After an unsuccessful Arena Open weekend, I’m getting caught up on Phyrexia Will be One previews. Let’s dig into some of the more exciting cards that caught my eye at first glance.
Atraxa, Grand Unifier
I absolutely love this card. An instance cube staple, Atraxa is a big vigilance, flying body with lifelink, meaning it needs to be answered, as it’ll be nearly impossible to race. When your deck is constructed correctly, this is close to a Griselbrand that gives you the first activation free of charge.
This is an interesting card to cheat into play. It will likely see little play because it doesn’t win the game on the spot, requires you to somewhat construct around it, and doesn’t provide enough onboard advantage to jump through the hoops required to get it into play on the cheap. As it can eat a removal spell and then leave you dead on board as it enters the battlefield, the effect won’t catch you up on board at all. However, in a format like Modern with tons of zero-mana plays, this card gets far more appealing since it can draw into Solitudes, Force of Negations, and other cheap or zero-mana plays to help stabilize.
While I love this card, my hunch is it will ultimately flop in Constructed formats, but it’s a sick cube card and worth trying to explore, as it’s powerful and the upside is high.
Sword of Forge and Frontier
This is an absolute banger of a Sword. I’m happy with the abilities on this one. The triggered ability allows you to get up to two cards worth of card advantage while enabling a second land drop to make that more likely to come to fruition.
I think the days of Swords being playable in Constructed outside of decks with Stoneforge Mystic is long behind us. We don’t have mana elves in Standard or Pioneer, and they may only be functional as a tool in a world where there’s a lot of midrange Gruul mirrors.
It’s cool of them to complete the cycle, and the abilities on the card are great, but I don’t see Swords having much impact these days. They’re too expensive and vulnerable, as now we have tons of cards like Abrade running around that will really punish spending five mana and being destroyed.
Despite whether the card is powerful enough, I like that they did a good job continuing the cycle, and it will be a ton of fun in both Cube and Limited.
The most exciting removal spell I’ve seen thus far, Ossification is a new and improved Chained to the Rocks. It can enchant any basic land and grab planeswalkers.
I think Ossification will see quite a bit of play in basically all formats where Swords to Plowshares isn’t legal. While it may be too slow for Modern, it may still see fringe play there. Even as a sorcery card, it’s versatile enough and the downsides are small enough that it’s the best white pure removal spell in formats like Standard and Pioneer. Brutal Cathar and Skyclave Apparition have much higher downsides, Destroy Evil can’t hit small creatures, and Ossification is just as solid as a removal spell.
Perhaps its biggest downside is having to play with enough basic lands to support it. A deck like Mono White Humans in Pioneer can easily support it, but with all the lands like Eiganjo, we see a lot less Basic Lands in most decks, so it will be interesting to see if this card gets played in more two- and three-color decks that have many choices on which lands to play.
I think this is a staple Standard and Pioneer card moving forward.
Every Bitter Blossom remake I’ve seen has failed to deliver. Skrelv’s Hive seems to be the best new version yet. While it may turn out that the Mite tokens being unable to block proves far too big of an issue, this card has a lot of help in white to pump the tokens, such as Wedding Announcement. Those two cards together on curve seem like a hell of a start from a white deck, especially on the play. Skrelv’s Hive also seems like a strong card with Raffine, so maybe Esper can shine again in Standard.
Skrelv’s Hive also produces artifacts that provide value in and of themselves with cards like Urza’s Saga, Michiko’s Reign of Truth, and Cranial Plating. You name it, there are a ton of ways to get value out of artifact tokens.
While I’m not sure the best home for the Hive, it’s strong enough to find a home somewhere, even if just as a fringe sideboard card against match-ups not pressuring your life total too much.
A somewhat controversial card, I’m actually pretty low on Minor Misstep. It’s certainly going to find its targets, and in a Modern format where Cascade is being abused, it might just have enough juice to see play since it’s effective in almost all match-ups, making it highly versatile even if low impact. Trading one mana for one mana is fine. We play Lightning Bolt to kill Ragavan, but Lightning Bolt will always kill Ragavan, and on the draw, Minor Misstep is going to look awful.
That is my biggest problem with this card. It’s going to be hard to justify a card with a very underwhelming impact on the draw, yet it’s incredibly effective on the play. In many ways I like Mental Misstep better as a design because it helps the player on the draw quite a bit, which is what I wish more Magic cards did.
Minor Misstep is going to see a ton of play early, and it may end up sticking around for quite some time. However, ultimately in a format like Modern where Underworld Breach seems to be one of the best, if not the best, cards right now, this card does very little both with and against that.
I’m not a fan of the card, but it will definitely see some play.
Skrelv’s Defector Mite
Mom, is that you? Not quite.
Skrelv’s Defector Mite is quite a card. While not as strong as Giver of Runes or Mother of Runes, it has some serious potential. It’s a must-answer with removal, as it will simply shut off all your targeted removal until it itself is dead. It can essentially give a creature unblockable, which is mostly what separates it from a card like Selfless Savior.
I’m not super high on this card for a couple of reasons, but I do think it’s solid. First of all, it mostly does play out like a Selfless Savior in that it demands to be answered before the real threat is answered, but it’s also worse than Selfless Savior against sweepers, which are the cards I’m most worried about when flooding the board with a white aggressive deck. It can’t even protect from cards like Brotherhood’s End or damage-based sweepers.
One place this card will potentially shine brighter is white aggressive mirrors. Ossification, Brutal Cathar, and Skyclave Apparation all have to go for this little one-drop first, and in general the one-drops aren’t where you want to aim your removal.
Skrelv’s Defector Mite is a strong card. While I’m comparing it to Selfless Savior, it’s definitely a bit better since it will protect from all kinds of targeted removal, even those that exile. It has its own issues, such as not helping on defense.
This is a slam dunk to see play somewhere and a nice addition to both Standard and Pioneer.
I’m not buying the hype on Venerated Rotpriest. I saw various posts about how Ground Rift was selling out and how this card could bring back Modern Infect. It’s not going to happen, sorry. While the Ground Rift idea is cute and with Underworld Breach still legal, it’s plausible, but I don’t see this as a strong enough cohesive plan, as it requires a lot of doing nothing. Even if it were to come together, it feels like it’s in a spot where it’s either not quite good enough or too good or fast and ends up getting banned fairly quickly. That is very unlikely for what it’s worth, but it still feels like there would be no good outcome.
Being able to kill the Rotpriest after a full combo while Storm is on the stack in a format where everyone plays tons of Unholy Heat, Lightning Bolt, Solitude, and everything else makes this archetype seem far too fragile.
Venerated Rotpriest’s best chance would be enough toxic support in this set to round out an actual poison deck, but I think it’s just going to be too weak since they’re generally careful with new mechanics these days, at least in Standard. There may be some overlap in sets moving forward.
For now, I’m selling on Venerated Rotpriest.
Phyrexian Obliterator meets Phyrexian Vindicator. Outside of effects like stomp, Phyrexian Vindicator will be a huge problem for some archetypes. It’s impossible to attack through, block, and kill with damage-based removal.
Phyrexian Vindicator has some careful templating that makes it much harder to turn into a combo piece unlike Boros Reckoner, which took being indestructible and damage on it to combo off. It’s unable to target itself and prevents the damage, so even with two in play you couldn’t bounce the damage back and forth infinitely to gain infinite life.
While I’m sure there are some combos to be had with Phyrexian Vindicator, they’re probably too convoluted to have a real impact in competitive formats. With Skrelv’s Defector Mite also in the set, this card could see some play in a deck like Mono White Midrange in Standard, especially as a sideboard card against decks like Mono Red Aggro. Outside of specifically attacking decks that can’t interact with it at all, I think this card asks too much to shine.
While it doesn’t die to damage-based removal, it does die to basically every other form of removal making it a liability. “Dies to Doom Blade” is a running meme, but it’s simply true. Dying to all forms of black-and-white-based removal for no gain at a mana disadvantage is not a good place to be.
I’m selling on Vindicator, but it has potential to see some fringe play.
Carnage Tyrant was one of the most obnoxious cards to be prevalent in a Standard environment, and Tyrranax Rex is not as good as that thankfully. It has haste and more power and toughness for one additional mana, but the problem is the ward cost is payable and it still dies to cards like Destroy Evil, Infernal Grasp, and Go for the Throat at a mana disadvantage.
I’d be stubborn to say this card will never see play, but this will not have the impact that Carnage Tyrant did for a variety of reasons. Being targetable at all is a big one, but also the game isn’t that slow these days, and the critical turns are very early and snowball out of control. Seven-mana spells that don’t completely dominate a game and end them immediately like Alrund’s Epiphany and Emergent Ultimatum won’t have much of an impact. Tyrranax Rex is a miss for me.
Last but not least is one of the cooler dragon designs to date.
Capricious Hellraiser might be the most interesting and potentially powerful card previewed yet. Capricious Hellraiser can enter the battlefield as early as turn three in a normal game with cards like Mishra’s Bauble, fetch lands, Manamorphose, and any other way you can cheat on getting cards into the graveyard at almost no cost.
The problem I have with this card is the word “random” inserted in the middle of its text making it incredibly hard to exploit. What happens if I randomly exile three lands? No value, just a three mana 4/4 flier? Well, that’s a pretty high floor at least.
Where this card gets interesting to me is with cards like Dig Through Time where you can cast it and with the trigger on the stack manipulate your graveyard in a way that you get exactly what you want. Other instant speed Delve cards will work of course.
While this card will take a lot of work to get right, this is one of the rare exceptions where the juice is worth the squeeze. It’s still strong if played in fair decks for value. The biggest issue I have with it is that it’s vulnerable to graveyard hate, which is attached to everything these days.
This is one of the more fun puzzles, but I like this card and think it has a chance to see some real play, specifically in Modern, but I could see it in Pioneer with Dig Through Time, as well. I’m less excited about this card in Standard, but it could see play there too if the right supporting cast is available.
Phyrexia: All Will be One has some real thinkers. There are lots of cards that on their face don’t look objectively powerful like Fable of the Mirror Breaker or Oko, but instead are like a puzzle to solve with a cohesive plan. I’m excited to see what’s left.