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A first-year student at Strixhaven practices casting spells in the quad. Behind them a magical sculpture stands, bits of it floating unsupported. Image: Cristi Balanescu/Wizards of the Coast

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Magic: The Gathering’s Strixhaven is more than just a Hogwarts pastiche

But it’s definitely a big Harry Potter goof, also

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Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

On the surface, Magic: The Gathering’s new set, Strixhaven: School of Mages, looks like a simple pastiche of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. That’s definitely part of its charm. But the intricacies of this new set — and the promise of its accompanying lore — could make it the biggest release of the year.

This set isn’t a just another random corner of the sprawling Magic multiverse. It feels like an attempt to give the game a new center — at least for now. Along the way, Strixhaven will pose a lot of interesting questions: What if all the known spells in the universe were archived together in one place, buried inside a mysterious library? What if the students hungry for that knowledge were powerful young mages, eager-eyed recruits with a smattering of sexy co-eds? And what if one of the professors was living a secret double life, wracked by confusion and guilt?

Most important of all, however, is the fact that this set of cards wants to amp up the pace of play at the table when Strixhaven launches in April. There’s a lot flying around with this release, so let’s dive in.

Bursts of magical energy erupt from a pristine white stadium while thousands look on. The field is green and circular.
Strixhaven Stadium, where the five colleges compete at Quidditch... I mean, Mage Tower. The goal is to capture the opposing team’s mascot and return them to your own side of the field. Pretty much anything goes, so far as your spells don’t directly harm the other players on the field.
Image: Piotr Dura/Wizards of the Coast

The five colleges of Strixhaven

Fledgling mages who apply to Strixhaven must narrow their field of study during their first year of schooling. To represent that, developers have remixed the game’s classic multi-color deck combinations. There are five colleges in all, each one founded by a powerful Elder Dragon that is new to the lore of Magic.

Graphic featuring original art from Wizards of the Coast. Graphic: James Bareham/ Polygon | Source images: Wizards of the Coast.

Lorehold, founded by the great red dragon Velomachus Lorehold, uses both red and white mana. According to Doug Beyer, principal game designer at Wizards of the Coast, its mages study something called archeomancy.

“The Lorehold mages actually bring the past to life literally,” Beyer said, “bringing back historical figures and embodying them in haunted historical monuments.”

Graphic featuring original art from Wizards of the Coast. Graphic: James Bareham/ Polygon | Source images: Wizards of the Coast.

Prismari, which uses blue and red mana, represent Strixhaven’s art students. This college focuses on using elementalism — fire, ice, lightning, and stone — to give its students their power. It was founded by Galazeth Prismari, an Elder Dragon prone to over-the-top expressions of creativity.

Beyer said that the blue mana represents “technique and careful study” of the craft, while red mana gives this school its “raw expressiveness and emotion.”

Graphic featuring original art from Wizards of the Coast. Graphic: James Bareham/ Polygon | Source images: Wizards of the Coast.

Quandrix, on the other hand, is a much more cerebral group. Founded by Tanizir Quandrix, a dragon obsessed with numerical and geometric symmetries, it teaches students that mathematics itself can be a source of power.

“They’re focused on the the essential power of numbers within nature,” Beyer said, “and their mascot is creatures made out of living fractals. They’re using their studies to warp reality by finding numerical truths.”

Graphic featuring original art from Wizards of the Coast. Graphic: James Bareham/ Polygon | Source images: Wizards of the Coast.

Silverquill is a strange one indeed. A college focused on eloquence, its students draw from black and white mana to cast their spells.

“Their mascots are the Inklings,” Beyer said, “which are creatures made out of living ink. Silverquill are there to use the power of words, from battle poetry to biting insults. They inspire others with speeches or cut them down with insults.”

Their founder, an Elder Dragon named Shandrix Silverquill, is filled with the same kind of living ink.

Graphic featuring original art from Wizards of the Coast. Graphic: James Bareham/ Polygon | Source images: Wizards of the Coast.

Finally, the college of Witherblom represents Strixhaven’s “goth, witchy biology majors,” Beyer said. They use green and black mana to draw their power from the essence of living things.

The college was founded by Beladross Witherbloom, who is shown in an early piece of art to be presiding over the school’s rather swampy home campus.

Running with this year’s emphasis on the Commander format — a multiplayer style of Magic that uses 100-card decks — each of Strixhaven’s colleges will have its own unique retail Commander decks. You’ll find a gallery of those five leader cards below.

New keyword abilities

In addition to remixing old colors around new styles of play, Strixhaven will introduce several new mechanics to Magic: The Gathering.

The goal, said Mike Turian, principal product designer at Wizards of the Coast, is to get more spells — not summoned creatures, or artifacts, or other types of cards — popping off during play.

“It’s a set that has a nice focus on instants and sorceries,” Turian said. “We’re really trying to play up that spell-casting feel with all the students in this world.”

Professor Onyx
The rare borderless version of Professor Onyx, also known as planeswalker Liliana Vess,
Image: Wizards of the Coast
Liliana Vess looks into the mirror, seeing herself being saved and Gideon consumed in flames.
On another card, Liliana confronts her own demons, the origins of which were explored in War of the Spark.
Image: Wizards of the Coast

One way designers hope to do that is with the new Magecraft keyword ability. Magecraft provides a bonus whenever players cast or copy an instant or a sorcery. By seeding decks with lots of those types of cards, active cards on the battlefield with the Magecraft ability can pay dividends if brought into play early in a game.

“It’s across all five colors,” Turian said. “With green, lots of +1/+1 counters are a great fit. With blue, mages are always looking to draw more cards. And that’s great with this trigger, because what are you going to draw more of? Probably more instants and sorceries.”

Turian said the Magecraft keyword was a foundational aspect when designing the entire set, so expect to see that keyword across all rarities of cards as well.

Another new kind of keyword ability in Strixhaven is called Lesson and Learn. “When you learn, that’s actually acquiring new knowledge,” Turian said. “So, in Magic terms, that’s taking cards from outside of the game and putting them into your hand.”

Professor of Symbology: when Professor of Symbology enters the battlefield, learn. Image: Wizards of the Coast
Pest Summoning: A Lesson that creates two 1/1 black and green Pest creature tokens. Image: Wizards of the Coast

Once a Learn card is played, players can bring a Lesson card in from their sideboard — or, perhaps in more casual play, from anywhere else in your expansive Magic collection. Alternately, players can just discard one card from their hand and draw another.

Art appreciation

A wizards bending time against a blue background. Her hands are paired in a delicate, grasping pose around a blue flame or perhaps a star. Image: Dominik Mayer/Wizards of the Coast

Finally, Strixhaven will take some big swings when it comes to the application of high-concept card art. The best expression of that can be found in the new Mystical Archive.

As a center for magical learning in the multiverse, Strixhaven has a number of well-stocked libraries. The most renowned facility of its type is called the Biblioplex, and it’s rumored to have on hand a copy of every spell ever created. The collection is known as the Mystical Archive. Cards drawn from the Mystical Archive will come from across the many planes and timelines of the Magic universe.

Time Warp, from the Strixhaven Mystis Archive. Target player takes an extra turn. Image: Wizards of the Coast
Time Warp’s Japanese variant. Image: Wizards of the Coast

“The Mystical Archives has all these illuminated manuscripts capturing the first time that a spell was cast,” Turian said. “From an execution standpoint, we really wanted to embrace that.”

Uncommon cards included in the Mystical Archive will all be playable in Standard formats, but Turian was quick to point out that Strixhaven won’t extend the viability of those cards going forward. They’ll still rotate out on the same schedule as before. Additionally, all the cards included in the Mystical Archive are still only able to be played in the formats that they’re currently legal in. Being included in Strixhaven won’t change that, but they will all be fair game for drafting to play in limited games.

Alternate art for the Japanese language variant of Time Warp Image: Shie Nanahara/Wizards of the Coast

Mystical Archive cards will show up in Draft Boosters and Set Boosters, in both regular and foil variants. Collector Boosters will include at least three Mystical Archive cards, with the chance of revealing a fourth. Foil etched cards will also make their return to Magic with Strixhaven, but only on Mystical Archive cards pulled from Collector Boosters.

Additionally, there’s a chance that players will find Japanese-language cards with special art from Japanese artists. Wizards said that these cards — featuring this specific art, and with this special treatment of the card text — will never be printed in any other language. Obviously, picking up Japanese language packs of Magic cards will increase your chances of finding them, but they’ll also appear with some regularity in every other country where Magic cards are sold.

Strixhaven: School of Mages arrives on Magic: The Gathering Arena April 15. The digital version of the collectible card game is now available for Windows and Mac, as well as Android and iOS devices. Pre-release week kicks off on April 16, with the proper physical release coming on April 23.

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