Strixhaven’s Secret Sauce is Red Mana

Kristen GregoryCommander, Design

Strixhaven looks to have a smorgasbord of powerful and exciting Magic cards. It seems to Kristen, though, that red is currently Magic’s Golden Child. 

Looking through the previews for Strixhaven, it’s occurred to me that all of the most exciting designs involve red mana. It’s no secret that red has been the second-most maligned color from the players’ perspective in recent memory, and I think we’ve crested a peak for red card design with Strixhaven

Red Cards are Good, Actually

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve had some incredible red cards recently. Just looking at the cards above, we have one of the best equipment cards in years, an incredible recursion tool, and a card draw spell that can also serve as a mana source. 

And that’s just in Standard! When you look to supplementary products for EDH, the cards get even stronger. A ritual that also has card advantage stapled to it; a retread of a Reserved List card that’s some of the best card draw in red; a cEDH staple Redirect that’s usually free to cast.

All of that is ignoring Dockside Extortionist, too. It took us a few years to get here, but I think we’ve arrived at a timeline where red is good again.

So, is red good in Strixhaven? You bet it is!

The Best Red Cards in Strixhaven

What better card to start with than First Day of Class! This card is poised to do a lot of work in the right Standard environment, with the potential to bump up the power of aggro decks considerably. Elsewhere, it still has some uses; many Commander decks like haste, and being able to empty your hand and swing is underrated

Dragon’s Approach is red’s Persistent Petitioners or Relentless Rats. Pairing this with Thrumming Stone in Commander might seem like the obvious thing to do, but the fact that this exists as an option shows just how popular red is to EDH players. 

Conspiracy Theorist is an incredible amount of value in a two-drop. Being able to turn discarded cards into impulsive draw, in a sense, is really, really good. Combined with Harnfel, Horn of Bounty, you can build up a second “hand” for the turn while digging for enablers. Beyond this, there are just so many applications for this little tinfoil hat-wearer, and I’m really excited to jam it into my decks. Plus, it enables itself when it attacks. 

Crackle with Power is my kind of Magic card. I’m quite the fan of burn-based combos, from my Neheb, the Eternal Commander deck to my Chandra Oathbreaker competitive brew. Either of these decks would enjoy Crackle with Power, which feels mostly better than Jaya’s Immolating Inferno in many ways. At a total of eight mana, you’re already dealing ten damage to two targets, and at eleven mana, that’s fifteen damage to three targets. This card scales really well.

While it might look a little expensive for four mana, remember that Efreet Flamepainter has double strike, so if you do get through with it, you can cast two spells for free from your graveyard. This card feels best paired with discard outlets so as not to blow the ruse, or with stompy Gruul decks that can grant trample. Personally, I’m hyped to put it into Neyith of the Dire Hunt to recast some of my fight spells and draw spells. Don’t sleep on this one. 

Hall Monitor is hands down the best card name in the set. 

The Best Prismari Cards in Strixhaven

While there are some astonishingly great red cards in the set, there are also some cards that just end up better when you leave them to marinade in blue mana first. 

The Izzet Prismari Elder Dragon is deceptively good for four mana. A decent-sized flyer is always a good play — good for when you’re on the beatdown, hunting planeswalkers, or just when you need a blocker — but Galazeth offers so much more. Coming in with a Treasure hearkens back to how great Nissa, Who Shakes the World was by reducing her effective cost, but the second ability is where it’s at. 

Blue and red decks have always loved artifacts, and Galazeth Prismari turns all of your bells and whistles into mana rocks. From artifact creatures, to equipment, to engine pieces, they’ll all tap for mana when Galazeth is in play. It’s a perfect pseudo-ramp card for a color pair that sometimes struggles to amass the mana for big plays. 

Prismari Command might have already been nearly good enough if you could choose whether to Shock any target or draw two cards and discard two cards. But by adding the options to make Treasure or destroy an artifact, and letting you pick any two? This is super flexible.

While unlikely to make big waves in Commander, Expressive Iteration is, in many ways, a stronger Divination. Early game, you can exile something you don’t care about while taking something you do like, and late game? Well, you get to have your cake and eat it, by having the mana to cast the exiled card.

Spellslinger decks love ways to copy spells, and if you’re in blue and red, you might find Teach by Example bumping out one of your twincasting effects. I’m all for more versions of this card, especially at instant speed with flexibility to cast it.

It takes a lot to excite me when it comes to brewing with blue cards in Commander, but by jove, I think Rootha, Mercurial Artist has me wanting to play an Izzet deck. Having a repeatable way to copy spells in the Command Zone is very strong indeed. Outside of EDH, the fact she comes with a 1/4 body and has the ability to invalidate combat means she might see a little play in a spells deck, if one emerges. 

The Best Lorehold Cards in Strixhaven

Blue isn’t the only pairing for red in Strixhaven, and we’re all excited to see what Lorehold has to offer that Boros doesn’t. Let’s dig in and see what treasures can be found.

While self-mill isn’t the hallmark of red-white decks, there’s enough support in the set for graveyard strategies that an innocuous engine card that can slowly drain life might do more than you think. When it comes to Commander, I’m a big fan of Reanimator-style Boros decks, and while the jury’s out on whether this makes the 99, I still love the direction we’re going here.

Reconstruct History is to Lorehold what Seasons Past is to green, and I love it. While not getting creatures leaves it a little less powerful, it’s also cheaper, and still very flexible. I’m looking forward to brewing with this card.

Venerable Warsinger, on the other hand, is a treat. Vigilance and trample on a 3/3 for three is already excellent, but putting on a combat damage trigger that can reanimate a creature equal to damage dealt is just hot. Expect to see this a lot with Embercleave while it lasts, and in Commander, you’d be daft not to try it in an Equipment build. 

We’re not done in the graveyard yet, so hold on before you begin your excavations. Radiant Scrollwielder does two exciting things. Firstly, it gives us another instance of lifelink on our instants and sorceries, something we saw a while back with Firesong and Sunspeaker in Dominaria. Secondly, it revisits the recursion angle of Wildfire Devils, but focused only on your own graveyard. Perhaps the most exciting thing to me, though, is that it gives me hope we might see Pestilent Spirit’s deathtouch spellslinger angle again. 

Soul Separator in the Command Zone, but without perma-exile? Sign me up. Hofri Ghostforge is the Reanimator commander that Boros players have been clamoring for, and while a little pricey for Standard, it’s going to excite a lot of casual players. While it’s not in a tribe I would have liked (after Kaldheim, I’m sorely disappointed we never got our Angel lord), it offers a lot of utility. Super cool. 

Somebody better light the beacons — it’s white card draw! Technically, it’s on the front side of a red card, but whether it’s going to be an anchor in creature-based 60-card decks or utilized for all it’s worth in EDH, this is a really great Magic card that’s useful in all sorts of situations. 

It’s a pleasant surprise to see team-wide double strike on a creature at less than six mana, and at four? I’ll take the lot. Blade Historian is arguably one of the biggest boons to creature-based red-white strategies in quite some time. Embercleave has already shown how powerful double strike is in Standard (though some of that is also down to trample, admittedly), and I can see Blade Historian being a useful curve topper. I’m really excited to play this one in Commander, too. 

Don’t be fooled by the five-mana cost on this card. It’s a very versatile spell that will probably see some amount of play. It’s card draw on a red-white card that also has a team-wide protection buff, and every little bit helps. 

We all love a good Abrade, and Rip Apart is another removal spell along similar lines. Getting to pick from effectively four different modes on a two-mana spell is a really good rate, and the fact it hits artifacts and enchantments makes it an excellent sideboard spell; it’ll still burn away creatures and planeswalkers when you don’t need a Disenchant. If you’re concerned about the sorcery speed in EDH, I don’t know what to tell you. Rip Apart is still highly playable. 

You’ve Got Red on You

If you weren’t already convinced red is a great color, then I’d hope you’re on my wavelength after looking at these new cards from Strixhaven. Wizards seems willing to experiment with red in numerous ways: we’re getting more and more card advantage and effects that synergize or otherwise enable red’s impulse draw mechanic, and I’m really happy with where we’re at. 

From what we’ve seen of the start of the “fixes” to white, I’m excited to see where the new card design takes it. Don’t forget, it took a while for red to really warm up. While it remains to be seen whether red will become the “new green,” I find it dubious to suggest Wizards would make the same mistake twice. We’ve got Commander 2021 and Modern Horizons 2 still to come, and I think it’s in these products that we’ll hopefully see the zenith of red’s new style, and the budding blossoms of white’s rebirth.

For now, though, I’m happy to enjoy the cards we’ve been shown, and I can’t wait to try them in my decks. If red mana is Strixhaven’s Secret Sauce, I’ll take the bottle. 

Don’t forget to catch me on Twitter to let me know what you think, and stay tuned for my roundup of the Best Commander Cards from the Strixhaven set and Commander decks coming next week.