Strixhaven Set Review - Lorehold and Red
(Lorehold Command | Art by Jason Rainville)
Bad (to the Bone)
The first Magic deck I ever built back in 1994 was red and white, back before that color combination had a name, and as such I've been waiting for the day that Boros was good in Commander for a very, very long time.
So let's not delay, Hi-Ho Lorehold away!
Lorehold Mythics & Rares
The immediate cynical comparison that comes to mind when you see Hofri Ghostforge is Wizards' last attempt at a Boros Aristocrats commander, Gerrard, Weatherlight Hero.
With that said, I'm not sure that it's an apt or fair comparison. Getting your creatures back as soon as they die, a la Marchesa, the Black Rose, is already a great ability, but them coming back bigger with trample and haste is a complete gamechanger. This lets you not only play around with a lot of enter-the-battlefield and death triggers, but to also just go aggro with efficient Boros creatures as well. Veteran Motorist can already be a solid addition to a Vehicles build, for instance, but when you can play him, scry 2, have him Crew a Vehicle, sacrifice him for value, then immediately have him come back, scry 2 again, and then swing in for four with trample alongside the Vehicle he just Crewed, it's a whole different ball game.
Mila, Crafty Companion / Lukka, Wayward Bonder
Usually you would assume that, between the creature half of a flip card and the planeswalker half of the same, the planeswalker half would be the more powerful of the two halves. I'm not sure if that's actually the case when it comes to Mila, Crafty Companion and Lukka, Wayward Bonder, however. While the option to rummage through a couple cards and grab a creature back from the graveyard temporarily is nice, none of it is really worth six mana if all you get is a single activation.
Three mana to put up a shield for all of your planeswalkers that's also stapled to a body and a Shaper's Sanctuary, on the other hand, is a really great rate. Shaper's Sanctuary being a brand new ability to white doesn't hurt either, and if you're playing a lot of planeswalkers then you can actually get a net gain on loyalty counters when people are trying to kill a specific problem planeswalker.
What is challenging about the two halves taken together, however, is that there's a bit of a dichotomy in what they each want. Mila, Crafty Companion wants you to have a lot of planeswalkers to take full advantage of her ability, while Lukka, Wayward Bonder wants your deck to be full of creature cards so that you can draw more cards and bring creatures back from the graveyard on the regular. With that in mind, I think what I'm most interested in is which way brewers will end up leaning toward, or if there is a needle that can be threaded with a good combination of both creatures and planeswalkers. Gives Kytheon and Flip Chandra a home at least, I suppose!
When Velomachus Lorehold was originally spoiled, I saw two main takes across the internet. Number one was that it was too expensive, and honestly, I don't agree. While it is possible that you'll spend seven mana to then see a Swords to Plowshares come down before you even get to see any benefit, with it being hasty I think that most often this Elder Dragon will get you at least one attack and activation before it gets removed.
So the question is, would you play a seven-mana sorcery that said "deal 5 damage to target player, then look at the top seven cards of your library and cast an instant or sorcery from among them for free"? Because I would!
As for the second take, folks have been getting excited to play the likes of Armageddon, Global Ruin, and Wildfire with Velomachus. Mass Land Destruction hot takes aside (MLD helps ramp decks, it doesn't combat them, fite me IRL), I feel that I need to mention that this is not the best strategy. The reason is that, by design, if you're playing a Velomachus deck, you're going to be playing more instants and sorceries rather than a whole lot of board threats. This means that the likelihood that you will have the superior board position needed to swiftly win after an Armageddon is low. That doesn't mean that the temptation when you see that MLD spell in those top seven won't be there, however, especially since you'll be able to tell yourself that you'll be able to swing in for a free spell every turn to keep your advantage. The only problem is that removal is cheap, so it's very easy for a player to top-deck a land to get something as mundane as an Unsummon online, at which point you're dead in the water and the entire table is playing draw-go with a thousand-yard stare in your direction, so do everyone a favor and lean into the Volcanic Offerings and Lorehold Commands, instead!
Well, it looks like Gisela, Blade of Goldnight just got a discount!
Okay, Blade Historian isn't that good. It's not even close, really. Except that for four mana, doubling the damage output of your creatures (and giving them first strike) is pretty darn good. In fact, it's the cheapest permanent option that's been printed for giving all of your creatures double strike, beating out True Conviction, Berserkers' Onslaught, Goring Ceratops, Savage Beating, Avatar of Slaughter, Terror of Mount Velus, and Rage Reflection, all of which are played in more than a thousand decks.
It also ties the mighty new buff that is Akroma's Will, although that only doubles the team for a turn. That said, it's hard to imagine an aggro deck that isn't going to want both!
Flamescroll Celebrant / Revel in Silence
For those that have never interacted with Silence or Orim's Chant before, it's important to note that when you're playing Revel in Silence, you have to cast it before the spell is declared, meaning most folks do it during a players upkeep. If you're feeling even more proactive, however, then Flamescroll Celebrant can come down early and punish folks for activating anything that doesn't make mana! This is a much more all-inclusive wording than what we've seen previously with the likes of Runic Armasaur, Harsh Mentor, and Immolation Shaman, even hitting planeswalkers! Still, even with Burning-Tree Shaman, I've often seen the critique that many feel that this kind of punishment ability doesn't really feel like it hits that often, so I figured it was worth a quick look down the top cards to see what exactly Flamescroll Celebrant will ping a player for. There are a lot of lands and mana rocks that technically meet this criteria, but I figured to really make the point, I should just include cards that have no mana abilities whatsoever.
Top 10 Cards Without Mana Activated Abilities
- Every. Single. Fetch. Land.
- Sakura-Tribe Elder
- Wayfarer's Bauble
- Sensei's Divining Top
- Burnished Hart
- Narset, Parter of Veils
- Aetherflux Reservoir
- Arbor Elf
- Viscera Seer
- Expedition Map
Other notables are pretty much every utility land, every card with Cycling, and every infinite mana sink finisher. Combine all that with a late game Firebreathing ability, and you've got quite the tool to ensure that you keep the table's life total dwindling. Or you can just flip it over and play your Uno Skip card on the archenemy. Not a bad option, either.
Even with it being five mana, I think that Lorehold Command has a lot in common with Boros Charm, in that by far the most utilized option will be the indestructibility one. With that said, you do get to choose two things, and they're all decent options. A 3/2 Spirit on its own is nothing to write home about, but I wouldn't be unhappy to pay five mana for a 3/2 that Lightning Helixed when it came into play, so I wouldn't be holding this for the "just in case" option all the time if you don't absolutely need to. As for the card draw ability, it's... not that good. But when it comes down to Charm cards like this, flexibility goes a long way, and being able to dig two deep at instant speed for the life of a token or a land could be enough to save your life one day.
Plargg, Dean of Chaos / Augusta, Dean of Order
Can we just stop right here and acknowledge how mad both mono-red players and the combination of Rummaging Goblin and Hollowhead Sliver are at Plargg, Dean of Chaos?
With that said... Plargg and Augusta are actually my hands-down favorite new
Boros Lorehold red/white commander(s). They're extremely flexible, being able to helm everything from baseline aggro weenies to pinger & untap tribal to general red/white good stuff, which I'm fairly sure wasn't even an available strategy until now. Augusta's statics provide a means to untap utility creatures and also make combat a complex nightmare, while Plargg can come down after a board wipe and provide a pseudo-hand for you with his activated ability, or translate your Land Tax and Gift of Estates land-hand flood into actual cards. Combine the two, and you have what we may have never actually seen before: a generically good Boros commander.
Radiant Scrollwielder might not be quite as good as Soulfire Grand Master, but it's honestly as close as you're going to get, and is still miles ahead of Firesong and Sunspeaker despite not being able to be in the command zone. That said, Firesong decks will be more than happy to gain a backup commander, and any spells deck in Lorehold colors will be ecstatic to recur some spells a la Charmbreaker Devils at four mana instead of six, even if the rolling of the dice may sometimes mean that they exile something too expensive to cast.
I'm no expert, but it seems like anything that can even be tangentially compared to Sun Titan at three mana is a bit of a steal. Sure, Venerable Warsinger can only get creatures as opposed to any permanent, but the inclusion of trample to go over the top of tokens and the like and grab lower-mana value creatures, more or less, makes up for it. Besides, you probably wouldn't have a spot in your low-to-the-ground aggro deck for a Sun Titan, but you absolutely will for this thing. As for the rest of the more value-based decks out there, this is a great little engine that can come down early and keep on getting you your utility creatures back until the board stalls or someone deals with it. Which, in a color combination where card advantage is hard to come by, is not a bad deal at all.
Lorehold Uncommons & Commons
There hasn't been much call for self-mill in red and white historically, but Strixhaven has created both a market and a solution. With new toys like Quintorius, Field Historian, Stonebound Mentor, and Fuming Effigy joining Desecrated Tomb in caring about cards leaving the graveyard, along with a big influx of effects allowing for the recursion of spells, there should be more than a few decks suddenly looking around for mill effects in colors where that is difficult to come by. Tacking on some chip damage and life gain just sweetens the deal, as does a rather expensive means to make tokens (that could still be pretty game-winning if you do happen into a means of infinite mana).
Quintorius, Field Historian
Speaking of the elephant in the cave, Quintorius, Field Historian is one of the most unique commander options ever seen in Boros. While not quite the same level of powerhouse as the also five-mana uncommon Syr Konrad, the Grim, it makes relevant tokens with every trigger, and then makes them even more of a threat so long as it remains on the board. As for enablers, there are a surprising amount in colors.
Being able to flood the board with a massive amount of huge Spirits is often just a single card away, whether that be the innate brokenness that is Underworld Breach, an overloaded Mizzix's Mastery, or a well-executed Past in Flames. And given that those are usually the spells you see as a spells deck finishes out a game can only bode well, right?
Of course, if you'd rather not rely on always having a full graveyard of spells, there's also Ox of Agonas and a sac effect....
Ever since it was spoiled, I've been calling Reconstruct History "Reverse Decimate". With an "up to" wording, however, it's even easier to cast! In other words, this is exactly the kind of card advantage that Boros has been praying for. Going four for four may not be in the works every time you cast this, but most Lorehold mages are probably happy with only getting two cards back, given how things have been up to now. And with the average probably being closer to three, that really just means that this is going to be a card seen in a lot of decks, soon.
Returned Pastcaller is unique, in a really refreshing way: it's the only overly expensive, bad uncommon in a color combination that's known for exactly that phenomenon. And even in that category, it's still not completely unplayable. While Jeskai blink isn't an overly popular deck, it's nonetheless a deck that exists under the helm of Pramikon, Sky Rampart, and said deck would at least consider playing this even if it didn't have a Spirit theme.
Looking through Pramikon's EDHREC page, however, it does actually have a fair amount of relevant Spirits that solidly sit in the Blink archetype, not to mention an average of just as many spells as creatures. In short, there are more than enough targets for even this bad uncommon to be a niche consideration, even at an absolutely terrible rate, and that is a welcome change.
I'm honestly a bit miffed that we didn't go full instant, like Abrade with Rip Apart, but that's probably a bit greedy. This is still an absolutely excellent removal spell that you should play, probably right alongside said copy of Abrade, or even instead of, given its greater flexibility.
So, no need to go too in-depth here. This is Cathartic Reunion with some life gain tacked on. It is less copiable, since you still have to discard the cards, while also being less devastating if countered, since you don't have to discard the cards until the spell resolves. If you play Cathartic Reunion in a deck that has access to white, you probably want this. Moving on to red!
Red Mythics & Rares
Crackle with Power
I feel like I could talk a lot about this in comparison to traditional X finishers, like Exsanguinate, Torment of Hailfire, and Jaya's Immolating Inferno, except to do that I'd have to fully understand what this does, and I don't. So, to educate us all, here are some third-grade style multiplication tables for Crackle with Power:
|Amount of "X"||Number of Targets||Actual Amount of Mana||Actual Amount of Damage to Each Target|
So, uhhh, yeah. There's some math, and it says that if you're looking to take out creatures or planeswalkers, this is really good at that for five to eight mana. If you're regularly taking out the entire table for 42 mana with Jaya's Immolating Inferno, then you can do it with this for only 26, provided you have eight legal targets! So, all in all, that's a buy.
Conspiracy Theorist is a clever trap, but it's still a trap. It may come down earlier than Anje's Ravager or Burning-Tree Vandal, but having to pay one every time you rummage doesn't really make it any cheaper, especially since it has a smaller body. In other words, if you aren't built to take advantage of the exile effect with a lot of cheap spells, then you're probably better off sticking with the existing options unless it's a "why not both?" situation.
There's no question that Dragon decks are going to absolutely love Draconic Intervention, but is it an option if you're not playing many or any Dragons? The four-mana cost is about as good as it gets, outside of Blasphemous Act, and the exile rider is spectacularly relevant in the Commander format, but the additional cost is prohibitive. While it's entirely possible that you'll have a few spells sitting in your graveyard in the average deck of the average game, it's also entirely possible that you'll have either nothing or just a few creature combat casualties taunting you. Or, to put it more succinctly, don't fall into the trap of Draconic Intervention unless it has the upside of all but winning you the game by itself (i.e., the Dragon deck), or you're playing a lot of spells.
Ho. Lee. Crap.
As a four-mana creature, Efreet Flamepainter giving you a single recast of one of your instants or sorceries every time it got through would already have been decent. But doing it twice? For free? That is legitimately insane. The only limiting factors on this thing are that you're going to have to find ways to make sure it gets through, and the fact that it's going to be difficult to keep your graveyard full enough of spells to keep on using it!
What really scares me about this thing, though? It's going to see all sorts of play in decks like Feather, the Redeemed and Zada, Hedron Grinder, where it's going to unexpectedly get +5/+0 before damage with Downhill Charge, then do it again for free after first strike damage, then cast a removal spell on the last damage trigger that will take place while removing a player from the game.
Triple Gamble is hilarious on first read, but on second read-through, Fervent Mastery is legitimately good. Decks that play Gamble often don't mind much when the card ends up in the graveyard anyhow, as they often have discard or graveyard synergies. That will be triply true for decks looking to play Fervent Mastery, as it's less good as a general tutor and much better as a means of filling both your hand and graveyard with general value and combo pieces. As for the reduced cost, it's really not too bad a price to pay to let an opponent filter a card or two if you're looking for answers, especially since the person you'll be letting do it is probably not the main problem on the board anyhow. Expect to see this early and often, with several players discarding from it.
Which, by the way, is exactly what discard decks want.
Red Uncommons & Commons
The reflex is always to shy away from eight-mana spells, but I would resist that initial urge when it comes to Explosive Welcome. Its effects are well worth the cost if you have to actually pay it, and it is absolutely going to be backbreaking as a free spell from the likes of Mind's Desire or Etali, Primal Storm. But where it really shines is if you can manage to get it on the stack with a couple copy effects in play....
Did... did Wizards feel that Storm decks needed help? First Birgi, God of Storytelling, and now Storm-Kiln Artist? These are the things infinite loops are made of!
So, uhhh, yeah. This card is good, and if you see it, you should kill it before it's too late, which it probably is. If you're playing copy effects, or even just a lot of cheap spells, you should look into playing it. I don't really feel like more analysis is needed at this time, nor am I capable of it in my state of consistent shock about how far power levels are being pushed.
As a huge fan of the "decks can have any number of cards" archetype, I am ecstatic to finally see a spell addition to the all-creature lineup of Relentless Rats, Shadowborn Apostle, Rat Colony, and Persistent Petitioners. Honestly, though? The idea of Dragon's Approach excites me more than my Petitioners builds ever have, and that's saying something. Being able to cast and copy multiples for straight damage to opponents is good enough, but tacking on the possible Dragons you can throw straight onto the battlefield takes this straight to mind-boggling.
If you're looking to win with just the straight spellslinging damage, that's probably the more powerful of the two options. With the typical Thrumming Stone shenanigans already popular in this genre, it would already be fairly easy to get lethal amounts of damage on the board with fairly few actual casts. Where things get new and exciting, however, is with cards like Pyromancer Ascension and Harness the Storm finally becoming relevant in Commander. Any combination of any two of those cards would be more than enough for you to essentially burn out the table with a single copy of Dragon's Approach, with no need for any Dragon interventions.
But still, if you're looking to have a little fun with the other part of the card, there are more than a few Dragons to take a look at!
- Dragon Mage, to refill your hand with more Dragon's Approaches! Ditto with Knollspine Dragon!
- Bladewing the Risen, to get the last Dragon the table just dealt with right back into play, then make it bigger!
- Tyrant's Familiar, for seven hasty damage in the air and another seven to your least favorite creature!
- Why not sit on the throne the way Daenerys should have with Skyline Despot?
- Maybe going full Jund isn't worth seven immediate damage in the air and giving all your future Dragons haste with Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund... but then again, maybe it is?
- Want a real flex? Search up Draco.
- Furyborn Hellkite is an easy 12/12 in a pinch!
- Hellkite Tyrant is not only easily castable at six mana, but also just straight up wins games on resolution (and then upkeep, if the table lets it live).
- Want another engine? Niv-Mizzet, Parun should do.
- You didn't hear it from me... but there is definitely a skeleton for Worldgorger Dragon Combos.dec here.
We talked a bit earlier about how good Explosive Welcome was with copy effects, and how good Efreet Flamepainter would be in Feather and Zada. Well, welcome to the intersection of the two! Sudden Breakthrough may look like an innocent common, but once it's copied seventeen times by Zada, it's going to be a bigger problem than Smothering Tithe! Look out for this one in the Heroic decks!
Don't Try Flamescrolls At Home
And that's it! What did you think of the crazy power boost red and white are getting out of Lorehold and Strixhaven? Do you think that the color combination has finally caught up with the rest of the options in Commander, or does it still have some work to do?