The Great Strixhaven, Commander 2021, and Modern Horizons 2 Deck Update

Sheldon Menery updates his Commander decks with cards from three sets. What made the cut, and why?

Sword of Hearth and Home, illustrated by Chris Rahn

Cards are coming at us hot and fast these days, and sometimes we slip behind getting our hands on them and putting them into our decks.  Such is the case with me for a number of recent sets, so it’s time to hunker down and figure out exactly which of the new cards I’m going to put into my suite of Commander decks.  We’ll hit the high notes from Strixhaven, Commander 2021, and Modern Horizons 2 in this one.

I had thought to stop doing these deck update articles, but some feedback from the community had me change course.  They’re fun and thought-provoking pieces to do, so I’m happy that folks missed them enough to ask me to restart.  As per usual, the abject density of great new cards means that I’m not going to be able to find room for all of them in my deck collection.  There will probably be a few amazing cards that’ll lead you to think I’m crazy for not playing them.  Rest assured that there’s a really good reason, which is likely that I’m saving them for the new builds that will arise from these sets. 

For clarity’s sake, I’ll group the cards by color instead of by set.  Let’s dive right in.


Archaeomancer’s Map

Into:  Halloween with Karador

Archaeomancer’s Map has the kind of abilities that I want to feature, so it makes sense to put it into one of my signature decks.  This primary version of Karador, Ghost Chieftain runs eighteen basic lands despite playing Hermit Druid (I keep calling it the fairest use of Hermit Druid around), so Archaeomancer’s Map will have plenty to find.  While there’s an argument that the Map is a card that a nongreen deck would love, I simply can’t resist putting it into one of the decks that I love playing the most.

Esper Sentinel

Into: Merieke’s Esper Dragons

Merieke is sort of a weird deck in that it craves interaction while wanting to drop some larger creatures.  Spending lots of mana to draw cards isn’t really on the table with all the mana otherwise tied up, so passive methods of draw like Esper Sentinel are the way to go here. 

Promise of Loyalty

Into: Marchesa, Long May She Reign

One of my card designs from the time I worked on Commander 2021, Promise of Loyalty (which I originally called “Taking the Vow”) is relatively simple.  It lets a player keep the creature they most want, but those creatures have to attack someone else.  In a deck that likes to become and stay the monarch, this is the type of sweeper that makes a great deal of sense. 

Sanctifier en-Vec

Into: Lavinia Blinks

I’m a little squicky on color hate, but not so much that a card like Sanctifier en-Vec makes me lose too much sleep.  I get its power in decks that use discard and wheels, but my personal preference is to play it as a rattlesnake against some of the black recursion strategies (of which I’m quite fond myself, so I’ll be on the lookout for folks playing Sanctifier en-Vec against me).  I don’t want it as an active threat so much as a passive one.  I get that this is an entirely stylistic choice and how your mileage may vary.

Scholarship Sponsor

Into:  You Did This to Yourself

I’m obviously well on board with white as the color of catching up.  Scholarship Sponsor is right in this mechanic’s wheelhouse.  The mechanic will continue to be a thing, so we should probably figure out a name for it at some point, probably something catchier than “catch up.”  I have to be honest about my motivations for putting Scholarship Sponsor into my Ruhan of the Fomori deck here.  The primary use is exactly what the card is designed for.  Secondarily, I want everyone’s land counts high for when I play Acidic Soil.

Semester’s End

Into:  Karador Do Over

I like protecting my creatures, Wrath effects are reasonably common in my environment, and the Karador Do Over deck is based on +1/+1 counters.  Semester’s End then hits on all angles of what I want out of a card.  The trade-off over Faith’s Reward is that, while Semester’s End doesn’t protect my noncreature permanents, it makes the creatures better.  With a relatively low number of noncreature and nonplaneswalker permanents in the deck, Semester’s End is a stronger choice.


Dazzling Sphinx

Into:  The Threat of Yasova

Yasova is about borrowing your stuff for me to play with, so Dazzling Sphinx seems like a natural fit. The deck is primarily concerned with borrowing creatures, but branching out is a grand idea.  I also like that in the design, you can’t just use Dazzling Sphinx to exile an opponent’s instant or sorcery by not casting it; they get back into their library all the things not cast.  What it actually might tell me is that I just need to break down and make Sphinx tribal, because there are lots of really fun ones to play.  I have them spread out through the deck suite and maybe I need to concentrate them into a single spot.

Fractured Sanity

Into:  The Millmeoplasm

There’s really not much to say about Fractured Sanity that isn’t obvious.  It’s efficient mill (three mana for 42 total cards) and has a cycling option in case you need to punch out.  It goes right into a mill deck, although I’m going to want to double-check my mana sources and ensure that generating three blue isn’t that much of an effort. 

Inspiring Refrain

Into: Borrowing Stuff at Cutlass Point

With my love of Chronomantic Escape, Inspiring Refrain is a fitting follow-on.  Passively doing things without paying any mana is good because you save your resources for other things.  The real value of Inspiring Refrain is over the long haul, so it’s probably only good in the higher-number-of-turn games that the RC likes to promote. The card goes into this deck because it’s a little weak on card draw at the moment, and I want to try out the new cards instead of going back to one of the staples.

Perplexing Test

Into:  Ikra and Kydele

I love cards with flexibility, and Perplexing Test fits the bill.  My use will primarily be to protect myself from tokens, given that my Ikra and Kydele deck doesn’t make any.  In the environment in which I currently play with the other members of the RC, tokens are definitely a thing.  Toby has a number of decks that make them in large numbers.  Scott’s favorite deck, led by Daxos the Returned, is token-heavy, and Gavin has an Oona, Queen of the Fae deck.  Perplexing Test becomes then a metagame choice, which is how environments develop and stay healthy.

Svyelun of Sea and Sky

Into:  Thassa, God of Merfolk

Not often does a card come along and make me think that I should replace the commander of an existing deck with it, but Svyelun is one of them.  It’s perfect to lead a Merfolk deck, often granting itself indestructible as well as warding its followers.  Even if I were to stay with Thassa as the commander (which I likely will), Svyelun is going into the 99.  It’ll often be the first thing I search for with Seahunter.


Author of Shadows

Into: Adun’s Toolbox

Author of Shadows is a toolbox card, so it goes it a toolbox deck.  With Adun Oakenshield, I can regrow it if I like, in order to do it all over again.  The mana value is a little on the high side for this deck, but the payoff is well worth it.

Cunning Rhetoric

Into: Marchesa, Long May She Reign

Nothing says “don’t attack me” like exiling their cards if they do.  Marchesa will benefit from most things she gets, from the occasional land drop to the bombiest of spells.  Again, Queen Marchesa wants to be the monarch and not share it with anyone else.  I love this card.

Dauthi Voidwalker

Into:  Halloween with Karador

As I mentioned in my Modern Horizons 2 article, I believe Dauthi Voidwalker to be the best card in the set.  I’m a little leery about putting it into Karador because getting it Cloned would be super-awkward (since you can’t get back your own cards, void counters notwithstanding), but I guess you just have to live on the edge. 

Incarnation Technique

Into:  Halloween with Karador

A great deal of self-mill hasn’t been a big part of this Karador deck for a while, but Incarnation Technique is bringing me around on that.  My experience is that there’s always going to be an opponent to choose for the demonstrate ability who is less likely to bring in something good.  I suspect this card will create some memorable games.

Keen Duelist

Into:  Aminatou’s Demons

Another card that’s based on one of my designs, I can play Keen Duelist in a deck that I’m playing Dark Confidant, right? Aminatou has enough top-of-the-library control that I should know exactly what I’m getting into.


Crackle with Power

Into:  Dreaming of Intet

Deck that generates big piles of mana to cast and copy face-searing spells?  Check.  Spell that deals absurd amounts of damage to multiple targets? This game is over. 

Radiant Performer

Into: Haktos with Gavin Verhey

I’m not big into chaos, but occasionally it’s fun.  I want to play this card for no reason other than the insanity it might create.  I’m not sure it’s good, but it’ll be good times.


Blossoming Bogbeast

Into:  Kresh into the Red Zone

My primary scenario here is to pre-combat sacrifice something large to Disciple of Griselbrand, and then attack with at least Blossoming Bogbeast and Kresh.  One of this deck’s historic problems has been Kresh’s lack of evasion or trample, so Blossoming Bogbeast is part of a fine solution. 

Paradox Zone

Into:  Zegana and a Dice Bag

As I mentioned earlier, cards that do things passively once you’ve made an initial investment in them free your resources to do other things.  While it’ll take Paradox Zone a few turns to really get there, it won’t be long until that doubling really matters.  In a deck that can move around +1/+1 counters (with things like Bioshift), this can be suddenly very deadly.

Thrasta, Tempest’s Roar

Into:  Angry, Angry Dinos

Putting a big Dinosaur into a Dinosaur deck is pretty obvious.  What I’m of a mind to do is find a deck in which I can cast creatures when I can cast instants (like with Vedalken Orrery or Yeva, Nature’s Herald) and let someone else help pay Thrasta’s mana cost.  Until then, it’ll be buds with Gishash and smash faces that way.


Body of Research

Into:  Zegana and a Dice Bag

All the same comments from Paradox Zone go with Body of Research.  On its own, it will be just an immense beater, regardless of when it’s cast.  With counter-movers, watch out. 

Culling Ritual

Into: Yarok Energy

Culling Ritual is a very good card in the broad space of Commander, context notwithstanding.  For me, it’s going to be another metagame card for my local (well, webcam) environment.  As I mentioned previously, the other RC members are pretty fond of tokens.  My Culling Rituals are more likely to be cast later in the game as a combination sweeper / mana explosion than just setting back everyone two cast two-mana rocks.  In games with other folks, much remains to be seen.

Double Major

Into:  Animar’s Swarm

My thought process is that the mana I’m saving by using Animar’s ability can be used to cast Double Major.  Imagine casting a big Eldrazi for (nearly free) and then getting another for next to nothing—and if it’s Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre or Kozilek, Butcher of Truth, you get to have two (although you sadly don’t get to have the cast triggers).  Even medium-big, non-legendary things are viable here.  I’d certainly be happy to copy Progenitor Mimic or Thragtusk.  There’s lots of play in Double Major. 


Into:  Halloween with Karador

It looks like I’m rebuilding part of my Karador deck.  As I’ve said a few other times, this is a signature card destined for signature decks.  Putting it into Queen Marchesa would also be a valid choice, although what I find there is that people don’t tend to alpha strike me.  What they do it chip damage, just to get the monarch away, which would make Inkshield a little less attractive. Against Karador, there’s no similar situation, and sometimes folks just swing all-out.  I can’t wait to reply to a Craterhoof Behemoth with Inkshield.

Artifact and Colorless

Strixhaven Stadium

Into:  Rin and Seri, Inseparable

After the success of Strixhaven Stadium in our Boxing League games, I’m chomping at the bit to make it work in regular Commander.  Rin and Seri eventually get into a positive-creature state, so that I can be both as offensive and defensive as I need to get to a Stadium kill.  And worst case, it’s an interesting three-mana rock. 

Sword of Hearth and Home

Into: Lavinia Blinks

A little mana ramp to go along with something that gives me additional enters-the-battlefield triggers is exactly what I want for Lavinia.  Azorius isn’t the best at getting lands onto the battlefield, so the Sword will be a huge help.  Blinking Mulldrifters isn’t going to make me sad anytime soon. 

Wandering Archaic

Into:  Dreaming of Intet

There’s a solid chance that in play Wandering Archaic is going to do more than any other card I’ve listed here, to include Dauthi Voidwalker.  Like Strixhaven Stadium, it was a house in Boxing League; I have no reason to think it’ll be otherwise in normal play.  It’s the card that I’m most looking forward to casting and doing stuff with, mostly because it messes with the nature of the game. 

Witch’s Clinic

Into: Marchesa, Long May She Reign

Two main things get me here.  First is that Marchesa has deathtouch and I play Pathway Arrows with her.  A little lifelink isn’t going to hurt.  Second is that I have Eldrazi Displacer in the deck, and Witch’s Clinic provides some of that delicious colorless mana I crave. 

The most glaring omission here—and not because I’m saving for a new deck—is Void Mirror.  The main reason is that I want to review some of my gameplay and make sure that I’m not the player that the card would hurt the most. 

These three sets have provided me with a large number of cards to squeeze into my existing decks.  While the effort is ever more difficult as time goes on, it’s rewarding because Strixhaven, Commander 2021, and Modern Horizons 2 have provided us with compelling cards that aren’t just raw-power strong or easy to mistake for staples.  I want to put cards into my decks because they’re both fun and good; I’m pretty sure we’ve hit the mark here. 

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