Dismember – New Phyrexia
Date Reviewed: March 9, 2023
Commander [EDH]: 3.25
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is bad. 3 is average. 5 is great.
It’s been over a decade since Dismember first appeared on the scene, but I remember that I compared it to Swords to Plowshares the first time we reviewed it. It was just that powerful for its context, and just that disruptive. When you play with it or against it, you get a practical demonstration of why most spells have colored mana requirements – any plan that depends on creatures with less than six toughness looks a lot more fragile. And I’ll remind you that even in recent sets, many creatures that cost up to six mana (or sometimes more) nonetheless have less than six toughness. I can’t help but feel like the prominence of some planeswalkers from around its time (Jace, the Mind Sculptor; Liliana of the Veil; among others) was partly buttressed by how this card killed almost everything else. It’s the perfect counterargument for any aspiring galaxy brain argument that a “pure answer” card can’t be broken, not to mention the poster child for how the original Phyrexian mana cards were misdesigned. And the only reason I didn’t rate it higher in Casual is because you often need to fit removal for other card types in your deck too – this gives even much slower but more versatile cards (cf. Cast Out, etc) a boost in any comparisons.
Commander [EDH]: 3.5
Dismember is, in a word, pushed. It might not seem that way at first, but it’s easily one of the most absurd cards printed in a set that was notorious for pushing power to its breaking point, New Phyrexia. There’s a reason that, even with cards like Liliana of the Veil, Etched Champion, and Snapcaster Mage coming out in the same year, it was the uncommon that wound up as Pojo’s no.1 card of the year in 2011.
The main reason for this is that, functionally, Dismember is a card any deck can run. One mana to kill off nearly any creature with 5 toughness or less is massive, especially for decks that may struggle to deal with creatures that large or deal with them permanently. The life cost isn’t insignificant, but it matters a lot less than it might seem at first, and as long as you aren’t casting all four copies on the same turn, losing four life to kill something that needs killing is almost always a better trade. Dismember being an instant also lets you pull off some rather nifty combat tricks, thumbing the scales against creatures you shouldn’t normally be able to beat, and it thwarts indestructibility rather nicely. And while Dismember costing three mana isn’t usually going to matter, it does duck around some counterspells that would notmally hit spells like Path to Exile, and black decks can save on life if they have nothing better to use their mana on.
Dismember is an extremely efficient removal spell that highlights just why New Phyrexia‘s use of Phyrexian mana might have been a colossal mistake. In a game where you almost always have more life than you have mana, being able to trade some of the resource you have more of to get things done is a massive swing, and it speaks to this card’s strength that it’s playable in Modern, Legacy, and Vintage. It’s not flashy, but it kills things dead, and it’s done that very well for over a decade.
Constructed: 4.75 (it’s not the best removal spell in any post-Standard format it’s been in, but being playable in any deck has made it the most versatile)
Limited: 4 (outside of massive bombs, this kills nearly anything and is playable in any deck)
Commander [EDH]: 3 (this can’t be run in every deck, thanks to it being a black card, and so it merely becomes an okay removal spell in a format with a lot of those (and so much more))
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