March of the Machine, the fourth and final instalment in the four-part Phyrexian storyline was released on 18 April for Magic: The Gathering Arena and 21 April for tabletop. A hands-on event was held at Fortress Melbourne on 20 April with the door flung open to media and fans alike. This giant community event was an enormously warm tabletop gaming hug with players coming together to learn the new mechanics, play some games and have a good time.
Like previous expansions before it, March of the Machine introduces a tonne of new cards, new keywords and mechanics and plenty of story and lore. The Phyrexians are on the move and “Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines and leader of the Phyrexian army has amassed a force to take over the entire Multiverse at once. She now expands her reach to bring the glory of New Phyrexia to other planes in an attempt to compleat all beings.”
Taking advantage of this setting and story beats, March of the Machine adds a new card type Battle, a new mechanic Backup and new artifact type Incubators. Mastering each of these new features is essential to victory in March of the Machine, especially as Incubators will absolutely tear you to shreds if given half a chance.
Magic: The Gathering March of the Machine
We were able to chat to Mark Rosewater, the Lead Designer for Magic about March of the Machine and he gave us some fascinating insights into the creation of the expansion and the ongoing success of Magic as a whole. With March of the Machine releasing in Magic’s 30th year you’d be forgiven for thinking that creating new content for the game is difficult. Rosewater assured us that the team at Wizards of the Coast are far from struggling to come up with new ideas.
“Having thirty years of practice, we’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out how to make new sets. The trick is to start out with a different vantage point than other sets as that will lead us down new ways of thinking. We also have years and years of mechanics that we didn’t use for other sets that we can repurpose for new sets,” Rosewater told us. “On top of that, we can bring back old mechanics, and position them in a way that they feel fresh as they’re mixed with different mechanics than the previous times you saw them.”
For March of the Machine, that vantage point is the story setting and the Phyrexian army. As the expansion is set during all-out war, the new Battle cards put players right into the heat of conflict. When these dual-faced cards are played, you choose an opponent to defend it. Battles can be damaged and attacked directly, like Planeswalkers and once they’ve been defeated are flipped to grant a brand-new card for no cost. For example, the Invasion of Ravnica Battle costs 5 colourless Mana and exiles a nonland permanent your opponent controls. Once it’s defeated, it transforms into Guildpact Paragon.
Planeswalkers were introduced to Magic in 2007 and Battles are the first new card type to be introduced since then so this is a huge new feature for the game. Rosewater explained the creation of Battles to us and said, “Battles started from a desire to make cards that represented the totality of a plane. Went through a lot of different executions, but ended up with the idea that the cards represent the invasion itself more than the plane.” Each of the Battle cards is set in the invasion of one of Magic’s Planes and when defeated grants you with a powerful creature native to that plane. Sadly, during the hands-on community event, I didn’t get to play with or against a Battle so haven’t yet seen them in action. That being said, the potential for Battles is huge and they may pave the way for some exciting gameplay in future.
Of the two new mechanics, Backup is my second favourite. Incubators are exceptional, but we’ll get to them shortly. Backup is a mechanic that allows you to add +1/+1 counters to creatures which also grants them additional abilities. For example, Boon-Bringer Valkyrie allows you to add a +1/+1 counter and give it Flying, first strike and lifeline until the end of the turn. There is a tonne of different Backup mechanics and abilities that open the door for some epic synergies and theory-crafting.
Rosewater said of Backup, “Backup came about because we were looking for a new mechanic to represent creatures teaming up to fight the Phyrexians. The mechanic, called boost in vision design, was made by Ari Nieh, who won the third Great Designer Search (a public contest where we look for players to hire as designers). We liked how it let you overlap abilities, and how it could work differently each time you use it.”
Now we come to Incubators. I’ll let Rosewater explain, “Incubators were created because we were trying to find an artifact token for the Phyrexians to create. We liked the idea that they made more Phyrexians, but we’ve learned from things like Clues and Food that artifact tokens play better if there’s some cost associated with getting the reward. We soon realized that if we used a double-faced card as the token, we could scale the ability allowing you to put a different amount of +1+1 counters on the noncreature artifact side of the token. Then all the tokens could have the same cost, 2, to turn the noncreature artifact token into an artifact creature token.”
Essentially, Incubators are Arftifacts that once hatched gain +X/+X for however many counters have been placed on them. While they’re incubating they are a noncreature and can be stacked with counters which can create some truly enormous creatures once you hatch them by paying two mana. They’re also not susceptible to summoning sickness on the turn they’re hatched, provided they’ve already been on the board for a turn. While playing at the hands-on event, my Jumpstart decks were very much focused on Incubators and it was devilishly good to bring swarms of Phrexians online to do my bidding.
The event itself, as mentioned was a wonderful time where players of all skill levels came together to celebrate Magic and do battle. The shouts and celebrations heard around the Alienware Arena at Fortress Melbourne exemplified the celebratory vibe. Looking around the room on the night, there wasn’t a face without a smile, which really embodies what Magic: The Gathering is all about; bringing people together to play and have a good time.
When I asked Rosewater what he was most excited about with March of the Machine, he told me, “I’m most excited by the scope of the expansion. This is the second time we’re doing what we call an “event set” where it’s the capstone and finale to a major storyline, (War of the Spark was the first “event set”) and the story’s gotten even bigger.
“I think my favourite mechanical element was the team-up legendary creatures. Usually, legendary creature cards represent just one character, but in March of the Machine, they represent two characters from the same world who have chosen to team up out of necessity. We found a lot of cool team-ups where we were able to combine mechanical elements of both creatures to make something new.”
As with previous sets, March of the Machine has launched with Jumpstart and Commander packs. Commander decks include;
- Phyrexian Cats
- Zhalfir Knights
- Shaman Creatures
- Convoke Angels
- Gremlin Artifacts
The five new Jumpstar booster themes are;
Fans will also be able to get their hands on “the most showcase art styles to date: all showcase frames from recent sets will feature in March of the Machine alongside several brand new frames to represent additional planes. These showcase frames will primarily focus on Multiverse Legends: teams of Legendary creatures who are fighting against the Phyrexian invasion.”
March of the Machine is the culmination of an epic four-part story that has included some truly excellent expansions and cards. I’d like to leave you with my favourite gameplay moment of the hands-on event. I drew Hoarding Broodlord from my Library and was able to pay its Convoke cost easily, thanks to all my Incubated Phyrexians. Searching my Library I found and Exiled Terror of Towashi…I think you can see where this is going. On my next turn, I paid the cost of Terror of Towashi adding Deathtouch and its face ability to my already overwhelming board.
It wasn’t long before my opponent succumbed to the might of Phyrexia.
Magic: The Gathering March of the Machine is now available.
Leo Stevenson attended a hands-on event as a guest. Food, drinks and cards were provided.