Strixhaven: School of Mages is Magic: The Gathering's 87th expansion. It is set on the brand-new plane of Arcavios, home to the multiverse's most elite magical school. The school is divided into five colleges, each represented by an enemy color pair, and the set has an "instants and sorceries matter" subtheme to reflect the idea of learning cool new magic spells. Each college has an Elder Dragon founder, a pair of Deans that are represented on a modal double-faced card, and a brand-new Command spell. In addition to the main body of the set, each booster pack contains a card from the Mystical Archive subset, which contain alternate-art versions of many of Magic's most iconic instants and sorceries.
With Strixhaven formally releasing on April 23rd (hey, that's the day this article goes live!), my goal today is to help you make informed decisions as you figure out which cards to buy and when. Is Strixhaven underpriced right now? Will it hold its value well long-term? Should you be picking up Set Boosters, Draft Boosters, or Collector Boosters? Are Mystical Archive cards underrated, or will they be a dime a dozen? What cards in Strixhaven are proving themselves in early Standard testing, and which will be future Commander staples?
Let's find out together.
First, let's compare Strixhaven's product-hover id="233248" with its product-hover id="233228". Set Boosters usually cost about $1 more than Draft Boosters, and they're also usually a bit harder to find.
This last point might not be true for Strixhaven, though. I've heard reliable reports that stores are being given heavy allocations of Set Boosters and light allocations of Draft Boosters, a complete 180 from how things usually are. This might end up leading to a shortage of good old Draft Boosters, especially since social distancing is coming to an end and drafts might start firing again for the first time in over a year.
What's the material difference between these two different kinds of boosters? Well, Draft Boosters contain nine commons, three uncommons, one Lesson card, one Mystical Archive card, and one rare or mythic. In one third of of booster packs, one of the commons will be a foil of any rarity. This is less concise than the Draft Booster breakdown in most recent sets, admittedly, but it's still pretty straightforward.
On the other hand, Set Boosters contain 12-14 cards: six commons/uncommons, one wild card of any rarity, one rare or mythic, one Lesson card, one Mystical Archive card, one guaranteed foil, one basic land, one art card, and one ad card with a 25% chance at being a card from THE LIST.
Assuming we don't care much about the commons, uncommons, or art cards, the difference between these two packs comes down to the following points:
Are those first three points worth an additional ~$1 over a Draft Booster? Perhaps, and I'm definitely more likely to snag a Set Booster instead of a Draft Booster at the Target checkout simply because it's a more fun experience to crack a Set Booster pack. You should definitely feel good about picking up Set Boosters if you can get them for roughly the same price as Draft Boosters, or if you just want to pick up a pack or three to rip open.
That said, if I'm in the market for a Strixhaven booster box, I'll be getting a box of Draft Boosters 100% of the time. They're honestly likely to be a better value than Set Boosters this time around, or at least close. They also might end up being scarcer, which means they should hold their value better over the long haul. Remember: point #4 also has value, as many people who buy Booster Boxes do so in order to draft with their friends. If drafting Strixhaven becomes difficult due to the prevalence of Set Boosters, then having a few boxes of Draft Boosters kicking around might make for a nice long-term investment.
WotC's foiling process is an ever-changing drama, and Strixhaven has given us a couple of new twists and turns in that particular saga. First, it appears as though the "Pringle Problem" that has plagued foils for the past year or so might have finally been fixed. While shiny cards have always had issues curving in high humidity, foils were starting to curve straight out of the pack in recent days. Commander Legends foils were the high-water mark for egregiously curled foils, and I've seen some really sad viral photos of Commander Legends foils stacked up and looking like a house of (bent) cards.
This might be over with Strixhaven, though. We don't have enough data to say for sure, but I've seen enough trusted voices saying that their Strixhaven foils have behaved themselves that I wouldn't be surprised if WotC changed some aspect of their foiling process.
Could this lead to higher foil prices? Set foil prices used to have 2-3x price multipliers, but for the past year and a half foils have cratered so hard that they're barely worth more than their non-foil counterparts. You might think that fixing the Pringle Problem would cause a surge in foil value, but I don't think that's in the cards. The issue with foil prices was never really about the curving—it was about the prevalence of foils in Collector Boosters. Not only is that trend not changing with Strixhaven, but the sudden surge of Set Boosters over Draft Boosters is going to turn the foil faucets on full blast. Fixing the curving should prevent foils from dropping below non-foils, but this set might have a higher prevalence of foils than any other set ever printed. The relative price of foil cards isn't going to rise in Strixhaven.
Our foil drama doesn't end there, either. Strixhaven Collector Boosters are also bringing back another popular foil treatment from Commander Legends: etched foils. Despite the Pringle Problem that Commander Legends foils had, most people absolutely adored the etched treatment, and the player base was stoked to see it return for Strixhaven's Mystical Archive.
Unfortunately, Strixhaven's etched foils have seriously disappointed many players in the early going. While the etched foils in Commander Legends had impressive etching everywhere, many of the etched foils in Strixhaven only have a couple of etched lines here and there. This is almost certainly going to affect their long-term value, as people will only pay a premium for cards that look and feel premium. If these new etched foils don't impress enough, I see no reason why they'll hold large value multipliers over their non-etched compatriots.
For now, I'm planning to take these new etched foils on a case-by-case basis. Some of them are likely to end up looking a lot better than others, and those might hold a premium due to scarcity. As a group, though, these cards might not hold the premium that some are expecting. That gives me a lot of pause about preordering any of these cards, as well as about ordering any Strixhaven Collector Boosters, which are largely depending on etched foils to hold their value.
Every set's Collector Boosters are different. This time around, they break down like this:
This is not one of the better Collector Boosters lineups we've seen lately. The issue here is that the Lesson slot is likely to be quite bad, as are both of the Mystical Archive Uncommon slots. You're basically banking on the Commander 2021 slot, the extended-art or borderless rare slot, the foil-etched Mystical Archive rare or mythic slot, and the foil Mystical Archive, borderless, or extended-art rare or mythic slot. That's four "good" slots, and very few of the cards you are likely to crack are going to be worth tons of money. There are no fetch land expeditions here, and the best foil-etched Mystical Archive mythics are going to be the chase cards this time around.
This might prove a problem if the etched foils have an issue holding their value. Right now, the etched foil Demonic Tutor is selling for about $150, roughly three times as much as the set foil version. That makes perfect sense from a scarcity perspective, but there are already a lot of premium versions of Demonic Tutor. This rare version is only going to remain a $150 card if a lot of players want it, which means it has to look incredibly cool. If the etching is minimal, and cards like this don't capture the imagination of the sorts of players who are willing to pay $150 for a card, then Strixhaven's Collector Boosters might end up feeling like a bust.
Oh—and there's another reason why these boosters might not be worth the price of admission:
Strixhaven appears to be a step down in power level from sets like Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths and Theros Beyond Death. That makes Strixhaven two steps down in power level from Throne of Eldraine, which is still somehow Standard-legal. (I know, I know, I can't believe it, either.)
The good news is that all the sets I've mentioned so far will rotate out of Standard in exactly five months. The bad news is that many of Strixhaven's most interesting cards will be somewhat masked from competitive success until then. I can't tell you how many times I've read "good card, but dies to Bonecrusher Giant" during Strixhaven's preview season.
Strixhaven's impact is also going to be hindered by Standard's current makeup. While there will definitely be a few new toys for Mono-Red Aggro and Sultai Control, decks like Dimir Rogues and Jeskai Cycling rely on specific block mechanics to work. With none of those block mechanics present in Strixhaven, they'll be lucky to gain a utility spell or two from Magic's newest set.
We are also approaching the time of year that has usually functioned as something of a lame duck period in Standard's yearly calendar. Spring and summer sets rarely make the impact that fall and winter sets do because they're added into a larger overall pool of Standard-playable cards. Fewer people play Standard during the summer, both because they don't want to invest in a deck prior to rotation and because folks play less indoor games like Magic during warmer months. Add this to the fact that basically nobody is bought into tabletop Standard right now because of the pandemic, and you have a recipe for historically low Standard demand, at least during the short-term.
Furthermore, the fact that each booster pack of Strixhaven will contain a Mystical Archive card in addition to your normal rare or mythic will work to depress card prices. Since so many Mystical Archive cards should hold value, the result is like slipping an additional rare into about a third of all booster packs without raising the retail price of a box. Since the estimated value (EV) of a box has to remain roughly in line with the cost of a box (this is nearly always true for sets that are readily available at retail), Strixhaven's value is going to be spread out more. The result should be a lot of bulk rares that might have been $2-$3 cards in a different set.
Let me be clear: none of this means that you should avoid buying all Strixhaven cards right now. Some cards are underpriced, and you will see gains made over the next few weeks. Overall, however, I expect Strixhaven's index price to drop. The set as a whole is currently overvalued, and a majority of cards will be cheaper to acquire in four to five weeks when Strixhaven hits peak supply.
Commander is the most popular and important Magic format. If you're going to pick up Strixhaven cards, this is where I'd begin. These are the cards most likely to hold their value over the long haul. Standard demand might be incredibly low right now, but Commander demand has somehow managed in increase during the pandemic. Magic players really, really love this format.
EDHREC is still the gold standard for Commander analysis, so let's take a look at the Strixhaven cards that have caught the interest of the community thus far. First, let's look at the top ten legendary creatures that people are building around:
Extus, Oriq Overlord
As you can see, there are a couple of distinct tiers here. Extus, Oriq Overlord is by far the most popular new Commander in the set, and I'd expect premium versions of this card to hold their value quite well. If you want to pick this card up right now, you definitely have my blessing.
It's also worth taking a look at cards that have high synergy with Extus, Oriq Overlord. According to EDHREC, potentially financially-relevant Extus staples include Pitiless Plunderer, Fury Storm, Sedgemoor Witch, Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, Secure the Wastes, Dockside Extortionist, Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools, Assemble the Legion, Bitterblossom, Smothering Tithe, Anointed Procession, Anguished Unmaking, Phyrexian Arena, Monastery Mentor, and Ruinous Ultimatum.
Are any of these cards likely to see a spike in value? Well, some of them already have! Take a look at Anointed Procession. That price spike from $28-$40 coincides with the week Extus was previewed:
It's quite likely that a handful of these other cards will see increases over the coming weeks, as more players open Extus, Oriq Overlord and decide to build around the powerful legend. If you're interested in building this deck, I'd either start buying staples ASAP or hold off for a few months and hope that prices restabilize.
As for the rest of these cards, I have to believe that premium copies of Beledros Witherbloom, Velomachus Lorehold, and Codie, Vociferous Codex are solid long-term snags. I'm not sure how many secondary spikes we'll see, but here are some of the key cards in each of their decks:
Codie, Vociferous Codex
I can't tell you which of these cards will spike over the coming weeks, but I bet some of them will. As with the key Extus, Oriq Overlord cards, feel free to snag these staples now.
Moving on from the legendary creatures, let's take a look at the cards from Strixhaven proper that are capturing the hearts and minds of Commander players. These rankings are for cards that are plopped into the 99, and should represent the bulk of the set's future Commander staples.
Here's every card that has been added to at least 40 decks, community-wide:
Interesting list, right? I expected to see cards like Tanazir Quandrix show up a lot more, but that card hasn't even been placed into 10 decks yet. Meanwhile, the set's #1 new Commander staple seems to be… Storm-Kiln Artist. If that holds, then this uncommon is way underpriced at $0.50, and this will be a $2-$3 uncommon down the line.
The other card that pops out to me here is Archmage Emeritus. This card is more popular than Wandering Archaic in the early going, and that card is currently selling for a whopping $11. Meanwhile, Archmage Emeritus is still readily available at $2, but the price is steadily increasing. Take a look:
That's right—Archmage Emeritus has already roughly doubled in price over the past week, and it's not done growing. This is all natural, sustained, community demand for a card that has flown under everybody's radar. If you only buy one card after reading this article, this is the one to get.
All the cards on this list are solid buys, though. Most of them are dirt cheap, and they'll hold demand for years to come. If you're the kind of person who has a big box of Commander staples (like me), you might want to consider just snagging most of these cards now. Beledros Witherbloom is the only mythic on this list, and you can wait a bit on that one if you want. The rest of them are just a couple of bucks, if that.
It's far too early to say which Strixhaven cards are going to make an impact in Standard, Modern, and Pioneer, much less how that will impact their value. Testing has only just begun, and competitive play hasn't been a strong indicator of future value for the past year or so. If you're a competitive Standard player, your best bet is to simply wait until late August and buy up nearly every card with a shot at doing something after set rotation. That's when Strixhaven prices will really start to gain ground.
That said, let's take a look at Strixhaven's early returns just in case we can spot some gems.
First, Abundant Harvest has been doing some work in Historic. That's not a format that's played in paper yet, but it bodes well for the card's competitive future. So far, I've really only heard people talking about Abundant Harvest in terms of Commander play, but if it becomes an Historic and Modern staple too? Its current retail price of $4 might end up seeming like a bargain at some point in the future.
In Standard, I've seen some buzz around Mono-White Magecraft and Prismari Dragons. The former deck has a lot of commons and uncommons, but it does run four copies of Leonin Lightscribe. I was fairly high on that card in my set review, and it does appear to have already stabilized just under the $1 range. That seems like a buy to me:
Prismari Dragons is a bit ritzier, and it runs four copies each of Galazeth Prismari, Magma Opus, Goldspan Dragon, Draconic Intervention, and Prismari Command as well as multiple copies each of Shatterskull Smashing, Brazen Borrower, and Bonecrusher Giant.
Magma Opus is the biggest surprise here, since I was pretty sure that card would end up in the bulk mythic range. Perhaps not! Take a look at this exciting price chart:
Is that an upward trend combined with a buy-in of less than $2 on a mythic rare? You bet it is. This is the perfect confluence of low-risk and high opportunity, so I'm definitely in for a few sets. I also wouldn't be surprised if Goldspan Dragon sees some upward movement, since that card is already at peak supply.
Seriously: if this deck is actually good, it's the sort of deck that loads of folks are going to want to play. Prismari is a popular color combination, and Dragons are a popular tribe. Buy in now if you want to play this deck this summer.
When I asked my Twitter users what they wanted to see in this article, most of the comments were about the Mystical Archive. How good is it? How well will it hold its value? When should you start to buy in?
If you want my card-by-card review of the Mystical Archive, be sure to check out the full article that I dedicated to this exciting subset. You can follow the link below this paragraph when you're done reading this piece:
Summarizing a few of my key findings from that piece, it's worth knowing that the rares from the Mystical Archive are roughly twice as rare as a normal rare, while the mythics are roughly twice as rare as a normal mythic. The prevalence of Collector Boosters should depress those numbers a little, though, and the uncommons are going to be incredibly easy to find, both in foil and non-foil.
Foil and etched foil copies of Japanese Mystical Archive cards will be relatively easy to find in Collector Boosters, though Japanese copies of the key cards (Demonic Tutor, Tainted Pact, Teferi's Protection, Time Warp, Brainstorm, Dark Ritual, Counterspell, Inquisition of Kozilek) should remain quite expensive and will be the chase cards of the set, even if the etched foils aren't all they're cracked up to be. Non-foil Japanese copies of these cards will be incredibly scarce—you have to open them in Japanese booster boxes—but they shouldn't command a crazy premium because there are other, easily available alternatives.
My guess is that this entire subset feels rarer than it is thanks to the recent prevalence of premium sets, and being patient with Mystical Archive cards will pay off. If you do want to buy in ASAP, target the scarcest cards (like Japanese etched foils) since they'll climb the highest and fastest if the market pops off. If you just want to own, like, a playset of non-foil Mystical Archive Lightning Helixes or something, I'd look to buy in sometime between mid-May and the end of 2021. There's no rush, and you can hold off for a good deal.
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