Phyrexia: All Will Be One Set Review - White
Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines by Martina Fackova
White | Blue | Black | Red | Green | Artifacts/Lands | Gold I | Gold II | Reprints | cEDH
Hi, I'm Michael Celani, and I'm qualified to review this set because as a person with a Reddit account, I know a thing or two about being forced to adhere to a hivemind orthodoxy.
Phyrexia: All Will Be One is one of those sets that, like Pokémon: The First Movie, is so haughtily assured of its own success it puts the fact that it's the first one in the title. The question I'm here to answer is if this set will be successful enough to greenlight Phyrexia: All Will Be Two -- Redemption. You know the drill, because thanks to that weird oil I found in my coffee cup this morning, a drill is growing out of my side now, and there's like five mouths on it. Let's get to it!
Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines
This card should never have been printed.
Now that I'm riding a track to martyrdom so fast it makes Joan of Arc blush, let's get this out of the way: I have no gameplay problems whatsoever with Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines. I disagree with the sentiment that it's so flexible and strong that white decks will be rushing to include it like the second coming of Swords to Plowshares. I know this because Panharmonicon already exists, and that card isn't in every white deck. Norn fits where Panharmonicon does: into blink decks, clone decks, and bounce decks, which are the archetypes most likely to care about zone-change triggers. In other libraries, it's too much of an investment; I don't see spellslingers slotting this into their Kykar, Wind's Fury lists, for example.
Now this deckbuilding judgment is based on the assumption that people aren't going to include Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines on the strength of the Torpor Orb clause alone. I doubt that but for the existence of the doubling effect, the average player would play her; it would get them hated out too much. Even if I concede that there are some out there that will use Norn as a light stax piece, there's nothing inherently wrong with that. Fighting light stax pieces, like Norn or Yasharn, acts as a check for your decklist, where if you're ever in a position where you're irrevocably hosed by one permanent coming down, the problem is that you don't run enough removal. Very, very few cards in the game stop you from casting Generous Gift, so let's set aside the power of the card itself in the "review" and interpret that word a different way.
What actually bothers me about Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines is that it's yet another doubling commander. My stance on these is pretty well-known at this point, and I'm confident enough in my opinion now that I'll come out and say that commanders that just double things are lazy designs. If I had to point to evidence that the faster product cycle is negatively affecting the craftsmanship of the game, the proliferation of doubler Commanders would be it, to the point that I suspect that they're included in Standard sets to appeal to EDH players as a backstop in case the other, more creative designs don't pan out. Of course, I have nothing concrete to support that claim, but these inclusions are starting to feel almost cynical since Yarok, the Desecrated ran away as the
most second-most most-popular-not-counting-that-set's-other-mistake commander of Core Set 2020. Putting these effects in the zone sounds like the same song every time: run this new general at the helm of your deck, search Scryfall for the specific phrase that it doubles, and the deck practically builds itself. To me, the experience afforded by Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines will not be new, or unique, or interesting; it's iterative, stale, and unnecessary. They're the Madden, Call of Duty, or New Super Mario Bros. games of Magic. It'll sell like gangbusters, but it's time we sit down and ask if this is really what we want.
Mondrak, Glory Dominus
Oh, come on. Well, you read the last paragraph and you're still here, so no sense repeating myself.
Like Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines and Panharmonicon before him, Mondrak will show up alongside Anointed Procession in thousands of lists to come. We all know that Anointed Procession is a great card; in fact, for legal reasons, I actually think it's a buffed Anointed Procession. Procession only copies tokens created by effects, whereas Mondrak, Glory Dominus copies all tokens. I don't think this actually changes anything currently; it would have mattered with the old Procession-Kalitas gotcha, had a rules update not already papered over it in 2018. If we ever see creating a token become part of a cost in the future, that'll be Mondrak's time to shine.
Regardless, the more interesting part of Mondrak is his role as a sacrifice outlet. This is a shockingly painless way to knock out pairs of creatures or artifacts in mono-white, and your reward for cashing in your Solemn Simulacrum and Academy Rector is that Mondrak becomes indestructible. No, not even that; he generates an indestructible counter. Nothing in the rulebook says Mondrak can't have multiple, which you can move around with Nesting Grounds or Resourceful Defense. I'm really eager to build the list that kills a bunch of token-makers, like Captain of the Watch, only to bring them back with a well-timed Second Sunrise to build an army at instant speed. Hell, now that I think about it, maybe Mondrak can even make Séance playable. I hope there's enough copies left.
Phyrexian Vindicator is terrifying in the right deck, and by "the right deck", I mean those Boros stop-hitting-yourself lists that run out Boros Reckoner and murder the whole table with a Star of Extinction. Vindicator's damage prevention clause effectively cements it as the archetype's third Stuffy Doll or Brash Taunter, so most tricks that work with them work here, too. Just make sure not to rely on anything that requires Phyrexian Vindicator to actually take damage; Blazing Sunsteel is a no-go here.
Mogg mania aside, the fact that Phyrexian Vindicator is a 5/5 with flying also means it's very capable at getting potshots in as well as shutting down your opponents' attacks. No joke; the other people in your pod will have to be Gottfried Leibniz to make sense of how much having one untapped changes the combat calculus. This alone is enough to make me want to include it in stuff like Azorius flying decks, but I'm giddy to suit it up with all sorts of additional buffs and keywords. In order from least to most esoteric:
- Vigilance: Swinging for five every turn while still being able to block makes your interaction with combat entirely dictated by you.
- Hexproof: This knocks out basically every way to handle Vindicator by itself, forcing your opponent to spend a board wipe to get rid of it.
- Lure: Against players with flying commanders or a lot of flying blockers, you'll still be able to get damage through while handling their evasive threats.
- Entangler: This Aura (and other effects like it) is essentially Ghostly Prison to the tokens players.
- Banding: Banding shuts down enemy tramplers by allowing you to direct all the damage to the blocking creature. It also works well if something else in your deck has a Lure effect so that you can force nonflying creatures to block the Vindicator when it attacks in a band.
One last thing worth mentioning with Phyrexian Vindicator is that it's got four white pips in it, meaning it's great for increasing your Devotion to white. Unfortunately, the only worthwhile Devotion to white cards are Springjack Shepherd, Reverent Hoplite, and Evangel of Heliod, so if you're playing a white Devotion deck, it's probably going to be tokens. But hey, Preston, the Vanisher would be the perfect commander for that strategy, since the copies have the same mana cost as the original and don't really mind being 0/1 if they're primarily for blocking. Enjoy your disgusting 20-mana Nykthos activations.
This card's bonkers. Phasing out permanents is the end-all, be-all for protection, but Wizards balanced this card by ensuring that there's a very real possibility that you can cast it for free. That's not to mention that, unlike Teferi's Protection, you still have access to your lands and whatever isn't immediately in danger once this resolves. The only thing Teferi's has going for it that Clever Concealment doesn't is that Clever Concealment isn't a one-sided fog that lasts three turns, but I think that's a small price to pay for a 0-mana spell.
Let's talk about For Mirrodin!, a very patriotic-sounding name for a mechanic they stole from the Phyrexians.
Yes, For Mirrodin!, which I refuse to refer to without the proper italicization and punctuation, is just Living weapon, but instead of a 0/0 Germ, you get a 2/2 Rebel. I always thought that the Living weapon cards were impractical because they're simply too costly for their effects. The fact that the Germs were 0/0 meant each Living weapon was required to have a power and toughness boost, and since Equipment can be shuffled around, their Equip costs went up to compensate, to the point that it's a day-long, cinematic ordeal to attach something like Kaldra Compleat to anything else. For Mirrodin! rectifies this by making the generated token a 2/2, and the result is that these feel much more fairly costed to both play and reequip.
Most of the For Mirrodin! cards in the main set are underwhelming draft chaff, but Glimmer Lens comes from the Commander precon, and it's... also underwhelming. This Equipment puts an attack-to-draw clause on the equipped creature, but you have to attack with at least two creatures to get it, which may not always be possible. At the very least, you don't have to connect. Isshin, Two Heavens as One might consider it, but it feels too slow and clunky to me to see much use elsewhere.
Kemba's Banner is a little bit better. In fact, I think it might be the best mono-white For Mirrodin! card. The power and toughness boost counts the Rebel itself, so Kemba's Banner is, at worst, a four-mana 3/3 that triggers your Puresteel Paladin. Obviously, it's much more worthwhile in the go-wide decks, but at that point you've got a lot of competition, such as Horn of Valhalla, which I think is just objectively better (it's two spells in one, it's cheaper, it's easier to equip, it's got a higher ceiling drawn late, and bouncing it to your hand can let you recast its Adventure), not to mention easier to obtain for most players.
The other problem I have with Kemba's Banner is unfortunately a big one, and it's that I have to question how useful these go-as-tall-as-you-are-wide buffs are. If I'm going wide, I would want to leverage the benefits having a big board brings, such as the fact it's tougher to block a bevy of creatures, and having the threat dispersed renders them more resistant to instant-speed effects. Centralizing all the benefit onto one creature seems counterproductive to that. To put it in perspective, Glorious Anthem provides the exact same buff as Kemba's Banner, just spread out, and that's one of the weakest anthems in the game. Throw in something like Starlight Spectacular and you'll see why I'm nonplussed here. Occasionally a Kemba's Banner can help create a feedback loop, like with Ria Ivor, Bane of Bladehold, but otherwise, don't put these effects in your tokens decks. There's usually better options.
Kemba, Kha Enduring
Kemba, Kha Enduring is narrow but acceptable for two mana. Cheating equip costs is always fun, and I'm not averse to a free +1/+1 on creatures I'll be attacking with. If I'm pressed for space I'd almost always want to include something that gets card advantage for Equipment in this slot, like Puresteel Paladin or Sram, Senior Edificer, but in specifically the Cat-themed Equipment deck, I don't mind this as a filler inclusion.
Unfortunately, I think the low mana cost here holds back how interesting Kemba could be as a commander. I actually wish that she cost a few more mana, had a more permissive color identity, and that her activated ability was cheaper; I'd love to spend three to make a Cat that gets a Heartseeker attached to it for free and activate it immediately thanks to my Thousand-Year Elixir. At five mana per Cat, it's just untenable. Maybe in a Jinnie Fay, Jetmir's Second deck you could do something like that, but in the commander slot I struggle to see what Kemba has that makes someone jump at the opportunity to play her over other Cat or Equipment commanders.
Now this is the kind of card I like, because it naturally teaches players things about the game and its synergies. It's obvious that Mite Overseer has clear applications in go-wide decks, and indeed, first strike on all your tokens is unquestionably strong; however, you'll quickly learn that it's only worth the mana when combined with a deathtouch-enabler, like Ohran Frostfang, or combat behemoths, like the ones created by Ghired, Conclave Exile. A 1/1 is still a 1/1 even if it has first strike, so if you're playing Mite Overseer, you won't get anything by slotting it into your Rhys-Token-Explosion-McWins-With-Craterhoof.
I'm not entirely sure how to judge the Mites and Toxic yet, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they won't have much of an effect in Commander. They seem too small to remain unblocked, and they seem too difficult to create to effectively go wide. My current judgment is that three mana and two life will be too expensive to be worth making a single Mite unless you've got nothing else to use your turn on. Great Zirda plant, though.
A 5/4 flying first-striker for five on its own is already fantastic, but that ability on Norn's Choirmaster has me puzzled. Proliferate works best if you have a big board of creatures with counters on them, so it seems like he'd be a slam dunk in go-wide and counters strategies, but the problem is that most popular commanders for those archetypes are key to the deck's strategy and want to avoid danger by any means necessary. Attacking with those generals represents a really big risk (that damn Isshin aside). This can be rectified by playing enough protection, so slot Norn's Choirmaster in only if you're not taking a lot of risks elsewhere, like omitting protective Equipment or your Tamiyo's Safekeeping.
Of course, there's another way to get use out of Norn's Choirmaster without having to eat your vegetables: it's a lot safer to make your commander change zones than charge into battle, so just add a Teleportation Circle and be on your merry way. The problem is that I never really saw blink and counters go together, largely because blinking things removes their counters. Maybe Daxos the Returned or Minthara, Merciless Soul will want this to Proliferate experience?
Norn's Decree is not a good way to protect yourself. It doesn't really stop your opponents from attacking you; a poison counter per combat is negligible unless they're already at nine. Norn's Decree is really more of a misdirection or distraction. I'd liken it to running a Curse, such as Curse of Opulence, in terms of effect on the combat step. If you know this and decide to run it anyway, that's great; I don't think it's a bad card. Just don't delude yourself into thinking it's a replacement for Ghostly Prison.
Norn's Wellspring is this set's War Room: it's a really good velocity and draw-smoothing card, but I haven't seen anyone frothing at the mouth to play it. Just look at it: for only two mana, it adds a scry for each death and an opportunity to draw cards over time. This is a powerful effect, and it'll help you consistently avoid stuff like mana flood. If multiple creatures die at once, and you find something you like, you can even activate it to draw that card off the top of your deck in between triggers so that you don't have to spend five scries on only one card. It'll find its most natural home in Orzhov aristocrats decks, but I wouldn't be afraid to slot it into go-wide lists in general. If you find someone playing this card across the table, be wary, because they're probably skilled.
This is just my brain going, but I wonder if this would make sense in an Eligeth, Crossroads Augur deck. Imagine drawing five cards and gaining ten mana when you sacrifice a bunch of useless Soldier tokens with an Ashnod's Altar.
Skrelv, Defector Mite
Skrelv, Defector Mite wins best white rare in the set by a mile. It's a riff on the classic Mother of Runes formula, but unlike Mom, it doesn't ruin your Voltron commander's precious array of Auras. If you don't know why Mother of Runes is great, it protects your creatures from being removed in an easily visible way that discourages your enemies from trying to interact with you in the first place. Nobody likes throwing a Swords to Plowshares at a creature they know will dodge it, so it usually points everyone else's removal away from you, unless one of your opponents is good enough to be playing Norn's Wellspring and is willing to sacrifice a card to get your shields down.
Adding Toxic onto the ability is a little ancillary, but I consider it practically free, and I can imagine an enterprising deckbuilder using it and a bunch of untappers to try and get ten activations in a turn to kill someone out of nowhere.
Bitterblossom should not be a $25 card. Its major strengths are getting around symmetrical edict effects and getting value from sacrifice triggers that happen on a once-per-turn basis. That's why you see it in decks like Braids, Arisen Nightmare, Rankle, Master of Pranks, Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools, and nowhere else.
Skrelv's Hive improves on the idea by putting it in a color that definitely does not do those two things, meaning this is actually just a Bitterblossom reprint that can only be played in + decks. I already bought ten at $55 each.
The Eternal Wanderer
Now this is a Commander planeswalker!
For six mana, you get the kind of board wipe where you get to keep your commander and everyone gets to keep their 0/1 Plant token that Khalni Garden made on turn one. Since it's a sacrifice effect, it dodges every form of protection save your opponents phasing creatures out. The main thing that makes The Eternal Wanderer worth looking at over something like a Farewell is that, from there on out, you've got a Conjurer's Closet that can also be used as Marit Lage removal or a way to reset Wishclaw Talisman in a pinch. The Eternal Wanderer also protects herself by preventing more than one creature from attacking her each turn, so if you've got a Maze of Ith or an abundance of tokens, it'll be really hard to stop her from wiping the board every so often.
Her only downside is that she's pretty expensive, but I think she's at least viable in a format where planeswalkers really aren't that good, and that's impressive on its own.
White Sun's Twilight
This is Martial Coup, but you gain a negligable bit of life and create Mites with Set Mechanic instead of Soldiers. White has a lot more support for Soldiers than Mites at the moment, but if you get enough mana (or token-doublers) and have a noncreature way to grant haste, you can get enough poison into an opponent to knock them out.
Uncommons & Commons
Against All Odds
Assuming you grab a three-mana creature or artifact from your graveyard, you can treat this spell as a blink that only costs one mana, and then the question becomes "does my deck want to run Cloudshift?" If yes, great! You're playing Preston, the Vanisher and you've been salivating since this card got revealed. If not, you should probably just stick to Sevinne's Reclamation or good-ol' Sun Titan.
Apostle of Invasion
Corrupted is a mechanic that works when an opponent has three or more poison counters, so to rank them effectively I'm going to assume that anything with this ability word is being played in a dedicated Toxic or Infect deck. Or at least, I would assume that, but I'll save some time here for both of us and just inform you that you can safely ignore this keyword on the mono-white creatures this set: none of them are worth the effort. Apostle of Invasion has the best Corrupted effect in white, and it's just double strike. I'm guessing it's more prevalent in the other colors.
I've never been a big fan of Aura removal in the vein of Chained to the Rocks or On Thin Ice. It has the same problems as Oblivion Ring or Fiend Hunter, in that using it to take care of a threat is temporary more often than not, and it gives your opponent a leg up if everything gets sweeped by something like Farewell. The Aura typing makes it even worse, because if you exile something your opponent finds really valuable, they're liable to hit your enchanted land with their Beast Within to get it back, knocking down the Aura and the land in a terrifying three-for-one. I only run these kinds of effects if my commander cares about enchantments specifically, such as in a Sram, Senior Edificer deck.
Veil of Assimilation
Veil of Assimilation is a fine space-filler in the artifact token decks, such as ones based around Treasure or Clues. Its Artifactfall ability also seems really fun alongside Great Desert Prospector, as the odds are you're going to give something +6/+6.
I like these Pacifism-style enchantments a little more than the exile ones because they're decent ways to put commanders out of commission, as they don't send the general back to the command zone. I'm calling out Planar Disruption in particular because it's just better than Pacifism, so if you're still using Pacifism, it's time to upgrade. Personally, if you haven't, I'd also try Reprobation and Darksteel Mutation; removing abilities is very relevant when it comes to commanders with annoying static and triggered abilities.
Vanish into Eternity
If you find yourself more often than not using your Generous Gift on noncreature permanents, it might be a good idea to switch it over for Vanish into Eternity, as it's an exile. Hell, it can actually be pretty hard to get your hands on copies of Generous Gift, and this being a common in a Standard set will make it simple to stock up on them for a few bucks.
There are a few very conspicious Commander plants in this set, but the rest of it seems like your average Standard set. It's very mythic- and rare-focused for the format; I didn't find very many uncommons and commons that were interesting here, and that's a little sad. If you're looking for white cards for Phyrexia: All Will Be One, make sure you buy singles, and make sure you check out the rest of our coverage on the set!