MTG Arena: State of the Game – Strixhaven: School of Mages

Posted in Magic Digital on April 7, 2021

By Jay Parker

The new Strixhaven: School of Mages set releases on April 15, so school will soon be in session. Get ready for a new plane, several new mechanics, and a library full of ancient and powerful spells. Like every new set, it also brings new packs to the store, new Draft and Sealed formats, and exciting new events.

Strixhaven is known for its five colleges: Silverquill, Witherbloom, Quandrix, Prismari, and Lorehold. You can read more about them in this introduction, take a quiz to find out which one matches you best, or just learn the style of each college as you see them on the battlefield.

Choose whatever method you prefer, but you will want to pick your favorite college in the first few weeks because The College Cup is coming!

Make Your Mark

The College Cup

The colleges of Strixhaven have always competed fiercely, and a few weeks after the set launches, this competition will come to MTG Arena. A series of events will challenge players to compete in various formats and represent their college of choice.

There will be three ways to score points for your favorite college during these events: adding sleeves on your deck (college sleeves are available from the quiz above), using an avatar from your college (available from the Mastery Web), and bringing the tome from your college (the pet available through the Mastery Pass). The more items you bring, the more points your college will score.

At the end of the competition, all players will receive a reward commemorating the victorious college: make sure to compete, represent your classmates well, and push your college to victory.

Return of the Sealed Arena Open

The College Cup isn't the only competition coming with the release of Strixhaven—we'll also be running another Arena Open on May 8–9, and just like last time, this one will be using the Sealed format. We saw an incredible response to Kaldheim's Sealed Arena Open, and we think Strixhaven: School of Mages and its Mystical Archive will make for an even more exciting Sealed environment.

Similar to Kaldheim, we will be running our normal Best-of-One Sealed event a bit longer, right up until the Arena Open, so players have a good venue to practice. Expanding on what we did in Kaldheim, we will be starting Best-of-Three Sealed right alongside Best-of-One, and it will also run until the Open. We saw a promising response to Best-of-Three Sealed with Kaldheim, and we are interested in offering it for longer to see if that holds up.

Whichever mode you prefer, you will have the right events available to give you the practice and experience to go into the Arena Open with confidence.

Campus Guide

As one of the most prestigious schools of magical thought in the Multiverse, Strixhaven has several new things to teach us. You can study up on all the new card mechanics in detail, but read on for some notes on how these will play out on MTG Arena.

Mana Value

"Mana value" is a new term but a familiar mechanic. It means the exact same thing that "converted mana cost" always has, and in fact, all the cards that used to say converted mana cost (like Elspeth Conquers Death, Drown in the Loch, or Fatal Push) now say mana value.

Learn & Lessons

Learn is a new keyword action that lets you discard a card to draw a card or, more interestingly, reveal a Lesson card from your sideboard and put it into your hand. Lesson is a new card type in Strixhaven, and they provide a wide variety of effects that you can call on when you need to.

This new mechanic has prompted two important changes in MTG Arena. First, you can now view your sideboard mid-match to check which lessons (or other cards) you have available there. Just click on your library, and you will find a button to switch to viewing your sideboard. Second, there are more changes coming detailed below.

Changes to Best-of-One Sideboards

Starting with the Strixhaven release on April 15, Constructed Best-of-One matches will use a 7-card sideboard. Best-of-Three matches will continue to use 15-card sideboards.

Why are we making this change? Well, cards in sideboards basically have two uses. One is to change your deck between games in a Best-of-Three match to better configure it against the deck your opponent is playing. The other, used in both types of matches, is what is frequently called a "wishboard," a group of cards that can be brought into a game from outside of it with cards that have that kind of ability.

Learn in Strixhaven is a great example of this. In a Best-of-Three match, players using cards with learn are forced to figure out how to divide their fifteen sideboard slots between Lessons and cards that improve their deck against certain matchups. In a single-game match, only one use is applicable, so there would be no reason not to use all fifteen sideboard slots on Lessons. This is more than would be expected in a Best-of-Three match. To adjust for this difference, the Play Design and MTG Arena teams arrived at the decision to limit the sideboard in single-game matches to seven slots.

Players can still use the same decks as they do today for both types of matches, but only seven cards will be in the Best-of-One sideboard. By default as we convert to this change, it will be the first seven cards listed, but of course you can edit your decks to make it whichever cards you want, or only have seven cards in your sideboard if you're just planning on using your deck for Best-of-One. The deck builder will more clearly show which cards in the sideboard can be used in each type of match, as shown below:

Ward

Ward is a new keyword that represents a triggered ability to counter hostile spells or abilities. When a creature with ward is targeted by a spell or ability an opponent controls, that opponent must pay an extra cost (usually but not always mana), or else the spell or ability is countered. Ward is also an evergreen keyword, which means you can expect to see it come back in future sets.

On MTG Arena, creatures with ward will have prominent visuals on the battlefield, similar to hexproof or indestructible. Since ward is a triggered ability, not an increased cost to target, the auto-tapper will not take it into account. Instead, whenever you target a creature with ward, you will get a confirmation pop-up allowing you to decide if you are comfortable paying the price.

One nuance worth noting: even though failing to pay the ward cost results in a counter to a spell or ability, if your spell or ability cannot be countered, you can safely ignore it. You will still be offered the chance to pay the ward cost in case you want to (maybe you want to pay life to boost your Death's Shadow, or just for fun? We won't judge you).

Study Break

For the full course on how the mechanics in Strixhaven play out on MTG Arena, as well as some notes on individual cards, we have more information here.

Strixhaven's Mystical Archive

One of the most striking features of the Strixhaven campus is the Biblioplex. It is said that inside you can find a copy of every spell ever cast in Magic, with the most dangerous and powerful locked away in the Mystical Archive.

All Strixhaven packs, both 15-card Limited packs and 8-card store packs, will have a special slot with a Mystical Archive card. The 15-card Limited packs work just as they do in tabletop Magic, with a dedicated slot for the Mystical Archive card. In the 8-card store packs, it will replace a common.

In either pack, this slot can be either uncommon (67%), rare (24.6%), or mythic rare (6.6%). This means you can open more than one rare or even mythic rare in a single pack (watch out for this when you are first opening your sealed pool—it will still show six rares or mythic rares like normal but will also tell you how many you opened in total).

You can find more information about acquiring the Mystical Archive cards in MTG Arena here.

The Mystical Archive cards are also available as special Japanese alternate-art variants:

On MTG Arena, these are available as styles, and they can be found in the usual places, like event rewards or store bundles. Today's weekly article has more info on where you can find what.

On MTG Arena, these work like the Phyrexian style for Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider. When you see them in your hand or collection, they show in the styled version, and when you mouse over them (or tap and hold on mobile devices) or see them on the stack, they are shown in your normal language. In a new UX improvement, when you're viewing those cards in Inspect mode, the "Printed Card" option will put it back in the styled view, so you can see the styled version in the larger size.

Handling Forbidden Knowledge

Cards from the Mystical Archive will not be Standard legal (unless they already were), but almost all of them will be Historic legal. Let's talk more about "almost."

History in Context

As MTG Arena's non-rotating format, Historic operates at a much higher power level than Standard. But in the broad context of Magic, there are many formats (Modern, Legacy, etc.) that are higher powered than Historic. Unlike most non-rotating formats in Magic, which generally include all the cards after a particular set, Historic is a curated format. This means the cards it includes are chosen deliberately. There are many goals we consider in this process, but the core aim is to create a fun, balanced, and diverse format that can steadily grow both forward and backward—adding new cards from Standard sets, but also more cards from Magic's history.

When pulling in older cards, we try to choose very carefully to avoid upsetting the balance of the format. Adding just a handful of cards that are significantly more powerful than the rest of the format would warp the format around just those cards, ultimately limiting the pool of viable decks.

Mystical Decisions

The Mystical Archive brings 41 new-to-Historic cards to MTG Arena, including some extremely powerful cards. Some of these are powerful enough that we know they would warp the format, so we are banning those cards from the start.

That list is:

These cards will all be legal and appear normally in Strixhaven Draft and Sealed, but they will not appear in 8-card store packs until you have collected four copies of all the other rares or mythic rares in the Mystical Archive (as is normal for banned cards).

All these cards have a power level that puts them clearly above other options in Historic. If they were legal, the Historic metagame would quickly warp around them. This runs counter to our goals of building the format in a fun, balanced way, and it would be a huge leap forward in terms of power level rather than the measured growth that keeps the format healthy.

There are many cards in the remaining 34 new-to-Historic cards that could be too powerful for the format as well. We are taking an approach here similar to the launch of Pioneer—except for the cards above, we aren't predetermining what is too strong. But we do expect that there will be new decks and interactions discovered that will become problematic. With the cards above, we feel like their power level and threat to the format is clear. For the rest of the Mystical Archive, we want to let players find the powerful interactions and prove they are problems for the metagame rather than prejudge the outcome.

This may mean that we need to act quickly to correct some new deck that dominates the metagame, or things may develop in a more naturally balanced form. In either case, we will not let threats to fun, balance, or diversity persist in the format.

And, in case you are looking for an outlet to play these banned spells despite their danger, there will be an upcoming FNM that allows causing some chaos with them.

Field Trip

Rounding out our big news, MTG Arena is now available on phones and tablets, and the player response there has been incredible. One of our core goals for MTG Arena is to "get more people playing more Magic," and now that everyone can play whenever and wherever they want to, we are definitely seeing that!

Putting the full depth and complexity of Magic onto mobile devices is a challenge, but that is and always will be our plan. We will not be simplifying or reducing any aspect of Magic gameplay. Sometimes the interface or layout may need to shift a bit for different devices, but we are committed to ensuring that players on any device can play what they want wherever they are.

We have made several improvements on mobile already since our early access, such as adding the ability to move cards to your sideboard while drafting on mobile, enabling social features, and improving performance to support a wider range of devices. We are continuing to iterate on mobile UI with the Strixhaven release, including improvements like moving the opponent's pet to the right-hand side of the battlefield to clear up views of the opponent's lands. One of our next targets here is enabling the horizontal deck builder layout on mobile, and more improvements will follow.

We have had over 50 million games from players on mobile, and the launch of Strixhaven is great time to join in. If you log in on a mobile device any time before the end of April, you will also receive a special Thopter pet. There's never been a better time to find a new way to play Magic anytime and anywhere you are.

Closing Statement

That's it for the Strixhaven State of the Game—new set, new mechanics, and new platforms to play on the go. We will be back with another State of the Game for Adventures in the Forgotten Realms in mid-July, or whenever we have big news to share. To keep up with all the MTG Arena news in the meantime, check out the latest of our weekly posts arriving each Wednesday. They will keep you up to date on all the events, store offerings, and any other timely news. Until then, may your Lessons be easily learned and all your wards hold true.

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