By Kelly Digges
Not that any of us have a choice, really. Not since they came.
It's not as if any sane being would choose Phyrexia! Its ranks are filled by those infected by its oil, new monstrosities birthed here on this world, and a mad few who chose power over freedom of their own volition. Like I said, no sane being would choose Phyrexia. Not once they've seen it. Not with full knowledge of what it is.
Not so long ago, Mirrodin was a world just like yours. Cities and roads, tribes and nations—a thriving network of civilizations living in relative peace, watched over by the five suns. Now, we're locked in a struggle for survival with a force we barely understand, a threat that's been incubating beneath our world's veneer of prosperity and progress for longer than any of us have been alive. Maybe there's something like it in your world, something you're not even aware of. When it rears its head, you'd better be ready to face it.
Don't repeat what happened here. Don't wait to start fighting until it's nearly too late. Don't let them catch you off guard!
Why Defend Mirrodin?
The Mirrans are like you. We're individuals, with our own aspirations, desires, and goals. We cooperate when we wish, and disagree when we must. But our disagreements don't seem nearly as important as they did just a short time ago. The internecine conflict among the leonin to choose Raksha's successor. The Viridians' purging of the hated trolls. Even the Vulshok and the goblins fighting for control of the mountain passes. None of it seems important now, not when we know that the differences among us are dwarfed by the key difference between us and them.
That difference is simple: free will.
Sure, your scientists and philosophers might argue about whether free will "really" exists. Forget that. You can feel it, can't you? You feel it every time you get up in the morning. You have a choice. What will you do today? Who will you be? What goals will you strive toward? That choice is real, and it matters.
The Phyrexians want to take away that choice, that freedom. They want to subvert your will, change you into a ... a creature, a thing, like they are. An automaton, shuffling along, fulfilling whatever role your Phyrexian overlords assign you to in their vast and impersonal hierarchy. No life but the one you're slotted into. No purpose but the one they choose for you. No personality. No individuality. No you.
Phyrexia isn't a nation, or a race, or a movement. It's a disease. It will rot your body, twist your mind, and repurpose you as raw material to propagate itself.
That's the glory of Phyrexia. That's the "great work" they're so excited about. That's the twisted purpose to which they'll put us—and our children, our brothers and sisters, everyone and everything we hold dear.
Unless we stop them, and reclaim our world. That is our mission. That is our goal.
We will endure.
In Our World
Here in our world, taking the side of Phyrexia doesn't mean surrendering your will to a vast superorganism bent on dominating the entire multiverse. It doesn't mean allowing your flesh or your mind to be subverted or flayed or reprocessed or whatever else. It just means playing some cards.
In many ways, that makes it easier to support Phyrexia in our world—as an idea, a construct, perhaps even standing in for any number of theoretically noble aspirations toward unity or self-improvement. If you think the Phyrexians look totally sweet, or love reading their flavor text in a voice dripping with evil intention, or have fond memories of their previous appearances in Magic ... well, you're enjoying Phyrexia the easy way, aren't you?
Now imagine staring it in the face.
Not in a card game. Not safely tucked away in a fictional world, killing or enslaving fictional people, annihilating a fictional civilization. Imagine it here.
Picture monstrous engines of destruction pouring out of the ground in a vile inversion of everything you thought you knew about how the world works. Imagine societies and institutions you've always taken for granted—our entire civilization, our very way of life—suddenly facing extinction at the hands (and claws and teeth and tentacles) of an alien life-form, one that afflicts victims like a plague and converts like a cult.
Imagine having to wonder, now and maybe always, that any bit of food or water, any animal, anyone you meet might be a vector for Phyrexian contagion. And it's a plague that does so much worse than weaken the body. It makes your mind sick. It makes you see things their way. Either you live in fear and desperation, spend your life fighting ... or you join them, and give up everything in that life you've ever valued.
That's the choice the Mirrans are facing.
And that's the best reason I can think of for supporting the Mirrans: They really are the good guys. If they lose, they lose everything—and unlike the Phyrexians, we can imagine how they must feel.
Sure, it's just a card game. In some ways, right and wrong don't enter into it. But the Mirrans also represent a noble ideal of sacrifice for a just cause. And when you play a game, nobody said you have to leave your ideas at the door.
"The Phyrexians are vulnerable. Do not despair. We will prevail!"
—Juryan, rebel leader
Not that you have a choice, really. Not in the long run.
Oh, choice is always possible, in the strictest sense. Phyrexia does not coerce. It elevates. It transforms. It compleats. If you choose to turn your face from its glories ... well, that's your decision. And you'll pay the price. But that's the beauty of it, really. No one can resist Phyrexia forever. Not once they've seen it. Not with full knowledge of what it is.
Not so long ago, the world of Mirrodin slumbered restlessly, unaware of the Great Work unfolding beneath its surface. Some of its inhabitants could tell that something had changed, that their world would never be the same. But they didn't know what, and so their worries remained unvoiced—or fell on the deaf ears of rivals and enemies, too fearful of deception and bent on advantage even to look for themselves, to see what was happening.
They are divided, weak ... purposeless. We are the future of this world—and all others. We are Phyrexia.
Why Join Phyrexia?
Look at yourself. Go on, look.
Pathetic, isn't it? You—the real "you," the ghost in the machine—are trapped in a shell of dying meat, unable to change, unable to grow, capable only of slowly, inexorably winding down until a tube ruptures or a strut fractures and you die. And that's the end—of all your learning, all your experience, all your potential. The end of you.
What a waste.
And what a choice! Spend all your time catering to this absurd puppet of flesh and bone, to keep it running as long and as well as you can? Or neglect it, try to live a life of the mind, and find yourself, in the waning days of your negligible lifespan, more trapped than ever by the inexorable deficiencies of your own "natural" biology?
There's a better way.
Flesh is a distraction, death an inconvenience. Become one with us, and if you're strong enough, you could live forever. We can reshape your very structure to fit your purpose.
Which brings us to the question of purpose. To put it bluntly: You don't have one.
Oh, you have goals, desires, passing whims that take hold of your meat-brain and convince you to follow them, for a time. But whatever you believe in, whatever you hold dear ... it is transitory. False. You tell yourself lies about love and friendship and happily ever after (ha!), and then live in disappointment when your fragile fantasies fail to come to pass. Because life doesn't work that way.
But Phyrexia ... Phyrexia is forever.
We were destroyed once, our very world blown apart, reduced to ashes. Yet we came back. We'll always come back. The pathetic creatures that oppose us could never stamp out every trace of our infection, could never divest themselves of every bit of our influence. Some trace will remain, dormant, hidden away ... until someone discovers it. As long as one drop of Phyrexian oil remains, on any world, our destiny is secure.
All will be one.
In Our World
Unlike the Mirrans, you and I don't have anything life-altering at stake in the Mirran-Phyrexian war. We have the luxury of sitting back in our safe, unthreatened homes and cities and considering not which side we think is right or good, but which side we think is cool.
And Phyrexia is really cool.
First off, there's a certain lure precisely because they are the bad guys—not the sort of force we would want to exist outside a game, or could remotely get behind if it did. That's one of the fun things in both games and fiction: you can root for the bad guys, guilt-free.
Even on the scale of bad guys, the Phyrexians rate pretty high. They fill a role somewhere between the mindless rampage of the Eldrazi or the Kamigawa Spirits and the long-term scheming of Nicol Bolas or the Cabal. They're monsters with brains, zombies with a plan. And, like some of the most enduringly frightening and appealing villains, they beat you by making you one of them.
During a previous storyline involving the Phyrexians, two of the good guys—Ertai, Wizard Adept and Crovax the Cursed—ended up Ertai, the Corrupted by Phyrexia, becoming Ascendant Evincar in its army. That's a fate worse than death, and it makes for some damn good stories.
As Mark Rosewater has noted, the idea of "the swarm" isn't a new one, the Borg in Star Trek being a notable example elsewhere in fiction. But the Phyrexians combine the usual zombielike qualities of a swarm-type villain with this weird spiritual angle. They have scriptures and priests, a whole twisted religious hierarchy that's uniquely chilling. The Daleks from Doctor Who might believe they're the supreme form of life in the universe ... but they don't sing psalms about it. That's creepy. It's weird. It's cool.
Beyond the appeal of being very effective villains, the Phyrexians tie in with some real-world ideas that I personally find very compelling: the extension and improvement of sentient life via technology and the increasingly hazy barrier between the organic and the synthetic. They are, granted, basically the most horrifying and disgusting possible interpretation of those ideas. But even clothed in rotting flesh and dripping with ichor, their ideal of augmented perfection holds some appeal.
And that's the best reason I can think of for supporting the Phyrexians: They combine the coolness factor of being fictional villains with the fascination of hooking into some powerful and seductive ideas in real life.
It's just a card game, after all. Nobody ever said you had to be the good guys.
"From void evolved Phyrexia. Great Yawgmoth, Father of Machines, saw its perfection. Thus the Grand Evolution began."