If you’ve read most of my content, you’re probably aware that I’m an aggro player at heart. I love turning my creatures sideways, and have a soft spot for one-mana value cards. Usually, this means I tend to bias towards red and/or white at the beginning of a format. Those colors tend to yield the most aggressive strategies, especially when paired with each other. Furthermore, since decks at the beginning of the format aren’t as tuned and lean, aggressive decks gain an extra advantage in their ability to punish opponents with suboptimal starts. However, Lorehold, the red/white archetype in Strixhaven Limited, is not an aggressive archetype. The aggressive college is Silverquill, the black/white archetype.
This archetype supposedly cares about +1/+1 counters, as can be seen by some of the available gold cards.
However, I don’t really think any of those cards are particularly important for Silverquill. The commons, Spiteful Squad and Exhilarating Elocution, are particularly clunky. And, if Silverquill is supposed to be the fast college in the format, it needs to focus on being a lean, mean, aggressive machine. Placing +1/+1 counters is similar to using Auras, in the sense that it comes with a risk of card disadvantage in the face of removal. This is where two of the most underrated white commons come into the discussion.
They’re cheap cards that can place counters with good card-economic mitigation built in.
I expect Silverquill, if built properly, to be a particularly high-performing archetype in the first week for two reasons. The first I already outlined at the beginning of this article: aggressive decks punish players for building clunky decks, which are more common at the beginning of a format. Second, I believe the key commons for the archetype, like Guiding Voice and Star Pupil, will not be prioritized by many drafters, making it easy to get multiples until enough players realize how to properly approach Silverquill.
That being said, I’m not going into any Strixhaven draft looking to force the archetype. The following pack has a pretty good Silverquill gold card, but starting with a gold card can be risky. Would you take it?
Pack 1, Pick 1
Normally I abide by the “take the rare” approach to the beginning of the format because rares are, well, rare. It’s very hard to figure out exactly how good they are until later in a format. Playing with them, even if that means risking taking a bad card, is genuinely worth it in the long run.
However, I’m quite confident that Culmination of Studies just isn’t where you want to be. The excess damage could kill your opponent, but probably not in a deck that’s looking to play such a late-game-oriented spell. The Treasures are nice to let you cast cards that you draw immediately, but given the lack of expected cards for mana investment, it seems dubious. Furthermore, thanks to the “Exile the top X cards of your library” clause, you can’t even cast this for too much late-game without risking losing due to running out of cards in your library. I’m sure there’s some home for this card, maybe focusing on looping spells with Cogwork Archivist, but this isn’t something I believe is worth my speculation at the beginning of the format.
Aether Helix is just too expensive. Five-mana sorcery-speed bounce has never been particularly enticing, and tying on Regrowth for permanents doesn’t make it worth it. Maybe this card will facilitate some loop, or be more important than I’m expecting, but my current evaluation is that it’s too clunky for my tastes. I would rather take Frost Trickster, Field Trip, or Opt if I’m in the market for a blue or green card. Trickster can have a nice impact on the battlefield, both defensively and offensively. And Field Trip and Opt are both fantastic synergy pieces for their respective decks — Quandrix and Prismari, respectively.
That all said, I think the remaining two uncommons are better to start a draft with.
Brackish Trudge is likely quite impactful in both Silverquill and Witherbloom (although likely at its best in Witherbloom). The amount of repeatable lifegain at common in this set is staggering, and a 4/2 is a reasonable body for three mana that will maintain relevance throughout the game. If it entered the battlefield untapped, I would certainly take it out of this pack, as it could play both offensive and defensive roles in an equally impressive fashion. However, it shines most in aggressive strategies as a late-game recursive threat that’s also a solid body to curve out with. This is a little awkward, as Silverquill is aggressive and won’t be able to support the recursion to the same degree that Witherbloom can. Then again, maybe that’s part of how this card remains a balanced uncommon. I do believe it’s first-pick quality, but I don’t believe it edges out Killian, Ink Duelist, even though it has the benefit of being a single color.
Killian is so much better than he’s getting credit for. I think people are recently beginning to question priors on bears with lifelink. Bishop’s Soldier was one of the best commons in Ixalan, 17Lands has shown Story Seeker to be an incredibly high-performing common in Kaldheim, and Dave Humpherys was kind enough to share that the same was true with Mesa Unicorn in Dominaria.
It turns out that these stats just tend to be incredibly impactful. Limited games are so often about racing, and lifelink makes that incredibly difficult — more so than flyers do. In fact, I believe that lifelink is the best evergreen mechanic in Limited, with flying close by in second place.
Adding menace to the same body that Story Seeker has is nothing to scoff at. If your opponent refuses to double-block, they can never win a race. If they do, there’s some insane blowout potential as long as a single counter can be placed on Killian. Luckily, placing +1/+1 counters is pretty easy to do for Silverquill. I understand that Brackish Trudge is a safer pick that’s more in line with classic approaches to drafting. I just think that, based on the way modern Limited formats play out, Killian will contribute more to my expected win-rate than Brackish Troll. And yes, that’s after I mentally adjust for the argument that Brackish Trudge is playable in two out of five colleges while Killian is only playable in one.
Lastly, I wanted to add Lorehold Pledgemage as an honorable mention. I have no clue how good this card will be, but I can tell you I’m terrified to stare it down in combat. If your opponent has mana available and this card as a blocker, can you really attack? A 2/2 with first strike isn’t embarrassing, but it’s not where you want to be. However, a single additional point of power turns this card into a spectacular attacker and blocker, and the threat of triggering magecraft may end up doing an incredible amount of work. I have my eye on it and you should too.
Pack 1, Pick 2
The Picks So Far:
I know most people are higher on Lessons than I am, but Elemental Summoning is one of the few I’m actually willing to take early. This is a relatively weak pack, and if this were Pack 1, Pick 1, I believe the decision would come down to Elemental Summoning versus Mage Hunter, likely landing on Summoning. Mage Hunter is a hoser for magecraft, and I expect, with magecraft and learn as the marquee mechanics of the set, that Mage Hunter will trigger at least a few times in most games it’s cast on Turn 4. However, a four-mana 3/4 that deals two or three damage when it enters the battlefield isn’t a premium card by my definition. It will have particular matchups where it shines, but I wouldn’t take it over Elemental Summoning Pack 1, Pick 1.
However, with a Killian in my pool, I think my bias towards Silverquill is large enough to deviate from the “take the best card” heuristic. This also removes Decisive Denial from consideration, as it’s a good card in most Quandrix decks, but not a card that’s going to pull me away from Killian. Hence this pick is between Mage Hunter, Star Pupil, and Dueling Coach.
While I believe Mage Hunter is a better card than Dueling Coach on average, I think Coach is designed for Silverquill, and gets an additional bump from Killian, edging out Mage Hunter as an option. I’m a bit skeptical on how good the Coach will be, as Hill Giant generally isn’t close to a worthy body in modern Limited formats (and no, Sarulf’s Packmate really doesn’t count as a “Hill Giant” in my eyes). Five mana to activate that ability and lose the opportunity to attack with my four-drop just doesn’t sound enticing. This looks like a Hill Giant that gives me a mana sink when I run out of gas. That leaves a playable card, but not something I’m going to be excited about.
I actually believe the correct pick when the format settles will be Star Pupil. When I say I think this card and Guiding Voice will be the keys to success in Silverquill, I really mean it. People doubted me when I said I think there’s a world where Battlefield Raptor is a premium common in Kaldheim Draft, and look where we ended up. I genuinely believe Star Pupil will end up being the correct pick out of this pack. However, I’m taking Dueling Coach and I’m doing so for two reasons. First, I believe so many people are low on Star Pupil that it could actually wheel from this pack. Second, since it’s clear that Dueling Coach was designed for Silverquill, I think it’s a good idea to try it out in that archetype and really see if it overperforms my expectations.
Pack 1, Pick 3
The Picks So Far:
Memory Lapse is too good of a card not to get a mention here. If you’re ahead in the mid- or late-game and you cast this card, the game is basically over. And it’s still fantastic in the early-game to mess up your opponent’s curve. While it doesn’t provide protection against bombs, it’s still a highly impactful spell I believe should be taken early. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the correct pick out of this pack, but for now I’m passing up on it to continue to pursue an aggressive Silverquill deck.
Tenured Inkcaster is powerful, but clunky. I’ve heard some players are more excited about this than Dueling Coach because the triggered ability is potentially more powerful, but I’m skeptical. Five mana is so much more than four mana when we’re talking about a body this inefficient. Furthermore, I’m expecting Silverquill to go tall, not wide. I expect a lifelink creature or flyer to accumulate most of the counters. Maybe Silverquill will often end up in situations with a wide battlefield, but I don’t expect the counters to be distributed in that go-wide fashion. Because of this, I expect the impact of Inkcaster to be awkward. It asks you to cast a five-mana card and spread out your counters. Neither thing sounds enticing for Silverquill.
What I am excited about is Guiding Voice and Silverquill Pledgemage. I’m sure after drafting this set for the first week, it will be clear to me which card is correct to take here, but at the moment I’m not sure. And, when I’m not sure, I take the card that will help me learn the most, which is definitely Guiding Voice. I need to check my priors and see if this Silverquill deck really is so low to the ground that it’s excited about Guiding Voice and Star Pupil. Furthermore, it will help me calibrate my evaluation of the learn mechanic.
Let me end this article to talk you up on Silverquill Pledgemage, even though I’m not taking it. I understand that neither Vizkopa Vampire nor Leapfrog were particularly good cards in their respective formats. I understand that Silverquill Pledgemage is kind of like a mix of those two cards. However, I think it’s important to recognize that flying and lifelink shine in very separate scenarios. Lifelink helps make racing difficult, and is a terrifying mechanic to plop down on an empty battlefield. Flying helps push forward advantage when the ground is gummed up or you need to hold back blockers.
These two scenarios don’t have much overlap. When Leapfrog is bad, Vizkopa Vampire might be good. When Vizkopa Vampire is bad, Leapfrog might be good. Hence, Silverquill Pledgemage is basically always good! Furthermore, consider this card in the context of +1/+1 counters. Casting Guiding Voice on Silverquill Pledgemage and grabbing Expanded Anatomy to trigger magecraft the following turn and continue to augment the Pledgemage sounds like a suite of commons that’s difficult to beat.
In the end, my simulated deck ended up having multiples of both Guiding Voice and Silverquill Pledgemage. Furthermore, it makes me incredibly excited to draft this archetype!