Magic: The Gathering players earned their first look at upcoming set, March of the Machines, and saw a multiplanar battle against Phyrexia that will draw in seemingly every named hero in established lore and a smorgasbord of greatest hits from the trading card game’s past decade.
I said March of the Machines looked to be cribbing more than a little Marvel style when the set was first revealed by publisher Wizards of the Coast in December 2022. Phyrexia’s nominal leader, Elesh Norn, has reached Phyrexia’s tendrils of compleation into dozens of MTG’s planes via her corrupted Invasion Tree, putting the entire multiverse at risk unless planeswalkers and mortals of all worlds can step up against them.
At the same time, designers such as Mark Rosewater have plainly stated that the trading card game is, itself, on the cusp of some major changes. Both of these threads are converging into a monumental event for players that includes unlikely pair-ups on legendary cards, the return of several art treatments in booster packs and the revival of a 14-year-old play format.
Past MTG sets have limited their scope to a single plane (synonymous with planet) with its own story, characters and rules governing magic. March of the Machines violently rends that divide, and the heroes of all planes will band together in an attempt to stymie Phyrexia’s advance. One of the ways the set will depict this struggle is on a series of legendary cards that combine two notable creatures - human or extremely otherwise - from previous releases. Cathar Thalia riding a saddled Gitrog Monster? Mavren Fein the vampire astride elder dinosaur Ghalta? Yargle wearing Multani as living armour?
It sounds audacious and more than a little silly, but March of the Machines supports its superhero-style crossovers with dual-type common land cards depicting massive, parasitic metal roots invading Kamigawa, Alara, Ixalan and many other planes. The primal forces protecting these worlds, such as Theros’ sun-god Heliod and Omnath, the heart of Zendikar, don’t fare as well - they will show up on new cards as compleated, twisted versions under Phyrexia’s thrall. Former villain, friend or natural incarnation - every loss is considered a tragedy in this all encompassing war.
Leveraging all of MTG’s narrative weight and considerable worldbuilding leavens a frankly ridiculous level of crossover and fan service. And boy, are fans being treated well - booster pack cards can come printed with special art treatments from several past sets, mostly matching the plane of their origin. For example, Atraxa will sport New Capenna’s gilded art deco stylings while Ragavan, the Pilferer gets Kaladash’s spiralling metalwork borders. Both are much needed reprints in versions that will fetch a pretty penny on their own, likely to drive collectors up the wall.
Booster packs will additionally provide cards from a “non-Standard bonus sheet”, according to the blog on MTG’s official website, called Multiverse Legends. Like the Mystical Archive from Strixhaven or the retro artefacts from Brothers’ War, Multiverse Legends cards are reprints that hail from all corners of the various planes and will be printed with frames and treatments matching that home.
March of the Machines continues the trend of the summer slot’s delivering a whopping five Commander preconstructed decks alongside the main set. All five - Growing Threat (Blue/Green), Cavalry Charge (White/Blue/Green), Divine Convocation (Blue/Red/White), Call for Backup (Red/Green/White) and Tinker Time (Green/Blue/Red) - contain a 100-card deck and specifically designed, as-yet-unrevealed commander, but this batch also serves as the delivery system for the rebooted Planechase format.
Magic: The Gathering’s designers have decided now is the perfect time to introduce modern (not that Modern) players to Planechase, a spin on the Commander format that hasn’t enjoyed official support since its release in 2009. Before you oldheads get too excited, this second chance comes packaged inside the Commander decks ten oversized cards at a time - five reprints and five new designs. Wizards of the Coast wants your playgroup to buy all five decks while they don’t necessarily commit to a line of separate boxes.
March of the Machine’s story is apparently so expansive that the publisher has slotted a special 50-card, Standard legal set called The Aftermath. It releases in May, comes in five-card booster packs and will serve as the denouement to March of the Machine’s dramatic climax. Loose ends will be tied, the bodies will be buried and, according to MTG’s lead designers, “Magic is going to change forever” - players will see the TCG’s new mechanical and narrative direction within that truncated set.
March of the Machine’s short stories will be published from March 16th through 19th, and card previews are scheduled to run from March 29th through April 4th. In-store pre-release events will begin the weekend of April 14th, and the set will hit digital clients MTG Arena and Magic Online on April 18th. Paper players will need to wait until April 21st to get their hands on the end of contemporary MTG’s latest chapter. March of the Machine: The Aftermath’s story will roll out on May 1st, followed the next day by previews. The Aftermath is currently scheduled to launch in retail on May 12th.