Sphinx’s Tutelage - Strixhaven Rules and Orientation

Charlotte Sable • March 31, 2021

First Day of Class by Paul Scott Canavan

An Introduction to Strixhaven's Mechanics

Welcome back to Sphinx’s Tutelage! This week we’ll be reviewing everything you need to know for the upcoming semester at Strixhaven University. In today’s orientation, we’re going to show you around campus and help you better understand all the new rules you’ll run into during your time here. Now then, hurry up and follow along, we've got a lot of ground to cover if we want to see the whole campus in one day!

(Please note that the information presented here is based on the official Strixhaven mechanics article and other official sources. The final text of new rules or other rules changes could render some of this information incorrect. In such a case, this article will be updated.)

Strixhaven Style Guide (Templating Changes)

Silverquill College prides itself on being on the cutting edge of the written word, and thus the rest of Strixhaven follows suit. What this means for new students like you is that some terminology or phrases you’re familiar with will be different from now on. What you previously knew as “converted mana cost” is now “mana value.” It has the same meaning as before, just the terminology has changed. Additionally, it is now in vogue to trim unnecessary words, so if a player searches their own library, they will thereafter be instructed simply to shuffle rather than to shuffle their library, with the library now being implied through earlier mention of the search. Similarly, triggers that look for you to attack with one or more creatures now simply say "when you attack" and leave off what is attacking or who is being attacked if it doesn't matter. These changes are mostly minor, and I’m sure you’ll all adjust quickly enough.

Student Safety (Ward)

As you well know, the arcane arts can be quite dangerous and Strixhaven makes the safety of its students a top priority. To this end, the five colleges are pleased to introduce the new evergreen ability of Ward. Ward can appear on any permanent and will always have a cost associated with it. Whenever a warded permanent becomes the target of a spell or ability controlled by an opponent of its controller, that ability is countered unless that opponent pays the Ward cost. Ward costs can be mana, life, or anything else that the card dictates.

Ward is a triggered ability that goes on the stack like any other trigger. An uncounterable spell or ability won’t be countered by Ward. The opponent targeting the warded permanent can always opt to not pay the cost even if they could pay it.

For example, your opponent controls Waterfall Aerialist and you cast Doom Blade targeting it, causing Waterfall Aerialist’s ward ability to trigger. When the trigger resolves, you can pay {2}. Unfortunately, you only have one mana available, so the ward trigger will counter the Doom Blade. Another opponent then casts Abrupt Decay targeting Waterfall Aerialist, triggering ward again. When the trigger resolves, that opponent can pay {2} if they like, but either way Abrupt Decay won’t be countered and so the Aerialist will be destroyed.

Arcane Fundamentals (Magecraft)

As a student here at Strixhaven, you will be studying magic and magecraft. If this is a surprise to you, I have no idea how you were admitted to the university. To this end, you will find many examples of magecraft in Strixhaven. Magecraft is a new ability word that appears on cards that trigger when you cast or copy an instant or sorcery spell. Ability words have no inherent meaning in and of themselves, so each card with a magecraft ability will work a little differently. Check the text of each trigger to make sure you’re resolving it correctly.

A magecraft ability will trigger for each instant or sorcery you cast and for each copy of an instant or sorcery spell you put on the stack, no matter where you cast the spell from or how you copy it. Do note that magecraft abilities only trigger when you copy an instant or sorcery spell already on the stack. Cards like Isochron Scepter that instruct you to copy an instant or sorcery card in another zone and cast that copy will only trigger magecraft once, not twice.

Strixhaven cards

For example, you control Storm-Kiln Artist and cast the following spells in this order on your turn: Rite of Flame, Desperate Ritual, Lotus Petal, and Grapeshot. Storm-Kiln Artist will trigger for each of Rite of Flame, Desperate Ritual, and Grapeshot being cast, and then will also trigger three times when you resolve the storm trigger from Grapeshot and put three copies of it on the stack, netting you a total of six Treasure tokens.

Strixhaven Syllabus (Lessons & Learn)

Of course, we don’t expect you all to learn your magecraft without any instruction. To that end, you’ll find many Lessons available among the spells on offer here. Lesson is a new subtype of some sorceries, similar to Adventure, Arcane, and Trap. Lesson cards also have a quill and paper icon in the top left corner to indicate their status as lessons. These cards have no specific rules in and of themselves and are played like any other instant or sorcery in your deck.

Strixhaven mechanics

So why all the fuss about making a new subtype? So that you can Learn, of course. Learn is a new keyword action. When a spell or ability instructs you to learn, you have three options:

  1. You can do nothing. (This is boring, but safe.)
  2. You can discard a card. If you do, you then draw a card. (This option is informally known as “rummaging”. You can’t choose this option if you have no cards in hand.)
  3. You can put a Lesson card you own from outside the game into your hand. (Ooo… free card!)

There are limits on putting lessons into your hand if you’re playing anything more than unstructured casual games, however. In Limited play like Draft or Sealed Deck, the Lesson must come from your card pool. In a tournament setting, the Lesson must come from your sideboard. In Commander, this isn’t possible because such effects don’t work in Commander under the official format rules.

Strixhaven rules

Also note that an ability that has you learn can’t bring back Lessons you own in exile, since exiled cards are still in the game despite the old terminology of “removed from the game.”

Always Stay on Campus (Lessons/Wishes in Commander)

All right, it’s serious time now. Here’s where I take off my Magic judge hat and put on my Commander Advisory Group member hat. It’s time to talk about why effects like Learn can’t bring cards into a game of Commander. A lot of my points here are just reiterating things said by fellow CAG member Jim LaPage in his excellent video on the topic. I recommend giving it a watch if you want to delve deeper into this topic.

Before anything else, let’s look at the rule that says that this is the case. It’s rule 11 of the official Commander rules on mtgcommander.net, and it says “Parts of abilities which bring other card(s) you own from outside the game into the game (such as Living Wish; Spawnsire of Ulamog; Karn, the Great Creator) do not function in Commander.”

The rule is pretty cut and dried. Cards can’t bring other cards into a game of Commander, full stop. (Cards can, however, bring themselves into the game, which is how Companion is able to work in the format.)

When the Commander Rules Committee first decided to disallow Wishes and similar effects, Wish effects were prominent in tournament play and so they decided to not allow them in order to better signpost that Commander wasn’t a tournament format. While they aren’t as ubiquitous in competitive play these days, Wizards has been making more of these cards to help best-of-one players on Arena of late. Even if most Arena play isn’t part of a tournament, it’s still competitive and still paints these cards as tools for games where victory is the primary goal over a shared experience. Fundamentally, these cards are made for a different style of gameplay than what Commander wants to be.

If the rules of Commander were to change to allow wishes and outside the game effects, there would need to be rules to define what could be brought in, and almost inevitably such rules would set up some sort of sideboard / Wish-board / lesson-board or the like. The problem here is that the size of most Commander decks has just increased from 100 cards to 100 cards plus whatever size of sideboard. This would increase the cost of building a deck and alter the logistics of the format a lot.

For example, many Commander-focused products from sleeves to deck boxes are built around a deck being exactly 100 cards. This is a big disruption to accommodate no more than a few dozen cards. Additionally, no matter what size and composition of sideboard was decided on by the Rules Committee, there would be a lot of players out there who would be unhappy because it doesn’t match the way they imagined outside the game access being. Personally, I’ve heard people swearing by everything from three cards to 20 or more, and every one of those people had reasonable justifications for their suggestion.

Fundamentally what this whole discussion boils down to is that you should talk with your playgroup if you want to play these sorts of cards in your deck. Do you want to make a thematic Strixhaven deck with a bunch of lessons set aside? Cool. I’d let you play that. Do you want to just play silver bullets you can wish for to better stax people? I’m less interested.

TL;DR: Talk with the people you play with. If you want to do something fun and cool that’s in the spirit of the format with these cards, then it’ll probably be OK with your playgroup.

The Witherbloom is Off the Rose

That’s about all I have to share with you from our first look at Strixhaven. I’ll be back again in two weeks with the long-promised look at Orvar, the All-Form. If you have any comments or questions about anything I talked about today, leave them below or contact me on twitter @JqlGirl. Take care all, and enjoy the ride as Strixhaven reveals itself before us.

Charlotte has been playing Magic since 1994 and a Magic judge since 2009. She has previously written for Cranial Insertion and her own Q&A blog at magicjudge.tumblr.com. She is also a member of the Commander Advisory Group.