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New Phyrexia White and Blue, a Design Review

OMG, like, could I totally come up with a longer title, or what?!

Here’s the first part of my full set, card-by-card review of New Phyrexia. Please note that this is a design review. I’m examining the design of these cards, not so much their Standard or Limited potential. There are plenty of other reviews out that for that (and I’m sure you’ll read those too, I know I will). I hope you enjoy my unique approach to a set review.

Colorless

Karn Liberated

I was pretty surprised to see this design on Karn. To be clear, I wasn’t surprised to see Karn as a planeswalker card. I knew he’d have one because it was planned before I left R&D, but heck, we all knew he was going to be a planeswalker somewhere in this block, right? How could they pass up the opportunity? Now, what I am surprised about is the set of abilities. That’s because abilities similar to these were originally written for Sarkhan the Mad. Sarkhan the Mad was tested with abilities very like these (the game restarting was not there, you just got all the stuff into play, and the numbers were totally different, oh, and the middle ability hit a card in a graveyard instead of one on the battlefield, I think). It made for a very fun card, but I recall stating that I felt they were Liliana Vess-like abilities. Others agreed, and so I set about finding a better Sarkhan (and you know how that turned out), and the abilities were set aside for a future Liliana… or so I thought. No particular future Liliana was planned at the time, mind you, but surely one day there will be one.

So what we have here is a card that, like many planeswalkers, should win you the game is a crushing manner if left alone for a couple of turns. I love that this ultimate, like those on Koth of the Hammer, Chandra Nalaar, Liliana Vess, Venser the Sojourner, Sarkhan Vol and a couple of the others, almost but not completely wins you the game. What could your opponent do after it resolves, right? But they have some chance. Maybe you didn’t exile much with Karn, maybe there weren’t quite enough dead creatures for Liliana, maybe 10 to them and all their guys wasn’t quite enough. I like the size of the escape window this ultimate leaves. I also love the theoretical near-infinite maximum. You might start a new game with 10 things in play, and totally steamroll 5 other players who are all now ganged up against you. It’s a very exciting card design.

White

Apostles Blessing

Setting aside the Phyrexian mana for a second, we have here a standard “protection from color” instant. The added “artifact” in both halves – in what you can protect and what you can protect it from – is a nice touch for a Mirrodin block card. I wonder if the possible uses of it will be a little hard to calculate when it’s in your hand.

Now for the Phyrexian mana: obviously, brilliant mechanic design. Is it particularly interesting here? Not really, since you won’t be tapped out (still needing 1 to cast this). I expect most of the time the “cheaper” cost of these cards will be most interesting design-wise when it makes the card surprisingly aggressive. This isn’t one of those cases, and probably uses Phyrexian mana just to fill the quota for the set.

Auriok Survivors

More like salvagers, which I will probably call them by mistake about twenty times. Cards that brings dead stuff directly back into play always read very exciting, and I’d rather see a more expensive card that does it this way than a cheaper one that puts the card in your hand. The bonus of attaching it is a great touch – well worth the extra text.

Blade Splicer

The first card on the Golem theme. I like that there are aready some saucy golems in the block, yet this “mechanic” was saved until the third set. It may not have been planned from the start, but Precursor Golem sure makes it look like it was a very cunning plan. These cards remind me of Awakener Druid or moose & squirrel. I like the way the little guy gives the bigger one an ability, and how they all will interact together. It’s cool that if you played some golem makers, and they died, but you still have a golem or two, then you play another golem maker and suddenly all your golems have abilities again. These guys will do a lot for drafting depth (variety of strategies).

Cathedral Membrane

I like this design in theory, but it feels like the kind of place where words could have been cut from the set. It deals 6 damage to kill Titans, obviously, but it dies to Inferno Titan’s attack trigger? Nice that there’s finally a combo for “can block any number of creatures” spells. So it’s a cute design, but a 1/4 deathtouch wall would probably be more efficient at playing this role. Phyrexian mana here also feels pointless – meeting that quota.

Chancellor of the Annex

I am a huge hater of “before the game beings” effects (leylines in particular). This cycle, however, is making me reconsider that hatred (at least as a blanket hate). Maybe there are cases where it’s okay? I certainly like excuses to put 7-mana fatties in my decks, and if this is how we get there, I can take it. Also, the pre-game abilities on these cards don’t seem as mean as the leylines are. White has a history of “your opponent’s stuff costs more” and it seems pretty well used here. A very fair sounding ability that may swing the game in a way that doesn’t feel dumb.

Dispatch

That’s a bit of a swing for metalcraft, eh? Nearly useless to best white removal spell ever? It’s good for metalcraft cards to include this kind of power swing in their range of effects so that they’ll be left in the pack for late pick up by those who are sufficiently committed to the mechanic.

Due Respect

Notice how this design interacts with Haste – one of the primary creature mechanic’s of Red, White’s sworn enemy. They cast a Hero of Oxid Ridge and you can respond with this, untap, and wrath their team with the Day of Judgement you drew off of it. Nice work.

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

This is a straightforward design – the kind that makes you think it may have been done before (in a good way – it speaks to how good the design feels as a Magic card overall). Ascendant Evincar is pretty close. It’s a very fun effect to have on your creature, and with 7 toughness it will be a little harder to get rid of than Evincar. I’m pretty sure all my white Commander decks will be needing one of these.

Exclusion Ritual

A sexy Oblivion Ring variation. Great use of imprint too – since you want to exile the card anyway, and the benefit you get needs to reference it – a perfect fit! I could imagine this being feel-bad to play against at a lower mana cost (besides, O-ring + Crainial = 7). Got a problem? This will solve it, and very permanently!

Forced Worship

So Han Solo was forced to worship Darth Vader? Is that what they’re telling us here? I certainly would have found a way to properly reference Star Wars in the title or flavor text here, were it up to me (obviously, it should not be). As for the design, I think the lack of “can’t block” text here is dangerous. Players are very accustomed to having both lines of text on this type of card that they will make misplays around this card all the time. If you want to add the “reuse” ability that’s fine, but they should have increased the casting cost and left “can’t block” in the text box.

Inquisitor Exarch

Cute use of choose one. Depressing use of WW for yet another 2/2. Couldn’t WW be put on a 3/1 for a change? I could fill all the white creature slots of a cube with WW 2/2s that look like they have great potential yet have never seen the inside of a decklist.

Lost Leonin

The infect creatures in New Phyrexia really get me excited. I love seeing new numbers combinations on them – it feels as though those stats never existed in all of magic before. What a cool thing poison / infect has done for the game!

Loxodon Convert

What? Really? A white 4/2 at common? I feel this is breaking the color pie; so why would they do it? I bet it has everything to do with keeping non-infect viable in pack 1 of NMS draft. White is one of the main metalcraft colors and needs late pick creatures that can carry the weight of pack 1 on their backs. This guy will trade with a Blightwidow, for example.

Marrow Shards

I wish this art was on a better card. Design-wise this is a typical white effect, though I much prefer Choking Fumes as the Phyrexianized version of the effect over this Phyrexian mana version. Not very intersting. The use of Phyrexian mana in white does not impress me so far.

Master Splicer

What a slap in the face to Ambassador Oak! This whole golem cycle feels like the revenge of moose & squirrel, and this one changes the math on the equation quite forcefully. What’s not to like?

Norns Annex

Finally! A cool use of Phyrexian mana! Both the cost and the payment use it, and both make the card more interesting and exciting by doing so. Four life is certainly worth if it will protect you from two turns of beat-down. The opponent will probably pay life, but that gives the card a nice Eye for an Eye feel to it.

Phyrexian Unlife

Hey look, Lich is white now, when did that color pie shift take place? This is a cute Lich variation, in that it really looks like it will make your opponent kill you twice. That’s what I feel like a Lich effect should do, so I like this design a lot. Changing the rules is White, any Phyrexian stuff adds a little Black to everything, so it seems okay overall.

Porcelain Legionnaire

I adore me some white 3/1s. The first strike and potentially two-mana casting cost make this card look exciting despite being very simple.

Puresteel Paladin

Enchantress type cards have been build-around me staples since Alpha. I love this equipment variation. Even better, I love that the existence of living weapons means a deck full of equipment and this guy won’t fail when it runs out of creatures (the way enchantress decks so often do). The use metalcraft here is either brilliant or superfluous, I can’t be sure without having watched the card through development. If it was needed to hold back the power level during the early turns it’s brilliant. If they just threw it in there because they needed more keyword mechanic appearances and you’ll always get the benefit because you’re running equipment, well, then it’s kinda dumb. Let’s assume it’s the former, shall we? Finally, the trigger is set to “enters the battlefield” instead of “cast.” Clearly to make it work with Stoneforge Mystic, Quest for the Holy Relic, and Venser, the Sojourner. When designing cards it’s important to keep these subtleties in mind.

Remember the Fallen

Grim Discovery can be white, if you get back an artifact. I like how the concept here is Elspeth crying over spilled milk, again. It seems like that’s her entire plotline – go to some place, it gets wrecked, cry about it, repeat. Let’s hope she avoids all the planes we like, especially Earth. Back to the card’s funciton: it’s interesting that both this and Morbid Plunder exist in the same block. They feel a little too close to me, and while it’s really hard to look out for these things, I think it might be better if they spread them out more. I suppose you could argue that it makes for a mechanically cohesive feeling world? I think it looks too much like ideal stall-out instead.

Sensor Splicer

Hmm, the one that costs 3 gives first strike and the one that costs 5 gives vigilance? Which one did we give to Baneslayer Angel? Oh right, the good one. Well, some of them need to be late-picks so that they are only good in the all-splicer deck. Cards that are obviously worse than others teach players to put better cards in their decks when they get a hold of them. It’s something that should be done at least once per set.

Shattered Angel

What is this doing here? I mean, these numbers show it’s clearly not a Tunnel Ignus type of card – one that punishes the previous block so the new cards can get a foothold. Is it just a random lifegain creature variation? It just happens to care about lands? It’s a fine design in a vacuum; I like it for it’s simplicity and it looks like it plays really well. I can’t help but feel that I wish this was actually in Zendikar block or that it was saved for a few years later when Landfall was out of mind. I assume some would say the opposite: that it’s perfect to put this in the block right after Zendikar so that you think you’ll get the trigger more often – but to me it just looks awkward. I will not be surprised to see this reprinted in Magic 2012 or 2013.

Shriek Raptor

A perfectly good set of numbers for this set.

Suture Priest

So cute! It’s Blood Seeker and Soul Warden at the same time! Blood Seeker was surprisingly fun and interesting in draft, so I hope this guy is too. This card feels very B/W to me, and I’m a little surprised that this was not saved for a gold or at least hybrid card, as they are so much harder to design. Maybe we’ll see a powerful 2-life version on a 2/2 body for BW (at rare) in the future?

War Report

Everyone’s favorite slot, the bad lifegain common! Counting artifacts is an obvious move here, but nonetheless this sort of design is important to magic.

Awards
Coolest / Most Exciting: Puresteel Paladin
Most Interesting Design: Phyrexian Unlife

Blue

Argent Mutation

A variation on Liquimetal Coating, it’s nice that they put another such card in the block. I bet it helps make more decks work out now that we’ll be down to a single back of Scars of Mirrodin. Also a fine use of “draw a card” because the effect really is not worth a card.

Arm with Aether

Sorcery “look out, here comes my team” cards are interesting to design. As a player you might feel you want them to be instants so you can always crush your opponent, but as a designer you have to look past that and know that they are more fun when the opponent sees them coming and must decide what kinds of bad blocks they want to make to avoid the ill effects. In related news, don’t be shocked when a 2B, sorcery, Until end of turn, creatures you control gain “Whenever this creature deals combat damage to an opponent, that player discards a card.” is printed in the next year or two. Perhaps they’ll call it “Claws of the Spectre.”

Blighted Agent

Unblockable Infect? I did not think we’d get this card. I suppose we did get Jhessian Infiltrator (as a two-power unblockable for two mana), so it’s not like its way out of line. It’s not as scary as it looks, but it sure looks scary to me. Well, that is the idea with Phyrexia and poison. You should be afraid, be very afraid.

Chained Throatseeker

A sea serpent disguised as a horror! As a designer / developer on this set you need to make sure the infect creatures in the new colors will see some play. More than that, they need to be attractive enough that players feel comfortable picking them up (in draft) when they know the other packs won’t contain infect creatures in that color. So if you’re going to have a 5/5 Infect, is better to put it in the new Infect color than the old Infect color.

Chancellor of the Spires

I suppose it’s cute that this card fuels itself, but do you really think that you would ever get to seven mana against a deck that has instants and sorceries in it without the opponent playing a single one? You’ll always have targets! I am a fan of the Memory Plunder ability, but when I read it starting from the top I expected a savage milling self-combo, instead. Despite getting you off to a 7-card start, I don’t feel that enticed to put this into a milling deck. For me, this design fails as a milling build-around and also isn’t the Memory Plunder build-around that we got in Wrexial, the Risen Deep (which is a totally awesome card).

Corrupted Resolve

A predictable “if poisoned” card, but a good design nonetheless. I find it interesting that the situational counterspell concept has been turned around in this block. Instead of counters that only work when your opponent does a certain thing, this and Stoic Rebuttal work better when your have created a certain situation. See also Unified Will.

Deceiver Exarch

Are there an unusually high number of blue 1/4s in this block? I suppose those stats are particularly good against infect creatures. This combination of two blue commons (some kind of turtle and a twiddle effect) make for a fine looking uncommon. The “choose one” wording seems a little heavy to me though, why not just “tap or untap target permanent?” [Note: between writing and submitting this article I saw Zac Hill answer that question on Twitter: “A. We wanted the Exarchs to be, very deliberately, “I win, you lose.” We felt that a little extra text was worth the messaging.”]

Defensive Stance

Red and Black have had their share of +/- enchantments, so it’s only fair for Blue to get a -/+, right? It might not look like much, but finding these unharvested simple designs are a designer’s pride.

Gitaxian Probe

Peeks effects are loved by new players, perhaps because they don’t yet know what they don’t know, and aren’t yet good at predicting what’s in their opponent’s hand. Usually such cards are miserably weak, I wonder what Magic might gain from one this strong? I also like peek effects, as information is very valuable in magic. I like to think the top pro players don’t need peeks, but when I’m watching coverage I often realize that if they could peek they would win easily with that information, instead of having to battle their enemy’s wits.

Impaler Shrike

When do you take the cards? A three-power flier is certainly a win condition, so when are your chances of winning improved by three more cards? Always? Is 2UU for three damage and three cards? What is the difference between this and a version that always must be sacrificed for cards? While Magic would be a lot worse off with a glut of cards like this, a few here and there can be great. This is an interesting decision to have to make during games, and also makes for a great conversation between magic loving friends outside of games.

Jin-Gitaxias, Core Auger

Awesome! I love this design for an exciting, Blue, expensive creature. It gives you 7 cards a turn and probably Mind Twists your opponent. Another awesome things this card does is put the game in a new state: one where you have all the choices, and your opponent only has one: do they play they card they just drew, or not. (Okay maybe they also have targeting or kicker choices, but you know what I mean.) I even like flash here because the design justifies it. Allowing you to cast Jinny during your opponent’s end step if them discarding is more important to you than getting a new hand for yourself (you know, before they can untap and kill it).

Mental Misstep

What should I say about the design of this card? So much has and still will be said about the implications of it for many formats, but what about the design? Perhaps that is entirely it? This card was designed to have an effect on formats (Mark Rosewater has already said he fought against it, in fact, which tells you a lot about who might have added it and why they did so, if you read between the lines.) It is a most excellent use of Phyrexian mana, as well as superb narrow-counterspell design.

Mindculling

Phyrexian once again means “pretend Black is in the cost” here. This card totally reads Nicol Bolas to me. Or maybe that would be more like: “Bolas’s Cunning: 2UBR, Sorcery, You draw three cards and target opponent discards three cards. Cardname deals three damage to that opponent.” You see, it’s like Jace’s Ingenuity, but with three times as much “Muahahahahahahaha.” Oh and WotC, if you’re reading, I hereby expressly give you permission to use any card ideas I write up in my articles on Quiet Speculation. (Like duh, what am I going to do with them otherwise?)

Numbing Dose

Where was I? Oh right, Phyrexian means pretend Black is in the cost. Well, here we are again, this set’s keep-a-creature-tapped aura does exactly that. Note also that this is, of course, “artifact or creature” to fit better into the block. The life loss makes this card a giant leap more appealing to me than similar cards from the past because it gives you a little more progress toward winning. It puts your opponent in a position where they don’t just set their creature aside and ignore it for the rest of the game. Perhaps we can see a more pure-blue version in the future. Such as: “Deep Trauma: 3UU, Aura, Enchanted creature doesn’t untap [etc]. Creature spells cost enchanted permanent’s controller 1 more to cast.” or “Web of Chains: 3UU, Aura, [doesn’t untap text] At the beginning of the upkeep of enchanted creature’s controller, that player taps another permanent they control.”

Phyrexian Ingester

Dear Duplicant, you are fired. Well, from blue decks anyway. The use of +X/+Y is dangerous, but Imprint does a good job of keeping track for you. Just slide that other creature under this guy leaving only the P/T exposed. Also take note, amateur designers: why not token creatures? Because you wouldn’t have P/T to read off of them. (Also probably some rules thing about Imprint, but if there’s one thing you should have learned from Rosewater by now it’s that you shouldn’t be concerned with the objections of rules managers.)

Phyrexian Metamorph

Sculpting Steel variant. Perhaps Clone variant? Except for being an artifact, this would be strictly better than clone. Personally, I wish Magic would do more Clone designs than Control Magic designs; it’s more fun when everybody has a fatty, amirite? You can be sure they designed this card because they were trying to do an update to Sculpting Steel because that card appeared in Mirrodin. I think they got a really nice design out of it.

Psychic Barrier

Doesn’t this already… oh that’s Psychic Membrane I’m thinking of (name-wise). I thought this was going to be a wall for a second there. Instead it’s a slight modification to Remove Soul. The subtleties of good design show here, when you do a twist on a generic, common, staple slot card like Numbing Dose it’s cool if you can repeat that twist on the other common necessities.

Psychic Surgery

Anti-shuffle designs are a curious thing. Does R&D do them to punish players who search a lot? Or are they here so that players who are tired of waiting for their opponents to shuffle feel they can grief them in some sort of revenge move? On a different axis, this card does almost nothing to affect the game, yet it will be very fun for a lot of players. If you think this is bad design, I have some bad news for you: you’ve got more learning to do. (Also, you’re a spike.)

Spined Thopter

This card is disturbingly close to Gust Skimmer for me. I really don’t see the point of printing them in adjacent sets. This is still something that R&D struggles with (and honestly, it’s not a big deal); it’s tough to track every common from one set to the next and keep the diversity high. There are just so many other, more important factors to consider that effort spent on “fixing” this “problem” is never going to be worth it. In related news, this seems like a pretty dull use of Phyrexian mana to me. I would have campaigned for a 2/2 here, if not something entirely different.

Spire Monitor

Magic’s second 3/3 flash flying. Bet you thought there were more, eh? Seems like a great combination of stats and words. The precedent is pretty different in other ways too (Wydwen, the Biting Gale). Good design-find!

Tezzerets Gambit

Ever since we did them in Magic 2011 I have been in love with the concept of Planeswalker spells. This one is certainly a winner for me. Tezzeret loves artifacts, getting advantages over others, and has no concern for his long-term health. Proliferate for the artifacts and the option to pay life to get the effect cheaper; this card couldn’t suit him more!

Vapor Snag

Ok, look here Brady / Doug / Jenna / whoever named these blue cards. Stop making them so similar to previous blue cards that do totally different things (Vapor Snare)! Continuing along with the “lose 1 life” theme for blue tweaks on necessary blue effects, we have another solid common design. I hope this one gets reprinted as a replacement for Unsummon.

Viral Drake

Do you see what I see? Another 1/4!!!! While I like the “lose 1 life” minitheme, I don’t think “all we gots are 1/4s” is a good theme. The rest of this card though, yowza! I expected the repeatable-for-just-mana Proliferate to be saved for a rare card. This is such an exciting design that hits casual Johnnies, possibly Spike-Johnnies, and even Spikes playing limited. Note that without the reminder text there are just 3 words (and a mana cost) in the textbox. As with cards like Core Prowler, the abilities interact superbly.

Wing Splicer

They are not kidding around with these splicers. I’m glad to see that, as often a cute subtheme like this is pretty sidelined because the individual cards are weak or don’t quite work out well.

Xenograft

So what is this doing here? Shouldn’t this be in a creature-type set? Well… there is the Golem thing. Also there are Allies in the previous block. It can further be justified because Phyrexians are like the Borg: they assimilate every different thing and make them all their own. I hope there is a small creature type thing in Innistrad as well. This is a cool effect done simply and elegantly.

Awards
Coolest / Most Exciting: Jin-Gitaxis, Core Augur
Most Interesting Design: Impaler Shrike

To Be Continued…
We’ve come to the end of White and Blue. Join me next time for Black and Red, won’t you?

Post categories: Free, Strategy


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Gregory Marques

Gregory Marques is a game designer, currently making new games that will appear on Facebook in 2011. You may remember a previous Facebook game he worked on, Dungeons & Dragons: Tiny Adventures. His Magic playing began in 1994. He began designing cards right away, but not professionally until he was offered a unique chance to help out with 5th Dawn by e-mail. He was later employed at Wizards of the Coast from 2006 until 2009. He was on the development teams for Magic 2010 and Rise of the Eldrazi, and on the design teams for Magic 2011, Rise of the Eldrazi, and Duel Decks: Garruk vs Liliana. He played in the FFL and did some additional design on every set from Shards of Alara through Magic 2011. He has not played much competitive Magic, but was the Washington State Champion this year, and perhaps he will have some more achievements in the future.

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4 thoughts on “New Phyrexia White and Blue, a Design Review

  1. “This card feels very B/W to me, and I’m a little surprised that this was not saved for a gold or at least hybrid card, as they are so much harder to design”

    I closed the tab right there. This sentence makes no sense if you understand hybrid.

  2. A lot more like, if you OFFER other people’s music you may great. Very seriously, I actually question any guys r planning to try to sell some sort of Dork Matthew’s tune under their unique label.

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