Magic: The Gathering – Strixhaven’s Cutest Cards Ranked
The year is 2021, and the Hexagorgon team have finally been invited to enrol at magic school. No, you haven’t fallen through a wormhole: we’re talking about Magic the Gathering. It’s time to reveal Strixhaven’s cutest cards!
Wizards’ take on the genre transposes the action to university level -to the relief of adult fans everywhere. Strixhaven Univsersity introduces a new plane, Arcavios, as well as new identities for the enemy colour pairs, which are flavoured as competing Colleges. We’ve been leaning into that friendly rivalry in our drafts, so away from the table the title of Strixhaven’s Cutest College is hotly contested.
For those of us in the UK, the five colleges seem more like university departments: each one specialises in a different type of magic, with its own legendary dragon founder, campus, and token mascot. On the other hand, first-years in Strixhaven typically take a mixture of courses from different colleges, so joining a college is rather like choosing a major in the US system.
Strixhaven poses a couple of difficulties for connoisseurs of cuties. Because of the focus on spells, we can’t zero in on creature cards as much as usual. Mark Rosewater has written at length about the challenge of designing a ‘spells matter’ set -it’s worth a read if you’re interested in the intersection of mechanics and lore. The key design puzzle was how to include enough creatures for Limited decks to function; so look out for modal double-faced cards, token-creators, and a new way of interacting with the sideboard via ‘lesson’ sorceries.
An additional difficulty for us was that most of the creature cards are dedicated to depicting the students and faculty of Strixhaven. They didn’t make the list because we felt it was important to keep the ‘no people’ criterion. On the plane of Arcavios, a lot of the people aren’t humanoid, so we’re tweaking the rules to reflect that:
- No snakes
- No spiders
- No sapience
In the spirit of magical school tropes, we’ll also be awarding points for the first time. (Don’t worry, Cutie Points are legally distinct from House Points.) For each category, the cutest five cards will earn their College points. Mono-coloured cards that fit into two Colleges split their points equally between Colleges. Fifth place earns just one point; fourth, two; and so on until we hand out five points for the cutest card in each category.
Now that term is underway, we can confidently guide you through the most visually appealing cards Strixhaven has to offer. May the cutest College win!
Strixhaven’s cutest classes
Here at Hexagorgon, we’ve been poring over the module choices to make sure we get our recommended dose of cuteness this semester. After much debate, here’s what the team’s timetable looks like.
One for the resident maths nerds, Fractal Summoning looks tough and might also require a wetsuit for when that wave function collapses. It’s an interesting choice for the emblematic Quandrix spell: besides the characteristic low-poly design, this looks like it could be one of Prismari College’s expressive masterpieces.
“Think of an insult so vicious, so vulgar, that you hesitate to speak it aloud. The strongest, most aggressive inklings are born from such scorn.”—Embrose, Silverquill dean
Inklings have no business being this cute. They’re just mischievous spirits cursed into being by the school-bully-trope students -but look at their little faces! There’s a lot I’d like to say about Silverquill College (paragons of style, really?), but we’ve agreed to put up with them if they’ll teach us how to summon inklings.
3. Introduction to Frogs
Nobody knows why Mr Murcurial Transformation wants a crab. That frog is a fine specimen (and it’s certainly more cute than the tentacled monstrosity hanging in the shadows.) We simply couldn’t choose between these adorable amphibians. Have you ever finished a class feeling as thrilled as Ms Expanded Anatomy here? Just make sure you’ve definitively turned your sample into a frog before super-sizing it. People have been saying for years that we should make Mercurial Transformation a pre-requisite for Expanded Anatomy, but those huge monsters in the lake don’t spawn themselves.
One thing I love about the art direction for Prismari College is how the caster is affected by the spell. But you don’t have to be an arts major to appreciate having one of these summonings on your side. Elemental Summoning is impressive enough to be fearsome in the wrong hands, but in this state -with ink and water still twisting together – its big jelly fangs are still cute. Everyone wants to try the musical theatre class, even if our elemental summonings aren’t as splashy.
They say it’s tough at the top, but with cuties like these, it really isn’t. Pest Summoning easily tops the list of Strixhaven’s cutest lessons. If you can’t get the real thing, these would also make adorable pet costumes. (Picture taken after feeding Captain Horn, while Mr Nibbles practises waiting.)
What we learned
- Lorehold misses out on the points for cute classes, even though a few of us were keen to sign up.
- Summoning is confirmed as the cutest expression of magical power.
- Changing the shape or size of animals is never not funny. (Don’t try this at home.)
I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about Mage Tower. Now, I know wizarding sports don’t have a reputation for balance, but Wizards of the Coast did not even try.
In Mage Tower, teams from rival colleges test their spellwork in a stadium-sized capture the flag game. The aforementioned towers stand at either end of the pitch, serving as bases to which each team must return the enemy ‘flag’. In contrast to Quidditch, students are encouraged to get their wands out; in fact, magical combat seems to be the point. (I’d like to see a card representing that one time Lorehold fielded a team of four Loxodon rugby players and a shield mage, though.)
So the game is mostly a wizard battle, with the caveat that spells that would harm a player, spectator, or the stadium at large are ‘nullified’. (For the benefit of the rules lawyers: no, it’s not clear whether that means Strixhaven has a list of banned spells, or that players incur penalties for spellwork warranting nullification.)
Anyway, the reason Mage Tower is here in our article about cuties is that it provides an in-universe role for Strixhaven’s creature tokens. That’s right: the colleges have mascots!
The downside is that Mage Tower is all about kidnapping the opposing team’s mascot and sticking it on top of your tower. In other words, the mascot is the flag. Never mind that Lorehold’s mascot is a statue inhabited by the spirit of some long-dead bloke; he was probably bored anyway. Nerds that we are, Hexagorgon aren’t too keen on Mage Tower, but the mascots themselves are worth a look.
Full Time Scores
One point each goes to Prismari, Silverquill and Witherbloom for their mascots. Unfortunately, Quandrix fielded a snake-fractal, in violation of the No Snakes rule; and Lorehold, as I mentioned, just has a dude wearing a statue, which contravenes the No Sapience rule.
At close of play, Prismari and Witherbloom look to be extending their lead on the back of a cute Mage Tower performance. Quandrix and Silverquill sit comfortably in the middle of the field, but Lorehold’s suspension is a real blow for the College. They have yet to win a point, despite their popularity among the team.
Strixhaven’s Cutest Spells
Once you’ve settled in at Strixhaven and accustomed yourself to the timetable, you’ll probably want to pick up some actual spells. For the cutest college experience overall, Hexagorgon recommends looking into the following five:
5. Magma Opus
If you only conjure one thing today, make it a majestic elephant. The punnery of the title aside, Magma Opus illustrates the character Wizards’ design teams wanted to impart to Prismari College: magic should be used for grand gestures, masterpieces of expression. Surely it helps if they’re cute, too?
A drop of ink is a nuisance. A torrent of inklings is a menace.
There are no two ways about it: Silverquill is the College of jerks. Dip into Mark Rosewater’s Vision Design article, and you’ll find Silverquill’s student archetypes are listed as ‘ROTC, “mean girls,” jocks, privileged kids, overachievers’. I say this in order that nobody underestimates the role of Inklings in making Silverquill relatable. These cheeky chappies blunt a lot of sharp edges, nudging Silverquill from awkward Slytherin reference to sick burn central. It’s a good look.
Largely thanks to the Mystical Archive, Strixhaven has some of the best geometric art of recent sets. As the official College of mathematics, Quandrix gets cards like Master Symmetrist and Square Up, but Prismari has more than its fair share of them too. Elemental Masterpiece is our favourite though, on the basis that everybody likes dolphins.
The only mono-coloured card that made the list depicts a fight between students from the two Colleges that can cast it: Silverquill and Witherbloom. There’s an impressive amount of storytelling going on, with Mr Witherbloom’s determined glare and Mr Silverquill finally conceding in the face of a suddenly ginormous pest. “Oh lawd,” we all cried, “he comin’!” While we wouldn’t want to face down this pest in a fight, we would absolutely take him home and feed him treats/inconvenient corpses. Bonus points for the snappy flavour text:
“I’d say it’s still a fair fight—now my friend is about the size of your ego.”-Mr Witherbloom, probably
1. Golden Ratio
This was a surprisingly easy first pick from the spells category. Yes, we did spot the snake in there, but it’s relatively friendly-looking, and the rest of the creatures quickly draw the eye away. This is the kind of art that makes you wish Magic cards were twice as big, just so you could pick out all of the details. We love the cephalopod representation, but even if you don’t you have to admit that geometry plus fluffy creatures is a win.
What We Learned
Things are looking really bad for Lorehold. Prismari College leads the field by a nose with 10.5 points thanks to Magma Opus and Elemental Masterpiece. We expected Prismari to score well on spells because it’s the College that cares most about casting big flashy things. Meanwhile, Quandrix, Silverquill and Witherbloom are close on its heels with 7-8 points each. It looks like the fight for the title of Strixhaven’s Cutest College is going to a decider!
Strixhaven’s Cutest Creatures
Traditionally the bread-and-butter of a cuties review, creatures have had to take a backseat at Strixhaven. Nevertheless, I’m thrilled to introduce the last five cuties by way of a decider.
5. Kelpie Guide
The final furlong starts with a guide, appropriately enough. With a Blue mana cost, Kelpie Guide is castable in a Prismari deck, but the flavour text makes it clear this flighty beast favours Quandrix mages. For a slimy deer, it is undeniably cute. Would score better if I weren’t deeply suspicious about its motivations.*
*According to Scottish folklore, that glistening hide is there to stick unwary riders in place, allowing the kelpie to pull its charge underwater and devour them.
In fourth place we find another rather uncanny creature, albeit this time without the murderous connotations. Admittedly, Springmane Cervin does look like a curious mage has put a greyhound skin on a llama, but what’s not to like? This cutie proves you don’t have to resemble a real-world animal to capture hearts…
“Hey, my great-great-grandfather had a dog just like that!”—Dradiel, Lorehold mage-student
…But it certainly helps! Stonebinder’s Familiar is, quite simply, the best boy. We’re all history fans here, but it’s fair to say that Lorehold would be faring better in the rankings if they focused on resurrecting pets rather than persons of historical import. We particularly like how the flavour text leaves the precise story open to imagination.
The only criticism levelled at Stonebinder’s Familiar is that it could be cuddlier. Mila clears that hurdle by a mile. While her standard art earned her a place on the podium, it’s the alternative art by Magic veteran Yongjae Choi that clinched second place. The way he makes her look all soft and curious while also crackling with magical energy is masterful. How did Mila miss out on the top spot? Casually incinerating people. Sorry.
Pests are typically harvested before they outgrow their enclosures. Blex is far from typical.
You may have noticed that we like our pests. Of all the pests at Strixhaven, Blex is by far the biggest, the grumpiest, and -in our estimation -the cutest. He escaped Witherbloom’s pest enclosures after noticing none of his pest friends were coming back. (Please excuse the bugs; they’re part of the escape plan.)
Apparently, new Witherbloom College students are routinely despatched to search for him in the bayou -hence the card’s reverse, Search for Blex. We just think he’s neat.
The Bottom Line
We have a winner: congratulations to Witherbloom, Strixhaven’s cutest College! Pestilence has never looked so good.