Prepare For War: March of the Machine Spoilers

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I was quiet this spoiler season. I primarily had other writing priorities, but also, there wasn't anything that I felt needed immediate attention. For better or worse, March of the Machine (MOM) is not an overly powerful set. There are numerous interesting cards and it's sure to shake up Standard, but as far as my preferred formats are concerned, nothing is an obvious fit. That said, there's an entirely new card type coming, and it needs close scrutiny.

Marching Into Battles

For the first time since Lorwyn introduced planeswalkers, Magic has a new card type. Called battles, there will be many types eventually, but for now there are only Seiges. The idea itself is interesting, though I'm quite skeptical of their actual impact outside of Standard.

When a Siege battle resolves, it gets a number of defense counters (that work exactly like planeswalker loyalty) and is then assigned a defender. The defender must be an opponent of the player casting the battle. Any other player can attack the battle. Once the last defense counter is removed, the battle is exiled, transformed, and cast. The owner of the battle then gets whatever is on the backside.

I'll go ahead and get this out of the way: because the battles are exiled, then cast as a triggered ability, A-Teferi, Time Raveler answers them. As the battles are cast from exile, Drannith Magistrate also answers the transformed side. That they're cast means that transformed battles can be countered. I don't think any of this affects their playability, but they are useful interactions to remember.

General Complaint

The idea is interesting, and I get the intent. However, I feel that the execution is lacking. The rules make it clear that there were multiplayer implications and intentions in making these cards, but there's no reason for any player other than the Siege's controller to attack them. Each Siege has a fairly minor, and often slightly overcosted, triggered ability on entering the battlefield, and then does nothing. There's no harm in letting a Siege sit there, nor any direct benefit for any player to attack one they don't control. The only reason to do so is to trigger the transformation and give the controller a bonus spell.

I appreciate that this will certainly change in the future, but for now, this feels really anemic and forced. If there was incentive for players to want to remove the battle, then it would make sense. If the one who defeats the battle got the transformed spell, that'd be one thing. If the battle had a continuous effect or repetitive trigger incentivizing other players to remove it, that'd be another. As-is, there's no reason for anyone beside the battle's controller and the designated defender to care. It's like Diet Archenemy.

Draft Dodging

So why does the defending player care about the battle? It's not actively hurting nor benefitting them. The backside of all the battles are decent, but not overpowering. In fact, the fact that their opponent is attacking the battle is arguably a good thing. As far as the defender is concerned, each Siege reads "Opponent gets an overcosted effect. You gain life equal to the number of defense counters on the battle plus any excess damage." The opponent gets another spell after giving you that life, but none of those spells are crippling. There are few if any that would be good enough on their own by my reckoning.

Missing in Action

Actually, having typed all that out, I'm now questioning why the controller would want to attack the battle at all. It's directly giving the opponent some amount of life and indirectly Time Walking yourself, as it will take most if not all available attacking creatures to take down the battle. That's an attack step when the opponent's life total isn't under pressure, and therefore another draw step for them. Again, the rewards for defeating a battle are good but not great, so I'm not sure it's actually worthwhile.

Altogether, I'm now thinking that trying to use the battles as intended is not a great plan. The transformed spells are barely (at best) worth the time and effort required to gain them. However, Hex Parasite and Vampire Hexmage effects do work on battles, so perhaps cheesing them is a better option.

Invasion of Ikoria

There's a perfect, built-in test for this idea: Invasion of Ikoria // Zilortha, Apex of Ikoria. While narrower, and generally worse, than Finale of Devastation, I could see Ikoria make it in Pioneer simply because it has two green pips. Mono-Green Devotion already doesn't play humans and might want a tutor. The fact that Invasion of Ikoria is a battle with a creature on the back wouldn't really be relevant.

However, this Invasion could also find a home in Modern for a different reason. For four mana, you can tutor for Hexmage and be ready to flip over Zilortha anytime. This is as close to Dark Depths as Modern is ever likely to get. It's leagues and leagues worse than Depths, admittedly, but an 8/8 for four isn't terrible, and the second ability might win a game. The problem is that Zilortha dies to Fatal Push. I'm certain that players are going to try it, but I'm skeptical that it'll work out.

Invasion of Gobakhan

If any of the sieges are going to work out as intended, my bet would be on Invasion of Gobakhan // Lightshield Array. The front being a cheap disruption effect is worth looking at in both Pioneer and Modern. Elite Spellbinder has seen Pioneer play and is borderline for Modern, so shaving a mana and not being a creature almost balances out. The pluses are that this siege only has three defense, and the backside rewards attacking.

The ideal situation for Gobakhan is for Modern Counter Cat to play Wild Nacatl turn one, then Invasion on turn two, attack and immediately flip it, and then Lightshield Array will trigger, turning the Nacatl into a 4/4. That is obviously an absolutely perfect scenario, but Array is strong enough that disruptive white aggro may want this in multiple formats. Losing three damage might be worth making every attacking creature more powerful.

Graveyard Smash

Looking outside of the battles, there are a number of cards that offer interesting, if slightly convoluted, combo potential for Modern. The headliner is Kroxa and Kunoros. While a solid card if cast full price, this is not the type of effect any Modern deck (and probably no Pioneer deck, either) would pay six mana to have. There are cheaper and less conditional ways to reanimate creatures. However, the templating of the reanimation ability creates a combo with Altar of Dementia.

The second ability triggers without a target because it is a reflexive trigger. The conditions must be met first for the trigger to do anything. This means there is a window to sacrifice Kroxa to Alter, mill six cards, and use five of them to pay for the trigger and reanimate Kroxa. Rinse and repeat until your library is empty and use the final trigger to reanimate Thassa's Oracle. It's a self-sustaining combo.

The catch is that making this happen requires a lot of moving pieces. The earliest it could come together is turn three, by using The Underworld Cookbook to discard Kroxa, then playing Alter turn two, and finally reanimating Kroxa with either Persist or Goryo's Vengeance. That's not bad, but it's also all-in on a combo that can be responded to and broken up by Abnormal Endurance. There's also competition in the niche from Jeskai Combo Breach and Goryo's Kitchen decks. It will be interesting to see if Kroxa can outcompete the existing decks.

Rhino Bait

Next is Halo Forager. Faerie's holdouts always get excited whenever a possibly playable faerie comes out. Bad news, those guys, it's still no longer 2008, and Bitterblossom is obsolete. However, Forager here is still playable without any Faerie-type support. Paying more for Snapcaster Mage with flying instead of flash isn't a good deal, but a Snapcaster that can target the opposing graveyard opens possibilities.

Forager can also be used to flashback opponent's cascade spell. A three-mana Snapcaster isn't great, but three mana for a 3/1 flier and a Crashing Footfalls you don't own is pretty amazing. Of course, Rhinos has Subtlety and Force of Negation as answers, but the best-case scenario on Forager remains pretty awesome.

That said, I actually think that the best use is as an anti-Living End card. Discarding Forager before End resolves ensures that you can immediately undo the sorcery. Of course, getting that scenario to play out in reality may be tricky enough not to be worthwhile. That said, being able to play Forager the same turn via Aether Vial) or cast it normally the following turn ensures that the opponent won't just win on the spot.

Niche Seekers

Honestly, that's all I'm seeing in terms of impact players for the older formats. The competition for space is high enough, and MOM's power level isn't especially pushed, by the standards of recent sets anyway. However, there are a number of interesting cards that could make an impact if the right circumstances rise. They don't currently have a niche but would fill one well if it existed.

Faerie Mastermind

Again, Modern Faerie hopefuls, this will not reinvigorate your pet deck. Modern decks don't draw two cards a turn. They're running Mishra's Bauble and Expressive Iteration, or have A-Teferi, Time Raveler, so there's no surprise value. Paying four so the opponent draws one card and you draw two isn't a great rate. Legacy would rather play Hullbreacher. For Faerie Mastermind to see play, there needs to exist a Pioneer blue tempo deck that isn't Spirits.

Omen Hawker

Wizards really doesn't make mana dorks in Standard anymore. Blue never gets mana dorks, so Omen Hawker's stock is incredibly high. The fact that Hawker generates more than one mana means that it plus Freed from the Real make infinite mana. Mana that can only be used activating abilities. There are easier ways to make an infinite Walking Ballista, but players will always experiment with unique effects.

Deeproot Wayfinder

A 2/3 merfolk for two is solid but not very exciting, and Simic Merfolk never took off in Modern, which limits Deeproot Wayfinder's playability. The second ability is intriguing, but so long as Wrenn and Six is legal, it is completely outclassed. If a Merfolk deck ever gets fins in Pioneer I could see this working there, but as is there are easier ways in all formats to get lands from graveyards.

Ozolith, the Shattered Spire

An additional Hardened Scales for one more mana probably isn't good enough. Ozolith, the Shattered Spire also gives counters (expensively), so it might be good. The real question is what can Hardened Scales afford to cut to fit in the Shattered Spire.

Just Another Set

March of the Machine has some interesting cards, though the headline new mechanic raises enough questions that I don't foresee widespread adoption in older formats. Those cards that do make it could inspire some strategic repositioning and a new twist on existing decks. However, there's nothing here that will definitely disrupt Modern's status quo. I expect that to persist for some time yet.

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David Ernenwein

David has been playing Magic since Odyssey block. A dedicated Spike, he's been grinding tournaments for over a decade, including a Pro Tour appearance. A Modern specialist who dabbles in Legacy, his writing is focused on metagame analysis and deck evolution.

View More By David Ernenwein

Posted in Free, Modern, Spoiler

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3 thoughts on “Prepare For War: March of the Machine Spoilers

  1. Yes, – Battles – Sieges just seem extremely poorly thought out. You’re giving the opponent tempo by playing an over costed spell and then you are giving them life and or missing combat damage triggers to usually get a 4/4. I just don’t get it and that’s without multiplayer mentioned at all. In multiplayer it’s a complete failure. Very mild set overall and not just Commander related either.

    1. It’s occurred to me since writing that, but this is very like when planeswalkers came out and were really mild, even by the standards of the day. Then they pushed walkers until they had to ban the Mind Sculptor. Wonder if that pattern will repeat.

  2. It seems like a novelty card type like Dungeon. It’ll disappear quickly and be forgotten most likely. It’s part of the problem of releasing too many Magic sets too quickly. Players might want to test them out and play them if only for tabletop gaming, but it’s hard to see players rushing to buy the set to get them when nobody will remember they existed once the Eldraine set comes out this summer followed by the Ixalan set later this year.

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