Poison is a highly contentious MTG mechanic. Poison has the potential to end games radically quickly, especially in formats like Commander where only 10 Poison counters need to be distributed, compared to the comparatively higher life total of 40 each player has. Poison is, however, a mechanic that is heavily thematically tied into the Phyrexians. In Scars of Mirrodin block, many Phyrexian creatures used the “Infect” mechanic to spread Poison and -1/-1 counters around, representing how they were corrupting the world of Mirrodin. In Phyrexia: All Will Be One, the Phyrexians instead used the mechanic “Toxic” to deal out a handful of Poison counters alongside the regular damage they inflict. It is perhaps somewhat surprising then that it has been confirmed that only a single card in March of the Machine will distribute Poison counters, Etali, Primal Sickness.
All About Etali
Etali is a primordial dinosaur from the Mesoamerican-themed plane of Ixalan. Etali’s first printing, Etali, Primal Storm, from the 2018 set Rivals of Ixalan is a staple of Red Commander decks and has been reprinted a huge number of times. Etali returns in March of the Machine initially in the form of Etali, Primal Conqueror, before becoming corrupted and transforming into Etali, Primal Sickness.
This card is part of a cycle of Legendary creatures from the past who get compleated, and gain an additional color during the Phyrexian invasion. Other cards in this cycle include: Heliod, the Warped Eclipse, and Ayara, Furnace Queen.
Etali is a seven mana 7/7 with Trample. When it enters play, it exiles cards from each player in the game’s deck until a non-land card is exiled. Etali then allows its controller to cast each of these cards without paying their mana cost. For 10 mana, one of which is Phyrexian-Green, Etali can be transformed into its reverse side which is an 11/11 Indestructible Trampler that distributes Poison counters to players equal to the damage it deals to them. We have briefly covered this card in one of our other pieces, but to summarise Etali is a big, splashy, and exciting card, although it’s too expensive to be used in formats outside of Commander and Limited except for as a Transmogrify or an Indomitable Creativity target. Even in those instances there are better cards to use for this purpose, like Archon of Cruelty and Worldspine Wurm.
In Commander, however, where games are slower paced and more focussed on big plays, Etali, Primal Conqueror fits right in. The card makes for a very fun win condition that can also go in the Command Zone.
Etali in Commander
If you build a deck with Etali as your Commander, you will want to ensure you use all of the ramp tools available in Green to get up to seven mana as quickly as possible so you can bring out your big Dinosaur. While having Etali in the Command Zone is convenient, you will possibly be painting a giant target on your back, due to the unpopularity of the Poison mechanic in the format. It may be better to conceal Etali within your deck in order to prevent this. Etali fits nicely into Gishath, Sun’s Avatar Dinosaur Tribal decks and makes a nice top-end threat for Commanders like Raggadragga, Goreguts Boss and Jolene, the Plunder Queen.
Putting Etali in a deck featuring White or Blue also provides access to all of the flicker effects in those colors like Essence Flux and Ephemerate. Etali appreciates access to flickering spells both because they provide a way of protecting it from being destroyed and because they enable its powerful ETB effect that casts cards for free to be recurred. Strionic Resonater is another way of getting multiple instances of this effect.
The community seems to be in love with Etali, although they are less than convinced that this corrupted Dinosaur is a viable card.
trbopwr11 writes: “It’s dumb and completely over the top and I want it for Xenagos anyway.”
Lurkerino_o writes: “This will most likely end up in the meme tier, but I love it already lol.
Good job figuring this out, gonna give it a try for sure!”
Craftygoblin warns against actually trying to transform Etali, writing: “It certainly seems like it will rarely be a good idea trying to activate the transform ability. Spending 9 or 10 mana only to get blown out by instant speed removal sounds awful.”
Even though Poison counters are a less than popular mechanic, this angry Phyrexianised Dino seems to have captured the hearts of the MTG community. As the only card in March of the Machine to distribute Poison counters, Etali is something of an anomaly.
Players have taken to calling the dinosaur a variety of nicknames, including “Colossal Spreadmaw” and “Dreadsteel Colossus“. This shows that even the most contentious mechanics can have fun executions, and be used to make beloved cards.