Thursday, April 28, 2011

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

A Designer's Set Review—New Phyrexia (Red)
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.
White | Blue | Black | Red | Green | Artifact

Considering the other cards that have gotten the color-bleed-via-φ treatment, Act of Aggression feels like a no-brainer. I would be complaining that it's way too expensive but making it an instant instead of a sorcery is a pretty big step up in power level for Threaten.

I don't love Artillerize's name, but I am happy to see Fiery Conclusion and Shrapnel Blast finally tying the knot. Those crazy kids! Pretty sure this could have been 2R, but again, we designers must trust Development.

Bludgeon Brawl is a terrible idea. Clunky to read and to play, this mistake is far worse than equipment-tokens proposed by multiple #GDS2 contestants. "Why is your Tumble Magnet under your Loxodon Wayfarer? Oh, right. It's equipment. Say, which of those counters are charge counters and which are -1/-1 counters again? Don't even ask its power and toughness!"

With each Chancellor, the symmetry of their abilities (and thus the tightness of the cycle) become(s) looser and looser. Chancellor of the Forge is still fine, but I will point out that the first three Chancellors had flying and this one doesn't even have haste. Feels lumpy.

A lot of speculators were wondering whether they would print an infect pyromancer. Fallen Ferromancer answers that question. It's not terribly aggressive, but it doesn't need to be; it's plenty strong.

Flameborn Viron is a red Craw Wurm. That's not terribly exciting but it is another in a growing trend of big red common creatures, a trend I heartily support. The 6/4 stats even make more sense on a hellion than a wurm, so that's a bonus.

Furnace Scamp isn't blowing any minds, but I anticipate enjoying it once or twice. It will create sad-face moments when you swing with it on turn 2 into your opponent's empty board and decide to keep it and pop it later, only to never connect with it again.

Geosurge is not worth it. I mean, it's worth it to play in a mono-red ramp deck, if that's a thing, but it's not different enough from the Mirrodin original to warrant existence. At least not in this set that doesn't care about Chroma or Storm or Geosurge. PS, Wizards: It's hard to read a group of the same mana symbol larger than four. Limiting it to non-Blaze spells? Lamer than it is cool (but admittedly on theme).

Gut Shot is fair. I wonder if they had known this was coming, would they still have bothered with Hornet Sting?

Invader Parasite is pretty sweet. It kills a land and becomes a potentially one-sided Zozu, and the imprint doesn't feel unnecessary as it so often does.

Moltensteel Dragon was an obvious design, and that's not a bad thing.

Ogre Menial is pretty interesting.

Priest of Urabrask is another fine card that doesn't feel like it has anything to do with Phyrexia. At least there were Storm cards around when it was called Coal Stoaker.

Rage Extractor belongs to a long tradition of enchantments and artifacts that do absolutely nothing unless you play cards of the set's main mechanic. I guess this appeals to certain Timmy+Johnny combos, but usually these cards are so low on the power curve that they just go to the reject rare bins. This may be an exception, but I doubt it.

Razor Swine is a natural double-scoop common. That will be a beating to play against.

Ruthless Invasion is a slightly more clever design than 'fine.'

Scrapyard Salvo is great. I love how this getting your metalcraft plan blowed up makes this better. I'm also glad to see a safer combo with your red artifact sackers than Furnace Celebration.

Slag Fiend is fine 'Ghoyf and I imagine has a small shot at being amazing in constructed. What I don't like is that it's type is "construct" which belongs to artifacts, but it's not an artifact. Maybe this started life with φ?

Slash Panther is the Lightning Elemental that you will never see coming. Like.

Tormentor Exarch reduces creatures' toughness? Oh right, every color must splash black.

Urabrask the Hidden is nice. I'm always a fan of everything-haste guys. They might have saved him for a multicolor set where he could be 2WR, but I'm okay with this Kismet in red bleed, since it reads like anti-haste.

I appreciate that land destruction can't be cheap or it makes for unfun games, but I'm getting kind of sick of the terrible LD cards. How about we just don't print land destruction? (I'm not saying entirely, but in place of crap like Victorious Destruction). Oh right, the crap common quota. *yawn*

I like Volt Charge for the same reason I like Grim Affliction. A bit less so, though, because it's not as poetic in function.

Vulshok Refugee has protection from red? Sure.

Whipflare replaces (or supplements) Pyroclasm in artifact-red decks. That's all I've got to say about that.

As the larger sense of this set is coming together for me, I'm very impressed with a lot of cards and mechanics, but I'm also seeing a fair number of subthemes that just don't click at all. As I type this, @maro254 just wrote "I'm very excited for New Phyrexia. It has one of the strongest moods we've ever created in a set through mechanics." I hope that I will be forced to agree once I play with the set, but so far, I'm not feeling it. Yes, there's a lot of very Phyrexian stuff going on, but there's a lot of really random stuff muddying the waters as well.

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. Priest of Urabrask is a color-shifted Priest of Gix, relevant because Priest of Gix was printed during Phyrexia's initial rise to power (Urza's block).

    And I'm really surprised to see you hate on Bludgeon Brawl, one of the most amusing designs in a long time, regardless of any potential board confusion. After all, it's not like you're going to see this beyond the kitchen table.

  2. Phyrexia had the Priest of Urabrask effect all along. Back in the day, we called it Priest of Gix.

  3. The flavor of Bludgeon Brawl is hilarious: Everyone's picking up the nearest artifact and beating each other to a pulp. Plus, just think of the combo:

    T1: Mountain, Goblin Gaveleer
    T2: Plains, Spidersilk Net, Accorder's Shield, Mox Opal, Puresteel Paladin, equip, equip
    T3: Bludgeon Brawl, Darksteel Relic, draw, equip, equip, profit.

    With 20 (!) 0-drop non-creature artifacts in your deck, you could theoretically draw 16 more cards in a row, which makes a 33/21 trampling Gaveleer (the Opals neutralize each other) and a turn-3 kill in Standard... if the top 25 cards of your deck are just right. (To win, you only need the top 16 cards to be right, if your opponent has no blockers and you swung on turn 2.) 

    More seriously: Is Geosurge really worse than any other ritual? Pyretic Ritual, Desperate Ritual, Rite of Flame, etc. Given the creature/artifact rider, they seem pretty scared of it.

    I agree that the neutered-LD-spell-of-the-set is forced and lame. If they don't want land destruction to be central to the game (which is fine by me), I don't think red needs to waste a slot on it in every set.

  4. RE: Crappy Land Destruction: It's supposedly a side effect of red not having enough things to do at common. Land destruction is one of the few simple things it can do that isn't burn or a creature, so it gets used again and again even though it has to be crappy to fit that rarity. If red starts getting looting then maybe that won't happen so often.

    Also, I'm a fan of this Exarch too (can you detect a pattern?) -0/-2 is so close to 2 damage already, and lowering toughness isn't exactly new to red anyway (Flowstone anything says hello).

  5. Has R&D ever talked about why they keep red so narrow? Literally half of red's cards in any given set involve direct damage. In Scars, 13 of 27 red cards deal damage to a player or creature, and another 6 pump a creature's power:

    For both flavor and gameplay, looting would work well in red, as would bounce, which they already dabbled with in Planar Chaos. (Bounce especially seems awesome in red, since it goes the color something to do and plays nice with burn and small creatures.)

  6. Rosewater has talked about it before, and it's a problem for qhich R&D has been looking for a solution. Looting is one that may be favorable for the future but any color shifts of mechanics on a permanent basis aren't to be taken lightly.

    Bounce ends up being too similar to burn for my tastes; it's just another form of removal. It doesn't help solve the limited range of what red can actually _do_ at common, just another angle on something it already does.

  7. One thing I'd like to see pushed further into Red's domain, rather than looting or the exceedingly mundane bounce, would be a greater amount of time-oriented mechanics. Red already has dominance over Haste and extra combat steps, while Urabrask himself bears the gift of Kismet, aka the slow-motion effect. So perhaps Red could get some slight Rewind effects, like a Goblin Piker that untaps a Mountain upon ETB, allowing RDW to progress their board position and leave up Lightning Bolt. Things of this nature feel comfortable, as they don't betray what we already know about the color, they've simply been left aside, burdened with drawbacks or usurped by blue.

  8. I like the "partial rewind" idea, as it seems like an extension of things like Priest of Urabrask, Coal Stoker, and Akki Rockspeaker. Though it's not something that can stand by itself, so it doesn't fix some of the problem of simple spell effects to replace the "crappy LD" slot.

  9. That's true, I was just trying express that "time" was an angle to approach generation of new mechanics for Red to grow from, rather than attempting to shift one of the preexisting mechanical standards into Red's slice of the pie.

    Looting has its appeal, as it could really help diversify how players approach the strategy of playing a typical Red-deck, but I'm just not sold that that's really what needs to be done for the color.