Did March of the Machine Forget About Commander?

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With March of the Machine spoiled and ready to be released, there are as always new cards that have the potential to ruffle feathers. On top of some interesting legendary cards, there's also the brand-new battle card type. But despite all that, MOM may not be the set Commander die-hards needed or wanted.

Team-Ups... But Not Really

When they first spoiled the "team up" concept, I thought of the cards above. Obviously, meld is a unique mechanic, but since it had just re-appeared in The Brothers' War I thought it could easily make an appearance here. I was wrong.

The new "team up" cards feature huge walls of text, an unbelievable amount of abilities slapped onto every card (unless you're Yargle and Multani), and a surprisingly small amount of commas. Overall, I'm broadly happy with the choices here. A lot of the pairings will create some waves in Commander because of mixed creature type potential like Ghalta and Mavren or Kogla and Yidaro. Look for a lot of cards with synergy to spike, at least temporarily. This set is full of cards that interact with existing cards like Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord which get a boost. However, most of these plays are only short-term moves.

Of course, the execution's not perfect. Baral and Kari Zev has creature type Human; no other types. Uh, why are they not a Human Pirate Wizard? This would be much cooler, have tons of great interaction historically, and not have any impact on type-specific decks in Standard. As-is, they generate a token that has more creature types than they do. This odd design "decision" knocks down the concept just a bit for me. Furthermore, it seemed like an interesting idea to make sure all the pairings had three types but not all do. While Drana and Linvala can make sense and work with two very popular types, some of the other cards feel like they are just missing creature types.

Battles are Boring

Let's take a look at Matt Tabak's write-up on the battle mechanic for March of the Machine.

"A battle's subtype provides rules for how it can be attacked. Since every battle in this set has the subtype Siege, they all play by the same rules. (Could future battles have different subtypes and have different combat rules? It would certainly seem some bright, forward-thinking people set the system up that way.) As a Siege battle enters the battlefield, its controller chooses an opponent to be its protector. Every player except a battle's protector may attack it. Only a battle's protector may block creatures attacking it. Don't confuse protector for controller. You're going to attack battles that you control, the first time you've been able to attack your own permanents. Fun!"

Wow, uh, just wow. No Matt, this is not fun. What are most battles in March of the Machine? They are essentially existing spells that turn into a 4/4. For example, look at Invasion of Muraganda // Primordial Plasm. Gee, an over-costed fight card that turns into a 4/4. What about Invasion of Zendikar // Awakened Skyclave? An over-costed Cultivate that turns into a 4/4. Most of the Sieges follow this formula, and this is not very compelling or interesting design space. Telling us "We're working on something better" is a little insulting, to be honest.

When I initially saw the mechanic, I misread it. However, I misread it because I did not think it would be as reductive, simple, and bad as it was. I did not think that Magic card design in 2023 had devolved.

Battles by Beardy

Anybody can look at something and say, "I don't like it." Well, okay, what would you have done? Thanks for asking!

Here's how to make battles both a multiplayer triumph and more interesting in one-on-one play. You cast the battle and give it to another player. Each turn it remains on the battlefield, everyone but the protector gets a benefit. If the battle is defeated, the owner gets a huge benefit; however, if the battle is defended long enough, the protector gets that huge benefit instead.

Now, each turn, your opponent would have to balance whether they want to defend the battle, but continue to give you and the rest of the table a small benefit, versus letting you destroy the battle right away for a large but one-time effect. Actual decisions would be made. And if they happened to be able to defend the battle long enough, they would instead get that huge benefit.

A Quick Tangent

"Why should my cards help my opponent?" I can almost hear you say. Well, because Magic?

Reducing interaction makes a game simpler. Simpler games tend to be more boring. More and more, Magic has chosen to do this on many levels, and it's not great for the game.

I understand capturing a larger audience and trying not to scare people away with complex mechanics. However, according to Hasbro, one-third of Magic players are ten-plus-year veterans while another one-third are three-plus-year veterans. If the vast majority are not scared of complexity and appreciate interaction, why keep dumbing down the game? Why remove the defining characteristic of Slivers? Jeers to one of the two heads in charge of Magic design. Battle - Siege is a boring mechanic, and Magic players are not turned off by slight complexity.

The Multiplayer Angle

If only Wizards had developed this mechanic a little more, everyone would be a lot happier, especially in multi-player. The entire table would be invested in whether or not a battle should be defended or defeated, and also when! Wow, think about the incredible amount of interaction possible. Think about the diplomacy! Think about the format that 70% of your players play regularly. We can think about all that, or, we can reskin an existing card, make it cost a little more mana and then, sometimes, it turns into a 4/4. The least they could have done was put a boat somewhere on Invasion of Segovia // Caetus, Sea Tyrant of Segovia!

Alright, but, according to Matt Wizards has laid the foundation with these cards because they are "battle - Siege" and they will create new battle cards, maybe something like "battle - Skirmish", with rules that are actually fun. As-is, not only are the battles just not very interesting, but they are actively bad for multiplayer. How? Think about it. I play my bad Cultivate which sort of already puts me behind. Now I hope that the table gives me my free 4/4. But why would the table give me my free 4/4?

I'm effectively giving one player extra life points while the other players are getting nothing, so that is more like an alliance mechanic than a diplomacy one. If alliances aren't frowned upon in Commander, then why is Trade Secrets banned? Furthermore, this is for the majority of battle cards where you just get a 4/4. A couple of the effects are powerful enough to where the entire table should work to stop you.

The template for battle cards suggested above resolves all of these issues, instantly.

So Many Double-Faced Cards

Do players love DFCs? I guess so, because for a set with no Werewolves or Optimus Prime, Hero // Optimus Prime, Autobot Leader, there's a whole heck of a lot of transforming going on. The nice part about all the DFCs, however, is how many additional new commanders are possible, and how most of these are also throwbacks to other cards. Check out Polukranos Reborn // Polukranos, Engine of Ruin, which turns into a literal Wurmcoil Engine engine, or how Etali, Primal Conqueror // Etali, Primal Sickness goes from Dinosaur to Blightsteel Colossus. These are interesting enough to consider for several potential deck ideas on their own while also being perfectly capable additions for existing deck archetypes. The set is full of throwback ideas like this but the execution is only so-so. There's enough here to like, but not to love.

Underhyped or Overhyped?

Finally, the Dimir sword appears! They did a good job with Sword of Once and Future. Surveil sets up your free spell in any situation and gives you good value.

However, this sword does not seem to have as much raw game-winning power as some of the more popular ones. According to EDHrec, the top 100 equipment lists Sword of Hearth and Home and Sword of Feast and Famine as the most popular swords, and for good reason. However, the next tier of Sword down includes Sword of Truth and Justice and Sword of Forge and Frontier, which I would say is very close to the power of Sword of Once and Future. This is a very medium-power Sword, but at least it's totally usable instead of either completely power crept or functionally useless.

Is Elspeth's Smite the new best removal card in, well, every format? Yes and no. It's a good white hybridization of Lightning Bolt and Swords to Plowshares, two cards that have withstood the test of time as the best removal spells of all time. However, the Smite is simply nowhere near as good as either of those cards because of history.

Both the top 100 all cards and top 100 instants have some situational removal in terms of types or even colors but none of them are situational based on combat. There are piles of white removal spells that do something to an attacking or blocking creature, and none of them have ever been as dominant as other, better options. Unfortunately, while I would love to hype up Elspeth's Smite, I think it will be relatively underwhelming. Still, it's a nice attempt at making a good white removal spell that is not Swords to Plowshares.

Faerie Mastermind deserves all the hype and even more. Blue is obviously the undisputed master of card draw, and they've added another trick to their arsenal for only two mana. As just a 2/1 with flying, the Faerie really is no threat to anyone, and also can bribe people with a four-mana activated ability that effectively draws you two cards. I really do see this card as another copy of cards like Rhystic Study, Mystic Remora, and Esper Sentinel, and I expect it to go into tons of Commander decks.

Good, Bad, or, Other?

I'm solidly in the "other" category regarding March of the Machine. There are some decent ideas and moves that make sense. However, there are just as many things in the set that make me think, "Are they even trying?"

Drafting potential looks good, along with a lot of new Commanders. But mechanics-wise, it's very light. The backup keyword is very ho-hum. While there are a lot of throwbacks, references, and somewhat older keywords, there isn't a whole lot to the set. I guess we'll just have to wait and see which of the heads makes March of the Machine: The Aftermath.

What do you think? Is March of the Machine actually the best Magic set this year and I'm just missing the hype train? Are battles actually sick? Let me know in the comments.

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