Three Lessons from the New Phyrexia Prerelease

Posted in Limited Information on May 10, 2011

By Steve Sadin

I hope that you were able to make it to a New Phyrexia Prerelease last weekend. If you didn't get a chance to play last weekend, or if you did and you're hungry for more, don't worry—there will be Launch Parties for you to play in this weekend.

Me? I kept myself busy spellslinging at the New York Prerelease hosted by Gray Matter Conventions. I got to hang out with a bunch of old friends (some of whom I haven't seen in about five years), and I got to meet a lot of cool new people who play regularly at Jim Hanley's Universe in Manhattan, as well as Kings Games and Twenty Sided Store in Brooklyn. If you're looking for a draft in New York, you will definitely be able to find one (and you probably won't even have to change trains to get there).

A full day of hanging out and playing Magic later, I walked away with some new knowledge—and a bunch of new questions—about the format. Want to know the three most important things that I learned about New Phyrexia Limited from playing at the New Phyrexia prerelease?

Then read on!

1) Phyrexian mana cards can, and should, be played in (almost) every deck.

Last week I wrote at length about Thundering Tanadon. For a quick recap, four-mana 5/4 tramplers are more than worth your time even if you have to pay 4 life to cast them. I don't need to be playing green to pummel my opponents with a gigantic creature that I can cast on turn four, or turn three if I am fortunate enough to start the game off with a turn-two mana Myr.

It doesn't matter whether you're playing black-red or white-blue—Porcelain Legionnaire is going to be an excellent addition to your deck. A 3/1 first striker is well worth three or even four mana. If your opponent doesn't have a removal spell, Porcelain Legionnaire will be able to hold off hordes of attackers (including tough-to-block infect creatures like Rot Wolf, Cystbearer, and Ichorclaw Myr), or barrel through for a Lightning Bolt's worth of damage every turn until your opponent finds a way to kill it or a 4-toughness blocker to stop it.

And while 4 life might seem like a lot to pay for a removal spell, in the grand scheme of things it really isn't that much. Dismember is still an excellent addition to nonblack decks as it can take down everything from Cystbearers to Flesh-Eater Imps to Scrapdiver Serpents to Hoard-Smelter Dragons, for only a single mana! Just think about how devastating it would be to kill off your opponent's Hoard-Smelter Dragon the he or she just spent an entire turn on without skipping a beat yourself. (And if you ever Dismember a would-be-lethal Flesh-Eater Imp that your opponent just sacrificed his or her board to pump, please be courteous and wait until you are out of your opponent's line of sight before you do a dance to celebrate.)

Oh, and did I mention that you don't have to commit yourself to a color for Dismember?

There aren't many cards in the set that I would take over Dismember, but Act of Aggression, another Phyrexian mana card, is one of them.

Every combat step becomes an absolute nightmare for your opponent when you have Act of Aggression in your deck. If your opponent has a decent board, there's little that he or she can do to play around your Act of Aggression short of not attacking at all.

Attack with just one creature? Sorry, I'll steal one of your creatures that you left back on defense and block with it. Attack with all of your creatures? I'm still going to borrow one of them to block and trade with one of your other attackers.

And while it's certainly secondary to the absolute wrecking that you can give your opponent with a defensive Act of Aggression, there are still going to be plenty of times when you will be able to burgle one of your opponent's biggest creatures and then attack them for lethal with it.

If you are fortunate enough to open an Act of Aggression, you should almost certainly take it in Draft, and play it in Sealed Deck.

While a number of the Phyrexian Mana cards in the set are pretty fantastic, not every Phyrexian mana card is going to be worth the life, the mana, or even the card that you have to pay for it. For example, Slash Panther is a fine twenty-second or twenty-third card that can potentially connect for a lot of damage, but at the end of the day it's still a four-mana creature that will die in combat to almost any two-drop.

Mental Misstep is sure to have a huge impact on Constructed formats, particularly older powerful formats like Legacy and Vintage. There aren't very many one drops in Limited, though, so you probably shouldn't look to get any mileage out of this likely Constructed staple the next time you draft or play Sealed.

There are a couple of Phyrexian mana cards that I'm still on the fence about.

Would I include Gitaxian Probe in the main deck of every deck? I don't know.

I know that I would make room for it in any blue deck, and I would want it in any deck where I'm looking to pull off a big turn, such as an infect deck that is trying to win with a big Untamed Might or a deck that wants to invest a lot of time into casting and equipping a Argentum Armor to deliver the finishing blows to an otherwise well-positioned foe.

I would board it in against any infect deck to be ready for the same kind of big turn (obviously), or in any match-up where I absolutely need to have information about what my opponent is trying to set up. If my opponent shows me an Act of Aggression and a Mutagenic Growth in Game 1, you can be pretty darn sure that I'll have my Gitaxian Probe ready for Game 2.

But is it worth starting in any deck?

I'm not sure yet. Paying 2 life against a beatdown deck to cycle a card and get a little bit of extra knowledge is rarely worth it. But if it turns out that life totals aren't all that important in most matchups, then the upside of Gitaxian Probe might make it an auto-include in most decks.

What are your thoughts on Gitaxian Probe in Limited?

2) Beatdown is on the rise.

The existence of Phyrexian mana cards helps out beatdown decks in two ways.

First, players are paying life to cast their Phyrexian mana spells, meaning that you might only have to deal 18 or 14 or even less damage to kill your opponent.

On the flip side, there are a number of good aggressive creatures in New Phyrexia that can be played for Phyrexian mana. Porcelain Legionnaire, Spined Thopter, Vault Skirge, and Trespassing Souleater are all very strong creatures in aggressive decks (well, except for maybe Vault Skirge—but it's still pretty decent). This means that it will be significantly easier to fill out your aggressive curve with good creatures, regardless of what colors you are playing.

While it's definitely an in-demand card, the ability to close out games with Artillerize is a really big deal for aggressive players, as it will give them a much easier time of things when games go long. If your opponent pays 4 life to cast Phyrexian-mana spells and you have an Artillerize, you will only need to connect for 11 damage to win the game. Now that shouldn't be too hard to do, should it?

At the time that I'm writing this article, I haven't done any drafts yet, but you can be sure that I'm going to try to put together as many aggressive decks as possible over the next few weeks to see just how much I can punish players who are trying to go for slow, grinding control strategies.

3) The combat tricks in New Phyrexia are very strong.

I was never too worried about Giant Growth effects in Mirrodin Besieged / Scars of Mirrodin limited. Sure my opponent would occasionally get me with a big Untamed Might, a well-timed Tel-Jilad Defiance, or a surprising Seize the Initiative (which I still think is very underrated). But more often than not, combat would be free of Giant Growths, "protection from" effects, and other combat tricks.

That all changes with the introduction of New Phyrexia.

The pump spell that's on everyone's mind and on the tips of everyone's tongues right now is undoubtedly Mutagenic Growth. Rarely do people care this much about a Giant Growth effect. But then again, it's not every day that you get a chance to play with (and against) a pump spell that costs zero mana and can be played in any deck.

Got a Grasp of Darkness to deal with a freshly cast Moltensteel Dragon? Better luck next time!

Tapping out to equip a Copper Carapace to your creature to make it bigger than your tapped-out opponent's only blocker? Well, I hope you enjoyed wasting two turns, because I know your opponent enjoyed plopping down a Mutagenic Growth to take out your equipped creature.

Ready to double-block a big Alpha Tyrranax because you know that your opponent doesn't want to waste time casting any tricks, as he or she instead wants to spend that time casting more dinosaurs? Well, too bad that both of your creatures are going to hit the bin without taking down your opponent's Alpha Tyrranax when your opponent simply pays 2 life to make that 6/5 an 8/7 until the end of the turn.

And no, things aren't going to look any better for you after your opponent follows that up with a Quilled Slagwurm.

Ready to trade in combat with your opponent's Rot Wolf? Not today you won't.


There are countless situations where a free pump spell will be backbreaking. And while it's something that you need to keep in the back of your mind whenever you are playing New Phyrexia Limited, you can't live in fear of it. Unless you've deduced from your opponent's plays that he or she probably has it, you saw two of them in the previous game, or you can afford to play around it at little to no cost, you shouldn't worry about it too much.

At some point, your opponent is going to be able to do something decent with a free pump spell. If you are worried about getting blown out by it, then don't double-block if you don't have to (at least unless you have a removal spell which will allow you to go over the top on your opponent). But in normal situations you shouldn't think that you can, or should, attempt to completely mitigate the effects of Mutagenic Growth without paying a high price. After all, if your opponent notices that you are playing around Mutagenic Growth—perhaps trying to set up a two-for-one of your own—then he or she should adjust his or her play accordingly to make sure that you don't get a chance for that blowout play.

(Check this space again in a few weeks for more about playing with and against Mutagenic Growth.)

While Mutagenic Growth might be the most unique pump spell in the set, I don't think that it's the best one...

Leeching Bite is awesome. While I wouldn't jump to first-pick it, if I can grab it third or fourth, I'm going to be very happy. Combat becomes an absolute nightmare for your opponent whenever you have Leeching Bite in your deck. An extremely well-timed Mutagenic Growth might give its caster a two for one, but more often than not it's going to trade one-for-one with an opponent's creature or burn spell (netting its caster quite a bit of time in the process, but leaving the two players even on cards).

However, a Leeching Bite will typically yield an Arc Trail–like two-for-one, and will sometimes turn into a three-for-one—and even when it goes bad, it will usually be able to trade one-for-one with an opponent's card.

Even if you're just using Leeching Bite deal with a pesky creature like an Embersmith, you're going to get a ton of value out of the exchange. But when you make your Alpha Tyrranax win a combat against a Thundering Tanadon and take out a Porcelain Legionnaire in the process, your opponent is going to have a lot of trouble getting back into the game.

Not bad for a two-mana card that is rarely dead, now is it?

    What Did You Learn This Weekend?

I've shared the three most important things that I learned about New Phyrexia Limited. Now I want to know what you think about the format.

So head on over to the forums (using the "Discuss" link below) and share with me, and your fellow readers, the three most important things that you learned about New Phyrexia Limited this past weekend.

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