Spotlight On: Phyrexian Obliterator

Ahren GauthierUncategorized

A long time ago in Magic history, creatures were bad. Really bad. Three mana didn’t get you much compared to…other options available. Take these two rares from Ice Age:


A 2/2 Swampwalk vs. One of the most busted cards in Magic history. Fast forward a few years to Urza’s Destiny and the printing of this absolute monster:

I know what you’re thinking. That drawback is insane. Who would play that? People didn’t play creatures intending to use them in the attacking/blocking arrangement we would consider standard gameplay today. In other words…

Negator made another appearance during Time Spiral, albeit encased in carbonite.

It was chiefly relegated to the sideboard as tech against combo decks but there was a Mono Black Control deck at the time that put up some results as well. Legacy Pox utilized it as a flexible threat that plays well with Smallpox.

However, like all good villains, it had not yet reached its final form!

Scars of Mirrordin block arrived. The Phyrexians were back in force, Wizards can’t resist a good callback (neither can I to be honest), and black was lacking in Standard at the time. A perfect storm of circumstances for Sheoldred, Whispering One to unleash…perfection.

Often during the internal development process, cards are too strong and get de-powered before they see the light of day. For Obliterator, the opposite was true. According to Tom LaPille:

In the case of Phyrexian Obliterator, we tried the card for a while without trample. The problem with this was that often players would just chump-block it with 1/1s while slowly sacrificing permanents for several turns, which caused games to grind on and on in unfun ways. It felt a bit similar to an Eldrazi, except that it cost four mana instead of eight or more. Rather than encourage this, we just gave the thing trample so that games would end with more expediency. This also makes the card a more direct comparison to Phyrexian Negator, which made some people’s design sensibilities happier.

Phyrexian Obliterator saw play in Standard Zombie and Mono Black Control decks, Legacy “Pikula” decks (alongside Dark Rituals that made Negator such a terror), and Modern Obliterator Rock. Li Meng played Phyrexian Obliterator alongside other Swamp-loving all-stars to a Top 8 finish at Chinese Nationals in 2011.

Li Meng’s Mono Black Control | Top 8, China Nationals 2011

4 Gatekeeper of Malakir
1 Grave Titan
3 Phyrexian Obliterator
4 Vampire Nighthawk
4 Vault Skirge
1 Wurmcoil Engine
2 Dismember
3 Go for the Throat
2 Despise
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
3 Sign in Blood
3 Lashwrithe
1 Liliana Vess
25 Swamp

1 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Hex Parasite
2 Skinrender
1 Spellskite
1 Vampire Hexmage
2 Black Sun’s Zenith
2 Duress
2 Memoricide
2 Mimic Vat

After rotation, Obliterator saw less and less constructed play until a few years later, when Theros came out. As is often the case with older cards, later printings can breathe new life into them or work with them to create an entirely new archetype. Two cards from the new set did exactly that:


Micol Stana’s Mono Black Devotion | Top 4, Las Vegas Collector Legion GPT

4 Polluted Delta
2 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
13 Swamp
4 Bloodstained Mire
3 Geralf’s Messenger
4 Bloodghast
4 Gatekeeper of Malakir
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
3 Phyrexian Obliterator
2 Relentless Dead
3 Phyrexian Arena
4 Fatal Push
1 Victim of Night
2 Liliana, the Last Hope
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
3 Thoughtseize

1 Victim of Night
3 Bile Blight
3 Fulminator Mage
2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
1 Slaughter Pact
1 Sword of Light and Shadow
2 Whip of Erebos
1 Yahenni’s Expertise
1 Basilisk Collar

The plan is straightforward. Discard and cheap removal to control the hand and board until you can start dropping a density of black mana symbols. Once your devotion is greater than three, Nykthos starts netting mana and you can start making late-game plays early. Obliterator holds the ground and provides a must-answer threat while Phyrexian Arena keeps cards flowing. A single Gray Merchant is usually enough to swing the tide of a game while the second is game over in all except the direst of circumstances.

This deck is a blast. Dropping a Gray Merchant to drain an opponent for 10 is a very memorable play experience that I highly recommend. One of the roadblocks to building it, however, is the availability of the Obliterator itself, which was last printed at Mythic in a seven-year-old set. Thankfully, one of the first cards that surfaced from Masters 25 was none other than the black behemoth itself. Sheoldred be praised!

Phyrexian Obliterator is absolutely worthy of a Mythic Rare slot in a set that celebrates 25 years of the best game ever. I hope you will take the opportunity to add this card to your arsenal. Without it, it would be hard to consider a collection…compleat. Φ


Header image: “Phyrexian Obliterator” by Todd Lockwood