It’s been an open secret for a little while now, but as of Thursday’s First Look stream, it’s officially confirmed – Phyrexians are back in a big way in the next Magic: The Gathering set, Dominaria United. According to Wizards, Dominaria United will be the start of a four-set story arc, and it’s therefore pretty obvious that the Phyrexian plot that’s been bubbling behind the scenes since Kaldheim kicked things off in February 2021 is about to come to the boil.
Magic: The Gathering is usually pretty reluctant to kill off characters – as seen in the War of the Spark, that desperate planeswalker last stand which had, I believe, three planeswalker casualties. So it was something of a shocker when Kamigawa Neon Dynasty’s story iced the bunny eared moonfolk Tamiyo with little fanfare, before bringing her back as a soulless cyborg.
Phyrexian planeswalkers are now on the cards, and there’s a new mechanic for them that Wizards definitely didn’t design with the intention of just using the one time. The only Phyrexian in Streets of New Capenna was Urabrask, who was sort of a goodie, so there was less risk there. But now we’re gearing up for the robot wars, I think at least one major loss can be expected in the opening salvos. So the burning question is: who will be compleated next?
From official promo artwork and Dominaria United packaging, we already know of five planeswalkers that will be appearing in this expansion. That’s more than most sets get, so while it’s certainly possible there’ll be more characters we’ve not yet seen on the chopping block, now seems as good a time as any to get speculating. Let’s examine the list of potential victims.
A compleated Jaya would make a lot of sense. Jaya’s been around for a long while, first appearing on flavour text in the MTG set Ice Age and on a creature card in Time Spiral, so she’s certainly a loss that fans would mourn. Plus, her compleation would provide plenty of character motivation for a more central MTG character, her pupil Chandra. And finally, she’s not currently up to much in Magic’s story; there’s no major loose ends that would be left untied by Jaya’s Phyrexian-isation.
However, Jaya’s probably the safest planeswalker of the bunch right now, for the simple fact that a regular Jaya planeswalker card has already been revealed in the first batch of Dominaria United spoilers. It would be odd for her to get got by the robo-curse, and not appear in evil form on a card. It would also be odd for there to be two Jaya cards in one set. Therefore, Jaya is awarded our special shiny badge of safety.
Liliana pretty much constantly has a bad time, and regularly hops back and forth between the roles of hero and villain. It would be pretty typical for her to be freed from her servitude to Nicol Bolas only to, after a brief stint in academia, swiftly be tied to new horrible masters.
However, this would also undercut Gideon’s act of sacrifice in War of the Spark, since he gave his life to free Liliana. Plus, most of the multiverse’s movers and shakers don’t even know Lili is alive right now. It would be a quite anticlimactic return if she comes back only to be immediately compleated. Nope, I don’t think Liliana Vess’ time has come just yet. She’s got to attempt to redeem herself first.
Karn’s backstory is closely tied to the Phyrexians, as he’s ultimately responsible for the corruption of Mirrodin and creation of New Phyrexia. There would be no Phyrexian Praetors without Karn.
But despite this connection, Karn seems a fairly unlikely choice. As he’s already been corrupted by Phyrexia and then recovered, his compleation wouldn’t be particularly narratively satisfying. The second occurrence of a shocking event is always less impactful than the first, and the assumption would be that if Karn can get better once, he could do so again.
Sidenote: If The Brother’s War is not just a flashback/history lesson set, and turns out to include some form of time travel (the internet seems pretty evenly split on this theory right now) Karn’s gotta be involved somehow – it’s what he was built for.
We’ve just got two planeswalkers left to cover, and seeing as we’ve dismissed the other three already, the pair of them are probably feeling pretty nervous right about now.
Teferi has a little bit of history with the Phyrexians, having helped Urza combat them way back when. As one of the oldest, most prominent, and most likeable planeswalkers currently knocking about, his compleation would definitely come as a shock. The loss of Dominaria’s most stalwart defender would be a suitably dark and impactful story moment.
There’ve also been some truly wild Teferi cards over the years, and it’s easy to imagine that a Phyrexian Teferi would be a terrifying force. Overall, this one’s a definite maybe!
In the number one spot though, we’ve got Ajani. Pleasant and selfless, Ajani is an ideal candidate for twisting into a ruthless robotic killer. Killing off one of the original planeswalkers of the Lorwyn five would be a good way for Wizards to show that they’re not messing about. And Ajani’s compleation would fit Magic’s story perfectly.
He was pals with Tamiyo, whose evil form might be able to play to his emotions and trick him, and he’s the long lost mentor of the resurrected Elspeth, who seems set to be a key player in the Phyrexian fight. The corruption of Ajani would be truly heartbreaking for her, which obviously makes it all the more likely, as Wizards will want to tug some heartstrings.
There are some more esoteric reasons to think Ajani may not be long for this world too. There’s a somewhat out there theory which suggests that the planeswalkers depicted in chibi form in the Li’l walkers Secret Lair are the ones set to be converted by metallic malice. Tamiyo’s already gone, which puts Ajani next in line. Perhaps more substantially, newly unveiled artwork by Justyna Dura seems to imply that Ajani will be the central character of the set, and also shows black (Phyrexian?) spikes reaching out towards him.
Any way you slice it, Ajani looks to be in danger. On the bright side, an evil robot lion has gotta make for a pretty cool piece of art. If you can see it through the tears.