Last updated on April 28, 2022
Tamiyo, Compleated Sage | Illustration by Chris Rahn
You’ve probably heard the line “life is a resource” a number of times. And it’s true. You can use your life to benefit yourself in more than one way. Sometimes it’s a question of whether you want to pay life to activate an effect, or how much life you can afford to lose to combat in one a turn.
Phyrexian mana looks at this concept and turns the heat up to 11 by letting you pay life instead of mana to cast a spell. Interested? Let’s take a deeper dive into everything about it!
Noxious Revival | Illustration by Matt Stewart
Phyrexian mana can be spotted by a special symbol, the Greek letter Phi, that replaces the usual mana symbols on the card. This symbol indicates that you can pay for the cost of the spell or ability with the colored mana of the symbol or two life.
Let’s look at Dismember as an example. Instead of paying one mana of any color and , you can pay one mana of any color and four life since there are two Phyrexian mana symbols.
Or, you can pay and two life.
Phyrexian mana first appeared in New Phyrexia in 2011 on a whopping 34 cards, making up all but three of the Phyrexian mana cards that exist today. A few recognizable examples of those original cards are Gut Shot, Mutagenic Growth, Dismember, and Gitaxian Probe.
The mechanic has seldom reappeared since its debut with only three new cards featuring the mechanic having been printed after its first appearance. One of those cards, Spike, Tournament Grinder, came from the silver-border Unstable set and is the only silver-border card to use Phyrexian mana.
K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth came in the Commander 2019 Anje Falkenrath precon while Tamiyo, Compleated Sage was printed in Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty and is the only planeswalker to use Phyrexian mana. Though I’m sure more are on their way.
Phyrexian mana may be a cool mechanic, but think about what would happen if you suddenly had cards in every set that could be played outside of their color. This mechanic eliminated the need to pay the colored mana to cast the spells it’s on until the release of Tamiyo, Compleated Sage. These are powerful cards that could be cast in decks that normally shouldn’t have access to them, drastically shaking up the design space of every other card that exists. It’s a lot easier for WotC and safer for the game’s balancing if Phyrexian mana stays scarce and is used only on special occasions.
That said, we might be seeing more cards that use Phyrexian mana as time goes on considering the implications of the new Tamiyo and the compleated mechanic that works in tandem with Phyrexian mana. But I don’t think it’ll be in such a large quantity like we saw when New Phyrexia released.
Birthing Pod | Illustration by Daarken
No, Phyrexian mana is not an alternate cost. An alternate cost is noted by the text on a card. A phrase you might be familiar with is “you may pay alternate cost instead of…” The Phyrexian mana symbol isn’t a representation of that phrase, it just means that you can pay that part of the spell’s cost with either the colored mana or two life.
Phyrexian mana isn’t an extra cost that you pay along with the original cost of the card. Each symbol is a choice to pay either the colored mana or two life. You don’t have to pay the other when you choose one.
Yes, it does. You can’t pay the life for Phyrexian mana if your life total is at one or less in the same way that you can’t pay life for anything else if that payment would drop your life total below zero.
Phyrexian mana symbols contribute to the mana value of a card the same way a normal mana symbol would. A card with those funky symbols in their mana cost is considered the same as if it had normal mana symbols. Dismember, for example, has a mana value of three.
Gitaxian Probe | Illustration by Chippy
Good question. Phyrexian mana is in fact colored. The Phyrexian mana symbols count as mana symbols of their color. The use of the special symbol is just to indicate that you can pay the cost of that symbol with two life rather than the colored mana.
This means that cards or mechanics like devotion that care about the colored mana symbols on your cards count Phyrexian mana.
Yes, Phyrexian mana counts for devotion. Because it’s a colored mana symbol, it’s noted by cards with devotion.
There is a difference between Phyrexian and hybrid mana. While they behave the same way since they’re both mana symbols that can be paid for in one of two ways, there isn’t a symbol for paying life other than the Phyrexian mana symbol.
And you’re still paying mana when you pay for hybrid symbols. Phyrexian mana cards like Gitaxian Probe are literally free. And if you think that paying life is some super detrimental thing, remember that the only life that truly matters is your last point. The rest of it is a resource pool. You could think of the two as distant siblings, separated by unfortunate circumstances.
That said, Phyrexian and hybrid mana have recently been brought together! A happy family reunion resulted in hybrid Phyrexian mana which was featured on Tamiyo, Compleated Sage. This means you can pay for that particular symbol with any of the following: one green mana, one blue mana, or two life. Super versatile, super cool. It’s pretty interesting to see.
Phyrexian mana counts the same for your commander’s color identity when you consider that it’s still a colored mana symbol. It follows the same color identity rules. K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth has a black color identity thanks to its black Phyrexian mana symbols. Just the same, Dismember can only be played in decks that can have black cards in them since its color identity is black.
Phyrexian mana itself isn’t banned. It will inevitably be printed again in the future, though it is at 9 out of 10 on the Storm Scale so it likely won’t be printed in high quantities. But that could change with the compleated mechanic. Drawbacks that appear if you pay the life rather than the mana for a Phyrexian mana symbol could bring the mechanic into a more fun and stable design space for future sets.
However, there are a few cards that have Phyrexian mana that are in fact banned. Gitaxian Probe as an example is banned in Pauper, Modern, and Legacy and is restricted in Vintage. It’s a card that draws you a card and tells you what your opponent is playing for virtually no cost.
Mental Misstep is another offender with bans in Modern and Legacy that’s also restricted in Vintage.
And managing to get banned in Modern is our good friend Birthing Pod. All of the other cards that currently exist that have Phyrexian mana symbols are fully legal in all of the formats that their set is legal in.
Ah, you’ve caught on! I’ve been talking about it this whole time but I haven’t explained it yet. Compleated allows you to pay for a spell using Phyrexian mana, but with a drawback.
Compleated appears on one card: Tamiyo, Compleated Sage. It says that if you pay for the hybrid Phyrexian mana symbol in Tamiyo’s cost with two life rather than either color of mana, Tamiyo enters the battlefield with two fewer loyalty counters.
Whether this mechanic can be used to bring about more cards with Phyrexian mana symbols beyond planeswalkers is up for debate, but this mechanic is only present on and meant for planeswalkers who have had the unfortunate privilege of being subject to Jin-Gitaxias’ tinkering. For now.
- Norn’s Annex
- Gitaxian Probe
- Mental Misstep
- Phyrexian Metamorph
- Vault Skirge
- Surgical Extraction
- K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth
- Birthing Pod
- Pestilent Souleater
- Tamiyo, Compleated Sage
- Cathedral Membrane
- Marrow Shards
- Porcelain Legionnaire
- Apostle’s Blessing
- Spined Thopter
- Tezzeret’s Gambit
- Pith Driller
- Postmortem Lunge
- Spike, Tournament Grinder
- Moltensteel Dragon
- Rage Extractor
- Ruthless Invasion
- Slash Panther
- Gut Shot
- Act of Aggression
- Corrosive Gale
- Noxious Revival
- Thundering Tanadon
- Mutagenic Growth
- Hex Parasite
- Immolating Souleater
- Insatiable Souleater
- Trespassing Souleater
- Blinding Souleater
There’s tons of good stuff to do with the Phyrexian mana cards, and Gitaxian Probe is probably the best of them all. It may not be legal in much, but it’s a free draw spell that lets you see your opponent’s hand to start planning ahead where it is legal.
Birthing Pod & Mental Misstep
Birthing Pod is a fantastic card in Commander that lets you go wild and tutor creatures from your deck onto the field, and Mental Misstep can be a good card to hold in your hand in Commander to try to stop your opponents from playing that pesky Vampiric Tutor.
Check out our Meren deck guide if you want to see Pod in action.
Noxious Revival is a virtually free way to guarantee the card that you draw on your next turn and get powerful cards back from your graveyard.
Dismember & Surgical Extraction
Mutagenic Growth lets you pump your creatures even when you’re tapped out which makes for a magnificent combat trick.
Phyrexian Metamorph & Spellskite
K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth
K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth is a really cool commander that basically turns all of your black mana symbols into Phyrexian mana symbols, which opens up tons of avenues when building a Commander deck. Suddenly those big expensive spells aren’t so expensive, though they are still big.
Tamiyo, Compleated Sage
While it’s a shame that Tamiyo, Compleated Sage now fights for Jin-Gitaxias, the card is super cool. It protects itself when it hits the field and can use cards in your graveyard to get more value out of them. If you manage to use its -7 you get insane value from free draws and cheaper spells.
The compleated mechanic keeps Tamiyo from being absurd, but even if it doesn’t become a Phyrexian staple it’s still paving the way for more compleated planeswalkers. Its existence as a card is a new an interesting phenomenon within Magic’s game design.
Phyrexian Metamorph | Illustration by Jana Schirmer & Johannes Voss
There you have it, Phyrexian mana in its entirety. The mechanic is super fun and satisfying to use, and we may just see it make its return with compleated as a sub-mechanic to balance it out so that it can be printed more often, which I hope is the case.
Cards like Dismember and Mutagenic Growth are powerful since they can be played off color and for such little cost, so losing some of the raw power that those designs brought to the table might stink, but I think getting to see the mechanic again is super fun and on-flavor for Magic’s current story. I hope it keeps seeing print here and there as the Phyrexians continue to permeate the planes we visit in future sets.
What do you think? Are you a fan of Phyrexian mana? Is it a mechanic you absolutely hate? Are you as devastated about Tamiyo’s compleation as I am? Let me know in the comments below, I always love to hear from you.
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