The 600 - Predicting the Popularity of Phyrexia Commanders

(Venser, Corpse Puppet | Art by Igor Kieryluk)

One is the Loneliest Number

Those Phyrexians may be evil, but at least they're consistent. Today, they're compleating The 600, the article series where we predict how popular new commanders will become after a year of circulation. Each commander gets a grade: Over or Under. Since the line is 600, the former predicts over 600 Commander decks, while the latter predicts under that mark. There's also one Can't-Miss Pick, which is, to borrow a term from sports betting, my lock of the set.

Ready? Let's take a closer look at the commanders of Phyrexia: All Will Be One!

Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines

Norn is obviously incredible, so I won't focus on the text. Instead, I ask you this, reader: why are there 10 versions of this card?

I'm not exaggerating. There are 10 different versions of Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines. Some are written in Phyrexian, others are borderless or black-and-white or sort of sepia. No matter their appearance, they all raise the same question: Why? Did Norn perhaps commission all these portraits? If so, she's got to reevaluate her priorities.

No matter the image, the effects are excellent (unless they're written in Phyrexian, in which case, they're inscrutable). Norn is basically an easier-to-cast version of Yarok, the Desecrated that also turns opposing Dockside Extortionists into $65 Omega Myrs. Outstanding.

My prediction: Over

Kemba, Kha Enduring

I've got two words for you: Colossus Hammer.

My prediction: Over

Mondrak, Glory Dominus

Mondrak appears to be a giant steering wheel, which is great news for any young Phyrexians enrolled in Driver's Ed. It's also a harder-to-remove version of Anointed Procession, a card that's been a format staple for years. I'd say this card has certainly earned the right-of-way.

My prediction: Way Over

Skrelv, Defector Mite

This guy is essentially a renegade lice, which confuses me, since I doubt such creatures can grok the concept of rebellion. Furthermore, it seems difficult to build around; one poison counter per attack isn't much, and there aren't many mono-white Infect payoffs, even with this set's Toxic additions.

My prediction: Under

Tekuthal, Inquiry Dominus

This card seems both annoying and powerful, meaning pals in your playgroup will hate it. Still, that need not impact the card's popularity. If the dominant inquiry at the table becomes "Can you play another deck?" then just give them the same answer Isildur gave Elrond: "No."

My prediction: Over

Unctus, Grand Metatect

Your blue creatures can now turbo-loot, and if they happen to be artifacts, they also get a minor boost. For two life or one blue mana, you get both effects.

Meh. While that all feels fine, it doesn't feel grand, especially coming from a so-called "Grand Metatect."

My prediction: Under

Drivnod, Carnage Dominus

Doubling your death triggers is an ability players love! Just ask Teysa Karlov and her 6,732 decks. Add the ability to gain indestructible for zero mana and you've got yourself a commander who's destined for popularity. (And man, does Drivnod look great. Just super healthy. No concerns there.)

My prediction: Over

Geth, Thane of Contracts

This new Geth might've been a sweet build-around a la Heartless Summoning if it didn't exile what it reanimates. As it stands, we get a clunky schlub who looks like The Rock in The Mummy Returns.

My prediction: Under

Karumonix, the Rat King

Despite having a name that sounds like an allergy medication, I can't see this Rat King going Under. Even one poison counter per Rat attacker is threatening on a swarm of expendable creatures, and drawing up to five per ETB is excellent. Love this card.

My prediction: Over

Kinzu of the Bleak Coven

I've got a bleak outlook on this one. Five mana is getting pricey for a commander, especially one without an enters-the-battlefield effect. Also, converting your creatures into little assassins is cute, but for me, the setup cost outweighs the upside.

My prediction: Under

Vraan, Executioner Thane

This card is a wild reading experience. The first sentence makes you think you've never seen a better Aristocrats commander. The second sobers you faster than a cold shower. Draining for two per turn just isn't good enough.

My prediction: Under

Chiss-Goria, Forge Tyrant

The first MTG booster pack I ever opened contained a Scale of Chiss-Goria. I remember peeling open the packaging, sifting through the cards, stopping on the Scale, and thinking, This seems crappy.

Fortunately for us EDH players, Chiss-Goria, Forge Tyrant is far, far better than its scale. Affinity reduces not only that hefty printed cost, but subsequent commander taxes as well. That means Chiss-Goria is eminently castable, just like the artifacts it finds atop your deck. Could be the most popular mono-red artifact commander since Daretti, Scrap Savant.

My prediction: Over

Rhuk, Hexgold Nabber

The flavor on this card is (excuse the pun) comedic gold. For the modest price of three mana, we get a scrappy dude with two classic keywords that go great with pretty much any Equipment. The rest, though? I think we need to send it back.

Rhuk works best with the mechanics Living Weapon and the clumsily named For Mirrodin!, where the equip cost is built into the card itself. Otherwise, you've already paid the cost to equip to another creature, so he isn't saving you any mana. I'm off it.

My prediction: Under

Slobad, Iron Goblin

Bad Slobad here is eerily similar to Illuminor Szeras from Warhammer 40K. Since I gave that card an Under, you might expect me to do the same here.

Not so sure I will. The big difference is that Slobad sacrifices artifacts, which are notorious for costing less than the printed number due to mechanics like Affinity and Improvise. Oh, and with Dross Scorpion plus Liquimetal Coating, you can very likely go infinite.

My prediction: Over

Solphim, Mayhem Dominus

The closest comp I could devise is Toralf, God of Fury, from Kaldheim, a commander who just squeaked Over with 660 decks. Solphim promises to become far more popular. It offers nice stats for four mana, plus the doubling effect gets out of control with cards like Chandra's Incinerator, Torbran, Thane of Red Fell, and pretty much any card with the words "deals damage" on it. Also, Solphim stacks with other damage-doublers, meaning your old Tempest edition Furnace of Rath has found the perfect home.

My prediction: Over

Thrun, Breaker of Silence

Ah yes, I remember breaking the silence of my sophomore dorm room with two of my friends. They played guitar and bass, I played a Rock Band 2 drum kit we converted into electronic drums, and together, we played the first minute-and-a-half of "For Whom the Bell Tolls." The RA wrote us all up before we could finish, but it was worth it.

But I digress. The real breaker of silence is Thrun here, who eschews electronic drums for Blanchwood Armor, Bear Umbra, and Hydra's Growth. Time marches on, and Thrun gets an Over.

My prediction: Over

Zopandrel, Hunger Dominus

Can we go five-for-five on the Dominus cycle? A seven-mana 4/6 isn't a great start. Of course, if I allow myself to read further, I'll find Zopandrel is effectively an 8/12 who's poised to make your team bigger, too. Also, Big Zo protects itself for zero mana. Reminds me of God-Eternal Rhonas, only far, far better.

My prediction: Over

Malcator, Purity Overseer

I take it "Purity Overseer" is Phyrexian for "Quality Assurance Agent," so I'm glad they take such pride in their products. Furthermore, Malcator offers intriguing options with its Splicer synergies (e.g., Blade Splicer, Master Splicer, and Wing Splicer). Also, it's a Phyrexian Elephant Wizard, which is too hilarious to ignore.

My prediction: Over

Venser, Corpse Puppet

Well, this is just about the most horrific fate one can endure, but if you get past it, the card's actually not bad. At such a low mana value, you can likely sneak in a Toxic hit or two before your opponents find blockers. Once you do, you can Proliferate for the rest of the game, regenerating and/or supercharging your Hollow Sentinel whenever you do.

That said, this still feels underwhelming. A 3/3 token doesn't have much impact, and though flying and lifelink are great abilities, you'll need a constant stream of Proliferation just to get them. Also, do you really want to play with a card called "Corpse Puppet"?

My prediction: Under

Kethek, Crucible Goliath

Do I think this card is great? No. Do I think it's fun? You better believe it, baby.

Just imagine this guy with everybody's favorite robot, Solemn Simulacrum. You cast it and get your land, sac it and get your card back, then get a free creature with mana value three or less. If that's not sweet, I don't know what is.

My prediction: Over

Migloz, Maze Crusher

The joke here is that you can add oil counters to Migloz with Proliferate. Cool, but none of the payoffs are all that appealing. I can't imagine many players opting for this one.

My prediction: Under

Melira, the Living Cure

The first bit of this card is flavor, and the second is low-impact. I know there's potential for combos a la Saffi Eriksdotter, but Saffi herself commands only 450 decks. I see little reason to think Melira will do better.

My prediction: Under

Ria Ivor, Bane of Bladehold

Now this card is sweet. In exchange for blanking your biggest attacker, you dump a swarm of poisonous Mites onto the battlefield. They also happen to be artifacts, if you're into that, and Ria effectively turns them into 2/1s with her Battle Cry. Yes, the picture is sorta icky, but she's a Phyrexian. What did you expect?

My prediction: Over

Ovika, Enigma Goliath

Normally I'd be unenthused by a seven-drop without an ETB. However, our friend Ovika here benefits from a steep ward cost, not to mention oodles of raw power. Here's the enigma for your opponents: Can I kill that thing before they untap? If not, you basically win the game.

My prediction: Over

Glissa Sunslayer

The Benedict Arnold of Mirrodin is back and still on the wrong side. While there's really nothing wrong with her, it's tough to find much to build around. The optionality here feels more scattered than toolboxy.

My prediction: Under

Jor Kadeen, First Goldwarden

Hey, I remember this guy! Seems Jor has slimmed down since 2011, now costing three less mana than he did. He's also traded first strike and Metalcraft for trample (which admittedly looks odd on a 2/2). The trick is to equip at least two creatures (Jor himself can be one), then start swinging to draw cards.

We've been on a hot streak with Boros Equipment commanders, and I don't think we'll stop here. Jor is efficient, effective, and card advantageous. Good to have you back, buddy.

My prediction: Over

Neyali, Suns' Vanguard

Neyali appears to be wearing Mirrodin's version of Hulk Hands, which is simultaneously amusing and heartwarming. Unlike the usual token deck, double strike encourages you to go for big tokens rather than tons of smaller ones. Therefore, the classic 4/4 flying Angel token feels like a must in this deck, along with anything that creates token copies, e.g., Divine Visitation, Duke Ulder Ravengard, and Rionya, Fire Dancer.

This card feels like a Christmas present for Boros players, and a better one than Hulk Hands, at that.

My prediction: Over

Otharri, Suns' Glory

The whole Rebel craze of the late 90s happened just before I started playing Magic, so I can't vouch for its awesomeness. However, if it was anywhere near as glorious as Otharri, Suns' Glory, it must've been pretty sweet.

Those experience counters never disappear, so with enough combat triggers, you can build one sweet Rebel Alliance. If Otharri dies in combat, return it with the four-mana ability. If it's exiled, cast it again from the command zone. The only dilemma here is whether you play it or Neyali as your new Boros tokens commander.

My prediction: Over

Ezuri, Stalker of Spheres

Like any good self-help author, Ezuri is just striving for perfection (see his flavor text). What's so wrong with that?

In a word: clunkiness. I doubt you'll wait until seven mana to cast this, so your best option is playing Ezuri on four, then using blink effects (with a three-mana tax) to Proliferate and draw cards. Also, the Proliferation need not come from Ezuri himself, so Inexorable Tide tacks "draw a card" onto every spell you cast. That in and of itself is probably why you're playing this card, and the rest is just oily Phyrexian gravy.

My prediction: Over

Ixhel, Scion of Atraxa

My only problem with this card is the artwork. Not that I dislike it, I actually think it's excellent. Here's my problem: are tattered wings like that actually functional?

Dubious physics aside, Ixhel is incredible. It's a legitimate threat at a great value in a popular color combination, and it can potentially steal multiple free cards from your opponents each turn. Now that's how Atraxa would like it!

My prediction: Over

Vishgraz, the Doomhive

Time was, I might've suggested a potential conflict between this commander and our previous one. After all, they belong to the same color identity, the same theme, and even the same preconstructed deck.

Now, however, with the popularity of EDH being what it is, times have changed. I can see both Vishgraz and Ixhel going Over, especially considering the former will appeal more to control players, while the latter while appeal more to aggro players. They've got some potent commanders down in Phyrexia.

My prediction: Over

Atraxa, Grand Unifier

This card is going to go Over. I guarantee it.

I wanted to select something else as my Can't-Miss Pick, but this was too easy. Four incredible keywords, a high likelihood of refilling your hand, and even a random hint at a new card type? Atraxa's always a hit.

My prediction: Over (Can't-Miss Pick!)

Urtet, Remnant of Memnarch

Our Over streak remains alive on five-color commanders (nice job, Kyodai, Soul of Kamigawa). I don't see it stopping here. Urtet feels like the premier Myr commander, especially since all but Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer fail to even name the creature type itself. Granted, Myr aren't the deepest of creature types, but when you can slap three +1/+1 counters on them each turn, their scarcity shouldn't matter.

My prediction: Over

Graaz, Unstoppable Juggernaut

Juggernauts are amusing. Colorless commanders are not.

In fact, there are only three commanders on EDHREC who even have quadruple digits (and many have been around a very long time). Of course, the issue is the mana base, which must be composed entirely of colorless lands. Maybe that means there's a shortage of paper Wastes out there (I wouldn't know—for some reason, I drafted a lot of Oath of the Gatewatch). All I know is that Graaz seems very unlikely to go Over.

My prediction: Under


Under (10)

Over (23)

Can't-Miss Pick

Our first set of the year and I'm already seeing a lot of Overs. Looks like '23 will be another great year for EDH!

Kyle A. Massa is a writer and avid Magic player living somewhere in upstate New York with his wife, their daughter, and three wild animals. His current favorite card is Ghired, Mirror of the Wilds. Kyle can be found on Twitter @mindofkyleam.

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