For each set, when vision design is complete, we create what we call a vision design handoff document to give to the Set Design team to explain the overall vision of the set and walk through what themes and mechanics we created during vision design. In the past, I've shown off the vision design handoff document for Throne of Eldraine, Part 1 and Part 2, Ikoria, Zendikar Rising, and original Zendikar, Part 1 and Part 2. Today, I'm going to show you the handoff document from Strixhaven.

Before I start, I should give my normal intro for vision design handoff documents. Most of what you'll read below is the text of the actual document I handed off a year and a half ago. Any comments I've made will be in boxes below the vision design text. The text outside of the boxes is the actual document. Things always change during set design, so I will explain how things in the document turned into the things that ended up in the set. I hope you enjoy this peek behind the curtain.

"Fencing" Vision Design Handoff Document

Vision Design team

  • Mark Rosewater (lead)
  • Doug Beyer
  • George Fan
  • Ari Nieh
  • Yoni Skolnik
  • Andrew Veen

Strixhaven's codename was "Fencing." Most premier sets (there are some exceptions, such as the upcoming D&D set) are currently following a series of alphabetic sports names. Throne of Eldraine started as "Archery," and since then we've had "Baseball" (Theros Beyond Death), "Cricket" (Ikoria), "Diving" (Zendikar Rising), and "Equestrian" (Kaldheim). Yet to come (of what's started design) are "Golf," "Hockey," "Ice Skating," "Judo," "Kayaking," "Lacrosse," "Marathon," and "Netball." (There aren't a lot of good choices for N. It's an English variant of basketball.)

Here are the four main parameters for "Fencing." These four parameters define the set:

I start off every vision design document talking big picture. Even more important than the individual mechanics is the overarching structure that defines what the set is about and how we expect it to be perceived by the audience. Strixhaven, from its very beginning, has always been a combination of complimentary elements, many of which I know the audience has been wanting for years. Some themes, like a traditional enemy multicolor focus, have been things I'd been trying to get into a set for a long time, while others, like instants and sorceries mattering, were themes I'd been waiting to find a proper home for.

  • It's a top-down wizard school.

We're trying to find more worlds with genre-rich trope clusters. While a magic school has plenty of its own tropes, it also lets us tap into school tropes, which are universal and plentiful (especially in pop culture). A lot of the resonance of this set is going to come from hitting as many of these school and/or magic school tropes as we can on cards.

  • It's an enemy color gold set.

While we do enemy color gold cards from time to time, the last expansion to have it specifically as a theme was Apocalypse—eighteen years ago! (The last set to even have enemy colors as its main theme was Eventide—eleven years ago.) "Fencing" should make sure to have several desired enemy color cycles (a few are listed later in this document) and legendary creatures (as it's something Commander players ask for all the time).

  • It's a two-color faction set.

One of the biggest experiments of "Fencing" is trying to demonstrate that we can have two-color factions sets that have their own identity apart from Ravnica. As such, one of the main objectives of "Fencing" was to create five unique factions, called schools, that were flavorful and thematic yet still let the colors be true to themselves. The factions having new identities is a feature, not a bug of the design. Also, the fact that the factions are built around their internal conflict rather than their area of overlap is a unique distinction of the schools.

  • It has a strong instant and sorcery theme.

While we've used instants and sorceries as a small subtheme in the past, "Fencing" is making it a major theme of the set, thematically playing into the wizarding school motif. This focus has had a huge impact on what mechanics we've chosen and how we've executed certain elements of the set. Also, as the following set is returning to Innistrad, having a greater focus on spells will make a good contrast to "Golf," which will be more focused on creatures.

You'll noticed that the finished set hits all four of these parameters strongly. While much will change with what mechanics got used (more on this below), the basic essence of what the vision was for the set never changed. A few quick notes:

• You'll see in this document that I called the factions "schools." We ended up changing this to "colleges" to better reinforce that this was a magical university.

• Often when I talk about the future in these documents, I black it out, but everything I say here is already public and/or easy to figure out. We're always thinking about what sets precede and follow each set. Sets do not live in a vacuum, so that's something we keep an eye on.

• When I call Innistrad "the following set," I was skipping over the summer's D&D set. At the time I was writing this document, we were still defining what role the set was going to play.

The Schools

We began the vision design by defining the five factions. Each school was chosen a subject matter of study (including a number of classes within that study), a few student archetypes, a token type, and a style of gameplay. All the names are placeholders.

All of what follows was created by the Vision Design team working closely with the Creative team to create factions that would fill their needed roles both flavorfully and mechanically. I'll point out when things deviated.


Colors: White-black

Field of Study: Rhetoric (persuasive speech and writing)

Classes: Literature, Writing, Speech, Psychology, Ethics, Foreign Languages, Communications, Marketing/Advertising, Journalism

Style of Magic: Spoken word and runic

Philosophical Conflict: Are we to inspire the world of what it could be (white) or inform the world of what it really is (black)?

Student Archetype: ROTC, "mean girls," jocks, privileged kids, overachievers

Token Type: 2/1 flier (Gargoyle)

Style of Gameplay: Aggro

Shadix is the school of words. It teaches various classes that center on the use of words (literature, writing, public speaking, foreign languages, communications, etc.). It teaches spoken and runic magic. Spoken word is the fastest form of spellcasting and thus is the magic of ritualized combat. Because of this, Shadix is the school that teaches magical fighting. All the schools teach you how to use magic to do different things, but Shadix teaches you how to fight with it. As such, it's the school with the magic that's cheapest and easiest to cast in a pinch. This leads Shadix to having a very aggressive magical style, using its spells to try and beat the opponent as quickly as possible.

This description didn't end up deviating too much from the finished product. We had pegged white-black as the aggro faction during vision design (as we specifically didn't want it being red-white) and spent a lot of time with the Creative team figuring out how to make that all come together. The concept that really clinched it was the idea that Silverquill was the school about words and that vocal magic, which was the fastest to cast, was best suited to fighting, which let white-black be the most combat-oriented faction.

The one change, and it's a minor one, was that we originally had the Silverquill creature token/mascot set as a Gargoyle. We liked the idea of one of the schools having a Gargoyle as their mascot as it matched the school setting so well, and white-black ended up with the flying token. It didn't really match up with the school, so the Gargoyle was changed to an Inkling, a brand-new creature type that thematically fit better. The Gargoyle was going to be a white-black artifact creature token.

You'll also notice that this college was going to originally be called Shadix. The white-black Elder Dragon's first name, Shadrix, I assume was derived from this early name.

One last thing, and this is just me being picky looking back at my own work. I believe psychology would actually be in Lorehold, as that's the college more about community and motivations of larger groups. Silverquill would have classes, like persuasive writing, that dip into aspects of psychology.


Colors: Blue-red

Field of Study: Art

Classes: Painting, Drawing, Music, Dance, Theater, Fashion Design, Sculpture, Interior Design

Style of Magic: Gestures and the arts

Philosophical Conflict: Is art supposed to make people think (blue) or feel (red)?

Student Archetype: Visionaries, intellectuals, creative types

Token Type: 3/3 (Elemental)

Style of Gameplay: Big spells

Mithren is the school of art. It teaches various classes that center on expression (painting, music, dance, theater, etc.). It teaches gesture and artistic magic. Because it's the school most about putting on a show, Mithren teaches large, showy magic. This leads Mithren to focus on building up to larger, splashier spells. (Because Izzet is focused on spells, we took extra effort to make Mithren play in a different space, wanting to cast one larger spell rather than a lot of little ones.)

Prismari also didn't change all that much from the vision design pitch of the college. Behind the scenes, this was the college that caused us the most problem deviating from the Ravnica guild, as the main theme of this set, instants and sorceries, was an Izzet-focused theme. I do think our "go big" strategy worked. The one change I do notice is that the Elemental creature token grew from a 3/3 to a 4/4. It was our biggest token during vision design, but the Set Design team realized it could be bigger.


Colors: Black-green

Field of Study: Life Sciences

Classes: Biology, Chemistry, Anatomy, Geology, Medicine, Agriculture, Botany, Food Science, Genetics, Zoology

Style of Magic: Component and biologic

Philosophical Conflict: Is life defined by what creates it (green) or the forces that shape and kill it (black)?

Student Archetype: Goth kids, cool troublemakers, bad influences

Token Type: 1/1 with "gain 1 life" death trigger (Grub)

Style of Gameplay: Midrange

Ravona is the school of life. It teaches all the life sciences (biology, chemistry, medicine, agriculture, etc.). It teaches component and organic magic (where you mix natural components together to create spells). Organic magic is very focused on the cycle of life, making use of both life and death as resources. (To keep Ravona separate from Golgari, we are specifically focusing on life as a resource rather than the graveyard.)

Witherbloom might be the college that changed the least. The "life matters" theme made it to print, and the creature token merely changed its type from Grub to Pest.


Colors: Red-white

Field of Study: History

Classes: History, Law, Political Science, Philosophy, Finance, Education, Business, Theology, Sociology, Archeology

Style of Magic: Summoning and spirits

Philosophical Conflict: Are civilizations inherently led by chaos (red) or structure (white)?

Student Archetype: Bookish nerds, history hipsters

Token Type: 2/2 (Spirit)

Style of Gameplay: Control

Primald is the school of history. It teaches all the classes centered on society (history, law, political science, philosophy, theology, etc.). It teaches summoning magic, which calls on ancient spirits to perform its spells. Of all the schools, Primald is the most focused on the past and thus looks to graveyard for many of its resources.

While Lorehold kept the essence of what the Vision Design team had created, it definitely went through a number of changes in how to execute that vision. The graveyard stayed a big component of the college, but the Set Design team did a great job of finding additional ways to make it work. Also, I believe they sped up the speed of this college a little from vision design, where it was the slowest.

This is the only school to creatively change its style of magic. Rather than being based on spirits (we leaned a littler heavier on Spirit tribal during vision design than the finished set), it became scroll-based magic. The creature token/mascot stayed a Spirit but grew from a 2/2 to a 3/2.


Colors: Green-blue

Field of Study: Math

Classes: Math, Physics, Engineering, Accounting, Economics, Astronomy, Aviation, Programming (probably spell creation in a fantasy setting)

Style of Magic: Formulaic and geometric (the drawing of shapes, for example)

Philosophical Conflict: Is math a natural system that we've discovered (green) or a product created by us (blue)?

Student Archetype: Weirdos, outsiders, obsessed with numbers

Token Type: 1/1 (Fractal)—often cast in multiples

Style of Gameplay: Go wide

Zymmot is the school of math. It teaches all the classes focused on the hard sciences, the ones that are more based in numbers (math, physics, engineering, economics, etc.). It teaches formula- and geometry-based magic. This is magic that makes use of natural systems, which it often controls using shapes as a means of expression. Geometric magic is mostly based on growth and takes advantage of replication to produce larger systems.

Quandrix is the college that changed the most. We had created it as a go-wide faction during vision design. It changed during set design from that to a ramping faction. You can see this change in the creature token/mascot. Fractals (the name didn't change) were 1/1 creatures during vision design, and you most often created two or more when you created them. The Set Design team followed through on the Vision Design team's desire to keep it feeling "math-y."

Set Mechanics

To separate the set from Ravnica, instead of assigning a keyword to each faction, the set has mechanics that stretch across all five factions but are used differently by each school. The set's mechanics are:

Before we get into the mechanics, let me dive a little deeper in something I say very quickly in the first sentence here. Strixhaven was about proving we could create a two-color faction set that had a very different identity from Ravnica. We've learned how much players love multicolor factions, and two-color combinations are by far the easiest to design around. While the audience clearly likes the occasional visit to Ravnica, it just isn't something we want to be our only go-to when doing two-color factions. A big goal of Strixhaven was trying to demonstrate other ways to do that.

There were two big parts of this. The first part was making the factions have their own identity. That involved doing things like focusing on conflict rather than overlapping and looking for different mechanical executions. The second part was rethinking the overall structure. Yes, the low-hanging fruit for faction design was to give every faction its own keyword, but that isn't the only way to do it. Strixhaven was a faction set with a more cohesive overarching theme (spells matter), allowing us to have a number of mechanics available to all the factions. The key to making this work is making sure that each faction could use the mechanics in a way that played up their theme.

  • Spellcraft (Whenever you cast or copy an instant or sorcery spell. . .)

Reckless Tremormancer
Creature — Human Shaman
Spellcraft – Whenever you cast or copy an instant or sorcery spell, CARDNAME deals 1 damage to each creature.

Spellcraft is an ability word that goes on permanents and triggers whenever an instant or sorcery is cast or copied. Here's how each school is using it.

[Shadix] – Spellcraft effects in this school are about small incremental creature boosts and go onto aggressively designed creatures. Instants and sorceries help you keep up your aggressive threats. This school likes when you cast a lot of cheap instants and sorceries on the same turn.

[Mithren] – Spellcraft effects in this school don't stack, so instead of encouraging lots of small instants and sorceries on a single turn, it rewards being more consistent across turns. It also has some effects that reward you for casting larger spells.

[Ravona] – Spellcraft effects in this school often gain you life (to play into the school's "life matters" theme) and allow you to permanently grow your permanents or resources.

[Primald] – Spellcraft effects in this school tend to be more defensive and controlling. At higher rarities, they also play into the school's connection with the graveyard, at times returning things in the graveyard to the player's hand.

[Zymmot] – Spellcraft effects in this school tend to support the school's theme of building up creatures and going wide. It also will have effects that are often stronger the more creatures you have.

We explored a bit with how to make spells matter in exploratory design, but it was apparent quickly that we basically wanted instant- and/or sorceryfall. Instants and sorceries aren't permanents that sit on the battlefield, so there are a lot less ways to care about them mechanically. Also, this was an ability we could put onto our permanents to make them care about instants and sorceries. The "or copy" was part of the design from the very beginning. We knew getting enough instants and sorceries in your deck in Limited was going to be an ongoing problem, so we wanted the mechanic to count everything we could. Some earlier designs did more copying by the way.

To help support this new faction structure, it was important to show how each college could use this mechanic in a different way. I do think the finished product did a good job of making different colors care about spells in various ways.

Stay Tuned for Part 2

We've hit our word count for today. Next week, you'll see the second half of the vision design document where we talk about other elements of the vision design, including several mechanics that didn't make it into the final set. As always, I'm eager to hear your feedback on this document, on this column, or on Strixhaven in general. You can email me or contact me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok).

Join me next week for part two.

Until then, I hope you enjoy this peek behind the curtain.