Tuesday, April 26, 2011

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

A Designer's Set Review—New Phyrexia (Blue)
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.
As a player, I can't help but feel like Argent Mutation is overcosted. I don't think it's bad, mind you, a cantrip that let's you trick your opponent into a metalcraft-enabled trap or upgrade your Shatter targets should see play and be fine, but players will wish it was 2cc. My Johnny side envisions stealing some tinny planeswalkers.

Arm with Æther is a hard to predict. If you get one creature through (or none), it's worse than pretty much all other bounce. If you get two or more through, it's better, but isn't one of the big draws to bounce getting your guys through in the first place? Reversing the order feels wrong. I think this card is too obtuse.

Blighted Agent is a fine double-scoop french vanilla guy.

Chained Throatseeker is a lovely design. It fills the conditionally-able-to-attack serpent role, but in a new and set-relevant way. Simultaneously, it's a huge infect guy which makes the prospect of trying to go blue-infect seem much less silly than it otherwise would have.

Chancellor of the Spires eschews the symmetry of white's chancellor for synergy. Those words sound close enough, I guess. Like.

Somebody predicted Corrupted Resolve, right? C'mon! This one was so obvious. Is/was. Whatever, obvious design is usually good design. Like.

Deceiver Exarch is an Exarch. Not only is there no reason for these to be in the set, there are good reasons for them not to be in the set. Not allowing me to untap an opponent's permanent or to tap my own is... a waste of time. Don't make me not able to do what I never was going to do in the first place.

Defensive Stance is okay design, I guess. Clean at least. Would have been better at -2/+2 or -3/+3. Or with flash. Every color has to have a bad card, right? You're looking at it.

I want to play with Gitaxian Probe. It's not remotely overpowered (y'know, except in combination with Surgical Extraction), but is better than Peek which was falling quickly behind the curve. Solid.

Impaler Shrike definitely has tension, the question is whether it's the good kind or the bad kind. I'm thinking bad. If I'm getting in with a three-power flyer, there's not much in my deck I'd rather see. It's the moment when your opponent gets a blocker that I'd want to trade it for cards, but then it's too late. I guess its hard to argue against an Concentrate on a stick, but I think this will frustrate players more than not.

Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur draws you 7 cards each turn. Well okay, only on your turns. It also empties your opponent's hand. That's pretty brutal, but he does cost 10. What catches my interest is the choice to reduce hand size by 7 rather than specify a maximum hand size of 0. That works better with cards like Minamo Scrollkeeper, but worse (arguably) with other cards that set maximum hand size to a specific number. Am I reading too much into it when I say it suggests they're not considering getting rid of maximum hand size?

Mental Misstep is a carefully considered "free" counterspell. This card is not appealing to me, but neither is it appalling. It seems reasonably powered and most relevant in the land of 1cc games (Legacy) where it would seem to regulate more over-powered cards than be over-powered. I dunno. Sure doesn't ruin standard or limited.

Mindculling is another blacker card. Blue has played with discard a bit in the past, but usually in the form of skewed filtering. This definitely could be a 3UB or maybe UUBB card. Otherwise, seems fine. I'll play it.

At first blush, Numbing Dose is another blackened card (some kind of Glimmerdust Nap plus life-loss), but I think it actually owes its heritage to Warp Artifact and kin... which are mostly black. Hmm.

Phyrexian Ingester is a Duplicant update. Bigger and bluer, but still unconditional 2:1 removal. Sigh. At least it costs 7.

Phyrexian Metamorph is nutty. Clone and Sculpting Steel in one for 3cc in any color. This is another color-pie endangering design that I'm going to give a temporary pass on the basis that I am in love with it as a player. Must. get. 12.

Psychic Barrier is fine.

Psychic Surgery seems like a reasonable and fun griefer card.

Spined Thopter for some reason tastes like Spire Golem to me. It's a thopter though, so it can draw no ire (for giving green an efficient flyer) from me.

Not sure why Spire Monitor is in this set, but it's a fine double-scoop.

Tezzeret's Gambit. Really? Was Steady Progress really in need of reprinting within block? I get that this puts proliferate in any color, but the cards feel stapled on. Should've just been φ/U to proliferate. I'm skeptical this has much to do with Tezzeret, but I haven't read the novel so I have to give creative the benefit of the doubt. Certainly doesn't combo any better with Tezz than other walkers.

So. They finally made a better Unsummon. (It's not quite strictly-better since it now costs you a life to bounce your own guy—a pretty common use of Unsummon). Vapor Snag seems fine.

I like Viral Drake. Clean, but strong.

Wing Splicer is a blue Golem 'lord.' I guess the cycle is both vertical (in white) and horizontal (at uncommon). Still a fan. I do admit that I wonder if these guys shouldn't have had the ability they were granting to the golems. "Hey golem, check me out, I can fly. Now you do it. How's your mother?"

It always seemed odd to me that Conspiracy was a black card (apart from the name—which is a minor stretch). Therefore, I welcome Xenograft. Glad that it's not functionally identical as well. I will not count this against the black-ification trend since it seems like an overdue colorshift correction.

Blue didn't seem to have quite as much random color-shifting as white and I did like the "artifacts or creatures" subtheme. I am excited to try drafting blue-infect-proliferate.

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. I have to disagree with you again on the Exarchs. They're some of my favorite cards in the set. The strict pattern of "help myself or hurt you" with mirrored effects is very aesthetically pleasing, and helps drive home the "join us or suffer" feeling of Phyrexia.

  2. I think what's happened here with the Exarchs in Jay's eyes, besides his love for entwine possibly crowding his mind, is that this mechanical cycle feels quite odd from a gameplay point of view when looking at the set as a whole. However, it's justified here by design implementing yet another way for Phyrexia to feel like Phyrexia, as in their, as Luminun Can puts it, "join us or suffer" mantra. It's saved for flavor reasons. At least it is not violating the color pie.

    The parallel effects are there to make the execution of the modal spells pleasing, both aesthetically and mindspace-wise.