Strixhaven Standard is finally here!
There’s no more exciting time to explore a format than in release week, and despite the last season of Standard being entirely solid, there’s no question we were all ready for a breath of fresh air. Honestly, I can’t stand to waste one more second with exposition — I’m going to look at the decklists.
Ah. Well. Here we are then.
Three players in the Top 8 of the SCG Tour’s $5K Strixhaven Championship Qualifier played zero new cards. The grand total of Strixhaven cards in the Top 8 by my quick count?
Out of 610 cards.
I don’t think anyone is shocked to see Strixhaven land with a resounding thud. Most pundits were saying that the set felt lower powered than its Standard contemporaries. Still, it’s hard not to be a little crestfallen upon seeing more of the same at the top of the metagame. I think there’s a good case to be made for shaking things up for variety’s sake. Ross Merriam laid out a good argument for banning Bonecrusher Giant and Edgewall Innkeeper a couple of weeks ago. Sure, nothing is inherently broken in Standard right now. However, with the sanctity and infallibility of Standard card pools long since desecrated by Throne of Eldraine, I lean towards more proactive bannings in moments that can only be described as boring. Still, I also buy that each new ban is apt to be the straw the breaks someone’s back.
We’re truly in a no-win situation when it comes to Throne of Eldraine, so I’m going to take the same approach to the problem that I take for all my unsolvable real-life quandaries. I’m going to pretend like everything is fine and keep chugging along.
On to the decks!
- 2 Woe Strider
- 2 Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger
- 2 Serrated Scorpion
- 2 Immersturm Predator
- 3 Extus, Oriq Overlord
- 4 Eyetwitch
Let’s get right to confirming some biases. On my podcast last week, I stated that I now believe Plumb the Forbidden should have been my number one card in Strixhaven First Impressions: Standard. Even after a pretty limited set of results in Week 1, I still feel the same way. If you’ve played games with this card, you know that its combo potential is simply off the charts. In conjunction with token makers like Sedgemoor Witch, you’re entirely capable of drawing most of your deck and comboing out opponents from huge life totals.
Johannes Alberyd chose to play things a little more fair with cards like Woe Strider, and that seems like an absolutely fine way to go about your business. Most of my decks have been far more focused on a combo-centric approach, but all of the potential avenues should be explored before we write Plumb the Forbidden off. Here’s a list I’ve been toying with that looks to get Korvold into the mix as well.
I’m telling you, keep tinkering with these Sacrifice shells. The best deck in Standard might not be that far off.
Many people, myself included, have been tooling around with this “new” archetype leveraging the power of a couple of Strixhaven mythics. I did have to put “new” in quotation marks because in a lot of ways this deck mirrors the gameplan of the Temur Adventures decks that we know and love. Replacing Edgewall Innkeeper is Expressive Iteration, offering powerful card selection and advantage, and Galazeth Prismari and Magma Opus are looking to both power up the deck’s top-end and accelerate to it more reliably.
After a couple of weeks of play, I’m willing to declare Magma Opus the truth in multiple formats. The card is flexible in both mode and impact, and is equally suited to ramping, card advantage, battlefield presence, and dealing with an opposing swarm. Perhaps most importantly, Magma Opus has given the archetype a bit of direct reach beyond the four Stomps that we’ve come to expect.
A card that isn’t present here but that I’ve grown to appreciate is Prismari Command. Every single one of the modes looks underwhelming, but when any of the modes is combined with making a Treasure, it starts to feel like you’re really warping the flow of the game. Turn 4 Goldspan Dragon is no joke, and I like reliable access to that line while also answering Edgewall Innkeepers, Embercleaves, and any flood which might show its ugly face.
Unfortunately, this is about it for highlights from Sunday’s main event. The rest of the Top 32 could have been pulled directly from a pre-Strixhaven tournament archetype-wise, even if the occasional Hall Monitor or Elite Spellbinder did show up. Thankfully, as we head into the SCG Tour Online satellites, we find a few more gems in the qualifying decklists.
- 4 Lovestruck Beast
- 3 Beanstalk Giant
- 4 Edgewall Innkeeper
- 4 Bonecrusher Giant
- 3 Brazen Borrower
- 3 Terror of the Peaks
- 4 Quandrix Cultivator
Quandrix Cultivator found a ready-made home in Sultai Ramp (Yorion), but I’m actually not over the moon about the card in that archetype. It’s fine as a one- or two-of, but it feels like the decks trying to replace Cultivate with four copies of Quandrix Cultivator are just asking for trouble.
Instead, I wonder if its presence can bring Temur Ramp around to being a reasonable choice again. Temur has always been far more reliant on its Ultimatum than the Sultai decks, and the pieces just weren’t in place to keep the permanent count high enough while also ramping quickly enough. Quandrix Cultivator changes that.
If the deck is going to carve out a niche for itself, I think it needs to push a bit more towards the combo side of the spectrum. For this reason, I’m interested in the builds packing more copies of Terror of the Peaks; Yorion, Sky Nomad; and Glasspool Mimic for instant kills. Maybe it’s time to get away from Edgewall Innkeeper and just accept that if we want to play that gameplan, we’re better served with traditional Temur Adventures.
Also showing up from Strixhaven is Decisive Denial, and I absolutely love the card here. This deck is uniquely suited to challenge Sultai on the stack, and still has enough removal and big bodies to give aggro decks fits. When we come to the sideboard, I think this deck should look to use Koma, Cosmos Serpent when it expects to face countermagic on the other side of the table. You just ramp so effortlessly, and it combines seamlessly with the pre-existing Terror of the Peaks plans.
There’s no question these Temur Ramp decks have to get the setup just right, but it feels like there’s some real potential here.
- 2 Kenrith, the Returned King
- 4 Bonecrusher Giant
- 4 Winota, Joiner of Forces
- 1 Seasoned Hallowblade
- 4 Selfless Savior
- 3 Skyclave Apparition
- 4 Usher of the Fallen
- 1 Reidane, God of the Worthy
- 4 Professor of Symbology
- 1 Elite Spellbinder
- 4 Blade Historian
Winota, Joiner of Forces has always lived and died by the quality of its Human compatriots. Things back in the Agent of Treachery days often felt like easy mode. Since Agent hopped on the ban train, Winota’s been looking everywhere for a new best friend. Is it going to be Blade Historian? Early signs say… eh. Boros Winota was definitely more present than it was pre-Blade Historian, but only had a smattering of noteworthy finishes.
Boros Winota has other questions besides its key payoff that really need to be answered. Is Professor of Symbology into a token maker actually leading to game wins? How big does the Lesson package need to be? Does the deck need another “big” Human like Kenrith, the Returned King, or are you just supposed to max out on Elite Spellbinders?
Perhaps the most inscrutable question right now is “what are the best two-drops for the deck?” Philippe Diaz, aka Mansonian, seemed to be happy leaving the two-drop slot thin, with only 4 Professor of Symbology and 1 Seasoned Hallowblade. This is an interesting approach, but I found my favorite answer to the two-drop conundrum over on everyone’s favorite website.
Honestly, this was one of the most effective arguments for a Magic card I’ve seen in a long time. Simultaneously succinct and thorough, @wachelreeks has absolutely sold me on Strict Proctor.
This deck from Mike Parker is absolutely wild, because I love all of these cards individually, and I even think they combine to form a very cohesive whole. It’s just almost all of your cards are worth one card, and everyone else has a bunch of cards worth at least two cards. Decks like this feel like the most blatant victims of the Adventures era. There will be a day when something like this feels extremely good again. I just don’t buy that it’s right now.
There was a period where Magic was just about choosing the best four-cost mana-generating enchantment for a given week. Even in the midst of Fires of Invention and Wilderness Reclamation doing legitimately broken things, it still felt like Titans’ Nest was on the cusp of partying with the big players.
Now, in a more stable environment, we all owe it to ourselves to keep an eye on this archetype. And while the additions here might look fairly minor, with just Curate and Professor Onyx making the cut from Strixhaven, I think the big planeswalker might be exactly what this deck was missing. Professor Onyx facilitates combo kills, finds and charges your engine, and is just a straight-up effective card in your broader control plan.
The real question is going to be whether this deck does enough better than Sultai Ramp (Yorion) to justify its own portion of the metagame. Surprisingly, I think this deck’s ability to advance its gameplan while keeping its own shields up means the answer is yes.
The final deck in our journey points to the power of Transmogrify in this “not quite removal-light, but removal-limited” format. There are still some decks that simply can’t beat a Dream Trawler, but this deck really got me interested in the Velomachus Lorehold side of things. Did you know it’s pretty trivial to Transmogrify on Turn 3 in Standard?
This deck isn’t quite good yet, but it’s… something. Velomachus Lorehold isn’t doing enough to end games yet, and I think it’s a little foolish to attempt this without just going to the full five colors and splashing some sideboard countermagic. Otherwise, you’re just going to end up facing down Emergent Ultimatum. Still, the premise of Turn 3 Transmogrify is solid, and I think Mythos of Snapdax might be sneaky good against the types of battlefields we currently see in Standard.
Decks like this point to my ultimate takeaway from this first week of Strixhaven Standard. There are still some very real limitations on the format, but there are more tools to deal with those limitations than ever. It’s not going to be easy to carve out space in a Throne of Eldraine-dominated format, but there are a bunch of archetypes that feel like they just need to get their numbers squared away. If we do the work, maybe we can get the dominoes to start falling.