Duel Decks- Phyrexia vs The Coalition: Phyrexia’s Deck Review (Part 2 of 2)
To test the strength of the Phyrexia deck which, as previously reviewed is artificially limited but still capable of explosive growth, I challenged Sam who would pilot The Coalition. I gave Sam a briefing on the strengths and weaknesses of both decks, and on the importance of holding on and holding out until the midgame, when The Coalition’s strengths would come to the fore while Phyrexia’s early rush began to peter out. It would be a lesson far more easily said than done.
“The first stage of the illness: rash and nausea.” -Phyrexian progress notes
Sam on the play drops a Plains and passes, while I actually have a turn 1 play to make (Carrion Feeder). Sam’s in a promising position turn 2 when she gets out a Fertile Ground, which can go a long way towards stabilising her decks five-colour mana base. For my part, I swing in for 1 and lay down a Voltaic Key.
Sam drops a Swamp on turn 3 and passes, and then the gates are opened. After taking another nick from the Feeder, Sam can do nothing but watch as I play a third Swamp, a Priest of Gix, a second Priest of Gix, and Phyrexian Broodlings as six more power in creatures spills out onto the table.
Her only answer is a turn 4 Power Armor which, lacking creatures, is no answer at all. I swing in for 7. Sam draws, frantic for an answer, but none comes. I swing in for another 7, laying down an uninspiring Whispersilk Cloak. On turn 6 her defiance is given form with a kicked Thunderscape Battlemage. I pitch Tendrils of Corruption and a Phyrexian Hulk into the graveyard, untap, and eliminate her.
“The second stage of the illness: high fever and severe infectiousness.” -Phyrexian progress notes
Wary of the lethality of the Phyrexia deck, Sam puts her faith in creatures this time around. A second-turn Thornscape Apprentice appears just the ticket to buy her some time. Unfazed and trusting in the deck, I Dark Ritual out an Order of Yawgmoth and pass. Turn 3 sees only a Plains from Sam, and the Carrion Feeder from me.
Things get interesting in the fourth. Sam hits her land drop and trots out a Charging Troll, a solid regenerating body. I attack with the Order, hitting her for two and compelling a discard. Then I tap three Swamps, and unveil the Phyrexian Negator. The very concept of “Suicide Black” given form, I know that even if she keeps it tapped down with the Apprentice, the Order will be able to savage her hand. She has some direct damage but not a lot of it, so the play is a calculated risk. At worst, I could sacrifice the Negator to the Feeder in a pinch. I pass the turn.
Sam drops an Armadillo Cloak onto the Troll and swings in with it for 5. After I untap, I Slay her Troll and go all in. She chumps the Apprentice to the Negator, forcing me to sac a permanent. I throw away the Feeder. I’ve lsot my out, but I’m poised to drop a Phyrexian Ghoul the next turn to take its place, and prefer to keep my land options open.
Sam looks sick as she plays a land and passes. I drop the Ghoul on schedule, and swing in for 7. Sam’s now down to 10, while I sit at 15. Rescue comes to Sam in the form of Darigaaz, the Igniter. I respond with a Phyrexian Totem.
Turn 8 sees Sam play the Thunderscape Battlemage with kicker again, forcing me to discard two. Passing the turn to me, I draw a Living Death, and consider sacrificing all my beaters through the Ghoul (including the Ghoul), and rolling it out. But instead, I go straight for the throat- two Negators (one from the Totem), the Ghoul and the Order. She blocks one of the Negators with the Dragon, the other with her Battlemage. I sacrifice the one the Dragon’s manhandling to the Ghoul to pump it, and deal nine damage overall (throwing away two Swamps from the Battlemage’s damage).
Things are looking grim for Sam as she draws… and plays a second Dragon: Rith, the Awakener. But there’s no awakening from this- at one life, she knows I have one attacker more than she has blockers, and scoops.
“The third stage of the illness: muscle aches and persistent cough.” -Phyrexian progress notes
Sam is encouraged- although the second game was a loss, she did manage to drag it out long enough to get two Dragons online, and thus sees some light at the end of the tunnel if she can hang on. Phyrexia, of course, doesn’t want to give her that chance.
She begins with a Terramorphic Expanse, which she sacs to fetch a Plains. I drop a Swamp and a the ever-popular Carrion Feeder. Lands drops for us both on turn 2 and 3 (with the Feeder going in for a nibble), but the nightmare begins anew on turn 3 when I tap out for the Phyrexian Negator.
Sam’s turn 4 play is paltry in comparison: Quirion Elves, and I’m on a roll. After swinging with my beaters, I deploy a Phyrexian Arena (amazing) and the Phyrexian Battleflies (not so much). For her part, Sam Harrows to spread out her mana base and braces for impact. I go all in again, she pushes her Elves out into the path of the Negator forcing me to drop a Swamp. I pass the turn.
“The final stage of the illness: delirium, convulsions, and death.” -Phyrexian progress notes
In all ways I have to say that Phyrexia lived up to my positive expectations, and managed to skirt my negative ones. Although I’d written that we felt the lack of a playset of Dark Rituals, as well as disparate card choices artificially lowered the speed of the deck, it still can be blistering when it needs to be. Whether it’s Dark Ritualing out something hideous (of which there are many choices), clogging the board with Priests of Gix + any other 3-drop, or exploiting the filthiness of the Phyrexian Negator (and it’s Totem-clone), there’s a lot here to support the “all in to win” strategy.
That said, there’s still a lot of ways where the deck can go wrong. There’s not a lot of sexiness in having to use the Priest of Gix to get a threat out, then ‘wasting’ his free mana on the many good-but-not-great three-drops in the deck (Puppet Strings, Worn Powerstone)… or worse, not having anything to use it on. It’s nowhere near as tight as it could be, though as suggested in the last piece this was to ‘muzzle the dog’ a little and give The Coalition a competitive chance. Making a balanced mono-colour versus all-colour Duel Deck was an ambitious undertaking on Wizards’ part, considering the rarity constraints they must operate under to make a marketable product.
The deck has a ton of flavour and some fun interactions, and certainly cannot be said to be boring or easily stale.
Pros: Delightful Rare selections give both flavour and utility; strong card interactions and synergy; abundant threats within first-turn Dark Ritual range appeal to the inner sadist in all Black players
Cons: Artificially ‘toned down’ to be on par with a five-colour deck, and can feel that way sometimes; some poor card choices (Hornet Cannon, I’m looking at you)
FINAL GRADE: 4.25/5.00