Last updated on October 18, 2023

Shock - Illustration by Randy Gallegos

Shock | Illustration by Randy Gallegos

The first decade of a franchise’s development is so interesting to dissect with hindsight. You can see which design choices were accepted and built upon, and which were left behind. The early years can see experimentation and innovation; did you know Magic wasn’t always so full of multicolored spells?

Come with me back to the time of the first Phyrexian invasion, to a small expansion from the Tempest block. Have your wits about you, there’s danger around every corner in this Stronghold!

Stronghold Basic Information

Fling - Illustration by Paolo Parente

Fling | Illustration by Paolo Parente

Set Details

Set Symbol
Set CodeSTH
Number of Cards143 Cards
Rarities55 commons, 44 uncommons, 44 rares
MechanicsBuyback, en-Kor, flowstone, shadow, slivers, Spikes

Important Dates

Release DateMarch 2, 1998

About the Set: The Story

Dream Prowler - Illustration by Richard Kane Ferguson

Dream Prowler | Illustration by Richard Kane Ferguson

Picking up where Tempest’s story leaves off, Stronghold follows Gerrard Capashen and the crew of the Weatherlight as they journey through Volrath's Stronghold on Rath seeking the kidnapped Captain Sisay, among others.

The Stronghold is massive: over a mile-and-a-half in height and housed in a volcanic cone. Volrath and his minions don’t make it any easier. Among the place’s dark secrets are the dungeons and its inhabitants. Volrath has a habit of experimenting on his guests, you see, and he’s collected a menagerie of animals from Dominaria.

They have many allies scattered throughout the Stronghold, and there’s no way the crew are leaving the Weatherlight unattended in a place like this. A group led by Gerrard forms a rescue party, venturing deeper in search of their friends. They locate and free Karn and Tahngarth but run into Selenia in the Dream Halls. Crovax manages to slay her, but not before she curses him and wounds Mirri. On their way back to the Weatherlight, Karn recovers part of the Legacy.

Gerard and Starke continue on searching for Sisay and Takara. Volrath confronts them and pulls a classic bait-and-switch, making them fight the two prisoners they’re here to save. Gerard subdues Sisay and disarms Takara, but not before she blinds her father, Starke. Volrath returns, only to be slain and, in dying, proves that the real Volrath is not dead. Darn shapeshifters.

Gerard and company win a costly encounter, with wounds more than skin deep. And their adversary has slipped away! No time to mope about. Let’s get out of this creepy place…

Set Mechanics


Buyback is an ability on instants and sorceries (Innocuous Insect was a test card, shut up) that allows you to pay an extra cost when you cast the card to get it back in your hand once it resolves.

Exodus, the next set, features a Memory Crystal that reduces buyback costs by . Buyback would come back in Time Spiral and still returns occasionally.


en-Kor is an activated ability with a 0-mana cost that allows you to redirect damage to a different target creature that you control. It first appeared in Stronghold and only appears on six cards throughout Magic.

Time Spiral’s Outrider en-Kor is the only one that isn’t in this set.


Flowstone is a substance made in the Stronghold that the Phyrexians use to add mass to the plane of Rath. Keep adding mass on Rath and it’ll eventually overlay onto Dominaria. Oh no!

Flowstone cards tend to have stat adjustments in multiples of +1/-1. Four flowstone cards debuted in Tempest, and Stronghold added another four.


In keeping with the evasion abilities, creatures with shadow can only block or be blocked by other creatures with shadow.

Shadow was introduced in Tempest and would feature throughout the block. It’s popped up in a few other sets, including Time Spiral, but is a non-deciduous, non-evergreen mechanic that’s considered a long shot to come back.


After an audition in Tempest with Spike Drone, Spikes was out in force for Stronghold. They come in with +1/+1 counters rather than power and toughness stats and have a 2-mana activated ability that moves those counters around.

A few more were printed in Exodus, but they’ve been mostly absent since then.

Stronghold Full Card List



Wall of Tears


Wall of Souls


Wall of Razors


Wall of Blossoms




Volrath's Stronghold

Notable Cards

Money Cards

Mox Diamond

Most of Stronghold’s cards aren’t on the Reserved List, but the ones that are included aren’t all that valuable. That is, except Mox Diamond. It’s a Mox, what do you expect? The Diamond sells in the $600 range. A 0-mana casting cost that asks for a discarded land to produce mana of every color makes for a sparkling artifact.

Sliver Queen

Sliver Queen is notable not just because of its regal title, but because it was the first 5-color card, and the first that was more than three colors. Stronghold was the last set to have multicolored cards until 2000’s Invasion. Sliver Queen is still useful in the 99 of Sliver Overlord decks, or piloting its own. It makes for an expensive card, though (>$200).

Volrath's Stronghold

Volrath's Stronghold is an important card both in terms of flavor and finances. It depicts the setting of Stronghold’s story, and it still fetches between $50 to $100 all on its own.


Stronghold gave us a cycle of 2-color slivers. These are all varying degrees of useful, but Crystalline Sliver sees the most EDH play.

Stronghold also features a cycle of walls.

Licids are creatures that can switch between being creatures and auras. Stronghold features the second cycle after their introduction in Tempest. Say hello to these guys. Actually, no, get this thing away from me.

Two more Licids appear in Exodus before the creature type disappeared from the game.

Constructed Cards

Mana Leak

A lot of Stronghold’s cards have been reprinted over and over as time went by. Mana Leak is a solid counterspell to have up your sleeve.

Shock and Fling are low-cost damage spells, and I love one-syllable cards. Verbal efficiency!

Grave Pact

Grave Pact is a fantastic payoff for when your creatures die, whether by your own hand or any other.

Overgrowth is a great piece of green ramp on an enchantment. Mulch gets lands to your hand and other stuff to your graveyard, as does Hermit Druid. None of these hold a candle to the 1-mana Burgeoning in terms of green ramp, though.

Ensnaring Bridge is one of our heroes’ first obstacles, and it works as a solid shutdown piece. Horn of Greed is a good effect that'll help your opponents, but you can counter that by building it into decks that let you play more than one land per turn. Heartstone gives some cost reduction to your creatures’ activated abilities.

Ruination is arguably the least salt-inducing kind of land destruction. You’re only touching nonbasics, which is usually annoying rather than game-breaking. Evacuation, meanwhile, is one of the better blue sweepers.

Tortured Existence

Tortured Existence is a happy lil’ 1-drop that provides a lot of value to graveyard decks. It can sleeve up with Tormod, the Desecrator and its “when a card leaves the graveyard” trigger to provide a mechanism to get those triggers. Doing some good work for a lil’ common that was only printed once.

Mind Games is a Twiddle that you can get back if you have enough mana to pay the buyback. Didn’t make the best tappers list, but maybe it should have. Intruder Alarm messes with how creatures untap, which affects all kinds of decks differently based on the speed of their creature base.

Spike Feeder

Spike Feeder is the most notable of the Spikes these days. Its combination of being able to move counters and provide lifegain on a 3-drop is appreciated by some decks that play into those strategies.

Reins of Power

Reins of Power is a powerful all-or-nothing control-swapping effect. Disgusting.

Primal Rage is a solid aggressive card. Two mana to give all your creatures trample sounds like a pretty good deal. Sacrificing a land to buyback Constant Mists is aggression of a different flavor. Of course, you could pull out all the stops by sounding an Awakening.

Mob Justice and Mogg Maniac have potential in goblin decks.

Leap is a good 1-drop no matter if you’re focused on using it for the flying or the card draw in the moment. The same can be said for Bandage and its damage prevention/card draw combo.


Conviction is a well-costed creature-buff enchantment that you can return to your hand rather than let it die with the creature to which it’s attached.

I love me some Megrim, but probably because I found my Stronghold Megrim in a pack of bulk rares. Cards that pay you off for opponent’s discards have a lot of potential. Why not encourage them to do so with Dream Halls? You may prefer to direct them toward the Bottomless Pit instead. Or both. Both is good.

The Road to El Dorado both is good gif

The Road to El Dorado

Available Products

Booster Packs

No products found.

No products found. contain 15 cards including 1 rare, 3 uncommons, and 11 commons. A sealed Stronghold booster pack today will set you back north of $100. A booster box of Stronghold contains 36 booster packs and currently goes for $5,000 or more, depending on the seller.

No products found.

Theme Decks

Stronghold was also distributed as four 60-card theme decks. The usual online stones have spots for them in their inventory, but there are no current listings for most of these decks. They contain some cards from Tempest since Stronghold wasn’t a standalone set.

Call of the Kor

Call of the Kor Stronghold theme deck

Call of the Kor is an evasive Orzhov () deck that seeks to evade damage and keep its creatures around.


Migraine Stronghold theme deck

Migraine is a combo of mono-black quick creatures and discard effects designed to cause a headache.

The Sparkler

The Sparkler Stronghold theme deck

The Sparkler is full of burn and counterspells combined with a bunch of buyback. Only three creatures!

The Spikes

The Spikes Stronghold theme deck

Spikes, Spikes, and more Spikes! Get ready to move your +1/+1 counters around like nobody’s business with The Spikes.

Wrap Up

Tortured Existence - Illustration by Keith Parkinson

Tortured Existence | Illustration by Keith Parkinson

Thank you for navigating the halls of the Stronghold with me. It wasn’t even a full expansion, but some of Stronghold’s cards have been important additions to the card pool. I love how flavorful Volrath’s menagerie is.

There’s cards for so many established tribes, even if most of the ones from this set won’t be all that useful to those strategies today. But that’s okay! Stronghold brought us so much value in other ways. It was the debut of a 5-color card and tons of frequently reprinted cards, and it still has plenty of useful cards for today’s tables.

What do you think or remember from Stronghold? Are there any of its left-behind ideas that you want to revisit? Which of its cards do you think are the most relevant in your favorite format? Let me know in the comments below or over on Draftsim's Twitter.

Okay but, no, seriously. Keep those Licids away from me!

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