Phyrexian Arena

Commander (EDH) forum

Posted on June 7, 2021, 9:39 p.m. by DarkMagician

Am I the only one that thinks Phyrexian Arena is way overhyped? Frankly I find it quite underwhelming every time I play it and have been looking for a card to replace it with in my Tergrid deck. And yes I'm already running Necropotence .

TriusMalarky says... #2

It's the kind of card that does put in the work, but it's gotta be built around correctly(much like any card draw)

Necro is used sort of as a combo piece but also as a massively effective draw engine.

Arena is used to guarantee you two cards played per rotation, which is great . . . if that's your gameplan. It's also really underwhelming in EDH where it's trivial to assemble ways to draw 2, 3 or even 4 extra cards a rotation.

I'll take a cEDH perspective here. In cEDH, this is unplayable, because

It also compares badly to every other good card draw spell:

  • Mystic Remora comes down turn one and either stalls the other players, giving you the ability to pull ahead, or is basically Ancestral Recall at worst.

  • Rhystic Study can come down turn one with Crypt and turn two with basically every other rock. It also draws absurd amounts of cards.

  • Wheel of Misfortune or any other wheel allows you to jam a bunch of rocks in play and then reload to 7 on turn 1, meaning you just pull ahead pretty effectively.

  • Sylvan Library is just good.

It's good, but not THAT good.

June 7, 2021 10:24 p.m.

Caerwyn says... #3

You’re certainly not alone - I’d say about once or twice a year, someone on TappedOut makes a thread on this very subject.

Arena is a card that scales poorly. In very casual games that last a while, it’s fine and likely will net you a bunch of cards. But it’s return on investment drops drastically as power level goes up - not only are there fewer turns during which to draw, tapping out and getting no instant value becomes increasingly problematic.

If you are looking for a replacement that draws cards, the instant gratification of Sign in Blood is generally superior. Plus, there might be the rare situation where you can burn someone to death with it, and that’s worth laughing over.

June 8, 2021 12:07 a.m.
June 8, 2021 12:20 a.m.

enpc says... #5

I didn't realise that Phyrexian Arena got enough hype for it to be over-hyped. Though your comment would indicate that you're moving from a pretty casual form of EDH (where Arena does work becuase games are soe drawn out) into a more competitive more tuned version of EDH.

As others have mentioned, when you get into this space then you're correct that the card does less work, due to either more removal or shorter games. As you start looking for more draw efficiency then you're either looking into cards which are super cheap ( Mystic Remora , Esper Sentinel , Dark Confidant , Sylvan Library , etc) or cards that will get you multiple draws per turn (some of hte aforementioned cards, Runic Armasaur , etc.). The other thing is that due to its double black, it makes the card a lot more clunky to cast in early games, when typically most decks are going for double blue or double green (because let's face it, these two colours dominate the competitive meta).

You also have your cantrips (as other comments have mentioned) - Sign in Blood is decent but Night's Whisper is generally preferred as the casting cost is easier. There's also Painful Truths which needs a 3+ colour deck to work but costs the same amount of mana as Arena with the upside of getting the three cards immediately.

Generally though, the more competitive decks use black primarily for its tutor ability rather than its draw ability (with the obvious exception of Necropotence ).

June 8, 2021 12:30 a.m.

Epicurus says... #6

I would echo what enpc just said. Additionally, though, in general y'all are kind of brushing off it's popularity in casual play. you're also assuming that we're talking about EDH exclusively, which is fine because it really isn't ever the best option for doing what it does in Modern or the like.

In EDH, though, we're talking about at least 60 different nonland cards in a deck. In cEDH, all of those cards have to be removal, recursion or combo pieces (and yes, I know it's a little more complicated than just that, but bear with me here). Arena is certainly not ever any of those things. When you build cEDH, the thought process is: a) Which combo am I going for, and b) how do I assure that I'll get to mine first.

There's nothing wrong with deckbuilding that way. That's how you win tournaments. However, if you're assuming hype from the fact that you see it all the time in most black-dominant decks, it's because most of us prefer casual play. In casual play, the thought process is: a) what theme do I want to follow, and b) which cards play into that theme. Arena might not be the best (or even 2nd, 3rd, etc. best) choice. But if it follows the theme, or facilitates the theme, or fulfills a needed deficiency of the theme (i.e. you run out of cards easily), then it becomes part of a package in the deck (in this case, the "draw package").

In other words, casual deckbuilding is less about combo, and more about synergy. I'm oversimplifying intentionally, because my post here could end up becoming even longer than it already has, and I don't want to do that. I'm only saying that I have a lot of respect for Arena's usefulness in casual EDH, and have found it to be incredibly useful in a lot of my decks that include black.

June 8, 2021 2:50 a.m.

MagicalHacker says... #7

I feel that way about Sign in Blood and Night's Whisper.

June 8, 2021 8:09 a.m.

You guys are just too expensive. That's why I don't play Phyrexian Arena . Who wants to spend 25$ on one card?

June 8, 2021 10:57 a.m.

TriusMalarky says... #9

Epicurus we're in the commander subforum, so nobody will comment on its Modern or whatever power level.

Also, "removal, recursion, combo piece" excludes "value engine, card draw engine, ramp, stax piece, tutor, etc". Additionally, while probably the most popular way to play cEDH is with fast combo, there are many many decks that play the long game, switch between them, etc. It's a lot more varied than t2 wins from the turbonaus players.

Another point as to why Arena is bad is that there are TONS of cards that can draw you two or three or even more cards per rotation for only 2 maybe 3 mana. Verity Circle is INSANE in any meta that uses mana dorks. Compost and Insight are incredibly effective draw engines. Ghostly Pilferer is solid too. It's so easy to find a 2 or 3 mana card that draws you at least one card if not several each rotation that Arena is just a $20 version of what a hundred other $2 cards do, except worse.

June 8, 2021 1:11 p.m.

Epicurus says... #10

TriusMalarky Fair points, except for a couple things. First, I stated twice that I was oversimplifying cEDH deck building. Second, of the 4 examples you used, three are blue and the other is green. There's no question that blue has better draw power than anything black can offer. That's kind of blue's gig. And while green doesn't have the same kind of extensive list in that regard as blue, it's certainly acknowledged that it has some of the best ones. But saying that Arena isn't as good at providing card advantage as a ton of stuff in blue is like saying that Smothering Tithe is crap compared to a ton of ramp in green. Absolutely true, but doesn't help if you're playing one color and not the other.

June 8, 2021 1:26 p.m.

TriusMalarky says... #11

Actually, black has the best card draw in cEDH. And no, those options aren't color locked at all. For card draw engines, white finally got it's own version of Mystic Remora in MH2. For ramp, most of it is artifact based, while mana dorks make up green's redundant ramp package, rituals build red and black's speed, and while blue and white have High Tide and Smothering Tithe, they're both better off taxing the table to effectively have mana advantage rather than literally. Stax pieces cover every color with red being by far the worst at it(you'd rather run Cursed Totem), but colorless artifacts again make up a large portion of it.

You did say that you were oversimplifying it, but you also ignored half of the entire format when it's fully possible to be fully inclusive in the same space.

June 8, 2021 2:18 p.m.

Epicurus says... #12

Again, all truth, but missing part of my point. In response to my assertion that Arena is a viable option in a "draw package" for a casual deck, you listed three blue spells and a green spell. Which, again, were truly better options, but not options at all if you're not playing blue or green. Since the card in question is black, the only fair comparisons to Arena are other black spells, lands and artifacts (so long as said artifacts don't have another color besides black in their identity), because those are the only cards that are guaranteed useable in every single deck that Arena can be in.

And I won't argue at all that Arena isn't ever a good option in cEDH. However, the whole reason why I oversimplified the deck building process was because I only needed to point out that it is different when building for casual play than it is for competitive. In casual deck building, Arena is often useable, definitely a viable option depending on the color identity, and in extremely rare cases is even a better option than Necropotence (not to mention fairly cheaper, even given that it is arguably overpriced for what it is).

That's all I'm saying. I'll bow out of the conversation now.

June 8, 2021 4:01 p.m.

Grubbernaut says... #13

There's nothing wrong with speaking in generalities. Exceptions matter far less than trends, especially for competitive play. Nitpicking doesn't change the reality of it.

June 8, 2021 5:02 p.m.

enpc says... #14

I do think that Epicurus makes a very valid point here - a lot of the discussion has been around better draw card effects, especially within cEDH. But in cEDH, the vast majority of desk are 2+ colours (with most of the powerhouse decks being 3-5 colours).

In the context of mono-black and especially in the context of mono-black casual EDH, there is definitely a place for Phyrexian Arena . It's worth noting that with mono-coloured commanders, for the more powerful ones they will typically lean either directly into a win condition or will lean into some osrt of repeatable card advantage.

This is part of the reason that Yawgmoth, Thran Physician is such a good black commander as he provides repeatable draw card effects. But while he can fit within the 99, the deck needs to support him unlike Phyrexian Arena which can just be put into any black deck to provide repeatable card advantage.

Previous posts have already discussed the drawbacks of Arena, especially when cEDH is concerned, however I do think that (as commander is a sliding scale of deck competitive-ness) Phyrexian Arena definitely has a place in more casual mono-black decks.

As discussed however, once more colours become more available then better options also become more avilable.

June 8, 2021 8:34 p.m.

golgarigirl says... #15

I'm having the same feels. I just picked one up because I wanted some more sustained card draw for a black deck that runs too even a mix of tokens and 'real' cards to make reliable use of Grim Haruspex and co. I don't want more one-and-done Sign in Blood -style draw at the moment.

So, any more ideas in that vein?

June 8, 2021 9:13 p.m.

Gleeock says... #16

You're not wrong, the allure of it in black is that it is card draw without condition or buildaround; however, in practice it usually plays out as an underperformer. In black, I'm more into ramping into bulk draw/non-draw, things like Demonlord Belzenlok where I go from nothing to a whole clutch of cards without much condition. Whenever you start talking about splash (with more colors) I remove the arena for better options with either secondary utility or more bulk draw. For chip-draw I far prefer monarch, particularly the courts (again, secondary utility). So, imo, a lot of the lackluster nature of Phyrexian Arena is that it provides chip-draw without much secondary utility, usually some slow deck can afford chip-draw without utility, but other decks often will want utility included.

June 9, 2021 8:34 a.m.

Gleeock says... #17

& this is all notwithstanding of "cEDH" "casual" or whatever. I play a bunch of casual/mid-high & short of blacksplash enchantress I am typically 'meh' about the card.

June 9, 2021 8:36 a.m.

There are numerous methods to turn 1 Phyrexian Arena. The issue is that you'd rather play Necropotence or go to 5 or 7 mana for Ad Naus or Peer respectively.

PA is 3 mana and DOA hence it feeling lackluster until it gets going- And it will never draw as much as Necro & Co.

June 9, 2021 9:14 a.m.

shadow63 says... #19

I have one and I am never disappointed when I draw it. If it draw me two cards and eats a disenchant I got my manas worth. Yeah it sucks drawing it the last turn of the game but I can say that about any draw engine

June 9, 2021 9:43 a.m.

CastleSiege says... #20

Phyrexian Arena is in the same boat as Solemn Simulacrum. They're playable cards, but are relics of a by-gone era and shouldn't be classified as format staples anymore.

June 9, 2021 7:19 p.m.

Guerric says... #21

Phyrexian Arena is never great, but it is a solid, recurrable card draw option for decks that lack access to better draw options. Obviously if you are playing blue or green you have better options, but if you are in black and can't benefit a ton from sac-draw synergies this can be decent if played early. Late in the game it will be dead, which is why it isn't great, but that's not why we play it. I agree with golgarigirl that one-off card draw spells are underwhelming, especially if like Sign in Blood they only leave you one card up. Now Necropotence is worth the hype, but also insanely expensive in real-world money (glad I got mine when it was cheap), as are to a much lesser extent Bolas's Citadel and Greed . But as we need around ten card draw spells in any given deck Phyrexian Arena will often make it into certain decks and be decent. As others have said, its definitely not the format staple it once was.

June 10, 2021 10:52 p.m.

TriusMalarky says... #22

I'd honestly play Greed over Arena just because even two black means you're able to draw more cards, and it's very easy to sink three or four mana into it, although the cost is MUCH higher(which balances it I guess)

June 11, 2021 12:16 a.m.

runninonwater says... #23

I've always picked Read the Bones over Phyrexian Arena after Read the bones got printed. It just sucks top decking a Arena if you're low on mana or just action in general. The BB does not help either in multicoloured decks, or what if you just happen to get too many of your colourless utility lands on hand? I really like the scry effect and I'd rather take two and draw two here and now than waiting for Arena.

Now I use my left over Phyrexian Arenas in trades =)

June 13, 2021 4:43 p.m.

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