Magic: The Gathering changes the game again with March of the Machine

Posted on April 27, 2023

Magic the Gathering continues to expand and grow with every new set that’s released, and March of the Machine is now here, bringing new card types, some throwback mechanics and even the invasion of the multiverse.

Last week, we were invited to Fortress Melbourne to try out March of the Machine for ourselves just ahead of launch. It was a fairly informal affair, with a mixed range of player skill (including some first timers/rank amateurs like our editor Luke), but it was still a good chance to see the new cards and try them out for the first time in a friendly community environment.

If you’ve been following or playing Magic: The Gathering since the 1990’s like I have, the release of a new set doesn’t always feel like a huge event. After all, Wizards of the Coast release multiple sets each year – this is the 96th(!) expansion that has been released since the game launched in 1993. But there are a few points that together make March of the Machine feel a little bit special.

Narratively, March of the Machine is the culmination of a story that has been building over many years, showcasing the invasion of the multiverse by the legions of New Phyrexia. For those of you unfamiliar with Magic’s background lore, here’s a quick synopsis of the history of Phyrexia and why this is a big deal.

Diving into the history of Phyrexia

The Phyrexians were first referenced in the lore of M:tG Multiverse in Magic’s first official expansion “Antiquities” in 1994. Primarily black-aligned, Phyrexians were biomechanical beings; creations (by means of eugenics and bio-engineering) of the evil mastermind Yawgmoth. Many of Magic’s early set releases were set on the plane of Dominaria, where the crew of the Skyship Weatherlight fought against and eventually triumphed over Yawgmoth and his hordes.

In 2010-2011, Magic’s writers and creative team took us on a visit to the artificial plane of Mirrodin in “The Scars of Mirrodin” block. This story arc revolved around a resurgence of the Phyrexian threat, infecting the plane and exentually transforming it into New PhyrexiaPhyrexia even underwent it’s own evolution – spreading to all the 5 colours of Magic, spearheaded by the powerful legendary Praetors.

Following the events of the Scars of Mirrodin block, Magic’s storyline moved away from Phyrexia to other adversaries, like the Eldrazi and the elder dragon Nicol Bolas. The Phyrexians were believed to be trapped on their plane.  But they were always lurking in the background, biding their time…

It took 10 years our time for the first hint that the New Phyrexians were finally making their move.  The green-aligned Praetor Vorinclex appeared on the plane of Kaldheim (2021).  From there, other sightings occurred on other planes, culminating in the current story arc – March of the Machine, the simultaneous invasion of all planes of the multiverse; both well known and unfamiliar.

Rise of the Machine

Something that makes March of the Machine that little bit more special is the fact that it introduces a new type of card to the game.  The first new card type since Planeswalkers were introduced in Lorwyn (2007), Battles in March of the Machine are transforming double-faced cards.  They have an immediate impact when they enter the battlefield, then once enough damage has been done to them they flip to provide even further value, opening up different tactical decisions. Rather than damaging your foe directly, you can spend your time and resources focused on these upgrades, with a great reward on the battlefield if you’re successful.

In a blast from the past sure to interest some older players, the March of Machine commander decks each contain 10 Planechase cards, multiplayer supplement cards that allow you to travel between the planes during your games, with each new location impacting the game in a different way.

Wizards have really been amping up the special card treatments in recent sets and March of the Machine stays with that trend. This set features Legendary Creature pair-ups, and alternate art card treatments help distinguish the plane they are from by providing a different frame associated with that plane.

Some of them are familiar, like the Kaladesh Inventions frame and some are new frames are showing up for the first time – the ones shown here are for Ravnica and Ixalan.  We also get treated to a non-standard-legal bonus set, Multiverse Legends, which features reprints of Legendary Creatures using the same frame treatments. Love ’em or hate ’em, these alternate art cards certainly add something to the collectability of the cards.

Diversity in Magic

Diversity and inclusion haven’t always been a feature of the Magic the Gathering storylines. Since their inception, the majority of the planeswalkers introduced have been human and white skinned, though there has always been a good mix of male and female.

Representation has been steadily increasing over time though, with more skin colours and ethnicities (and different races) being portrayed in planeswalkers, legendary creatures and even just the artwork in general. LGBTQIA+ relationships are now an established part of the canon, between planeswalkers like Saheeli and Hualti, or Ral Zarek and his (non-planeswalking) husband Tomik Varona over on the plane of Ravnica. There are also several non-binary and trans characters including the planewalkers Ashiok and Niko Aris.

Wizards have been using their Secret Lair releases to celebrate diversity as well, including things like Black History Month, International Women’s Day, and Pride Month.

The current story arc touches on the relationship between two members of the Gatewatch – Chandra (who has been confirmed as pansexual by head designer Mark Rosewater) and Nissa. The two have had a slow burning romance for some time, but in the space of two sequential novels went from a declaration of love for each other to an assertation that Chandra was only into macho guys like Gideon.  There was an immediate and somewhat ferocious backlash from the fan base about this, and Wizards have apologised for it and taken steps to correct things.

If you’re interested in finding out more on WOTC’s take on LGBTQIA+ representation in the Magic: The Gathering multiverse, there is a great article over on Hipsters of the Coast taking a look at the topic which provides a lot more context around the history of the relationship between Nissa and Chandra.

Back to the Release Event

As an experienced player at the Fortress Melbourne event I mentioned at the start of the article, I ended up building a white/green deck based around a couple of couple of key mythics and rares I opened: Wrenn and Realmbreaker, Surrak and Goreclaw, and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. Elesh is a reprint in the supplemental Multiverse Legends set and not standard legal, but she’s still playable in sealed. Despite her hefty casting cost she proved to be a winner in at least one of my match ups.  There are a lot of bombs in this sets sealed format, but also plenty of removal to balance that out and ensure games don’t feel too swingy.

I’ve only just touched on a few of the features that make March of the Machine an interesting set, so I’d encourage you to check it out for yourself. Wizards of the Coast aren’t quite finished with the story just yet – there is a small supplemental set coming out next month – March of the Machine: The Aftermath; showing the effects of the Phyrexian invasion on the rest of the Multiverse.

The Aftermath is a bit of an experiment for WOTC – it’s only 50 cards, but the cards will be legal in all formats. Head designer Mark Rosewater has said that the multiverse of Magic will be fundamentally changed forever from this set forward, triggering much fan speculation. With this set and the future looking bright and mysterious, it will be interesting to see what is coming next.

March of the Machine is available now.