Tribal Update Report: Strixhaven


The Tentacled One
As I begin this report, I’ve just closed a binder, having added in the final card I needed to complete my collection of Arabian Nights. I didn’t think I was to go for it, but I did it. I collected a full set of all 92 cards (including the print variants). It’s been exhausting in some ways, but it’s a triumph. Although the original base set is far too expensive to be within my reach, most of the other old sets are not, and now I’m either already done or almost done completing my sets of most of the early expansions. I’ve become a bit obsessed with sets from the early years of Magic. Trying to find slots in EDH decks for classic cards drew me into this, but it’s been the actual work of cataloging my collection, figuring out what I’m missing from each set, organizing and sleeving everything, reading up on the history of these sets, that’s really instilled a passion for this stuff. Most of these old cards are not really good cards to run in decks anymore, but there’s something special about the the elegant bottom-up worldbuilding of Antiquities, the depth of Legends as a kind of reimagining of the base set, the bizarre intricacies of Fallen Empires, the innovation of Alliances as the first set to truly build on the work of a previous set.

So now all of Strixhaven: School of Mages has been spoiled. The newest set takes place on the vibrant new plane of Arcavios, pushing the envelope on instants and sorceries further than we’ve ever seen before. I’ve long professed my affinity for instants and sorceries (my favorite card types) and advocated that the game needs to retain its identity as “Magic” with the flavor of “you’re a planeswalker and you cast powerful spells” rather than becoming “Summoner Wars.” CPA members who have read my other ramblings over the years are probably familiar with my preference for spellcasting over turning creatures sideways. Dark Ritual is my favorite card. I’ve sung the praises of Regrowth. My pet deck is based around looping Wheel of Fortune. I have the card art for Tendrils of Agony as my avatar here at the CPA. This power-packed new set with an “instants and sorceries matter” theme should be the most exciting new set to me in a long time. And yet, because of the timing, I find myself caring more about how I only need just one more card to complete my set of Fourth Edition (it’s Animate Wall). If Strixhaven had come out two years ago, I’d have been totally hyped for it. But now? Now I find myself caring more about Banding than about Magecraft.

I’ll try to put my old school obsession aside and focus on the cool stuff in this new set. So, if you haven’t already been following the spoilers, this set takes place at a school of mages, as the name implies. Strixhaven contains five colleges, and each college is themed around a pairing of two opposing colors. So white/black is Silverquill, white/red is Lorehold, blue/red is Prismari, blue/green is Quandrix, and black/green is Witherbloom. Each faction has its own watermark for card text boxes and gets its own elder dragon. The mechanics featured in this set are Magecraft, Learn, and Ward. None of those are directly relevant to Tribal gameplay. Due to the flavor of Strixhaven, we can expect some emphasis on “mage” creature types. WotC has already settled on those as being clerics, wizards, warlocks, shamans, and druids, with each being primarily centered around one of the colors of Magic.

New Tribes
Inkling: This is a creature type used on tokens made by Silverquill cards, presumably to fit their theme of words and writing. I guess an inkling is a creature made of ink? Well, this tribe has no actual members, so it’s Tier 8.

Fractal: This is a creature type used on tokens made by Quandrix cards, presumably to fit their theme of mathematics. According to Kianne, Quandrix dean, “Fractals are just pseudo-dimensional manifestations of asynchronous biosymmetries. It's really quite simple.” Well, the tribe has no members, so it’s Tier 8.

New additions to existing tribes
Advisor: Two new cards. Difficult to gauge, but I’m guessing they don’t make the cut.

Avatar: One new card. It’s a bit weird and probably doesn’t pay off.

Bat: One new card. This would push out some older card, as it’s simply more efficient than most bats. Doesn’t solve the tribe’s problems, but it sure does slot into a deck.

Bear: One new card. It’s OK.

Beast: Three new cards. None of them are green, the color generally associated with this tribe. The blue one here has interesting abilities. Probably no impact, though.

Bird: Nine new cards. I’d have thought we’d get more out of a place called “Strixhaven” (strix means owl). Sadly, none of them seem to be suitable for Bird Tribal.

Cat: One new card. Probably not used in Cat Tribal, although the sheer power of the magecraft ability does give this some potential.

Cleric: Eighteen new cards. Some good ones. A bit awkwardly, it seems at a glance that the Lorehold cards are better than the Silverquill cards here, and the Lorehold colors are not really ideal for Cleric Tribal decks.

Construct: Two new cards. Neither really works for Construct Tribal.

Crocodile: Two new cards. Potential upgrades to older, weaker crocodiles.

Dog: Two new cards. Both are strong cards, but for different reasons. I wouldn’t really think that Dog Tribal would make use of these cards, just because they synergize with things that don’t really fit into the tribe.

Demon: Two new cards. I like them. They probably don’t make the cut in Demon Tribal, but either one might be an option in a sacrifice-heavy “aristocrats” sort of deck.

Djinn: Three new cards. There isn’t really anything here that would improve the tribe significantly, but because it’s such a weak tribe already, testing out one of these new cards wouldn’t hurt either.

Dragon: Five new cards. As flagship cards for the watermarked factions (the colleges) in this set, they’re pushed. All five are quite powerful. However, Dragon Tribal has no shortage of powerful cards, and the challenge has always been making those powerful dragons work in a cohesive deck in some way that competes with other potent tribes, many of which have much nicer mana curves. These don’t help with that.

Drake: One new card. Drake Tribal didn’t have much reason to use green before, but if you do opt to use green, this card is a snap inclusion.

Druid: Sixteen new cards. Not all of them fit the same strategy, but a Druid Tribal deck almost certainly wants to test at least a couple of these. There’s the potential for real upgrades here.

Dryad: One new card. WotC has finally printed a dryad druid. So if you’re into alliteration, this is the card for you. This card is very, very good and I’ll have to evaluate whether I recommend a tier promotion for Dryad Tribal.

Dwarf: Five new cards. We’ve got an awkward kind of hodgepodge here, in part because the tribe seems to be split between Lorehold and Prismari, despite the lack of blue cards. Tough to evaluate, but I’m leaning toward marginal impact.

Efreet: Two new cards. The challenge here is that these cards are part of the “instants and sorceries” matter theme, and not something you’d normally want in a Tribal deck. But there’s an upside, in some sad sense: Efreet Tribal was so bad already that you probably just want to throw both of these into a deck.

Elder: Five new cards. Elder Tribal has way more members than it did when I started these reports. All five elders are the same faction-head dragons I mentioned for Dragon Tribal. Unlike Dragon Tribal, Elder Tribal is pretty bad. Simply having more options for big dummies to cheat into play is still pretty great for the tribe at this point.

Elephant: One new card. It’s an interesting one, but actually provides a Spirit Tribal synergy, although the card itself is not a spirit.

Elf: Four new cards. Decent options for a weaker tribe, but Elf Tribal doesn’t need them.

Elk: One new card. Draft chaff.

Eye: One new card. Eye Tribal? I forget. Don’t think I’ve given them a thought since I wrote the preliminary report. Let’s see. Oh, right. This is only the third legal eye in existence, so the tribe is still Tier 7.

Fox: One new card. It’s quite strong and should easily make the cut in a Fox Tribal deck. The main question here is whether Fox Tribal can make use of the planeswalker that is on the other side of this double-faced card.

Frog: Two new cards. The blue one is mediocre, but the black one might actually be good enough to work in a Frog Tribal deck.

Fungus: One new card. I’m going to tentatively say that this doesn’t make the cut, but it’s kind of a weird card and there might be some way for Fungus Tribal to squeeze value out of it.

Gargoyle: One new card. This might accidentally be a case of the tribe getting something they can really use. It’s not great, but Gargoyle Tribal just might be able to take advantage of this somewhat overcosted ability.

Golem: Two new cards. Probably no impact.

Horror: One new card. It’s a bit too niche for our purposes.

Human: Thirty-six new cards. As usual, I can’t be bothered to keep track of all this stuff. Human Tribal is super-strong and maybe something in here provides a great new option that fits perfectly into the optimal Human Tribal deck. Or perhaps not. Figure it out.

Illusion: One new card. Oh hey, I just realized one of the birds in this set isn’t even real. Also, this is probably Limited fodder, unless the “learn” mechanic is way better than it looks.

Kor: Three new cards. Possible marginal utility here.

Lizard: One new card. Its name is a pun. Get it?

Merfolk: Three new cards. Some potential, but not of the sort that seems optimal for Tribal formats.

Minotaur: One new card. I don’t like it.

Monk: One new card. Too expensive.

Ogre: One new card. Unique, but Ogre Tribal doesn’t really offer support for blue, and this card doesn’t shore up the tribe’s deficiencies.

Orc: Four new cards. No good news, though. The emphasis on blue doesn’t fit into Orc Tribal and the abilities here aren’t great anyway.

Pest: One new card. This is the second pest in existence, so the tribe is still Tier 7.

Phoenix: One new card. It is a phoenix based around one of the set mechanics, but it’s a bit bland and doesn’t really help Phoenix Tribal.

Plant: Two new cards. Plant Tribal has a decent base for token-making, which could mean easy sacrifice fodder for one of these. Probably not worth it.

Rhino: One new card. It’s funny to picture this in a Tribal deck because it would usually fail to give rhinos trample and they would usually have it anyway. Nonbo.

Serpent: One new card. It’s mediocre, but in good company considering the rest of the tribe. What I find more interesting than the potential of this one serpent is the fact that we seem to keep getting new serpents. The tribe might actually become powerful some day.

Shaman: Fifteen new cards. A few of these have some decent magecraft and spell-copying abilities. If you can profitably squeeze that into Shaman Tribal, then good for you. Might be a bit tricky, though.

Soldier: One new card. Draft chaff.

Specter: One new card. No impact.

Spirit: Twelve new cards. Some good ones. Worth testing, at least.

Squirrel: One new card. Remember my previous report? That’s right: Squirrel Tribal officially has enough members to be promoted out of Tier 7!

Treefolk: Two new cards. They’re alright, but neither of the mechanics used on these cards really benefits Treefolk Tribal.

Troll: Three new cards. They’re pretty good.

Turtle: One new card. A bit too much mana for my taste, but Turtle Tribal would probably take what it can get.

Vampire: Five new cards. Mostly chaff, but a couple of these look potent.

Wall: Two new cards. No impact.

Warlock: Seventeen new cards. And for those keeping score, this brings the total number of members for this tribe up to twenty-nine. That’s right: this set introduces nearly 60% of all warlock cards ever printed so far. You could build your Warlock Tribal deck with all of its members coming from this one set, and judging from how crappy most warlocks were in the past, it’s possible that this should be the approach.

Warrior: One new card. Spirit Tribal synergy. No reason to run this in Warrior Tribal.

Wizard: Twenty-two new cards. A bunch of these are good, but that doesn’t mean they make sense in Wizard Tribal. Some of these cards should be worth testing, though.

Wolf: One new card. It’s not bad, but it’s also not the sort of card I think of when I think of Tribal gameplay.

Wurm: One new card. I don’t think I’d run it in Wurm Tribal, but I do like the card itself and could see some interesting applications for it.

Zombie: One new card. Too expensive for what it does.

New tribal synergies to look out for
Blex, Vexing Pest: While Pest Tribal isn’t a viable option, this also offers synergies to bats, insects, snakes, and spiders.

Draconic Intervention: Super-gimmicky, but maybe a Dragon Tribal deck could take advantage of this.

Dragon’s Approach: Notable for being the first sorcery with the line that you can run any number of copies of it in your deck, but that’s not really practical for Tribal formats. At least, I don’t think so. But the card might warrant consideration anyway.

Hofri Ghostforge: The Spirit Tribal synergy is pretty strong here. If I were running a Spirit Tribal deck in those colors, I’d probably throw this in.

Overall set analysis
Following on the heels of the tribe-boosting extravaganza that was Kaldheim, this set doesn’t offer that much to, proportionally, to tribes. I’m reminded of my War of the Spark report. That set had a “planeswalkers matter” theme, while this one has an “instants and sorceries matter” theme. In both cases, Tribal synergies take a back seat to other things going on in set design. This does not mean that no Tribal decks get any tools to work with! Quite the opposite: this is a power-packed set and pushes boundaries in multiple ways. There are going to be some new best-in-slot options and some explosive combos. The distinction here is that while some sets might totally change the composition of the 20+ deck slots devoted to a tribe, especially when new Tribal synergies emerge that are stronger than previous options, a set like this has most of its impact loaded onto support spells and generically useful creatures. I didn’t have a lot to say when it came to overall analysis for War of the Spark, and I believe that I was cogent and correct in the findings I presented for that report. What we’ve learned in the year since the release of that set is just how prolific and revolutionary some of the cards in War of the Spark have been across multiple formats. I predict that we’ll see something similar with Strixhaven.

Winners and losers for this set? Tier adjustments?
Winners for this set include…
  • Druids
  • Dryads
  • Shamans
  • Spirits
  • Warlocks

There are two losers that immediately spring to mind. Since the flavor of this set is that it takes place at a school of magic, we might have expected to see some artificers and some constructs. Well, we didn’t get any artificers at all, and the two new constructs are not viable in Construct Tribal decks.

We have one procedural tier adjustment. Squirrel Tribal departs from Tier 7. Despite all the deficiencies that a five-member tribe would usually be prone to, things aren’t nearly as bad for squirrels as they are for some other tribes. They’re tricky to place, because every advantage they’d seem to have is tempered by their severe weaknesses. I think they’re good enough for Tier 5.

After scrutinizing the options for Dryad Tribal, I can’t bring myself to advocate for a promotion just yet. They have some really cool things going on, but the competition in Tier 2 is on another level. They’re good, but they’re not can-reasonably-compete-with-vampires good.

There is one obvious promotion, here, though. It’s not a close call. I’d rated Warlock Tribal Tier 6 when the tribe first came out because it essentially had no options to build a reasonable deck. Most new additions didn’t really change that. Strixhaven shot us well beyond that point. So, I propose the promotion of Warlock Tribal to Tier 4. That’s right: I’d have them skip right over Tier 5 entirely. I don’t think it’s too extreme.

Ban list update recommendations
Nothing for now. I still intend to review my position on this, but I haven’t gotten around to it.

This set is insane, but I still need to pull a full set of Homelands from my card storage, make sure I’m not missing any cards, and sleeve it up for going into a binder. So, have fun with your broken new toys. It’s Folk of An-Havva for me. I regret nothing!