Last updated on July 14, 2022
Professor Onyx | Illustration by Kieran Yanner
What Magic player doesn’t love casting instant and sorcery spells? Some of Magic’s sweetest cards have been powerful instants and sorceries, whether you like ramping, burning out your opponent, countering spells, or blowing up the world, there are a ton of instants and sorceries that are right for you.
Magic has a long history of caring about these spells with plenty of tournament-level cards paying you off for playing them. Cards like Snapcaster Mage, Mystic Sanctuary, and Arclight Phoenix have all seen play at the highest levels of competition and they all care about you playing a lot of instants and sorceries.
Magecraft is Magic’s latest ability mechanic that pays off when you use lots of instants and sorceries. Let’s take a look at it today, shall we?
What is Magecraft?
Sedgemoor Witch | Illustration by Igor Kieryluk
Magecraft is an ability that triggers any time you cast or copy an instant or sorcery spell, giving you some sort of benefit for doing so. Each magecraft ability is different, the only thing that’s the same with each one is that you have to cast or copy an instant or sorcery to trigger it.
It could be something simple like Quandrix Pledgemage getting a +1+1 counter. Or it could be something bigger and splashier like returning any creature card from your graveyard to your hand with Extus, Oriq Overlord.
Magecraft’s First Appearance
Magecraft is a brand-new mechanic that came to us with Strixhaven, though it technically appeared on exactly one card in the past without the magecraft keyword to define it.
Can you guess what that card was? I’ll give you a hint: it was in a set that was printed in 2019. I’ll give you the answer when we get to the end of our talk today.
How is Magecraft Different from Prowess?
Quandrix Pledgemage | Illustration by Caroline Gariba
What makes magecraft special and unique is the extra caveat that it triggers whenever you copy an instant or sorcery, and not just whenever you cast them. For years it has been one of the most common rules questions I would see as a judge. That is, “will my Young Pyromancer trigger if I copy a spell?” For example, the third chapter of The Mirari Conjecture or by using Lithoform Engine.
The answer is always “no.” Copies of spells don’t get “cast” most of the time, which is what effects like this care about. Instead, they merely get placed on the stack by the effect that created them.
With magecraft around, we can finally say “yes” to some of these questions. Both of the above cards will give you magecraft triggers when they copy an instant or sorcery spell. This is why Strixhaven has some spells that copy themselves under certain conditions.
Cards like Mentor’s Guidance or Plumb the Forbidden are very powerful with magecraft, giving you a bunch of triggers for very little work. Teach by Example is also a powerful card in the Limited format, as it represents two whole magecraft triggers by itself. You get one trigger when you cast it, another when you cast your next instant or sorcery spell, and then a third when you get the copy of that spell. All of a sudden your Quandrix Pledgemages are pretty legitimate threats, and you should be well on your way to winning your matches.
What Colors Have Magecraft Cards?
Leonin Lightscribe | Illustration by Steven Belledin
Magecraft is the marquee mechanic of Strixhaven and while casting instants and sorceries is a common theme of blue and red, magecraft is reasonably evenly spread across all five colors.
It’s worth mentioning that each of the five colleges has a “Pledgemage” at common that costs hybrid mana of the college’s two colors and an “Apprentice” at uncommon that are all 2-drops costing one mana each of the college’s colors. All ten of these cards have magecraft triggers and many serve as key spotlight cards for that college’s themes in draft. There are twenty-four magecraft cards in the main Strixhaven set and an additional four in the associated Commander release.
Do Storm Copies Trigger Magecraft?
Witherbloom Apprentice | Illustration by Josh Hass
In short, yes they do. Storm is considered to be Magic’s most broken mechanic in history by WotC. It even gives its name to the “Storm Scale,” which is an (unofficial) numbered scale assigned to each mechanic based on how likely it is that said mechanic might be reprinted in a Standard set.
Storm interacts very favorably with magecraft. Essentially, you get a magecraft trigger for each copy of the spell that Storm makes, plus a trigger for the original spell. This is why we see Show of Confidence in Strixhaven, which has a pseudo-storm ability, as well as a bunch of the best storm spells as a part of the Mystical Archive.
Another card worth noting here is Chain of Smog. There are a number of great “Chain” cards in Magic’s history, including Chain Lightning and Chain of Vapor, that allow the player controlling the object that they target to pay a cost and copy the spell to throw back at you. Given the way these work, you can keep sending them back to each other as long as you can pay the cost.
But Chain of Smog lets you copy and send it back for free. It also allows you to target yourself, so you can keep copying it for free as many times as you like and each copy will trigger magecraft. If you combine this with a magecraft trigger like Witherbloom Apprentice, you can kill your opponent immediately. This is a combo that some players have been trying in Legacy and only time will tell whether this is good enough to stick around.
How do Cards Like Isochron Scepter Work With Magecraft?
Clever Luminancer | Illustration by Lie Setiawan
There are a small handful of cards in Magic, like Isochron Scepter, Elite Arcanist, and Panoptic Mirror, that create copies of instants and sorceries that aren’t currently on the stack. Their wording will look something like: “Copy the exiled card. You may cast the copy without paying its mana cost.”
These effects copy the card first and then let you cast that copy. Magecraft will only trigger once during this process. The mechanic cares about the spells or copies going onto the stack. Even though these cards say, “copy the exiled card,” this won’t trigger magecraft by itself. Only when casting the copy later on in the ability will magecraft trigger.
Top 5 Magecraft Cards for Constructed
Magecraft is proving to be quite a powerful mechanic with a lot of cool interactions and quite a few decent cards printed with it. Here’s my breakdown of the top 5 for various Constructed formats.
Honorable Mention: Extus, Oriq Overlord
Extus is a sweet card and it’s seeing a little bit of play in some formats, but Extus and the magecraft trigger have nothing to do with that. Instead, it’s Awaken the Blood Avatar that’s really playable in those decks.
5. Professor Onyx
The Prof is basically the poster child for this mechanic and one of three mythic rares in Strixhaven that have a magecraft trigger. Draining your opponents for two life is a very powerful trigger, but costing six mana is quite prohibitive, especially when talking about older formats.
Onyx has seen a little play in Historic and Standard so far. The card is particularly good to find with Emergent Ultimatum. I doubt it’ll see play elsewhere but it could also start seeing more play after Standard rotates in September. Throne of Eldraine is making it difficult for many cards to see play right now, so this could very well change then.
4. Leonin Lightscribe
Lightscribe is a powerful creature that can give the right aggressive decks a new angle of attack. Most notably this is seeing play in some builds of Boros prowess blitz decks in Modern. But not quite as much play as the next card…
3. Clever Lumimancer
Lumimancer has all the hallmarks of a playable card with a new mechanic. It costs just one mana and gets a very significant buff from the mechanic. If you play this on turn 1 and then follow up with some free spells like Manamorphose, Lava Dart, or Mutagenic Growth, you can dish out quite a lot of damage extremely quickly. Even more so than when using Monastery Swiftspear or Soul-Scar Mage like these decks use to rely on.
2. Witherbloom Apprentice
As I mentioned earlier, this card with Chain of Smog gives you a 2-card instant kill combo in Legacy, which naturally makes this a desirable card. I don’t know whether the combo is overhyped or not, but if it’s around to stay then this will likely remain one of the most desirable cards with this mechanic.
1. Sedgemoor Witch
Sometimes referred to as the black Monastery Mentor, the Witch’s ability to create a token creature with magecraft is one of the most useful triggers you can get. It means that even if you lose the card, you’ll have the tokens left and can still win with them.
This is seeing play across the eternal printings all the way back to Vintage and is likely here to stay. I’m excited to play this myself when we get in-store play back in the near future.
Crafting an End
Awaken the Blood Avatar | Illustration by Kekai Kotaki
Did you figure out the answer to my question? The first card with magecraft, despite not having it keyworded, was Ral, Storm Conduit from War of the Spark.
All of the planeswalkers in War of the Spark had a unique triggered or static ability. This ability playing out was likely the precursor to trying out magecraft in Strixhaven. It’s a very interesting keyword overall and it plays out very well in both Limited and Constructed.
Young Pyromancer is one of my favorite Constructed cards of all time and I love playing spell-based decks that can make use of effects like this. Magecraft feels like an all-time great mechanic. Just as landfall and cycling have come back time and time again, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this back again in the near future.
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