Quick - when I talk about a Red and White deck, what do you think of?
In no uncertain terms, I think of Boros. The same is true for most Magic players. When you ask them which colour pair keeps getting broken mythics, they’ll all chant “Simic!”, not “Blue and Green.” Ravnica is so iconic, so constantly revisited and referenced that the guild names have become synonymous with their corresponding colour combos. More than that, the identities established back in the first Ravnica set have come to define the actual mechanics of these dual colour pairs forever after.
What Wizards of the Coast have done so beautifully in this set is completely reinvent and reimagine the parameters of what each colour combination can be. Strixhaven treads the well-worn path of the magical school setting, managing to avoid the cliches of the genre while also steering clear of the pitfalls and precedents of each colour pair.
How does this translate to Commander? Simply put, we’re looking at mechanics and themes in colours that have literally never had them before, entirely new ways to play the game in the college of your choice! So let’s look at the best in class, the A+ students.
Dina has all the hallmarks of a strong Commander; powerful abilities and a cheap mana value. Any Commander you can reliably get out on your second turn is one that you can build a consistent deck around.
She not only turns any incidental lifegain into a potentially game-winning lifedrain effect (no, really!) she can pump herself into double digits if you’re willing to sacrifice enough creatures to her. We’ve actually seen a very similar Commander as recently as M21 in the form of Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose. Yes, that means Dina is another Black card that goes infinite with Exquisite Blood. If you’re looking to win games consistently, this is an extremely efficient combo, you’ll just have to check that your playgroup is comfortable with the power level!
If you’re looking for more casual fare, turn your eyes to cards like Essence Warden, Blood Artist, and typical aristocrat staples. But remember, you’re obligated to yell “who’s hungry for Dina?” every time you cast her.
9. Mila, Crafty Companion // Lukka, Wayward Bonder
The Rules Committee don’t seem interested in changing the rules regarding Planeswalkers being Commanders, but thankfully MDFC’s are a handy solution for all of us who love the value that 'Walkers bring to the table.
Take a look at the Mila/Luka card, a versatile Commander duo that lets you choose between a superfriends strategy on the white side and a stompy strategy on the red side. The most interesting way to build this deck is likely going to be focusing on Mila’s half, as RW Planeswalker tribal isn’t something we’ve seen much of in Commander.
You’re going to want to run as many ‘walker synergy pieces as you can, cards like Call The Gatewatch and Deploy The Gatewatch. And it goes without saying that you’re going to need a LOT of Planeswalkers in your deck, which means you’ll probably end up with a comical amount of Ajanis and Chandras. But never fear, Mila is a loyal fox and she’ll keep them safe!
The big bad of the set, the head villain that threatens to return Strixhaven to the ways of the Blood Age, Extus, Oriq Overlord is one menacing warlock.
Other than Double Strike, Extus bestows a handsome reward every time you cast or copy an instant or sorcery, recurring a creature of your choice from the graveyard. This creates an interesting tension between leaning into a spellslinger strategy to maximise Magecraft triggers, and leaning into a creature strategy to maximise your possible targets for those triggers. The sweet spot for this deck will be spells that both fill the graveyard in the early game and recur creatures in the late game. Think of cards like Faithless Looting, Entomb, or Diabolic Intent.
There is also the Blood Avatar side of Extus, but its primary benefit is that it adds red to our color identity. Given the high casting cost and ever increasing Commander tax, you’re going to need nothing short of infinite mana if you really want to get some use out of Awaken the Blood Avatar, so best to focus on the strategies and synergies of the creature side.
The namesake of Prismari, the music and performing arts college, Galazeth is your ticket to massive spells and more mana than you know what to do with.
At first glance, Galazeth bears a resemblance to Urza, Lord High Artificer, but with a much higher focus on instants and sorceries. Galazeth almost feels like a “fixed” Urza: a card that doesn’t encourage Winter Orb shenanigans or infinite combos. But that’s not to say Galazeth isn’t powerful, the ability to turn any artifact into a guaranteed source of coloured mana can easily lead to early Insurrections and Expropriates.
If you really want to push it, the way Galazeth uses treasures means that powerful cards like Dockside Extortionist and Hullbreacher are even more outrageous than usual, with treasures now permanent sources of mana. Still not sold? Try Trail of Evidence. Get free mana every time you cast a spell. Get out of control quickly.
You’d be forgiven for thinking I have a bit of a bias toward Lorehold - and you’d be right - but it’s only because we just keep getting exciting new designs in a previously stale colour pairing. Plargg and Augusta are no exception, and like Mila and Lukka they’re going to encourage you to pick a side and focus your deck around it.
If you choose Plargg, best bet is to hone in on graveyard strategies and cards with a Mana Value of three or less. What card type you want to focus on is totally up to you, just as long as it isn’t Legendary, but the support cards for any Plarrg deck will be the same; Sun Titan and Sevinne’s Reclamation and anything else that cares about 3 mana.
If Augusta is more your speed, you’re encouraged toward a go wide strategy with a focus on quantity of creatures. You might have to read Augusta’s abilities more than once to make sense of them, but it’s essentially a modal form of vigilance that gives you a choice between a defensive or offensive buff.
5. Jadiz, Oracle of Arcavios // Journey to the Oracle
It wouldn’t be a set review without an obnoxiously powerful Sim- pardon me, Quandrix card. Jadiz is a cost reducing card advantage engine that will overpower nearly any boardstate. Just one catch: it costs 8 mana, a tall order even in a slower meta. Thankfully, the back half of Jadiz is an acceleration tool that will ramp you to the moon.
To maximise Jadiz’s potential, we’re going to want to fill our deck with a lot of lands, and a lot of cards that put lands in our hand. Staples like Cultivate and Kodama’s Reach are perfect here, ramping us loading us up for when we cast Journey to the Oracle, putting as many lands into play as we possibly can. Just make sure you can discard something so Jadiz returns to hand, bypassing the Commander Tax.
Once Jadiz is in play, pick your poison. Everytime you trigger Magecraft from now on, you’re either going to ramp further or cast massive threats for a measly 1 mana.
Would you like to cast Omniscience for 1 mana? This is how you cast Omniscience for 1 mana.
Velomachus Lorehold is the Elder Dragon that founded - you guessed it - Lorehold college, which focuses on history and archaeology. You can almost guess that from the art alone, the enormous dragon is draped in tattered scrolls and standing atop what look like ancient ruins.
Velomachus is one of the two Elder Dragons to make this list, largely because he is a fresh design for Red and White, a dedicated spellslinging commander, ground that only Firesong and Sunspeaker and Feather have ever walked before. Velomachus is much more powerful than his predecessors, giving you instant value the same turn you cast him.
You’re going to want to jam your deck full of Instants and Sorceries with a mana cost of 5 or less to maximise the advantage you can get with each attack step. Look into cards like Relentless Assault and World at War for free extra combats, doubling the value you can get from Velomachus. And don’t leave home without Sunforger!
Sometimes you look at a new legendary creature and you have to read it twice to make sense of it. Codie Vociferous is not one of those cards.
You have to read it thrice.
We’re talking about a sentient book here, a tome of knowledge with the audacity to sprout legs and develop cognisance. Codie is a spellslinger’s spellslinger, a Commander that doesn’t so much nudge you toward Instants and Sorceries as it demands that you play nothing else. The first line of text is an unprecedented build-around effect that disincentivizes running non-land permanents of any kind. The second line of text is an unprecedented payoff that allows you to cast a Temporal Trespass and receive a Reshape the Earth for your trouble. To say that Codie gives you a powerful payoff would be a grave understatement.
While other spellslinger decks are relegated to their respective colours (all too often just Blue and Red), Codie runs the full spectrum of colours, letting you take your pick of your favourite big spells. Apex of Power? All is Dust? Army of the Damned? Literally any Ultimatum? Codie has you covered.
Hofri Ghostforge feels Red and White, but the militaristic stylings of Boros are soooo 2019. This is 2021, and Lorehold is the new kid on the block.
And what better showcase of how intricate Lorehold can be than Hofri Ghostforge? The simplest part of the card is the anthem effect and the extra keywords for spirits. By itself, those would be enough for a tribal deck, but it’s Hofri’s incredible reanimation skills that make him such a powerhouse.
With cards like Sneak Attack, you’ll not only be cheating creatures into play, you’ll actually be keeping them after you sacrifice them at the end of the turn! Combine it with effects like Cavalier of Dawn and Cavalier of Flame, cards that are just as powerful when they enter the battlefield as when they leave, and you’ll have built yourself a force to be reckoned with. Even the humble Solemn Simulacrum becomes a recursive value engine with Hofri, allowing you to double dip on both effects.
1. Killian, ink duelist
With all the kooky legendaries throughout Strixhaven, it wasn’t easy cutting this list down to size, but I never doubted for a second that Killian would take first place.
This card is absolutely nuts. If the history of Magic has taught us anything, it’s that cost-reducing effects are incredibly powerful and almost laughably easy to break. And while some Commanders reduce the cost of a specific card type, all Killian asks is that your spells target a creature. That means that any buff aura, any removal spell, and an exhaustive host of miscellaneous utility cards have their costs reduced by two.
Take Battle Mastery: Double Strike for 3 mana is a pretty good rate, and perfectly playable, but it’s downright criminal when you only have to pay a single mana for it. Throw Phyrexian mana into the mix with Apostle’s Blessing and Dismember, and suddenly you have powerful spells that cost nothing but life. Sage’s Reverie for 2 mana, Sunbond for 2 mana, Asha’s Favor for 1 mana, the possibilities for a Voltron strategy are truly endless.
Did I mention Killian happens to have Lifelink and Menace, two of the best keywords you could ask for in a Voltron deck? And if you really want to establish yourself as the biggest threat at the table, try Eldrazi Conscription on for size. Or even scarier, the infamous Hatred, which in this deck is playable as early as turn three. That’s right, a turn three OTK.
If you want more about how to build and play Killian, keep a close eye on Jake’s Takes for next week’s deck tech.
Jake FitzSimons is a certified Magic tragic. He keeps one land hands, forgets at least half of his Rhystic Study triggers, and names “Pot of Greed” with Demonic Consultation. He is at his happiest flipping for lethal with Yuriko. You can follow him @Jake_FitzSimons.