SCG Tour Online still has two more weekends of competition scheduled before we make the shift into the brand-new Strixhaven Standard. With the metagame almost completely settled, I would be shocked to see much in the way of innovation in the coming weeks. We know the limits of this format, and that’s fine! We’ve got a bevy of decks which all ebb and flow in their respective win rates. For instance, take this week’s champion:

There were two people who registered Naya Fury in Sunday’s event, and one took down the whole event. However, the story gets even better when I tell you that Rei Zhang is also known as cftsoc. Longtime readers of the column might recognize that name as the person who is widely credited with creating the Naya Fury archetype. Rei stuck to their guns, found a window where the deck they knew inside and out could have success against the field, and got a huge result.

Surely this must be an outlier, right? No way multiple players could just stick with archetypes that the world thinks are outdated and use their knowledge of their decks to carry them to great results.

Good ol’ 35% Mono-Red. Something close to this deck also won the Standard PTQ on Magic Online. For these last events of the Kaldheim Standard season, I’m urging you to be like Rei and Brandon. Leverage all the mastery you’ve created up until this point, use it to make thoughtful sideboard plans, and play your matchups with purpose.

At this point the mathematics of finding the hot new thing are wildly unfavorable. Sure, Temur Lukka and Jeskai Mutate are out there. They even will have moments where they might convince you they can hang. The poles of this format are defined though. There are multiple good aggro decks, more midrange than you can shake a stick at, and Sultai Ramp (Yorion) covering the top end of things. There’s even some backdoor combo like Naya Fury. If you think you’re supposed to be playing something new, ask yourself, “What are you accomplishing that another deck in the format can’t already do?” There just isn’t a lot of space left.

This conclusion would have led to a very short article this week, but thankfully Strixhaven has burst onto the scene. Expect me to provide a more traditional look at some single cards as preview season rolls on, but for this article, I just wanted to take a moment to look at a few archetypes that are being played in the current Standard format that have already picked up new tools.

Usually, most of my deckbuilding time at set release is spent building from scratch. I enjoy this approach, but it certainly leads to a high percentage of misses. If you’re trying to quickly find wins in a new format without much room for error (like you might be come the SCG Tour Online events of April 23-25), some of the shortest paths to victory involve upgrading already strong archetypes. I’ve got five cards to look at today that strike me as having plug-and-play potential in proven decks.

Silverquill Command and Plargg, Dean of Chaos

Silverquill Command Plargg, Dean of Chaos

Presently, there are both multiple flavors of Sacrifice decks floating around. Mardu decks seem to play a little bigger these days, sometimes even going up to Goldspan Dragon and Kazuul’s Fury-based combo kills. The two cards I want to highlight as potential inclusions in the archetype play a little smaller than that though, and I think they slot much more cleanly into something resembling this Grixis Sacrifice deck that’s splashing for sideboard Disdainful Stroke. This deck could alter its Pathways and add a single Plains to include Silverquill Command and Plargg, Dean of Chaos, and I think both cards play well with the gameplan here.

It’s hard to imagine the Command cycle not seeing substantial play in Standard. Few Commands in Magic’s history have been total misses, and all five revealed here are versatile enough that they should find at least occasional homes. Modes on Silverquill Command play extremely well with the attrition-based gameplan that this deck is leaning into. Reanimating an Elderfang Disciple or Acquisitions Expert and forcing your opponent to sacrifice is a big resource exchange if you’re able to make the body of your creature worth anything.

Speaking of making bodies good, +3/+3 and flying on a Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger is going to end a lot of games. Adding card draw as one of the modes just assures this card is almost never dead. This might be the best of the Commands, and I think they’re all reasonable. This one just feels like it has a very obvious waiting home.

Plargg, Dean of Chaos does the Valki, God of Lies trick of cheating some more expensive permanents into a Lurrus of the Dream-Den companioned list via its flipside, and that flipside is also appealing to me for how good it is at making our otherwise insignificant bodies into reasonable threats. The quasi-vigilance provided by Augusta, Dean of Order is also excellent with our deathtouching Mire Tritons or the looting team of Magmatic Channeler and Plargg.

I’m not sure how strong Plargg’s second ability is, but these decks pride themselves on being able to create plays in low-resource situations. Having a repeatable source of card advantage, no matter how expensive and finicky, does a lot to assure a Mardu deck is able to pull itself ahead after it achieves parity. I really like both these cards, and I’m excited to see if we can finally play the resource denial deck I’ve been dreaming of for multiple sets.

Star Pupil

Star Pupil

All right, I cheated. I don’t actually think Star Pupil hops right into the existing Mono-White Aggro❄ deck. I do think the combination with Luminarch Aspirant is incredible though, and if other white cards show up that look to do things with +1/+1 counters, I won’t be shocked to see a rebuild of Mono-White Aggro❄. The main reason I mentioned Star Pupil is so I had an excuse to share this Naya Counters deck with you.

The synergies available in this archetype look so powerful now. The one-drops are valid, Conclave Mentor makes things silly very quickly, and we even have an on-theme source of card advantage in Showdown of the Skalds. If a deck like this isn’t just incredible, then something is very wrong.

Archmage Emeritus

And here’s that thing that’s very wrong.

Archmage Emeritus

It remains challenging to attempt to play games of Standard without either Adventure creatures, extreme aggression, or a massive end-game. Playing things like the aforementioned Naya Counters deck just leaves you vulnerable to the midrange decks that have the luxury of all of their cards being two-for-ones. And guess what those archetypes are getting in the form of Archmage Emeritus?

More two-for-ones.

With Adventures, this creature-based deck also is packing twenty instants and sorceries. Such a ratio should be impossible, but Adventures simply don’t make a lot of sense. I understand that Archmage Emeritus is fragile, but what are they going to do — not Stomp your Edgewall Innkeeper? Let you attack with Lovestruck Beast? Waste their removal spell the turn before you cast Goldspan Dragon?

Archmage Emeritus is just another way for this archetype to put opponents in the squeeze. You cannot run this deck out of resources. Add in the fact that you were already taking steps to protect Goldspan Dragon, and you’re perfectly set up to benefit from huge rushes of card advantage provided by Archmage Emeritus.

People aren’t buying into this card yet, and I get it. It looks and is fragile. Some people told me it was worse that Toski, Bearer of Secrets. Toski can get brick-walled in a way Archmage Emeritus can’t though. Toski is awful when you’re behind. You can also cast Archmage Emeritus in multiples unlike Toski, which means there’s some potential to actually just go off, especially if Goldspan Dragon is involved in your shenanigans.

Our own Todd Anderson remarked that Archmage Emeritus was worse than Talrand, Sky Summoner. Well first, Talrand was kind of awesome in Standard so I’d take that. But second, Talrand didn’t actually produce more resources for you. If the past few years of Magic have taught us anything, it should be about the value of snowballing games.

Archmage Emeritus does this trick. Making all your protection spells cantrip means that it is capable of living forever and taking over games, regardless of what your opponents can throw at it. I don’t this this is destined to be the best card in Standard or anything but it’s an important tool, and people are treating it like a bulk rare right now.

Professor of Symbology

Professor of Symbology

Certainly, anything that has an “enters the battlefield” ability merits some consideration with Yorion, Sky Nomad. Likewise, the “empty” version of the Learn mechanic has great synergies with the Escape mechanic or any other type of traditional reanimation ability that’s just trying to move key cards to the graveyard. All of this points to the immediate insertion of Professor of Symbology into multiple archetypes.

Again, I’ve got an ulterior motive for bringing up Professor of Symbology. I’m not going to mince words here… I’m getting big Adventure/companion vibes from the learn mechanic. If there are good Lessons in this set, I think we’re headed towards another situation where a mechanic is disregarding the things that make Magic a special game.

Having your two-drop always be worth an extra card is noteworthy in and of itself, but what happens when that extra card means you always have your removal spell on Turn 3? Or your card draw spell? Or a way to guarantee you hit your third land 100% of the time? What if it can do every single one of those things based on what the situation requires?

You’re shaving off key moments of variance, again at the cost of sideboard slots. And as we saw with companion, when you start tinkering with the fundamental elements of in-game balance for an out-of-game cost, the entire history and traditional flow of Magic is at risk.

We quickly reached a point where, in every format, you could no longer play without a companion because you’d be choosing to start with seven cards when all your opponents were starting with eight. We feel a similar pinch these days from the Adventure cards and the resource-rich games they allow you to play. You’re just always a step behind when you eschew the mechanic.

I’d consider both companion and Adventure to be costly mistakes, but companion was cataclysmic, almost certainly the worst misstep in Magic design since at least the original Mirrodin block, and if you wanted to argue that it was on par with missteps contained in Alpha I’d probably support you. So is learn closer to Adventures — a mistake that will certainly shape the game, but leaves it generally intact — or is it companion’s second coming?

Unfortunately, I can’t answer this question yet. The Lessons we’ve seen are extremely mediocre, but we also have seen a fraction of the set. Did Wizards of the Coast have the foresight to recognize that they were again flirting with dangerous territory and play the Lessons extremely safe?

For the sake of the game, I really hope so. If there are strong Lessons, this mechanic is completely messed up, and Professor of Symbology (or any cheap rare or mythic rare card with learn that gets revealed) has the potential to be the actual best card in Strixhaven.

Keep a closer eye on the learn mechanic than anything else going on in this set, and let’s hope this isn’t the thing that inspires me to write yet another deeply concerned 10,000-word opus in a few months.