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August 10, 2010


Duel Decks- Phyrexia vs The Coalition: Phyrexia’s Deck Review (Part 1 of 2)

by Dredd77

“From void evolved Phyrexia. Great Yawgmoth, Father of Machines, saw its perfection. Thus the Grand Evolution began.”     -Phyrexian Scriptures

The latest in a line of solid offerings from Wizards in the Duel Decks series, Phyrexia va The Coalition reaches back into the pages of history to present a virtual recreation of the epic battles between the two. A storyline that spanned years and blocks- something unheard of today- the set offers both a hefty dose of nostalgia as well as a very interesting pairing: mono-Black takes on Five-Colour Dominion.

Although it draws deeply upon the archetype with the inclusion of a few cards (Phyrexian Negator chief amongst them), Phyrexia is no Suicide Black deck. Rather, it provides a much more generalist perspective on Black and provides generous ways to win. As you might expect, this child of the “Father of Machines” is artifact-heavy, but as it typically the case with preconstructed decks, the burden of winning is borne on the backs of its creatures.

Puppets to Entertain Madness

“Let weak feed on weak, that we may divine the nature of strength.”     -Phyrexian Scriptures

If you were to sum up the general philosophy behind the creature array in Phyrexia, you could do no better than that quote. Fielding 18 creatures (I’m including Phyrexian Totem here), over half of these are no mightier than a 2/2. And yet, what a splendid feast they offer, with a banquest most graciously well-stocked.

There are some that feed on others: the Carrion Feeder, Phyrexian Ghoul, and Phyrexian Broodlings all get bigger with the sacrifice of other creatures.

Still others feed on your opponent’s creatures. The Phyrexian Denouncer, Debaser, Defiler, and Plaguelord form a ‘cycle’ of sorts, bodies that can tap and be sacrificed to take out a target creature. The Bone Shredder does much the same, but through a different mechanic.

One feeds on your opponent’s hand (Order of Yawgmoth), while a few even feed on you! Both the Phyrexian Gargantua and the Colossus take bites out of your life total (the latter case quite severely), while the Negator (and it’s mimic, the Totem) require the sacrifice of permanents when damaged. The singleton Phyrexian Hulk can seem almost refreshingly tame by comparison.

When taken as a whole, the creature base follows a slightly deviant mana curve:

The very large bump in the three-drops may seem curious on first look, but when one takes into consideration the presence of two Dark Rituals in the deck, it makes perfect sense to have a solid lineup of threats that can be Ritual’ed out on the first turn for an immediate threat. Other noncreature spells and artifacts provide logistical support for the deck’s beaters.

Phyrexia Wastes Nothing

“Ash is our air. Darkness our flesh.”     -Phyrexian Scriptures

If the deck has a solid base of creatures (if a little weak in the front-end), it seems to falter a step in its support.

Perhaps the single biggest failing is the inclusion of only a pair of Dark Rituals. Half the joy of playing Phyrexia is gazing upon your opening draw and seeing if you’ve lucked into living the dream of a first-turn 5/5 Trampler. Not only that, but given the amount of viable first-turn plays (with a heavy concentration of 3-drops), it can only be considered a deliberate design element intended to limit the speed with which the deck can come out of the chute. I’m sure I wasn’t alone when I read about the decks before release, and wondered how on earth a five-colour deck was going to establish itself before being ripped to shreds by mono-Black. The answer, quite simply: weaken Black.

That isn’t to say that there’s not plenty of power here. Given all the sacrifice effects, it’s often delightfully easy to set up a hideously asymmetric Living Death, and an early Phyrexian Arena can give you jets in the early- and mid-game.

But many of the cards are either very loosely connected (read: thematically), or are in support of disparate strategies.

It’s a fine thing to include the monstrous Phyrexian Colossus, and useful to have alternate ways of untapping it (Voltaic Key and two Puppet Strings). But then you also have the clunky Hornet Cannon, which can be said to support cards with sacrifice effects, as well as the brutal Phyrexian Processor going down a completely different path. It’s almost as if you were privy to a clutch of Phyrexian generals areguing about strategy and tactics in the War Room, then threw in a few cards to support each strategy to keep everyone happy. It gets from A to B well enough, but has a tendency to weave about the road a little.

Topping it all off, there’s a smidgen of ramp (Worn Powerstone, the Totem), Equipment (Whispersilk Cloak and Lightning Greaves), card advantage (Phyrexian Vault), and a small portfolio of kills spells (a Slay, a Hideous End, and two Tendrils of Corruption).

Mono-black decks at their most effective tend to be tightly-focused things. You can be certain that the lack of focus here is a nod towards making the Duel Decks balanced against one another, which is not an unfair objective.

Here’s the full curve of the deck:

Ordinarily I’d probably put a Warning (Yellow) on the 16 3-drops in the deck, but two factors here speak against it. One is the aforementioned Dark Rituals, allowing for early threats. The other is because while the power level of the three-drops is moderate, there are a lot of mana sinks in the deck (primarily artifacts) that ensure your leftover mana does not go to waste.

Overall, the deck looks moderately effective when measured against wins/losses, but highly entertaining to play to those who enjoy the nuances of mono-Black (and who have the nerve to go all-in, as the deck can sometimes require). Join us next time when we pick apart the forces the Coalition has assembled, and see if they are up to the task up stopping the Phyrexians dead in their tracks.

15 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ben (Twitter: Panahinuva)
    Aug 11 2010

    Not much to say here. Good analysis, but what I especially liked were the segments from the Phyrexian scriptures. Your reviews keep getting more complex and more enjoyable to read.

    • Aug 16 2010

      Thanks for that, much appreciated! It definitely feels like I’ve grown into my voice, and half the fun is finding more ways to deliver things that are as fun to read as they are to write!

  2. Sep 6 2010

    I have to say this was a good read, even though I already have this particular duel deck. When you were mentioning the Phyrexian generals arguing in a war room (That is a really good way of looking at it,by the way) It looks as if you were saying that is a bad thing. I disagree, It works, and it provides the usefulness of many options, which is needed in a mono-black deck. Then again, I may be wrong, since this is only the second mono-black deck I have had in my position

    • Sep 7 2010

      I’m a huge fan of mono-Black, so consequently I’ve tended to get a bit spoiled at the speed of the design. Although the Phyrexian deck hints at it with the duo of Dark Rituals, I’ve found there to be a bit much in the way of clutter. Try modding one of the ZEN/WWK Vampire decks and see how violently fast it can get. What’s the other momo-B deck you have?


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