Constructed Limited Criticism! This week we depart from our scheduled constructed programming to dive into the wonderful world of Strixhaven draft. Whether you are new to drafting, new to Strixhaven, or just looking to get some insight into the format, I hope this article will help you get a leg up on the format.
Before we get started, however, there is one point that I would like to drive home: if you have the chance, you should get to a draft night at your local Good Games. Drafting in person is by far the most fun I ever have playing Magic, nothing comes close. The laughing and joking that goes on around the draft table as the draft progresses is what keeps a lot of us coming back. Most draft groups are also very welcoming of beginners, so if you’re new to draft, you’ll most likely find a group that can guide you through all the procedures, even up to giving you a hand with building your deck or constructing your mana base.
Now, let’s talk draft!
Big Picture Stuff
When you sit down to a Strixhaven draft, you will be given three Strixhaven draft boosters, each of which will contain:
- 1 rare / mythic rare
- 1 Mystical Archive card (mythic, rare, or uncommon)
- 1 Lesson card (mythic, rare, or common)
- 3 uncommons
- 9-10 commons
- 0-1 foil of any rarity (shows up in about 1/3 of boosters)
All told, you could end up with as many as four (!) rares in a booster (regular, foil, lesson, Mystical Archive).
I don’t really have the space to talk about the Mystical Archive cards for draft because there’s so many of them, and they don’t really have much of a theme to them. Short version: if you manage to crack a Mizzix’s Mastery or Approach of the Second Sun, you can just laugh your way to a pile of victories (I drafted an Approach of the Second Sun deck over on my youtube channel this week, if you’d like to see that in action).
What we do need to talk about is the Lessons, because these are the cornerstone of what makes Strixhaven draft tick. The single best defining feature of a Strixhaven draft deck is how many different Lessons you have access to in your sideboard and how many Learn cards you have available to search them up. Take Lessons and cards with Learn aggressively.
The three best commons in the set are all Lessons because they are so important for your deck to have access to: Environmental Sciences, Fractal Summoning, and Elemental Summoning (with Inkling Summoning, Pest Summoning, and Spirit Summoning not far behind). Environmental Sciences turns all of your Learn spells into lands when you need them and decks in Strixhaven often use a lot of lands. The Summonings turn your Learn spells into creatures, and if you’ve got multiple then you can choose the creature that’s the right size for that stage of the game.
Honestly, if you ignore the rest of this article and just remember to take Environmental Sciences over removal spells, then I’ll consider my work here done.
Let’s move onto the five colour pairs to draft in Strixhaven, in a rough order of how good I think they are.
There are two different ways you can draft Prismari:
“Big Spell” Prismari
“Big spell” Prismari is built around casting big, game-ending spells. You want to play control in the early game with spells like Heated Debate and Bury in Books and then transition to casting 7- or 8-mana haymakers.
The big spells that you are looking to cast will be some combination of Elemental Masterpiece, Creative Outburst, and Explosive Welcome. I usually like to have around three of these spells in my big Prismari decks. You are not as concerned as you usually would be about having so many 7-drops in your deck because most of them can be discarded from your hand to make a treasure token in a pinch, which can help you get towards casting others.
You want to pick up ways to make these big spells cheaper. Spectacle Mage is the most common you’ll see, but if you can pick up a copy of Maelstrom Muse you can start dropping your knock-out punches as early as turn five.
Finally, I need to give a special shout-out to Rootha, Mercurial Artist. Rootha is one of the best cards in the whole set and enables some truly nutty things from big Prismari decks. It’s not uncommon to get to the point where you can copy each and every spell you cast with Rootha, including the big ones. If you’ve never copied an Explosive Welcome before, then welcome to Prismari!
Example trophy-winning Prismari deck:
Tempo Prismari is looking to play efficient beaters like Prismari Pledgemage and Prismari Apprentice early and then use cards like Frost Trickster to control your opponent’s board while adding to your own. You then want to use removal spells like Heated Debate, Pigment Storm, and Bury in Books to clear your opponent’s board while triggering your early creatures to get them in the red zone. Your goal is to keep your opponent off balance for long enough for your early creatures to kill your opponent.
I find this tempo build comes together more rarely than the “big spell” variant, but it’s important to recognise when your draft is leading you more towards this build since the two decks often don’t want the same cards.
Quandrix is a ramp deck. Your goal is to get as many lands onto the battlefield and then start dropping giant creatures.
Your most important spells are Emergent Sequence and Field Trip; you generally want to take these over most other cards once you’re in this archetype. Field Trip is particularly important since it can fetch either Environmental Sciences (if you need more lands) or Fractal Summoning (if you’re done ramping and need to drop fatties). Cultivate also falls into this category, although it shows up a little less commonly due to being a Mystical Archive card. Quandrix Apprentice is insane if you can manage to get your hands on one.
Your early game should be spent ramping and delaying your opponent. Divide by Zero bounces an annoying threat and Learns for the same cards that Field Trip would. Removal spells like Bury in Books and Mage Duel can help buy you more time while you’re setting up.
Your most common ramp payoff will be Leyline Invocation, which starts at 6/6 but I’ve seen get much, much larger. If you can get your hands on one, Bookwurm is one of the best top-end finishers, but don’t sweat if you can’t—Leyline Invocation and Fractal Summoning are usually enough to end the game.
It’s not uncommon for these decks to splash red for removal or some of Prismari’s top-end finishers, all of which are very easy to splash.
Example trophy-winning Quandrix deck:
Silverquill is one of the format’s more assertive decks. It wants to either get underneath the big ramp decks and kill them quickly, or go toe-to-toe with them by using +1/+1 counters to get its creatures as big as the opponent’s.
Silverquill has a density of evasive early drops, meaning that if your opponent’s anti-aggro plan is a bunch of ground blockers, they are in for a rude surprise. Arrogant Poet, Silverquill Pledgemage, Combat Professor, and Owlin Shieldmage all have or can gain flying, and provide a very common curve out from Silverquill.
Silverquill often has a +1/+1 counter theme that can allow it to play a slightly longer game if the aggro plan doesn’t work out. Expanded Anatomy is the Lesson you want to make sure you have access to for these decks, while Essence Infusion is often the key maindeck inclusion, as it allows you buff up your creatures while staying ahead of your opponent on life points. Guiding Voice is also a priority, allowing you to grow an attacker while grabbing either an Expanded Anatomy or a Summoning.
You’ll generally want to play any removal you can get your hands on: Mage-Hunter’s Onslaught, Lash of Malice, and Flunk all perform as well as you’d expect. Study Break is the card that might surprise you: the ability to remove two blockers for a turn while drawing another threat is near irreplaceable.
Example trophy-winning Silverquill deck:
Witherbloom is a life-gain synergy deck. It wants to play a repeated source of life gain, pair it with a life gain payoff, and then grind the opponent down.
Far and away the best card for this deck is Overgrown Arch. Other sources of repeated life gain, such as Moldering Karok, Witherbloom Apprentice, and Witherbloom Pledgemage are good, and you want them in these decks, but nothing matches “tap: gain 1 life” with the ability to learn on demand. By far your best payoff is Blood Researcher, which can grow enormous very quickly in these decks. Dina, Soul Steeper is fine, but not as high a priority as you might think. I’ve won several games with just an Overgrown Arch and a Dina, draining my opponent out one life at a time, but that probably shouldn’t be your main game plan.
This brings us to a common misconception about Witherbloom. The plethora of Pest token generation combined with various sacrifice outlets makes Witherbloom look like a more traditional “sacrifice” deck. The problem is these sacrifice decks are really difficult to get to come together and I would recommend you don’t try to make it work. I’ve first-picked Daemogoth Titan before and tried to force the sacrifice deck, but there just aren’t enough pieces going around for it to come together. Furthermore, those pieces (like Hunt for Specimens and Pest Summoning) are high-value cards for other drafters, meaning you just won’t get passed them very often. So don’t worry about Daemogoth Woe-Eater, just take those Overgrown Arches!
Example trophy-winning Witherbloom deck:
Lorehold is an aggressive deck. Its aim is to come out of the gates fast and get the opponent dead. It is generally faster than Silverquill, but doesn’t play as well in a long game.
Lorehold shares many of the aggressive cards with Silverquill: Combat Professor, Star Pupil, and Thunderous Orator are all as fantastic here as they are in black-white. What red brings to the table is more explosiveness, particularly in the form of Twinscroll Shaman, which pairs quite nicely with all of the red combat tricks—particularly all-star Enthusiastic Study—along with the many +1/+1 counter cards in white. I’ve curved Thunderous Orator into Twinscroll Shaman into Combat Professor, and, well, let’s just say that opponent didn’t live long.
Lorehold, like Witherbloom, also has a bit of an identity crisis. There is a “cards leaving your graveyard” theme threaded through Lorehold, seen on cards like Lorehold Excavation and Quintorius, Field Historian. The idea is for these cards to play a long grindy game using cards like Tome Shredder and Cogwork Archivist to remove cards from your graveyard. The problem is, this theme requires a lot of moving pieces to come together and when it does, it’s not even all that impressive. You did “the thing” and got a 3/2. Congratulations. Here’s an Explosive Welcome. The point is, I would recommend trying to build Lorehold as a Twinscroll Shaman aggro deck, rather than a grindy Lorehold Excavation deck.
Example trophy-winning Lorehold deck:
Best of luck at your next Good Games draft night! I love talking about draft over on Twitter @Calm_Mirror, so if you draft something sweet be sure to send me a picture of your deck!
Sam Maher has been playing competitive Magic since 2003. In the last two years he has accumulated multiple Grand Prix day 2 appearances, PTQ top 8s, and MCQ top finishes. He is generally happiest when stealing his opponent’s cards with Thief of Sanity and The Scarab God. You can follow him on his Youtube drafting channel Draft Punks and on Twitter @Calm_Mirror.