Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Designer's Set Review—New Phyrexia (Black)

A Designer's Set Review—New Phyrexia (Black)
You will see any number of reviews of New Phyrexia in the context of their impact on limited, standard, extended and legacy play. This week, I'm bringing you a new perspective: How does the set stack up in terms of design? Follow along with the official spoiler.
I like Blind Zealot. It's a decently costed evasive attacker and it's also conditionless removal. Well, conditionless in the traditional sense for removal—it can target and destroy anything. Obviously, there's a very real condition around getting that effect to trigger: He won't be able to get around any black or artifact creatures.

Caress of Phyrexia is a pretty impressive descendant of Sign in Blood. So the life-loss and card-gain is 50% larger, but the addition of 3 poison is kinda huge. That's 6 life in Phyrexian. The cost on this card is necessary since it acts as an unblockable finisher for an infect deck. That said, the question of whether to target yourself or your opponent is not quite as easy as it was 2cc. Thumbs up.

Chancellor of the Dross. The connection between this Chancellor's two abilities isn't written out for us like it was on the white and blue ones, but it's sure there. Basically, you get half a free attack with him if he's in your opening hand. Eh. S'fine. What I really like about this cycle is making players feel better about starting with a card in their opening hand that they may never get to cast. Often a starting hand with an Eldrazi is like an auto-mulligan because that card is dead in your hand unless you draw more land (and spells to last that long), but these Chancellors actually make you happy to start on. How much so? That remains to be seen.

Dementia Bat is better than Chimney Imp.

Despise gets walkers. Thank you, Wizards. Was that really so hard?

I find Dismember exciting. The prospect of having access to such effective removal (kills everything smaller than a Titan) in any color is tempting, particularly for a player who leans green (desperate for removal) and red (not too worried about my own life total). 4 life is a lot of life, but it'll be worth it to avoid taking a hit from an opposing Alpha Tyrranax. Oh and I guess I'm concerned about the color bleed implications. Whatever, let's kill some blockers.

Enslave is a glorious reprint. A beautiful card totally appropriate to the environment. (I briefly wondered if they should have made a poison/infect version, but I'm pretty sure that would have been too good at less than 8cc).

Entomber Exarch lets me get a creature card back or a non-creature out of an opponent's hand? Why? What does that represent? Dislike. It could have at least made him discard a creature card for something approaching symmetry.

Evil Presence is not so much a slam-dunk reprint (as Enslave). First of all, Evil Presence was never as fun as Enslave, and secondly, what is Modern Phyrexian about turning things into Swamps? Phyrexia isn't black anymore. Does this combo with anything in the block beyond Blistergrub?

Geth's Verdict follows in the 1C utility spell becomes CC and pings your opponent trend. Seems fine, particularly in black. Unlike Cruel Edict, it's an instant which is fairly important. Curiously you can target any player, not just opponents.

Glistening Oil is a solid design. It works on offense and defense, but with drawbacks in both cases. It's like Unstable Mutation, but black. And it's hard to get rid of, just like its namesake. Sold.

Grim Affliction is my favorite of these do-something-small-then-proliferate cards because the proliferation actually interacts with the do-something part.

Ichor Explosion is very inefficient mass removal. Having to sacrifice a guy to cast is a slick move because it really only prevents you from playing it in a non-creature deck; any guys you have out are going to die anyhow, so this just lets you choose whether you want to kill everything or spare the big guys. At 3 or 4cc, this would see constructed play. 7 is a lot, but this is a huge effect and it's uncommon. Interesting.

Kind of awkward that Life's Finale comes up right after Ichor Explosion, but it shows you what a rare can do. In case it's not clear, I'm a big proponent of mass removal in black (in addition to or instead of white). This is expensive enough that it may not see constructed play, but this will be steel-encased haymaker in limited. Does it make flavorful sense? Ehhh.

Went to look up the one old card that Mortis Dogs is similar to only to discover there are, in fact, many. This guy really incents aggressive attacking because he's so stron on offense and weak on defense. This is a good thing.

Parasitic Implant is pretty good. Your opponent gets one last good attack with it, and a chance to sack it for their own profit (or to bounce or blink it) to give you sad-face, but you get rid of anything without shroud for a turn or forever and an extra little dude for your risk. Mechanically, the dude seems extraneous, but flavor-wise, it's pretty sweet. Face-hugger! (I so just google'd "facehugger rick roll" only to be disappointed it hasn't been made already).

Phyrexian Obliterator is terrifying. Which is what it was meant to do. New players, see Negator for context. If this card doesn't see Standard play, I'm going to have to find some babies to punch. (No offense to any babies reading this, you're just so punchable.)

Pith Driller is showing some glue seams. I don't hate it, but it feels the opposite of inspired. Why is it 2/4?

Postmortem Lunge is another φ card that makes me sad for the color pie. Ignoring that, seems fine.

Praetor's Grasp is the ridiculously hot love-child of Sadistic Sacrament (et al) and Memory Plunder. It may prove too expensive for serious play, but it tickles my black Johnny bone. Please don't quote me on that.

Remember how much trouble Priests of Norn gave you when Besieged came out? Nothing kills it and it just gets in and gets in or weathers down your forces? Reaper of Sheoldred is twice that. At least it's uncommon.

Sheoldred, Whispering One is another fine Commander. Expensive, but epic. Sorry, mythic.

You already know Surgical Extraction has the potential to be an amazing sideboard card and pairs deliciously with Gitaxian Probe. From a design perspective, ignoring color pie issues, this is well executed.

Toxic Nim will murder a deck with no way to get a -1/-1 counter on it, but will suck against, say, Flensermite. That's an interesting space to be in. I do wonder if this shouldn't have been uncommon. Probably made okay by the dearth of common black infect guys in this set.

Vault Skirge is a clean common and it's small enough I really don't mind the φ. Will probably be played more in nonblack decks to counter Plague Stinger and Whispering Specter.

Speaking of Whispering Specter, I'm glad there are effects that count poison counters. Seems like a fair Specter.

Black is looking good. More hits than misses and no signs of color bleed (since black is the color bleeding into the others). Looking forward to trying out Dumb-Black-Creatures.dec.

Just as the various limited and constructed reviews you will read have valid perspectives as well as misses, so too will I. Share your opinions in the comments section.


  1. How do you feel about the fact that black has only 1 infect creature at common in this set, 2 at uncommon, and none at rare or mythic?

    I guess they front-loaded black infect into Scars of Mirrodin, but it seems like there should be at least one super-sweet black infector. (Like Phyrexian Swarmlord in green, or Phyrexian Vatmother in Besieged.) Maybe they have nothing left to infect?

  2. I did notice a surprising dearth of infect in black here. I'm guessing they did that intentionally to push players into trying out the new white, blue and red infectors. Why branch out if you can still consistently build a mono-black or black-green infect deck?

  3. I think they only included a few black infecters to maintain parity within the block - there have already been 12 black creatures with infect so far.

    It also frees up design space to show what other colors can do with infect, and it gives black a regular-damage game in Limited.

  4. Jay ninja'ed me, so yeah... what he said.

  5. Pestilent Souleater is sort of black-aligned, even though it's an artifact. That may be part of the reason.

    But it would have been cool if the number of infect creatures for each color was the same when you add up the whole block. It would have made many color combinations valid for infect.