Phyrexia: All Will Be One was a splashy set—a return to Magic’s grisliest plane means a return of the Praetors, the perversion of Planeswalker into servants of Phyrexia, and the printing of revised versions of some of Magic’s most polarizing mechanics in Phyrexian mana and Infect/Toxic. But after all the oil has settled, the most interesting part of this latest trip to New Phyrexia was the set’s unassuming—but quietly revolutionary—lands. Aside from the new-to-Pioneer Scars of Mirrodin cycle (Seachrome Coast and friends) and the stalwart Terramorphic Expanse, the set gave us the nine Spheres of Phyrexia, which range from a simple cycle of commons to some truly interesting rares.

A quick note about the importance of Spheres for more recent players: original flavor Phyrexia was an artificial plane of nine nested spheres that each served a different function, from a proving ground for Phyrexian abominations to a reserve of glistening oil to Yawgmoth’s throne room. Now, with the genetic memory of the Phyrexian virus active on a new plane, the denizens of New Phyrexia are recreating the old Yawgmothian model of Phyrexia on what was once Mirrodin, building concentric spheres around the core of the plane (Phyrexian Atlas), each a domain for a Praetor and each serving a sinister function.

First up are the most frequently seen: the cycle of common Spheres that reflect the domain of each Praetor. The Fair Basilica, The Surgical Bay, The Dross Pits, The Autonomous Furnace, and The Hunter Maze are omnipresent in All Will Be One Limited and are just a bit above the baseline for taplands, with a very manageable quasi-Cycling ability. Not exactly Horizon Canopy or Cephalid Coliseum but not Skybridge Towers either, I’m never upset to run these and never excited to draw them. But they are a cut above the New Capenna cycle and a tier below the Onslaught Forgotten Cave cycle, and cashing one in for another top deck when you’re facing down a horde of Toxic creatures or a Thrun has helped smoothed the often jagged Phyrexia Limited experience. So far, the Sphere appellation is basically only for Monument to Perfection and as a callback to the Locus lands (Cloudpost and Glimmerpost) but they may yet get a Gate-style resurgence in a set to come. In the meantime, I’ll keep snagging them as they wheel.

Moving up the rarity ranks, The Monumental Facade is the standard “new mechanic enabler,” and is mostly relevant in Limited (and only then sporadically relevant). It does turn on Oil-Gorger Troll and helps your Evolved Spinoderm outlast Blastoderm, but is more along the Animal Sanctuary, Crucible of the Spirit Dragon, Hall of Oracles, or Karn’s Bastion side of the power scale. Designed to lubricate Limited archetypes and fill out the bulk bins of game stores for years to come, there’s nothing wrong with the Facade, aside from having a terribly grandiose name for such a utilitarian card. Giving a diminished Spinoderm Hexproof at a moment’s notice or buffing an Evolved Adaptive mid-combat is attractive, but as far as Phyrexian technology goes, the Facade feels more in line with Parallax Inhibitor. The flavor represents the outer, artificial shell around New Phyrexia, which is now studded with monuments to the Praetors (Blue Sun’s Twilight). Again, seems a bit ostentatious for something that mostly gives your Drake +1/+1 in Limited.

The Mycosynth Gardens, a callback to the mycosynth, a fungus-metal hybrid that Memnarch once used to blur the line between flesh and metal and build his kingdom, are the sphere outside Phyrexia’s core, where mighty machines once roamed and mysterious plots fomented. Now, it’s a void that still retains vestiges of its former power. Part Sculpting Steel, part Thespian’s Stage, part Unknown Shores, the Gardens has the most potential of All Will Be One’s lands. There’s been some discussion of it as a second Amulet of Vigor for Amulet Titan in Modern, and Commander players will always embrace a roundabout way to make another Sol Ring, but it’s the tantalizing opportunities and future potential that makes the Gardens fertile territory. If Sphere ever becomes a relevant land type, this is also one to watch. These sorts of copy effects tend to be either utterly unplayable or totally busted.

Finally, there’s my favorite of the rare Spheres, both of which have design resonance with past Magic tournament staples: Mirrex and The Seedcore. Mirrex, in producing any color of mana once at worst, resembles a Glimmervoid or a Tendo Ice Bridge in a vacuum—while you were never happy about using Glimmervoid as a Lotus Petal, it was nice to have the option in a pinch. Even without artifacts, though, Mirrex will stick around after tapping for any color and suggests Adanto, the First Fort, with the twist that the creatures it produces can’t be blockers. Producing a 1/1 Toxic creature isn’t hugely powerful in the abstract—Crawling Chorus shows us about what the value of that is—but when you’re able to produce multiple 1/1 Toxic Mites on demand from a land, it can be a reasonable closer for a control build. Bitterblossom it is not, but it does interact quite well with Skrelv’s Hive and provides inevitability for a Toxic deck. Castle Ardenvale shows us the rate for a vanilla 1/1 off a land, against which Mirrex, with its one-shot rainbow mana ability and Toxic-enabling creatures, measures up well. A Toxic 1/1 that can’t block is generally worse than a vanilla 1/1, as Castle Ardenvale and Springjack Pasture shone best when producing chump blockers, but the inevitability of the Phyrexian Mite platoon has demonstrated itself in Limited and Pioneer, and I have hopes that Mirrex joins Skrelv and their Hive in higher level play.

Pendelhaven has been around since 1994 and, thanks to a quirky reprinting in Time Spiral, has been a part of Modern Infect since the launch of the format. Turning your Glistener Elf or Inkmoth Nexus from a ten-turn to a five-turn clock (before any Vines of the Vastwood or Groundswell action) is huge. Now, with The Seedcore, we can cut that in half again—assuming they’ve already taken three poison damage. I’ve been exploring Modern Infect with Venerated Rotpriest and The Seedcore and have been impressed—the Corrupted requirement isn’t hard to hit in a dedicated poison deck. The concern is that, in Modern Infect, if you’re hitting them for three poison, you should be hitting them for the full ten, but I’ve moved to a slower, more flexible build over the flurry of pump effects version; my deck runs Phyrexian Crusader and the Spellskite/Rotpriest combo with Collected Company to pull the combo together at instant speed. It’s more Golgari Yawgmoth than Splinter Twin, but I’ve been pleased with its performance thus far, and with the games that The Seedcore closes out. In the early game, it ensures you can cast Glistener Elf, Plague Stinger, and Phyrexian Crusader on successive turns, and late game (that is, turn four), tosses a temporary Unholy Strength on the same Elf, Stinger, or Inkmoth Nexus.

While I expect the Seachrome Coast cycle to remain the most relevant lands from All Will Be One, it’s the Spheres that will define Phyrexia in our memories—not just the splashy, potentially busted rares, but the dependable pseudo-cycling lands, as well. Phyrexia must be taken as a whole, as the nested series of Spheres that compose the plane—while I expect March of the Machine to wipe most of the Phyrexians from existence, New Phyrexia proves that you just can’t fully eradicate a species that functions as a self-replicating virus.

Rob Bockman (he/him) is a native of South Carolina who has been playing Magic: the Gathering since Tmpest block. A writer of fiction and stage plays, he loves the emergent comedy of Magic and the drama of high-level play. He’s been a Golgari player since before that had a name and is never happier than when he’s able to say “Overgrown Tomb into Thoughtseize,” no matter the format.

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