Spoiler Spotlight – Pharika, God of Affliction

Pharika, God of Affliction needs some work to shine, but I believe she has a lot of potential. Today, I’ll put her in the spotlight.

Turning On the 5/5

Pharika is one of the few Gods that only costs three mana. That is Thassa, God of the Sea territory—the hallmark of Constructed playability. Sure, Pharika requires 7 devotion, but there are a lot of effective, resilient, and powerful cards in green/black to contribute for devotion.

Green has Elvish Mystic and Sylvan Caryatid, which means that you can ramp out devotion faster than any other color. Black has Nighthowler and Herald of Torment, which stick around twice as long as regular creatures. And the gold cards in the Golgari colors include Lotleth Troll and Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord, which are difficult to get rid of.

Consider this opening, for instance:

Turn 1: Forest, Elvish Mystic
Turn 2: Swamp, Pharika, God of Affliction
Turn 3: Swamp, Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord; swing for 5

Easy to achieve, hard to beat.

Jarad in particular is one of the few four-mana permanents with four colored mana symbols in its cost. The only other Standard-legal ones are Lazav, Dimir Mastermind; Rakdos, Lord of Riots; and Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice. However, all of them are in colors without a decent three-mana God.

Green/black, on the other hand, now got Pharika. In a dedicated deck, the excellent devotion support should get her online just as often as Thassa.

The Token-Generating Ability

Pharika’s token-generating ability reminds me of Bearscape and Necrogenesis. Necrogenesis was a sideboard card in Jund midrange decks that was brought in for long, grindy matchups. Bearscape had a similar role.

I learned the power of Bearscape when Rogier Maaten defeated me with it in the quarterfinals of Dutch Nationals 2003. I was playing Mono-Black Control, Rogier was playing Blue/Green Madness. This was generally a good matchup for me, as cards like Mutilate and Chainer’s Edict would allow me to deal with their creatures until I won in the late-game with cards like Visara the Dreadful. Indeed, in game one, I defeated Wild Mongrel and Basking Rootwalla as planned. However, when Rogier brought in Bearscape, my game plan fell apart. Suddenly my sorcery-speed sweepers and spot removal cards were not effective anymore, and I eventually lost an uphill battle. Esper Control players and Mono-Black Devotion players may be about to learn the same lesson.

Moreover, the tokens generated by Pharika might actually be better than the ones from Necrogenesis or Bearscape.

The first reason for that is deathtouch. This ability means that your tokens can take down non-evasive attackers like Polukranos, World EaterGhor-Clan Rampager, and Pack Rat. And if your opponent tries to block your snakes with Frostburn WeirdSylvan Caryatid, or Courser of Kruphix, then it’s not going to end well for him either.

The second reason is that the tokens are enchantments. As a result, your tokens will trigger constellation cards like Eidolon of Blossoms and Strength from the Fallen. Moreover, they don’t die to Extinguish All Hope, and a large army of enchantment creatures plays well with cards like Ethereal Armor and Sphere of Safety. These are cool synergies to build around.

Pharika’s ability has one downside, though: it can exile creature cards from any graveyard, but the owner will get the Snake. This means that Pharika should be viewed as a win condition that can generate extra value out of your own dead creatures, not as graveyard hate. Nevertheless, the option of exiling creatures from the opponent’s graveyard is relevant additional utility that could, for instance, prevent my opponent from returning Abhorrent Overlord with Whip of Erebos—well worth the cost of donating a 1/1 Snake. Finally, you could always turn the downside into an upside with cards like Oath of Druids.

Pharika’s Place in Standard

In my view, Pharika is well-positioned against the top decks in Standard.

Against Esper Control, Pharika is a threat that doesn’t die to Supreme Verdict, and her ability allows you to progress your board while playing around Supreme Verdict and Dissolve. Basically, if you expect your opponent to be sitting on any of those cards, then you could refrain from casting a creature, instead producing a couple of tokens at the end of his turn. Moreover, Supreme Verdict won’t be as back-breaking for Pharika as it is for Thassa, since Lotleth Troll, Nighthowler, and Jarad will easily allow you to turn her back into a creature in no time.

Against Black Devotion, Pharika allows you to handle Pack Rat and Desecration Demon, while also mitigating mana flood. With Pharika in play, you will have a steady flow of creatures in the late-game. The creatures and spot removal spells from Black Devotion don’t match up very well against an army of snakes.

Pharika should also do well against decks like Mono-Blue Devotion (as she will often be a 5/5 creature because they don’t have a lot of removal spells to keep you off 7 devotion) and Gruul Monsters (as her deathtouch tokens will allow you to slay Polukranos, World Eater and Ghor-Clan Rampager). Overall, most Standard decks won’t be happy to face her.

But what would be the best home for Pharika? One option is a Golgari midrange deck with Deathbridge Chant, Reaper of the Wilds, Extinguish all Hope, and Eidolon of Blossoms. Synergies aplenty! But I think the best way to go is to pair her with Elvish Mystic, Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord, and Grisly Salvage.

Green/Black Dredge has been doing well recently. Most notably, it was piloted to a Top 16 finish at Grand Prix Buenos Aires 2014 by Matias Chilperico and to a Top 16 finish at Grand Prix Cincinnati 2014 by Ari Lax. And that was before Journey into Nyx, which adds Temple of Malady and Mana Confluence to fix their mana. As a result of those lands, Green/Black Dredge may become a top tier Standard deck, and Pharika is a nice addition.

Here’s my proposed build:

You might argue that Pharika would not fit in the deck because its ability will lower the power of your Nighthowler and Jarad. However, you would typically only be using the ability in the late game, at which point +8/+8 vs. +6/+6 is hardly going to matter, whereas getting more creatures very well might. Moreover, Pharika offers an additional way to feed off of your Satyr Wayfinder and Grisly Salvage in games where you didn’t draw Nighthowler or Jarad.

A few comments about the build above:
• Rather than playing 4 Commune with the Gods, I have 2 Commune and 2 Nyx Weaver. The Spider blocks Nightveil Specter early on and recurs a Nighthowler in the late-game, but the most important advantage it has over Commune with the Gods is that it immediately adds devotion to your board.
• I don’t have many Sylvan Caryatid because the mana fixing is less necessary after the addition of the nonbasic lands from Journey into Nyx.
Shadowborn Demon is in the sideboard because Esper doesn’t have any creatures to kill, Desecration Demon cannot be targeted, and it eats our devotion.
• I’m only playing 3 Nemesis of Mortals because drawing multiples seems bad, especially in games where you lack Satyr Wayfinder.
• I don’t have Kruphix’s Insight because it seems worse than Commune with the Gods.
• I’m not playing Strength from the Fallen because I felt it would be too weak in games without Pharika.

It’s quite possible that this deck wants to go more aggressive and more devotion-heavy with Korozda Guildmage,Dreg Mangler, and Varolz, the Scar-Striped replacing Commune with the Gods and Nemesis of Mortals. For now, however, I’m interested in trying out this build.

If this deck picks up, then I would not be surprised to see Scavenging Ooze, Rest in Peace, and Crypt Incursion pop up in sideboards. Abrupt Decay might answer some of those, but a more realistic plan is to focus less on the graveyard and more on efficient beaters. Pharika fits that plan perfectly!

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