Last week, I started showing you the vision design handoff document for Strixhaven: School of Mages, but there was too much for one article, so today is the second and final part. As a reminder, most of the text below is the actual text from the original document. All my notes about it are in boxes.

  • Flashback (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then exile it.)

When you cast your next instant or sorcery this turn, copy that spell. You may choose new targets for the copy.
Flashback 2UR (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then exile it.)

Flashback is a returning mechanic. It plays into the sets instant and sorcery theme, allowing players to maximize the number of instants and sorceries cast per game. The monocolor flashback spells try to branch between the two schools that would use them while the multicolor spells are more focused on communicating what the guild is up to. The faster guilds ([Shadix] and [Ravona]) are more likely to have cheaper spells to allow them to recast them quicker.

A spells-matter set wants you to cast as many instants and sorceries as possible. Flashback, which only goes on instants and sorceries, lets you cast spells twice. It was a great fit for the set, and flashback's an awesome mechanic. I have no regrets putting it into the vision design. I'm sorry it couldn't stay. I unfortunately can't tell you the story of why it had to leave the set today as it involves information you all don't know yet, but I promise to reveal it to you when I can.

  • Conjure [creature type] – [cost] (If you cast this spell for [cost], when it enters the battlefield create an [appropriately sized, colored, and creature-typed] creature token.)

Spirit Backup
Target creature gets +2/+2 until end of turn.
Conjure Spirit – 2W (If you cast this spell for 2W, also create a 2/2 red and white Spirit creature token.)

Conjure is an ability that goes onto instants and sorceries. It allows you to spend extra mana to create a creature token (and, in a few cases, multiple creature tokens) of the appropriate type. This mechanic is in the set to help players cast more instants and sorceries while giving them access to creatures later in the game. These cards could be de-keyworded, but then there would only be one option where the spells automatically come with a creature token. Note that the tokens line up with the five token types of the schools.

Creature tokens are important in a spells-matter set because they allow you to have more instants and sorceries in your deck while still having enough creatures. The Set Design team ended up doing it more on a card-by-card basis rather than connecting it to a keyword. In vision design, I like to give the Set Design team more structured ways of doing things, as it's easier to pull out structure than add it. I'll note that conjure uses a replacement cost rather than an added cost (like kicker) as we've found it's easier for players to process.

  • Familiar – [Effect]. . .if you control a creature token.

Black Buddy
Creature — Human Wizard
Familiar – CARDNAME enters the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter if you control a creature token.

Familiar is an ability word for cards that get a bonus effect if you control a creature token. The mechanic doesn't care about what creature token you have, only that you have one. As it's an ability word, it's possible to drop it from the cards if you'd like less vocabulary in the set.

I like to think of the Vision Design team as tool makers who give the Set Design team a box of tools that they can use to build the set. We leaned a little more into token making during vision design, so this ability word was just another way to flesh out a group of cards where token making played a larger role. The thing I liked most about this ability word was that it got the concept of familiars into the set, which is a big trope in the magic school genre.

  • Multifaced cards (MFCs)

The multifaced cards in "Fencing" are all themed to represent the schools and the inherent conflict they're built on. There are fifteen MFC cards in the set, making three cycles:

In the very beginning, MDFCs were going to play a much larger role because we originally planned for this to be the only set that had them. Once we spread them out over the Magic "year," they got knocked down to a much lower presence.

Dean of Death
Legendary Creature — Human Advisor
At the beginning of your end step, if any opponent lost life this turn, target creature an opponent controls gets -2/-2 until end of turn.
Dean of Birth
Legendary Creature — Human Advisor
At the beginning of your end step, if you gained life this turn, create a 1/1 black and green Grub creature token with "When this dies, gain 1 life."

The Deans (mythic rare) – Each school is run by a pair of deans who each represent one side of the school's conflict. These cards are legendary creatures on each side, each mechanically representing one side of the enemy color conflict. We believe this cycle will be exciting for the Commander crowd (and possibly tournament Constructed).

The idea of having each college led by two deans representing the two parts of the conflict of each college started very early, and it was obvious they had to be MDFCs. The cards all got remade during set design, but the cycle stayed. Our version of the designs had them mechanically a little more mirrored than the printed versions.

Reasoned Argument
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, gain control of up to two target creatures for as long as CARDNAME remains on the battlefield.


Wild Emotion
Untap up to two target creatures and gain control of them until end of turn. They gain haste until end of turn.

Permanents/spells (rare) – This cycle includes a permanent on one side of one color and an instant or sorcery on the other side of the second color. The cards play up the conflict within the school and are designed to work in the same deck.

The cycle was mostly redesigned but stuck around. Our version of the cycle was a little more focused on playing up the conflict in the colleges.

Archeological Site
T: Add C.
4R, Sacrifice CARDNAME, T: CARDNAME deals X damage to target creature or planeswalker, where X is the number of cards you own in exile.
Historian's Library
T: Add C.
4W, Exile three cards from your graveyard, T: Create a 2/2 white and red Spirit creature token.

Lands (rare) – This cycle consists of double-sided lands that tap for colorless mana. One side has a colored activation with a tap ability that can be repeated each turn. The other side has a colored activation with a sacrifice cost, allowing a bigger effect that you do once. The two sides are made to be synergistic with one another.

This cycle didn't make it. It was moved up to mythic rare and replaced by two planeswalker cards and three legendary creatures with spells on the back.

  • Scrolls (A scroll is an artifact token. It can be sacrificed to cast a named instant or sorcery.)

Wild Scrivener
Creature — Human Druid
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield. Exile target instant or sorcery spell. Create a scroll token of the exiled spell.
T: Add one mana of any color.

Scrolls are artifact tokens that hold an instant or sorcery spell within them (much like the flavor of a scroll). You can sacrifice the artifact to cast the spell for its mana cost. The spell is then treated as if you had actually cast it, doing things like triggering spellcraft and allowing it to be copied or countered. Uncommon has a cycle of creatures that come with a scroll that is prefilled with an existing spell (all of which are fairly famous Magic spells). Rare has a two-color cycle and an artifact that allow you to create scrolls in various ways. The intent of scrolls is that it's something splashy and new at a low as-fan and at higher rarities.

Of all the things that got removed during set design, this is the mechanic I was saddest to see leave. It's super flavorful and playing in space that we really haven't done much of outside of imprint. I like to believe that this concept led to the idea of the Mystical Archive, which is a great addition to the set. I'm going to keep this idea in my back pocket and see if I can find a future set where it fits well.

Other Components (Themes and Cycles)

  • Dorms

Art Dorm
Land — Dorm
CARDNAME enters the battlefield tapped.
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, if you control another land named CARDNAME, gain 2 life.
T: Add U or R.

The Dorms are a cycle of common lands that are "Fencing's" equivalent of the Gates (common two-color mana fixing). They are subtype Dorm and reward you for playing numerous of the same Dorm.

This cycle didn't make it, but the idea of lands representing each college's campus did find a home. I was tickled by Dorm as a land subtype.

  • Colorless magic

Basic Geomancy
Search your library for a basic land card, put it onto the battlefield tapped, then shuffle your library.

Common has a number of colorless instants and sorceries (currently five) that represent freshman courses at the college. (Students join a school at the start of their sophomore year.) We did these as a tool to help players fill out their decks with instants and sorceries. These five cards fill the void usually filled in sets by common artifacts.

This cycle got turned into Lessons, and individual cards got changed, but it made it to print. The flavor of colorless first-year spells was too good to pass up.

  • Prospectuses

History Prospectus
T: Add R or W.
1RW, Sacrifice CARDNAME, T: Create a 2/2 red and white Spirit creature token.

The Prospectuses are a cycle of common artifacts that serve as this set's "mana rocks" that tap for one of two colors and can then be sacrificed for a cost involving both colors to make that school's creature token. We also envision this cycle being a place to creatively show off the school's symbol (we assume the set will have watermarks for the schools) and/or pennant.

This cycle came about because we wanted a place to show the pennant for each college. The set ended up not using mana rocks, so it never found a home. I do think it was an elegant design.

  • Buddy Creatures

Red Buddy
Creature — Human Wizard
Familiar – CARDNAME enters the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter if you control a creature token.

This is a common cycle of monocolor creatures that each have familiar and enter with a +1/+1 counter if you have a creature token.

This was the common cycle using the familiar ability word. The goal was to make something flavorful but simple. The cycle went away when the ability word was dropped.

  • Double Spells

Double Boost
Familiar – When you cast this spell, copy it if you control a token creature. You may choose a new target for the copy.
Target creature gets +2/+2 until end of turn.

This is a cycle of monocolor common instants and sorceries with familiar that all copy themselves if you control a creature token. These are designed as both spellcraft and token enablers.

I said last week that we handed over a bit more copying than ended up in the printed set. Here's one example. Like the above cycle, this got removed when the ability word was dropped.

  • Prodigies

Rhetoric Prodigy
Creature — Human Wizard
Spellcraft – Whenever you cast or copy an instant or sorcery spell, target creature gets +1/+0 and menace until end of turn.

This is a cycle of uncommon enemy color creatures with spellcraft. They're designed to play into each school's play pattern and serve as one of the cards that helps communicate the school's Draft strategy. They are flavored as top students from the schools. It's possible that this cycle's supposed to be legendary.

This cycle became the apprentices. It obviously did not become legendary.

  • Commands

Mathematical Command
Choose two —
Create a 3/3 green Elephant creature token.
Create a token that's a copy of a creature you control.
Exile target creature. That creature's controller creates a 3/3 green Elephant creature token.
Draw a card for each creature you control.

The Commands are a cycle of rare enemy sorceries that give you four modes and let you choose two. We've done monocolor Commands and ally color Commands, but never enemy color ones. These are obviously tied into the schools.

One of the exercises we did in exploratory design was figure out cycles we'd done in other color combinations, but never enemy colors. The two big ones on the list were legendary Dragons and Commands, so we put both in the set. The Set Design team redesigned the individual cards, but both cycles stayed.

  • Hybrid rare creatures

Hybrid Biologist
Creature — Human Shaman
Whenever you sacrifice another permanent, draw a card.

This is a rare cycle of enemy color hybrid creatures tied to the schools. They exist as a tool for the Play Design team to adjust devotion in Standard. They are designed as splashy school-themed creatures that can mechanically work in either color.

This is a good example of how we look to the past as well as the future. Theros Beyond Death had a devotion component, and we were asked by Play Design to include some heavy hybrid permanents to give them a knob to adjust devotion in Standard. These cards didn't end up being needed, so they got cut. The Set Design team worked in a little hybrid elsewhere in the set.

  • Legendary Dragons

Rw, the Reckony
Legendary Creature — Dragon
Whenever damage is dealt to a creature you control, CARDNAME deals that much damage to any target.

Magic has had monocolor, ally color, wedge color, and arc color legendary Dragons, but never enemy color. We knew these were so important that we worked them into the story—the five schools were each founded by a different dragon. These are currently a cycle at rare but should possibly be at mythic rare. These are designed to be both splashy and solid tournament shots.

I knew early that we wanted enemy color legendary Dragons, early enough that Doug Beyer was able to weave them into the origin of the colleges. And yes, this cycle did get pushed up to mythic rare.

  • Top-down designs

Student Protest
Choose one —
Counter target spell unless its controller pays X, where X is the number of creatures you control.
Look at the top X cards of your library where X is the number of creatures you control. Put one of them into your hand and the rest on the bottom of your library in any order.

There are many designs, especially at higher rarities, that are top-down designs capturing school (and sometimes specifically magic school) tropes. The Vision Design team and Creative team have created lists of tropes for the Set Design team to work with. It's a very rich, resonant, and deep cluster of tropes.

I've long been a believer in the power of tropes to enhance set design. We spent a bunch of time in vision design creating top-down cards, not because we necessarily felt those actual cards would get printed (although some of them did) but because we wanted to demonstrate the importance of using top-down designs to create a particular feel for the set. I'm very happy that this gauntlet was clearly picked up by everyone downstream of us. There was, by the way, a separate file that was a giant list of school and magic school tropes that we'd collected during vision design. That's what I'm referencing above.

Extra Content

What follows are two items that were pulled from the design.

One of the things we sometimes do in these handoff documents is show things we created in vision design that were removed. They're extra tools for the Set Design team to use if needed. Also, they might inspire the Set Design team to create something similar but different.

  • Study

Guardian Ancestor
Creature — Spirit
2: Study. Activate this ability only when you could cast a sorcery.
(A) Spirits you control have vigilance.
(B) T: Another target creature you control gains protection from the color of your choice until end of turn.

Study is a mechanic where you can spend a resource (tapping at common, mana at uncommon) to add an ability to the card. Each card with study has two options of abilities to add. The second time you activate it, you can add the ability you didn't choose the first time. The card would most likely have a frame that would serve as a play aid to make it clear which abilities you have. This mechanic got removed, as there was too much board complexity and study, while thematic, was less connected to the overall framework of the set.

Study is a great example of a mechanic that's very fun and flavorful on the surface but ends up creating more gameplay complexity than desired. Also, it was a bit more permanent-centric than the set needed. I do think there's something very cool here, but it needs another iteration or two.

  • Implements

B/G Implement
Activate abilities of CARDNAME only when you could cast a sorcery.
2B, T: Target creature gains lifelink until end of turn.
2G, T: Put a +1/+1 counter on target creature.
4BG, T: Do both.

Implements were a cycle of uncommon artifacts that had two different tap abilities (one in each color of the school) and a third ability which was the combination of the two abilities. They were designed as artifacts useable in three schools but maximized in one. They were removed from the set to lessen board complexity.

This was another mechanic that had noble goals but unfortunate side effects on gameplay. This mechanic never got the official look through by the rules manager, so I'm not sure "do both" would have actually worked.

In Conclusion

Those are all the main elements of "Fencing." I believe the set will be a big hit if it hits the four parameters listed at the beginning of this document. The focal point of the four parameters is the identity of the five schools. If each one has a clear-cut identity (which the Vision Design team and Creative team worked hard to establish) that's tied to what the school represents as a school, including highlighting the conflict of the colors while wrapping itself in all the available school tropes and playing up the spell theme, I believe we have a recipe for success.

The Set Design team has some wiggle room in the play execution (red-white might work better as a mid-range, graveyard-focused deck rather than a slow, controlling one, for example). The key is making any changes stay true to the school identities. I'm very excited to see what you are all able to build with the tools we've provided. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.


Mark Rosewater

The reason I'm so happy with Strixhaven is that I feel the Vision Design team (with a lot of help from the Creative team) laid out a very compelling vision for the set, and the Set Design team (along with many other sections of R&D and the rest of the company) worked to take that concept and make it the best version of itself that it could be. I am beyond happy with how the set turned out.

As I mention at the end of all my design handoff articles, this document is just one piece in a very elaborate system to make Magic sets. While I write everything down to help everyone get on the same page, there's a lot of communication between the Vision Design and Set Design teams (as well as many other teams) all through the process beyond this document.

And that is the design handoff document for Strixhaven. These have proven very popular, so I plan to keep publishing them. 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 as I answer all your questions about Strixhaven.

Until then, I hope you learned something about Strixhaven design that you didn't know.