This card is a little innocuous at first glance. It appears to be a worse version of Mirrodin’s Core, but the “phyrexification” of the core of Mirrodin brings some neat interactions to play that, I think, bear looking into a little more closely.
First thing I noticed is that it can still produce colorless mana, just as it’s ancestor did. From there on out it’s completely different. While Mirrodin’s Core plays with charge counters – which would have worked quite nicely in today’s world of proliferation – the tainted core of Mirrodin now gains you life at the cost of one colorless mana and the sacrifice of an artifact. Usually one life gained here and there will not make or break a game for you. There will be occassions when someone will use this ability to save their hide by one life and counterattack the next turn for the win. We shouldn’t be playing toward those situations, however, as winning by one life could just have easily been losing by one life if your opponent had a Burst Lightning, Sign in Blood, etc.
To really make use of this card we need to find ways to turn the loss of the artifact into a boon, rather than a bane. Most of you probably already jumped to where I’m heading with this in your minds, so we’ll just go there. The Scars of Mirrodin block introduced some really interesting cards in the form of Ichor Wellspring, Spine of Ish Sah, and the all new Mycosynth Wellspring. All of these provide some effect when the artifact goes to the graveyard. One draws a card, one goes back to your hand, and the last lets you search for a basic land and add it to your hand. In the case of the Wellsprings, unless you are using them to hit metalcraft, the quicker they hit the bin after they enter play, the sooner you reap the reward.
I really like the interaction with Spine of Ish Sah. With nine mana (one producer of which is Phyrexia’s Core) you can destroy a permanent, gain a life and return the Spine back to your hand. A control deck will usually see nine mana, and once there, could simply decimate an opponent’s board over the next few turns. With Venser, the Sojourner as an additional way to abuse the Spine, Phyrexia’s Core could add some extra consistency to this hypothetical deck. I personally think that a great deck is possible using some combination of these cards.
For even more spice, I would recommend checking out Phyrexian Metamorph. For three colorless and a blue – or two life – it can come into play as a copy of any artifact or creature. Copy your Mycosynth Wellspring if you are stuck on mana and have no way to kill your Wellspring. Copy your Ichor Wellspring if you are searching for a card. But, for the most fun of all, copy your Spine of Ish Sah. Bonus points if you then sacrifice your Metamorph to Phrexia’s Core to return it to your hand. That only takes five mana – or four mana and one life, as the Core helps offset payments of phyrexian mana costs – for each round trip on that one.
This card by itself is merely ho-hum. However, we have been provided a decent amount of cards, in standard alone, that can turn this ho-hum into one humming component of an engine. I’m going to be keeping my eye out for other interesting uses of this card, and I hope to see it put to good use once New Phyrexia hits play.
Update – 5/2/2011:
In looking through older cards that would work well with Phyrexia’s Core I came across Perilous Research, an uncommon from Coldsnap. Combined with Ichor Wellspring it is two mana to draw three cards (I’m not counting the mana to initially play the Wellspring). With Mycosynth Wellspring it is two mana to draw two cards and search for a basic land, and with Spine of Ish Sah you spend two mana to draw two cards and return the Spine to your hand. Perilous Research’s downside of sacrificing a permanent becomes a large benefit in conjunction with these cards.