Isn't there something great about a truly evil villain? Loki is my favorite character in Marvel comics, the Joker is the best part of every Batman movie where he shows up, and Scar steals the show in The Lion King. He has the best song, too.
Magic's villains are terrific as well. The reason I was excited for a return to Zendikar wasn't because I wanted more backstory on Kor Skyfisher—it was because I wanted to see what the Eldrazi were up to. Would they be as terrifying and otherworldly a second time around? (Yes and yes.)
The Magic Multiverse has quite a few epic villains, and this week's Commander 2015 preview card gives us a glimpse of what one of Magic's biggest baddies has been up to since the last time we saw them. I've had some pretty great preview cards so far, but this is the first one that actually made me shout "WHAT!?" and push my chair back from my desk in shock.
Ladies and gentleman, the Phyrexians have taken Ezuri.
Say it ain't so! According to Ezuri's Predation, one of Mirrodin's greatest heroes has been compleated and is now fully Phyrexian. This is huge news, but it shouldn't come as a total shock to anyone who paid close attention to the lore toward the end of Scars of Mirrodin block.
Here's what happened. According to The Quest for Karn, Ezuri was a bandit before the Phyrexian invasion began, and he was one of the first Mirrans to figure out what was happening to their plane. Abandoning his life of crime, Ezuri unified the Viridian elves and human Sylvok of the Tangle. He established safe havens for his people and led the able-bodied in a resistance movement against the Phyrexians. This is the Ezuri immortalized on the card Ezuri, Renegade Leader.
By the time Elspeth, Koth, and Venser showed up, however, something inside Ezuri had shifted. Instead of helping the Planeswalkers find Karn, Ezuri tried to work against them. Ezuri's resistance movement had made him one of the most powerful and influential beings on Mirrodin, and the elf found himself unwilling to give up that status. When the Planeswalkers showed up at Ezuri's camp with Melira, a Sylvok woman with the ability to cure phyresis and protect against the oil, Ezuri tried to control her and her cure in an attempt to solidify his power.
According to Uncharted Realms' Kelly Digges, Melira and the Planeswalkers left Ezuri's camp before he was inoculated against Phyrexian infection. Ezuri was eventually captured and compleated by the Progress Engine, Jin-Gitaxias's blue-aligned faction of Phyrexians. They transformed him into a Phyrexian monstrosity. He works for them now.
What is especially interesting about this last part is that it puts Ezuri in opposition to Glissa, who is the current leader of the Tangle under the praetorship of Vorinclex and the green-aligned Phyrexians who call themselves the Vicious Swarm. Much like green-aligned creatures on other planes, the Vicious Swarm view themselves as stewards of the forest. In their twisted world, however, this means allowing meaner and more powerful creatures to evolve through a carefully cultivated and brutal "natural selection" process.
The Progress Engine, on the other hand, views Vicious Swarm–style evolution as aimless and naive. Jin-Gitaxias believes that creating a perfect Phyrexia can only be achieved via discipline and experimentation. This, perhaps, is why Ezuri's current appearance is so machine-like.
And thus, two elves of the Tangle—both of whom were once heroes of Mirrodin—find themselves compleated and placed on opposing sides of a Phyrexian power struggle.
Phew—that's a lot to process, and we haven't even gotten to the card's text yet!
Based on what Ezuri's Predation is capable of doing, the Progress Engine seems to have a point. You'll have to generate eight mana before you can cast this spell, but I can't think of many other Magic cards that can make this many tokens.
Ezuri's Predation is dripping with raw Phyrexian efficiency, too. Nature makes 3/3 Beasts? The Phyrexians will make 4/4 Beasts. You have eighteen creatures on the battlefield? The Phyrexians now have eighteen creatures on the battlefield. You want to oppose Phyrexia? Every one of your Soldiers must fight every one of our Beasts.
Ezuri is unconcerned that some of his Beasts will be picking fights that they cannot win. Beasts are replaceable, after all, and all who oppose Phyrexia will become Phyrexia one way or another.
Those who do not submit will be consumed.
Is it okay to put Ezuri, Renegade Leader in the same deck as Ezuri's Predation? Sure, if you want to, but make sure you surround him with his new brethren instead of his old allies. Ezuri's Brigade is no more. Glisteners are part of the Progress Engine, though, so they're fair game. Putting Ezuri in a deck with a full complement of Glistener Elfs feels like a good use of his current talents.
It may just be the maddening voice of Jin-Gitaxias whispering in my ear, but I'm not going to put the old Ezuri in my new Predation deck. Ezuri is Phyrexian now, and there's simply no room for imperfection on New Phyrexia. Lucky for us, the compleated version of Ezuri is also being released in Commander 2015. I'm going to run the new Ezuri alongside Ezuri's Predation and a few other key Progress Engine cards—Corrupted Conscience, Inexorable Tide, and, of course, Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur. Together, we will crush the last of the Mirrans and rebuild Yawgmoth's perfect world.
Until next time, may all your favorite villains make comebacks this epic.