Phyrexia: All Will Be One Set Review

Phyrexia: All Will Be One Set Review

The Phyrexians are preparing to invade every plane in the multiverse and our heroes are desperately trying to stop them as a major story arc builds towards its conclusion in March of the Machines. It’s been a very long time since we last visited New Phyrexia, read on to find out if I think it was worth the wait.

This isn’t just a list of the best cards in the set but a detailed look at the most interesting, novel or fun cards in the set. I’m going to start with the commons and uncommons because these showcase the main mechanics and themes for the set.

Top Commons and Uncommons

Prologue to Phyresis

Phyrexia: All Will Be One is a love letter to Phyrexia and the Phyrexians. The sci-fi body horror of the Phyrexians is pretty off putting for a number of players so Wizards has sprinkled them into previous sets as the Phyrexian saga builds towards its conclusion and is now giving the Phyrexians one set completely devoted to everything Phyrexian. 92% of the creatures in the set are Phyrexians which is awesome. We rarely see Wizards go so deep on a single theme in a set, but over the course of the last thirty years they have proven to be Magic’s most enduring villains. A weird quirk is that for an extremely long time Phyrexian wasn’t a creature type which was frustrating in a game where tribal decks are consistently very popular. This new story arc prompted the addition of the Phyrexian creature type with old cards getting an errata. Seeing so many creatures with the Phyrexian creature type in one set for the first time is awesome.

With so many Phyrexians in the set it’s no surprise that we see lots of Phyrexian mechanics. Poison, proliferate and Phyrexian mana all return as part of our celebration of Phyrexia. I’ll cover the others later, but poison is the most important mechanic in the set. As an alternate win condition it has to be balanced very carefully. If killing your opponent with poison is too difficult it becomes pointless and if it’s too easy it invalidates every other strategy. My early impression is that this set has done a really good job with plenty of good creatures that can poison your opponent and lots of great removal to keep them at bay. Perhaps my favourite poison card though is Prologue to Phyresis. Not only do I love the name, it enables a different type of poison deck. Most poison decks are aggressive creature decks but Prologue to Phyresis makes me want to build something different. I’m thinking of a poison control deck that plays defensively, stalls out the game and slowly poisons its opponent. Since poison is such a big part of the set it’s important that there are different ways to to build a poison deck that play differently to keep it interesting.

Jawbone Duelist

There is of course a more realistic way to kill our opponent with poison counter than casting ten copies of Prologue to Phyresis. About a quarter of the creatures in the set have the toxic keyword. When a toxic creature deals damage to a player they get poison counters in addition to the damage they take. For example Branchblight Stalker gives two poison counters and Paladin of Predation gives six poison counters. This means the Stalker can kill you in five attacks and the Paladin in just two.

I like mechanics like this that put a new twist on the basic mechanics of the game. Small creatures often get in for a few points of damage early in the game, but in a format with toxic that sounds very scary. Blocking is going to be very important to avoid getting poison counters and the toxic decks will looking for ways to get their toxic creatures past blockers. For example flying on Pestilent Syphoner makes it a very reliable way to poison people. Small deathtouch creatures rarely get blocked so your opponent is going to have a tough decision to make if you play Bilious Skulldweller on turn one.

My favourite of the toxic creatures might be Jawbone Duelist. Like deathtouch, double strike makes blocking scary because it works so well with combat tricks. Jawbone Duellist is also a monster with ways to increase the toxic number. The best one has to be Necrogen Communion which lets the Duelist kill a player in two hits. That is unbelievable for just two cards and four mana, especially at uncommon. We never saw infect creatures with double strike because it would be too degenerate with pump spells like Giant Growth, so I like that we can now get this type of play pattern without it being game-breaking.

Evolving Adaptive

Poison counters aren’t the only counters in this set. Instead of the usual +1/+1 counters or even -1/-1 counters we have oil counters. Oil counters have no inherent rules and can function very differently depending on what card they are on. On Furnace Strider, the oil counter is a resource that can be used to give it or another creature haste. On other cards like Trawler Drake they behave like +1/+1 counters and grow instead of depleting over the course of the game. The red-green draft archetype is built around the oil mechanic which I find interesting because oil counters feel like many different mechanics that share a physical component. Very few mechanics in Magic’s past have been so fluid or used so differently on each individual card.

One of my favourite things about oil counters is seeing all the references to classic mechanics. Bladed Ambassador copies shield counters from Streets of New Capenna whilst Evolved Spinoderm is a homage to the vanishing mechanic from Time Spiral block. My favourite of these mechanical call-backs is Evolving Adaptive which references evolve from Gatecrash. It has all the fun of evolve but synergises with other cards in this set. Something that looks fun is playing Free from Flesh on Evolving Adaptive to get +4/+4 for one mana. This oil synergy takes a familiar mechanic like evolve and gives it a new twist in a dedicated oil deck. I’m not sure how all the different variations on oil will mesh together but it’s going to be fun finding out.

Thirsting Roots

Tying oil counters and poison counters together is the proliferate mechanic. You can use it to give your opponent an extra poison counter and all of your oil cards an extra oil counter. The ten planeswalkers in the set also get an extra loyalty counter so there are plenty of things to do with proliferate. In previous sets, proliferate has always been used in an environment with +1/+1 counters and -1/-1 counters. Because proliferating either of those is really strong, proliferate cards have always been costed with that in mind. We now have a limited format without either of those counters and the proliferate cards look stronger than ever.

For example in War of the Spark we had Contentious Plan which was a sorcery. War of the Spark is famous for its power level but we now have Experimental Augury which is instant speed and gives you an Anticipate effect instead of just drawing a card. The power level of these new proliferate cards has me excited. Proliferate is a powerful effect and we now see it on cards like Drown in Ichor, Unnatural Restoration and Contagious Vorrac as a small bonus rather than proliferate being the main reason you played the card. We also get three cards which can proliferate for a single mana. We have never been able to proliferate this cheaply before. Cacophony Scamp and Whisper of the Dross are both great but Thirsting Roots is my favourite. It helps fix your mana early in the game when you have nothing to proliferate and it can proliferate later in the game when a card like Lay of the Land would be useless. It’s also a more reliable way to proliferate than the other one mana cards as there are fewer ways for your opponent to interfere. Cacophony Scamp can be blocked and Whisper of the Dross might have its target sacrificed or given hexproof. Thirsting Roots is a really reliable source of cheap proliferation and it’s so easy to include in your deck because it can also function as a mana source.

Magmatic Sprinter

Oil might be my favourite mechanic in the set because whilst the cards all work in different ways and there are many different ways to build synergies into your deck. Proliferate is the biggest one because it boosts all of your permanents that want lots of oil counters. If your deck is creature focused Ichorplate Golem will be excellent and Churning Reservoir is a slow but reliable way to build up lots of oil counters. The Monumental Facade is almost a free include in oil decks but my favourite of these oil support cards is Magmatic Sprinter.

Magmatic Sprinter reminds me of Greenbelt Rampager which could be used in a number of different ways. If you had very few energy counters then it let you buy more but it was also an aggressive threat when you already had two energy counters. Magmatic Sprinter is similar because it gives you a resource and a threat at the same time. I assume that at three mana it’s too expensive for a creature you have to cast over and over again but three power with haste is strong so I wonder if this card will surprise me. Good or bad, Magmatic Sprinter is a good example of the variety of tools available for oil decks. For a theme that only appears in one set, this is a very flexible mechanic that really encourages creative deck building with different ways to get oil counters and even more ways use them. I hope we get more mechanics like this that can be taken in so many directions.

Incisor Glider

The final major mechanic for the Phyrexians gives you a reward for poisoning your opponent. A lot of decks in limited will be able to give their opponents a few poison counters but be unable to get all the way to ten poison counters. Cards with the corrupted mechanic get stronger when your opponent has three or more poison counters. This is a great way to make toxic creatures valuable in decks that are trying to win via regular damage and helps create overlap between the archetypes. It also creates more variety amongst the poison focused decks. For example White-green is going wide with small poison creatures like Crawling Chorus to kill via poison where as black-white is much less likely to kill via poison but has cards like Vivisection Evangelist that become incredible when an opponent is corrupted.

My only criticism of the corrupted mechanic is that the cards it appears on are a little one-dimensional. Sinew Dancer is awful if you aren’t poisoning your opponent so it will only go in certain white decks. On other cards like Phyrexian Atlas the corrupted bonus is so minor it’s pretty irrelevant. My favourite of the corrupted cards is Incisor Glider because I think it is one of the few corrupted cards that is worth playing for many different reasons. The blue-white artifact deck is happy playing lots of cheap artifacts and the red-white equipment deck might enjoy putting its equipment on a flier. It also serves as a good early blocker against aggressive decks which makes it a playable but underwhelming common. However the corrupted bonus makes it an exciting reason to draft a toxic deck. This range from filler to powerful synergy piece makes the Glider much more dynamic and interesting to draft.

Barbed Batterfist

The Phyrexians aren’t the only ones to get a new mechanic. Whilst vastly outnumbered by the Phyrexians in this set, the resistance movement is still alive and kicking. In an amusing and ironic twist, the resistance’s new mechanic For Mirrodin! is a new take on the Phyrexian mechanic living weapon. Instead of a extremely fragile 0/0 germ token we get a much more substantial 2/2 rebel token. This difference allows for designs like Barbed Batterfist that wouldn’t have worked with germ tokens. The exclamation mark in the name has touched a nerve and I’ve seen a lot of negative reactions to it but I think it’s fun to shout For Mirrodin! as you create your rebel token. It mighty be cheesy but I think it’s a nice antidote to all the grim and serious Phyrexian horrors.

For Mirrodin! also fills a nice niche that glues together multiple archetypes. The red-white archetype is equipment, the blue-white archetype is artifacts matter and the red-blue archetype is non-creature spells. There are several For Mirrodin! cards that I really like. Hexgold Halberd is very strong for two mana and Hexgold Hoverwings boosts all of your equipped creatures. However Barbed Batterfist is my favourite because it’s apparently only the third equipment to give a negative stat boost after Skullclamp and Barbed Battlegear. I like that it incentivises you to keep an eye out in draft for cards like Swooping Lookout that pair well with the +1/-1 modifier. The one mana equip cost is also excellent. You can move it backwards and forwards between an evasive attacker and a blocker to get double duty out of it without spending all your mana to do so. It’s very efficient at what it does and is clearly the best piece of common equipment for the red-white deck in the set. In fact since equipment at common is deliberately weakened to avoid repetitive games, this might be one of the best pieces of equipment we have ever seen at common.

Viral Spawning

Since the absurd complexity of Time Spiral, and Future Sight in particular, magic designers have been highly conscious of the complexity of their sets. They have avoided putting too many mechanics in one set to reduce the amount you need to learn when a new set comes out. One side effect of this was that some mechanics would be re-used without their name. For example when first printed in Magic Origins Zendikar’s Roil didn’t have the word landfall despite doing exactly what landfall does.

This was frustrating for a lot players for a number of reasons. It made it harder to use card databases like Scryfall to find cards that support a certain theme and it could be tedious reading a card to work out if it was exactly the same as a mechanic you already knew. It also prevented a number of synergies between sets. For example when first printed Consider didn’t trigger Disinformation Campaign despite it copying surveil’s rules text. I must admit I do think the conservative approach had some benefits. It communicated which mechanics were actually supported in the set, made it easier to understand a new set and made it easier to work out the supported archetypes in draft. It also meant that when a mechanic returns as a theme in a set it stood out more and felt more exciting than if it had been sprinkled in to many different sets.

We are now in the middle of a shift in this philosophy. The success of commander decks has convinced Wizards that casual players are more comfortable with products that combine many different keywords. We first saw cards like Zendikar’s Roil printed with the word landfall on them in recent commander decks which was followed by cards like Consider being printed with surveil during The Brother’s War. At the time it felt like those two mechanics were getting special treatment but the release of Phyrexia: All Will Be One shows that this is going to be a much more substantial shift than I had anticipated. In this set we have three cards with affinity such as Plated Onslaught and one card with battle cry in Ria Ivor, Bane of Bladehold. Battle cry is especially surprising because it has only appeared on a handful of cards before. If Battle cry can return for a one-off design like this, then perhaps we can expect to see many more mechanics in future sets.

My favourite of the cards with returning mechanics however is Viral Spawning. This card has toxic, corrupted and flashback on it. It’s very rare to see cards that combine multiple mechanics like this and I wonder if this is another area that Wizards is considering exploring more. I really enjoyed cards like Throes of Chaos and Feaster of Fools from Modern Horizons that combined multiple mechanics in interesting ways. I’d love it if we saw more cards do this in the future because I feel like it leads to cards that are more unique and interesting.

Sheoldred’s Edict

My next card is a simple one. Sheoldred’s Edict is probably the best traditional edict ever printed. Diabolic Edict is an iconic card but it isn’t as strong as it used to be. Not being able to control which creature your opponent sacrifices makes edicts worse than traditional removal spells in most scenarios. This has only gotten worse with more and more token creatures in the game which makes it much harder for an edict to kill the creature you need to kill. Sheoldred’s Edict is the first cheap edict that doesn’t have to worry about tokens when trying to kill a non-token creature.

The ability to target tokens is not to be sniffed at either. Being able to kill the token from Dark Depths for two mana is very cool. The most eye-catching mode though is the planeswalker mode. We saw this effect at sorcery speed on Angrath’s Rampage but getting it at instant speed on Sheoldred’s Edict with an easier casting cost is interesting. There are some very strong planeswalkers in this set and being able to answer them for two mana is a big mana advantage. Combining all three modes means that this edict has the potential to make an impact on constructed formats. Notably it can answer Kaya, Intangible Slayer who is really difficult to answer with most other removal spells. I’m also curious whether it will see play in limited. Edicts are traditionally really bad in limited but being able answer planeswalkers could be clutch in a set where there are far more planeswalkers than normal.

Tamiyo’s Logbook

The shocking compleation of Tamiyo was my favourite part of Magic story in 2022 but that wasn’t the end of Tamiyo’s story. Not only do we now have more Phyrexian planeswalkers, we also get flavour text which I believe gives us our first look at how phyresis has changed characters like Ajani and Tamiyo. I find the flavour text on Tamiyo’s Logbook really fascinating. It shows that Tamiyo’s drive to study and collect stories is still there but she is now doing those things in service of New Phyrexia. We also see this new Tamiyo in the flavour text on Prologue to Phyresis. Each planeswalker who is completed focuses on different aspects of the experience. For example Jace talks about losing free will on Distorted Curiosity and Ajani talks about unity on Plated Onslaught. I don’t read the flavour text on every single card but I did find these particular insights interesting. I like that these cards show us how these characters have been warped and twisted by phyresis but also that they haven’t had their personality entirely erased and become mindless zombies.

Gitaxian Anatomist

Gitaxian Anatomist is a common that will probably get ignored by most people but this is a really nice template for a common with a strong enters the battlefield effect. A common blue creature with five toughness is designed to help blue decks stabilise against aggressive decks. Wishcoin Crab was a solid role player in Guilds of Ravnica for this reason. Tapping your creature for one turn is a real cost but not prohibitive. This makes it an interesting decision point and rewards you for understanding when it’s safe to tap the Anatomist. Creatures with strong enters the battlefield effects typically have weaker stats so this is a nice way to balance better stats with powerful effects and I hope we see it again. I’m surprised this is the first card ever to be printed with the words ‘you may tap it’ which suggests this is new. It’s actually quite surprising that after thirty years this is the first time this has happened.

There are also a number of other interesting things I like about this design. The act of tapping the Anatomist makes it feel like the Anatomist is doing the proliferation for you. It also creates a window for instant speed removal to prevent the proliferation. This would be a terrible drawback for a rare designed for constructed but in limited this isn’t back-breaking. Limited is all about interactive magic so cards creating opportunities to interact with triggered abilities is good for game play. Finally this ability is also elegant and easy to understand, which is especially important for a common. I believe this is an excellent way to fill the “Wishcoin Crab slot” in a set in a more exciting way that can interact with the mechanics and themes in a set and if I were designing Magic this would be something that appears on a regular basis going forward.

Ambulatory Edifice

There is one more iconic Phyrexian mechanic that I haven’t mentioned yet. Mana is the most important resource in the game and mechanics that let you turn other things into mana are always powerful and frequently broken. Phyrexian mana is the most infamous mechanic that does this because not only does it let you convert some of your life into mana, it also undermines the colour pie by giving every colour access to cards like Dismember and Surgical Extraction. Designers have managed to include Phyrexian mana on a handful of cards like Skrelv, Defector Mite and Unctus, Grand Metatect but have chosen to only use it on activated abilities. This prevents any concerns about the colour pie and whilst far less powerful than in spell costs, it ensures we get to see Phyrexian mana return in a set so focused on the Phyrexians.

All of the cards with Phyrexian mana activated abilities are legendary creatures at rare or mythic but there are some fun references to Phyrexian mana at lower rarities. Myr Convert lets you pay life for any colour of mana which effectively means all of your spells get the benefits of Phyrexian mana. I also see Ambulatory Edifice as a nod to Phyrexian mana even though it is mechanically very different. Like the Gitaxian Anatomist I just talked about, I think this is a nice enters the battlefield effect that we don’t actually see very often. Phyrexian Scuta and the shocklands are the only previous examples of this that I could find. This type of effect gives players more agency and whilst two life is a fairly small amount, it can be meaningful, especially against aggressive decks. This is a dangerous design space to explore but I hope we see more cards like Ambulatory Edifice because of how flavourful this effect is for black.

Contagious Vorrac

Comtagious Vorrac isn’t as novel as most cards I talk about but I had to include it because this might be one of my favourite green common creatures ever. A 3/3 for 3 mana is a classic stat line but a Centaur Courser doesn’t really cut it anymore. When this ferocious little pig enters the battlefield you get a choice of two effects. The first is to draw a land card if you find a land you want in the top four cards of your library. This is two cards for one on a creature with great stats. This extra land helps you cast bigger creatures and makes splashing a little easier, which are both things green specialises in. If an extra land isn’t useful then you can proliferate instead. This means more oil counters and more poison counters in limited. Outside of limited green is a very popular colour for +1/+1 counter decks. Contagious Vorrac just does so many things that green players love to do. But not only is this a powerful card for a common, the art is absolutely stunning. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for more art by Maxime Minard in the future.

Crawling Chorus

There is a lot of competition for my favourite piece of art in the set. My previous card Contagious Vorrac was definitely on the short list. There were plenty of pieces by Eli Minaya that were in contention including Aspirant’s Ascent and Hexgold Slash. He is a recent addition to the roster of Magic artists and has quickly become one of my favourites so I’m very happy to see him get so many cards in one set for the first time. There does seem to be a new artist I adore in every set nowadays and All Will Be One is no exception. Phyrexian Atlas is only the second piece of Magic art by Illustranesia after a Secret Lair card. The art is stunning and I really wish it was on a much better card.

In the end I had to choose one of the white creatures for this award. The white cards in this set share a really distinctive and horrifying aesthetic. They are made up of bone, sinew and so many teeth. From Swooping Lookout and Mandible Justiciar to Sinew Dancer or Flensing Raptor there is no doubt that the white Phyrexians are the most disturbing in this set. The creepiest of all the Phyrexians however must be Crawling Chorus. It is such a surreal and bizarre design that just makes people uncomfortable. There might be art that I enjoy looking at more, but I think this is the piece that stands out the most and will be a piece of art that I remember for a long time. The card design itself is also excellent. Variants of Doomed Traveler always find a home in sacrifice decks and poison decks will love playing a toxic creature on turn one so they can attack and start poisoning their opponent as soon as possible.

Top Rares and Mythics

Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines

The face of the set and star of the show is undoubtably Elesh Norn. She is the most powerful Phyrexian and her previous card Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is one of the best seven mana creatures ever printed. This was also the final card in the new cycle of Praetors that began two years ago in Kaldheim with Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider so there is a lot riding on Elesh Norn being a hit. How did they do? Very well I think. Combining Panharmonicon with Torpor Orb is a very elegant combination and this is going to be very strong given how many good creatures have enter the battlefield triggers these days. I like that it’s a very different design to the original Elesh Norn so that it isn’t trying to compete with such an iconic card. There have been some concerns that in a casual format like Commander it incentivises players to run a Torpor Orb effect without realising how it can ruin the fun for other players. Whilst these concerns are real, I think the issue is being exaggerated. Being mono-colour will automatically make it less popular as a commander and one copy of this card in someone’s deck isn’t enough to turn a casual deck into a deck that ruins a format.

White did really well at mythic in this set. Alongside Elesh Norn we got Phyrexian Vindicator which is a fun new twist on the classic mono-black card Phyrexian Obliterator. White also got the best of the Phyrexian mythic cycle with Mondrak, Glory Dominus. This is nuts with cards like Wedding Announcement and because so many things make tokens now, the token doubling effect is really strong. This cycle of creatures all have a doubling effect and an ability that gives them indestructible permanently. I like the choices you have to make when going for indestructible. For example there is real tension between sacrificing the tokens you made with Mondrak and the objective of going wide with lots of tokens. At the same time the doubling effect does help make things for you to sacrifice so it is realistic to be able to give your Dominus indestructible. I must also shout out Drivnod, Carnage Dominus for being the first 8/3 in Magic’s history.

Atraxa, Grand Unifier

I love this set but not every card is an instant hit. Atraxa, Grand Unifier has the misfortune of having to live up to Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice which is one of the most popular commanders of all time. The new Atraxa however is much less exciting to play and build around. The original Atraxa could support a variety of different themes such as +1/+1 counters, planeswalkers or infect whereas the new Atraxa pushes you towards unfocused decks that play a little of everything. I loved Emrakul, the Promised End because it also cared about playing a variety of card types but it also had the puzzle of getting them into your graveyard and rewarded you by giving you a huge monster that would be too expensive to cast otherwise. Atraxa, Grand Unifier has no puzzle to solve because you just have to put the cards in your deck and the reward you get is just drawing cards which many many other legendary creatures also do.

So why do I think Atraxa is one of the most exciting cards in the set? I said playing it and building around it wasn’t that exciting but Atraxa is very unusual because the excitement comes from the reminder text. It references the usual list of card types but a new card type has appeared in battle. There are no battles in this set, and we have no idea what they are. This has been done once before when Tarmogoyf first appeared in Future Sight before planeswalkers existed. Given how powerful planeswalkers turned out to be, will the battle card type have a similar impact on the game? It’s very hard to speculate on what a new card type will do but people like Mark Rosewater have been hyping up March of the Machines as having a massive impact on the game as a whole, so everyone is assuming that we will see them soon. I really hope so because I cannot wait to see what they are and how they work.

Jace, the Perfected Mind

It’s hard not to compare this new Phyrexian saga to the Bolas story arc that culminated in War of the Spark. On the whole I was a big fan of that era of Magic story telling but I was disappointed that Bolas wasn’t successful in killing more planeswalkers. Dack Fayden was killed as an afterthought and Gideon heroically sacrificed himself but we never got the sense that our main characters were in real danger. Last year already established the Phyrexians as a much scarier threat with the shocking compleation of Tamiyo and Ajani. All Will be One raises the stakes even further with five more compleated planeswalkers.

I like how the compleated mechanic has been used in these designs. Nissa, Ascended Animist can be cast for five, six or seven mana and the tokens she makes start off much stronger if you avoid paying life to cast her. This is a nice balance with the fact that planeswalkers are really strong when put into play earlier than normal. Her last ability as well is absolutely game-ending but you have to pay the full seven mana for her or wait as she accumulates loyalty. I like that the compleated mechanic isn’t just on the card for flavour reasons but impacts how players will use and evaluate these planeswalkers.

The most significant compleated planeswalker however is Jace, the Perfected Mind. This is not for any game-play reasons but because Jace has been the face of Magic the Gathering for well over a decade. His first card Jace Beleren was one of the original five planeswalkers in Lorwyn and central to the biggest storylines in recent years as a founding member of the Gatewatch. His prominence was in small part thanks to 2010’s Jace, the Mind Sculptor being one of the best ever planeswalkers ever printed. I must mention that I love the Phyrexian text that Jace is conjuring which is a fantastic homage to the original art for Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

There are clues in the current story articles that could be setting up an antidote for compleated planeswalkers but that could all be misdirection. Is it possible that the most iconic planeswalker of all time is going to be retired as the face of the game? With Jace and Nissa being completed I don’t know if we have enough high-profile planeswalkers to form a new central group of planeswalkers. Are we heading to a new era of story telling where planeswalkers are no longer central to every storyline? The Realmbreaker is being used by the Phyrexians to connect all the planes together and might allow non-planeswalkers to replace planeswalkers as the focus of the lore. Or will an antidote be found that restores Jace and friends as the most prominent characters in the game? I’m glad it’s only a few months until March of the Machines so we can get some answers to these big unknowns.

Vraska, Betrayal’s Sting

I have to talk about one more compleated planeswalker. Vraska has long been one of my favourite planeswalkers and whilst I’m sad that this could be the last time we see her on a card, I’m happy that she got a great card that combines all my favourite things about the previous Vraska planeswalkers. The first ability makes her a card-draw engine like Vraska, Golgari Queen. Her minus two ability references Vraska, Relic Seeker but is far more flavourful for a gorgon because it transforms rather than destroys and only works on creatures. Finally her ultimate is similar to previous Vraska ultimates that leave your opponent one hit away from death except it works extremely well with proliferate so you don’t need to rely on combat to kill your opponent. If this is the last time we see Vraska, this is a great send-off that combines classic Vraska abilities with opportunities to use her in different ways to the previous Vraska planeswalkers. For example you could include her in a proliferate control deck with other planeswalkers or a toxic themed deck.

Vraska is also my favourite visually of all the compleated planeswalkers we have seen so far. Her scales and snakes become horrifying when combined with the Phyrexian “upgrades”. I especially hope I open the Phyrexian language version of Vraska because I think this style looks best on black cards. The new Phyrexians might be found in all five colours but I still find black the most evocative colour for these horrifying monsters.

Tyvar, Jubilant Brawler

As well as the five mythic compleated planeswalkers we also have five planeswalkers at rare who are still fighting against Phyrexia. Whilst the compleated planeswalkers are all exciting for story reasons, the rare planeswalkers are a mixed bag. Most have interesting static abilities which makes them interesting with the one exception being Koth, Fire of Resistance. Given how long we have waited to see Koth again, I was hoping we would get something more exciting. Some of the others look extremely strong. That sounds great but having bombs like The Eternal Wanderer and Kaya, Intangible Slayer at rare is worrying for limited where these will be obnoxiously difficult to answer. This is why Tyvar is the most interesting to me. Rather than being a generically strong card, this is a very powerful planeswalker but only in the right deck. For example this is incredible with creatures that tap for mana. The static ability lets you dump a hand full of Llanowar Elves in one go and the first loyalty ability lets them tap for mana twice in one turn. If you have creatures that can tap for more than one mana this starts to produce huge amounts of mana. The second loyalty ability is also very synergistic in most black-green decks which usually benefit from self-mill. I wish more planeswalkers managed to be powerful but niche like Tyvar because it helps spawn new archetypes or support existing decks that need a boost to stay competitive. It also stops them from being unbeatable bombs in limited which is even more important when printing them at rare.

Tyrranax Rex

Phyrexian dinosaur must be one of the coolest type lines ever. I didn’t know I wanted it and now I’ve seen it, I love it. Tyrannax Rex has an incredible combination of abilities and could lead to a big resurgence for the colour green in Standard. Control decks are going to hate this so much because it is immune to most counterspells and whilst it can be killed with removal spells the ward ability makes it a lot harder to do. It will probably cost six or seven mana to kill this with a removal spell which might be impossible if the green player has used ramp spells to cast it early. Haste makes it even more threatening but trample is my favourite ability here. Even if your opponent blocks with seven toughness worth of creatures, the one damage they do take gives them four poison counters. There are some scary big green creatures in Standard at the moment like Titan of Industry but none of them are quite as terrifying as Tyrranax Rex.

Green has been almost completely absent from the Standard format recently and I hope the powerful green cards in All Will Be One help make the colour viable again. Another green card I really like is Tyvar’s Stand, which at one mana is perfect for protecting a big threat like Tyrranax Rex but it can also be used when you have lots of mana to make a creature huge. I can easily see it being a frequent game-winning play to cast it on a big creature with trample to finish off an opponent. Is one set going to be enough to revive green? That sounds like a big ask but there are some great cards for green in this set. I hope so because it’s really unhealthy to have an entire colour so absent from Standard.

Encroaching Mycosynth

One of the most unique cards in the original Mirrodin block was Mycosynth Lattice. The five colours of mana are one of the major foundations of the game and Myconsyth Lattice basically removes the five colours from your game. Everything becomes colourless and you can use any colour to cast your spells. When Mycosynth Lattice was first printed, all artifacts were colourless and everything colourless was an artifact. This effect turned out to be the most desirable part of Mycosynth Lattice and it let you turn your entire deck into artifacts which was great for strange combos and synergies. That sounds really cool and until very recently this was the only card in the game that turned everything in artifacts. However whilst there were lots of fun things you can do with Mycosynth Lattice, the strongest thing to do with it is to lock your opponent out of the game. It is currently banned in Modern because of a combo with Karn, the Great Creator and if you see Mycosynth Lattice in a deck you should prepare for the worst. Encroaching Mycosynth gives us a waay to use this effect in a fair way without attracting the ire that the original version attracts. It’s also two mana cheaper which also helps. It isn’t as game warping as the first version but that’s a good thing. We get a clean and simple version of a very unique and iconic effect without the problematic parts that make it obnoxious.

Capricious Hellraiser

Some players love nothing more a good buildaround. Capricious Hellraiser is a really exciting build-around because it offers the potential to cheat a fairly big dragon into play for three mana and then cast a spell for free. The Hellraiser is a really interesting design because it’s not as linear as most build-arounds. If you focus on casting it for three mana then you are probably filling your graveyard as fast as possible which makes the free spell you get more random. If you focus on casting it for six mana then your game-plan is to keep your graveyard small with only really impactful spells in your graveyard. Or you can be even more ambitious and find a way to cast it for three mana whilst being able to manipulate your graveyard at instant speed. For example Dig Through Time lets you curate your graveyard after the cost reduction but before the trigger goes off.

I really like this design because it does so many things at once. It gives deckbuilders different avenues to go down and provides a variable play experience so even in a hyper-focused and linear deck it will do different things each time you cast it. It also works really well from a designer’s perspective. Having a small graveyard makes the free spell more consistently powerful but having a large graveyard makes the dragon much cheaper which is also very powerful. Both approaches are enticing to players but because they push in opposite directions it keeps the card more balanced. Getting nine cards into your graveyard as fast as possible is quite a lot but we have seen time and time again that graveyard based strategies always find a way to do something broken so I’m not ruling it out. I really hope this card does make it in constructed formats because it looks like a lot of fun.

Venser, Corpse Puppet

Visiting an old plane after over a decade away lets us see old characters again and learn what has happened to them. For example we see that Thrun, Breaker of Silence has survived whilst Slobad, Iron Goblin has been compleated by the Phyrexians. The most shocking returning character has to be Venser, Corpse Puppet. Given how powerful magic is in the Magic fictional universe it would be easy for dead characters to return to life when ever a writer desires. This happens all the time in comic books and it usually cheapens the impact of any death in that medium as readers assume that any dead character will return eventually. Magic has been pretty strict that death is final and Venser’s heroic sacrifice has long been a example of Magic sticking to this principle. The existence of an underworld makes Theros an exception to this rule which allowed Elspeth to return but that was always a plot point we expected to happen. We now learn that the Phyrexians are able to compleat a corpse, which is terrifying. However I feel bringing back Venser is a bit of a strange decision. Making a character’s death permanent raises the stakes for your story telling and having Venser return as a zombie isn’t the return die-hard Venser fans would want to see.

I don’t really understand why they are bringing Venser back and I don’t really understand the design of the card itself either. It has toxic and cares about proliferate but the proliferate trigger makes an artifact creature or gives an artifact creature flying and lifelink. It’s a nice reward for proliferating on a two mana creature but none of the parts go together. Venser is most known for bouncing and flickering things because of Venser, the Sojourner and Venser, Shaper Savant but this theme is completely absent on the new Venser. I doubt anyone who had been hoping for Venser to return could have predicted a card like this one.

Monument to Perfection

One of the disadvantages of visiting a new plane with every set is that we never stay long enough to explore the plane as a place. Sometimes our visits are focused on a single area or even a single city. Other times we skim over the plane, with many places getting referenced and we only get a glimpse of each. All Will Be One does a great job of showing the layout of the entire plane and representing the nine spheres of New Phyrexia in the new set. The common spheres like The Fair Basilica are excellent common lands because they act as regular lands in the early game and give you something to do when you draw too many lands in the late game. The Mycosynth Gardens might be the best card in the set with a powerful ability to copy artifacts attached to a five colour land that can be easily included in many decks. Utility lands are usually colourless or enter play tapped which are both real costs. Shimmering Grotto isn’t very good mana fixing but it’s an excellent way to balance strong effects on lands. We have seen this design a few times before with Guildmages’ Forum, Hall of Oracles and Hall of Tagsin but this is the best Shimmering Grotto utility land we have seen yet.

Despite spheres having a strong presence in the set, Monument to Perfection is the only card that rewards you for playing spheres. The first ability is a replica of Journeyer’s Kite which is no longer that exciting whilst the second ability turns it into the creature with the highest toxic value in the set. Overall I think both abilities are too slow and expensive to build around but because I love the art I’m still tempted to try building a Monument to Perfection deck. I wish we had more efficient cards for searching up spheres like Circuitous Route or District Guide so we could really build a spheres deck in the same way we build a deck using gates. I also love the art and the surreal design of the monument. It’s a refreshing change of pace from all the Phyrexian horror in the set but it still feels alien and twisted.