Phyrexia: All Will Be One, the newest Magic: The Gathering set, is officially here, bringing with it biomechanical horror and grotesque beauty as the Phrexians set their sight on total domination.
The penultimate expansion in the four-part Phyrexian story arc visits the home of the Phyrexians as they pursue their plans to take over the Multiverse once and for all. Phyrexia’s Leader, Elesh Norn, is at the forefront of this story as beloved Magic heroes go head to head with an ever-growing threat, but not everyone will make it out of this battle unscathed, or uncorrupted.
The battle, however, is not just between the Phyrexians and the Multiverse, with each Praetor setting their sights on singularity – flavour text on cards gives an insight into their intentions. The set is rife with ambition, as each Preator strives to outdo the others before they themselves are outdone.
Phyrexia: All Will Be One contains 271 cards, with a whole host of powerful new additions bound to shake up competitive play. Cards like Green Sun’s Twilight (and the other corresponding Sun’s Twilight sorcery cards for each colour) can be game-changing when you find yourself with an excess of mana at your disposal. In the Commander format, any of the Dominus cards could be a formidable addition to decks thanks to their strong abilities, too.
It’s not just the cards themselves that are shaking up the game with their introduction though, with multiple new and returning mechanics that perfectly capture the flavour of the Phyrexians. One of the key mechanics in the set, Toxic, is found across a number of cards and deals poison counters (between one and three, usually one) when combat damage is dealt to a player.
Regardless of a player’s current life total, if they receive ten poison counters, they lose the game. Venerated Rotpriest also gets an honourable mention as one of the many cards with the Toxic Ability, with the added ability to dole out a poison counter to target opponents whenever a creature you control becomes the target of a spell.
Toxic is similar to the previous Infect ability seen in Scars of Mirrodin, however also deals combat damage rather than purely poison counters, making it all the more deadly. When paired with the Phyrexian-typical Proliferate ability, it’s a potent combination.
Another new mechanic, Corrupted, rewards players using Toxic to their advantage – cards with the corrupted keyword trigger when opponents have three or more poison counters, making the counters useful beyond being a game finisher as they unlock new abilities such as granting creatures lifelink or extra card draw. Oil Counters also make their first appearance in this set, and have multiple uses, such as building up your creatures to dispatch your opponent quickly.
Beauty in the grotesque
Beyond the eye-wateringly strong cards and abilities at the disposal of players in Phyrexia: All Will Be One, the set is host to some truly iconic new art. Phyrexians are prime subject matter for Magic to lean heavily into body horror, and the new set does exactly that.
Cards like Crawling Chorus get my vote for one of the most horrifying-looking cards in the set, but it’s one of many bound to turn your stomach. Phyrexian Angels are grotesque simulacrums of true angels, Planewalkers like Nissa succumb to the biomechanical corruption at the Preator’s bidding.
Ovidio Cartagena, Art Director for the set, says one of the inspirations behind the horrifying new art is dark surrealism, considered the 20th-21st century spiritual successors to the work of Hieronymous Bosch. ‘I wanted to have a truly alien world, but also make an evocative combination of symbols that reinforce…Phyrexia’s ambitions towards the multiverse,’ he says of his goal for this expansion.
Another key inspiration for the art was the illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy, with several of the compositions evoking curses in certain circles of Dante’s Hell. Cartagena says the creative process for each set, which takes a few years from conception to release, often involves linking his vacations thematically to the upcoming set.
For Phyrexia: All Will Be One, he looked back on notes from his visit to the Giger Museum in Gruyères (which he refers to as ‘almost like a pilgrimage’), and finding an ancient 19th-century illustrated Inferno in a bookstore in the middle of the Californian desert. ‘The process of seeking and inhabiting a place or object helps me draw ideas and it allows me to see beyond my desk and computer for livable experiences,’ He says.
The set features several different showcase treatments inspired by Japanese body horror, as well, with Ichor showcase art for 40 cards in the set, and the 10 Planeswalkers given a borderless manga-art treatment. Elesh Norn herself received artwork done by the Japanese manga artist Junji Ito, one of the most well-known artists in the Japanese horror scene with works like Tomie.
Phyrexia: All Will Be One ratchets up the drama, horror, and power of the Phyrexian story arc with masterful worldbuilding and art direction, all the while providing exciting new additions to the game that are sure to change up multiple Magic formats. The set is available now in stores and on Magic: The Gathering Arena, should you want to try your hand at Multiverse domination.