March of the Machines, the culminatory set in Magic: The Gathering’s latest narrative arc, received a bevy of reveals and explainers from publisher Wizards of the Coast during a March 29th livestream. Among them was an explanation of Battles, the first new card type since 2007 and a look at the next phase of design for the popular trading card game.
Battles became the subject of speculation a few months earlier when designers teased Atraxa, Grand Unifier during one of the Weekly MTG livestream. The card is an absolute beast, but players were more interested in a little bit of rules text that mentioned “battle” among the card types affected by her ability. This obviously planned move by the publisher kept everyone guessing until an ill-timed advertising leak stole Wizards’ thunder by about 24 hours.
We now know that battles are a new permanent type that follow some of the rules for Planeswalkers but otherwise introduce a whole new way for players to interact with each other. Battles are transforming, dual-faced cards that enter the field with a certain number of defence counters printed in the bottom left of the side with the Mana cost. Once played, the controller (the player who cast it) chooses one other player to defend this card. Other players, including the one who cast it, can attack it with their creatures in much the same way you can attack Planeswalkers.
Once all of the defence counters have been removed, the battle card transforms and whatever permanent is on the other side goes to the player who finished it off. We have already seen creatures, enchantments and one notable planeswalker printed on the opposite side of teased battle cards, including the Marchesa of the niche plane of Fiora or a towering apex predator from Ikoria - the designers said on the stream that they’re digging deep for planar callbacks as well as revisiting recent favourites in March of the Machine.
Battles can be targeted by spells and abilities that do damage, swap control and all manner of other effects. This is MTG - expect wily minds to find ways to break the way battle cards interact with the game in no time at all. Removal spells and other cards designed to punt things off the battlefield will specify when battles are a legal target - or use the magic phrase “any permanent” - and certain instant and sorceries will specifically interact with this newest card type.
Mark Rosewater, who joined Matt Tabak on the reveal stream, said battles will be a “deciduous mechanic” - meaning they won’t appear in every set, but the design team can return to that creative wellspring as often as they want to as it isn’t tied to a specific plane. Rosewater went on to say battle cards with type other than Siege (every March of the Machine battle card carries this subtype and follows an ‘Invasion of X’ name convention) will crop up eventually, but it might take “a little time”.
Planeswalkers eventually dominated MTG in the years after their introduction. Some players viewed them as a necessary shakeup to a stodgy design space, while others viewed the powerful cards as the death knell of the trading card game. For the moment, it seems as though Wizards of the Coast will remain conservative on their deployment - Rosewater said they want to see how players respond before hanging their collective hats on this shiny new card type.