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Understanding Witherbloom In Strixhaven Draft

Ryan Saxe continues his theoretical examination of Strixhaven Draft with a look at Witherbloom’s themes and key cards.

Bayou Groff, illustrated by Ilse Gort

Witherbloom is fascinating. Golgari historically cares a lot about the graveyard, but Strixhaven‘s green-black college doesn’t. Instead, it cares about small Pests and lifegain. It’s a weird amalgam of the familiar Rakdos sacrifice archetype and Orzhov lifegain archetype of the past: lots of little critters to grind out the game with lifegain and some draining and sacrifice synergies. Take a look at some of the signpost cards for the archetype:

There’s a lot going on, but generally the best way to describe it is inevitability. This deck can play any role. But, in the long game, with access to draining every single turn, your opponent will eventually die. I think it’s an exciting new take on the green-black archetype and I can’t wait to take it for a spin.

The pack below has one of the signpost Witherbloom uncommons. Would you take it?

Pack 1, Pick 1

The Pack:

Quandrix Command Necrotic Fumes Dina, Soul Steeper Clever Lumimancer Curate Ageless Guardian Witherbloom Campus Relic Sloth Bury in Books Serpentine Curve Guiding Voice Tome Shredder Archway Commons Environmental Sciences Divine Gambit

The Pick:

Quandrix Command is one of the worst Commands. It’s not a bad card, but a gold bounce spell that places +1/+1 counters is not first-pick material. When the counter mode comes up, the card will be extremely impressive, but the graveyard mode is mostly irrelevant. However, I don’t think those modes will come up enough for me to be happy to first-pick the card. I expect it to be a solid card that is in the tier below the best commons.

Necrotic Fumes is one of the best Lessons. Generally, I don’t think Lessons should be high picks, but are instead meant to wheel, though other players have said the opposite (if you want to read why I think this way, please refer to my article from last week highlighting the mechanic). However, Necrotic Fumes is one of the Lessons I’m willing to take early. Bone Splinters is generally unexciting, and while I’m not thrilled it costs extra mana, being able to draw it from the sideboard adds power and texture that’s hard to grasp. I expect that texture to make this card one of the best pickups for any black deck, especially because of Hunt for Specimens at common. It’s the current front-runner in this pack.

Clever Lumimancer is an explosive card with an unbelievable ceiling but also a terrible floor. It almost reminds me of Akoum Hellhound but I expect it to be better than the Hellhound because it’s easier to set up casting multiple spells in a turn than playing multiple lands in a turn. However, most decks will have a lot more lands than instants and sorceries. Overall, while I love this card, I expect it to be quite overrated because the floor is just too low. That said, I should note that when this card is good, it is extremely good, and there will be decks that use it well. I just don’t know if those decks will exist every draft.

Environmental Sciences is another one of the Lessons I don’t mind taking early. Any non-aggro deck — probably meaning non-Silverquill — will like access to this Lesson, and it will be a premium card in any deck that splashes. However, it’s just not high-impact enough for me to first-pick.

I think Dina, Soul Steeper is basically the best non-rare in the set for Witherbloom. I think it’s the card that takes the deck from good to great. It’s unassuming, but it kills extremely quickly while also having an incredibly annoying triggered ability that is oh-so-easy to trigger. I know people don’t like first-picking gold cards, but I don’t have that much of an aversion to it. Nabbing the black Lesson would have been cool, but I’m slamming this Dina.

Pack 1, Pick 3

The Picks So Far:

Dina, Soul Steeper Closing Statement

The Pack:

Show of Confidence Eyetwitch Plumb the Forbidden Witherbloom Pledgemage Professor of Zoomancy Excavated Wall Expel Waterfall Aerialist Mage Hunters' Onslaught Promising Duskmage Dragon's Approach Elemental Summoning Cultivate

The Pick:

This pack has an insane amount of options. Wow.

Let’s start with Mage Hunters’ Onslaught. The card is good, but four-mana sorcery-speed removal just isn’t what it used to be. It’s still good, but this card will be overrated at the beginning of the format. Efficient threats and high-synergy cards are, in my opinion, better than removal like this, so I think this pack has better options.

Earlier this week, I wrote an article where, at Pack 1, Pick 1, there were multiple green cards as options. Sam Black reached out surprised that Professor of Zoomancy wasn’t one of those options. Specifically, he said he would be surprised if Mage Duel was better than the Professor. Honestly, after thinking about it more, I’m inclined to agree. I still think the best green common will be Bayou Groff, but it makes sense for Professor of Zoomancy to trail behind. As I said, efficient threats and synergy go over removal in my eyes. I think the Professor edges out Onslaught, although not by a large margin. Additionally, I believe the Professor is a better pickup than Witherbloom Pledgemage. It’s cheaper and provides some value, with only a one-toughness decrease on battlefield impact.

Cultivate is a powerful combination of ramp and card advantage. Quandrix will be all over this card, but Witherbloom won’t care as much. Given the Silverquill removal spell in my pool, I could see taking Cultivate, but I just think I’d rather take cards that can have an impact on the battlefield. I’m not particularly worried about splashing thanks to the Campus lands, Campus Guide, and Environmental Sciences at common.

I have no clue how to evaluate Plumb the Forbidden. The card, on rate, is quite bad, but when you consider Pest tokens and magecraft triggers, it becomes more enticing. I’m not going to take it here, but I wanted to highlight that the card has the potential to be a lot better than it looks. And I wouldn’t be surprised if, in a few weeks, it turns out to be the correct pick out of this pack.

So this pick comes down to Eyetwitch and Professor of Zoomancy. I’m a sucker for Flying Men variants, and learning on death is such a nice extra piece of text for Eyetwitch. It might be wrong, but I’m taking the one-drop. Specifically, it sounds insane to curve that card into Bayou Groff and grab a Lesson from my sideboard. If I can pick up a few copies of the Plant Dog, which is a common, I think Eyetwitch leads to a better deck.

I decided to finish out this simulated draft to just see what a Witherbloom deck could look like. While it’s unrealistic, it at least confirms my suspicion that, when you put a lot of green and black cards together, your deck is going to care about gaining life a lot more than you would think!