Now that Strixhaven is fully revealed, it’s the perfect time for a deep dive Strixhaven Pauper set review. In today’s article, I’ll provide my general impressions of the new set as well as identify the cards I believe have potential application in both niche and staple roles in the format.
My overall impression of Strixhaven (as a set and planar location in the multiverse) is that it evokes a strong correlation to Ravnica. We see a return to Guilds (now termed Schools) as dual color combinations with unique flavor, theme and identities, but presented with a new twist. Instead of a city-plane, we encounter these dual-color Magic groups in a Hogwarts-esque setting.
In terms of Strixhaven’s impact on Pauper, I see the set as offering a substantial depth of utility without any individual cards I perceive as being “game-breaking.” I don’t see a Mystic Sanctuary or Arcum’s Astrolabe lurking in the mix, but rather a lot of cards with potential uses across a wide array of preexisting archetypes. My impression is that Strixhaven will be a fun set to explore and add to the Pauper cardpool.
Strixhaven centers around dual-colors of mana – five, to be precise: Lorehold, Prismari, Witherbloom, Quandrix and Silverquill.
These five combinations (RW, BW, UR, UG and BG) represent the unallied colors and round out the schools represented on Strixhaven so far. As a result, the color combinations that’ll most directly benefit in Pauper are those prominently featured.
As we’re introduced to the new schools of Strixhaven, the first cards that stand out to me are the Campus duals. Pauper has historically lacked mana-fixing dual lands up until the past year.
Kaldheim’s snow duals, Jumpstart’s Thriving lands and now Strixhaven’s Campuses provide different options worth considering that build upon preexisting mana staples such as Ravnica’s bounce lands, Mirrodin’s artifact lands, Tarkir’s gain lands as well as Ash Barrens and Evolving Wilds.
The Campus lands enter tapped (like all Pauper duals) but provide the unique upside of having a “4, tap: scry 1” ability tacked on that’ll be useful for slower decks to leverage advantage in the late game. The colors known for playing the long game (BW, BG and RW) are likely to benefit from having access to this effect built into their mana base.
Learn is a new keyword on spells that allows a player to choose to do one of two things:
- Discard a card to draw a card.
- Search for a card with the “Lesson” subtype from outside the game and put it into their hand.
I’ve heard quite a bit of chatter about playing a “Lesson” tutor packages out of the sideboard, but in truth, I’m much more interested in the ability to discard a card to draw a new card than I am about learning any Lessons (at least given the current crop of available Lessons).
These are some of the Lessons we can currently “learn.”
My biggest issue with playing a Lesson/learn tutor package is that the Lessons are underwhelming for their cost. Don’t get me wrong – they’re fine when you get to put them into your hand for free, but I would never put any of these cards into my 60-card main deck.
Learn and Lessons are not:
They’re not even close. You have the choice of a “free loot” or “an overcosted spell of your choice.” The relative value of the overcosted card is roughly equivalent to the rate of a “free discard a card to draw a card,” which equates to an overcosted spell. A three-mana Preordain or a three-mana Krenko’s Command with upside are nothing to call home about. Also, putting Lessons into your sideboard isn’t free. Every Lesson target you play is a Pyroblast, Gorilla Shaman or Weather the Storm you shave.
Introduction to Prophecy seems like the go-to value learn target that every deck playing Lessons should likely include. My intuition says one copy is likely the correct number, but without playing games, it’s hard to say for sure.
This seems like a nice life gain and fixing option. As far as rate, I think Environmental Sciences is likely the best overall Lesson but not a great Lesson target for most decks. It’s essentially cycling an Ash Barrens and gaining two life, but generally I don’t want to invest so much time and mana into finding a land.
The on-color “Summoning” target seems like a potential option as well. I predict a tutor package is likely two or maybe three total cards, depending upon the strategy. Of the Lessons, Introduction to Prophecy and Pest Summoning in a BG or mono-black graveyard deck seem like the strongest combination. Pest Summoning is the closest Lesson that resembles something I’d consider actually playing in a Pauper main deck and it’s in a color combination that has good learn spells and shells to put them in.
I don’t think the strength of the learn cards are the sideboard Lessons, but rather the learn cards themselves. Let’s take a look at the learn spells and what’s likely to play them.
A ramp deck could play Field Trip and learn Environmental Sciences, but I think this is just an inefficient Kodama’s Reach. Ramp, or even card advantage-based control strategies, are unlikely to be able to take advantage of the “discard a card to draw a card” option on Lessons.
I know exactly what I want to do with this card…
Pitch a Battle Screech and immediately flash it back to put +1/+1 counters on my Birds and give them haste. Boros (or should I say, Lorehold? I don’t know the etiquette yet) token decks already have natural graveyard synergy embedded via Faithless Looting and flashback spells.
The ability to beef up tokens and give them haste adds a new tactical dynamic to the archetype where it can threaten to deal chunks of damage out of nowhere. The “looting” option of learn is useful (and frankly synergistic) and these decks would want to play an Introduction to Prophecy in the board and have the staying power to take advantage of casting it. First Day of Class is likely one of the strongest cards in the set.
While not a learn/Lesson synergy card, Thrilling Discovery is also worth noting as a particularly strong RW graveyard synergy enabler. It’s also nice that the “discard two cards” is part of the resolution, unlike Cathartic Reunion. So, the caster of Thrilling Discovery doesn’t end up having to pitch their hand if it gets countered by Hydroblast.
I also want to note…
A one-mana Lesson and looting effect in white that requires the caster have a creature in play. It’s unique. There are few ways to discard cards in white and that makes this a card worth noting for future use.
While First Day of Class appears tailor-made to enable combo synergies in RW tokens decks that already exist, I predict Golgari will also benefit greatly from the addition of Lessons and expand what the archetype is able to do.
Graveyard-based decks are always something that interest me and I’ve worked on several over the past few years that incorporate dredge, delve and/or Exhume.
One of the primary issues with building these styles of decks has been color pie-based access to efficiently discarding enablers from your hand into the bin.
Whenever I work on these decks, I’m quickly pushed into red/black because of limited access to discard outlets. Cram Session and Hunt for Specimens offer some quality outlets for black-centric graveyard decks without requiring red’s assistance. I also notice that both of these discard enablers seem well suited to providing a life buffer to buy extra time to churn those graveyard synergies. A body to chump with (or steal the monarchy or sacrifice to an edict to protect an Ulamog’s Crusher) is not irrelevant, nor is gaining four life against a focused Burn or aggro opponent.
Black also has access to Putrid Imp as a one-drop outlet, as well as Tortured Existence and Basking Rootwalla as a build-arounds. Cram Session can be cast for B/G hybrid mana, so it’s now possible to build a mono-black graveyard deck based around delve, Exhume and dredge. It’s also nice that Pest Summoning earns my checkmark as the most powerful Lesson to tutor for out of the sideboard, and searching up Introduction to Prophecy to search for a specific combo piece like Exhume seems actively useful.
It’s also worth noting that learn says “discard a card to draw a card,” which means you’re able to discard a Stinkweed Imp and immediately dredge it while resolving the Learn part of your spell, which is a nice bonus.
So, I do think that even with only half of the Strixhaven Schools represented (meaning only half of the total Lesson/learn spells potentially revealed) that the mechanic, because it slots so nicely into graveyard strategies, is likely to have an impact on Pauper.
Boros and Golgari (or even mono-black) seem like perfect candidates to take advantage of Lessons and learn because they already converge around utilizing the graveyard to their advantage and, in my estimation, the discard outlet/loot option (in addition to finding a Lesson) on learn spells is the most significant line of text.
In terms of an individual card playing a big role, Bayou Groff stands out with well above the curve stat lines with direct application in the BG sacrifice archetype. I’ve been a big fan of BG Sacrifice ever since I played against Alex Ullman’s version a few years ago on PPL and it’s a deck I continue to enjoy working on. I wrote an article about the archetype a few months ago as well.
Turn 2: Bayou Groff
The deck has plenty of two-for-one creatures that can be “snack-rificed” to the Groff for value. It’s also cute that Mortician Beetle gets a counter when Groff eats your own creature. Also, keep in mind that when Groff enters the battlefield early, there are few removal spells that can trade with it straight up. It dodges Bolts, Abrade and Disfigure while your Skred and Defile opponents won’t have enough lands deployed to take it down.
So, don’t scoff at a Groff.
I’ve highlighted the cards I think are likely to see considerable Pauper play. Now, I’d like to take a quick look at some of the cards I think feel close but I’m not exactly sure what to do with. I think all of these cards have respectable stats but may be lacking the proper support to field a top-notch archetype. Perhaps, you’ll find a proper home for them!
These pseudo “modular” creatures have some cool potential synergies in Pauper. I’ve always thought a card like Sparring Construct could be playable if it had the proper support and this brings us a little bit nearer to having the requisite pieces to make a modular creature deck.
UG hasn’t traditionally been an impactful player in the Pauper metagame but this is an interesting draw spell for a Turbo Fog style deck. Perhaps there’s a Growth Spiral shell out there. It’s also of note the extra land played from Eureka Moment may enter play untapped.
A two-mana 3/3 is nothing to scoff at in a UR aggro spells deck.
Pilgrim of the Ages is such a troll! The card would be so sweet in literally any other color. With that said, it’s a pretty good card even if it is white.
I love versatile sideboard cards like Tangletrap. It’s kind of like a green Abrade for specific matchups. If you’re playing green and can’t decide whether the last sideboard card should be for Affinity or Faeries, Tangletrap has overlap (try saying that 10 times fast).
Last but not least…
I think this is a pretty awesome card. I don’t know if it’s worth rebuilding the Walls combo deck to play the card but it certainly is a Wall to power up Axebane Guardian and provides some interesting lines of play in terms of self-milling/recursion. At the very least, it has good defensive stats, a useful ability, counts as an artifact and only costs one.
All things considered, Strixhaven looks like a pretty sweet set for Pauper. Some final points:
- I think all five of the Campus lands are fantastic and will find homes in lots of decks.
- The black learn spells provide new opportunities as discard outlets for Golgari and black-based graveyard decks without having to venture into red.
- First Day of Class and Thrilling Discovery are both well-suited for Boros/Lorehold token strategies that allow deck builders to push the graveyard synergies a little harder.
- Lessons, particularly Introduction to Prophecy, seem less like a “tutor toolbox” mechanic and more like a way to get equivalent value to a free loot when a free loot is not useful.
- Most importantly, never scoff at a Groff!