The full Strixhaven spoiler is revealed, which means it’s time to update my Battle Box (which I affectionately refer to as “The Danger Room”). I’ve been looking forward to my spoiler deep dive for weeks because the set has a strong multicolor theme which always means tons of potential Battle Box goodies, and Strixhaven is no exception.
My Strixhaven review and update is straightforward because I won’t be cutting anything from my stack. Instead, I’ve opted to add one card from each monocolor (white, blue, black, red, green and artifact) and two cards from each multicolor pairing featured in the set (BW, BG, RW, UG, & UR).
I’ve decided to go this route for a couple of reasons. First, Strixhaven only features half of the multicolor color combinations (the “unallied” color pairings) and I’d like to see how the full Strixhaven block looks before rebalancing the stack. Second, with a whole slew of new multicolor gold cards in the mix, I’m happy to adjust the ratio within the stack to have a higher ratio of multicolor to monocolor spells represented. The biggest constraint in regards to upping the gold count has always been finding enough multicolored spells to represent the color pairings evenly, and it’s clear that Strixhaven gives me lots of new options to consider.
Strixhaven is also a set that plays heavily on mechanic-based synergies, many of which do not translate well into my Battle Box (Fractals, Lessons, learn and sacrifice drawbacks). These tend to be more geared toward deckbuilding (Limited and Constructed) much more so than abstract Battle Box or Cube play, especially stacks that include the entire history of Magic such as mine.
I do like these mechanics and look forward to drafting the set, but with such a low density of synergy cards present in a 1000+ card stack, many of these cards simply won’t work properly, which means I won’t be adding them. With that said, once the full block is released, I do believe Strixhaven block would likely be an ideal candidate to build a themed Battle Box around. The learn/Lesson mechanic seems like it could be really fun when it’s a centerpiece of a Battle Box.
Even excluding many of these mechanical synergy cards, I found tons of great additions for my Danger Room stack. In fact, it was quite easy to select 16 cards to add and, in truth, I may even be adding more when I see the block completed. In today’s review/update, I’ll show you all of the cards I identified as having Battle Box potential as well as give my explanation for why I selected the specific cards I chose to include.
These are both Battle Box staples worth considering. Excavated Wall would make a great addition to a stack that highlights a lot of graveyard synergy. A one-mana 0/4 blocker is pretty solid but the key is that it has a secondary ability that can be used as a mana sink to self-mill to generate incremental advantage.
I decided to add Zephyr Boots to my stack. I’m a big fan of Equipment (as it also provides a useful mana sink as well as endgame play). The card feels similar to Mask of Memory but I like that it also grants evasion on its own to help creatures connect to generate the triggered ability.
IN: Zephyr Boots
All three of these are worthy additions to any stack. I love combat tricks that double as counterspells for removal:
Elite Spellbinder feels like a much better Constructed card than Battle Box staple because in Battle Box, players always have a grip full of spells as opposed to a mix of mana and spells. My stack also features a lot of small flying tokens, which is also awkward. If you have an extra Spellbinder available, it’s certainly a fine card to include but I don’t think it’s interesting or important enough to Battle Box play to warrant buying one just for Danger Room.
The white card that most piqued my interest is Leonin Lightscribe. Effects like Overrun are challenging to find balance for in a Battle Box because they tend to lack flexibility and function exclusively as potential “end the game” combo cards. I like that Lightscribe can function in a bunch of roles, including an early drop to trade off or pressure with, but it can also provide that Overrun potential with a little bit of setting up.
IN: Leonin Lightscribe
I like the flexibility of Multiple Choice but ultimately I feel like the correct answer in Battle Box would always be…
It’s just another high cost, value bomb card.
I’m opting to go with Frost Trickster instead. It’s a solid tempo drop on the play and I like this tapper variant having evasion. I also like that Frost Trickster is a decent three-drop on the draw when being pressured by an opposing beatdown start.
IN: Frost Trickster
These are two extremely interesting black cards for Danger Room. Mind Rot and Tormod’s Crypt are both effects I’d like to include in my stack, but both feel a little bit underpowered on their own. Combining the two into one powered up card like Go Blank feels quite playable. I’m not adding it at the moment, but it’s one I’m going to try and find space for when I do my next rebalance.
There was no way anything would beat out Callous Bloodmage for the checkmark. The card feels tailor made for Battle Box or Cube. None of the modes are “broken” at three mana but there’s likely to be a mode that’s useful every time on most boards.
IN: Callous Bloodmage
I was uncharacteristically underwhelmed by the red Battle Box offerings in Strixhaven. I decided to pick Conspiracy Theorist largely due to a lack of an option I liked more. The card is objectively the most powerful spell I’ll be adding to my stack this time around and I’m not sure about whether or not it’ll become a staple due to its potential ability to dominate games early on if not immediately answered. With that said, I’d like to give it some reps before drawing a hard conclusion.
With that said, if a Battle Box architect aims for a stack with power level below mine, I think this is an easy card to pass on. If a Battle Box architect enjoys a stack with a little more power than mine, I think this is a snap include. It’s definitely a card that looks like it has a lot of fun play to it, which makes it worth taking a chance on, even if I decide to cut it later on.
IN: Conspiracy Theorist
I like cards like Quirion Dryad and +1/+1 counters are a subtheme I’ve discussed looking to further support in my Danger Room stack. I also like 2/2s for two much more than 1/1s for two because they’re more able to participate in combat on the draw. Also, keep in mind that if Dragonsguard Elite survives a turn, it’ll likely be able to attack as a 3/3 the following turn, which makes it a decent aggressive card as well.
IN: Dragonsguard Elite
All four of these are worth considering for a Battle Box, especially because UG tends to lack useful playable in a stack like mine that doesn’t allow ramping or mana acceleration (the bread and butter of UG design).
My stack tends to have a lot of creatures with ETB triggers especially those with mana value equal to or greater than three and so a five-mana bounce spell is unlikely to be useful in my stack. On the other hand, Aether Helix is certainly a nice card that could be useful in Boxes that play differently than mine.
Double Major is an interesting card capable of setting up some fun, saucy plays, but I try to avoid cards that lack flexibility. If you’re looking to keep the guilds balanced but up the number of multicolor spells as I will likely do in my next update, Double Major is a UG option on the table.
I played it safe and went with Biomathematician as a two-for-one body creature. It’s nothing flashy, but it’s in the wheelhouse of stats I try to stick to, if maybe a bit on the low powered side.
Decisive Denial is an excellent Battle Box staple in a color combination that doesn’t get excellent staples often. I try not to overload the stack with a bunch of Counterspells, but I really like the utility of this one to function as conditional removal.
IN: Decisive Denial
There are quite a few interesting UR options to choose from.
I decided not to include Prismari Command because it makes a Treasure and thus ramps, but it’ll certainly be a nice fit in other boxes that are less rigid about incorporating mana advantage spells. I love modal spells and this is a pretty good one.
There is a time when Practical Research would have been a slam dunk in my stack. I’ve since reworked my stack to be more combat-centric and have dramatically shaved down on the number of “big draw spells,” as they tend to be extremely powerful when there’s a lot of trading off early. Stacks that are built to facilitate a more controlling style of play will likely love this card.
I generally like the way two-mana 3/3s play in my stack, but the conditional ability to attack on Prismari Pledgemage likely makes it an awkward card to draw and for that reason I opted not to include the card in my stack. It may be a more ideal card for Battle Boxes with a lower overall power level than mine.
The card I’m most excited to add to my Battle Box in UR is Rootha, Mercurial Artist. I think this card is quite good and has a unique and innovative Izzet flavor without defaulting to the traditional template of “burn and draw a card.” The fourth point of toughness makes it a solid blocker (which is something I’d like to have more of in my stack) and it clearly has the ability to take over the late game like Etherium-Horn Sorcerer, another long standing Izzet staple of my stack.
IN: Rootha, Mercurial Artist
The other card I opted to add, Expressive Iteration, seems like a fine card as well. I think it’ll present some interesting decisions when cast. I try to tone down the number of draw in the stack, but it’s an Izzet card which is likely the proper flavor space to work these types of effects into the stack.
IN: Expressive Iteration
Returned Pastcaller is a really cool card but there’s no way a six-drop with two toughness is going to hang with the rest of my stack. It’s certainly a card worth considering in stacks that play closer to the power level of a draft deck.
IN: Rip Apart
Since my stack has pivoted to become a little bit more aggressive and combat-oriented, one area I’d like to work on expanding is quantity of life gain spells. There’s also a lot of burn in my stack, which makes going to three quite dangerous without holding up a counterspell.
The problem with life gain is that it’s only desirable when a player is losing, which makes it awkward to draw while taking a beatdown line of play. I love cards like Thrilling Discovery because they include incidental life gain on a card that is already quite good! I’m also a fan of the wording on the Thrilling Discovery where cards are only discarded if the spell resolves, which makes it less risky to play than a card templated like Cathartic Reunion.
IN: Thrilling Discovery
Mortality Spear is great for a stack that includes planeswalkers. I don’t, so I’m going to use my BG slots on other types of cards.
There were quite a few good BG spells in Strixhaven and if the competition wasn’t so stiff, Dina, Soul Steeper likely would have gotten an include. The main reason I passed on the card is that I don’t have a ton of ways to make the sacrifice ability good, but a stack that can better utilize sacrifice mechanics will love this creature.
I already have some spells like Undying Evil that are similar to Infuse with Vitality so I left it on the sidelines. I generally like to use my multicolor slots on unique cards and effects that I can’t get in a mono color, but Infuse is certainly a worthy inclusion if you’re looking for a BG card to add.
Deadly Brew feels like a great representation of BG in Strixhaven. It incorporates the “sacrifice for value” flavor and is a useful card regardless of whether or not one has a creature to expend.
IN: Deadly Brew
The other card I decided to add is Witherbloom Apprentice. Dating all the way back to my original design for my Battle Box/Danger Room, Ravnica’s Guildmages were always a defining feature that I balanced the power level of my stack around. 2/2s for two mana with solid abilities are perfect in this stack. Again, I’m always a fan of working incidental life gain into the stack when possible.
IN: Witherbloom Apprentice
Of all the color combinations, Silverquill (BW) was the deepest and gave me the most difficult choices to consider when making selections for my stack.
I like every single one of these cards as potential options in a Battle Box and if you’re getting started and looking for playables, these are all great draft cards to recycle into a stack.
I ultimately passed on Spiteful Squad because paying four mana for a creature that doesn’t generate an ETB trigger or have large stats is a little underpowered in my stack. It would be great in a stack that runs a little below my power level where moving those counters around is a little bit more impactful. Again, I’m looking for opportunities to add +1/+1 counters and so, depending on how much I’m able to expand the multicolor contingent of my Battle Box with upcoming releases, Spiteful Squad may be a card with great potential to add.
Another +1/+1 counter card, Humiliate, also narrowly missed the cut. My main concern with Humilate is that it requires a creature in play to be cast. Often, running out a Duress type effect early is something one would want to do. With that said, it’s a really good card (Castigate with upside that also utilizes +1/+1 counters) and so I’ll likely be trying to find room for it the next time I balance my stack.
Ultimately, I went with Killian, Ink Duelist because he has that Guildmage feel to him. He’s a very good two drop and adds life gain to the stack.
IN: Killian, Ink Duelist
I also had to select the Vanishing Verse for my Battle Box. The ratio of mono to multicolor is approximately 2.5-to-one which makes it quite versatile and the exile effect also makes it unique.
IN: Vanishing Verse
A quick recap. No cuts, all adds.
+16 cards (one Artifact, five monocolor, 10 multicolor)
1 Biomathematician 1 Callous Bloodmage (Extended) 1 Conspiracy Theorist 1 Deadly Brew 1 Decisive Denial 1 Dragonsguard Elite 1 Expressive Iteration 1 Frost Trickster 1 Killian, Ink Duelist 1 Leonin Lightscribe 1 Rip Apart 1 Rootha, Mercurial Artist 1 Thrilling Discovery 1 Vanishing Verse (Extended) 1 Witherbloom Apprentice 1 Zephyr Boots
Overall, that’s a pretty sweet haul of outstanding Battle Box cards!
#4 – Rootha, Mercurial Artist
I love the way Rootha, Mercurial Artist feels very UR/Izzet/Prismari in flavor while being a completely different type of design. I’m always a fan of cards like these in my stack, excellent flavor.
#3 – Leonin Lightscribe
“Overrun” type effects are so tricky to include in a Battle Box because they’re not flexible and can be extremely game-breaking. Leonin Lightscribe isn’t a dead card on defense and it takes some work in order to set up the alpha strike. I’m a big fan of the design.
#2 – Callous Bloodmage
I’m actually shocked a card like this appears in a set and doesn’t earn the checkmark for my number one Battle Box pick! It does all sorts of sweet things on different types of boards and pads the stack with another solid graveyard hate option. It’s an auto-include in virtually any stack.
#1 – Decisive Denial
If you had shown me Callous Bloodmage and told me it wouldn’t be my top pick, I would’ve been shocked. If you had said Callous Bloodmage would have been beat out by a UG card, I wouldn’t have believed you at all. Yet, here we are.
It’s nice to see a quality UG card that isn’t just about making mana and drawing cards for cheap. I love counterspells and removal and Decisive Denial is really the best of both worlds. If you’re looking to have a UG contingent in a Battle Box, Decisive Denial may be the number one UG card that should go into every and any stack.
Since Strixhaven was known to have a multicolor theme, I had high expectations for the set and it did not disappoint! There are clearly some fantastic Battle Box staples in the set that I’m looking forward to adding to my stack and Strixhaven already has me looking forward to the next set in the block.
Overall, Strixhaven lines up to be one of the richest sets for quality Battle Box staples in quite some time. I added 16 cards and could easily have added another four or five (and may return to these cards next time I lay out my stack). The other thing I love about Strixhaven with regard to Battle Box playables is most of the cards fall into the common/uncommon/bulk rare end of the spectrum, which makes it an ideal way to expand a stack without having to make a large investment.