Last updated on February 20, 2023
Tamiyo, Compleated Sage | Illustration by Chris Rahn
Updated for ONE by Pedro
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!
How Does Phyrexian Mana Work?
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.
The History of Phyrexian Mana in MTG
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.
All Will be One introduced a whole 13 new cards with the Phyrexian mana symbol. But this time they were extra careful not to break the game and the color pie again. Some cards, like the compleated planeswalkers, have at most one or two Phyrexian mana symbols with big game applications (you’ll ramp your planeswalker but have two less loyalty counters, which matters a lot). The other cards don’t cost Phyrexian mana to cast, the option is only in their activated ability costs. So if you want to pay less for the activation costs, you can.
There’s a mythic cycle of Phyrexian horrors in which you can pay Phyrexian mana to put an indestructible counter on them, but you have to pay extra costs like sacrificing creatures or exiling cards from graveyards.
Is Phyrexian Mana an Alternate Cost?
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.
Is Phyrexian Mana an Additional Cost?
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.
Does Phyrexian Mana Count as Paying Life?
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.
What Is the Mana Value of Phyrexian Mana?
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.
Is Phyrexian Mana Colorless? Colored?
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.
Does Phyrexian Mana Count for Devotion?
Yes, Phyrexian mana counts for devotion. Because it’s a colored mana symbol, it’s noted by cards with devotion.
Phyrexian Mana vs. Hybrid Mana
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.
How Does Phyrexian Mana Count for Color Identity in Commander?
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.
Is Phyrexian Mana Banned?
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. You can tell by the use of Phyrexian mana in newer sets that they’re being extra careful to avoid designs like Gitaxian Probe (which is basically a free card in your deck), or cards that break the color pie like Gut Shot and Dismember.
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.
How Does Phyrexian Mana Work with Compleated?
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.
The first planeswalker unfortunate enough to be compleated was Tamiyo, and the mechanic first appeared on 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. The compleated list has only increased since then, with new additions to the roster like Jace, Vraska, and Ajani. Nissa, Ascended Animist is the first card to have two Phyrexian mana on its cost.
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. For now…
Gallery and List of Phyrexian Mana Cards
- 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
- Mite Overseer
- Mondrak, Glory Dominus
- Skrelv, Defector Mite
- Jace, the Perfected Mind
- Synthesis Pod
- Tekuthal, Inquiry Dominus
- Unctus, Grand Metatect
- Drivnod, Carnage Dominus
- Vraska, Betrayal’s Sting
- Solphim, Mayhem Dominus
- Nissa, Ascended Animist
- Zopandrel, Hunger Dominus
- Lukka, Bound to Ruin
- Ajani, Sleeper Agent
- Nahiri, the Unforgiving
Best Phyrexian Mana Cards
#13. Gitaxian Probe
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.
#12. 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.
#11. Noxious Revival
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.
#10. Dismember + Surgical Extraction
Dismember puts big creatures in the graveyard while Surgical Extraction makes sure you never see them or any other copies of them again.
#9. Mutagenic Growth
Mutagenic Growth lets you pump your creatures even when you’re tapped out which makes for a magnificent combat trick.
#8. Phyrexian Metamorph + Spellskite
Phyrexian Metamorph enters the battlefield and can be whatever you want it to be, making for wild combos in Commander. Spellskite is a good blocker that can act as a lightning rod for removal spells.
#7. Unctus, Grand Metatect
Besides being an artifact lord, there’s some abuse potential when you convert all your creatures into looters, especially in combo decks. Combining Unctus, Grand Metatect with some “untap all creature” effects like Jeskai Ascendancy means you’ll have cards for days.
#6. 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.
#5. Lukka, Bound to Ruin
Lukka has a nice set of abilities. You either create a nice 3/3 token with toxic 1, add two mana, or distribute X damage (which is its pseudo-ultimate). Unless you cast Lukka, Bound to Ruin by paying life, you’ll be able to ultimate the turn it enters play.
#4. 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.
#3. Jace, the Perfected Mind
Jace, the Perfected Mind is the new mill card in town. It can be used to draw cards as all blue planeswalkers do, but if you mill 20 cards you’ll draw three. A very nice planeswalker for the self-mill and mill decks.
Just keep in mind that it works a lot better outside of EDH since the libraries start with 60 cards instead of 99.
#2. Vraska, Betrayal’s Sting
Vraska, Betrayal’s Sting does exactly what you want from expensive black planeswalkers. You get creature removal, card draw, and proliferate (which works well either in superfriends or poison/toxic decks).
The nice part is that you can go aggressive by paying five mana and two life, or wait a little longer and have a more resistant planeswalker for slower decks.
#1. Nissa, Ascended Animist
What’s that attached to a 6/6? A planeswalker?
Nissa, Ascended Animist is huge, can be cast for as low as five mana, and is a very nice ramp payoff since it comes down and immediately makes a huge token (with the + ability!)
A Compleat Understanding
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. Although Phyrexia isn’t omnipresent, we can expect more life payment as resource, or Phyrexian mana in spell costs and activation costs.
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 half the Gatewatch’s compleation as I am? Let me know in the comments below, I always love to hear from you.
Thank you all for stopping by today. Stay warm, stay safe, and I’ll see y’all back here on the next one!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates:
I recently built an Oswald Fiddlebender EDH deck, and put all 3 artifacts with white phyrexian mana in. Hence why I’m researching the mechanic for other cards! Thank you for this write up. I too hope they print more cards with this fascinating mechanic. Maybe somehow a return to phyrexia at some point…?