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Strixhaven Commander/EDH Set Review – Black and Red

It feels like just yesterday that I wrote my Kaldheim set review, and you’re saying it’s already time for Strixhaven? Unbelievable. Obviously the passage of time is a bit warped for all of us, but set releases just seem to keep coming. Anyway, I’m pretty excited about this set for Commander – I think it has more promise than Kaldheim did, and I’m interested to see how my ratings line up with your expectations. Speaking of ratings, I don’t use numbers or grades – I use this more subjective scale.

 

Header - Ratings Scale

  • Commander: You want this card in the command zone at the start the game. Its best use is to lead the charge as the cornerstone of your deck, but it can probably fit into your 99 as well.
  • Build-Around: This card can be a huge player in the theme of your deck. It either enables the theme by itself or is something you’re looking to take advantage of over the course of your ideal game. It’s probably worth dedicating other slots in your deck to cards that work with a build-around.
  • Powerhouse: This card’s not really about synergy, but it’s good all by itself.
  • Role Player: This card might not be the cornerstone of a deck list, but it’s an important part of the engine or strong enough on its own to merit potential inclusion. This category also covers cards that look good enough to try out but don’t seem like obvious winners.
  • Tech Card: Counterplay is important, and if a card doesn’t fit into one of the above categories but is good enough at countering other strategies, it’ll be included here.
  • Niche Inclusion: This card might make your deck if you have a deckbuilding restriction, whether it’s self-imposed based on theme, a power level consideration or a card availability concern. 

As a reminder, my focus is on social Commander rather than competitive EDH. That means you’ll be hearing about cards largely from that more relaxed perspective. My goal when playing Commander is for everyone to have fun but also for me to have a good shot at winning the game, so if that’s your mindset as well, these ratings will probably resonate with you. I won’t be reviewing reprints, so you can just assume I feel the same way about Grinning Ignus as I did before we found out it was in this set. When you inevitably disagree with a rating, please feel free to tweet at @RagingLevine with your thoughts!

Two notes before we begin. First, because of the way “outside the game” effects work in Commander, you can’t use cards with learn to go get the Lesson you need. Instead, you’ll pretty much be rummaging. If your playgroup is house-ruling these cards, have fun, but my ratings will reflect the official rules. Second, this review will not include the Commander 2021 cards or any other weird stuff that won’t be in draft boosters – all that will come later.

 

 

Header - Black

Baleful Mastery

Rating: Role Player
I can certainly see casting this for 1B in circumstances where one of my opponents is particularly far behind in the game and needs a little bit of help to move further forward. At instant speed, 3B to exile a creature or planeswalker isn’t a bad rate, but in the early game I won’t hesitate to take advantage of the discount.

Callous Bloodmage

Rating: Role Player
I think this is a reasonable inclusion as long as you’re happy with “two creatures” as a basic mode. In a sacrifice deck, for example, this is some solid fodder that can also cycle in a pinch or act as graveyard removal when necessary. It’s the flexibility that really makes this one work, and without the Bojuka Bog mode, I wouldn’t be paying this much attention.

Confront the Past

Rating: Role Player
If you’re wiling to pay above retail to resurrect a planeswalker, well, that’s pretty much what this will do. The second mode seems much less useful, so I see this showing up in planeswalker-focused decks that want some rarely-found recursion for that specific card type.

Oriq Loremage

Rating: Role Player
Putting counters on this creature obviously has tension with the activated ability, but throwing instants and sorceries with flashback into the graveyard seems like a great way to get value. That said, this is a repeatable Entomb, so don’t restrict yourself to instants and sorceries – put some creatures in the yard and get to reanimatin’. 

Plumb the Forbidden

Rating: Build-Around
Now this one’s interesting – as long as you’re willing to lose some life, you can turn any number of your creatures into cards. Combine this with something like Moldervine Reclamation to offset the life loss or use a magecraft card like Professor Onyx as a win condition. The traditional Blood Artist class of cards works wonders here as well. If you’re running a mass sacrifice deck, you’ll certainly want a copy of this.

Professor Onyx

Rating: Build-Around

We’ve all heard about the combo with Chain of Smog (and if you hadn’t, you have now), and it really does seem like the magecraft trigger is the center of this card. The other abilities are fine, but their power level has certainly been specifically tailored to go along with the drain trigger. I wrote in my newsletter about a Firja, Judge of Valor Spellslinger deck, and while Orzhov spells is unlikely to make a huge move based on this card, Grixis should be quite happy to see this new professor.

Sedgemoor Witch

Rating: Role Player
Did I say Grixis Spells yet? I did, didn’t I? Well, Sedgemoor Witch fits right into that archetype alongside Professor Onyx. It’s also particularly strong with Plumb the Forbidden – sac some tokens, then use the Magecraft triggers to get that many back plus one. It’s not as strong as something like Talrand, Sky Summoner or Murmuring Mystic in most contexts, since the tokens don’t have flying, but more creatures can’t hurt.

Tenured Inkcaster

Rating: Role Player

Decks that go wide with +1/+1 counters will be happy to get some extra damage through, especially damage that can’t be mitigated simply by blocking. That said, this card does very little by itself and can’t help you come back from an empty board in an effective way, so make sure to keep the count of effects like this low.

Unwilling Ingredient

Rating: Niche Inclusion
I’d rather play something like Dusk Legion Zealot in most circumstances, but if you’re deep on self-mill/dredge action, milling this and then drawing a card with it can be very powerful indeed.

 

Header - Red

Conspiracy Theorist

Rating: Role Player
If you’re focused on self-discard in Rakdos or just red, you can use Conspiracy Theorist for some pseudo-madness. Cards like Thrill of Possibility get a lot stronger with this, but my favorite idea is to combine it with a cycling commander. Zirda, the Dawnwaker and Gavi, Nest Warden seem like natural fits, but some wheel aficionados may want to use this to chain wheels into more wheels. It also makes the occasional learn card matter, but meh.

Crackle with Power

Rating: Build-Around
If you’re going deep on red X-spells and big mana, this is a very exciting card. Five mana deals five damage to one target – for three more mana, you can double that, and the numbers just keep going up. Rosheen Meanderer is a great match for this spell, and if you’re working with a Vedalken Orrery or similar, Braid of Fire locks in delightfully as well. Oh, and if you care for some reason, you’ll need 26 mana to deal 40 damage with this – that’ll hit a delightfully excessive eight targets.

Draconic Intervention

Rating: Role Player

Dragon decks aren’t always known for their huge instants and sorceries, but there’s always Dragonstorm, right? It also works if you’ve already wrathed the board – personally, I like the play pattern of Blasphemous Acting away an early board, playing your own Dragons and then using Draconic Intervention exiling the Act to exile non-Dragons.

Dragon’s Approach

Rating: Niche Inclusion

It’s not quite Relentless Rats, but you sure could pack your deck full of these as well as some black self-mill cards and a few key Dragons. I haven’t worked out the right balance for Approaches, Dragons, lands and support cards, but that sounds like a fun future article to me.

Efreet Flamepainter

Rating: Niche Inclusion

If you’re going for an Artful Dodge/Slip Through Space unblockable theme, Efreet Flamepainter can let you recast some card draw spells from your graveyard. The double strike gives you a lot of value if you do hit, but the amount of work you have to do puts you at serious risk of getting no value whatsoever. Cards like this and Wildfire Eternal are often much more exciting on the surface than in reality.

Fervent Mastery

Rating: Role Player

Dropping just one mana from the cost for the discount isn’t that inspiring until you realize you can use it on an empty-handed opponent. That said, Super Gamble is incredibly risky unless you can utilize either the cards in your graveyard or the discards themselves – and of course, decks featuring flashback or madness synergies will be happy to try this out.

First Day of Class

Rating: Niche Inclusion

If your plan is to create a whole bunch of tokens in just one turn, casting this beforehand could be interesting. That said, with plenty of other ways to speed up your team, this is probably destined for other formats.

 

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