Set Prospective

March of the Machine

May 1st, 2023 — Parker LaMascus

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:

Filter by rarity:
Card TestersRank 
Khenra Spellspear // Gitaxian Spellstalker34.2%7.0
Faerie Mastermind32.3%6.9
Chrome Host Seedshark29.2%6.6
Deeproot Wayfinder28.8%6.3
Halo Forager21.8%7.0
Bloodfeather Phoenix21.0%6.1
Rampaging Raptor20.2%6.8
Invasion of Gobakhan // Lightshield Array19.5%5.6
Pile On19.1%6.3
Guardian of Ghirapur16.3%5.8
Wrenn and Realmbreaker15.6%6.1
Ozolith, the Shattered Spire14.8%6.5
Rona, Herald of Invasion // Rona, Tolarian Obliterator14.4%7.1
Elspeth's Smite14.4%6.1
Kogla and Yidaro12.5%6.2
Seal from Existence11.7%6.9
Thalia and The Gitrog Monster11.3%6.0
Stormclaw Rager10.9%6.5
Invasion of Mercadia // Kyren Flamewright10.5%6.2
Enduring Bondwarden10.1%5.9
Boon-Bringer Valkyrie10.1%6.3
Knight-Errant of Eos10.1%6.0
Xerex Strobe-Knight10.1%6.7
Doomskar Warrior10.1%5.6
Dusk Legion Duelist10.1%6.1
Seed of Hope9.3%5.3
Invasion of Ixalan // Belligerent Regisaur9.3%5.6
Invasion of Segovia // Caetus, Sea Tyrant of Segovia9.3%5.6
Oracle of Tragedy8.9%6.1
Kor Halberd8.9%5.3
Botanical Brawler8.9%6.7
Kami of Whispered Hopes8.6%5.9
Volcanic Spite8.6%6.5
Streetwise Negotiator8.6%6.0
Voldaren Thrillseeker8.6%5.9
Borborygmos and Fblthp8.6%5.7
Invasion of Ikoria // Zilortha, Apex of Ikoria8.2%5.5
Invasion of Tarkir // Defiant Thundermaw8.2%5.8
Invasion of Zendikar // Awakened Skyclave7.8%5.6
Meeting of Minds7.8%5.7
Saiba Cryptomancer7.8%5.8
Final Flourish7.8%6.7
Scorn-Blade Berserker7.8%6.4
Collective Nightmare7.8%5.7
Sheoldred // The True Scriptures7.8%6.4
Sunder the Gateway7.0%6.0
Ancient Imperiosaur7.0%5.6
Wrenn's Resolve7.0%7.3
Moment of Truth7.0%5.4
Archpriest of Shadows7.0%5.8
Alabaster Host Intercessor6.6%6.3
Storm the Seedcore6.6%6.2
Archangel Elspeth6.6%5.6
Chandra, Hope's Beacon6.2%6.1
Nahiri's Warcrafting6.2%5.1
Zephyr Singer6.2%5.1
Beamtown Beatstick5.8%5.3
Urabrask // The Great Work5.8%5.7
Etali, Primal Conqueror // Etali, Primal Sickness5.4%5.8
Mirran Banesplitter5.4%6.2
Invasion of Kaldheim // Pyre of the World Tree5.4%5.3
Sword of Once and Future5.4%5.3
Invasion of Innistrad // Deluge of the Dead5.4%4.8
Invasion of Amonkhet // Lazotep Convert5.4%5.9
Vorinclex // The Grand Evolution5.1%5.5
Gloomfang Mauler5.1%5.3
Timberland Ancient5.1%7.3
Unseal the Necropolis5.1%5.8
Wary Thespian5.1%6.2
Zimone and Dina5.1%6.2
See Double4.7%6.2
Bladed Battle-Fan4.7%5.0
Invasion of Karsus // Refraction Elemental4.7%5.0
Phyrexian Censor4.3%5.3
Invasion of Fiora // Marchesa, Resolute Monarch4.3%6.0
Cut Short4.3%6.2
Deadly Derision4.3%5.5
Skyclave Aerialist // Skyclave Invader4.3%4.9
Referee Squad4.3%6.6
Omen Hawker4.3%5.0
Errant and Giada4.3%4.9
Realmbreaker's Grasp4.3%6.4
Tandem Takedown3.9%5.5
Seer of Stolen Sight3.9%5.7
Chomping Kavu3.9%6.7
Norn's Inquisitor3.9%4.7
Invasion of Ergamon // Truga Cliffcharger3.9%6.0
Zephyr Winder3.9%7.0
Placid Rottentail3.9%4.1
Scrappy Bruiser3.9%5.0
Elesh Norn // The Argent Etchings3.9%6.1
Fearless Skald3.5%5.6
Quintorius, Loremaster3.5%5.6
Ral's Reinforcements3.5%5.8
Hangar Scrounger3.5%4.5
Invasion of Azgol // Ashen Reaper3.5%4.8
Hoarding Broodlord3.5%5.5
Baral and Kari Zev3.5%6.7
Drana and Linvala3.5%6.5
Shivan Branch-Burner3.1%5.7
Into the Fire3.1%5.0
Akki Scrapchomper3.1%5.8
Flywheel Racer3.1%5.4
Marauding Dreadship3.1%4.2
Ichor Drinker3.1%5.1
Furnace Host Charger3.1%5.8
Aetherblade Agent // Gitaxian Mindstinger3.1%4.9
Polukranos Reborn // Polukranos, Engine of Ruin3.1%5.2
Bola Slinger2.7%4.8
Angelic Intervention2.7%5.2
Temporal Cleansing2.7%5.7
Surrak and Goreclaw2.7%5.8
Breach the Multiverse2.7%4.7
Ephara's Dispersal2.7%5.8
Sigiled Sentinel2.7%5.5
Wicked Slumber2.7%6.2
Serpent-Blade Assailant2.7%4.3
Tidal Terror2.7%4.7
Zurgo and Ojutai2.7%6.7
Kroxa and Kunoros2.7%5.5
Inga and Esika2.7%6.3
Cards being tested by fewer than 7 respondents not shown.

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.

Other Hits

Faerie Mastermind
Khenra Spellspear // Gitaxian Spellstalker
Chrome Host Seedshark
Deeproot Wayfinder

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 // Lightshield Array
Invasion of Mercadia // Kyren Flamewright
Invasion of Segovia // Caetus, Sea Tyrant of Segovia
Invasion of Ixalan // Belligerent Regisaur

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 “{1}{R}: discard 1, draw 2 random cards and a 3/3 Spellshaper that costs about {R/P}{R/P}.”

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.

Other Notables

Pile On
Wrenn and Realmbreaker
Kogla and Yidaro
Seed of Hope
Boon-Bringer Valkyrie

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.”
— soma

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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