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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Feb 07 2023 12:02pm

As we head towards the climax of the Phyrexian storyline, it’s time to head back to the former Mirrodin to see what’s going on with the enemies. Among Compleated planeswalkers and other forms of poison, Phyrexia: All Will Be One looks like one of the more powerful sets in recent memory. Let’s start with a look at the mechanics.




After the mess that was Infect back in Scars of Mirrodin block, we’re going back to the last attempted poison revival (Poisonous with some minor tweaks). The main difference compared with Infect is that the creatures don’t have to have lower stats, so they compete on mostly even footing with non-toxic creatures. Even if you ignore obvious outliers like Bloated Contaminator, something like Blightbelly Rat or Tyrranax Atrocity is still reasonable to play even in a non-poison deck, which is important as pure poison kills aren’t the only reason to play poison cards. Toxic is also pretty evenly spread across all colors but red, so it’s likely you’ll see poison in most Limited games.



The magic number is three, because if you get your opponent to three poison counters, it turns on a bunch of cards. It’s spread through all the non-red colors like Toxic, but it’s more heavily focused in white and black. The key is that most of the corrupted cards (especially outside of white) give you benefits that help them scale throughout the game, like Bring the Ending and Bonepicker Scourge. The question is how reliable it is to get your opponent to three poison, and how often that happens where the corrupted effect helps, but we’ll get to that more in the archetypes.


Oil Counters:

Instead of typical +1/+1 or -1/-1 counters, Phyrexia uses oil counters, a combination of +1/+1 and charge counters that are used for various purposes. All the colors get a bit of it, but it’s focused in green, red, and blue, with various effects spread throughout. It’s an interesting mechanic, with some counting up and some counting down, and of course it plays well with our next mechanic.



As cool as proliferate was in Scars of Mirrodin, War of the Spark, and various Masters sets, it never made a mark competitively. Phyrexia: All Will Be One is looking to change that, as it gets a massive power bump with cards like Drown in Ichor, Experimental Augury, and Venomous Brutalizer getting it essentially for free (and many more getting it as an option or a rider). It also appears in every color but white, so you’ll see it a lot, even outside the specific archetypes. While the interaction with oil counters is nice, it’s obviously much more powerful with poison, as it make it much easier to close out a game just by casting spells.


For Mirrodin!:

The rebels aren’t entirely outmatched though, as they get to steal a variant of Living Weapon as their main mechanic. The problem is that a lot more of the effect is built around that 2/2 you start with, so most of them don’t look great overall. It’s still a good way to increase your count of artifacts and equipment, so it’s not awful, though we’ll see how it plays out when we get to the Limited archetype.


Other Mechanics:

While mechanics like Surveil and Cycling have been made deciduous in recent sets, Phyrexia is the coming-out party that goes much farther, with Affinity, Battle Cry, and even Flashback making cameo appearances. There are also more planeswalkers than normal, even if they’re still all rare and mythic (and thus wouldn’t appear in this review normally). This all leads to a more complex set than normal, especially since poison in general leads to more strategic complexity (and more so since Toxic means you’re balancing both poison and normal damage).



White/Blue: Artifacts Matter

Phyrexia is still an artifact plane at its heart, so of course we have one pure artifact theme. There aren’t as many payoffs as you might expect, but what’s there is good. Signpost Cephalopod Sentry is obviously efficient, but Mandible Justicar is good for an aggressive common (though poison makes Lifelink a lot worse than normal). The key is the use of the Phyrexian Mites, which are artifacts and as good for damage strategies as poison ones. They’re also easy to get, with Basilica Shepherd being a key top-end for the swarm strategy. Getting to Corrupted is also relevant, as Incisor Glider is a great payoff for making a lot of Mites, and Distorted Curiosity is the perfect card for an aggro deck. There are also more instant-speed artifacts than you would expect, with Charge of the Mites and Chrome Prowler both being relevant. This deck is a little all-in, but I think it’ll do well overall.


Blue/Black: Proliferate Control

Blue and black don’t have the highest concentration of counters, but instead Proliferating itself is the key with enablers like Scheming Aspirant and signpost Voidwing Hybrid. Those two support cards show the concern though: this deck seems like one likely to be split between damage and poison. However, here this seems more likely to be decided by your color focus. A blue-focused deck doesn’t rely on poison as more of an inevitability (or maybe to turn on your Bring the Ending), and instead proliferates other things like Ichor Synthesizer or Tamiyo's Immobilizer. A black-focused deck is more Toxic-focused and uses Proliferate as a finisher (and because Voidwing Hybrid is an efficient creature). I think this deck gets by just on raw efficiency, but I don’t know if it’s better than the all-in decks.


Black/Red: Oil Sacrifice

After the massive success of Rakdos Sacrifice in The Brothers War, it’s weird for Wizards to go back to the same well right away with only minor tweaks. And this one starts well, with good cheap sacrifice outlets like Cutthroat Centurion, Annihilating Glare and Shrapnel Slinger, fodder like Stinging Hivemaster, Chimney Rabble, and Spellbombs, and even Awaken the Sleeper (though notably both four mana and at uncommon). However, I see two main problems. First, this looks like it’s being hurt by the poison divide, as some of your best cards like Fleshless Gladiator and Chittering Skittering want you to at least get to Corrupted, and a bunch of your creatures have Toxic as well while your main payoffs don’t. However, the main thing is that the payoffs seem (relatively) bad overall. Signpost Charforger seems extremely underwhelming (one impulse draw per three deaths, and it’s not even “next turn” so your opponent can kill it on their turn without being punished), Vat of Rebirth is clunky and not that much of a discount in mana for the hoops, and Churning Reservoir seems extremely overcosted. The point is that you use proliferate to help the oil counter things along, but that’s yet another piece you need. I don’t like the themes of this deck that much, and even if that means you can still get a removal-filled red/black deck to work, that isn’t great overall.


Red/Green: Midrange Oil

Another deck where “stats” doesn’t go as far as it used to—obviously Cinderslash Ravager is good if you cast it on turn four (the soonest you’re casting it without playing three one-drops or the rare land), but is it that much above the curve these days? Similarly, Urabrask's Anointer is good, but since it counts permanents it won’t kill people out of nowhere. The benefit is that you just get good creatures with bonus synergy, like Contagious Vorrac, Cankerbloom, and Venomous Brutalizer, along with “threshold 1” payoffs like Oil-Gorger Troll and Kuldotha Cracker. The problem is that all of the good creatures are in the 3 or 4-mana range (especially at common), and the cheap payoffs are underwhelming cards like Axiom Engraver, Exuberant Forgeling, and Predation Steward. There are better options like Evolving Adaptive and Incubation Sac, but again, they’re uncommons. If you get enough uncommons this can work, but with multiple oil/proliferate decks fighting over them, I don’t know how often this variant will be open.


Green/White: Toxic Aggro

The first pure poison deck is another go-wide deck, with the combination of Mites and cheap toxic creatures like Branchlight Stalker and (Duelist of Deep :ONEFaith). It’s also by far the best deck for Noxious Assault and makes Plague Nurse seem extremely pushed for a common. Again, since the toxic creatures are pushed, this deck works, but there are a lot of traps, in particular all the creatures that don’t have Toxic. Something like Porcelain Zealot seems like it should work, but it works against the plan (and is relatively understated to begin with), so it’s filler at best. Conversely, Flensing Raptor seems much better, since it both helps your toxic creatures get through and is a relevant threat in its own right. The archetype is harder than it looks to build, but it should be one of the top performers.


White/Black: Corrupted Value

This is the ultimate test of the poison/not poison divide, as it explicitly wants you to get to three poison, then kill with damage, even more so than something like blue/black. The problem is most of the Corrupted cards geared towards this archetype other than signpost Vivisection Evangelist (stuff like Apostle of Invasion, Sinew Dancer, and Ravenous Necrotitan) don’t seem good enough, since they aren’t high enough on the stat meter to be worth intentionally splitting your focus. I think this is going to either end up as a backup plan for the other poison decks that don’t have enough toxic creatures, or Vivisection Evangelist will end up as a splash in the main poison decks.


Blue/Red: Oil Prowess

The engine of “Prowess: get an oil counter” seems extremely well supported, with cards like Volt Charge, Experimental Augury, and Memerizing Dose taking very playable cards and tacking Proliferate on for free. In constructed I think this has potential, where you get a ton of good rares like Mercurial Spelldancer and The Filigree Sylex, but in Limited I’m not as sure. The main common payoffs are Ichor Synthesizer and Sawblade Scamp, which are fine but unspectacular (notably I think the Scamp is much better in Constructed). Trawler Drake is much better at uncommon, and while Serum-Core Chimera is good (note that the discard is completely optional), I’m still wondering if three counters (and being sorcery-speed) is limiting it too much. I think the top end of this deck can compete with the others, but the mid-tier that’s relying more on cards like Gitaxian Raptor will be worse than comparable mid-tier versions of the other top archetypes.


Black/Green: All-In Poison

If green/white was the aggro poison deck, this is the midrange poison deck, without as many good cheap drops and more midrange creatures—Tyrannax Atrocity will end a lot of games, and its existence at common should shape how you play against all green poison decks. However, the much more important aspect is that there’s a ton of reach to finish the job, with both Proliferate and direct poison cards like Infectious Inquiry (remember, life payment is better in a poison format) and Infectious Bite. I’m worried this deck may be a step too slow, but there are a bunch of defensive creatures (including non-Toxic cards like Contagious Vorrac that can also further the main plan late in the game) and cheap removal spells to help survive until your Necrogen Rotpriest and Venomous Brutalizer come down, so I think it’s starting off on a good foot.


Red/White: Equipment

Yes, it seems like we get Boros Equipment once a year at this rate, but as we saw in Kamigawa, Scars of Mirrodin, and other sets where equipment comes with creatures, it’s a lot more viable when equipment doesn’t take away from your creature count. However, the move to 2/2’s makes the equipment look a lot worse—obviously signpost Bladehold War-Whip is efficient enough (and Dragonwing Glider should be an amazing bomb—at least before you throw a ton of Planeswalkers into the FIRE blender), but other than that, the only equipment that seem playable at their face are Barbed Battlefist and Hexgold Halberd. If you actively want to play Vulshok Spitter and Mirran Bardiche this deck will be crazy, but instead, you have to look at the rest of the support. Obviously Rebel Salvo doesn’t need Affinity to be a first-pick, but Oxidda Finisher is a major incentive to play the deck. Nahiri's Sacrifice is also a sneaky support card, as a good way to use a Vulshok Spitter is to turn it into a two-for-one (assuming you traded the rebel for a card already) or kill a horde of Mites with it. Against All Odds is also interesting as it can give you a lot of value, but it’s extremely clunky, especially in a color combination where it’s not obvious how you get a creature into the graveyard quickly. I don’t know how you get into this deck—maybe first-picking one of the rares and tabling multiple Bladecraft Aspirants—but it has more tools than you’d think if it’s wide open.


Green/Blue: Poison Proliferate

If green/black and blue/black made it easy to Proliferate, green/blue makes it trivial, and Tainted Observer is one of the biggest must-kills in the format, since it’s an inevitable clock. However, other than that flier, it’s not obvious how you get the first hit in since blue only has a single (irrelevant) toxic creature and green doesn’t have evasion outside of rare or Paladin of Predation (or Ichorspit Basilisk, which kind of counts). Instead, I think the deck wants you to play Prologue to Phyresis (or maybe Aspirant's Ascent or Maze Spellbomb to get something through) and proliferate the rest of the way, which somehow is both not really a threat and feels like bad design space when there’s no way to counter it other than stopping every single source of poison. I think this is the weakest of the poison decks, but it’s not an awful way to use your poison cards.


However, I think there’s another non-poison deck hidden in there, as Thirsting Roots, Contagious Vorrac, and Expand the Sphere all directly combine land fetching with Proliferate, pointing towards a ramp deck. The problem is that all the literal ramp is clunky, with Phyrexian Atlas and Rustvine Cultivator being the only commons. Sure, Expand the Sphere-ing into a turn 5 Paladin of Predation requires an immediate answer, but Expand the Sphere is bad to rely on if you can’t immediately use the consolation Proliferates. Maybe reliably casting a Sylvok Battle-Chair or Quicksilver Fisher is good enough, but that seems slow too. And if we’re talking about slow win conditions, this is probably the place Font of Progress fits in if it does anywhere. I don’t know how you build it, but keep an eye on this sub-archetype.


Other Important Cards:

The most important thing to remember is that as much as I’ve been emphasizing the poison/non-poison divide, if you’re trying to win with damage, Toxic is almost all upside, with Hexgold Slash being the only exception. Most toxic creatures have lower stats to compensate, but if you would otherwise play a Annex Sentry, Bilious Skulldweller, Nimraiser Paladin, or Venomous Brutalizer, you should still play it.


Next, if it isn’t obvious by how badly Planar Disruption obsoletes most Pacifism/Arrest variants, this is a high-quality removal set. A lot of it requires poison support to scale into the late game, but this is also where the random toxic creatures are more upside (though I wouldn’t include a bunch of random Pestilent Syphoners to support your Annoint with Afflictions). I also think the combination of the removal auras, equipment, and good artifact creatures make Carnivorous Canopy maindeckable, and Vanish into Eternity better than just the expected clunky white removal.


For an artifact set, the colorless cards mostly fade into the background. Myr Kinsmith is the main gimmick, but it seems much worse than the typical collect-me, especially since there are only three Myr in the main set somehow, and the best one is average mana myr Myr Convert. Ichorplate Golem is also an important oil support card and Ribskiff is probably good enough on rate (especially if you’re converting a random Contagious Vorrac or something into a toxic creature), but I’m not sure if the Spellbomb cycle is that great, especially outside the sacrifice deck. The one thing that’s important to not overlook is the common sphere cycle, as The Dross Pits and the like are extremely good for just being taplands. In fact, they might a surprising benefit to playing a non-poison deck, as the poison decks have fewer relevant playables and might not be able to use the middle-of-the-pack picks I expect these lands to go at without missing toxic creatures.



Overall, Phyrexia: All Will Be One is looking like an interesting take on a poison set. The Toxic-adjacent archetypes seem stronger, but they’ll also be more heavily contested, which should be self-correcting. The bombs also seem bomby as always, but the removal seems up to the task. As for what’s next, March of the Machines is shaping up to be an interesting design (especially with whatever the Aftermath boosters end up being), but before that, we have return of Remastered sets to Arena with Shadows over Innistrad Remastered. I have enough notice that I should be able to get a prediction piece and a review out this time. Until then.



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