A Limited Guide to March of the Machine
Phyrexia’s full machinations stand revealed, and now their final invasion has begun! With Realmbreaker tearing holes throughout the Multiverse, Phyrexian legions are pouring through onto innumerable planes, intent on fulfilling Elesh Norn’s grand vision: a unified existence, compleat and perfect under Phyrexia’s dominion.
March of the Machine is here, an event set that dwarfs the scope of any that has come before. Battles span multiple planes and feature heroes and villains from years worth of storylines. Some beloved characters perish - or suffer fates worse than death; others are transfigured into beacons of salvation. All of these concepts come together into a set full of power and surprises, and we haven’t even mentioned the new card type yet. Let’s take a look!
Mechanics and Themes
We’ll start with the big one: Battles! A Battle is a new permanent card type, and in MOM they’re all double-faced cards that work the same. Start by casting the front side from your hand and reaping its immediate benefits. Afterwards it stays on the battlefield under the protection of an opponent of your choosing, with a number of defense counters specified on its lower right. Now you can win the Battle by depleting its defense counters, either by attacking it during combat or through direct damage spells that allow you to target Battles. Once its defense counters are gone, the Battle flips and you get to cast its other side for free!
Battles open up another exciting front in the game. The question is whether they’re worth it; after all, if you spend time flipping Invasion of Mercadia you’re essentially giving your opponent four extra life. Well, Invasion of Mercadia is cheap and isn’t card disadvantage - you spend two cards to draw two cards - so the cost for playing it is very little. Invasion of Muraganda is more expensive, but its removal ability gives you the potential of winning the Battle the turn you play it, granting you a pretty good beater right away. So the answer? I’d judge Battles mostly on their front side ability, and view their back side as an optional bonus.
Incubate is a new mechanic that represents Phyrexia’s terrifying ability to create corrupted creatures out of whatever materials it harvests. When a card tells you to Incubate X, you’ll create an Incubator artifact token and place X +1/+1 counters upon it. Then you can pay 2 mana at any time to transform the Incubator into a 0/0 Phyrexian… with its X +1/+1 counters (and note that transforming means that the Phyrexian token can attack right away if the Incubator has been in play for a turn). This flow has various benefits: breaking up the cost of a creature over multiple turns, or holding some of your forces in check to protect them against sorcery speed removal.
Incubate can be found on multiple types of cards with different triggers: Infected Defector is a creature that Incubates when it dies, while Traumatic Revelation is a sorcery that Incubates if there’s nothing in your opponent’s hand worth discarding.
(Deluded) fans of the anti-Phyrexian coalition can rest assured that they have tricks of its own. Backup is another new keyword, and it works as follows: when you cast a creature with Backup X, you can put X +1/+1 counters on any creature, even itself. But if you put those counters on a different creature, that creature temporarily gains the abilities of the creature with Backup - for example, vigilance with Sigiled Sentinel or double strike with Fearless Skald. Backup creatures are effectively creatures that come stapled with a sorcery-speed combat trick, giving additional oomph to an aggressive strategy.
Forces across the Multiverse are banding together against existential threats, and so does Convoke return as a mechanic. A spell with Convoke can have some (or all) of its cost paid by tapping creatures instead, with colored mana requiring a creature of the matching color to be tapped. Thunderhead Squadron seems overpriced for its base mana cost, but it’s quite a good deal if you can tap a few creatures and cast it on turn 4 (and there’s a curve that allows you to cast it on turn 3). Similarly, Burning Sun’s Fury may not be a great trick, but the possibility of casting it for no mana - perhaps tapping weak creatures to haste out a just-cast beater - makes it an intriguing option in a deck.
We’ve already seen Battles and Incubate tokens, both of which transform; however there are a lot more transforming cards across multiple rarities and colors. Creatures such as Tarkir Duneshaper and Herbology Instructor are early drops that also act as a useful mana sink as the game progresses. The flip side is naturally more powerful, but some such as Malady Invoker also provide a one-time debuff for one of your opponent’s creatures.
Signpost uncommons are not a new thing; what’s new in MOM is that there are also signpost Battles for each color pair. Let’s take a look!
White / Blue: Knights
Not everything in MOM is about Phyrexians; leading the charge against the invading forces are gleaming knights from across multiple planes. Marshal of Zhalfir buffs them all, turning a small army into a powerful juggernaut. This archetype is in White/Blue, and retains some of that color pair’s control and tempo flair: the Marshal of Zhalfir also acts as a tapper to slow your opponent down until you’re ready to swing in for lethal. The archetype’s Battle - Invasion of Xerex - has a bounce ability that’s also in line with traditional White/Blue mechanics, and once it flips into Vertex Paladin you’ll have a flying knight that can win the game in short order. The more basic knights lean more heavily into each color’s strengths: Swordsworn Cavalier is a typical cheap White beater with upside, while Xerex Strobe-Knight mixes Blue’s evasion with an interesting ability that encourages strategic planning.
White / Black: Phyrexian Go-Wide
The rate on Sculpted Perfection is… not great, essentially asking you to spend six mana for a mere 3/3 token. However it becomes far more valuable if you have other Phyrexians in play, and that’s the goal of this go-wide archetype. Ichor Drinker is valuable here as a Phyrexian that can Incubate once it dies, and it’s also perfect as fodder to power Invasion of New Capenna’s exile effect. Win that Battle afterwards, and Holy Frazzle-Cannon is a potent equipment that will quickly turn your tiny Phyrexians into enormous threats. This archetype also loves non-creatures spells that happen to Incubate, with Sunder the Gateway being a standout as a disenchant effect that comes with an Incubate token - or one that simply acts as a reasonable 2/2 two drop.
Blue / Black: Graveyard
Experienced Magic players know that the graveyard is often another resource, and MOM’s Blue/Black archetype hammers that point home. Halo Forager can rebuy instants and sorceries, and if you’re able to bring back a removal spell that you’re in very good shape indeed. Invasion of Amonkhet further stocks both players’ graveyards while giving you card advantage, and if it flips into Lazotep Convert you’ll have access to a powerful semi-reanimate effect. Halo-Charged Skaab is similarly effective in both populating players’ graveyards and taking advantage of what’s in there. Note that MOM also features a subset of cards with surveil, and spells such as Failed Conversion are another way to fuel your graveyard plans.
Blue / Red: Convoke
There are a large number of Convoke spells in MOM, and Joyful Stormsculptor is excellent at casting all of them; not only does it reduce Convoke costs by three by itself - imagine casting Artistic Refusal as a three mana counterspell that also gives you card advantage - it also adds a cheeky little ping to boot. Invasion of Kaladesh plays into this theme less well, but it does create a useful token to zap in a little damage or act as a resource for Convoke - and the flip side has the potential to grow very large. There are also a few creatures such as Hangar Scrounger that are great Convokers, as they give you a benefit whenever they’re tapped.
Black / Red: Sacrifice
Sacrifice is another classic archetype, but Stormclaw Rager is somewhat unique: it’s a sacrifice outlet that also makes the cost of that sacrifice negligible, as you get the card back immediately. Compleated Huntmaster is similar in that it (almost) immediately replaces whatever you sacrifice with a potential 3/3 Phyrexian. Play enough of these sacrifice outlets, and Furnace Reins becomes an incredible removal spell, allowing you to use your opponent’s creatures as sacrifice fodder. It’s less clear how Invasion of Azgol fits into this strategy, other than implying a certain amount of speed. On the other hand Ashen Reaper makes it very clear that indiscriminate murder is exactly what Black/Red wants to do.
Black / Green: Phyrexian Ramp
The Black/Green archetype also embraces Incubate; however instead of encouraging you to go wide, it encourages you to go tall, with Elvish Vatkeeper’s five mana ability, and your Incubate tokens will double in strength. Of course such power isn’t free, and you’ll want to find some way to ramp out lands (such as Invasion of Zendikar) while also playing creatures that stall the game (such as Etched Familiar). Reach the late game and you’ll be rewarded with cards like Invasion of Lorwyn and Winnowing Forces, both of which scale exceedingly well with the number of lands you have in play.
Red / White: Aggro
Red/White is often the aggro archetype, and so it is again in MOM. Mirror-Shield Hoplite puts a slightly different spin on the nuances of the strategy, encouraging the use of Backup creatures such as Redcap Heelslasher and Bola Slinger to give your attacking forces sudden buffs. The Invasion of Kylem and Valor’s Reach Tag Team showcase a more traditional aggressive threat, buffing your creatures before turning into a pair of constantly growing attackers.
Red / Green: Battles
Battles are the hot new mechanic of MOM, and Red/Green gives you further incentives to play with them. Rampaging Geoderm buffs an attacking creature nicely, and even more nicely if the creature is attacking a Battle. Throw in Thrashing Frontliner and War Historian, and you’ll win your Battles in short order. The archetype’s corresponding Battle is less obviously Battle-focused, but Inavasion of Ergamon’s rummaging and Treasure making is actually ideal for finding and casting the beefy mid-range creatures that Red/Green is known for. And once it flips, Truga Cliffcharger can find you more Battles.
Green / White: +1/+1 Counters
There’s nothing subtle about this archetype: grab cards that put on +1/+1 counters (including Backup creatures and Incubate spells) and go to town! Doing so will allow you to grow Botanical Brawler to monstrous size, and if you have a Kami of Whispered Hopes in play then the +1/+1 counters will multiply even faster. Enduring Bondwarden uses a different angle to support this strategy by trying to ensure that your +1/+1 counters stick around. But in the end, the direct approach is the best: use Invasion of Moag to pump your entire team, and win the battle so that Bloomwielder Dryads can join the fray and continue to toss +1/+1 counters around.
Green / Blue: Transform
A three mana flyer with vigilance and five points of stats seems like a great deal - except it’s a 0/5 and (initially) useless for anything but blocking. However the large number of transforming cards in MOM - Battles, Incubator tokens, various creatures - means that Mutagen Connoisseur can serve well as an early blocker that gradually becomes a very real threat. Overgrown Pest and Invasion of Pyrulea will help you find the double-faced cards you need, while Gargantuan Slabhorn will help you protect them. And if you get an engine such as Corruption of Towashi going, you’ll bury your opponent with card advantage and value.
Neither Phyrexia: All Will Be One nor Brothers’ War had particularly good mana fixing. MOM is clearly different, as the ten tapped lifegain dual lands return as possible replacements for the basic land in your pack:
There are also some artifacts that provide reasonable color fixing:
And there’s a cycle of five common creatures that can be cycled for lands:
As always, Green has additional options:
Key Commons and Uncommons
In previous articles this section has been dominated by interaction spells at the expense of creatures. But both are vital in Limited, so I’m going to start classifying key creatures and key non-creature spells separately. Note that this section contains mono-color creatures that have an off-color Phyrexian mana transformation cost; after all, you don’t *need* that other color to flip.
- Alabaster Host Intercessor: Getting rid of an opponent’s creature is amazing, and although this creature doesn’t come cheap, its expense is mitigated by its Plainscycling ability; in the worst case you can just pitch it for a land. Plus, it’s easily splashable!
- Knight of the New Coalition: Four mana for four power and four toughness across two bodies is a great deal, especially in a set with Convoke. Having vigilance is even better, as it allows for some truly nasty Convoke shenanigans.
- Phyrexian Censor: This card isn’t great in every deck, but it’s so good that I’d take it anyway and start leaning heavily Phyrexian.
- Cut Short: This three mana spell would be far worse if it wasn’t an instant, or if it didn’t have Convoke. But the reality means that it’s pretty good!
- Realmbreaker’s Grasp: Pacifism effects are worse in sets with Convoke and sacrifice effects, but it’s hard to argue against a two mana removal spell.
- Seal from Existence: Unconditional removal always feels a little less unconditional when it comes in the form of an enchantment. But the Ward on this card provides a fair amount of reassurance.
- Preening Champion: I want to make fun of this creature simply because the art is so ridiculous. But what it gives you for three mana - two creatures to fuel Convoke, an evasive threat - is just so good that maybe it deserves to preen a little (or a lot).
- Protocol Knight: This seems like an effective - and possibly lethal - curve topper for a knights deck.
- Saiba Cryptomancer: Okay, I’m not actually sure that this card belongs here; when is a 0/1 for two mana ever good? But its Flash means that it has the potential to deflect a removal spell, and sometimes placing the +1/+1 counter on another creature will be enough to win a combat.
- Ephara’s Dispersal: Bouncing a creature is worse than permanently killing them, but this spell is just so darn cheap to cast. Oh, and if you target an Incubate token, then I guess you *do* permanently kill it.
- Wicked Slumber: I predict that this will often be the final spell a Blue player casts before swinging in for lethal. And Convoke means that often an opponent won’t see it coming.
- Zhalfirin Shapecraft: Recent sets show how good cards like these can be; played properly you’ll net yourself a two-for-one. True, this card doesn’t grant you as much toughness as previous versions, but it works *really* well with +1/+1 counters (such as those granted by Backup or Incubate tokens).
- Aetherblade Agent // Gitaxian Mindstinger: Two mana for a 1/1 with deathtouch isn’t bad, and it's flipped side is just plain good.
- Nezumi Freewheeler // Hideous Fleshwheeler: Four mana for a 3/3 with menace is already a good rate. What’s great is its added mill effect and limited reanimation ability (that can hit lands and your opponent’s graveyard).
- Blightreaper Thallid // Blightsower Thallid: A reasonable two drop with a good (and relatively cheap) transformation effect sounds very playable to me.
- Collective Nightmare: Add this to the pile of instant speed tricks that opponents will have trouble seeing coming. Even if this spell doesn’t remove a creature, it’ll often do enough to win combat.
- Deadly Derision: This kills any creature or planeswalker at instant speed with the additional upside of Treasure. I’m literally just reading the card out loud, but there’s really not much more to say.
- Final Flourish: The flexibility of this card is outstanding. Use it for the -2/-2 debuff to take out an early creature or swing combat in your favor; sacrifice something and use it for the -6/-6 debuff if you really need to.
- Khenra Spellspear // Gitaxian Spellstalker: The front side of this creature is already a premium two drop, and the flipped side is actually insane.
- Ral’s Reinforcements: This sorcery is one of Red’s best creatures. Why? Well, two mana for two power across two bodies is reasonable - but in a deck with Convoke spells you’re also accelerating yourself by two.
- War-Trained Slasher: This creature is only good in a deck full of Battles, but in such a deck it will either flip Battles by itself or force your opponent into a very uncomfortable two-for-one in your favor.
- Beamtown Beatstick: Okay, I’m not super confident regarding the quality of this card. But a one mana equipment that gives menace and a Treasure making ability for two mana actually sounds like quite a deal. In the early game you’ll make some Treasure or chip in for some damage, and in the late game you’ll turn a big beater into something flatout lethal.
- Stoke the Flames: Four damage for four mana at instant speed is okay. But in reality you’ll often be casting this for two mana plus two tapped creatures, and that’s kind of amazing.
- Volcanic Spite: Three damage for two mana is a great rate, and the chance to improve your hand is a really nice bonus. And let’s not ignore the fact that this can hit a Battle at instant speed, potentially allowing you to use this to surprise an opponent during their attack step with a sudden flipped Battle.
- Converter Beast: This creature is a hard one to evaluate. You might describe it as six mana for a 5/5 and a 0/1, which is definitely reasonable in Limited. But you might also describe it as a turn 4 play that allows you to attack for five power on turn 5, and that sounds really good to me.
- Streetwise Negotiator: There’s a lot of text on this card, but don’t let that distract you from the fact that it’s essentially a 3/3 for two mana with the added flexibility of being able to move one of its power to a different creature.
- War Historian: A 3/3 for three with upside? Hooray!
- Cosmic Hunger: An instant speed punch is great - and this one can hit Battles too, allowing you to possibly flip them at instant speed.
- Storm the Seedcore: Well, this one will end games.
- Tandem Takedown: This is another instant speed punch spell that allows two creatures to punch far above their weight. And again, being able to hit Battles means that it can do some tricky things.
IMPORTANT: This Section May Save Your Life!!
These creatures (well, Tangled Skyline is basically a creature) have reach:
March of the Machine is one of the strangest premier Magic sets in recent memory, with an overwhelming number of team-up cards and an entirely new card type. How will it all play out?
- MOM will be *far* slower than Phyrexia: All Will Be One. Battles and transforming creatures indicate a design that edges into a longer game; Convoke points towards boards littered with small creatures that have the upside of being able to cast your spells.
- Speaking of which, cheap creatures are normally bad because they get outclassed. Here they have additional value - everything from Backup targets to sacrifice fodder to Convoke enablers.
- Playing a Battle doesn’t mean you have to attack it. A fair amount of Battles are pretty good just for their front effect, and you need to consider whether flipping the Battle is worth giving your opponent extra time and life. Sometimes the answer will be yes, but sometimes it’ll be no.
- The majority of the mechanics in MOM are combat oriented, so expect to spend a lot of time figuring out how to win an attack step. The large amount of instant speed interaction will only increase the excitement!
- Mana fixing is far better than in recent sets, and I’d be happy to splash fairly liberally - not just for bombs and removal, but also for powerful uncommons that support my draft strategy.