Magic’s newest expansion has us journeying into the glistening, oil drenched heart of New Phyrexia as allies from across the Multiverse race to stop Elesh Norn from conquering countless planes. A new set means new mechanics, and we’ve got some good ones as well as some returning ones. In this article we’ll talk about the mechanics and offer some thoughts on what they mean for Commander and how they’ll play. This will be followed by our usual articles about the new cards, as well as 2 Unstable Mutations to improve the companion preconstructed Commander decks released alongside the set.
Toxic is a new ability that serves to showcase the dangerous, poisonous nature of the Phyrexians. Whenever a creature with the ability deals combat damage to a player, that player gets a number of poison counters equal to its Toxic value in addition to the regular damage, and a player with 10 or more poison counters immediately loses the game.
BPhillipYork: Toxic is a nice attempt to split the middle between poison / poisonous, poison counters, and infect. Infect turned out to dominate the sets where it was a mechanic, -1/-1 counters tends to upset the balance between creature size and the ability to just blow someone out with a Howl from Beyond or other pump and Infect was too good. Toxic attempts to split the difference, by still dealing damage and life loss but also giving poison counters, and it’s combined with Corrupted.
FromTheShire: It seemed unlikely that Wizards would give us more true Infect cards given how high both it and -1/-1 counters rank on the Storm scale and how easily it could upset the balance across multiple formats, but something with that flavor was absolutely necessary if we were revisiting Phyrexia. Overall they seem to have done a good job while not pushing the mechanic too far, and I’m stoked to poison more people to death. I also really like that they still deal normal combat damage so that you don’t end up leaving someone on 2 life and 8 poison counters and dying.
Corrupted is a new way to make cards stronger once your opponent has more than 3 poison counters to offset their all or nothing nature. This can be an activated or triggered ability, or found on Instants and Sorceries.
BPhillipYork: Corrupted is basically a poison counter payoff less than “your opponent loses the game”. A lot of creatures have triggers operating off of opponents having 3 or more poison counters. Ixhel, Scion of Atraxa has a nice multiplayer version. I think it’s really great to have some kind of poison payoff, because 1 – it’s a reason to run poison aside from just killing your opponent with poison counters and 2 – it will hopefully increase people’s tolerance for poison counters, and people will stop instantly killing any creature with Infect that hits the board even allowing game winning combo pieces to stick around. I’m not counting on it, but that is my hope (and I’m rebuilding my Nekusar the Mindrazer deck as an Infect deck, because, why not).
FromTheShire: A lot of these are cards are things I want to be running anyway, so getting extra utility is a cherry on top. In Commander, you only need one player to be Corrupted to get the benefit which is great as well. These range from creature buffs to card draw to cost reducers and the ability to pick different targets, so you’re likely to find something that works for you if you’re doing any concerted poisoning of your opponents.
The few surviving Mirrans on New Phyrexia haven’t given up the fight yet, and this manifests as a triggered ability on Equipment that creates a wielder as it enters, meaning even if it is destroyed in response you will still end up with the creature.
BPhillipYork: For Mirrodin! is really just a flavor text for Equipment that create a 2/2 red Rebel token and attach the equipment to the token. We’ve seen this sort of thing before, and I like the idea of seeing Rebels come back, though it’s hard to see how the subtype will interact much with old school searchable Rebels. I also think this is a sign we’ll be seeing some sort of new Rebels to tie up the Dominaria United and Phyrexia: All Will Be One arc in March of the Machine: The Aftermath. Cards caring about Spheres and Locus is also a sign of possible Locus return and other “cleansing” of Phyrexian corruption (the living cure being a card is also, a thing.)
FromTheShire: It’s nice to see that a few Mirrans are still hanging in there, somehow. The ability isn’t super exciting beyond that, there’s definitely no Batterskull equivalent.
Oil counters are not a keyworded ability but still represent a major part of Phyrexia’s flavor. Cards will typically either put counters on themselves or care about the number of other cards you have with counters on them.
BPhillipYork: Oil counters are kind of like charge counters, a particular kind of counter that some cards without the counters care about. I like these set specific counters that share a name, my hope is they will from time to time print more and eventually a whole Commander deck can be built around (eyeballing the same thing for charge counters.)
FromTheShire: The flavor on these is great, but with only 33 cards in the whole set that use the mechanic, it seems pretty likely that this will be a classic parasitic ability at least for the foreseeable future. It could certainly be bulked out if they so choose into something pretty cool though.
Spheres (also Locus)
BPhillipYork: Spheres are a new land type, like Urza’s, Gates, Deserts, Lairs, and Locus. Spheres represent the spheres of Phyrexia, and there’s only one card spoiled so far that deals with them, but they’re an interesting new sort of land and I can only assume we’ll see more cards that care about them in the future.
FromTheShire: I’m glad to see that as part of Mirrodin’s transformation the New Phyrexians have remade the plane into 9 spheres to emulate glorious Phyrexia. These are homes to the various praetors as well as some other major landmarks. Spoiler alert, The Seedcore is like….extremely important.
BPhillipYork: Not that shocking to see proliferate return, alongside oil and poison counters it’s an interesting mechanic. There’s a lot of it, and it’s looking somewhat pushed. A bit unfortunate since it seems like there’s some decent combo piece already emerging, like Ichormoon Gauntlet proliferate has the potential to do a lot of things, enable +1/+1 counters, -1/-1 counters, poison, charge, other weird counters, take infinite turns, set up infinite combos. It’s a fun mechanic but can get quite gross.
FromTheShire: Love to see more Proliferate. It’s a wildly popular mechanic, as shown by Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice still being the most popular Commander on EDHrec years after their release.
Compleated and Phyrexian Mana
BPhillipYork: Compleated planeswalkers are everywhere, with the same functionality as Tamiyo who is a real trend leader here, they can come in for cheaper but then they start with less loyalty counters. This is a nicely balanced mechanic, it seems like WotC has learned the lesson of how wrong Phyrexian mana can go. The other place it’s appearing is on creatures to power activated abilities.
FromTheShire: I still have some Opinions on Compleated walkers but it’s undeniably cool. I’m a massive fan of using your life as a resource as well, and it’s supremely powerful so it’s nice to see it returning.
Newly Deciduous Mechanics
These mechanics make only a tiny appearance in the actual set, but since they have been made deciduous alongside it they’re worth mentioning.
BPhillipYork: Affinity for X is apparently a mechanic that will show up when R&D wants to use it, from time to time, and from set to set. In and of itself affinity is a neat mechanic, when it premiered it was in Mirrodin block and it ended up being extremely broken, because it was affinity for artifacts, and artifacts are colorless (generally) and so you can get the cost reduced fully to 0 with colorless spells with affinity. But things like affinity for forests are useful.
BPhillipYork: Flashback is just “cast one more time” from your yard, generally for more mana. It is functionally the same as a lot of mechanics, but perhaps the easiest to understand (it’s also Escape, where escape cost = x and exile 0 cards from your yard, and exile the card if it would go to your graveyard). However, flashback only appears on instants and sorceries, not permanents. This is generally a mechanic to allow control decks to outvalue opponents moving into mid/late game. This mechanic returning doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal, and it’s obvious how this is a useful tool in the R&D toolbox.
Next Time: The Set’s Multicolor Cards
That wraps up our look at the mechanics of Phyrexia: All Will Be One. We’ll be back later to look at the most noteworthy cards in the set, starting with the multicolor cards in the main set, then in the following articles we’ll cover monocolor and colorless cards before moving on to the set’s Commander decks. As always, if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.