So we’ve been able to review Lukka, Bound to Ruin, Nahiri, the Unforgiving, Vraska, Betrayal’s Sting, Nissa, Ascended Animist, and Jace, the Perfected Mind as compleated walkers, Kaya, Intangible Slayer, The Eternal Wanderer, and Koth, Fire of Resistance as our heroes, as well as Phyrexian Obliterator , White Sun’s Twilight, Sword of Forge and Frontier, Tyrranax Rex, and Capricious Hellraiser, but we have even more sweet cards to preview! A commander staple and a card that hasn’t been Standard legal in nearly twenty years, we have the iconic Phyrexian Arena!
For pretty much all of the cards I’ve reviewed so far, I’ve had to break down walls of text to get to the heart of what the card accomplishes, but here, it’s pretty easy! For three mana, you lose a life and get a card a turn. That’s it. Finito. This isn’t some groundbreaking effort, but rather, one that has been replicated time and time again, but if we’re looking for super close analogs, the best example I can think of is Underworld Connections. This was a staple in Mono Black Devotion as it not only provided devotion, but a steady stream of cards which was very valuable in that deck. While having to “spend a mana” each turn to use it wasn’t great, it did come with the upside that you could use it the turn it comes in if you had four lands and you didn’t have to use it if you didn’t want to. Still, that’s a pretty different card and a pretty different time, so while it gives us some insight to how strong the OG will be, it’s not perfect. So how do I feel?
I’m going a little conservative with my rating here, but I think Arena is a lot better than many people are giving it credit for. No, it’s not Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, but honestly, I don’t think they’re too far off either. Both are three mana plays that threaten to get you a surplus of card advantage, and while they do so in different modalities, Arena seems like an extremely big threat to deal with.
Before I continue, let’s address the downsides. First off, it’s a three drop that does literal nothing when it comes in, so if it’s destroyed prior to a trigger, you got nothing off that exchange. Second is that the trigger is not optional. If you are dying, you’re losing that life no matter what. If you’re in a super close race, that could definitely matter.
That’s about my only gripes with the card, so what more do I like about it? While the metagame has definitely started turning, midrange mirrors are still a huge component on it. While getting an early advantage is much better in these midrange mirrors than of times past, it’s generally still going to end up being about one thing – card advantage. There’s a reason Corpse Appraiser is such a staple in Grixis, and it’s not because of the square stats. Any card that can produce additional cards is very powerful, and we laud Fable of the Mirror-Breaker as insane because it produces two cards and gives you filtering. Yeah, that is insane, but if you play this turn three, this is going to be a lot of cards over the course of the game. It’s hard to say if this can safely see main deck play as the life loss may be too great against aggressive decks, and it’s not like we have something that gains us life when we draw us cards.
At the absolute worst, this card seems like an insane card to have access to in the sideboard as, if you can resolve this relatively early, can just give you such a monumental advantage in matchups where the opponent can’t properly pressure your life. We haven’t had a card like this in Standard for awhile, so it’s hard to say what the immediate impact is going to be, but at worst, I think this is an excellent sideboard option, and at best, a new Black staple in Standard.
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