The 600 - A Review of Strixhaven and C21 Commanders

(Quandrix Command | Art by Viktor Titov)

Back to School... In July?

Another year older, another year wiser.

Maybe. We'll see how this article goes. Because way back in April 2021, Strixhaven and Commander 2021 began their freshman year. After one year of study, it's time to check their work.

Welcome back to The 600the article series where we predict how popular new commanders will become after one year of circulation. The line is 600, so "Over" means I predicted more than 600 decks, and "Under" means Under. There's also one "Can't-Miss Pick", which is especially embarrassing if I miss it.

You can review last year's article as a refresher, or feel free to continue here: I'll be quoting throughout.

There's the bell. Let's begin!


The Easy Overs

This was a bigtime set, so we had lots of these. Let's begin with the popular crowd.

Last year’s prediction: Overs for all

Final deck counts: 4,897, 4,304, and 3,108, respectively

It's not every day that a Boros—ahem, Lorehold—commander becomes the set's most popular commander, but when you're as good as Osgir, the Reconstructor, it's unsurprising. Here's what I wrote last year:

"Osgir's last ability is, in the parlance of kids these days, lit."

I remind myself of that Steve Buscemi meme, but hey, I wasn't wrong. Osgir was great and only got better with recent printings, including Patriar's Seal and Vexing Puzzlebox.

Veyran, Voice of Duality is almost as popular, albeit less interesting. Where Osgir breathes new life into Boros artifacts, Veyran feels familiar, as I mentioned last year.

"[Veyran is] the newest entry in a long line of Izzet spellslinger commanders, but the archetype has proven eternally popular, no matter how many variations we get."

But no disrespect to this commander's raw power, especially with new prints and reprints like Kessig Flamebreather and Young Pyromancer. No wonder it got such a high grade!

Finally, I had nothing but nice things to say about Adrix and Nev, Twincasters.

"In the grand pantheon of fictional twins, I'm ranking these two somewhere between Sherri and Terri and Cersei and Jaime."

I forgot Mary Kate and Ashley, but oh, well. These twins are incredible with basically any blue and/or green card with the word "token" on it.

Now for some more easy Overs.

Last year’s prediction: Overs for all

Final deck counts: 2,916, 2,571, and 2,246, respectively

As the set's lone wedge commander, I was glad to see Extus, Oriq Overlord gain so many fans, despite offering an underwhelming front side. Codie, Vociferous Codex was the set's only WUBRG commander, which is why I made it my Can't-Miss Pick. A bit of a cop out, but it worked, as usual. But among this trio, Galazeth Prismari ended up being the most interesting. My notes from last year:

"True, Galazeth is a worse spellslinger commander than Niv-Mizzet, Parun and a worse artifact commander than Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain, but combining the two archetypes gives me hope for its popularity."

Indeed, this juxtaposition of archetypes intersects at a sweet spot, especially with artifact token-makers like Academy Manufactor combined with devastating X spells like Crackle with Power. I'll take that class any day.

Now who else was an easy Over?

Last year’s prediction: Overs for all

Final deck counts: 2,160, 1,718, and 1,687, respectively

I think we all see why Beledros Witherbloom is great, so I won't spend words there. Gyome, Master Chef is far more interesting, especially considering my slander from last year.

"Is Gyome actually good? I don't think so, but that doesn't matter much...its whimsy will earn 600 decks and beyond."

Gyome requires extra help in the classroom, but when he gets it, he's an excellent student. Most decks pack the Food synergies of Throne of Eldraine, along with artifact shenanigans like Inspiring Statuary. Talk about the culinary arts.

Then there's Killian, Ink Duelist, one of three uncommanders to go Over (and the only one I picked correctly). Last year I wrote...

"[Killian's] cost reduction should prove busted, especially with Auras, targeted removal, and Heroic creatures."

I wrote this prediction in pixels, not ink, but it still proved true. Most Killian decks follow the Aura route, with some Crib Swaps and Agent of the Fates thrown in.

And now for our last round of easy Overs...

Last year’s prediction: Overs for both

Final deck counts: 1,344 and 1,159, respectively

Looks like my Willowdusk, Essence Seer / Death's Shadow comp proved accurate, since most decks play cards like Sanguine Bond, Bloodtracker, and Greed.

Last year I wrote the following about Shadrix Silverquill: "the versatility here is off the charts." That didn't quite pan out, since most Shadrix decks are either counter-based or Inkling-/token-based. Still, Rad Shad earned four figures worth of decks, which is nothing to sneeze at.


The Easy Unders

Our students have been perfect so far... but now we've come to the slackers. Here are the worst of the worst, the dregs of the duds, the cards that were clearly the crappiest.

Last year’s prediction: Unders for all

Final deck counts: 114, 90, and 85, respectively

Last year, I wrote, "[Nils] still has the same fundamental problems of most mono-white commanders." 114 decks later and that's as true as it ever was. Then there are Shaile, Dean of Radiance & Embrose, which I summed up thusly: "I detest both sides of this card." I was more charitable with Kianne, Dean of Substance & Imbraham, noting that "there are numerous pre-existing commanders in Simic that basically do the same thing."

Then there were these scrubs...

Last year’s prediction: Unders for all

Final deck counts: 241, 201, and 120, respectively

To be honest, I only have a tenuous grasp on what a Dean is or does. But shouldn't they be better than this? Of the five Deans, four were the least popular amongst Strixhaven commanders; the fifth only made it halfway to 600 (paradoxically, it was the Boros one). Little more need be said about them.

Same goes for Deekah, Fractal Theorist, about whom I wrote the following: "Players will like him—but not as a commander." Turns out they didn't like him in the 99, either; he appears in just 2% of eligible decks.

And now for even more scrubs...

Last year’s prediction: Unders for all

Final deck counts: 276, 248, and 244, respectively

The only surprise here is Mavinda, Students' Advocate. Here's last year's opinion:

"Mavinda works best with combat tricks and blink spells. Unfortunately, Feather, the Redeemed owns the former and decks are already plentiful in the latter, so I'm not seeing much space in the metagame."

Good call, Former Self. Most Mavinda builds settled on blink cards, like Ephemerate, plus ETB creatures, like Inspiring Overseer, which is cool, albeit a little wheel-spinny. Though I predicted an Under, I thought it would perform a little better than this...

Speaking of poor performance, here's our final round of easy Unders:

Last year’s prediction: Unders for all

Final deck counts: 299, 294, and 257, respectively

None of these are particularly interesting to me, least of all Losheel, so let's proceed to our final easy Under.

Last year’s prediction: Under

Final deck count: 318

Hey, wait a second. This was supposed to be an easy pick! I mean, it did fall almost 300 decks short of the mark... but this is Boros we're talking about. I was merciless in my evaluation last year:

"I'm already out on this card, and I've only seen one side."

Spoiler: I didn't like the other side, either, yet it far outranked its fellow Deans, perhaps due to its novelty. Or maybe because "Plargg" is fun to say?


The Close Unders

Last year’s prediction: Unders for both

Final deck counts: 495 and 485, respectively

Just two for this category. Both these commanders are novel for their colors, but you can find better effects on other commanders. Prosper, Tome-Bound is firmly entrenched on Laelia's corner, and plenty more reanimator commanders substitute for Lukka. Mila is neat as a superfriends commander, but evidently not neat enough for 600 decks.


The Close Overs

Last year’s prediction: Overs for all

Final deck counts: 1,096, 1,094, and 1,010 decks, respectively

Zaffai, Thunder Conductor was never the most distinctive commander, yet its success is unsurprising, since it's "the perfect intersection of fun, flavor, and raw power." Felisa, Fang of Silverquill, on the other hand, is quite the unusual commander, especially for Orzhov. As I noted last year...

"Sometimes Orzhov feels like a sitcom: the same thing over and over with slight variations. That worked for Cheers, but I, for one, was getting sick of black-white lifegain and enchantment stuff every set. Fortunately, Felisa offers something different."

Indeed, her predilection for counters inspired many deckbuilders to make many unusual selections, such as Necropolis Regent and Basri's Lieutenant. (It appears no one took my advice to try fungus spore counters, but so be it.)

I expected Ruxa, Patient Professor to earn bigger numbers, but in hindsight, I suppose it's similar to the final block in a Jenga tower: when Ruxa dies, you realize you're playing with Leatherback Baloth, Garruk's Gorehorn, and even crappier cards.

Onward!

Last year’s prediction: Overs for both

Final deck counts: 796, and 736 decks, respectively

Jadzi landed about where I expected, but I'm surprised by Velomachus Lorehold's relatively low score. Last year I wrote...

"We've got a nice body with three relevant keywords, plus a shot at a free spell off the top. That's especially cool since we don't see much spellslinger stuff in Boros outside Feather, the Redeemed and Firesong and Sunspeaker (worth noting that those are two of Boros's top five most popular)."

I then noted its seven-mana cost and Boros's "woeful ramp options," so I think those are indeed the factors that limited Velomachus's popularity.

Sorry, Mom and Dad. My report card has been perfect so far, but it's about to get ugly.


The Unwise Overs

Last year’s prediction: Overs for both

Final deck counts: 514 and 150 decks, respectively

Mr. Quandrix came so close to the mark, yet couldn't clear it. Here are my thoughts from last year:

"Any time the word 'double' appears on a card, I become the meme of the guy leaning forward in his chair. With Fractal tokens, Kalonian Hydra, Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider, and more, Tanazir's doubling gets out of hand fast. And it becomes plain silly with blue's many blink options: Ghostly Flicker, Thassa, Deep-Dwelling, and Deadeye Navigator, just to name a few."

I was right about the counter-doubling stuff (and the meme), but blink cards are inexplicably absent from Tanazir's commander page. My guess is that players are so inundated with Simic counters commanders that this one, though potent, could not impress.

Fain, the Broker is another matter entirely.

"Aristocrats, counters, artifacts, tokens... Fain brokers them all, plus goes infinite several ways."

That's what I wrote last year, and little of it proved false; aside from counters, Fain decks explore all those themes. The issue is, I believe I vastly overestimated this commander's actual impact. Though none of its effects are insignificant, none are exactly significant, either. Fain offers incremental gains at best, which won't cut it in our format.


The Inconceivable Unders

This is where colleges began to reconsider admitting me.

Last year’s prediction: Unders for all

Final deck counts: 643, 800, and 1,048 decks, respectively

Quintorius, Field Historian and Hofri Ghostforge I kinda get, since they're such unusual takes on Boros. Yedora, Grave Gardener is also unique, but it still surprised me. I was dismissive of the card, mostly because I missed all its potential interactions, which are numerous. It's excellent with Morph cards, land animation cards, and anything that sacrifices itself. My bad, Yedora.

Last year’s prediction: Unders for all

Final deck counts: 1,065, 1,211, and 1,301 decks, respectively

Despite admitting to liking Octavia, Living Thesis, I was pessimistic in my review:

"I'm not hearing or reading much buzz around Octavia. Unless the Octopus contingent is bigger than I realize, I think this pick is close but clear."

It's not the Octopus contingent I misevaluated: it's the cantrip contingent. These make up the lion's share (octopus's share?) of Octavia decks, with Spellslinger, Self-Mill, and even Infect decks filling out the rest. I never thought a cephalopod would generate so many fans, but stats are always a little inflated in Commander sets.

With Alibou, Ancient Witness, I once again flub a Boros pick. From last year:

"I mean, sure, [Alibou] does stuff...just not stuff most players want to be doing. Boros commanders that rely solely on attacking rarely fare well. This guy's Alibou just isn't checking out."

Hey, I wasn't wrong. When's the last time a strictly attacks-matter Boros commander earned this many decks? I suppose the artifact synergies must've had a great deal to do with Alibou's success, since scrying three or more feels like drawing cards. Plus, you can Fling a lot of damage around with that effect.

Rionya, Fire Dancer is another underdog I grossly underestimated.

"Imagine casting Seething Song-style cards into Inferno Titan, Dockside Extortionist, or Bogardan Hellkite.

"Problem is, both the mana and the tokens are temporary. You might enjoy some fiery turns with Rionya, but I suspect most players will opt for a more permanent dancing partner."

I completely missed the value of cantrips in these decks, which can ignite those explosive turns, and even if the tokens are temporary, their effects can be permanent, especially if they're Ardent Elementalist, Humble Defector, or Devilish Valet. I stand corrected on this one.

Then there's Esix, Fractal Bloom, which was a lousy pick as soon as I made it.

"This card has tremendous upside, but if we assume Adrix and Nev dominate the Simic tokens space, Esix would likely appear more often in the 99 than as a commander."

Note to self: You can't dominate the Simic tokens space. The Simic tokens space is like the Halls of Moria: it just keeps going. I'll keep that in mind for the future.

We save my two most disastrous picks for last, starting with...

Last year’s prediction: Under

Final deck count: 2,183

Hmm. That's a lot more than 600. Here's why I did what I did:

"This card reminds me of Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist, a commander which earned 955 decks mostly because he's a Partner. Breena is not, and she's too elitist to inspire much love from the general populace."

Well, I clearly don't understand what the general populace wants. Am I the elitist after all? Because, clearly, the general populace wants the ultimate pillowfort commander, which is what we've found in Breena, the Demagogue. Load up on Ghostly Prisons, Inkshields, and the like, then add cards like Duelist's Heritage to encourage your opponents to pummel each other. Then sit back, relax, and wonder why I didn't see how fun this would all be from the start.

And now for my final embarrassment...

Last year’s prediction: Under

Final deck count: 3,139

This might be the most popular uncommander released since I started this article series, yet I didn't foresee it. Instead, I commented on Dina's beverage choice.

"Dina has some relevant text, but she's underpowered compared to the field. On the plus side, she appears to be drinking steamed lemon-lime Gatorade—a fine choice for any athlete."

I probably should've written "student-athlete" to keep with the school theme. Also, if by "underpowered compared to the field" I meant "instantly synergistic," I'd have been closer to the mark.

Alas, neither happened. Dina, Soul Steeper is bonkers with Essence Warden, Scavenging Ooze, Blood Artist, and so many more. On behalf of myself and my Former Self, I apologize for making such an appalling pick. See you in detention.


Recap

Correct Picks (31)

Incorrect Picks (12)

My Strixhaven/C21 Correct Prediction Percentage: 72%

My Overall Correct Prediction Percentage: 75%

A C+/B-, eh? Reminds me of the good ol' days when I bottomed out in biology class because my friend Jimmy and I were too busy jabbing each other in the stomach (don't ask). Let's hope I study harder for the next set. Until then, happy prognosticating!

Kyle A. Massa is a writer and avid Magic player living somewhere in upstate New York with his wife, their daughter, and three wild animals. His current favorite card is Titania, Gaea Incarnate. Kyle can be found on Twitter @mindofkyleam.