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Strixhaven First Impressions: Standard

Strixhaven brims with potential for Standard, but which cards will make the cut? Eight SCG creators cast their votes, with surprising results.

Vanishing Verse, illustrated by Chris Seaman

Welcome to Strixhaven: School of Mages First Impressions week!

All week long, various members of the SCG Staff will share their thoughts on the Top 5 Strixhaven cards in each format. Today we’ll begin with Standard, Tuesday will be Historic, Wednesday will be Pioneer, and Thursday will be Modern. To add a little fun to the mix, a scoring system has been put in place so that we can get an idea of what card ranked in what place in the aggregate to close out each article. The scoring system is as follows:

  • 1st — 5 points
  • 2nd — 4 points
  • 3rd — 3 points
  • 4th — 2 points
  • 5th — 1 point

Let’s start this party with the Elite Spellbinder himself, shall we?

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa

  1. Baleful Mastery
  2. Furycalm Snarl
  3. Elite Spellbinder
  4. Sedgemoor Witch
  5. Flamescroll Celebrant // Revel In Silence

Baleful Mastery Furycalm Snarl Elite Spellbinder Sedgemoor Witch Flamescroll Celebrant

Choosing a Top 5 for Strixhaven has been a lot harder than doing it for Kaldheim, for two main reasons. The first is that the set has no flagship card — there’s nothing that you look at and say, “Well, this is going to make waves in Standard.” In Kaldheim, I could point at Goldspan Dragon and know with relative certainty that it was going to be one of the best cards, since it had the ability to simply create decks around it even if they didn’t exist before, but there’s no “safe” choice in Strixhaven — everything is speculative and metagame-dependent.

The second reason is that I haven’t paid as much attention to the set as I had to Kaldheim, both because it’s earlier in the season (we haven’t had the release event yet) and because we have the MPL League Week next weekend and it’s not going to include Strixhaven (no, I don’t get the timing either). As such, my degree of confidence in this list is much lower and I would not be surprised if I was just wrong in everything. That said, let’s get to it!

It’s not super-clear to me how good Baleful Mastery is — it’s the type of card you mostly have to play with to know — but it strikes me as a card that, if it’s good, it’ll see a lot of play (while seeing no play at all if it’s bad). It’s not a fringe card that some strategies might want; it’s either good enough on rate to be widely played or not good enough on rate to see any play. I think it is good enough. 

Four mana to exile a creature or planeswalker is the baseline we’ve worked on for a while, but Eat to Extinction has an added clause to it and still hasn’t seen any serious play. Is the added clause on Baleful Mastery enough better? I think so. The ability to cast your four-mana card for two mana is huge, even if you’re also paying a pretty big cost outside of it — it’s fine that they’re drawing a card if it means you’re exiling a 6/3 double-striking Anax, Hardened in the Forge that’s about to kill you. 

This card also gets better because one of the premier black decks in the format, Sultai Ramp (Yorion), goes over the top of everything. Yeah, sure, they can draw a card, but that extra card is not going to matter much if you live to get to seven mana. There’s a risk you’re fixing their draw for them, of course, but that was also a risk with Path to Exile and that card ended up being pretty good. 

Of all the new multicolored lands, Furycalm Snarl strikes me as the most powerful because Boros has good cards but is lacking in its manabase. Showdown of the Skalds, while powerful, is currently relegated to a Naya shell because the mana in Boros just doesn’t work (which is kind of ironic — “Hey, two colors doesn’t work, so here’s three of them without a Triome,” but the colored requirements on the other deck are a bit different), and we also have powerful two-drops in white that red seems to mostly be lacking. Is this enough to dethrone both the monocolor Faceless Haven builds and the three-color Adventure builds? I’m not sure, but it was a requirement for us to even begin talking about it, and now that it exists we can make that choice. 

I’m contractually obliged to put Elite Spellbinder in every Top 5 list to the end of time, but I feel like it actually belongs here because it seems like a pretty good card in any aggressive white deck, especially if Sultai Ramp retains its big metagame share. Elite Spellbinder is much more effective against Shadows’ Verdict and Emergent Ultimatum than it is against Doomskar. I also believe there might be enough in this set to make Boros a real thing, and it has a chance to see play in that too.

Sedgemoor Witch is better than it looks. At first glance, it’s a more expensive Young Pyromancer, which is pretty bad as Young Pyromancer is the first card you want to cast, so it being more expensive is a real cost, but it’s also a much more real card by itself than Pyromancer, as a 3/2 with menace can be a beater and the three damage they need to take to kill it adds up. In an aggressive deck, I feel like you’re getting your money’s worth here — it’s a three-drop that the opponent is super-incentivized to kill with spells (since it’s hard to block and it’s going to be making tokens if it lives) but that then will punish them for doing so. Also, unlike Bonecrusher Giant, it damages them on spells and abilities, so there’s no going around it with Binding the Old Gods.

I don’t know which deck would want to play this right now, but I suspect Rakdos decks might be interested, especially if they slant more aggressively than they were before. Past that, I’m not so sure, but I think the card has enough potential to be good that it felt worth including it in my Top 5 even if I don’t currently have a good home for it. 

Flamescroll Celebrant is an interesting two-drop for aggressive red decks. It’s a 2/1 creature that gets pumped at a fair rate and plays quite well with Embercleave that also pings the opponent when they use Fabled Passage or Faceless Haven, or when they cycle a card, as well as when they sacrifice Selfless Savior or use a Castle. Overall the ability is not going to come up a lot of times in a game unless you’re playing against Jeskai Cycling specifically (at which point it might singlehandedly win the game), but it might deal one or two extra points of damage here and there.

By itself, Flamescroll Celebrant might not be powerful enough to make the list. The big breakthrough is the back side of it — Revel in Silence. This type of card is useless 90% of the time and game-winning the other 10%, and it being a split card means you’re only casting it that 10% of the time. The biggest use is to flat-out counter Emergent Ultimatum, but you can also use it to prevent a sweeper or an Embercleave on a key turn. Given that Sultai Ramp is currently the biggest predator of Naya (and potentially Boros) decks in Standard, having a card that is so targeted at them but that’s just a creature versus everyone else is a powerful combination.

Bryan Gottlieb

  1. Velomachus Lorehold
  2. Silverquill Command
  3. Professor of Symbology
  4. Blade Historian
  5. Baleful Mastery

Velomachus Lorehold Silverquill Command Professor of Symbology Blade Historian Baleful Mastery

Strixhaven is the weakest Magic set we’ve seen in a long time. I understand that this reads like criticism, but I’m actually quite happy to make this declaration. The biggest shift is that the cards and mechanics are being asked to sink or swim based more on utility than sheer rate. I expect this will have a positive influence on the gameplay experience leading to more exciting games, viable cards, and back and forth games of Magic… eventually.

Obviously, all of this is occurring in the shadow of possibly the most powerful Magic set ever in Throne of Eldraine. Until that set rotates, Strixhaven will mostly add to the format by means of utility. This conclusion leaves me with a choice for my Top 5 list: Do I highlight the cards that will have the largest immediate impact, or should I focus more on long-term potential to be a pillar in a post-Eldraine world?

Neither answer felt exactly right to me, so this review captures a little from column A and a little from column B. It certainly helps that the power level here feels extremely flat. I don’t think my Number 1 card is that much better than my Number 5 card, which isn’t that much better than my Number 10 card. I would be shocked if my fellow writers and I have anything resembling a consensus here. That’s kind of fun though, and I’m looking forward to seeing what cards everyone else is excited about.

Baleful Mastery is probably the safest inclusion on my list, but it also does very little to actually move the needle in Standard. Black has a diverse array of removal, and all the pieces have ups and downs. The drawback on Baleful Mastery’s alternate casting cost is much bigger than a lot of people will anticipate, and you’ll do your best to avoid relying on this mode as your early removal against aggressive decks. As such, this will just be added to the rotation with Heartless Act and Eliminate, not take over for them.

Blade Historian has two strong points of support already present in this Standard format — Winota, Joiner of Forces and Heliod, Sun-Crowned. Those two cards have Eternal pedigrees, and Blade Historian will allow both to win a lot of games out of nowhere. However, white already has some access to these game-over scenarios with Maul of the Skyclaves and Halvar, God of Battle. I’m not sure if Blade Historian setups have advantages over the existing Mono-White Aggro setups, but it’s worth a try.

Professor of Symbology is the best of the learn cards by a good distance. Even though I’ve cooled off on the learn mechanic after seeing how weak most Lessons are, this card is still pretty close to Elvish Visionary with a possibly relevant creature type in Cleric. A small Lesson package to ensure a third land drop via Environmental Sciences, create a late-game finisher with Mascot Exhibition, and provide a little emergency removal via Reduce to Memory could still be a thing for the white decks of the future. Learn has certainly come up plenty short of the format-defining mechanic I thought it would be though.

Silverquill Command just has a lot of good modes in a format where the two-drops are uniquely positioned to play an attrition game. Charming Prince; Acquisitions Expert; Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger; Plargg, Dean of Chaos; and several other two-mana creatures can forge attrition-based gameplans via reanimation, and I think +3/+3 and flying on a Kroxa is exactly the knockout punch that a lot of these decks were looking for. It’s just a solid spell that can potentially create value on par with the Adventure creatures that will continue to define the format.

And then we have my Number 1 card in the set, Velomachus Lorehold. It feels very weird to have a Number 1 card that I think has a possibility of seeing zero play. If you’re asking me what card in the set is mostly like to inspire brand-new archetypes though, this is it. Both reanimation and Transmogrifying to cheat Velomachus Lorehold onto the battlefield are appealing to me, but Velomachus Lorehold gets bonus points for being a reanimation target that I can pretty happily cast as well. Instant output from your reanimation target is a big deal, and Velomachus Lorehold will really shine in decks that are able to put together combo / control-type finishes.

A lot of Velomachus Lorehold’s success will hinge on the type of removal being played. There are certainly worlds where you should just cheat Dream Trawler onto the battlefield instead. Also, the available spell mix will matter a bunch as well (see the presence of Time Warp in Historic). I don’t know if those two things line up perfectly in Standard at this moment in time or not. But like I said, this is a weak set. If you’re looking for a reason to abandon the existing metagame, you’ll have to stretch a bit. The big Dragon is definitely a stretch, but the inherent power in the card feels undeniable.

Gerry Thompson

  1. Expressive Iteration
  2. Vanishing Verse
  3. Galazeth Prismari
  4. Elite Spellbinder
  5. Tempted by the Oriq

Expressive Iteration Vanishing Verse Galazeth Prismari Elite Spellbinder Tempted by the Oriq

My confidence level in evaluating this set is relatively low. The average length of text on each card is high and they all do fairly distictive things. The many moving pieces make it difficult to see the full picture without getting to play with the cards. Eyeballing it has been tough. Many of the DFCs are solid but likely won’t show up in large numbers. My Top 5 list is defined by cards I (mostly) believe will show up often.

First up, we have Expressive Iteration. It’s easy to see numerous situations where it can translate into an easy two-for-one. Decks like Dimir Rogues and Temur Adventures already utilized Of One Mind for velocity and quick card advantage. Having that effect is a total game-changer for consistency and Expressive Iteration will provide that for some other decks. In the case of Temur Adventures, it’s likely better than Of One Mind.

Vanishing Verse is one of the strongest removal spells we’ve seen in some time. There are two clear downsides — being limited to monocolored targets and requiring Orzhov mana. We haven’t had a solid Orzhov deck and I’m not certain it will start here. Still, there are various three-color combinations that could be strong enough and Vanishing Verse will be a large part of their success.

One of the most underrated cards in the set is Galazeth Prismari. We’ve already know how powerful a solid threat plus some mana return can be with Goldspan Dragon. Galazeth Prismari works well with Goldspan Dragon and can even function like a miniature version of it. Using your artifacts to cast Adventures or foretell cards while keeping your Treasures around for later looks very good.

Paulo’s card, Elite Spellbinder, also looks great. Its applications might be limited but Mono-White Aggro is an already existing home. Three power and having the tax linger even after its removed can potentially put it above something like Reidane, God of the Worthy.

Finally, there’s another card that clearly has some weaknesses in Tempted by the Oriq. As long as Lovestruck Beast is a pillar of the format, anything that’s good against it will be worth considering. Tempted by the Oriq is difficult to cast and limited in application but if the effect is worth it, you should be willing to find solutions to the mana issues.

Brad Nelson

  1. Vanishing Verse
  2. Blade Historian
  3. Baleful Mastery
  4. Elite Spellbinder
  5. Callous Bloodmage

Vanishing Verse Blade Historian Baleful Mastery Elite Spellbinder Callous Bloodmage

Making this list was a lot more challenging than it was for Kaldheim. It just doesn’t seem like Strixhaven has many flashy tools to combat the Adventure package, Dimir Rogues, and Sultai Ramp. Don’t get me wrong — this Elder Dragon cycle looks awesome, but we’re going to have to wait for Throne of Eldraine to cycle out before they really get to spread their wings.

My list isn’t all that flashy this time around. These are just five cards that I think can hang with current Standard. Vanishing Verse seems perfect for Yorion-based blink strategies looking for a clean answer to early Adventure creatures, Eldraine’s mythic artifacts, and even a Wolfwillow Haven when you want to slow your ramp opponents down. Honestly, there really isn’t a more perfect removal spell that could have been printed for exactly Esper Blink (Yorion) and I think this card could help that strategy come back in a big way.

Blade Historian is an interesting one. I love that it can’t be hit by Bonecrusher Giant’s Stomp, but that really shouldn’t be a big ask for four-drops in 2021. Really what sets this card apart is that we’ve seen how powerful Torbran, Thane of Red Fell is when you slam him on the table and swing. Blade Historian will do similar things in a Boros deck that now has even more fixing thanks to Furycalm Snarl. Losing Faceless Haven to play two colors might sting a bit, but I honestly think Blade Historian will be worth the second color investment.

Baleful Mastery might be my pet card, but I think I love it. Magic is a whole different card game these days, and it seems like no one is really running out of gas. That’s what makes this card so interesting, as it can be a removal spell in a deck like Sultai Ramp. You don’t always need to pay half price, but when you do it shouldn’t feel that bad since every deck is designed to draw a million cards anyway plus your plan should go over the top.

Elite Spellbinder is just good. I don’t exactly know where it goes, but I know it’s powerful. What’s great is that we’ll know shortly after the Arena release, because there’s no way the best player in the world isn’t going to try to make his own card work. Paulo just isn’t that humble!

Lastly we have Callous Bloodmage. Not the most powerful card out there, but I think it’s going to be a great addition to Blink strategies as all three modes can be relevant. I especially love how you can exile your own graveyard to slow down Dimir Rogues. Not flashy, but just might be good enough to see play in a deck that loves enters-the-battlefield abilities.

Todd Anderson

  1. Vanishing Verse
  2. Lorehold Command
  3. Devastating Mastery
  4. Callous Bloodmage
  5. Multiple Choice

Vanishing Verse Lorehold Command Devastating Mastery Callous Bloodmage Multiple Choice

I was actually impressed with how hard it was to come up with a Top 5 for this article. Strixhaven offers a lot of unique tools to do just about anything you can think of. There are new mechanics to build around, as well as some powerful standalone threats. As far as Standard is concerned, chances are you need to do something pretty messed up to break through the noise of Bonecrusher Giant, so I was putting an emphasis on cards that could dodge or mostly ignore some of the more prevalent annoyances in the format. I also picked a few cards I think absolutely kick ass.

Let’s start at the bottom. Multiple Choice is currently my favorite card in the set. Offering a host of different costs to do the thing you need it to do, Multiple Choice also gives the caster such a huge potential advantage if you cast it for the full five mana. None of the abilities are all that good on their own, but each one is roughly one more mana on average for that type of effect. An easy sacrifice to make for such a sweet payoff when you hit the five-mana breaking point.

Callous Bloodmage was one of the cards shown to our own PVDDR for winning the World Championship last year. While he went with another hottie (which we’ll be discussing later in the week), Callous Bloodmage is my pick for best creature in the set for Standard. There are some seven- and eight-mana mythic rares that might prove me wrong, but Callous Bloodmage is basically a Charm on a creature. Getting the right effect for whatever weird situation you’re in sounds excellent to me. I was always a fan of Phyrexian Rager, and this seems like a nice homage while increasing power level to justify its existence in such a powerful environment. I love everything about this card.

Devastating Mastery is Planar Cleansing that can be cast as a tempo spell. At six mana, Devastating Mastery will clean up all the bad stuff your opponent has been doing for the first five turns. While it hits your stuff too, a control deck could be built in such a way to completely ignore this drawback. The kicker here is that Devastating Mastery can be cast for two less mana when the time calls for it. One major downside to Planar Cleansing was the hefty six-mana cost. At four, it becomes unbelievable. Even if your opponent is saving a few permanents, I’d still pay 2WW for a sweeper that bounced or killed everything. The name of the game in Strixhaven is variability and I’m all about it.

Lorehold Command is absolutely brutal in a fair-on-fair matchup. When I first read this card, I thought to myself how good a five-mana 3/2 plus Lightning Helix would be. I believe that will be one of the more chosen combinations, but thinking about a bunch of different iterations in different scenarios just makes my mouth water. It’s such a lopsided spell that you’ll be able to seal the game when you’re ahead by protecting your battlefield, or kill something, gain life, and make a blocker when you’re behind. Five mana is not cheap, but damn what a card this is.

The last card, which I assume will be on most people’s lists, is Vanishing Verse. I haven’t seen a removal spell this efficient since Abrupt Decay. It will see play in virtually every format, and most decks that can play it will want four. I doubt that’s an accident. I’m all about having more efficient removal as it promotes trading resources instead of ignoring each other. When every single playable permanent says “draw a card” or similar, removal can’t cost more than the cards being targeted. I also like that there’s a significant drawback in some matchups or scenarios. Some of the strongest cards in Magic’s history are multicolored, including a lot of planeswalkers seeing play in older formats. There will be some feel-bad moments, but that’s important for creating balance with interactive spells.

Ari Lax

  1. Expressive Iteration
  2. Multiple Choice
  3. Elite Spellbinder
  4. Vanishing Verse
  5. Galazeth Prismari

Expressive Iteration Multiple Choice Elite Spellbinder Vanishing Verse Galazeth Prismari

Expressive Iteration is absurd — it’s a two-mana Divination. Not even “Chart-a-Course-I-need-to-do-something-Divination.” Just “Oh-I-didn’t-play-a-land-yet-this-turn-it’s-Divination.” Even ignoring magecraft existing, what the heck? And the next best card is also an amazing cantrip. Multiple Choice is basically Mulldrifter and Aethersnipe having a baby, and Mulldrifter was a solid pillar of a comically overpowered Standard.

After those, I’m looking at the cards that are clearly good but have some obvious fail case where they don’t quite hit the format.

Elite Spellbinder is really good, but it has tough competition with Skyclave Apparition and Lurrus of the Dream-Den in the three-drop slot. I expect it to put up a good showing against those cards, but it’s hard to put “generic three-drop aggressive creature” higher up the curve when that slot has such a long history of being great but replaceable.

Vanishing Verse is really good removal for a format where we aren’t seeing many multicolored cards, but there are two things holding it back from being a slam dunk. The first is that it can’t kill Faceless Haven, Lurrus of the Dream-Den, and Soaring Thought-Thief, which means there’s still room for Heartless Act or Eliminate. But it does kill Seasoned Hallowblade, Embercleave, and more. The other issue: am I actually putting Orzhov mana into my deck? Strixhaven has a couple other reasons to play those colors, but it’s a bit of a hard sell in the current card set. It’s a generic good card, but could fail hard.

Galazeth Prismari is my sorta-longshot this set, though it’s hard to call an abbreviated Urza, Lord High Artificer a longshot. Expect this card to boost the stock of Miscast and Snakeskin Veil, and all I’m looking for are the other incidental artifacts that make it worth even more mana on resolution.

Shaheen Soorani

  1. Vanishing Verse
  2. Eureka Moment
  3. Reject
  4. Rip Apart
  5. Professor Onyx

Vanishing Verse Eureka Moment Reject Rip Apart Professor Onyx

My Top 5 for Strixhaven was tough to craft, due to the clear drop in power level in comparison to the last few sets.  There are many cards that make my Commander decks; however, the Standard implication is a bit lacking.  In this list, there’s one card that absolutely floored me as a game-changer across all competitive formats, even though there was a clear drop in overall card strength in Strixhaven.

Vanishing Verse is an all-star, better than any other removal spell made in years.  It exiles most threats, regardless of card type, and is an instant to boot.  I could not believe my eyes when I saw it and it fits perfectly in the Esper Control worldview I have held since birth.  The playability of Vanishing Verse in Standard will depend solely on the color combination’s metagame viability.  I will confidently drop it as a three- or four-of in Esper Control, but it will need other applications to remain on top.

The rest of the list has not wowed me just yet.  Eureka Moment, Reject, and Rip Apart will likely have a strong showing in Standard, as they are the most powerful face-value spells in Strixhaven.  Eureka Moment draws a couple of cards and lets you play a land at the end of the opponent’s turn, continuing to create a surge of envy in my soul.  I wish my favorite control colors would let my draw spells do that for me, but I will settle for a Behold the Multiverse for now.

Reject is possibly stronger than Essence Scatter, for its planeswalker and exile upsides.  I say “possibly” because it’s not a hard counter, providing worse late-game application.  Rip Apart is another wordy utility spell.  It destroys an enchantment, artifact, three-toughness (or less) creature, or three-loyalty (or less) planeswalker.  That’s about as versatile a removal spell gets for two mana, with the sorcery tag as its only downside.  The multicolor cards in this list will be the ultimate gamble, only getting to see play if the rest of the deck is competitive.

The last card on the list is Professor Onyx and she was initially my first.  Six mana is a tall order these days and it had better devastate the battlefield upon entry.  The Professor Onyx plan is to untap with it, being able to continue to progress control through the abilities, while draining the opponent.  If this card ends up being good, black-based control will be good.  I hope this set, even low-powered, helps push the needle our way.

Corey Baumeister

  1. Elite Spellbinder 
  2. Rowan, Scholar of Sparks // Will, Scholar of Frost
  3. Quandrix Command
  4. Multiple Choice
  5. Galazeth Prismari

Elite Spellbinder Rowan, Scholar of Sparks Quandrix Command Multiple Choice Galazeth Prismari

Strixhaven really doesn’t have any cards that jump out to me as format-defining bombs but a ton of cards that have potential. The first one is Elite Spellbinder with its versatility and relatively low mana cost. Being able to cast Elite Spellbinder aggressively or hold onto it until you want to slow down an Emergent Ultimatum or some other big spell is extremely valuable. Getting to see your opponent’s hand and know what you have to play around is a big plus as well.

Next up is Rowan, Scholar of Sparks. I’m a big fan of this card and I’m praying that it’ll be good enough to compete in Standard. I love the thought of casting this on Turn 3 and casting Multiple Choice for four on Turn 4. Rowan’s ultimate copying things like Alrund’s Epiphany sounds pretty insane as well. Now we get to Will, Scholar of Frost. This planeswalker checks a lot of boxes for me. It protects itself, has card advantage, and has close enough to an “I win” button for its -7 while also curving beautifully into Alrund’s Epiphany. 

Next up is Quandrix Command. I could picture an aggressive Simic deck that plays this as its way to push the last bits of damage through and make combat a nightmare for your opponent. Being able to just counter a Binding the Old Gods and put two counters on your creature seems great to me. You pretty much have a good target for the “counter target artifact or enchantment” ability against every deck in Standard — The Great Hedge, Embercleave, Binding the Old Gods, and Maul of the Skyclave are all some great targets.

The last two cards are a bit of a stretch but I could see them seeing some play together in an Izzet spell-based deck with Rowan and Goldspan Dragon. Multiple Choice seems pretty good if you’re playing a deck that can cleanup small creatures with removal so you can use Multiple Choice to actually hit a big creature. But if they just bounce an Innkeeper it won’t be good enough. Galazeth Prismari is a bit of a long shot because only being able to cast instants and sorceries is a real cost, but the one great play I envision for this powerful Dragon is casting it on Turn 4 and also Frost Bite a creature with the Treasure. That alone could make this card a true player in Standard.

And now, without further ado, the SCG Staff’s Top 5 Strixhaven cards for Standard are…

5. Multiple Choice — 7 points

4. Baleful Mastery — 8 points

3. Expressive Iteration — 10 points

2. Elite Spellbinder — 15 points

1. Vanishing Verse — 21 points

Cya back here tomorrow for our thoughts on Strixhaven’s impact on Historic!