March of the Machine
This article is part of our community-sourced Set Prospective series. We survey Cube designers before the set’s official release to document their first impressions of new cards.
Marvel’s The Avengers was one of the first movies I saw in theaters multiple times. That winning combination of Hulk humor, token minorities, and spandex stuntwork was a teenager’s ideal movie, I guess. A decade later, and I’m still a sucker for multiversal mayhem (just, y’know, not the copaganda male power fantasy kind). Enter Magic’s March of the Machine, in which the Phyrexians — still festooned with improbably large teeth — invade everything, everywhere, all at once.
Adding to the drama, March of the Machine also offers hundreds of new cards for Cube consideration. Will our 257 survey respondents risk a butterfly effect by adding MOM cards, or will our heroes find no way home? It’s the endgame of this infinite crisis!
March of the Machine, for all its hype and all its many (many) bling options, is the most contentious premier set we’ve ever studied. That’s not to say MOM is unpopular or weak! To the contrary, we’ve got 257 curators sounding off, submitting as many as 100 cards with a median of 8 cards. These designers hail from all over the Cube Map, too; they just don’t agree on which MOM cards are most appealing. The median score given by our respondents is 6.
Take a look for yourself:
|Khenra Spellspear // Gitaxian Spellstalker||34.2%||7.0|
|Chrome Host Seedshark||29.2%||6.6|
|Invasion of Gobakhan // Lightshield Array||19.5%||5.6|
|Guardian of Ghirapur||16.3%||5.8|
|Wrenn and Realmbreaker||15.6%||6.1|
|Ozolith, the Shattered Spire||14.8%||6.5|
|Rona, Herald of Invasion // Rona, Tolarian Obliterator||14.4%||7.1|
|Kogla and Yidaro||12.5%||6.2|
|Seal from Existence||11.7%||6.9|
|Thalia and The Gitrog Monster||11.3%||6.0|
|Invasion of Mercadia // Kyren Flamewright||10.5%||6.2|
|Knight-Errant of Eos||10.1%||6.0|
|Dusk Legion Duelist||10.1%||6.1|
|Seed of Hope||9.3%||5.3|
|Invasion of Ixalan // Belligerent Regisaur||9.3%||5.6|
|Invasion of Segovia // Caetus, Sea Tyrant of Segovia||9.3%||5.6|
|Oracle of Tragedy||8.9%||6.1|
|Kami of Whispered Hopes||8.6%||5.9|
|Borborygmos and Fblthp||8.6%||5.7|
|Invasion of Ikoria // Zilortha, Apex of Ikoria||8.2%||5.5|
|Invasion of Tarkir // Defiant Thundermaw||8.2%||5.8|
|Invasion of Zendikar // Awakened Skyclave||7.8%||5.6|
|Meeting of Minds||7.8%||5.7|
|Sheoldred // The True Scriptures||7.8%||6.4|
|Sunder the Gateway||7.0%||6.0|
|Moment of Truth||7.0%||5.4|
|Archpriest of Shadows||7.0%||5.8|
|Alabaster Host Intercessor||6.6%||6.3|
|Storm the Seedcore||6.6%||6.2|
|Chandra, Hope's Beacon||6.2%||6.1|
|Urabrask // The Great Work||5.8%||5.7|
|Etali, Primal Conqueror // Etali, Primal Sickness||5.4%||5.8|
|Invasion of Kaldheim // Pyre of the World Tree||5.4%||5.3|
|Sword of Once and Future||5.4%||5.3|
|Invasion of Innistrad // Deluge of the Dead||5.4%||4.8|
|Invasion of Amonkhet // Lazotep Convert||5.4%||5.9|
|Vorinclex // The Grand Evolution||5.1%||5.5|
|Unseal the Necropolis||5.1%||5.8|
|Zimone and Dina||5.1%||6.2|
|Invasion of Karsus // Refraction Elemental||4.7%||5.0|
|Invasion of Fiora // Marchesa, Resolute Monarch||4.3%||6.0|
|Skyclave Aerialist // Skyclave Invader||4.3%||4.9|
|Errant and Giada||4.3%||4.9|
|Seer of Stolen Sight||3.9%||5.7|
|Invasion of Ergamon // Truga Cliffcharger||3.9%||6.0|
|Elesh Norn // The Argent Etchings||3.9%||6.1|
|Invasion of Azgol // Ashen Reaper||3.5%||4.8|
|Baral and Kari Zev||3.5%||6.7|
|Drana and Linvala||3.5%||6.5|
|Into the Fire||3.1%||5.0|
|Furnace Host Charger||3.1%||5.8|
|Aetherblade Agent // Gitaxian Mindstinger||3.1%||4.9|
|Polukranos Reborn // Polukranos, Engine of Ruin||3.1%||5.2|
|Surrak and Goreclaw||2.7%||5.8|
|Breach the Multiverse||2.7%||4.7|
|Zurgo and Ojutai||2.7%||6.7|
|Kroxa and Kunoros||2.7%||5.5|
|Inga and Esika||2.7%||6.3|
Single Card Discussion
The (Lack of) Big Wins
“MOM has a lot of stuff that I'm unsure about, but that just means that I should test it.”
Usually this is where I talk about cards that have captured the attention of over a third of our respondents. For a typical Magic set, the biggest cube hits tend to be low-mana, low-rarity, higher-power, a well-known Magic effect, or all of the above. MOM is not a typical Magic set.
Instead, a lot of MOM’s power and novelty has been invested in a brand-new card type, transforming cards, and legendaries with intense casting costs and unprecedented effects. All of that means that no card from MOM captured the attention of more than a third of our respondents. Instead, our respondents are choosing what they like, and in some cases, the effects they’re already confident in.
Even Crimson Vow had more consensus on its most popular card.
The cards seeing play by a quarter to a third of our respondents are led by the World Champion, Yuta Takahashi (高橋 優太). Faerie Mastermind has more to recommend it for cubes than its historical significance, though — the favorable rate and competitive mana value make this effect easy to slot into many Eternal cubes.
“I love the design for this set; feels very big-time and 'Gang's All Here'.”
Khenra Spellspear is the top transforming card from MOM, and the highest-rated card among this group. Each instance of Prowess triggers separately, ‘nuff said. Unlike prior double-faced effects, the Spellspear’s test rate doesn’t suffer too much relative to recent single-faced analogs. That may be because the Khenra’s permanent transformation eases the logistics burden, or simply because our respondents are all sicko Prowess stans.
Chrome Host Seedshark is the top Incubate card among our survey respondents. Again, transforming appears in a slightly less onerous way — after all, we all know a face-down sideboard card is the most frequently used token in Cube, so it’s easy to flip into a Phyrexian. The callback to Sharknado is also cute, unless you’re from Tornado Alley.
Deeproot Wayfinder, the top new Surveiller, has an aggressive ability and the statline to survive combat, and promises to synergize with the fetchlands that are present in many cubes.
Invasion of Gobakhan is the top Battle among Cube owners, but with only a fifth of our respondents testing it, that’s not saying much. All other Battles, led by Invasion of Mercadia, fall below a 10% test rate.
Our respondents tend to reserve their most enthusiastic survey endorsements for powerful upgrades to well-loved effects, and tend to be fairly cautious about radically inventive mechanics. Battles are not well-known, and are certainly novel — so their survey performance reflects more on our audience than on the viability of Battles in Cube.
“This is one of the hardest sets to evaluate in a while.”
The first hurdle to using Battles in Cube is evaluating them. Most pre-release discourse compared them to planeswalkers, but as game designer Patrick Sullivan has noted, this analogy breaks down in two important ways. For one thing, planeswalkers don’t incentivize their owner to engage in creature combat as much as they punish the opponent who came unprepared. Second, attacking a planeswalker offers significant tactical advantages even for partially depleted loyalty, while attacking Battles only yields all-or-nothing rewards.
Therefore my preferred comparison for Battles is the Hideaway mechanic. Like Battles, Hideaway is typically used to offer a mix of immediate benefit and conditional, all-or-nothing card advantage. Battles are just a version of Hideaway where their card advantage is always the back face, and that card’s unlock condition is always combat damage.
“I'm not testing Battles for now, as I want to get more of a feel for them through Limited and the broader formats of Magic.”
Reframing Battles as inherent card advantage makes the Invasions of Gobakhan, Ixalan, Mercadia, Karsus, Segovia, Tarkir, Ikoria, Zendikar, Innistrad, Kaldheim, Ergamon, and Amonkhet look much more competitive on rate. Mercadia, for example, becomes “: discard 1, draw 2 random cards and a 3/3 Spellshaper that costs about .”
From there, the challenge for a Cube designer is to determine how Battles can contribute to fun gameplay. At a baseline, Battles create a combat-based tug-of-war, lending additional depth to Magic’s most engaging phase. Moreover, Battles create a minigame that allows both players — even the eventual loser! — to have cool “achievement unlocked” moments (like flipping a Zilortha). In the absence of a Cube community consensus on Battles, weigh Battles’ design positives with their drawbacks and novelty factor when considering them for Cube.
Crammed with more references than a blockbuster’s end-credits teaser, March of the Machine’s other themes and mechanics were tested by smaller niches of the cube community.
Pile On, a “strictly easier-to-resolve” Lethal Scheme, is the most-tested MOM card with Convoke, but many designers were unafraid to test multiple cards with Convoke, suggesting that the mechanic is seen as an unassuming workhorse by Cube designers.
Wrenn and Realmbreaker is the most popular planeswalker of MOM, with a competitive cost and a flexible, open-ended ability suite. (Of course, the company with a cardboard game kills off their living tree character. Typical.)
“The first set where I'm breaking my rule against DFCs, and it's not even because of Battles!”
Meanwhile, Legends, the heir apparent to Planeswalkers as the POV characters in Magic lore were featured in team-ups within MOM. The most-tested team-up Legend was Kogla and Yidaro, the latest Gruul beefcake to switch-hit between ramp target and creature cheat payoff. Neck-and-neck are Thalia and The Gitrog Monster, the latest pretender to Siege Rhino’s throne.
Seed of Hope is the most-tested Pauper-eligible card from MOM, followed by other bread-and-butter effects: a one-drop, removal, and a cheap Equipment.
“Backup is beautiful.”
Finally, Boon-Bringer Valkyrie is the most-tested card with Backup, followed by Streetwise Negotiator. The Backup mechanic is fairly intuitive, open-ended, and rewards creative deckbuilding, in addition to lending the creature more modality and resilience against removal.
March of the Machine is a novelty even among new Magic sets. Its mechanics and innovations run deep through the card file, and so despite the initial contentious reception of this set, I’m certain there will be more to appreciate about MOM as time goes on.
My own thoughts:
MOM’s theme. March of the Machine went all-in on campy flavor, and I love it. Just like The Avengers, Crisis on Infinite Earths, or any other superhero crossover, the whole point is to see Batman go back-to-back with the Joker to face down an even bigger threat.
Many cube owners have coincidentally already have the bones of this flavor in their cubes, just by collecting Magic’s most iconic/powerful/fun cards across the game’s history. The team-up legends and Battles bring that flavor to the forefront and offer a whole new dimension of design for cube curators.
Heuristics have limits. Magic players know how to evaluate new cards: compare the new effect to any similar predecessors. Battles, though, are truly without precedent, meaning that comparisons to extant cards might totally off-base, if not misleading (and that includes the Hideaway comparison I made earlier). At this point, the best way to learn about Battles is to play with them.
I have a tinfoil hat theory: This set unintuitively uses “the Machine,” singular, to refer to all Phyrexians. This quirky choice inspires a comparison to Lewis Mumford, a philosopher known for using the same phrase. In The Myth of the Machine (1967), Mumford argues that technological systems — from pyramids to plutonium-239 — require massive bureaucratic and political resources, in contrast to the popular notion of “lone wolf” innovators like Edison, Einstein, or Elon. Mumford referred to these super-human webs of power as “the Megamachine” (note the singular noun encompassing all technological systems). Despite the power of the Machine, Mumford was deeply skeptical that its benefits to human flourishing were worth the costs foisted on workers and ecosystem. Phyrexia’s invasion is truly a march of Mumford’s Machine — Phyrexia achieves technological “perfection,” but erases any trace of individuality and community in service of the powerful.
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