Spellslingers rejoice: a storm is coming! Strixhaven is nearly upon us, and we’re right in the thick of the preview season. It’s sure to change the flow of Standard, and it might even rustle a few leaves in Commander. While many people are focused on Rowan and Will Kenrith,
Liliana Professor Onyx, and the deans of each school, I’ve been seeking those hidden gems at lower rarities, and we’ve already seen a few that are sure to become invaluable additions to Commander decks of any budget.
If you’re a fan of combo decks, or can appreciate a good spellslinger strategy, I’d like to formally welcome you to the eye of the storm.
Lesson one of combos: they can be found in the most unlikely places. First Day of Class doesn’t seem like much at first glance, but it has some real potential as a combo enabler. We aren’t looking at this for the new learn mechanic, but rather the ability to place +1/+1 counters on creatures that enter the battlefield until end of turn.
Persist creatures have always been tricksy, ever at the heart of sacrifice-themed combos. Whether they’re paired with Solemnity in white or Ivy Lane Denizen in green, there are multiple ways to abuse their ability to return from the graveyard. Red hasn’t had many options available to enable this combo, making First Day of Class a unique new way to create the combo in a color that hasn’t had access to it before.
If you’re not familiar with the combo, I’ll happily explain. You cast First Day of Class, then sacrifice a creature with persist (in this case, Lesser Masticore) using a sacrifice outlet (Altar of Dementia). Persist will trigger and return Lesser Masticore to the battlefield with a -1/-1 counter on it, but the +1/+1 counter from First Day of Class will cancel it out, and the Masticore will be left with no counters. You’re now back at the start of the loop, only a creature has died, re-entered the battlefield, and you milled two cards from a player’s library. If you repeat this enough times, you’ll mill your opponents out entirely.
While the persist combo itself may be impressive, it doesn’t stop there with First Day of Class. If you’re playing a Storm deck, you can cast this at any point in your combo turn, and when your storm count is high enough, cast Empty the Warrens and make a bunch of Goblin tokens. First Day of Class will give them all haste as well as the +1/+1 counter, allowing you to attack for lethal immediately. Finally, the learn mechanic will give you a rummage effect, meaning that you can use this in a pinch to dig that little bit further into your deck.
This simple little instant holds more power than people may be aware. Be sure not to miss First Day of Class — it could prove useful to you in the future!
Magecraft is the new mechanic from Strixhaven that triggers whenever you cast or copy an instant or sorcery. This opens up all manner of avenues, from gaining incidental value from your spells, to going infinite with just a couple of Fork effects. Storm-Kiln Artist is one of those magecraft cards; it’s primed to take Commander by storm.
When looking at storm combos, all resources can be broken down into two main categories: mana and cards. To build a large enough storm count, you need to draw enough cards to cast, and you need the mana to do so; this is why most storm decks contain a critical mass of both ritual effects and card draw spells. Storm-Kiln Artist functions as a repeatable ritual effect, much like Runaway Steam-Kin or Birgi, God of Storytelling. The main distinction here is that they also reward you with Treasure tokens for copying spells. If you cast a Grapeshot and get ten copies, for example, you’ll get ten Treasure tokens; that’s an unprecedented level of mana generation, even for Storm decks. Even value-oriented spellslinger decks will benefit greatly from the ability to ramp, simply by casting the spells they were going to play anyway.
The most obvious home for this Dwarf Shaman is in Zada, Hedron Grinder decks. Let’s say you have Storm-Kiln Artist, Zada, and two Goblin tokens on board. If you cast a spell like Expedite targeting Zada, she copies it for your other three creatures, and Storm-Kiln Artist makes treasure for each of those spells, giving you four cards and four Treasures for just one mana!
Keep an eye out for this spellslinger savant; whenever you hear of epic storms in the future, you can expect this master craftsman to be at the center of the action.
The new learn mechanic allows you to either fetch a Lesson card from outside the game (which doesn’t really work in Commander) or discard a card to draw a card. Most of the Lessons we’ve seen so far are colorless; flavor-wise, they’re intended to be Lessons that everyone can learn. They may find a unique home in Commander, however, particularly in colorless decks.
Until Strixhaven, there were only eight instants and sorceries that were truly colorless (i.e., no colored mana costs, not just devoid), and colorless decks have been hurting for more utility for a long time. Introduction to Prophecy is essentially Preordain but for three generic mana; it’s not groundbreaking, but it’s a fantastic way for these decks to dig for a relevant card at the right time.
Introduction to Annihilation may seem costly as a five-mana sorcery, but it more than makes up for it by being such a powerful answer to any problematic permanent. Decks like Kozilek, Butcher of Truth or Traxos, Scourge of Kroog currently have to rely on cards like Spine of Ish Sah or Scour From Existence to remove permanents, which are far too expensive to be usable early on. These commanders now have an answer to permanents up to two turns earlier now, and the card its controller draws from the spell is a small price to pay; Chaos Warp and Oblation see plenty of play with arguably larger downsides.
What I really love about these Lessons is that any deck can run them. It wouldn’t surprise me if Introduction to Annihilation sees some play outside of colorless decks; red would certainly love more ways to deal with specific permanents, so this could be a welcome addition. Let’s hope these are just an introduction to more impactful colorless Lessons!
The Boros Legion is rarely flush with card advantage, eschewing permanence over flat-out aggression. Lorehold is set to change this outlook on the color pairing, with its archaeomancy drawing on the power of artifacts and civilizations past. With cards like Reconstruct History, you’ll be drawing more than just power — you’ll be drawing cards, too.
Reconstruct History seems like a niche card at first, but it’s a great way to refuel in the mid-to-late-game. If you’ve been worn down through attrition battles, this will fill your hand with the best pieces available in your graveyard. If you were forced to fire off an Akroma’s Vengeance and need to rebuild, this will take care of you (you can even return the board wipe, just in case).
While there are several options available for value in red and white (Underworld Breach, Mizzix’s Mastery, Sevinne’s Reclamation), this is one of the most singularly useful choices available. Returning just two cards with Reconstruct History is a reasonable rate, and any more than that would be on par with blue’s card advantage power. It certainly has the potential to be a staple that could go down in the history books as the first of many new card advantage spells for white!
We’re just getting started with Strixhaven previews, and this set already looks to be having a profound impact on many formats, most notably Commander. Even with the splashy rares and mythics aside, the commons and uncommons are set to give you countless new options for your decks. No matter your budget level, you’re going to want to hold onto that draft chaff for some time to come!
Scott is an Irish content creator and the Head of Budget Magic for the Izzet League. He focuses on affordable decks in Pioneer, Modern, and Pauper, particularly ones that stray from the mainstream. When he’s not writing about his favorite decks, he can be found talking incessantly about them on Twitter and on The Budget Magic Cast.