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10, Aug, 22

Dominaria United May Be Missing a Core Mechanic

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Article at a Glance

With the release of Dominaria United looming ever closer, there is a lot to be excited about. Not only does Dominaria United kick off an epic four-part story arc, but it’s also the first premier set in what feels like forever. Dominaria United also heralds the return to Magic: the Gathering’s very first plane, and it’s shaping up to be a trip to remember. Unfortunately, the return trip to Dominaria may not have everything we had hoped for. 

Blight Unblighted

Blightsteel Colossus
Blightsteel Colossus | Double Masters 2022

While it is yet to be officially absolutely confirmed by Wizards of the Coast, all sights are pointing towards the return of Phyrexians in Dominaria United. Whether it’s Evolved Sleeper literally being a Phyrexian or the Compleation of a certain Planeswalker, there’s no doubting their return anymore. This leaves one question on everyone’s lips; what mechanics are the Phyrexians bringing back? 

The Phyrexians in Magic: the Gathering are known for a few iconic mechanics. These unique mechanics just so happen to be some of the most powerful in MTG. One of these mechanics, Phyrexian Mana, has returned recently under a new keyword, Compleated. Appearing on only Tamiyo, Completed Sage, Compleated seems to be a new, Planeswalker-specific version of Phyrexian Mana. Like Phyrexian Mana, the Compleated mechanic allows mana to be paid by two life rather than the relevant color. 

Alongside Phyrexian Mana, Phyrexians are also known for another deadly mechanic; Infect. Appearing on only a handful of cards, Infect’s ability to deal damage as -1/-1 counters and poison to opponents makes it incredibly powerful. Infect even used to be one of the cornerstone decks of Modern. However, it has since fallen out of favor. With the return of Phyrexians in Dominaria United, this mechanic’s return seemed almost guaranteed. For better or worse, however, that may not be the case. 

Infection Cured

Phyrexian Crusader
Phyrexian Crusader | Mirrodin Besieged

Thanks to a recent Blogatog post from Magic: the Gathering’s Lead Designer, Mark Rosewater, it now appears that Infect might not be returning. In answering a question about whether they preferred Persist or Undying more, Rosewater revealed that “Persist is the better mechanic,” but it too may not return. According to Rosewater, Persist is “harder to reuse as R&D is soured on environments with -1/-1 counters”. This also spells bad news for Infect, as it utilizes -1/-1 counters. 

While Dominaria United may be the perfect time to utilize the Infect mechanic once more, it is not without its problems. As Rosewater has noted in the past, Infect currently sits at a seven on the Storm Scale. This means that “It’s unlikely to return, but possible if the right environment comes along.” While Dominaria United’s correct environment has come along, this hasn’t magically removed all the mechanic’s flaws. As Rosewater has noted, Infect’s issues are “more to do with play design issues than popularity.”

While this may seem to spell the end for the iconic Phyrexian mechanic in Dominaria United, it may not be all bad news. An Infect-lite mechanic has appeared before, after all, and could potentially appear again. Appearing in Kaldheim, Fynn, the Fangbearer offered damage via Poison counters, without the -1/-1 counters from Infect. This mechanic has even been keyworded in the past as Poisonous. Appearing on two Future Sight cards, Virulent Sliver and Snake Cult Initiation, this mechanic is just waiting to be utilized. 

The Waiting Game

Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon
Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon | Scars of Mirrodin

Unfortunately, until Dominaria United’s spoiler season begins, there’s no telling which mechanics will feature in the set. Currently, we only know that Kicker is making its return after almost two years. Wizards may cook up entirely new mechanics to celebrate the return of Phyrexians. To find out exactly what Wizards is planning, we’ll just have to wait until August 18th and Wizards Presents.

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