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It’s back! After a lengthy, multi-year hiatus, the popular poison ability is returning in Phyrexia: All Will Be One (ONE). Being a seasoned player, the prospect of killing my opponents with the alternate win condition of ten poison counters always puts a smile on my face. I thought the idea was fantastic 25 years ago and I still love the idea now.
This time the effect looks a little different—you could say, it’s an improvement. Creatures aren’t going to have “infect” as they did back in Scars of Mirrodin block. Thankfully, the cards also won’t contain lengthy, confusing text about dealing poison counters like they did when the ability was first introduced in the '90s. Instead, Wizards of the Coast has decided to use the keyword “toxic”. Boomers like myself will think of the catchy Britney Spears song every time they see a toxic creature on the battlefield.
The ability states, “Players dealt combat damage by this creature also get N poison counters.” This is a welcome rewrite because it reduces the tension a player faces between trying to kill their opponent with regular damage and poison counters at the same time. I look forward to seeing this change’s impact on Limited.
A Little History
Poison counters have been around for a long time. They weren’t in Alpha, Beta, or Unlimited, and didn’t show up in Arabian Nights or Antiquities, Magic's first two expansions. Poison counters debuted in the form of two cards from Magic's third expansion, Legends, printed in 1994. The first card was the unassuming common Pit Scorpion.
The second card to mention poison was also the first rare with the ability, Serpent Generator. This was an artifact that could pump out 1/1 snakes that dealt poison counters. The card was reprinted in Chronicles and Fifth Edition, and as a result, the original Legends printing isn’t worth a whole lot.
Wizards of the Coast doubled down on poison in The Dark, with the printing of Marsh Viper, an unimpressive four-mana 1/2 creature that dealt two poison counters to an opponent when dealing damage to them. The kid in me reads this card and wants to enchant it with Psionic Gift as an alternate way of dealing poison counters without requiring combat. But I digress.
Wizards printed a smattering of cards containing poison counters throughout the first three years of the game. Poison counters appear in Mirage, Visions, Alliances, and Homelands. After that, the ability kind of disappeared for a while. It didn’t make a comeback until Future Sight in 2007. That set introduced a bunch of new keywords, including poisonous.
Poisonous looks similar to the new toxic ability. Where toxic is a static ability that happens when a creature with toxic deals damage, poisonous on the other hand, was a triggered ability that went on the stack and could be responded to.
Following Future Sight, the next major appearance of poison counters came with Scars of Mirrodin block. That’s when poison really took off. The new infect mechanic allowed creatures to deal damage in the form of poison counters to players and became a major strategy in Modern. The rest, as they say, is history, and now we’re coming back to the world of Phyrexia—it only stands to reason that new poison-related cards are going to show up!
Historically, it seems cards that dealt with poison counters haven’t been worth a whole lot. Even thinking back to the Modern Infect deck days, the creatures with infect themselves weren’t worth a whole lot. Glistener Elf and Blighted Agent were both common in New Phyrexia and therefore quite easy to come by.
The valuable cards in that deck (besides the Fetch Lands and Shock Lands) were Inkmoth Nexus, Noble Hierarch, and to a lesser extent, the efficient instant-speed combat tricks the deck utilized to push poison damage—Might of Old Krosa, Vines of Vastwood, and Mutagenic Growth.
I’m not sure if cards that deal poison counters from Magic’s history will move in price all that much in response to the introduction of toxic. Perhaps the more interesting cards are the ones that prevent or counteract poison counters.
For example, Melira, Sylvok Outcast’s price has jumped about 50% in response to ONE’s spoiler season. This could be because of its ability to prevent poison counters, but the creature doubles down as a way of interfering with oil counters too.
I don’t know if Melira’s new price point is justified or if it’s only temporary—it’ll depend on what decks break out after this set’s release. The last time we had a wave of new poison cards, it created a brand new archetype for Modern. Perhaps the same thing will occur with ONE.
Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider, the mythic rare from Kaldheim, was already quite expensive. Being able to double poison counters and oil counters, however, gives this creature even more applications. I’m not sure what its upside is from here, and I personally wouldn’t sit on a stack of copies as it feels particularly vulnerable to a reprint. That being said, these could be worth picking up in trade for short-term storage of value. Until that reprint comes, I don’t see Vorinclex dropping in price.
Hand of the Praetors, a rare from Scars of Mirrodin, has also been on the rise since 2021, though its price has fluctuated quite a bit recently. Unfortunately, this poison lord only pumps creatures with infect, so your toxic creatures from ONE won’t benefit. Its third ability, however, could provide some additional poison pressure in the right deck. Still, I think this creature will be relegated to 100-card decks for the foreseeable future.
A couple of other cards mention poison counters but haven’t really moved in price (yet). I’d keep an eye on Decimator Web, which is nearly bulk. The artifact has never seen a reprint and it could be attractive to casual players who are interested in poisoning their opponents and decking them simultaneously. A slew of Phyrexian creatures would also fall on this list, including Phyrexian Crusader, Phyrexian Hydra, Phyrexian Swarmlord, and Phyrexian Vatmother.
Who could forget about Putrefax? Probably most people, as the card is still only worth about fifty cents.
No More FOMO?
A decade or more ago, when Magic finance was a way of life for folks, the spoiling of toxic would have driven a buyout of many infect and poison cards. To the old finance chasers, all these Scars of Mirrodin block infect cards would seem ripe for the picking. Nowadays, people realize that far more often than not, these gut-reaction purchases don’t pay out unless you can sell to a greater fool. It’s actually a relief to see that this FOMO-driven behavior has subsided in recent years. The stabilization of prices is healthier for the game in the long run.
There’s one last card I would be remiss if I failed to mention. I created this section particularly to talk about it. It's the only card on the Reserved List that references poison. It's a white sorcery from Homelands. Can you guess it?
That’s right, it’s Leeches. Leeches is the only card ever printed that can directly remove poison counters. Because of this unique ability, the card has spiked and dropped in price multiple times throughout its history. Looking at the current price graph, it appears to be on an upswing yet again.
TCGplayer’s market price is north of $12. This feels crazy for a Homelands card that has seen and will continue to see no play. It isn’t legal in Modern and is too specific for Commander. To become relevant, some unlikely factors would have to occur. First, Legacy would need to resurge in popularity, and toxic/infect strategies would have to dominate the format. Second, players would have to be playing white to even consider sideboarding this card.
It's never going to happen. Don’t buy this card. The top buylist price for this card is $3.70, around 30% of the market price. That’s not a coincidence.
Wrapping It Up
Poison is like a popular comet or astrological phenomenon: it comes back only every so many years. Like a comet, fans look forward to the ability’s return and the chance to experience it in modern times.
For Phyrexia: All Will Be One, the ability received a rewrite so that creatures can deal damage and poison counters at the same time. I think this is a net positive and should make the Limited format more enjoyable as a result. I remember enjoying Limited the last time poison counters were a thing, back in Scars of Mirrodin block, and I hope this set will yield a similar experience.
In fact, writing this article has somewhat rekindled my interest in Limited again. I just wrote about how I’ve been ignoring Magic recently. When researching and writing this article, however, I realized the new set has some real potential, at least when it comes to Limited play. I just may dust off some gold and gems I have lying around on Arena to give this format a spin. It’ll probably be better than The Brothers’ War, right?
I hope other players are also excited to (re-)experience poison in Standard and Limited. The ability creates some fun dynamics, and I suspect this time will be no different.
Just don’t buy Leeches.