There are a lot of powerful cards in Phyrexia: All Will Be One, but we’re going to focus on this guy — Venerated Rotpriest:
This little druid has been making waves as some figured out it may be the linchpin for making several varieties of Toxic decks across multiple formats work. I fully plan on experimenting around several Proliferate builds with the Rotpriest, and enough other people are looking to play with it that it’s commanding a double-digit price at the time of publication.
This may surprise some, but Magic has a history of powerful, deck-defining, one-mana creatures. And today I want to look at how Venerated Rotpriest stacks up against some of the best while figuring out where it might end up ranking once we see its actual impact.
Some caveats before we start. I’m not going to look at mana dorks, so no Llanowar Elves, no Hierarchs (Noble or Ignoble) and no Birds of Paradise. Those are a completely different kind of powerful, enabling wide ranges of strategies.
While they aren’t all completely interchangeable, they largely fulfill the same purpose. Arguing which mana-producing one-drop is the best of all time is a completely different article that I preemptively call dibs on, dear Card Kingdom Editor (EDITOR’S NOTE: Ok, fiiine).
I’m going to look at this issue from a 60-card perspective for the most part. If you’re building a Poison deck in Commander, this card seems pretty much like an auto-include at most power levels.
Also, Magic has been around a long time, so odds are you have a card in mind for this premise already that I’m going to overlook. I’m covering the big hitters that have stuck around, or who are responsible for a shift in the game somehow. While your Flourishing Foxes and Weathered Wayfarers have their place in the conversation, they’re a little beyond the scope of what we’re covering.
Got all that? Good. First, let’s start with the Problems.
It’s not often that a one-mana creature reaches a high enough power level for it to become A Problem, but that doesn’t mean it’s never happened. The two cards that immediately spring to mind here are Deathrite Shaman and Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer.
The joke at the time Deathrite Shaman hit the scene was that it was the first ever one-mana Planeswalker… and I think that’s probably underselling just how powerful and game-warping this card could be. This card can just do a little of everything.
In formats with fetchlands, it’s an exceptionally reliable mana-dork. Its ability to gain you life shores up any aggro or burn matchup you may come across, demanding some number of resources be used to answer its mere presence.
Against control or midrange matchups it was a source of inevitability, slowly eating away at your opponent’s life total turn after turn. While doing all this, it almost incidentally completely wrecked any graveyard-based strategy once you got to untap with it on the board.
The fact that it could be cast for either a green or a black mana also meant it was just flexible enough to fit into a lot of different decks, especially in Modern and Legacy.
Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, on the other hand, requires a certain kind of deck. You can’t just slot him into any pile that’s playing red cards. But in any deck with red that wants to get off to a quick start and force action from your opponent, he’s basically an auto-include.
He’s a two-power one drop that, if you wait a turn, can dodge board wipes and any kind of sorcery-speed removal. And if he can get in at your opponent, he ramps you and steals a card from them.
It’s hard to recover from one or two hits from Ragavan, as the amount of advantage he gives his controller can be insurmountable in the early game. Unlike Deathrite, Ragavan’s utility does drop off as the game goes on (he’s much better on turn one or two than turn six or seven), but it’s less of a drop than you might think.
The point being that these two cards are, as the section title implies, completely broken. Deathrite is banned in Legacy and Modern, and Ragavan is banned in Legacy, with constant talk about whether he should be banned in Modern.
I don’t think Rotpriest quite fits in here. These two cards require truly little outside of themselves in order to exert their full power, while Rotpriest does need some help.
Let’s move on from the completely broken cards to something a little more reasonable: cards that while not overly powerful on their own, somehow enable the formation of an entirely new archetype that comes to be a cornerstone of an entire format.
The best example I have here is Delver of Secrets:
In a vacuum, Delver doesn’t seem that impactful. It’s a 1/1 that needs your deck to have a critical mass of instants and sorceries to transform, giving your opponent a bit of information at the same time, all to become a 3/2 flier with no other abilities.
Yet, in a format like Legacy, all of that combines with the format’s efficiency to make for decks and archetypes that have been at or near the top tier ever since the card’s first printing. In a format with Wasteland, Daze, Brainstorm, fetchlands, Force of Will, Lightning Bolt and a ton of other hyper-efficient spells and threats, Delver supplied just the right alchemy to become the cornerstone of tempo-control decks across a variety of color combinations.
Does Venerated Rotpriest belong here, maybe? I don’t think so. Poison has been a thing for a while and is a well-defined archetype. That said, Rotpriest does open up some new avenues for a Poison deck to try, allowing for a slower, less all-in style of gameplay.
I can see people trying to build decks around Rotpriest in various formats, but whether those decks have enough impact on those formats to qualify for this level of power…I’m not quite convinced.
Flash in the Pan
This is where that Flourishing Fox I mentioned earlier would go. This category includes cards that had an impact on their Standard environments but never really broke through anywhere else in anything but fringe decks.
Maybe they did have a bigger impact for a little while, but quickly faded as the older formats grew past them. Think cards along the lines of Nivmagus Elemental or Phyrexian Dreadnought.
Both of those cards powered decks in different formats — Nivmagus being at the center of spellslinger builds in its day under the Standard sun and Dreadnought being the win condition in Legacy Stiflenought decks. Nivmagus never really caught on in older formats despite some folks’ best attempts and Stiflenought got quickly left behind as other combo decks in Legacy proved more efficient and powerful.
I think Rotpriest has a brighter future than burning out and fading away after a brief stint in the spotlight. It does a little too much in existing Infect decks and it works so well with other Toxic and Proliferate cards that I have difficulty seeing it not land somewhere in Pioneer or Modern (maybe even Legacy). So, where does that leave us?
The next level of cards we have are the ones that form the cornerstone of a particular deck archetype, but that has proven to have more staying power than the previous level. The deck would still exist in some form if these cards didn’t exist, but since they do exist, it’s hard to picture the deck without them.
The clearest examples I have here are Goblin Guide and Monastery Swiftspear.
Burn, as a deck and an archetype, existed before each of these cards first saw print, and it would still exist if they both got erased from existence. But these cards fit so perfectly into that deck (and other related archetypes, like counter-burn for example) that it would be plain silly to build that deck without them (in formats where they’re legal, of course).
Another example, and one that’s particularly relevant here, is Glistener Elf.
You can build a poison deck without Glistener Elf, but why would you? And I think that’s right where Venerated Rotpriest will be viewed once the dust settles.
It slots right into existing Infect decks and gives them a boost both with your own pump spells and against removal, but it doesn’t fundamentally alter the game plan. Maybe Rotpriest does end up enabling a new type of poison deck to rise above fringe-tier, but even then, I’d still say this is the place for it.
In the end, in a very boring fashion, I fall somewhere in the middle with this card. I do think its current price point is warranted, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see it either dip to high single digits or climb a bit as the new cards release and their impact gets tested in all the formats.
I don’t think Rotpriest sends a seismic shockwave across the landscape of Magic, but I do think it can readily carve out a nice little niche for itself and stick around for a long, long time.
Chris is the Associate Media Producer at Card Kingdom. He would like to apologize to his son for not holding onto more cards from when he first started playing, as that likely would have paid for college. He enjoys pretty much all formats of Magic, but usually ends up playing decks that make other people dislike playing those formats with him.