Who wants 60 cards when you only need two?
That’s all it will take to bring games of Magic: The Gathering to a swift and violent end with the release of Phyrexia: All Will Be One, Magic’s latest expansion. You’ll soon have a new way to blow up your opponents with infinite damage, or by creating a swarm of zombie tokens so large that the English language has yet to create the words needed to describe it. The Phyrexian cult is here, and it’s hunting season for Magic’s combo players.
Seasoned Magic players will acknowledge that most winning strategies fall into one of several different buckets. “Aggro” or “beatdown” decks use an army of heroes or creatures to bash an opponent into defeat. Another strategy is called “control,” which effectively prevents an opponent from playing cards altogether while slowly setting up one powerful creature that single-handedly wins the game. And then there are “combo” builds, which typically refers to a specific interaction between two or more cards that effectively wins the game once they’re played in a certain sequence.
While combo decks can be difficult to build, finicky to execute, and hard to learn, they’re as old as the game itself and have defined various eras of Magic’s history. But these kinds of stunt decks come with an inherent risk. Without triggering the specific combo they’re built around, a combo deck might not be able to win at all. New combo decks don’t come around very often, and those that do emerge don’t necessarily have the moxie to compete at Magic’s highest levels. And yet, the possibility of new combos never ceases to capture the imagination. Who doesn’t want to press the win button every once in a while?
Which brings us to Phyrexia. Narratively, the set revolves around a cultlike race of monsters known as Phyrexians hellbent on conquering the multiverse. They’re physically large, aesthetically frightening, and many of their card designs are objectively weird. While older Phyrexian creatures don’t see a ton of play today, some of the latest Phyrexia cards introduce new combo opportunities with the potential for more ruggedness and versatility, in competitive circles and beyond.
Among these combo opportunities is a clean two-card win condition that involves the new Phyrexian Vindicator along with a card printed 20 years ago called Guilty Conscience. Vindicator has an ability that states, “If damage would be dealt to Phyrexian Vindicator, prevent that damage. When damage is prevented this way, Phyrexian Vindicator deals that much damage to any other target.” In other words, damage-based effects don’t destroy this creature, but are instead redirected elsewhere, including other creatures or players.
Meanwhile, Guilty Conscience is an aura card that attaches to creatures, and it reads, “Whenever enchanted creature deals damage, Guilty Conscience deals that much damage to that creature.”
For this combo to work, Vindicator needs to be on the battlefield with Guilty Conscience attached to it. When Vindicator attacks or deals damage to something, Guilty Conscience then deals that much damage back to Vindicator. Vindicator redirects that damage to another target, triggering Guilty Conscience again. The result is an infinite loop that kills opponents with a nonstop barrage of damage.
A version of this combo existed before with a card called Stuffy Doll, which was also immune to damage thanks to its “indestructible” ability. But unlike Stuffy Doll, which could only kill one other player, Vindicator elevates the Guilty Conscience combo because it redirects damage to any target, meaning it can kill every other player in a multiplayer match.
Another new combo made possible with Phyrexia goes out to all the math lovers who know what Knuth’s up-arrow notation means. Yes, this combo is entering exponential-numbers territory, but doing the math might actually be easier than keeping up with the names of some of these cards.
This combo requires three components. First is the new legendary creature Mondrak, Glory Dominus. Mondrak’s power is in its ability to create lots of tokens, and reads, “If one or more tokens would be created under your control, twice that many of those tokens are created instead.”
The other two cards are Ratadrabik of Urborg, a legendary zombie wizard first introduced last year in Dominaria United, and Twinflame, a cheeky red sorcery that first appeared in 2014’s Journey Into Nyx.
Ratadrabik has a lot of text, but the critical ability reads, “Whenever another legendary creature you control dies, create a token that’s a copy of that creature, except it’s not legendary and it’s a 2/2 black Zombie in addition to its other colors and types.”
Twinflame is a lot simpler. It just creates token copies of other creatures in play that can immediately attack. But both cards are crucial to the combo because together they exploit the rule that two copies of the same legendary creature can’t be under one player’s control at the same time.
As of #MTGPhyrexia, there's a NEW CHAMPION in the "How much damage can 3 cards deal in a turn, no infinites" game. And it's a ridiculous doozy.— Gavin Verhey (@GavinVerhey) January 23, 2023
Big thanks to @TylerGlaiel, @fluffycattens, and Greg.EXE of Discord. It's somewhere around 2↑↑(2↑↑7). Figure it out:#wotcstaff pic.twitter.com/hyyNO35dBI
Keeping in mind that Mondrak doubles the amount of tokens that are created and Ratadrabik’s ability activates as another legendary creature dies, the combo kicks off when Twinflame makes a copy of both Ratadrabik and Mondrak, which triggers Mondrak’s ability to create an extra copy of both. Since there are now three Ratadrabik and three Mondrak on the battlefield at the same time, two of each have to die due to the aforementioned legend rule. But the rules also indicate that the controlling player gets to choose which order they die in.
By correctly ordering the sequence that the legend tokens die in, and what the existing Mondraks and Ratadrabiks see, you can eventually sequence an absurd amount of death and token triggers to make thousands of hasty tokens whose combined damage potential comes out to something like 2↑↑(2↑↑7), a number that has no English-language equivalent and may actually dwarf the number of atoms in the known universe. I feel confident in saying that by spontaneously producing that many counters you should in fact be able to win a card game, if not destroy the continent on which you happen to be playing at that time.
The combo was originally shared in a tweet by Magic senior designer Gavin Verhey, along with the actual sequencing spelled out by the self-proclaimed “Magic rules guru” Nathan Long.
Phyrexia: All Will Be One is out now in paper, Magic: The Gathering Online, and Magic: The Gathering Arena.