2021 seems to have a new Magic: The Gathering release every month. February had Kaldheim and March had Time Spiral Remastered, but we also had some Secret Lairs in there to keep things interesting. Magic: Legends, the new Magic video game, launched for free last week, and now we have Strixhaven. Grab your quill, books and moderately-sized owl, as we're off to Uni, Magic style!
Although still a magic school, Strixhaven isn't leaning hard into some other examples of the genre. There's no Unseen University, Hogwarts or anything like it - it's definitely a new beast. Just like this, the set is also pushing what Magic has done before. Learn is my personal favourite new mechanic in Strixhaven. Whenever your opponent allows Learn to complete, you are able to play a new keyword Lesson card you own from anywhere. Not just your deck, or your sideboard. You can pull any Lesson card outside of your binder and play it. There's also Magecraft, which much like the other -craft effects of Magic's past, activates when a spell is cast. Ward finally gives us a new evergreen keyword that automatically counters spells cast on that Permanent. If you're wondering, this is the effect seen on Frost Titan and Diffusion Sliver.
The bottom-up design of Strixhaven, the first enemy-coloured set in Magic's history, has allowed some interesting developments. Despite the fact that the colour combos have existed in Magic before, Strixhaven uses them in very different ways. Boros, the Red/White guild from the Ravnica set, is based on numbers. But Lorehold, the Strixhaven equivalent, is the first white deck to be able to use the graveyard effectively. The new houses are so different, and players love them already, so I completely expect to see the other combos very soon.
Heading to the Library
Strixhaven also introduces something I'd love to see return in a future set: the Mystical Archive. This 63-card set is fitting for a school of magic as some of the most famous instants and sorceries from Magic's past. The art of these cards depict the first time the a mage cast the spell, and the their styles reference various real-world cultures. Every Draft and Set booster contains one of these cards, although many of them aren't Standard-legal. Two Mythic Rares are very possible even in draft boosters! Collectors boosters contain 3, including at least one Japanese-edition card with art inspired by traditional Japanese art. Special shoutouts to Demonic Tutor for being one of the best looking Magic cards in history.
Speaking of Collectors boosters, they’re looking even better this year. Foil Etched cards appear in these for the first time, allowing Mystical Archive spells to look incredible on the tabletop. They come with at least 3 Mystical Archives too! These cards are all guaranteed foil, on top of the normal selection of cards! Set Boosters bring back why people liked them before - the guaranteed foil and the Art Card. If I can get a signed art card of Spectacle Mage or Breena, the Demagogue, that’s going directly on my shelf.
Respect your Elder (Dragon Highlander)s
And, finally, the Commander 2021 decks this year coincide with Strixhaven’s release. Consisting of 5 decks, one per college, they are already looking incredible. Quantum Quandrix (Blue/Green) and Witherbloom Witchcraft (Green/Black) look like great starts for beginners. Prismari Performance (Red/Blue) and Lorehold Legacies (White/Red) are also fantastic, and my personal favourite is Silverquill Statement (White/Black). All the new commanders look great too, adding new powertypes to their colour pair!
So, does Strixhaven look like a good set? In short, yes: Strixhaven looks like the best set since Kaladesh. The theming, revealed cards and the reprints in Mystical Archive are good enough, but even better is the stuff new to Magic as whole. With Strixhaven, Wizards of the Coast are rolling out their new packaging. Buying a Commander deck now has almost everything recyclable, which is better for the planet. It shows that bottom-up sets can have both incredible theming and balance. But more importantly, it shows that just because you’re doing a “magic school” doesn’t mean it’s always Harry Potter.