Phyrexia: All Will Be One is a bad time for Magic: The Gathering’s characters, but a very good time for players
Toxic, but not in a bad way.
Phyrexia: All Will Be One brings a lot of doom and gloom to the latest Magic: The Gathering set - and, frankly, we kind of love it. It’s rare we get to see heroes just straight-up lose a fight in any kind of fiction; it makes for a more interesting story tapestry, and that seems to be what’s happening in MTG.
It hasn’t hurt the way the cards are designed, which is good news for players, but good gravy is there a lot of bad going on for its cast of characters. Some of MTG’s biggest heroes have been corrupted and converted by the Phyrexians, including Jace, Vraska and Nissa, and the future of every plane in the game’s multiverse has never been more uncertain.
We’ve mentioned lore a few times while discussing previous MTG sets because, while story has always been a big part of Magic: The Gathering, it’s never felt quite as obvious as it has recently. With so many classic characters reappearing, and now the unnerving threat of the Phyrexians rising up once more, it’s a very good time to be an MTG lore nerd.
Even if you don’t like the lore, there are plenty of interesting mechanics in All Will Be One that are worthy of your attention - and a deck or two built around them.
This set sees the return of proliferate - which allows you to put another counter on as many things as you want - but it’s the new mechanics that really stand out, because they help reinforce the story.
The new mechanics really stand out because they help reinforce the story.
Mirrodin is struggling to maintain any semblance of its identity thanks to the Phyrexians. All Will Be One is all about the corruption and toxicity that the horrific living machines cause as they aim to eliminate the weakness of flesh. These themes come through in the mechanics, the first of which is toxic.
Toxic, aside from being a banger of a Britney Spears song (and an equally good cover by VersaEmerge), is a mechanic that’s linked to the classic, and monstrously powerful, infect. Toxic has creatures deal damage as normal, then inflict an amount of poison counters on top of that. Toxic 2, for example, has your creature deal damage, then give the opponent two poison counters. It works well with proliferate, and is a fun way to deal with poison counters.
The next mechanic is Corrupted, which is also linked to poison counters. Corrupted helps turn poison counters into something a bit more useful than just trying to finish off your opponent. It makes them more relevant at every stage in the game, and basically allows you to use other abilities as long as your opponent has three or more poison counters.
The final Phyrexian-infused mechanic is oil counters. While Wizards of the Coast actually describes these as not being a keyword ability, they are all over the place in this set. They’re a new kind of counter that help make some Phyrexian mechanisms stronger, and there are cards that help manipulate the number of them or where they are.
The final mechanic is For Mirrodin! This ability can be found on equipment cards, and it effectively means that those equipment cards come in, create a 2/2 creature token and automatically attach themselves to that token. It saves on having to pay the equip cost the first time around, and can be a good way to sneak out a board presence after a board wipe.
We’ve already written about some of the most extraordinary cards in Phyrexia: All Will Be One, but there are plenty more excellent options.
The mix of cards and lore in Phyrexia: All Will Be One makes for an enthralling Draft and Sealed experience.
All Will Be One (it’s hard not to love the set card) is a new enchantment that turns any counters you put on a player or permanent into damage. Fun fact: you put counters on planeswalkers as they enter the battlefield, which means that if you followed this five-mana enchantment with a six-mana planeswalker, you could deal six damage to your opponent or a planeswalker or creature they control.
The Dominus cycle of cards is also worth keeping an eye on. Each of these doubles something for you - be it damage, tokens generated, proliferate triggers, dying triggers or even just the power of your creatures - and each of them can also become indestructible by sacrificing something else. The top pick is likely to be Mondrak, Glory Dominus, which is the White offering that doubles tokens as you make them, but they’re all quite strong.
The mix of cards and lore in Phyrexia: All Will Be One makes for an enthralling Draft and Sealed experience. There are some very solid options when building a deck based around strong removal options in each colour, or just whatever absurd mythic rare you end up pulling. There’s also a wicked satisfaction that comes when playing as one of the most objectively terrifying groups in MTG, and it’s just too much fun to play Phyrexian cards to not indulge in that.
It’s all generally very good news, but the one issue with the set is a complaint that isn’t especially new: there are too many variations of some cards. Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines has no fewer than ten different versions, seriously. There’s just no need for that. When you’ve got that many possible choices for artwork and styles, it reduces the impact of these apparent special editions. It’s a minor complaint, but one that we’re going to have to repeat a lot, and this set feels especially giddy with it.
Thankfully, it doesn’t affect the play experience too much; the first Standard Magic: The Gathering set of 2023 is a true powerhouse. It’s also nice to feel as though MTG’s lore is permeating every aspect of the game now. Even a player who’s got no interest in the story will get a bit of a jolt from seeing Jace, once the poster boy of MTG and its foremost hero, becoming one with the Phyrexians and ending up covered in extra mechanical eyes. It has us excited to see what happens next, because we’re not expecting the Phyrexians to lose in this battle - at least not without something else intervening.