Flavor Check, Phyrexia All Will Be One

Flavor Check: Phyrexia: All Will Be One

Jason Krell Commander, Design, Standard

As Magic players, most of us primarily care about how the game actually plays. However, so much more goes into a set than the cards themselves — from worldbuilding, to characters and the places they intersect. Often, these qualities outside of gameplay are called flavor, and they help sets taste different even if they are similar in some ways to what has come before. So, today, let’s think of Phyrexia: All Will Be One as a restaurant and put its unique flavor to the test.

The atmosphere

Like any quality restaurant, the environment is as important as the food. Someone could serve the best meal in the world, but if the dining room and kitchen are a mess, no one will want to stay there very long.

An illustration of New Phyrexia's layers.
New Phyrexia is like the nastiest, biggest lasagna you’ve ever seen — but in a good way. | Provided by Wizards of the Coast

Fortunately, New Phyrexia is dense with a strong sense of atmosphere — like the heaviest lasagna you’ve ever had. And I mean that literally considering the Phyrexians have turned the plane into a layered carnival of various types of horror. 

Is that desirable? The answer depends on the strength of your stomach (and which side of the war you’re rooting for). Still, I will say it’s better to present a strong concept than some generic, wishy-washy backdrop. 

At the same time, considering we’re now technically coming to this plane for a third time, it’s equally important that things feel differently. While I wasn’t actively playing Magic during the Scars of Mirrodin block, it’s easy to see how things have changed, looking back. 

Last time, the Phyrexian threat felt more emergent — and it was. The horrors unleashed upon Mirrodin were no less dangerous than those we see today, but they lacked a sense of true organization. A hierarchy had emerged by the New Phyrexia set, but everything still felt new.

The art we’ve seen now and what we’ve read in the various stories paints a much different picture — one where New Phyrexia has settled into itself. While obviously rebellion is pushing against The Machine Orthodoxy from multiple parties, the world itself has bent to Phyrexian will quite entirely.

From the Hunter’s Maze to the Quiet Furnace, each layer has its own distinct personality that matches the color it represents. While technically predictable, we have been playing Magic long enough to accept some inevitable conventions. 

Art of the Fair Basilica in New Phyrexia
The Fair Basilica is gorgeous, but in that sort of “I’ll admire this in pictures instead of going” sort of way. | Art by Marc Simonetti

And honestly, one need only look at something like the Fair Basilica to find the value of playing with convention. Wizards of the Coast has played with White as an evil color within Magic before, but the kind of order found amid Elesh Norn’s rule is arguably the most sinister we’ve seen to date.

So, with all that said, it’s easy to give Phyrexia: All Will Be One five colors out of five for its atmosphere in this made up rating system.

The staff

A restaurant is made by people, and there’s no separating the flavors they produce from the hands who shape them. With that being said, it’s hard to look at some of the folks behind the counter in this set. 

Not only do we have to deal with the usual kind of body-horror associated with Phyrexia (which, while fine in small doses for me, personally, can admittedly be too much for others), but some of the most prominent faces belong to old friends. So while I’m sure no one is crying over Lukka’s arrogant embrace of compleation, seeing a beautiful couple like Vraska and Jace Beleren fall might sting a bit more.

That being said, the callbacks to previous versions of themselves offer a nice farewell moment, assuming there’s no way to save some of them during the upcoming March of the Machines. And even if we didn’t get new cards for some of those we’ve already come to terms with losing, they did get some pretty drippy makeovers.

Compleated Ajani in new Phyrexian armor fighting Elspeth.
Ajani looking about as good as he could given he’s an abomination of his true self. | Art by Filipe Pagliuso.

Outside of our Planeswalker friends, it’s also nice to see returning faces like Geth, Glissa and… is that one of Memnarch’s Levelers? Let’s just not talk about poor Venser, who really got done dirty in a multitude of ways. 

There’s always turnover at even the best restaurant, though, which means plenty of new faces to meet. While I laud Neyali’s empathy and conviction in the face of such frightening odds, I must admit Ixhel is the more compelling character introduced in this set. 

Outside of those appearing in actual stories, it still feels like a lot of legendary creatures end up shoehorned in for the sake of Commander. That’s not a bad thing (more options means more variance), but it does raise questions that will likely never get answered. 

For example, what’s with Mondrak and the other new “gods” on this plane? How much hexgold does Rhuk really nab? Will Skrelv get stepped on? We may never know, but I suppose that’s where the power of imagination comes into play.

Still, it’s hard to say that any of the characters showing up in Phyrexia: All Will Be One seem out of place. They all hit in their own way, and that’s not easy to do. Four sparks out of five, with one taken off because I wanted to see what would happen when Nahiri really got tired of being nice.

The food

Of course, everything above exists in service to the reason we really come to a restaurant: the food. So, what kind of meals are they surviving up in Phyrexia: All Will Be One?

Well, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is a lot of the customers have been complaining that the food is a little oily — and also that it’s poisonous. Still, if we can look past such simple hazards for the sake of pursuing pure flavor, it all tastes pretty good before you die eating it! And for anyone that wants to live, there is a also “vegetarian” option, I guess

Jokes aside, the food in this case are the mechanics — though we’re less concerned about how they play and more focused on how they feel. I’m also going to do my best to put aside my love for Infect and try not to think about how it feels to see that taken off the menu.

Venerated Rotpriest
Venerated Rotpriest

To start, Toxic is the head chef’s newest and most prominent dish. It provides much of the fuel or incentive for related mechanics so it’s pretty fundamental to the set. And honestly, I have to appreciate the way it fixes what was admittedly a problematic mechanic of the past. Even I have limits on how often I want my friends to beat me down for playing with Poison, and a swath of new Infect cards would have been too tempting to keep me from ending up in maximum pain.

Anyway, while Phyrexia still wants to infect the multiverse, All Will Be One is set on their home turf where everything is ALREADY infected. So, at that point it is literally just Toxic. We see it in the art and are told about how just existing in various layers is detrimental to your individuality. But I think without our next mechanic, I might have had to ding Toxic more.

Next up is Corrupted, which makes the smaller number of Poison counters flying around more palatable to more delicate sensibilities. If I can’t just smack you for lethal in a couple of turns, at least there are payoffs for a slower send off. And in a similar way, Corrupted is the perfect extension of Toxic from a flavor perspective. It is the end to Toxic’s means.

Archfiend of the Dross
Archfiend of the Dross

Then there are Oil Counters. It remains to be see how good they’ll be in game, and they are just another new kind of token Wizards manifests out of thin air for a limited purpose. Still, we’ve been hearing about Phyrexian Oil for like 25 years at this point (don’t quote me on that, I’m too lazy to Google it). I think it’s actually about time that there is a mechanical representation for what happens when this awful black ooze ends up all over the battlefield.

Bladehold War-Whip
Bladehold War-Whip

After that, there’s For Mirrodin! To start, I must stress that the exclamation mark isn’t mine, and maybe that’s part of my issue with it. On the other hand, the plight of Mirrodin is pretty dire, so emphasizing that fact is probably pretty warranted. 

For Mirrodin! is also a sort of reskin of Living Weapon with Rebels instead of Germs. And while that’s maybe a bit boring to some, it does offer a new flavor twist on something that is pretty warranted in a set with equipment. It’s certainly not the mechanic that would get me in the door of Phyrexia: All Will Be One, but I am still glad it’s an option.

Finally I won’t spend too long on Proliferate since that is literally just a returning mechanic. Still, it’s a comfort food for me and it has so many uses. I’ll never be mad to see more Proliferate cards, and it a trip to Phyrexia wouldn’t be compleat without it, at this point.

All in all, I’ll give it four and a half reminder texts out of five — but only because I honestly still would have rather seen Infect again. Please print more Infect cards so I can keep winning the way my withered little heart desires.

End step

All in all, a combined 13.5/15 is a pretty good score for a plane we’ve already seen twice before. At that point it’s less about making a statement and more about reinvention. Fortunately, the inevitable progress of New Phyrexia offers a pretty easy blueprint for accomplishing such a task — though the design team should still feel proud of making the easy layup.

Anyway, that’s all you’ll get from this “food critic” today. If you liked what you saw, let me know on Twitter so I can be sure to prepare for the next new set. That one honestly might be more like a food tour around the globe.