March of the Machine Set Review

March of the Machine Set Review

March of the Machine is going to go down in history as one of the most ambitious and complex sets of all time. Not only does it conclude an epic story arc where the Phyrexians take on the entire multiverse, it also introduces battles which are a completely new card type. On top of that we have powerful cards from across the multiverse, legendary creatures teaming up to fight together and new mechanics like backup and incubate to evaluate. This is going to be a wild set and a lot of fun to review.

I’m going to start by looking at the battles, because I have so much to say about this complex and interesting new card type. Then I’ll look at the commons and uncommons with a focus on the new mechanics and finally cover my favourite rares and mythic rares. As always this isn’t a list of the best cards for constructed, but a look at the cards I enjoy for whatever reason, be it the art, the game-play, the flavour or any other aspect of the design. Does March of the Machine live up to the hype? Read on to find out.

Top Battles

Invasion of Dominaria

New card types are a very rare thing in magic so it’s only proper I start my review with my thoughts on battles, and boy do I have a lot of thoughts. When you cast a battle you get an immediate effect when it enters the battlefield, although it will often be a little weak or overpriced for the mana cost. For example if you never transform Invasion of Dominaria you have just cast Ritual of Rejuvenation, which was a common I had completely forgot existed. However if you can transform it you get a Serra Angel, which is a bargain for a three mana investment that also drew a card and gained you some life.

So how do you transform a battle? Battles enter play with a number of defence counters much like loyalty counters on planeswalkers. Like planeswalkers they can be attacked, lose counters when damaged and disappear when all the counters are gone. All of the battles in March of the Machine are sieges which come with an additional rule. You attack your own battles with your own creatures and an opponent of your choice will be the one blocking to protect them. If you defeat a battle by removing all of the counters you then transform it to claim the spell on the back as your reward.

Invasion of Dominaria is perhaps my favourite battle because of how simple it is. Double-faced cards lately have become so wordy and like many other players I’m getting a little tired of them. Invasion of Dominaria might be simple, but the complexity of playing with and against battles means it should be a fun and interesting card to play with in Limited. I think this card is a good bellwether for battles as a whole. If transforming battles is too difficult then Invasion of Dominaria is poor value for three mana. On the other hand if a battle which doesn’t affect the battlefield when first cast is seeing play, that means battles as a whole are very powerful. My prediction is that March of the Machine limited will revolve around battles in the same way that War of the Spark was shaped by planeswalkers.

Invasion of Ixalan

Battles are completely unlike any other card type, but there are some interesting comparisons between these sieges and planeswalkers. The rules for attacking and defending sieges is similar to attacking and defending planeswalkers but the fact that sieges enter play under your opponent’s control is a game changer. Decks that play planeswalkers will play creatures to defend them and can delay playing a planeswalker if they aren’t ready to defend it. However sieges force your opponent to defend something at very short notice, no matter what deck they have. If you are playing against someone with battles in their deck, you have to expect them to play a battle and attack it in the same turn. Planeswalkers are so strong because you often force your opponent to attack them before it takes over the game, and the defender is often favoured in combat because they assign blockers. Sieges flip this on its head. Being forced to defend a battle should be much easier than attacking a siege, because most decks are already set up to protect their life total. Sieges also don’t snowball in quite the same way because you can only flip a battle compared to planeswalkers that you can activate over and over again. The more I think about these battles, the more I am impressed with their design.

Another aspect of battles is that you have the option of ignoring the back face. A lot of the battles are absolutely fine for the mana if you consider them as single-faced cards. Invasion of Ixalan is easily comparable to other green filtering effects like Adventurous Impulse or Commune with Nature. These effects are commonly available at one mana, which makes them a lot more efficient, but Invasion of Ixalan is one of very few such effects that can draw any permanent type since this effect is usually restricted to creatures or lands. The closest analogue to Invasion of Ixalan might be Bond of Flourishing which only looks at the top three cards. Because some battles are playable for their front side alone, it makes it much more likely battles will see lots of play.

Attacking battles means you are missing out on attacking your opponent, which is somewhat like giving your opponent extra life. If a deck is focused on killing its opponent then it might pass up on flipping its battles to attack their life total instead. This decision is going to be one you have to make whenever you play battles and I imagine it could get very complicated. Unless your opponent has no blockers, you probably need to spend a card or two to transform a battle. For example you could spend a combat trick to help transform Invasion of Ixalan into Belligerent Regisaur. This effectively lets you upgrade your combat tricks into a powerful dinosaur, which is incidentally very strong with your other combat tricks. I really like the idea of a mechanic that incentivises combat whilst making the game last longer because life totals aren’t immediately under threat.

Invasion of Xerex

Battles are a completely new card type, which means the designers are faced with having to balance them without the same experience they have designing other card-types. A clear pattern with the battles in March of the Machine is that battles that affect the board are usually more expensive or have higher defence values. Invasion of Xerex is a example of this, where we get a bounce effect for four mana that would normally be one mana, especially at sorcery speed. However bouncing a blocker makes it more likely your creatures will be able freely attack and flip the battle and if you do flip it you easily get good value for your four mana. Battles that enter the battlefield and immediately enable attacks should be much easier to flip. It’ll be interesting to see if designers have got the balance right, especially in limited. Does a four mana Void Snare still see play? Do battles that don’t affect the board still see play? Are some battles too easy to flip and are others too difficult? The best part about a new card type is that there are so many questions that we need answers to.

So far I’ve been looking at battles in isolation, but there is the potential for real snowballs where flipping one battle gives you an advantage that you can use to flip more and more battles. For example Vertex Paladin will often be a large enough flier that it can defeat more battles. If those battles become, or create creatures, the Paladin will continue to grow which makes flipping the next battle even easier. This sounds extremely strong in limited and there are plenty of battles that lean into this play pattern. Invasion of Tarkir and Invasion of Ulgrotha also provide a removal spell when cast and transform into flying creatures. Invasion of Fiora transforms into Marchesa, Resolute Monarch that can flip a battle every turn and flipping Invasion of Ergamon finds you the next battle to attack. If we see lots of battles in one deck I expect it will revolve around this style of gameplay. However battles don’t automatically synergise. The more battles you play, the fewer creatures you have to attack them. I can’t wait to see which battles see play and how many battles a deck wants to play.

Invasion of Segovia

So battles are an exciting new card type and I expect them to be a lot of fun to play with, but the best part about battles in this set is the fact that we get to see so many different planes represented in this set. Magic Origins was my first Core Set and I loved it because it included cards from ten different planes. March of the Machine is even more ambitious and I believe every major plane has been included alongside some planes we almost never get to see like Ulgrotha, Mercadia or Vryn. Some planes like Azgol, Belenon and Ergamon have only really appeared as planes in one of the Planechase sets over a decade ago. It’s interesting to see designers extrapolating from small glimpses of plane to try and flesh out a battle to represent the whole plane. For example Belenon, as seen on Invasion of Belenon, is now a plane based around Magic’s races of humanoid animals like Rhox, Aven and Loxodons.

The best battle designs have mechanics that tie into the themes of their plane. Segovia is famous for how small its inhabitants are so Invasion of Segovia makes small kraken tokens with trample when trample is normally only found on big creatures. Segovia is a very unique plane that was created to explain why Segovian Leviathan is huge compared to whales in the art but is only a 3/3 in game. Segovian Angel is the only other card known to be connected to Segovia. I love quirky planes like this but they will never be capable of supporting a entire set which makes it harder for us to ever get more cards set on Segovia or other weird planes. March of the Machine is a great way to celebrate some of the strangest corners of Magic’s multiverse.

Invasion of Gobakhan

When looking at equipment it’s very important to look at the equip cost before evaluating the card. If the equip cost is three or more then the card is probably too inefficient to see play, even if every other aspect of the equipment is very strong. The same holds true for vehicles and crew costs. I expect that battles will play out in the same way where a low defence number is a big factor in determining which battles see play.

Invasion of Gobakhan is one of a handful of battles that only cost two mana and one of only two battles that come with just three defence counters. For such a low investment, you get three different effects. Before it flips you get to exile a card from your opponent’s hand and tax it in the same way as Elite Spellbinder. This is an excellent tool for an aggressive white deck because it can delay a board-wipe like Wrath of God and give you the time needed to kill your opponent. Whilst you don’t get the excellent flying creature that Elite Spellbinder also gives you, Invasion of Gobakhan is actually a permanent answer to Wrath of God once you flip it into Lightshield Array. It won’t stop an exile based board-wipe like Farewell but the taxing effect becomes pretty oppressive against expensive wraths so Invasion of Gobakhan will stop almost any form of mass removal spell.

I’m having a hard time evaluating how strong battles will be in constructed magic, but Invasion of Gobakhan is my early prediction for the best battle in Standard. It might be narrow, but it’s an excellent answer to a critical weakness for white creature-based decks and it only costs two mana. I’m unsure how easy battles with more defence counters will be to flip, but three defence counters seems like it should be easy enough.

Invasion of Arcavios

If the battles with three defence counters are interesting, then so are the battles with seven defence counters which is the current upper limit for a battle. There are two such battles. Invasion of Alara has to have a high defence number because the back side is absolutely crazy. You get five different effects, each one a small callback to the ultimatum cycle in Shards of Alara. With five colours and a high defence number, Invasion of Alara gives us a look at how powerful invasions are allowed to be when pushed to the limits.

Invasion of Arcavios is the other battle with seven defence counters and it fascinates me. Both sides are great for a deck based around instants and sorceries. Of course red has plenty of damage-based removal spells that are a way to flip battles and can be searched for with the front side of Invasion of Arcavios. However creatures will probably be the best way to flip a battle without spending cards to do so. This pushes decks that use battles towards playing more creatures, even ones like Invasion of Arcavios which focus on instants and sorceries. If battles become popular, this could push other decks into playing more creatures because they have to protect battles their opponents play. The trend of creatures being more important and more powerful has been happening for quite a long time but the creation of battles might push the game even further in this direction. Battles seem to incentivise combat and interactive game-play so this could be really good for the game.

Invasion of Kaldheim

The Phyrexian invasion of the multiverse is one of the biggest stories Magic has ever told. There was an unprecedented amount of web fiction for this set with ten chapters in the main story and eight side-stories set in different planes across the multiverse. However the story was so big that these eighteen articles weren’t enough to cover everything that happened. This means that there are cards that cover major plot points that we didn’t get to see in the fiction and the only way to discover the whole story is to fully explore the set, including here on the backside of a battle. This does make it harder to follow the story but I really enjoy the process where you piece the story together from the cards as you discover the set. Because every player will discover the set in a different order it means players experience the story in unique and different ways. This specific plot point of the destruction of the World Tree is going to have huge ramifications for Kaldheim and I’m excited to see how this effects the plane. I already wanted to return to Kaldheim one day, but this one card makes me even more excited for a return to Kaldheim.

I also love the frontside of Invasion of Kaldheim. Red usually draws cards in two different ways. It can discard cards to draw more cards or play cards from exile with the restriction that they have to be cast soon, representing red’s hasty and impatient personality. Combining both of these forms of card draw is really fun. Invasion of Kaldheim can effectively double the number of cards in your hand without losing access to cards that started in your had. I like that it combines two very common effects to make something that feels very unique. The closest effect I can think of is Memory Jar which is infamous for being completely broken. Invasion of Kaldheim is like a balanced Memory Jar and I hope that we see more effects like Invasion of Kaldheim in the future.

Invasion of Kaladesh

The last battle that I want to talk about is Invasion of Kaladesh. I really like this one because of how well the front and back sides synergise with each other. The front side creates a thopter token that can slowly attack the battle to transform it into the Aetherwing. The thopter continues to be relevant because it can crew the Aetherwing and counts as an artifact so it increases its power as well. This cross-pollination between the two sides is really elegant and I much prefer this type of design to a double-sided card with many disparate abilities. It also leads to thematic cards that you can build a deck around. It also helps when you play multiples of a card. Aetherwing is legendary so flipping multiple battles is awkward but the extra thopter is still nice from multiple copies of Invasion of Kaladesh. I hope battles follow a similar trajectory to planeswalkers which were all generic value engines when they first appeared but we now get a lot more niche planeswalkers that only fit in a deck built around a particular theme.

Top Commons and Uncommons

Scorn-Blade Berserker

The March of the Machine story is all about our favourite Magic characters coming together to fight the Phyrexians and unsurprisingly there are plenty of mechanics that reflect teamwork. The first is backup that lets creatures share +1/+1 counters and abilities. For example when Scorn-Blade Berserker enters the battlefield you put a +1/+1 counter on one of your creatures. If you choose the berserker itself you simply have a 1/2 that can sacrifice itself to draw a card. However if you put the counter on one of your other creatures, that creature also gets the ability to sacrifice itself to draw a card. This lets you mix-and-match abilities which is fun and reminds me a little bit of mutate but with far less rules complexity.

Backup mostly appears on some simple commons and it’s clearly designed for limited. It supports the green-white theme of +1/+1 counters and helps power up other creatures which is very useful when attacking battles. I also think that the versatility of backup gives it a good chance of showing up in constructed. Scorn-Blade Berserker is my favourite of the backup cards because of how flexible it is. You can use it to sacrifice another creature, or cycle it for two mana to put a +1/+1 counter on another creature or spend a total of three mana to sacrifice two creatures and draw two cards. All of these options make it an great little one-drop creature for a sacrifice theme deck. Part of what makes backup more interesting than most limited mechanics is that changing the mechanics on a card completely changes how it plays. Enduring Bondwarden is support for the +1/+1 counter theme, Saiba Cryptomancer helps protect your other creatures and Golden-Scale Aeronaut lets your other creatures attack. This reminds me a little of oil counters in Phyrexia: All Will Be One where every card that used the mechanic used it very differently. I do wish backup had appeared on more cards but it seems to have been received very positively so I hope we will see it again in future.

Meeting of Minds

Convoke is one of my favourite mechanics of all time and despite being a mechanic in two Ravnica sets and a core set, I’m still very happy to see it return yet again. Like backup it fits theme of people coming together to defeat the Phyrexian invasion. I hadn’t realised until now that blue had never had any spells with convoke before, with Chief Engineer being the only blue card to reference convoke. Every colour gets at least one convoke card in March of the Machine, but blue gets far more convoke cards than any other colour. The novelty of convoke being in blue helps ensure convoke is still an exciting mechanic even though we have seen it multiple times before.

Because of it’s association with the Selesnya Conclave on Ravnica, convoke has often been associated with aggressive armies that play lots of small creatures and use convoke to help cast expensive spells. However March of the Machine gives convoke a different focus with its emphasis on blue spells which is the colour that is the most defensive and the most likely to play at instant speed. Blue usually prefers slower, more controlling strategies and often plays defensive creatures in the first few turns to blunt early aggression. It would be awkward for blue to remove its own blockers and tap them for mana for a sorcery speed effect so we get a lot of instant speed convoke cards in this set, which we haven’t see too much of before. Convoke on instants is really strong because you can tap your creatures with zero risk after your opponent’s combat phase. This means you can cast a card like Meeting of Minds with out tapping any lands or giving your opponent a turn of free attacks.

Raw card draw effects like Divination have become weaker over time, even in limited, now that more and more cards give you card advantage whilst still affecting the board. Meeting of Minds is so great because if your lands are still untapped and you play lots of instant speed cards you might be able to play one of the cards you draw immediately. I would be shocked if this isn’t a great card in limited. I like that convoke gives blue an incentive to play more creatures and whilst I don’t know how something like battles is really going to play out in limited, I’m certain playing a blue convoke deck is going to be a lot of fun.

Blightreeper Thallid

A Phyrexian invasion of the multiverse means that the Phyrexians are compleating more people than ever before. I’m getting bored of double-faced cards but I have to admit that the transform mechanic is a perfect way to tell the story of a creature being compleated. We get to see the creature before and after compleation and all of them have flavour text to help flesh out the story. My favourite of these stories is the tragic tale of Mudcreep who isn’t even taking part in the war with the Phyrexians but is still a casualty of the aftermath. I love how stories like this expand the world-building and show the full impact of the invasion.

A really nice touch is the use of Phyrexian mana as part of the transform cost. The transforming Phyrexians all gain a colour when they transform which highlights the significance of compleation and gives designers an opportunity to include Phyrexian mana in the set without the balance issues that come from Phyrexian mana symbols in the mana cost of spells. We saw this before in Phyrexia: All Will be One on cards like Mondrak, Glory Dominus and it works just as well here.

I’m very curious how these will play in limited. Not so long ago these cards would have been seen as excellent. A two mana 2/2 was a solid common for much of magic’s history and giving them the ability to spend your mana productively in the late game is very valuable. However given how powerful this set looks, I worry that the front side of these transforming Phyrexians is often too weak or the cost to transform them is too high. Spending six, or even seven mana to transform Herbology Instructor only to get blown out by instant speed removal sounds utterly miserable. This is why I’m so high on Blightreeper Thallid. It costs much less to cast and transform than some other transform cards, and once transformed the tokens you get give you some extra value. This is valuable if your opponent kills Blightsower Thallid but also good for casting spells with convoke or as part of a Phyrexian tribal strategy. There are fifteen of these transforming Phyrexians at common or uncommon in the set and I hope they are stronger than they look, because I’m worried a lot of them are going to underwhelm, which would be disappointing given how good these cards are at representing the Phyrexians taking over the entire multiverse.

Omen Hawker

Part of the fun of spoiler season is speculating about how good cards are and one of the ways to do this is comparing them to iconic and powerful cards. Sol Ring is a contender for one of the best cards of all time, the poster child for Commander and considered by some to be the best card to first pick in Vintage Cube. Wizards aren’t going to print a card anywhere near as good as Sol Ring ever again, especially in a Standard legal set. Clearly Omen Hawker isn’t on the same level as Sol Ring but it does provide the same explosive return of two mana every turn for a one mana investment. Omen Hawker is far, far more restrictive than Sol Ring, requires blue mana, suffers from summoning sickness and is more vulnerable to your opponent’s interaction. Despite all these drawbacks it could still be incredible in the right deck. I have no idea what that deck would be or what the best cards are to pair with Omen Hawker but this a big reason why I am so excited about Omen Hawker. Surely someone will find something cool to do with this card. The comparison to Sol Ring is hyperbolic, but perhaps the best part of this game is getting swept up in the optimism of building around new cards.

I must also mention that I think this is the first Cephalid we have seen since they returned in Streets of New Capenna. Cephalids like Cephalid Illusionist and Llawan, Cephalid Empress were iconic staples but Wizards stopped printing Cephalids for nearly twenty years. When cephalids did return some players were disappointed at how humanoid they looked. Revel Ruiner for example looks nothing like Cephalid Broker. Omen Hawker suggests that Wizards have listened to these complaints as it has a lot more tentacles all over its body and it’s hands are clearly webbed. I think this is a really cool look and I hope we get more cephalids that look like this in the future.

Etched Familiar

Because March of the Machine takes place across so many planes it’s a great chance to make call-backs to beloved characters from all of Magic’s history. Unfortunately it’s also a chance to see your favourite characters get compleated by the Phyrexians. Filigree Familiar is perhaps my favourite artifact creature of all time. It gives you a body, life and an extra card but best of all, it’s adorable. So, I’m sad to see it become a Phyrexian, but at least it’s still a good card. You no longer get the card draw, but is now more dangerous with an extra point of power and a death trigger that drains your opponent’s life total. The best part of Etched Familiar is the flavour text calling back to the original flavour text from 2016. Despite the apocalyptic invasion of Kaladesh by the Phyrexians, Chammi is still out there selling little robotic animals.

Assimilate Essence

In my last set review I wrote lots of positive things about Gitaxian Anatomist as an interesting new template for creatures with powerful enters the battlefield effects at common. In the end Phyrexia: All Will Be One was far too fast for a card like Gitaxian Anatomist and blue was pretty unpopular in the format. March of the Machine offers another blue common that I like because it has an intriguing new card template.

There have been many different counterspells that add an additional tax to your opponent’s spells with Mana Leak, Mystical Dispute and Flusterstorm being some of the best. These spells are very efficient interaction in the early part of a game but can be completely dead later in the game when your opponent has lots of mana available. This usually makes them unappealing in limited and situational in constructed magic where tempo is far more important. A few different variations on these spells have tried to address this problem. Censor was fantastic because it could be cycled when it had outlived its welcome whilst Bring the Ending and Anticognition have the possibility to become a true counterspell in long games.

Assimilate Essence shows there is another way to help taxing effects later in the game. This is the first such counterspell that gives you some compensation if your opponent is able to pay the tax. Since it only affects two card types and you have to pay an extra two mana to benefit from the incubator token this isn’t a very exciting counterspell. Paying four mana for a two-two seems horrible, but the fact that your opponent wasted four mana does make it efficient by comparison. I wonder if the designers are just testing the waters with a lower powered version and we’ll eventually see stronger versions of this template going forward. It avoids cards being miserably unplayable in long games and creates interaction by giving your opponent a choice. If the compensation for failing to countering a spell was stronger it could lead to some very challenging decisions. I’ll be looking out for more variations on Assimilate Essence in future sets.

Top Rares and Mythics

Inga and Esika

March of the Machine is the culmination of many years of Magic story, and like War of the Spark this means the designers have gone all out to make this set one you don’t want to miss. This includes introducing a new card type, showcase frames for many different planes and a bonus sheet full of exciting reprints. They could have stopped there, but they went even further and added an awesome set of legendary team-up cards. We have seen a few legendary creatures that represent multiple characters in the past such as Mina and Denn, Wildborn, but they usually represent a close relationship like siblings or a married couple. March of the Machine breaks with tradition and sees unlikely allies band together to fight the Phyrexians.

Each of these team-up cards is a very unique mash-up of abilities and mechanics that represent both halves of each partnership. Some are really unexpected pairings that represent how desperate things are, such as Thalia and the Gitrog Monster or Surrak and Goreclaw. We also get a reference to Godzilla and King Kong with Kogla and Yidaro and a pair of fan favourite one-eyed creatures in Borborygmos and Fblthp. I wouldn’t want these types of cards in every set but as something special for a big event I love it. It also helps ensure we get many more characters and planes represented in the set which is important for a set with the impossible task of trying to represent a story spanning every single plane we have ever seen.

What makes Inga and Esika my favourite of the team-up pairings? Partly it’s a power level issue. Some of the team ups are absurd bombs that will completely warp games in limited. For example Zurgo and Ojutai is really difficult to stop if it gets returned to hand every time it attacks whilst Ghalta and Mavren puts an outrageous amount of power and toughness on the board. It doesn’t even need to attack to make a big dinosaur or an army of vampires. Inga and Esika however is strong without feeling too unfair. I also like it as good fixing for limited that lets you splash powerful creatures like the Multiversal Legends or other legendary team-ups.

The best part of Inga and Esika however is the art which is my favourite piece of art in the set. Wayne Reynolds has done a lot of iconic magic art, but I don’t think he has ever done anything as colourful as this. I love that Inga, Esika and their cats are just having a blast in the middle of a multiversal apocalypse and it adds some welcome variety to a set that focuses on planes under attack and Phyrexian horrors.

Yargle and Multani

Yargle, Glutton of Urborg is one of my favourite legendary creatures of all time. Not only is he adorable but it’s fun to try and build a deck around a creature with such wonky stats. To this day, Yargle is still the only 9/3 in Magic. If you enjoyed the original Yargle, then Yargle and Multani is right up your street as it gives you a creature with a staggering 18 power, which makes it the highest power printed on any creature in black-border magic. Personally I find this design is just taking an old joke and taking it too far, so I much prefer the original Yargle, but I must say I adore the flavour text. Gnshhagghkkapphribbit is probably going to be my favourite piece of flavour text printed on any magic card this year.

Whilst the other legendary team-up cards in this set are over-the-top and have lots of powerful abilities, Yargle and Multani really stands out as a vanilla creature. Vanilla creatures are creatures that have no rules text, just a power and a toughness. Not only is Yargle and Multani the only vanilla creature in the set, it’s the first vanilla creature we have seen since Strixhaven, with a reprint of Fusion Elemental in a commander deck as the only exception. Vanilla creatures used to be a staple of magic sets, going all the way back to Alpha in 1993. However as limited formats have become more and more powerful, vanilla creatures have become really underwhelming in limited. It’s so hard to justify including vanilla creatures in sets today when they aren’t good enough for limited. This shortage of vanilla creatures is a shame for those of us who are nostalgic for old, low power limited magic but it makes it special when we get do a crazy vanilla creature like Yargle and Multani.


The last set completed a cycle of Phyrexian praetors with Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines, but as the ultimate climax of the current Phyrexian storyline it was obvious that March of the Machine also needed to feature these iconic Phyrexian leaders. Designers had to make a new cycle that felt special but without doing something too similar to the previous two cycles. I’m not normally a fan of such over-the-top card design and my eyes usually glaze over when I read double-faced cards with so much text. However for such iconic and powerful characters who are central to one of the biggest storylines in Magic’s history, I feel it’s justified to create cards that do feel really epic.

The central idea is that the reverse of each praetor is a saga that represents the ideals and life’s work of each praetor. The cost or requirement to transform the praetors into the sagas is different for each praetor but it’s usually fairly high. Elesh Norn for example asks you to sacrifice three other creatures. This is fine though, because the sagas are completely broken, and are all very exciting ways to end a game. For example if you transform Sheoldred and get to chapter three, you get Rise of the Dark Realms for free. I have no doubt the praetors are powerful enough to see play in competitive formats and exciting enough to see play in casual ones.

My favourite of the praetor cycle is definitely Urabrask. The other versions of Urabrask have never really seen much play and never been that popular, especially when compared to the other praetors. For example Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is one of the most powerful seven mana creatures of all time, and extremely iconic, whilst Urabrask the Hidden was just so underwhelming. This time Urabrask is a really fun engine for a spell based deck. We know from the success of Arclight Phoenix in multiple formats that decks can reliably cast three instants and sorceries in one turn if the right pay off is there. If you transform Urabrask, and get to the third chapter of The Great Work you are going to have an amazing turn. The Great Work has given you treasures and the ability to cast spells from your graveyard, and getting Urabrask back means you get a red mana every time you cast a spell. If the rest of your deck is mostly cheap instants and sorceries you are going to have such an explosive turn. Finally we have an Urabrask to get excited about.

Heliod, the Radiant Dawn

The Praetors aren’t the only legendary Phyrexians in the set. We also get a cycle of five returning characters who have all been compleated by the Phyrexians. These are just like the uncommon transform cards in that they start out as non-phyrexian and can be transformed into powerful Phyrexians. Whilst I liked some of the uncommon transforming Phyrexians, I love these. It’s much more shocking to see popular and familiar characters get compleated compared to a generic character we have never seen before. There are also much bigger stories attached to each of these characters. Rona becoming a Phyrexian as shown on Rona, Herald of Invasion is a fitting fate for an acolyte of Gix whilst the nature of faith on Theros leaves the Gods of Theros uniquely vulnerable to compleation because they manifest from the belief of their followers.

In Phyrexia: All Will be One I loved Tyrranax Rex for being a Phyrexian dinosaur but Heliod, the Radiant Dawn goes one further by being a Phyrexian God when it transforms which might be the absolute best combination of creature types in all of Magic. It’s my favourite card in the cycle because of how epic it is. Heliod, the Warped Eclipse towers over the temples in the art and is clearly a terrifying Phyrexian monstrosity. The abilities are also very scary. Being able to play all of your spells at instant speed is powerful and the mana you save from the second ability can get out of hand. Cards in Magic nowadays draw cards incidentally so it’s easy to imagine this giving a big mana discount to your spells. It also gives your opponent difficult decisions to make. For example, do they ignore the second chapter on their Fable of the Mirror-Breaker when it triggers or risk giving you an extra mana reduction? This is a unique ability that is going to be interesting to play with and against. It’s also hilariously busted in Commander where a card like Windfall resembles a three mana Omniscience that even draws you cards to cast with all the extra mana.

A really nice touch on this cycle are the call-backs to iconic Phyrexians. Polukranos Reborn transforms into a homage to Wurmcoil Engine whilst Blightsteel Colossus inspires the reverse side of Etali, Primal Conqueror. However my big criticism of this cycle is that there are only five of them. I really wish we had seen a lot more. These cards have some of the biggest ramifications for the lore going forward and are some of the most shocking examples of the Phyrexians causing carnage across the multiverse. A number of people have expressed their disappointment at how feeble and easily defeated the Phyrexians are in the stories that accompanied the set, but these corrupted legendaries are a perfect way to represent how dangerous the Phyrexians truly are. I wish there had been another cycle of five so we could see a few more Phyrexian victories on other planes.

City on Fire

Doubling effects like Furnace of Rath and Parallel Lives have been popular for a long time and recently we have even started getting tripling effects like Fiery Emancipation and Nyxbloom Ancient. These were some of the most expensive cards in their respective sets and totally justify being mythic because of how bombastic and over the top they are. The newest entry into the family of tripling effects is my favourite of the lot. Eight mana seems like a lot but with convoke this can easily be cheaper than Fiery Emancipation. Hopefully being at rare will make this effect much more easily available. This won’t replace Emancipation in decks that are light on creatures and I’m sure many players will enjoy running both in the same deck. Either way City on Fire is guaranteed to be very popular in casual formats.

City on Fire is the first tripling effect at rare because the mythic slot in this set is overflowing with planeswalkers, praetors, battles and team-ups. This is an absolutely crazy effect to get at rare and I expect March of the Machine will be remembered for how bonkers the rares are. Omnath has always been a mythic in all of his past versions, but in this set, his ultimate incarnation Omnath, Locus of All is merely a rare. Many other cards feel like they would be mythics in any other set. For example Heliod, the Radiant Dawn feels extremely epic whilst Ancient Imperiosaur can be cast for free and kill your opponent in one attack. These cards are still just ordinary rares. Combined with many different showcase frames, the Multiversal Legends bonus sheet, battles in every pack and of course the obligatory full-art lands, this set is going to be so much fun to open.

Sword of Once and Future

After so many years, we have the final sword. Nearly twenty years ago Darksteel gave us Sword of Fire and Ice and Sword of Light and Shadow and fans have been clamouring for the cycle to be completed ever since. I find this a very challenging sword to evaluate. There are lots of powerful instants and sorceries for two mana or less in larger formats like Modern and Commander so you can clearly do powerful things with this, but decks that focus on instants and sorceries are going to run fewer creatures and be less interested in running any equipment. In the end I think this is a strong card but it might not have a home. As the final member of a cycle whose popularity has endured for so long, I really hope Sword of Once and Future does see play somewhere.

The main drawback with completing a cycle like this so slowly is that Magic itself has changed so much in the years since the first swords were printed. The power level of the game has increased and the newer swords will struggle to match the excitement the earlier swords gave us. Spending five mana to cast and equip a sword feels much slower and far less powerful than it did a decade ago. I’m happy to see the cycle completed but I’m a little sad that the newest swords won’t get the opportunity to shine in the same way the old ones did.

Bloodfeather Phoenix

Is this the best Phoenix ever? Rekindling Phoenix was a fantastic top-end threat for mono-red decks in Standard but Arclight Phoenix is my current pick for the best Phoenix. It has been the centre-piece of many spell-slinger decks in multiple formats. Arclight Phoenix however has to be built around, and decks that run it are forced to include lots of low impact cards like Consider to ensure they can reliably function. They also want to mill or discard multiple copies Arclight Phoenix to avoid paying four mana for them. Bloodfeather Phoenix is a much less demanding card to include in a wider variety of decks. It only costs two mana, making it the first two mana phoenix in paper and red decks already play plenty of cards like Lightning Strike or Lightning Bolt, so whilst there is a deck-building requirement for Bloodfeather Phoenix, it’s pretty trivial compared to Arclight Phoenix. I’m not convinced yet that Bloodfeather Phoenix is better than Rekindling Phoenix or Arclight Phoenix but it’s definitely a very strong Phoenix.

If I have one complaint about the introduction of battles, it’s that cards that deal damage or care about dealing damage now come in so many variations it is getting confusing. Bloodfeather Phoenix cares about battles but not planeswalkers where as lots of older cards care about planeswalkers and not battles. It’s going to get messy trying to remember exactly what is a valid target for so many cards. It’s also awkward to explain the flavour behind these designs. Why does Bloodfeather Phoenix care about damaging battles but not planeswalkers which feels like two very similar things? It also leads to older cards becoming obsolete simply because they don’t reference battles. For example Fire Prophecy is now replaced by the wordier Volcanic Spite because Fire Prophecy can only target creatures. It pushes players towards running newer cards or face having fewer cards that can interact with an entire card type. I hope battles turn out to be a big success so that changes like this are indeed worth it.

Breach the Multiverse

As well as the multitudes of planes that we see in March of the Machine, we also see a lot of the Blind Eternities, the nothingness between planes. I have always been fascinated by the Blind Eternities and we have seen it on a couple of cards before, but it feels much more prominent in this set. Other examples of this are Moment of Truth and Transcendent Message. I love these glimpses of such a mysterious place, but I’m glad that we don’t see too much and spoil the mystery. It’s fascinating that we know so little about the Blind Eternities and it adds real mystery to the power of planeswalking despite it being so central to Magic lore.

The final line of rules text is my favourite line of rules text in the set. It feels like a big effect because it affects all of your creatures but it won’t matter in game-play that much. What it does do is really encapsulate the idea of Phyrexia invading the entire multiverse in one card. I love it when a single card tells the story of an entire set, block or story arc. For example Crux of Fate represents the choice Sarkhan made that transformed Tarkir from the world of Khans of Tarkir to a world ruled by dragons. I think Breach the Multiverse might be an even better example of this because it requires the player make actions during gameplay that mirror the actions of the Phyrexians. Taking cards from your opponents feels invasive, much like the Phyrexian invasion. It’s quite likely the creatures you get from this come from different planes which represents the invasion taking place across the multiverse and having them become Phyrexians represents the process of compleation. When you play Breach the Multiverse you are essentially roleplaying as Elesh Norn. This marriage of flavour and gameplay is just too perfect.