Magic: the Gathering


Card Highlight: Phyrexian Obliterator on Standard, Pioneer & Explorer

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Phyrexian Obliterator will be reprinted in Phyrexia: All Will Be One, but is one of the most famous four-drops of the past decade good enough to deserve a home on Standard and Pioneer in 2023?

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In yet another chapter of the endless Magic: The Gathering preview season, Wizards yesterday unveiled the first details of the set that will be released on February 10, 2023, Phyrexia: All Will be One.

The set takes us back to the world that was once Mirrodin, corrupted by Phyrexian forces during the Scars of Mirrodin block in 2012. In addition to some brief story details, the official stream previewed some of the new cards, including another reprint from the past decade:

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Phyrexian Obliterator is a famous creature that originally appeared in New Phyrexia, but has had few moments in the tournament scene. Times have changed, Black-Based Midranges today are at the top of the competitive Standard and Pioneer/Explorer scene, so how exactly does this reprint affect these formats?

About Phyrexian Obliterator

Phyrexian Obliterator is a reference to Phyrexian Negator, a card that came out in Urza's Destiny and was for years an Extended and Legacy staple in Aggro/Midrange archetypes that sought to keep the opponent's board clean so as not to be punished by the creature's effect. Obliterator reverses this effect for the price of a higher, less versatile cost, making any trades the opponent makes with it significantly worse if they come as blocks and/or damage spells such as Lightning Strike.

This makes the creature a threat that needs to be answered and/or ignored to win through the race, and most players just allow it to attack without blocking, setting a four-turn clock. On the other hand, Phyrexian Obliterator works well as a great wall against Aggro decks aimed at low-cost efficient creatures, as we see with Gruul Aggro in Pioneer, as they don't tend to grow as much in the "go wide" category, betting on the efficiency of "go big", and having a 5/5 that forces them to sacrifice several permanents if it takes damage is useful enough to hold a turn or two.

However, the Phyrexian Horror's biggest drawback is its lack of any immediate or short-term value attached to its body. Phyrexian Obliterator is a big, punishing creature to block for a relatively low cost, and that was the main reason the card never showed up as much in Modern or Legacy — where The Gate, a Mono Black Legacy deck back when it was released opted for Abyssal Persecutor for the flexibility of resorting to colorless lands like Wasteland — and not even Historic, where it's been available since the first Anthology came out, has enough room for it on tournaments.

Phyrexian Obliterator in Standard

Black-Based Midranges are at the top of Standard's competitive Metagame today. Especially Grixis Midrange which, despite being a three-color archetype, manages to cast Invoke Despair with ease thanks to its flexible manabase and the tokens created by Fable of the Mirror-Breaker.

This dominance extends to other strategies, but regarding Phyrexian Obliterator, his best options to see play are Rakdos Midrange and Mono Black, but it has a huge barrier that it needs to overcome to deserve a slot in these archetypes.

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Standard's best four-drop currently is Sheoldred, the Apocalypse for its symmetrical effect capable of punishing opponents and benefiting its controller in attrition games.

Furthermore, her 4/5 body plus abilities create potential six damage per turn cycle with each player's draw of the turn, not counting abilities like Connive, or Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, among others.


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As explained above, Phyrexian Obliterator is a clock, an efficient body that punishes opponents for blocking and/or not resorting to removals in their decks. It's great when you're dealing with linear strategies that don't care as much about interaction.

Sheoldred, the Apocalypse punishes the opponent for something that is not under their control, forcing them to deal with the praetor if they don't want to get further away from victory and/or closer to defeat every turn.

Given the setup of most lists, there doesn't seem to be room for more than four or at most six four-mana permanents, and Sheoldred has the upper hand in a head-to-head comparison.

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However, a space where the new creature can prevail and ruin the day of several players is in Best of One, where it is common for more aggressive strategies like Mono Red Aggro, Soldiers or Gruul Stompy* to have a presence in ranked, and any archetype that can sustain four black mana to cast Phyrexian Obliterator will have enough removals to hold off Soldiers' flying threats or Mono Red's first turns.

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On this occasion, Phyrexian Obliterator is also competing with Sorin the Mirthless, and although the Planeswalker generates an extra amount of value in matches against Midrange and the lifelink of its tokens helps to hold the race, the dispute between both for the additional slots in Mono Black Midrange feels more balanced than it does with Sheoldred.

Phyrexian Obliterator on Pioneer and Explorer

As in Standard, Phyrexian Obliterator will have difficulty finding a home because it competes with Sheoldred, the Apocalypse and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Also, the manabase of archetypes such as Rakdos Midrange is less forgiving with four black mana costs, as they have an increased variety of utility lands such as Den of the Bugbear.

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Another place where it could have some space is in Mono Black Aggro, but running Mutavault in the list makes this idea quite inconsistent, and switching to lands that generate black doesn't pay off in a deck that needs to keep pushing forward and recover quickly against a sweeper. Additionally, the four-drops slot is occupied by Spawn of Mayhem, which the player can easily cast for three mana in this list and has a symmetrical effect that helps with the short-term clock.

However, Pioneer has more space for the new creature due to its extended card pool and a strategy that has had many fans since Theros — Mono Black Devotion.

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The combination of Phyrexian Obliterator as a game-winning threat on its own and a massive lifedrain with Gray Merchant of Asphodel on the next turn might not even be strong enough to compete with Pioneer today, which is largely attested to by the fact that it was never very successful on Historic not even when the format was closer to what Pioneer once was, but this deck is well known to Gray Merchant of Asphodel fans— which owes much to its time in Standard back at 2013 and Pauper — and should reappear with some frequency in Explorer, especially in ranked Best of One play.



Phyrexian Obliterator is another powerful reprint of days gone by for Pioneer and Standard, but like Delver of Secrets on Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, it gets outclassed by the power creep of recent cards.

It has room for environments where Aggro reigns, but a decade after its first release, in a universe filled with Midranges and competing for the four-drop slot with Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, the new creature leaves something to be desired by the game's current standards.

Thanks for reading!