Strixhaven: School of Mages releases on April 23rd. With the full spoiler out, let's break down the cards from the most elite university in Magic, their synergies, and how they impact various formats.
by Kuang Wu
Clever Lumimancer and Leonin Lightscribe are two cheaply costed Magecraft creatures which both receive stat boosts when Magecraft triggers. With Magecraft being quite similar to Prowess, this pair of cards can slot nicely into a Red White Prowess deck. The deck would be quite similar to Izzet Blitz, replacing Sprite Dragon, Stormwing Entity, and Serum Visions for these two new Magecraft cards and a spell like Path to Exile. Replacing the Blue/Red lands for ones which produce Red and White.
Magecraft synergises well with the existing spells in the Blitz decks: burn, Phyrexian mana, and other “free” spells (Manamorphose, Lava Dart flashback). Having more cheaply costed threats allows for a higher likelihood of explosive draws.
Clever Lumimancer can quickly become an enormous threat in a turn chaining several free and Phyrexian mana spells. Crash Through may prove to be a better replacement for the Blue cantrip slot that White replaces from Blitz, forcing damage with Trample and a large Clever Lumimancer.
Providing access to late game card advantage, that other aggressive strategies in Modern like Death’s Shadow, Hammer Time, and Burn have been able to utilise.
Body of Research creates a token that is usually big enough to kill an opponent in just one hit. The token can fit nicely as a control finisher, as removal like Path to Exile and Fatal Push are the first cards to be sideboarded out against the archetype.
Body of Research is a sorcery, so playing it on your own turn could go against your control strategy of leaving mana up for counter spells. Enter: Teferi, Time Raveler, a card that is a key piece in control decks in Modern, with its static ability nullifying instant-speed spells.
With Teferi, Time Raveler, ticking up, you’re able to cast Body of Research at instant-speed, creating a Fractal token that is guaranteed to resolve and cannot be removed by a spell thanks to Teferi’s static ability. On top of that, Teferi’s -3 ability is able to remove any potential blockers in the way.
With the recent surge in popularity for Esper Control in Modern, let's look at two cards in those colours that could potentially be added to the deck.
Vanishing Verse exiles a monocoloured permanent, thinking about possible targets, here’s a short list for best targets in Modern:
The card does deal with some of the most troublesome cards in the format and in a control deck that versatility can be valuable. Vanishing Verse is less effective vs Eldrazi Tron and Niv to Light decks but has plenty of targets against Heliod Combo, Izzet Blitz, Death’s Shadow, and Death and Taxes.
Depending on what you have trouble with, the addition of Vanishing Verse could be helpful to Esper builds, even in a matchup like Niv to Light, Abundant Growth, and Utopia Sprawl and key pieces to the deck that, if removed could cause mana issues.
Fracture is a multicoloured version of Disenchant that also just happens to kill Planeswalkers. Being able to remove a Wrenn and Six, Liliana of the Veil, Teferi, Time Raveler, and Karn, the Great Creator on top of artifacts and enchantments provides further flexibility to the deck’s removal suite.
Fortifying Draught is a card that garnered a bit of attention during spoiler season. With a deck like Infect in Modern, any pump spell that has can potentially give a creature a big buff is exciting.
I would experiment with a few copies in my Infect sideboard, in tandem with either or both of Weather the Storm and Kitchen Finks. Bringing this package in against Burn and Prowess decks, creates some counterpunch, you’re able to play more aggressively instead of sitting back and playing on the backfoot.
A trick with this is, you’re able to cast the Fortifying Draught on, say, a Blighted Agent, but before that resolves, cast Weather the Storm. The Storm count will be 1 from the Fortifying Draught and you’ll in turn gain 6 life, before gaining 2 from Fortifying Draught which will now pump Blighted Agent by 8 power and toughness.
Test of Talents is essentially a Deicide counterspell for Instants and Sorceries. Against some decks, exiling all copies of a card in the deck is backbreaking, especially for combo decks. Some big targets in Modern include: Collected Company, Veil of Summer, Cryptic Command, Gifts Ungiven, Scapeshift, and Living End.
Veil of Summer will stop Test of Talents from countering the spell e.g. Collected Company, but it won’t stop the ability to search and extract the remaining copies of Collected Company from the deck. As the spell is uncounterable, Test of Talents still has a legal target and the extraction part of the spell does not target, hence not being affected by Veil of Summer’s Hexproof.
One of the earlier spoilers from this set was the latest variant of Liliana: Professor Onyx. It features the new mechanic in Strixhaven, Magecraft.
Magecraft is a triggered ability that will grant a bonus when you cast or copy and instant or sorcery spell. With Magecraft as Professor Onyx’s static ability, each opponent will lose 2 life and you’ll gain 2 life.
In Magic’s history, often there are cards that are relatively unknown, but once a new card is printed, form an infinite combo. Chain of Smog is that card with the printing of Professor Onyx.
Here’s how it works: with a Professor Onyx on your battlefield, cast Chain of Smog targeting yourself, this will trigger Magecraft, draining all of your opponents. By targeting yourself, you are presented with the option to copy the spell and choose new targets. Choose to copy the spell, targeting yourself, triggering Magecraft again and draining all opponents. Repeat this process an infinite amount of times and win the game!
Professor Onyx’s other abilities are also interesting, with Ransack the Lab as its +1 ability with the cost of 1 life. A means of protection from larger threats in the -3 ability and an ultimate that is very reminiscent of Torment of Hailfire for 7.
Double Major creates a token of a creature spell on the stack. This is reminiscent of Riku of Two Reflections’ second ability, however this card can be used defensively to ensure a copy of the creature you’d like to cast resolves.
For example, you really want to resolve a Eternal Witness to bring back a game winning spell, you cast it, but it is met with Counterspell, you can cast Double Major in response and create a second copy of the Eternal Witness spell, resolving and winning the game.
It is worth noting that you can use Double Major to copy Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. As the token is non legendary, Kiki-Jiki would be able to target itself with its ability and create an infinite number of tapped tokens. You can create these tokens at the end of your opponent’s end step and have an army of Kiki-Jikis to attack with on your turn.
Strict Proctor can be used as a catalyst to stop negative enter the battlefield effects, like Lotus Field or the Theros’ titans, Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger, and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath. Reaping the rewards of the card without paying the full price for the card.
Strict Proctor can slot into the sideboard of Modern decks, to be used against prominent enter the battlefield triggers like:
Another Legendary Creature flipping into a Planeswalker? Don’t worry, this one shouldn’t completely break Modern and Legacy (hopefully), thanks to the changes to the Cascade mechanic.
Mila, Crafty Companion helps protect Planeswalkers from incoming attackers whilst providing a Shapers’ Sanctuary protection to all permanents you control, deterring them from being potential targets or gaining a card if they do become targeted.
Lukka, Wayward Bonder’s most exciting ability is the -2. Being able to reanimate a creature for a turn and giving it Haste can lead to some interesting scenarios, whether you’re reanimating a big creature to deal tonnes of damage, or reanimating a creature that can generate value before it gets exiled at your next upkeep.
Here are the two scenarios: you cast Lukka, Wayward Bonder, with an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger in your graveyard, reanimating it to deal a quick 10 damage and exiling 20 cards from your opponent’s library. You can also flicker the target of Lukka’s ability with a card like Eldrazi Displacer and keep the Ulamog permanently.
In the second scenario, you have Mila, Crafty Companion / Lukka, Wayward Bonder in your Niv-Mizzet Reborn deck in Modern or Pioneer. You cast Bring to Light with a Niv-Mizzet Reborn in your graveyard, you find Mila, Crafty Companion, Bring to Light still functions like the old version of Cascade and will allow you to cast Lukka, Wayward Bonder for free. You reanimate Niv-Mizzet Reborn and now have refueled your hand and have a Planeswalker in play.
Magma Opus is not only a fantastic pun but also a spell which does as much as an Ultimatum! A control deck resolving a spell like this could swing the game pretty drastically, killing a Planeswalker, stopping attackers, creating a sizable token and drawing cards.
The activated ability is quite interesting, generally an 8 mana spell can be stuck in your hand, so the ability to ditch it to create a Treasure token gives it flexibility.
The ability to put itself in the graveyard opens it up to being cast from a Torrential Gearhulk in Pioneer. Being able to activate Magma Opus on turn 4 to create a Treasure and then on turn 5 using the Treasure to accelerate into Torrential Gearhulk can then cast Magma Opus for the full effect.
That concludes my early impressions of Strixhaven, there are many synergies and combos in the set with existing cards. Hopefully there is something you can utilise or build around in your deck(s).
With a Mystical Archive card in every booster, this set will be quite interesting for limited and quite fun to collect!
About the author
Kuang Wu has played Magic since the original Zendikar set. Qualifying for both Player’s Tours in 2020 and finishing 10th at Grand Prix Brisbane in 2017. He primarily plays Modern at Good Games Central and Town Hall. You can follow him @kuangfupanda on Twitter.