The Phyrexians are back in a major way, with last week’s announcements making it clear we’ll be dealing with Magic’s classic villains for quite a while to come. Even with the early previews we’ve seen, Dominaria United already has a strong Phyrexian presence, and with new Phyrexians being previewed every day, I thought it a good time to cast our minds back to some of the best Phyrexians that have been printed so far. Phyrexian was only added as a creature type relatively recently, so doesn’t actually appear on these many of cards themselves, but rest assured they are, indeed, Phyrexians – errata has taken care of that.
10. Psychosis Crawler
Psychosis Crawler is an important card for me – it’s the first card I ever owned. Back in 2012, some friends gave me the blue-black “Doom Inevitable” intro deck, with a foil Psychosis Crawler as its face card, and I never looked back. As a result, Magic has dominated the last 10 years of my life, sent me all around the world and helped me forge friendships that would never have been possible otherwise, and it all started with this pretty mediocre five-drop that only really does any work in Nekusar wheel decks. Still, it’s a big part of my Magic origin story, and I still have the copy I was given over 10 years ago.
9. Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon
Playing infect in Commander isn’t the easiest thing to do, but for those brave souls who want to embark on this quest (and don’t want to spend the money required for a four-color mana base), Skithiryx is a great way to kill people with poison counters. You more or less play every single black and colorless creature with infect, but some of them are pretty powerful – Phyrexian Crusader will get in there, and Hand of the Praetors can poison people out without ever needing to attack. Add a few proliferate effects and some classic mono-black technology like Dread Presence and K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth, and Skithiryx can definitely get some work done!
8. Deceiver Exarch
You’ve got to respect the classics. This card was once one of the scariest turn-three plays in Modern, as it usually meant your opponent was going to untap, cast Splinter Twin and win the game on the spot. Deceiver Exarch and Pestermite were one half of the Splinter Twin combo decks that could play a control game until they were ready to combo off and win the game, and while it lasted, Twin was amongst the very best decks in the Modern format. Splinter Twin has since been banned – goodnight, sweet prince, taken from us too soon – so these days, we no longer live in fear of a three-mana 1/4.
7. Phyrexian Metamorph
We’ve talked about Phyrexian Metamorph before, when discussing some of the best clones from throughout Magic’s history, and this is definitely up there on that list as well as this one. The reason Phyrexian Metamorph is so strong is because it is, effectively, a three-mana clone that can also target artifacts, offering a huge amount of flexibility for very little in the way of price. Particularly useful in Commander, where powerful artifacts run rampant, Phyrexian Metamorph is still seeing plenty of play as a way to copy your own stuff or have a go with whatever your opponents are using.
6. Phyrexian Obliterator
Phyrexian Obliterator is one of those cards that is either absolutely unbeatable, or embarrassingly bad. If you have a non-red removal spell, this is just a big four-mana 5/5 that’s unplayable in anything other than a mono-black deck and doesn’t do anything apart from die to removal. However, If you don’t have a non-damage-based way to kill it, oh baby, you’re in trouble. You can’t block a Phyrexian Obliterator, trading with it results in a six-for-one, and if you don’t contest it, it kills you in four hits. I’m never happy to see this card, as I tend to skimp on good removal in my big dumb green decks, and usually get heavily punished as a result.
5. Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider
While Vorinclex isn’t the Standard powerhouse he was during the time of Emergent Ultimatum, he’s still getting it done in Commander. A natural inclusion in Atraxa decks, of course, he also sees plenty of play in Carth decks, where he doubles the loyalty counters put on all Carth’s planeswalkers. Not to mention he’s sometimes played as a commander himself – mono-green +1/+1 counters isn’t the most popular Commander archetype, but it’s still pretty powerful, with Vorinclex powering up cards like Forgotten Ancient, Renata, Called to the Hunt and a suite of green planeswalkers.
4. Blightsteel Colossus
Tinker into Blightsteel isn’t something we see all that often, these days. With Tinker banned in every format and restricted in Vintage, it’s not all that easy to cheat out a Blightsteel Colossus. Still, there’s no better target when it comes to a huge, game-ending artifact, as Blightsteel Colossus will kill an opponent in one hit, regardless of their life total, thanks to its infect ability. It’s played in big mana colorless decks led by Eldrazi titans, and sometimes in decks led by Muzzio, Visionary Architect or Braids, Conjurer Adept, both of whom can cheat it onto the battlefield without paying the hefty 12 mana.
3. Wurmcoil Engine
A multiformat all-star, Wurmcoil Engine is an absolute beating if you don’t have something like a Path to Exile to exile it then and there. A 6/6 lifelink body stops more or less every aggro deck in its tracks, and then it can outgrind bigger decks by trading through multiple creatures with two deathtouch bodies. A classic second-stringer in Tron decks, a regular feature in Vintage Shops decks and a common sight in artifact decks in Commander, even after all these years, Wurmcoil Engine is still out there as one of the most powerful Phyrexians ever printed.
2. Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice
Atraxa is amongst the most popular commanders of all time, and with good reason. Her proliferate ability can support a wide range of powerful strategies, from +1/+1 counters to superfriends to infect. Other, weirder strategies are also enabled by her ability: Saga tribal, energy, the list goes on – she’s a very flexible and very powerful commander, and the fact that she dips into four colors allows you to build an enormous range of different decks very easily. The worst part of Atraxa decks is probably their cost, however – Atraxa isn’t cheap, nor is a four-color mana base, and you better get ready to shell out the big bucks for Doubling Season!
1. Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
Perhaps the most iconic Phyrexian of all, Elesh Norn is a stone-cold killer, providing white decks with an unusual bit of top-end that combines a huge anthem effect with a static board sweeper, keeping opposing small creatures off the battlefield for good. It’s extremely difficult to beat an unanswered Elesh Norn, and she’s remained a powerful reanimation target or top-end threat in all sorts of creature-based decks since she was first printed. With all the other Praetors already having had their second iteration revealed, I know I’m not the only one who can’t wait to see what the new Elesh Norn does!