Friday, April 29, 2011

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

A Designer's Set Review—New Phyrexia (Green)
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.
Beast Within is a game changer. I'm really excited about this card. It's not going to warp any metagames because it's not a great deal at face value, but for the first time in a long time, green has a legitimate answer card. Beast Within deals with any creature or planeswalker, in addition to the standard Creeping Mold targets, and it does it at instant speed. I'm very curious to see how much play this gets and how much legitimacy it grants the deeply limited mono-green archetype.

Birthing Pod isn't terribly green, despite its similarities to Natural Order and the like, which is why I'm not bothered by it being a φ card. It looks powerful, in a Spike-Johnny kind of way. Good stuff. (Update: I have no idea what I was thinking saying this isn't particularly green. It clearly is.)

Still not a fan of the Exarchs, but I've been mostly talked down from hating them. Brutalizer Exarch looks pretty sweet for limited.

Chancellor of the Tangle is my least favorite of the chancellors because they didn't even try to tie the pre-game ability to an in-game ability. If this weren't named Chancellor, it wouldn't be part of the cycle (despite having the unique reveal-from-opening-hand ability). In a vacuum, I want this card in my opening hand but I don't really want to cast it. This body has no role in constructed.

Corrosive Gale is my least favorite φ card allowing other colors access to a certain color's domain because Hurricane is so iconically green. It doesn't deal damage to players anymore, so at least we're not giving direct damage to white and blue, but then again, how often are white and blue going to want to cast this?

Deathhood Cobra is okay. My main complaint is that neither reach nor deathtouch are at their best on a 2/2 and 2GG seems like a lot for the privilege of trading your guy for an opposing flier. Wish this had higher toughness (even for a higher cost) or else it's two abilities also gave +0/+1.

I love Fresh Meat. I also really like this card. The two big weaknesses of mono-green decks have always been a lack of removal and vulnerability to wrath effects. Both have been answered in this set (and both with 3/3 Beasts, poetically enough). Awesome.

Glissa's Scorn. Another in the cycle of utility cards that ping your opponent. I wish this had followed the same 1C->CC rule that the others did (in which case it would destroy enchantments too).

Glistener Elf is a perfect common, but the name is terrible: Sounds too much like 'Glissa' for one thing.

Greenhilt Trainee is clearly Bloodshot Trainee's cousin. Not sure why green and red have so much symmetry in this block. I like symmetry too much to complain about it, but I still wonder.

Leeching Bite is mono-green Consume Strength (or Cankerous Thirst). Go go, every non-black color bleeds black... theme. This should be a 2:1 combat trick about half the time.

Maul Splicer is pretty nice. I'd boast about how close I was in predicting it based on the art, except anyone could have guessed "makes two artifact creatures" from that.

It makes me happy to see legendary creatures that don't cost 6+. Melira, Sylvok Outcast is a great anti-infect bear. She does almost nothing outside of block, and is thus parasitic in nature, but if that's not justifiable in a legend, I don't know where it is. I will say that it's weird reading the last line when the first two lines seemed equivalent. They're not, but it's close enough to read funny. That said, I'd rather it work as expected and read funny than vice-versa.

I like Mutagenic Growth. Particularly, I like that you can effectively transfer two life to a creature for a turn.

Unlike Maul Splicer, I'm taking full props for predicting Mycosynth Fiend. Tanglestalker is identical down to mana cost, power, toughness and rarity. Fiend doesn't have vigilance, but that was just a throw-away detail. The real and important difference is that Fiend counts the poison counters on your opponents instead of you. It's a touch strange that Mycosynth Fiend can get bigger in a multiplayer game, but otherwise I think these are both very reasonable alternatives. One helps an infect deck and one helps fight an infect deck. Good stuff.

Noxious Revival is Regrowth (more recently known as Nature's Spiral) with card disadvantage. I'm fine with such an effect being φ. As a free instant, I expect this to see constructed play (and to not feel as bad to cast).

Phyrexian Swarmlord is a beating. Was thinking it would just be 1 insect/turn rather than x, but I have to say this way is more interesting. Worse when it's bad and nearly unstoppable when it's good with no space between.

Some have claimed Rotted Hystrix is an odd vanilla for green. I disagree. 4G can get you a 4/4 and -1/+2 is a standard balancing measure so 3/6 for 5cc in green is perfectly reasonable. Not to mention green has a long history of big-butted creatures.

Spinebiter. No, don't bite my spine! what he would say. Rhox update is marginally terrifying. Note that it does "more damage" but is easier to kill.

Thundering Tanadon is a 5/4 for trample for 4cc and 4 life. This is a good example of how solid an execution φ is at its core. Four mana for this guy sounds nuts until you realize that 4 life isn't as easy to scoff at as 2. That's 1/5th of my life! I really like that φ works at C and CC levels.

Triumph of the Hordes is the (arguably) obligatory Overwhelm variant for infect. Seems strong. Let's imagine. Say my opponent has a 2/2 and a 3/3 and I have three 2/2s. They become 3/3 and I get in for 4 poison, killing both his guys and losing one of mine. That's a good deal for four mana. Just imagine if I had, I dunno, more guys. Or a bigger guy. But not both, because then you just win.

Viridian Betrayers tricked me. I was all ready to say that I didn't like it because I shouldn't have to need other (infect) guys to turn my 3/1 on and that it was not as fun a use of "poisoned" as other cases when I finally got it. You can run it in an infect deck as an infector (by swinging with, say, a Glistener Elf) but you can also run it in a non-infect deck as a non-infect creature by just not poisoning your opponent. Brilliant! He's also always relevant in your half-infect deck (if perhaps less desirable than Tel-Jilad Fallen).

Viridian Harvest. Obligatory bad card for green? Check.

Vital Splicer is another fine addition to the Golem cheer squad. That's some cheap regenerating. Would've expected 1G or φ.

"Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger hate when you cast spells. Watch me cast spells instead!" Thanks, guy. But you're not the first big green oaf to prove you don't have to be smart to be powerful or egotistical. I do have to kind of shudder at the thought of needing to double your mana after casting an eight-mana beater. I guess that's the legacy of the Eldrazi.

Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (not green but on the "Green and Multicolor list") is pretty random. I guess creative dictated that this card be designed. Pretty sure he's too expensive to see constructed play, but will be an auto-include for any red-white limited deck. I have to admit, I do have a soft spot for the old "one multicolor legend" trick. Seems plenty EDH-able.

So green only had one card that felt like it should be multicolor black (if we're giving the lose-1-life cycle a pass). While I'm glad about that, it seems odd considering how tightly green and black have been paired as the infect/Phyrexian colors throughout the block. In fact, that makes me wonder why other colors haven't been receiving green bleeds as well. Honestly, I'm still very skeptical about all the bleeding, so I'll be very interested to hear Mark/Aaron/Tom's explanation on the mothership soon.


  1. MaRo claims via Twitter that Leeching Bite is his least favorite card in the set, and he tried to have it moved to white but failed. It's Hornet Sting all over again! I'm in agreement with him that direct damage of any sort is much more justified in white than it is in green. Though white isn't exactly hurting in the removal department, unlike green. Sigh...

  2. A few notes:

    - It's weird that you don't think Birthing Pod is especially green, as I have no idea what other color you would consider it considering the green pedigree of Natural Order/Survival of the Fittest/Protean Hulk.

    - Agreed that Deathhood Cobra is strange. I'd almost rather a spitting cobra or some such with an activation for infect instead of deathtouch.

    - Your defense of Rotting Hystrix as normal is somewhat silly, as the vanilla archetypes are typically modulations of similar P/T sums, and the green creatures with significantly larger toughness than power are either walls or spiders. A 5/6 for 4GG would be normal, this is ever so slightly skewed.

    - One element of Noxious Revival you're ignoring, beyond it being Reclaim's big brother, is that the noxious aspect is that you can do it to your opponent's and screw up their draw step. Not the most relevant use, I'm sure, but an amusing griefer bonus that isn't typically found on these cards.

  3. I don't like that Beast Within can destroy any creature. They've been so consistent with green's "destroy noncreature permanent" thing that it just feels wrong -- isn't the only other green creature destruction spell Desert Twister? (Aside from anti-flyer stuff, and even Plummet feels off to me.)

  4. When targeting a creature, Beast Within is no more than an overcosted Pongify. For precedent in green, see Lignify.

  5. Lignify: How is non-permanently turning a creature into an 0/4 the same as destroying it?

  6. Destroying and replacing with a new creature is not the same as simply destroying. Both Lignify and Beast Within remove a creature's abilities and set its power and toughness to set values. They're not identical, but they're similar enough for a bleed. Another green card as precedent would be Mercy Killing. As a hybrid spell that's a weaker case but that's at least two cards in modern Green history with similar effects on creatures.

  7. @metaghost:

    Rotted Hystrix is just a functional reprint of Redwood Treefolk, AKA quintessentially green. See also Ironwood Treefolk, Deadwood Treefolk, Old Ghastbark, etc. Y'all are nuts if you think its weird in green.

  8. I guess that's my fault for not being around for Lorwyn/Shadowmoor and thinking that treefolk suck.

    One of those creature types I seriously ignore in all my decks.