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New Phyrexia Green & Artifact Design Review

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Welcome back! This is part 3 of 3 for my exclusive, unique, and especially-special design review of New Phyrexia. Green cards, artifacts, that one gold card, and that one land will be reviewed. Are you ready?

Green


The most notable thing about this card is that it can target creatures. This is a serious green removal spell - an instant speed Vindicate. Should this be considered a change in the color pie? I doubt it. I would guess R&D justified the creature targeting to themselves by saying that it gives back a creature. To me, however, it is a violation of green's weakness to the big crazy creatures of other colors. [Note: I read Rosewater's comments on this card after writing but before editing this article. I don't really understand why he thinks this is okay but hates Leeching Bite. Isn't the card that can deal with much bigger creatures the more egregious transgression?]


In my review of Green Sun's Zenith I said there were too many search effects in standard, and adding another one isn't helping. That said, I like this one the best because of the restriction it has - the +1 casting cost on each successive creature you get. Instead of just enabling a universal toolbox, this provides a more complete build-around experience. The need to plan the whole curve makes it a more interesting card than the usual "best creatures only" plan of Fauna Shaman decks.


Really? Didn't I just get done saying there are too many tutor effects? Well, in case Summoning Trap and Green Sun's Zenith were not enough, here's another way to make sure you can cast Primeval Titan every single game. Once again, putting that aside, the design is a perfectly good one for a green card. Finding creatures and getting rid of non-creatures are two Green abilities. I like the cuteness of one ability putting a card on top of your library, and the other putting a card on the bottom of your opponent's. An adorable little symmetry, don't you think? Looking at the cycle as a whole, it's too bad they couldn't make the red one a 5-mana 3/3 that gave +3/+0 or -0/-3 so that they could have one at each cost from 2 through 6.


I love the opening hand ability here. It is an exciting seeming ability that you don't feel too cheated about when the opponent does it to you. What I find savagely disappointing on this card is that the full creature simply has vigilance and reach. Not even trample? Pretty dull. I thought the first abilities were supposed to give you excuses to put cool fatties in your deck, not excuses to put boring fatties into your deck. Pelakka Wurm looks ten-times better than this guy when you hard cast them side-by-side. My guess as to why this happened is that the first ability is so long they couldn't get a good and interesting second ability onto the card. Perhaps the first ability is actually so powerful that they late-game creature has to be unexciting? I mean, if it survives, a 6/7 will win a great many games of magic, so it's not weak by any means, just not exciting.


I would have tried for "put X -1/-1 counters on each creature with flying" on this card. It's Phyrexian, after all, so shouldn't it have a bit more Blackness in the effect? It might have needed two g/p symbols in the mana cost, but that only makes it a more interesting use of Phyrexian mana. I can't help but think of this design as a missed opportunity. Maybe they tried it, and it was too much for what they wanted in this slot.


Some nice cost symmetry on this all-upside Runeclaw Bear. Lots of sets want the two-mana reach deathtouch guy, and this is a fine variation on it - using activations to add decisions for its controller. (When to leave mana up, when to attack even though you want to play another guy - but you're hoping they won't block with their 4/4, for example.)


Getting 3/3s is a pretty good deal on an anti-wrath card. I can imagine quite a few decks and situations where you intentionally walk into a wrath effect because you'll get a better army out of the deal. As I've said before, getting the player to imagine game states is a hallmark of good design. Usually it happens on cards that tell a good build-around-me story, but in this case the card reminds you of all the times when you lost a game due to a wrath effect and you imagine how things would have been different if only you had this. Oh how your enemies would have suffered for their crimes against you! NEVER AGAIN!!! Ahem! Where was I?


Poor Shatter. The "lose 1 life" theme is popping up again here.


This seems like one of the very first infect creatures you would design and which would then be put off by developers in order to manage the slow buildup of power for the infect decks in standard. [Note: Indeed, Mark's article on 5/16 tells exactly this story.]


This is a really cute Green version of Bloodshot Trainee. Makes me want to try and design White, Blue, and Black versions of them. Mini build-around-me cards are very important for limited play. They provide alternate deck types that add a lot of variety for those who do a lot of draft and sealed deck as part of their Magic playing. Of course, even the mini-est of build around me's can have whole decks built around them. If you really want to get your Rube-Goldberg on, you can use a Tormentor Exarch to pump a Greenhilt Trainee, then use that to pump your Bloodshot Trainee to shoot your Phyrexian Obliterator in order to sacrifice all four or your Mortis Dogs (that just attacked) so that you can take 16 life from the guy you just hit for 21 combat damage. You know, if you're into that sort of thing.

Intrepid Trainee, 3W, 2/3. T: Destroy target creature with power 4 or greater. Activate this ability only if... etc.
Gruesome Trainee, 3B, 2/3. T: Return target creature with CMC 4 or less from your graveyard to the battlefield. Activate this ability... etc.
Aether Trainee, 3U, 2/3. T: Put an artifact with CMC 4 or less from your hand onto the battlefield. Activate this... etc.

or perhaps the more obvious:
Healing Trainee, 3W, 2/3. T: Gain 4 life. Activate... etc.
Ritual Trainee, 3B, 2/3. T: Add BBBB to your mana pool. Activate... etc.
Ancestral Trainee, 3U, 2/3. T: Draw 4 cards, Activate... etc.


Green gets an endless stream of pump spells, so when you have the option to Black-ify one a little under the Phyrexia pretense, you grab onto that opportunity and hold on for dear life. Here you can see the result.


More splicers, good, good.


Old timey Magic design would have left off that last line. Old timey Magic design (and I mean really old timey) had a lot of cards like that; "sorry, your deck doesn't do anything anymore, goodbye," but those cards aren't really fun to play with. This card is much more healthy. It still gives you a Phyrexian Unlife effect, it still prevents your guys from being shrunk (and hoses cards like Skinrender and Black Sun's Zenith) but still allows for normal creature combat to take place.


This card gives you 1-for-1 life cost against the opponent's face. Interesting that Green is allowed such a ratio when Red was not. (Or perhaps it's Green that's not getting the good ratio - because all other colors can use this card, and Green doesn't get the out-of-color benefits.) A fine use of Phyrexian mana, both as a combat trick and as a life-breathing effect.


I'm certain this is a card people talk about. What do you do with it? What are the benefits of an undercosted 7/7 in a deck that's got the opponent mostly dead from poison? Giving people a reason to include a poison guy or two in a deck with mostly regular creatures, or vice-versa, is a good thing, because Magic thrives on diversity. I think this card would have been better placed in Mirrodin Besieged, so that in drafting you will have a more clear idea of what it will do for you.


Looks like Phyrexian mana filler to me. Then again, perhaps this is pretty cool when you cast a Titan and the opponent kills it. You pay 2 life during their End Step and simply cast it all over again. Would triple-Phyrexian-Green mana for a to-hand Regrowth be a more exciting card?


Nice take on an infected Verdant Force. Very nice.


Who let the Phyrexians into the teddy bear factory?


Somebody needs to keyword this Lone Wolf ability, just so I can refer to it in a sentence more simply.


Looks like a fine set of numbers for a common Phyrexian mana beater.


Look what we have here, an Overrun for Infect. That's pretty exciting. Let's see, five 1/1s + Overrun = 20. Five 1/1s + Triumph = 10 poison. Three 4/4s + Overrun = 21, Three 3/3s + Triumph = 12 poison. Two 4/4s + Overrun = 14 damage, but two 4/4s + Triumph = 10 poison. I think we have a winner! This should make for some exciting turns.


Very nice text. Whatever your deck needs, this guy provides. The numbers might be weak (or so I've read on other websites), but the text box is excellent design.


Okay, sure. A fine way to tie life-gain to artifacts.


I can't wait for the draft when I get the mono-Golems deck.


This cycle has been pretty awesome, and manaflare for me, anti-flare for you does not disappoint. I like that it's not a full winter-orbing for the opponent. They can cast stuff every other turn, at least.

Coolest / Most Exciting: Birthing Pod
Most Interesting Design: Fresh Meat

Gold


This card would be perfectly at home in Legends. You may interpret that as my saying it's got rather simple text for a Legendary Creature and feels a lot like an unnecessarily-gold stat monster. It would be a pretty accurate interpretation. Ken Nagle was the lead on this set, right? Is it his trademark to put a goofy gold legend into every set he leads? Wrexial, the Risen Deep is a really cool design and an awesome general for a Commander deck. Jor Kadeen, on the other hand, doesn't feel like he can fill the shoes he's trying to wear.

Artifact


I like the variation on the mana myr we're getting here, between this and Palladium Myr. It might have said something about using them all up at once, but Mirrodin died and became New Phyrexia, so better to use the designs while you can. (Well, it's really just Scuttlemutt minus the Prismatic Lace.)


Sigh. Being a ridiculous fatty with "buyback" makes for an annoying card to play against. Also annoying to play against is the combination of Vigilance & Lifelink. Do you know why Baneslayer Angel doesn't have Vigilance? Partly because I made the argument that when you put Vigilance & Lifelink together, aggressive deck players feel they have no outs. Just Lifelink is hard to deal with, it's true, but at least you feel that you can keep them even by continuing to attack, or if they are not attacking you, you can hold back and they won't gain life. When their fatty has both, there's nothing you can do (until you draw removal) and the game feels miserable. I have a great idea! Let's combine the two most annoying types of creatures for aggressive decks to deal with into a single card! The Vigilant Lifelinker plus the "buyback" fatty. Oh hooray! It's the ultimate control creature! I don't think this card makes Magic more fun and I don't like this design at all.


This here is a really excellent use of Phyrexian Mana. Tapping a creature is often worth 2 life, but sometimes isn't, and even if it is, you can't do it forever. Phyrexian activations on colorless creatures are also a great way to make artifacts that every one can use but are better if you have the appropriate color.


Gauntlet of Might was an extremely popular card. It would be a mistake not to make new versions of it every once in a while. Magic sets come and go, as do Magic players. Just because a card existed before doesn't mean you should never do that design again. Reprints are obvious examples of this, but updates and modern wordings are also important to consider.


It took me a second reading to realize this was a 1-for-1 situation; I was expecting a much weaker card. This seems like a second-tier build-around-me sort of card. A few extra 3/3s are nice, but it's not likely to result in a game-ending combo turn. Still, with Throne of Geth you can end up with an infinite supply of blockers (if you have a golem out and a counter on this, block, sac the golem, add a counter, make a golem). Perhaps it will be the battery that charges up a bigger combo. Good card.


Some designs are just double-dog-daring you to find something useful to do with them. Some designs are just cute little "because they could" cards. This one is both of them! Muahahahahahaha!


This is a nice nod to Etched Oracle. If you have enough colors of mana you get to draw 3 cards, same as the first card. Also parallel is that it removes counters from itself... but this time they're -1/-1 counters! This leaves you with an enormous guy, whom you are more than happy to block infect creatures with. This looks like a lot of fun. Cool design.


I think this might be a missed opportunity for Phyrexian Mana. Seems like a Pyrexian Red would go perfectly as the activation cost here. Oh well, that doesn't take anything away from the design that we have here. It seems a little like two cards were jammed together, but the concept of throwing a grenade at a guy or into a machine is pretty fun. The damage and number of counters are, of course, synched up at 4. Every amount of damage in Magic is interesting and crucial to consider when designing cards. It's important to decide precisely what you want the card to be able to kill. Choose wisely.


One of the set's most darling cards. One of the more direct Planeswalker answer cards players have been clamoring for. (I thought Maelstrom Pulse was a pretty savage Planeswalker answer but I guess that's not in current standard.) I want to see someone win a game by activating a Gideon to attack, then sucking 7 counters off it to pump their hex parasite for a 14-damage attack. I guess that's a bit silly. Oh, I suppose I should really be talking about R&D and if they should print answers to Planeswalkers and all that. I like this sort of solution, and cards more like Beast Within, Vampire Hexmage, and Searing Blaze. More than that, I think R&D should put more effort into providing at least one constructed-worthy Planeswalker in each color - and ones that can go into multiple styles of deck. That's a tall order, but if Planeswalkers are going to be the marquee and most powerful kinds of cards, players who like every color need to feel they have cool choices. To that end, Black, Red, and Green could really use some better choices. Koth is a pretty good try. I guess it's close enough for now. Garruk was good for a while, but somehow is not cutting it anymore. Maybe that's just because the other ramping options combined with the ramping goals put Garruk into a useless position. Black however, is getting a really short end of this stick. I hope M12 has a new Sorin or Innistrad has a 4-mana Black Planeswalker that's good in both MBC and MBA decks. (Meanwhile, Blue and especially White seem to have an endless stream of top-tier planeswalkers. Ajani, Ajani V, Elspeth, and Gideon all saw a lot of tournament play! I don't need to remind you about Blue's Planeswalkers, do I?)


Aww, what a sweet little Myr you've got over - Oh my god! It's got a sword! Ruuuuuuun!!!!


Remember last time when I talked about how great Phyrexian mana and firebreathing work together? Still true. Normally, a small firebreathing creature has medium dreams. "I can trade with a 5/5" or "You'll have to spend a removal spell on me if you don't want to go down to 10 life this turn" but when mana is no object (because you can pay life instead) the dreams get much bigger. Exciting design.


In every cycle, one card has to be the least interesting (by definition), and this is it. Not an unreasonable use of Phyrexian mana, but not a particularly interesting one either.


Magic doesn't need a whole lot of punishment cards, and when you make one that punishes playing creatures it's better if you add an escape clause. In related news, if you're an amateur magic designer who hates creatures, you should probably stop trying to design magic cards.


This reminds me of Gargoyle Sentinel. I think because they both are cards that show you don't get a 3-mana 3/3 in all 5 colors. You can get close, but there has to be some trick or drawback to it. This is a very elegant way of getting there.


Another Mirrodin design updated with Phyrexian sauce. I love how the life-payment equip cost comes through in the use of Phyrexian mana. The designer of this card must really have been tickled when they put it all together.


By now we've all realized the combo with Bloodchief Ascension. Was this card designed expressly for that purpose? Maybe, maybe not. Very few cards are designed like that, but development usually has standing orders to ask for any card that might make an interesting deck work out. Probably this is just a shot in the dark "engine" style design that happened to have a nearby "instant win" combo.


Another surprise for me, in that I expected Ichor Wellspring to be the only card like it in the block. This version is equally cool design, and provides very effective mana fixing to this set. It's quite rare for a mana fixer to also be a card you can build around (Lotus Cobra), but this artifact certainly sets the mind's gears in motion.


Ha! I knew those Myr would eventually amount to something. This is a new and interesting form of undercosting a creature. I'm pretty impressed that you can get a 5/6 for 2 under this restriction. This seems like a much better attempt than Nulltread Gargantuan was - more likely to work out and more appealing, as well as being slightly simpler.


This card is all pouncer and not much necro. Haste gives equipment a fear factor, and +3 power doesn't hurt either.


Sometimes I think Magic designers (my past self included) try too hard and too repeatedly to get to a certain kind of design. This is an example of that. Wild Evocation, Galvanoth, Hellcarver Demon, Maelstrom Achangel, and Mind's Desire are all cards that tell you to load up on expensive stuff in order to cast it for free. Including Omen Machine, 5 of the 6 were printed in the past 3 blocks. I hope they give it a rest for a while.


The concept of paying life to gain infect is so flavorful that I am more than willing to give it a pass as a use of Phyrexian Mana. The ability could be extremely relevant while you are tapped out after casting this guy, so it's actually most of the way there even without flavor.


Phyrexian Reprint!


The original Talisman cycle dealt a damage to you so it's cute that this one - I'm sorry, what? Oh? Oh yes, quite right. Well the original, original [card Lapis Lazuli Talisman]Talismans[/card] lets you untap stuff when you cast spells of a certain color. I meant to say the original Mirrodin [card Talisman of Dominane]Talismans[/card] dealt you damage when you took colored mana out of them. Interesting to turn that around and give life for using this one. More "all upside" wouldn't you say? Also note that this card would be quite frustrating to casual players before the 2010 rules changes. Having to play carefully and not being able to gain life every turn if you didn't have something to do with the mana - what a waste of mental energy. Well, hopefully by now most of you don't even know what I'm talking about because you've totally forgotten there ever was a rule about "mana burn."


Dragon's Claw & friends are perfect for core sets, but when you want to reward playing spells of color in an artifact block you need to power them up a little bit. I know it's going to seem strange of me to mention this, but please note that there's no activation cost other than tap on this shrine. It would be silly to add one because the effect is to give you mana. If you are struggling to balance a card like this you really only have the mana cost to adjust. If the "most fair" version needs mana in the cost, you'll have to settle for a slightly weak version instead. A fairly high percentage of players will have trouble calculating exactly how much mana they'll get out if they lose some in the activation. I have a hard enough time using [card Azorius Signet]Signets[/card], and those are really simple!


A growing reserve of damage makes an excellent card design. It's so exciting for the ticking time bomb to slowly climb up turn after turn. This kind of design is also fine as a creatures-only removal spell, if that's what your set needed.


Players don't mind dying as much as they mind not being able to have fun. For that reason, you want to make sure the cost of activation is high enough on the discard shrine that the opponent will have some opportunities to destroy it while it can't be activated, regardless of actual power level.


The white nature of this card had me thinking it made White Soldiers, but of course in this block it makes artifact Myr.


This Blue effect seems rather dull to a lot of players, so it's used sparingly in Magic sets. It's Blue's "cheap" scaling ability (as opposed to card-drawing, which is the expensive scaling ability).


One of Magic's best Grey Ogres.


I find it hilarious how easy it is to get a clean wording for Mirror Universe. The original has 57 words on it (16 in oracle) but this only needed 6. Very nice update. Bonus that you don't have to sacrifice it, for all those extremely swingy Commander games where you want to use it more than once.


Cool card! Can we decide what color gets re-targeting? Is it Red or is it Blue? It's fine to rebalance the color pie, but doing so 3 times a year on the same ability seems like a bit much. Probably this is an ability that both colors have, but I've never heard it discussed that way. Can't complain about the use of Phyrexian mana here, as you always want to be able to redirect a removal spell away from your "real" creature, and paying life to do so will make you plenty happy most of the time. On a constructed note, I'm disappointed this card isn't Red-activated. That would have forced more color variety into the format.


Cool Power Conduit / Energy Chamber update. It's nice to give players sources of extra counters, though I was satisfied with just proliferate to fill that role this block.


These are so very hard to design. Oh wait, I think I said that about Sword of Feast and Famine. Well, it's still true! I am a little bit sad that this card doesn't affect the board state like all the other ones do, and that its effects are so simple. On the other hand, the way it interacts with enemy Planeswalkers (you can redirect the bonus damage to their Planeswalker even though you didn't attack it), and the fact that it has a pretty huge impact on the bottom line (both life totals), makes it a more exciting design than it might look like on first read.


I love this card. Very few cards make vanilla creatures better (this one does because ETB trigger creatures often pay for the ability with higher mana costs). It's nice that this also blocks triggers on other cards that notice creature entrances, without the need for a second line of text.


This is a cute use of Phyrexian mana, as you pay 2 life to get in with a 2/2.


When making "this thing" matters cards for a block theme, the greater variety in how and why you can make that thing matter, the better. This card presents a relatively unique way to reward playing lots of artifacts. Nice that it works well with artifact creatures and especially well with all the self-charging artifacts like Ratchet Bomb and Lux Cannon.

Coolest / Most Exciting: Batterskull (I don't like it, but I'm not going to lie to you about how exciting it is.)
Most Interesting Design: Torpor Orb

Land


Magic sure has had a lot of simple, useful, colorless lands recently. As a sacrifice outlet, this design has a lot of combo potential, and that's unusual on a land (because they're so hard to destroy).

In Conclusion
Of course it's an awesome set! I don't think we're going to see a bad set design anytime in the near future of Magic. Ken Nagle has continued to impress me with his Magic design skills in the years I've known him. All of R&D is a great team, with great leadership. For me, most of the major pieces in New Phyrexia feel good. The major cycles, the minor mechanics, everything from Chancellors to Splicers seem like fun cards that I expect will play well in multiple formats. The feel of Phyrexians having taken over, and what they are all about comes through fiercely. Phyrexian mana is certainly dangerous, and may turn out to be a problem in the future, but until we know for sure I'm going to give it my approval.

Join me next time for some new Standard decks!

Gregory Marques

10 thoughts on “New Phyrexia Green & Artifact Design Review

  1. Which is too bad, because I really like the review and your insight, but not knowing what cards we're talking about ruins the experience.

  2. Just to update: Looks like the plugin we are using didn't update, so I'm doing the research to figure out how to fix this. Sorry for the trouble. We'll fix it as soon as we know exactly what to fix .

  3. Really? Didn’t I just get done saying there are too many tutor effects? Well, in case Summoning Trap and Green Sun’s Zenith were not enough, here’s another way to make sure you can cast Primeval Titan every single game. Once again, putting that aside, the design is a perfectly good one for a green card. Finding creatures and getting rid of non-creatures are two Green abilities. I like the cuteness of one ability putting a card on top of your library, and the other putting a card on the bottom of your opponent’s. An adorable little symmetry, don’t you think? Looking at the cycle as a whole, it’s too bad they couldn’t make the red one a 5-mana 3/3 that gave +3/+0 or -0/-3 so that they could have one at each cost from 2 through 6.

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