New Phyrexia — Impressions

The entire New Phyrexia set leaked almost a full week before Wizards of the Coast was set to begin their previews… you have to figure someone’s getting fired over that one. Wizards hasn’t had a security failure of this magnitude since 2002, when the full Judgment spoiler was revealed from hacking MTG Online… the only thing in recent memory that even compares is Conflux, which had a full list of cardnames released just days after Shards of Alara dropped.

Anyway, it’s a weird set. As the name implies, the story behind this set is that Phyrexia, the corrosive, infectious villains from Magic’s early life, has finally quashed the Mirran resistance and taken over the plane of Mirrodin, becoming a prominent threat to the multiverse again after a (real-world) decade of dormancy. This is expressed mechanically by… I guess “homogenizing” is a good word… the colors.

The primary mechanical innovation in New Phyrexia is the introduction of Phyrexian mana costs, which can be paid for either by one mana of a chosen color or 2 life. So, for example, Phyrexian Metamorph, which costs 3(PU), can be cast either by paying 3U or by paying 3 and 2 life. This means that a lot of color-specific mechanics are now effectively colorless if you’re willing to open a vein for them — everything from efficient beatsticks (Porcelain Legionnaire) to pump spells (Mutagenic Growth) to Lobotomy effects (Surgical Extraction) to firebreathing (Moltensteel Dragon) to card-drawing (Tezzeret’s Gamble). There’s nothing major here — in many cases it would be more efficient to just splash the color and pay normally if you really need the effect — but it does mean that each of the colors has a great deal more in the way of options than they usually do. This fits in with the Phyrexian philosophy of absorbing everything and converting it to the Phyrexian cause. It doesn’t matter if Phyrexian cards are white or blue or red; it’s more important that it’s Phyrexian.

It’s more than the Phyrexian mana, though… there are a lot of little color pie bleeds in this set — mostly at the expense of black. In a way, this set’s blacker than Torment, whose whole gimmick was that it had a higher percentage of black cards than your normal set. In Torment, though, aside from a few deviants like the Possessed cycle, the colors were all still doing their own thing, as usual — there were just fewer of those colors than normal. In New Phyrexia, though, all five colors have taken on black’s philosophy to a degree as a result of Phyrexia’s dominance, so they’re all showing their bad sides. A lot of cards have little life-loss riders… they’d all be black in another set, but I think every color gets at least one here. It reminds me a little of Planar Chaos in that all the colors are allowed to stretch a little and do things that they can justify philosophically, but usually not mechanically. (There’s even a Planar Chaos reprint, in Enslave.) No way cards like Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, Inquisitor Exarch (a white burn spell!), or Phyrexian Unlife show up in white in a normal set. No way blue gets cards like Mindculling or Phyrexian Ingester in a normal set. Beast Within is one of the most shockingly off-color cards in recent memory. The Leeching Bite effect was a gold card back in Apocalypse. Etc, etc, etc. Wizards has been saying for years that all five colors contain the capacity to do evil, and New Phyrexia’s the set that proves it.

In terms of quality, I’m a little less certain — I find it easier to judge cards when they’re parceled out a few at a time and I can devote my brainspace to considering their implications individually. Sorting through a huge mess of cards trying to see what jumps out is a good bit harder. (Then there’s the fact that I apparently have no idea what makes for a good Magic card anymore — last time I checked Squadron Hawk was the most-played creature in Standard. Did I wake up in a bizarre alternate universe or something?) It does seem somewhat more “answer-y” than is typical of Wizards. It’s a little late to start printing answers for Jace, the Mind Sculptor now, though, guys — he’s already ruined Standard for over a year; how much more damage can he do? Cards like Despise, Exclusion Ritual, and Hex Parasite are a little obvious, though, don’t you think? There’s also Shattered Angel, which is about as blatant an anti-Valakut card as it’s possible to get… except for the fact that the first Valakut activation is aiming right for the Angel, of course. They printed a legend who’s nothing more than a Grizzly Bear if the other guy isn’t playing infect.

I kind of want to see someone make Splicer.dec. There are about a million of those things.

Amusing old-timer callback: Priest of Urabrask, which is Priest of Gix from way back in Urza’s Saga with a new color scheme.

My favorite card in the set is undoubtedly Bludgeon Brawl, the enchantment that turns artifacts into Equipment. I’m not sure what it says about me that in this incredibly dark and mechanically interesting set I gravitate towards the silly red card that oozes flavor, but…

It’s worth noting that this is something like the third straight block that’s ended on a down note, with the bad guys winning. I’m getting kind of sick of the superdark settings, just speaking personally… but it doesn’t look like it’s going to lift any time soon, as the next block apparently takes place in some kind of Hammer Horror-inspired setting with vampires and such. Phooey.

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