MTG’s Strongest Mechanic Is Back in a Weird Way

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With Dominaria United’s spoiler season well underway, we’ve already been treated to no end of interesting and exciting cards. Whether it’s the fantastically flavorful Karn’s Sylex or the dangerously powerful Liliana of the Veil, there’s plenty to be excited about. Throughout spoiler season, we’ve also seen several new and old mechanics in Dominaria United. This even includes a variant of what might be the strongest MTG mechanic; Phyrexian Mana. 

Mana, but at What Cost

Heading into spoiler season, it seemed that Phyrexian Mana would be an unsurprising no-show in Dominaria United. As one of Magic’s most potent mechanics ever printed, having Phyrexian Mana in Standard would wreak havoc on the format. Surprisingly, however, Phyrexian Mana is returning to Dominaria United in a thankfully limited capacity. Rather than reintroducing cards such as Gitaxian Probe to Standard, Wizards has played it safe instead. 

Instead of being available on cards by default, Phyrexian Mana in Dominaria United is an ability bestowed by other cards. First spoiled on Deflier of Dreams, this new mechanic may even be more useful than Phyrexian Mana. Rather than only being on specific creatures to make them dangerously powerful, Defiler of Dreams can give any blue permanent Phyrexian Mana. For so long as it stays in play, this makes Defiler of Dreams devastatingly powerful. 

As effective as Defiler of Dreams would be on its own, this mechanic is available across an entire cycle of cards. Spanning the five colors of Magic’s mana, each of these cards, such as Defiler of Faith, is a devastating threat. Not only does each card in this cycle give permanents of its color Phyrexian Mana, but they also feature an added effect. Defiler of Faith, for instance, creates a 1/1 white Soldier token whenever you cast a white spell. Defiler of Dreams, on the other hand, lets you draw a card for each blue permanent spell cast. 

Despite featuring what might be the most powerful mechanic in all of MTG, this “Defiler” cycle is somewhat balanced. First and foremost, this ability only affects permanents, rather than all spells. Additionally, each of these cards comes at a high cost. Currently, the cheapest of the Defiler cycle is Defiler of Flesh at four mana. This mana cost should prevent these cards from running totally rampant as, by the time they can be played, you’ll already have plenty of mana. 

The Power of Phyrexian Might

Alongside the Defiler cycle to give all your permanent spells, Phyrexian Mana, Dominaria United also features the mechanics reimagining. First seen on Tamiyo, Compleated Sage, Compleated returns in Dominaria United. This planeswalker-specific mechanic appears to be the actual, more balanced reimagining of the old-school Phyrexian Mana. Featuring drawbacks should the Phyrexian Mana cost be played, Compleated mitigates the power of Phyrexian Mana’s cost reduction. You are paying the Phyrexian Mana with life on planeswalker causes it to enter the battlefield with two fewer loyalty counters. 

In Dominaria United Ajani, Sleeper Agent is the only spoiled planeswalker, so far, with Compleated. With somewhat middling plus and minus abilities, we don’t expect Ajani, Sleeper Agent to see a tremendous amount of play. Ajani’s latest ultimate ability, however, is a different story. For six loyalty points, Ajani, Sleep Agent brings back another revised Phyrexian mechanic; Poison.

Recently appearing on Fynn, the Fangbearer in Kaldheim, Poison counters are another recent revision to a classic mechanic. Similarly to Comlpeated, Poison Counters are somewhat neutered compared to their past Phyrexian might as Infect. In their new guise, players must jump through more hoops to get the counters to stick. On Ajani, Sleeper Agent, you need to activate its ultimate first, and Fynn, the Fangbearer requires an excessive number of Deathtouch creatures. 

The Test of Time

Glistener Elf
Glistener Elf | New Phyrexia

With the classic Phyrexian mechanics returning with significant drawbacks, their impact on Constructed and Eternal formats remains to be seen. Ultimately, despite how fun they appear, these mechanics may be a novelty or a weird wincon. For fans of these mechanics, thankfully, things may get better. With 2023’s release schedule being dominated by the Phyrexian arc, it would be no surprise to see these mechanics return. When they do, there’s always the chance that they might actually be playable.

For better or worse, it’s highly unlikely that in Phyrexia: All will be One or March of the Machines, we’ll see true Phyrexian Mana or Infect return. Due to the power level of these mechanics, they would likely utterly dominate the Standard environment until 2024. These mechanics could also ruin the otherwise interesting meta of Pioneer and Historic, so they’re probably better left in the past. 

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