Strixhaven Set Review - Silverquill and White
(Shadrix Silverquill | Art by Raymond Swanland)
Every Cloud Has a Silverquill Lining
We're going to do something a little different for this series of set reviews, so be sure and tell us if you like it, because no matter what you say, we'll probably never do it this way again since every set is so different. We've opted to cover each college with one of its primary colors together in the same review. This could turn into a slog to read, so rather than bore you all to tears with every single card, I'm going to focus a bit on the cards I really like and think will matter most in Commander. Inevitably, I'm going to omit something you think is noteworthy, and in that case, I encourage you to tell me that I wronged you in the comment section below. I know a little about Commander but that doesn't mean I can think of everything, so feel free to chime in! It's my job to get the ball rolling a bit, so roll the ball I shall!
Extus, Oriq Overlord // Awaken the Blood Avatar
So we're one card into the review and already I'm asking myself whether this is a Silverquill Mythic or if it's Mardu and therefore someone else's problem. I'm going to resist the urge to make this someone else's problem because I think the design here is pretty sweet. A Mardu Aristocrats build with this at the helm could be pretty exciting, especially since Aristocrats decks can sacrifice their own creatures so often that they may run dry, and Extus solves that problem by helping the strategy refuel its fodder.
Ironically, I find myself wanting to maybe cast the back side of this first, wiping my own board, but also probably everyone else's because of stuff like Grave Pact, and then slamming Extus down later to get creatures back. The ability to effectively negate the commander tax on Awaken the Blood Avatar by sacrifing another Doomed Traveler or Ministrant of Obligation is an interesting feature. I think there are probably other, interesting ways to use Extus as well, but Aristocrats is the fun one, especially when it comes with a sacrifice outlet on the back half. My Teysa Karlov deck was getting a little stale and now it has access to red? This is what I was waiting for.
Actual Silverquill Mythics
Blot Out the Sky
I'm amending this part of the review because I initially read this as "nonland permanents" and liked it a lot. It reminded me of Martial Coup mixed with Cyclonic Rift. However, it's come to my attention that I read it, perhaps willfully, incorrectly and that this doesn't destroy creatures. I like it significantly less, that being the case. Commander is a format where the board gets gummed up with creatures often and Orzhov is there to keep wiping it. You want to retain your artifacts and enchantments to make sure you benefit from being the board wiper. Doing the opposite of that gums up the board more with more creatures and takes away your ability to benefit from creatures dying. Cards that destroy noncreature, nonland permanents gets played, certainly, but I like this more when I thought it was a board wipe with upside. Making like 6 creatures with flying has some utility, but getting rid of your Smothering Tithe, Phyrexian Arena and Sol Ring to get them is a really steep cost. I'm sure there are situations where the opponent is behind a pillow fort or has like 8 planeswalkers out where you'll be glad to have this and the stream of creatures it spits out, though, so be aware that this card exists, and be aware that it doesn't kill creatures because I'm not the only one who missed that.
Modal effects are usually very useful, and while Shadrix appears to be no exception, there are caveats. You can't give yourself two boosts a turn, meaning you'll need to get some other players involved. This is obviously much better in Commander than a 1v1 format since you can use the boons politically to curry favor around the table. My problem with this card in a Commander setting is that the abilities don't really lend themselves to any particular Orzhov archetype, so you'll likely end up in a purely political Orzhov Advokist-style deck, or else in some manner of goodstuff, and when you're a goodstuff deck, the last thing you want is your opponent drawing into more of their stuff or for their stuff to become as good as your stuff. I suspect that most of the time he'll be drawing us a card and giving +1/+1 counters to the opponent who has the fewest creatures, all while we dig for a Blackblade Reforged to make him lethal. I'm not a huge fan here, but I'd love to be proven wrong.
Oh, and if you're playing Doran, the Siege Tower, put this in the 99.
Another Aristocrats card, and I wish it did more. Four mana for an anthem isn't great, but tacking on the upside of a Field of Souls would be good in theory if it didn't have the "once per turn" caveat. That final rider makes me not sure I care about this card. It's not that this isn't goodish, I just don't know that the current Aristocrats lineup has anything it's willing to cut to make room for it - its worst anthem, maybe? I think I'm in on that. Black-white decks that make tokens are already covorting around with Intangible Virtue, Ethereal Absolution, or Cathars' Crusade, but if they're playing more than those, Dramatic Finale is probably better than other options. Triggering once per turn is sort of weak sauce, but your worst anthem probably triggers zero times per turn. Sac creatures on someone else's turn to wring some more value out of this. It took me a paragraph, but I'm warming up to this.
Selfless Glyphweaver // Deadly Vanity
I fully acknowledge that basically everyone, myself included, underestimated DFCs in Return to Return to Zendikar. I thought they would be quite good, which was understating how cuckoo bananas some of them turned out to be. I'm going to try and not let that experience of underselling really nutso spells like Bala Ged Recovery make me overvalue a card that's a little too weak on the front and a little too expensive on the back. Players already have a ton of cards that can do a decent impression of Selfless Glyphweaver and I think most of us agree that it's better to play those effects as an instant rather than as a creature (the exception being commanders like Alesha, Who Smiles at Death, who likes small creatures, but even she hates that this thing exiles itself). I like Deadly Vanity a ton, but eight mana is a lot. It's tough to know if the fact that you're getting two cards in one makes it worth packing two spells that each feel sort of meh.
Shaile, Dean of Radiance // Embrose, Dean of Shadow
I knew that Dean Ambrose was a wrestler (that's one of like five things I know about wrestling) so I looked him up and apparently his name now is Moxley? If the tie-ins in the upcoming Lord of the Rings set are as loose as that, I'm all for it.
This card seems pretty powerful to me. I don't know if you want it in the command zone since there are so many green cards you'll probably want to pair with these abilities, but Dean Ambrose can draw you a ton of cards, and that's what the Rock is cooking. Gross, I didn't like pandering like that, let's move on.
I would love to be able to play this in a deck with Reyhan, Last of the Abzan paired with something white, or Nikara, Lair Scavenger with Yannik, Scavenging Sentinel. At the helm of its own deck, it seems like there's some nasty stuff you could pull off with a Thornbite Staff and a sacrifice outlet. Just giving Embrose deathtouch and pinging enemies to death whenever you want isn't half bad, either. Shaile can repeatedly replenish your board if you're using rescue effects like Cauldron of Souls, too. I think you could build around this and get something pretty good, honestly. You may struggle to find ways to put counters on your creatures that aren't kind of clunky ones like Dragon Blood but if you manage, sacrifice effects and Grave Pact effects coupled with Embrose can fuel some very powerful turns late in the game. I think this pairing has potential, and I like DFCs as commanders in general.
Modal cards are generally very good, and while this is better than, say, Orzhov Charm some of the modes don't seem like they scale all that well with Commander. This is underwhelming to me, even as a four-mana card. Compare this to Austere Command, Rakdos Charm, or even just Kaya's Guile.
Punishing Mage, as I like to call it, can really hose Relentless Rats decks. Name something with Buyback like Whim of Volrath to watch all of those uncreative Orvar, the All-Form decks sulk. Name their commander, then kill it. Too bad it says "casts" and not "casts or copies" or you could hose those Chain of Smog decks that I know are coming soon, just based on how many copies of Chain of Smog I've sold this month. This is sort of a tricky card, but in a deck full of other sources of "chip damage" like Extort, this could deal enough damage and draw you enough cards to matter. Maybe.
This is a very, very good card and I think it likely gets tested in the spot of a card like Utter End which costs a lot more. The cost reduction, though, maybe not be enough to get players to overlook the lack of flexibility as there are quite a few troublesome gold permanents out there. Could you run both? Perhaps. We're flush with these spells in white-black though, from Mortify to Anguished Unmaking, and there's even another new one farther down in this review.
For a full numbers breakdown, I'm going to refer you to this thread from EDHRECast member Dana Roach, who counted out the ratios of targets this spell can hit from among the top 100 cards in the format, and how relevant those targets are compared to other popular instant-speed removal spells in these colors.
Uncommons and Commons
Killian, Ink Duelist
Sometimes an uncommon commander is a busted Tatyova, Benthic Druid, but usually, they're overly fair. This is overly fair. I like a 2/2 with lifelink and menace in 40- or 60-card decks, but I don't care about it in Commander.
To give Killian a fair shake, though, we have a black-white Voltron that also makes our removal spells cheaper. Utter End targeting an enemy creature only costs two mana when we have a Killian in play, and Eldrazi Conscription only costs six mana to slap onto this commander. Battle Mastery only costs one. Hatred only costs three. These are exciting, but at the same time, Killian will have a lot of the same issues as other Voltron commanders, where a single removal spell can send all your work right down the drain, which means he needs to be extra protected. That's when it gets awkward, because much of our ability to make him untargetable or unkillable in these colors runs the risk of being anti-synergistic. For instance, our own Aura-based options to protect him, like Spectra Ward, prevent us from being able to enchant him any further, and even using a Mother of Runes to shield our guy from a Path to Exile will make his Timely Ward or Gift of Immortality fall off.
Like I said, overly fair. You'll have to pull out all the clever tricks, Imp's Mischief and all, to keep Killian going strong.
- Closing Statement: This isn't bad at three mana, but it is bad at five, which is what it costs in the times when you'll actually want to cast it. Puts a counter on a creature for Embrose, though.
- Fracture: The jury is still out regarding whether this is playable. Not hitting creatures is a huge minus, but as Orzhov has myriad ways to deal with creatures and Mortify most often doesn't hit creatures, this could be legit.
- Humiliate: I rarely see effects like this used in Commander, and while this puts a counter on a creature in an Embrose deck, that's not enough.
- Shadewing Laureate: This is so unbelievably narrow I almost didn't realize it didn't say "nontoken" which may suggest it could be useful, especially in a deck with a commander with lifelink you could beef up. Still pretty narrow.
- Silverquill Apprentice: This is potentially another way to win the game with Chain of Smog, which is boring but still a thing. If you're playing fair Magic, keep this out of 100-card decks.
- Umbral Juke: This set has a lot of modal cards that, while they give you a lot of options, are a little underwhelming. I don't know if the utility of being able to choose from among two weak effects warrants inclusion. This is sick in Limited, though.
- Exhilarating Elocution: WotC really needs to nail down their QC. First a card is printed with the wrong CMC in Extended Art and now we have a Simic card with black and white mana symbols on it. Get it together, Wizards.
Overall, Silverquill seems a little more geared toward 40- and 60-card formats than Commander. There is a lot of quality removal, but the other cards don't scale that well into a 100-card format, probably because ways to make a ton of 2/1 creatures easily might be too good in Limited or Standard. Overall, I think "too fair" is my assessment for the Silverquill cards in the set. I think Extus has real potential as a commander, but Shadrix and Shaile don't do it for me. That said, Aristocrats strategies are getting a few good pieces and adding a +1/+1 counters subtheme is a fun exploration of what is technically allowed by the color pie. If nothing else, we got some fairly pushed removal spells to try out and Silverquill Silencer is a great way to stop Food Chain decks.
Thanks for reading, that does it for m--
...Oh right, gotta do white now.
White in Strixhaven is exploring a bit of new space within the color pie, and while I've been nervous reading what WotC is saying about making white more viable in Commander, there is no evidence that they've broken anything fundamental... yet. I think white did some interesting things in this set.
White Mythics & Rares
Mavinda, Students' Advocate
Mavinda seems really cool to me. Commander is a format where you could conceivably, happily cough up 8W for Swords to Plowshares with all of your Smothering Tithe mana or because the game has gone long. If you're running this in Feather, the Redeemed to reclaim any lost Defiant Strikes, even better. Shu Yun, Silent Tempest wouldn't be mad about some extra help getting spells back, either. Any combat trick that gives a creature indestructible, shroud, or protection is relevant at all times with Mavinda in play. I also wouldn't be surprised to see him in charge of a Blink deck, repeatedly casting things like Ephemerate out of the yard.
Ultimately, this is likely pretty fair, but remember, if you can cough up the extra eight mana, you can flash anything back, and that could be pretty busted. Ultimately, I like this more in the 99 than in the command zone, but this is a fun addition to the zeitgeist, and a great exploration of what white can do.
This is cool in that it can be tutored for and solve a problem in the short term, but since Lessons aren't really a thing in Commander (without some extensive Rule 0 discussions before the game), I really don't see this getting any play. You can't even put this on Isochron Scepter, which would be boring, but at least would be a decent use case for this.
I think this is interesting because there are political advantages. The times when you need to cast a wipe like this are often the times there's an archenemy at the table who everyone wants to bring down. You can potentially let someone else bounce some permanents in exchange for some sort of moratorium on attacking you, especially to help focus on the mutual threat, which could make the game end a little faster. 2WWWW to destroy all non-lands is a decent rate and while effects like this can make the game take forever, if people are going to use these effects, this is at least an interesting one. Hour of Revelation shows up in 8,000+ decks, after all.
This doesn't scale terribly well into Commander, even with the ability to blink it. The two-mana tax is pretty trivial in a 100-card multiplayer format. I like this card in other formats, but not Commander. It's a very cool design, though, and Paulo deserves to be immortalized on a card. On a scale from Rakdos Augermage to Snapcaster Mage I rate this a solid Rootwater Thief.
This granting Prowess to something else is pretty cool and, again, you can make your board infinitely large with Chain of Smog, which is boring, but powerful.
Ghostway that includes Planeswalkers? I'm in. This isn't a new ability for white but this may be one of the strongest variants. Eerie Interlude appears in over 13,000 decks, and this is primed to join them.
Learn doesn't seem good in Commander and the cost of three mana plus a card for such a small boost seems a little underwhelming. I think this card just isn't designed for Commander and that's okay.
I'm not sure what I like about this card, but I like this card. I think it's probably because it separates fair Magic from unfair Magic. Opponents can't make infinite copies of Zealous Conscripts with this out, but they can play an Acidic Slime for 5GG. Ultimately, if you're in the market for a Torpor Orb you should probably use one. I don't know who this is for, in that case, but I like how it's designed. Does that make sense? I'm glad this exists but I doubt I'll ever end up playing it.
Uncommons and Commons
- Secret Rendezvous: Great, now I have Foreigner stuck in my head. Forcing opponents to draw cards is good sometimes (hello, Smothering Tithe, letting other players draw cards is good sometimes (hello, political favors), and drawing cards yourself is almost always good. This one's been divisive, with a bunch of folks underwhelmed by the rate and a bunch of others happy mono-white has a new option. As soon as you add in any other color, even red, it does seem that we have better options than this, but mono-white takes what it can get. This is going to impact the format, in my opinion.
- Show of Confidence: I think this card is quite good. Even if you're only making two or three copies of it, it's worth two mana and a slot. If you're playing unfair Magic, this is even better, but it's maybe not unfair enough. This may end up as a late cut in a lot of decks.
- Expel: I think this is worth testing. Is the extra two mana enough worse than Swords to Plowshares that you never want it? How often do you Swords untapped creatures? I think this deserves a look, although it's hard to imagine cutting Path to Exile for this.
I don't like the uncommons and commons in white as much as Silverquill's offerings, but that's okay - it's sort of rare for those cards to impact Commander, anyway. All in all, I think there are a few concepts that are not really scalable into Commander, which gives us some cards that leave something to be desired, but concepts like "Draw 3 cards" and "Exile a creature" always deserve a look.
My Quill Ran Out of Ink
Did I skip your favorite card? Did I overvalue or undervalue something? Let me know in the comments. Tell me what you're brewing, tell me what you're cutting to add one of these cards, and tell me if you think this set sucks, I want to hear it all. Thanks for reading this extra thicc set review, everyone. Until next set!