Phyrexia: All Will Be One - cEDH Set Review

Jake FitzSimons • January 30, 2023

Tyvar, Jubilant Brawler | Illustrated by Victor Adame Minguez

White | Blue | Black | Red | Green | Artifacts/Lands | Gold I | Gold II | Reprints | cEDH

Greetings, one and all, Jake FitzSimons here fighting a losing battle against Phyrexians and identifying the best new cEDH cards from Phyrexia: All Will Be One. After a mixed bag of a 2022, here we are with the first new set of 2023 and it sure is... oily. We've got a boxing Elf, we've got a white Bitterblossom, and we've even got a card pretending to be Mental Misstep. More than anything, we've got a new mommy. Let's get into it.


Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines

The new Elesh Norn is controversial, to say the least. In casual Commander, she's controversial thanks to Sheldon Menery's article outlining his desire for Wizards to never print cards like this, and in cEDH she's controversial because she's been declared everything from an instant staple to utterly unplayable. Naturally, the controversy lies in Elesh Norn being a Panharmonicon on legs and an asymmetrical Torpor Orb to boot.

Panharmonicon sees little play in cEDH - Godo, Bandit Warlord is the only exception - but the ability to double up on enter-the-battlefield effects is a strong one. She's good with Spellseeker, she's good with Eternal Witness, and just like every other card ever printed, she's good with Dockside Extortionist1. That's good, but you usually don't want to be spending five mana to improve a small handful of your cards.

I've seen some say Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines will find a home in decks already playing Torpor Orb effects but it's a half-baked thought at best. Decks currently playing anti-ETB effects have five options: Hushbringer, Torpor Orb, Strict Proctor, Tocatli Honor Guard and Hushwing Gryff. But these five shut down every enter-the-battlefield effect, which means the decks in question are built around the assumption that shutting off those triggers won't be detrimental to their own plan. In such a deck, the doubling effect of Elesh Norn is useless, making her a five-mana Torpor Orb.

She'll fare much better in decks trying to abuse or consistently use enter-the-battlefield abilities. With Rocco, Cabaretti Caterer's trigger, it'll be two creatures you're tutoring directly to the battlefield. With enough mana, you can tutor Temur Sabertooth and Dockside Extortionist into play, an easy infinite, even easier than usual given Dockside will be doubled. Or Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Village Bell-Ringer. If she shows up anywhere, it'll be in green and white decks that can find her reliably, cheat her into play and possibly even build around her.

As a commander, she stands no chance. There aren't enough cEDH relevant enter-the-battlefield abilities in white to warp an entire deck around her and she can't boast the combo potential of Heliod, Sun-Crowned or the toolbox of Oswald Fiddlebender. Ultimately, I don't think much of mommy.

Skrelv, Defector Mite

If Mother of Runes was compleated, Skrelv is what she'd look like. Toxic may as well be flavor text in cEDH, but providing hexproof from a color of your choice until the end of turn is a great way to dodge removal. Mind you, hexproof isn't as good as protection, so Skrelv won't save it from damage, but that's usually not a big deal in cEDH.

Thanks to Modern Horizons, we already have a second Mother of Runes in the form of Giver of Runes, so brewers looking for redundancy will likely turn to her first. Still, redundancy is nice, and that's what Skrelv brings to the table. Oh yes, and because it isn't a Human, it triggers Winota, Joiner of Forces. Strap in, because I'm going to be saying that a lot.

Skrelv's Hive

Bitterblossom, but white. And the tokens don't have flying. And they can't block. And they have Toxic, not that it matters. What might matter is the tokens are not Humans, meaning they'll trigger Winota, Joiner of Forces. Or at least, people seem to think it matters. Cards that create non-Human tokens are Winota's bread and butter, with cards like Legion Warboss, Loyal Apprentice, and Goblin Rabblemaster being mainstays since the earliest days of the deck.

What those cards have that Skrelv's Hive doesn't are tokens with haste, and tokens that are made at the beginning of the combat step. The Hive might cost just two mana, but it won't offer a single Winota, Joiner of Forces trigger until the turn after the turn after you play it. Skrelv might be playable, but the Hive he came from sure isn't.


Unctus, Grand Metatect

Unctus, Grand Metatect is the sort of commander that looks cEDH-viable once you realise it combos with any creature able to untap itself, the easiest being Aphetto Alchemist. With Unctus, Grand Metatect in play alongside Alchemist you've got yourself an "infinite" combo. Just start tapping and untapping the Alchemist and you can loot indefinitely. As long as you started with one or more cards in hand, you can dig through your deck till you find exactly what you need to win the game, likely Thassa's Oracle.

Sounds great, right? Commanders that can go infinite with one other card are historically playable in cEDH, as the likes of Godo, Heliod, and Najeela, the Blade-Blossom should illustrate. Unctus, Grand Metatect is even blue, arguably the strongest color in cEDH. And yet, I'd strongly discourage anyone trying to turn Unctus, Grand Metatect into a cEDH commander.

For one, Aphetto Alchemist lacks haste. Anyone paying attention will know Aphetto Alchemist has to be removed on sight, and the turn it takes to wind him up is time your opponents have to find interaction. For another, creatures are not blue's strong point. It's almost as hard to tutor for Aphetto Alchemist in blue as it would be in red or white. Muddle the Mixture gets there, and you can try Step Through and Vedalken Aethermage, but at the point you're going all in on finding a Wizard, just play Inalla, Archmage Ritualist and find Spellseeker, a Wizard that will win immediately.

There's Tidewater Minion, but it's even harder to tutor for and costs a whopping five mana. You could run Grand Architect and Pili-Pala, but finding two creatures is even harder than finding one, even when the latter happens to be an artifact. There's also Ornithopter of Paradise that can pair with Freed from the Real or Pemmin's Aura to achieve the same thing Aphetto Alchemist does, but aside from enchantments being even harder to tutor in blue, what you're rewarded with is a bad combo.

I evaluate potential cEDH commanders on three criteria: their ability to make mana, their ability to generate card advantage, and their potential to combo. Unfortunately, Unctus, Grand Metatect ticks just one of those boxes, and does so with a pen running out of ink.

Mercurial Spelldancer

Creatures that can't be blocked are always worth a quick look for the sake of Tymna the Weaver decks, and Mercurial Spelldancer is one of the better dedicated beaters. Flying is close, but true unblockability means you'll never have to worry about Stonecoil Serpent or Kraum or Serra Ascendant, and the upside for connecting here is a big one. At least, as long as you've got two oil counters to spare.

Noncreature spells are a dime a dozen in most decks, particularly any deck with blue, so it shouldn't take too long to oil up Mercurial Spelldancer, and once you do, you've got a potentially explosive spell copy effect. Mercurial Spelldancer won't do anything special on an opponent's turn because the effect has to be used after combat damage, but that's no death knell. Copying your own Praetor's Grasp or Demonic Tutor should always lead to a winning position, but even a Dark Ritual for six black mana or a Swords to Plowshares for double removal is powerful, not to mention the defensive applications of a protective counterspell.

Minor Misstep

It's a trap! Like a lot of cEDH enthusiasts, my eyes narrowed and I leant forward in my chair when I saw Minor Misstep. It's a counter, it only costs one mana, and it does almost the same thing as Mental Misstep! It even has art with a blue mage surrounded by red magic, a sure sign of a pushed counterspell2. I relaxed back into my chair once I remembered what makes Mental Misstep playable in the first place: it's free.

Yes, cEDH is overrun with cheap spells, many of them sitting at the one-mana price tag. In fact, according to the cEDH staple list, it's the most common mana value in the format. More than that, Minor Misstep also counters zero-mana spells, meaning it hits all of Jeweled Lotus, Chrome Mox, Mox Diamond, and Mana Crypt. But is that a meaningful improvement? I can count the amount of times I've countered an opponent's fast mana on a single hand. It's almost always better to save your counter magic for a genuine threat, not a stray mana rock, so I can't see the "one or less" clause as an actual upside. It would have been a different story if it countered anything that wasn't paid for, but alas, this is the card we have.

Going back to Mental Misstep, it's free. Would you play it if it wasn't? One is the loneliest most common number for a spell in cEDH, but only countering spells of a specific mana value is still narrow in the wider scheme of a cEDH game. Mental Misstep gets away with that because you don't need to hold up mana for it and your opponents won't see it coming, a luxury that Minor Misstep just doesn't have.

As a general principle, you want counterspells to trade up. Minor Misstep can't. I'd sooner play Spell Snare, and if you're not already on it, I'd be surprised if Minor Misstep proves any better. Blue mages are spoiled for choice when it comes to counters, and you have to dive very deep in the counterspell pool before Minor Misstep looks appealing.

Synthesis Pod

What a bizarre card. A blue Birthing Pod that did anything close to what the original Birthing Pod did would be instantly playable, but this ain't that. Synthesis Pod is something else entirely, a card that asks you to exile one of your own spells on the stack to "pod up" to a bigger spell, except the new spell will come from an opponent's library. Sure, maybe you have a disposable four-mana spell you can feed to Synthesis Pod in the hope you'll steal an opponent's Ad Nauseam, but you're just as likely to hit their Force of Will, at which point you've spent two cards and eight mana to do precisely nothing. This is a crapshoot, with emphasis on crap.


Poor black. Another set, another swing, and another miss; black received no cEDH cards in Phyrexia: All Will Be One. I'm the sort of set reviewer who likes to talk about subpar cards when it gives me an opportunity to explain why they're subpar even though they look decent, but we don't even have that this time around.


All Will Be One

All Will Be One joins a rare cabal of cards that share a name with the set they were printed in: the other two are Conflux from Conflux and Hour of Devastation from, you guessed it, Hour of Devastation3. As for what it's doing here, in a cEDH set review, All Will Be One gets a nod thanks to the glut of cards it goes infinite with.

With All Will Be One in play, any of the above will create an infinite damage loop as long as you can place a single counter, either through damage or any other means. It can also pair with Soul-Scar Mage for an asymmetrical board wipe. The Red Terror is particularly notable because it can sit in the command zone, meaning yes, another commander with a one-card combo. But like Unctus, the problem lies in how hard it is to tutor the missing piece. Speaking of cards with missing pieces...


Venerated Rotpriest

Right now, Venerated Rotpriest is a com looking for a bo. Modern players (the overly excited ones anyway) are fooling around with Ground Rift to build a high-velocity Storm deck able to rain poison counters, but that's not possible in cEDH. What Venerated Rotpriest needs is a Chain of Smog sort of effect, something that can be done infinitely in and of itself, except with targeting. I don't imagine such a thing being printed soon, but Rotpriest is a card to keep your eye on as the years roll by.


Soulless Jailer

What if Drannith Magistrate and Grafdigger's Cage had a baby? Oh, humans and inanimate cages can't reproduce? I don't care, just go with it. Because that's almost what we're looking at with Soulless Jailer, operative word being almost. While it won't stop commanders the way Drannith does, it still stops noncreature casting off everything from Underworld Breach to Sevinne's Reclamation to Jeska's Will to Praetor's Grasp, not to mention commanders like Kess, Dissident Mage and Evelyn, the Covetous. That also makes it a soft (softer than Drannith Magistrate) lock with Uba Mask.

Because it only stops permanents entering from the graveyard rather than the library, it won't stop cards like Eldritch Evolution and other straight-to-the-battlefield effects, this is arguably an upside: decks relying on those effects can run Soulless Jailer without stepping on their own toes the way that Grafdigger's Cage would have. More importantly, it does nothing to stop Winota, Joiner of Forces and that means... yes: it's a Winota card.

Myr Convert

One day, Wizards of the Coast is going to release a set with no new cards for Winota, Joiner of Forces. Today is not that day. Given Winota synergises with the two most common creature typings of all time (Human is second only to "everything that isn't a Human"), I'm quite certain the day will never come. Anyway, Myr Convert is good in Winota because it produces mana and it isn't a Human. A lot of lists already played a mixture of Ornithopter of Paradise, Gold Myr, and Iron Myr, and while Myr Convert isn't on the level of the Ornithopter, it's certainly the best of the Myrs. Next.


The Mycosynth Gardens

Trying to squeeze extra mileage out of your mana base is a major part of cEDH deckbuilding. Utility lands, like Blast Zone, Urza's Saga, and Emergence Zone, all see play because cards that only produce colorless mana are fine as long as their payoff is strong enough. Even The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale should illustrate a land can produce no mana and still find a home. Unfortunately, the upside of The Mycosynth Gardens isn't on par with any of those tools.

cEDH might be infested with zero-mana artifacts, and The Mycosynth Gardens could surely copy a Mana Crypt or a Jeweled Lotus, but that's not as good as it sounds. If you open with a Crypt and Gardens and use the land to copy Crypt, congratulations, you have two Crypts! You also have no land (Gardens doesn't retain land typing when it copies), the Mana Crypt will be tapped, and short of another mana source, you're only able to produce colorless mana. Less than ideal, especially when you consider all the times you'll draw Gardens and have nothing to copy. The possible exception is Lion's Eye Diamond, a zero-drop rock that doesn't need to tap to be useful.

Still, in a dedicated stax deck like Heliod, Sun-Crowned or Oswald Fiddlebender, the Gardens could serve as insurance against removal. With enough mana help up, the Gardens can save a crucial stax piece, like Grafdigger's Cage, Ethersworn Canonist, or Trinisphere. That should be enough to make it playable given mono-color decks have more room for utility lands, but I can't see The Mycosynth Gardens making an impact beyond that.


Tyvar, Jubilant Brawler

Here we are, my pick for the best card in the set. Also my pick for the worst cohesion between art and effect. I suppose a brawler letting creatures activate their abilities immediately makes some sense, but not as much as haste would. I also have no idea what punching people in the face has to do with milling a library reanimating small creatures. In fact, what is it about Golgari that lends itself to a fistfight at all? I'm off-track.

Tyvar, Jubilant Brawler is a consideration for any deck with a critical mass of mana dorks. The likes of Birds of Paradise and Deathrite Shaman are already cEDH staples strong enough to stand in their own right, but when they're live on entry, they can provide an immediate return on mana investment. Opening with a mana dork and curving into Tyvar, Jubilant Brawler on turn two allows you to untap that same dork for another mana, and if you happen to have another dork in hand, you can keep the mana flowing. With bigger dorks, like Bloom Tender or Faeburrow Elder, Tyvar, Jubilant Brawler will help you make a lot of mana.

Beyond that, the ability to bring back any two-mana-value-or-less creature into play is pure power. Just about all the best creatures in the format sit at or below the two mana mark. Dauthi Voidwalker, Dockside Extortionist, Drannith Magistrate, Gilded Drake, Thassa's Oracle, Collector Ouphe, the list goes on. The fact Tyvar's downtick also mills three means you don't even have to have a creature in the bin, you can activate and cross your fingers.

The best thing about Tyvar, Jubilant Brawler is what he provides for Hermit Druid decks. One of Hermit Druid's flaws is its lack of haste, usually solved with Postmortem Lunge. Tyvar takes care of that with his passive "haste" effect, but he can also use his downtick to return Thassa's Oracle to play, a game action much harder to interact with than the usual play of casting Dread Return. More than that, Tyvar, Jubilant Brawler can turn any topdeck tutor into a Hermit Druid win.

Worldly Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, Imperial Seal: it doesn't matter what you use. As long as Tyvar is in play and ready to activate, you can place Hermit Druid on top of the deck, uptick Tyvar and place the Druid into play where it can immediately activate.

Tyvar also plays nicely with Divining Witch, a Demonic Consultation with a body that already sees some play. It's mana intensive, but if you're feeling brave you can play and activate Divining Witch, name Thassa's Oracle, untap the witch with Tyvar, cast the mermaid and with the trigger on the stack, reactivate the witch to win the game.

Bladehold War-Whip

Be still, my beating heart. If I was writing just for myself, I'd declare Bladehold War-Whip the best card in the set. But that's because I'm embarrassingly obsessed with my pet cEDH deck, Koll, the Forgemaster. If you'd like an in-depth breakdown of one of the weirdest decks in the format, read this. Long story short, Koll, the Forgemaster's whole shtick is finding Skullclamp, a mana-neutral creature, and something to reduce Equipment costs. Bladehold War-Whip comes in at the last step.

Koll, the Forgemaster already has a number of effects like this; Puresteel Paladin, Auriok Steelshaper and Birgi, God of Storytelling4, so a three-mana variant might not seem exciting, but it's all in the typing.

Puresteel Paladin and Auriok Steelshaper, while cheaper, are difficult to tutor for in a Boros deck. You've got Gamble, you've got Imperial Recruiter, and you've got Recruiter of the Guard, and that's it. But an Equipment card? Koll was born to find Equipment. The whole damn deck is designed from the ground up to find Skullclamp, so getting our little Dwarven hands on Bladehold War-Whip is no trouble at all. It's even a surprisingly threatening beater!

Atraxa, Grand Unifier

Well, they did it. They made an Atraxa that can do something in cEDH. The original one never cracked into cEDH because Proliferating isn't an especially useful game action, and planeswalkers are far and few between, but Atraxa, Grand Unifier is lucky enough to function as a Food Chain outlet. For the uninitiated, Food Chain and a card that can be cast from exile (Misthollow Griffin and Eternal Scourge), you can generate infinite creature mana. That done, Atraxa, Grand Unifier can be cast infinitely with the same Food Chain, placing a deck's worth of cards in the hands of the caster. Winning from there is trivial.

Unfortunately Atraxa, Grand Unifier, is just the latest in a long line of commanders who already do this. Food Chain outlets in the command zone stretch back to ancient times, when Prossh, Skyraider of Kher and General Tazri were still young. Food Chain fanatics will remember when Niv-Mizzet Reborn took the stage, holding the spotlight for all of a month before The First Sliver burst onto the scene. Since then we've had Ukkima and Cazur, Omnath, Locus of Creation and less than a year ago, Rocco, Cabaretti Caterer. Frankly, it's a buffet.

Atraxa, Grand Unifier is the closest to Niv-Mizzet Reborn, but a better comparison point is The First Sliver. Casting from hand or cascade, the end result of both combos is the same, but The First Sliver has an extra color, which means not just an extra combo piece in the form of Squee, the Immortal, but access to the other Goblin. Speaking of colors, Atraxa, Grand Unifier might have more colors than Ukkima & Cazur, but the Ukkima combo works regardless of the number of remaining cards in of your deck. You could argue it's in better colors than Rocco, Cabaretti Caterer, but Rocco actually does something independent of Food Chain and they're capable of assembling a multitude of other winning combinations.

She also requires a whopping four pips and three colorless, and the payoff for resolving her is woeful. Best case scenario, you'll put seven cards in your hand, and only if your top ten happen to have seven different types. Well, technically eight, but we don't know what a Battle is yet. Rather than wasting anymore words on Atraxa the Lesser, let's speculate on what a Battle is. Maybe some kind of world enchantment? Could it be something like the planes from planechase? A Dungeon-style subgame? Give me your best guess in the comments.

All Will Be None?

It's an interesting set, and we're all dying to know what Battle is, who will remain compleated and whether or not they're just going to undo everything with time travel shenanigans, but I can't look you in the eye and tell you Phyrexia: All Will Be One is going to make waves in cEDH. Because despite the small upgrades for specific archetypes (did I mention I play Koll?) and all the new options Winota, Joiner of Forces has to consider, it's on the weaker side for cEDH.

Or is it? That's not rhetorical, I want to know what you think. I've been surprised by the chatter around the blue cards especially, Minor Misstep, Unctus, Grand Metatect, and Synthesis Pod, so tell me, what am I missing?

Thanks for reading, and here's hoping March of Machines brings us some real power.

  1. For those keeping score, this marks the fifth consecutive set review where Dockside has come up. Dread it, run from it, Dockside still warps all card evaluation.
  2. Force of Will, Force of Negation, and Fierce Guardianship all fit this bill.
  3. There are over a dozen cards that share a name with a Magic set, but the majority were printed in a different set to their namesake: Mirrodin Besieged was printed in Modern Horizons, Apocalypse was printed in Tempest, Time Spiral was printed in Urza's Saga etc.
  4. Birgi does not reduce equipment costs but make a mana neutral creature into a mana positive creature, thereby paying for Skullclamp.

Jake FitzSimons is a writer from Sydney and a Magic fiend. He's either the johnniest spike or the spikiest johnny, nobody is sure which. When he isn’t brewing or playing cEDH, he can be found writing, playing piano, and doting on his little cat.