While the full extent of Elesh Norn’s plans have yet to be previewed, Phyrexia: All Will Be One looks primed to give Standard a huge shot in the arm (don’t ask what kind).
As always when Phyrexia is involved, most of the new cards are pushing the absolute limits of game balance while also breaking new mechanical ground in various areas. It’s hard to completely flip a Standard metagame this deep into the season with so many strong decks already well established, but even those decks that survive Phyrexia’s onslaught will not find themselves unchanged…
Besides the addition of a genuinely good removal spell in Ossification, ONE seems to be swinging white back toward its more traditional aggression. At least that aggression takes interesting forms, with both token-generation and equipment themes strongly supported.
Kemba, Kha Enduring is trying to do as much as it possibly can to make equipment playable after Zendikar Rising and Kaldheim failed to launch it as an archetype. That the card type has fallen so far from favor and relies so heavily on ignoring the actual equip cost is, I think, a huge warning sign for the explosiveness of current card design. But at least Wizards of the Coast is aware of the challenges equipment decks face and have souped up their designs appropriately.
One of those inherent challenges is that balancing the focal equipment cards with enough creatures to wield them is already hard enough, even before you try adding interaction or other support cards. Resistance Reunited and Nahiri, the Unforgiving should do enough to make that cut, and cards like Infested Fleshcutter (which combine equipment with a creature token) help you condense slots to find space for them.
Of course, those equipment can also synergize with the token-creating side of white — most notably your new Commander chase card: Mondrak, Glory Dominus. Anointed Procession was already a Standard build-around without sticking a 4/4 indestructible body to it, and I certainly expect Mondrak to thrive alongside such potent engines as Wedding Invitation and the new Skrelv’s Hive.
I’m just gonna come out and say that Mindsplice Apparatus is completely broken. If it fails to replicate the Alrund’s Epiphany deck of yesteryear, it will only be down to a lack of treasure generation and extra-turn spells — but Alchemist’s Gambit could still get it over the line.
Experimental Augury, Serum Snare and Volt Charge are the perfect, pre-packaged enablers for this engine, offering a combination of interaction and easy Proliferate triggers to ensure your spells will be down to single-mana costs as soon as you flash Apparatus in on your opponent’s end step. From there, would-be Storm players, the world is your oyster.
The Proliferate nonsense does not stop there! I’ve been waiting for an all-planeswalker, “superfriends” deck to show up in Bant ever since Brokers Ascendancy dropped, and along with all the new compleated planeswalkers and proliferate triggers, I expect Ichormoon Gauntlet to be the final piece. It scales in power with the number of ‘walkers you have in play and gives you the promise of inevitability so you can focus your deck building purely on board control.
Meanwhile, Ascendancy and Urza Assembles the Titans are good enough to flat-out win the game if you’re able to keep even two planeswalkers in play at a time. Tamiyo, Compleated Sage can recur either of those cards or give you two ‘walkers for the price of one.
Oh yeah, Mental- uh, I mean Minor Misstep is back in the format. Aggro decks are getting a big boost from ONE as it stands, so this might give blue a bit more to defend itself with. At least actually costing mana should stop it from destroying Magic this time around (I hope).
BIack is enjoying its once-per-decade cycle of dominance, last seen in the devotion decks of Theros block and the skewed color pie of Torment before that. Its new cards in ONE won’t fully replace current bombs like Sheoldred, Invoke Despair or Liliana of the Veil, but by providing niche side-grades, they should lead to more diversity between different lists.
Phryexian Obliterator is as good as it looks, having already proven its Standard bonafides back in New Phyrexia. Any deck that can reasonably pay BBBB on turn four will have this in their 75, probably as a main deck split with Sheoldred to further stretch opposing removal.
And as though that four-drop slot wasn’t crowded enough, black is also getting Archfiend of the Dross to consider. I’m quite high on this card despite its stiff competition, as flyers can be hard to block for a lot of the current metagame. It certainly promises to close out black mirrors much faster than Sheoldred or Obliterator, should you catch an opponent without removal ready.
Its 6/6 body survives a few key removal spells that would kill those other threats, and at four mana it is also perfectly positioned to revitalize the green/black/x Fight Rigging deck as a viable option. Certainly, with Hideaway payoffs like Phyrexian Fleshgorger, Cityscape Leveller and Portal to Phyrexia, this deck seems primed for a comeback.
There is at least one new card which won’t require many hard decisions — Black Sun’s Twilight looks ready to sleeve up for any and all decks that produce black mana. It’s too inefficient to be your default removal spell, but it can easily take Soul Transfer’s slot as your high-ceiling removal spell, or even Invoke Despair’s if your list finds that spell tricky to cast.
Red has been much less balanced than black this season, but Fable of the Mirror Breaker is good enough that the color can show up just about anywhere. Since The Brothers’ War, we’ve also seen the welcome return of classic mono-red burn, driven in a Prowess-centric direction by Monastery Swiftspear and Bloodthirsty Adversary.
That style of deck will welcome Vindictive Flamestoker as an upgrade or complement to Flame Channeler//Embodiment of Flame. Sawblade Scamp is also worth considering. Any amount of “free” damage is hard to pass up in a deck so laser-focused on counting to 20.
Furnace Punisher is another non-rare that might punch above its weight. Standard is about to be absolutely flush with non-basics, and a 3/3 Menace for three is solid enough to keep around for the matches where it is suddenly game-winning.
Slower red decks will have some interesting things going on with Oil counters. Certainly all the ETB and sacrifice triggers will play excellently with Fable, but my eyes are drawn to Capricious Hellraiser.
As I mentioned with Fight Rigging, the return on “free spell” effects is just incredibly high right now. Even ignoring the discount clause on Hellraiser, it offers some nasty combo potential alongside flicker, clone (hello Kiki) and reanimation effects.
Yet, there’s also something to be said for using graveyard exiling to exploit both the discount clause and its random selection. If you fire off Calamity’s Wake in response to the Hellraiser’s ETB trigger, you just need to discard a Portal to Phyrexia at instant speed to guarantee that as your hit. Too cute to be your main plan, perhaps, but you can’t ever rule out an interaction with that high a ceiling.
Green Sun’s Twilight is an extremely dangerous force-multiplier card for any big-mana list, along the lines of Storm the Festival but without the mana value restriction. Not to mention both those cards will be available in Standard at the same time!
Twilight does also tease us with the ability to put both halves of Titania, Gaea Incarnate into play at once, but that feels like the cool line rather than the winning line here. I guess we’ll wait and see.
But if you’re not the kind of player who likes waiting, let me instead introduce you to your new friend Tyrranax Rex! I love that dinosaurs have somehow coalesced as the “big, uncounterable problem” creature type green mages get to beat the brakes off blue mages with, and this big boy certainly does his ancestor Carnage Tyrant proud.
There’s not a lot to say about Tyrranax itself besides “it’s good,” but there are some other cool toxic cards for green, such as Goliath Hatchery. Three threatening permanents in one card is a back-breaking kind of ratio, even if this costs a little more than Esika’s Chariot.
Between the Toxic suite and great, generic beaters like Thrun, Breaker of Silence, I’m ready for ONE to make use of the various land-untapping dorks in Standard and revitalize the green stompy archetype.
Mostly the big multicolor cards here add more juice to the potential archetypes I already mentioned under their component colors. Ria Ivor, Bane of Bladehold offers an extremely potent source of free artifact-creature-tokens (which are also Toxic). Jor Kadeen, First Goldwarden is another huge equipment payoff, and priced aggressively enough to not get you stuck on mana when you’re also paying to suit it up. Venser, Corpse Puppet is… also a card in the set. You get the idea.
However, the real big story for multicolor decks here is the long-awaited return of the allied-color fast lands. These are a very significant upgrade to multi-color aggro decks, and I expect to see a lot of immediate diversification from decks like mono-black and mono-red, which are already strong in the meta.
Perhaps the most obvious beneficiaries are the Esper tempo decks, which gain access to both Seachrome Coast and Darkslick Shores to help them curve into Rafffine, Scheming Seer without taking a turn off for Raffine’s Tower.
As happy as I am to see these fastlands return, I also appreciate that Wizards of the Coast has added a few extra, mono-color incentives in the new utility lands. The Seedcore and Mirrex seem potent for any low-color, white Mite deck list, while The Monumental Facade will be the special sauce if the red or blue Oil counter decks end up seeing play.
Colorless artifacts are weirdly out of fashion these days, but there’s still a handful of such treasures to be had in All Is One. Argentum Masticore is the rare card that asks you to wait a full turn cycle to see value from it, but at least protection from multicolored might help it last that long. The payoff is certainly worth the wait.
Monument to Perfection is a seriously cool card to look at, and could end up very exciting, but we won’t know exactly how exciting until the full set spoiler drops and shows us what Sphere and Locus cards we have on offer. It might not even be playable until March of the Machine, like when Gate to the Afterlife debuted a set ahead of God-Pharoah’s Gift.
There’s some boring-but-relevant additions to the roster of niche sideboard-hosers, with Zenith Chronicler and Soulless Jailer targeting graveyard-fueled aggro decks and slow-paced multicolor decks respectively.
Last but not least, Sword of Forge and Frontier joins one of Magic’s longest-running mega-cycles: the “Swords of X & Y.” I hope I don’t sound like too much of a paper boomer when I say this one has an extremely 2023 set of triggers, simply generating free card advantage on hit.
No doubt this will be very welcome in any Equipment/Modified themed decks that do make it into Standard. Maybe March of the Machine will finally complete the cycle with the blue/black entry. Might I suggest “Sword of Sin and Secrets”?
I haven’t really even gotten into the full list of cards poised to impact Standard, but hopefully this piece has singled out the obvious week-one game changers while whetting your appetites for more of that oil-fueled goodness.
Reading through the previews, it really feels like no stone was left unturned in showing the full range and power of New Phyrexia. And if these next two sets do end up being the swansong for the metal monsters, at least they’ll leave us with enough horrible toys to tinker with for a good while to come.
Tom’s fate was sealed in 7th grade when his friend lent him a pile of commons to play Magic. He quickly picked up Boros and Orzhov decks in Ravnica block and has remained a staunch white magician ever since. A fan of all Constructed formats, he enjoys studying the history of the tournament meta. He specializes in midrange decks, especially Death & Taxes and Martyr Proc. One day, he swears he will win an MCQ with Evershrike. Ask him how at @AWanderingBard, or watch him stream Magic at twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard.