Staple Remover - Phyrexian Arena

(Phyrexian Arena | Art by Svetlin Velinov)

A Paranormal Coliseum

Gix couldn't help but grin triumphantly as he watched over the battles in the Phyrexian Arena. His subjects were ready - ruthless, compleated assassins destined to fight for the Lord of the Wastes. Efuan Pincar didn't stand a chance.

But his ruminations were interrupted by a most irritating event - the lightest prick in his exposed flesh. He looked down to see a tiny, mechanical mosquito, sucking at his oil-infused blood. And with that bite, that 1 point of lost life, Gix was enlightened. An image appeared in his mind, as clear as day; he had to go to the Caves of Koilos.

Such insects infested the Arena, acting more as cameras than animals, giving those inside small morsels of knowledge for a price.

Phyrexian Arena is an exceedingly simple card: each upkeep, it'll draw you one card at the cost of one life - a very good deal, given the powerful potential of Necropotence, Yawgmoth's Bargain, and Griselbrand, all of which have either been banned or have also achieved staple status. In most games of EDH, if you play Phyrexian Arena early on, it can draw you upwards of 7 cards throughout the game, a sizeable advantage.

For this reason, Phyrexian Arena has earned the favor of many EDH players. It has found a home in 16% of decks, making it the 4th most popular black card in the format (behind a bunch of tutors).

But for many players, myself included, this potential advantage just has too many "ifs" attached to be worth it. Others might find Phyrexian Arena to be a bit too slow, or consider it to be too expensive, or maybe they're irked that the Phyrexian Arena, an actual named location in the story, is an enchantment instead of a land. If you find yourself dissatisfied with Phyrexian Arena for any of these reasons, then this is the article for you!

Ascent to Valor's Reach

As we give our second card draw enchantment the Staple Remover treatment, there are a few things to remember: we are looking for underrated card advantage cards that can be superior to Phyrexian Arena in certain decks, metas, and situations. Thus, the aforementioned Necropotence, a Commander staple, isn't eligible, and neither is a theoretically strictly-worse Arena. As always, if you have any suggestions, I suggest you drop them in the comments!

The most obvious one-to-one comparison with Phyrexian Arena is Underworld Connections. Both are cards that will (usually) draw you 1 card a turn at the cost of 1 life, with the same mana cost. But Underworld Connections has some spicy tech that isn't reflected in its EDHREC page: it synergizes beautifully with any card that untaps lands, such as Earthcraft or Garruk Wildspeaker, perfect for any Golgari deck looking to abuse powerful effects on lands such as Cabal Coffers.

Another contender is Dread Presence, a card initially hyped up during its release that has since been forgotten by many. Despite this, Dread Presence still pulls its weight; obviously it can be especially abused in Landfall decks, such as Yarok, the Desecrated, but even in other decks it can turn otherwise dead late-game draws into card advantage and lifegain.

Finally, we have one of my favorites, Necrologia. This card is most comparable to the absolute cEDH powerhouse that is Ad Nauseam, another staple in the format. Although Necrologia suffers from serious timing restrictions, it benefits by not requiring careful deckbuilding like Ad Nauseam. Both cards will get you what you need way faster than Phyrexian Arena by giving you a massive burst of card draw.

Upping the Ante

(Azra Oddsmaker | Art by Josh Hass)

The #1 card that I use in place of Phyrexian Arena whenever possible is Azra Oddsmaker, a surprisingly potent uncommon from Battlebond.

This card has a lot going for it. While triggering upon dealing combat damage is a real restriction, the Oddsmaker makes up for it by instead allowing you to discard a card and draw two. This nets you the same numebr of cards per turn as Phyrexian Arena, but the rummaging also allows for additional card selection. In certain decks, the combat damage restriction is even a boon, as multiple combat damage steps (either through double strike or Relentless Assault) will grant you even more advantage.

The decks best-suited to take advantage of all the abilities on Azra Oddsmaker tend to be reanimator decks, which benefit from filling the graveyard and from card selection, and they can easily trigger it. In fact, certain Tymna, the Weaver + Tana, the Bloodsower cEDH Reanimator builds will run Azra Oddsmaker for this purpose!

Below we have a Reanimator build helmed by Sedris, the Traitor King that makes good use of some of these cards.

Unearthed Arcanis

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Commander (1)
Creatures (23)
Artifacts (12)
Enchantments (7)
Sorceries (12)
Instants (9)
Lands (36)

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Hopefully this article has convinced you of the utility of these cards over Phyrexian Arena. What cards do you prefer using when you need card advantage in your black decks? Let me know in the comments!

Jaelyn is a musician and educator based in the Pacific Northwest. They find joy in music, Dungeons & Dragons, and Magic: the Gathering, and in combining the three. They take particular pride in finding unique ways to express oneself through creative playing, homebrewing, and deckbuilding. You can find them on Twitter @rosequartz_26.

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