Magic: The Gathering’s The Brothers’ War is a set worthy of its history
Marvel could never.
Magic: The Gathering’s The Brothers’ War feels like it’s almost the pinnacle of the trading card game when it comes to a sheer volume of lore. There’s no doubt that this set is designed to evoke the same feelings that Avengers: Infinity War tried to gouge from your soul - and that means that if you’re a long-time MTG fan, you’ll find it incredibly difficult not to be grinning from ear-to-ear while playing with this set.
It’d be easy to chalk this down to nostalgia, especially as this set isn’t just a heap of new cards with returning faces. It also has ‘retro artifacts’, which are classic artifact cards from throughout MTG’s history with old-school borders. These retro artifacts aren’t Standard-legal like the rest of the set, but they are legal in both Draft and Sealed - where they’re often absurdly powerful yet a lot of fun to play with.
However, nostalgia isn’t what makes The Brothers’ War so enjoyable, not really. Instead, what we have here is an incredibly well-balanced and well-designed set that feels like Magic: The Gathering as it should be. It’s not a perfect set, but it shouldn't break any formats, the limited environment is varied and fulfilling, and there’s plenty here for lore fanatics too.
That’s no surprise really, as The Brothers’ War takes place during one of the greatest conflicts in MTG history: the battle between Urza and Mishra. For those not in the know, these two siblings have been integral to countless moments in Magic’s story, and are some of the most mythic of characters in the story, albeit not quite as popular as the likes of Nicol Bolas.
It’s not a huge surprise to see both Urza and Mishra in card form here, and it’s also not a huge surprise to see them as some of the more powerful cards in the set. They both show off a returning mechanic in the form of meld, which we’ve not seen since 2016’s Eldritch Moon, when the only things melding together were completely unwilling and often twisted forms of otherwise holy beings or just beings.
Urza, Lord Protector is a three-mana White and Blue 2/4 that makes some spells cheaper. You can pay seven mana to meld him with The Mightstone and Weakstone to create Urza, Planeswalker, who has a whopping five different abilities you can use - and you can choose to activate two abilities per turn instead of just one. It’s a mana-intensive affair, but there’s no denying the impact and power of this fusion.
The Brothers' War feels like Magic: The Gathering as it should be.
Meanwhile, Mishra, Claimed by Gix is a four-mana 3/5 that drains the life of your foes and can fuse with Phyrexian Dragon Engine to create Mishra, Lost to Phyrexia - one of our picks for the best cards in Brothers’ War. This version of Mishra is a 9/9 abomination that has six different abilities that trigger as it attacks, and you can choose three of them every time it does so.
Both of these cards feel true to the power level of the characters in the mythos of Magic: The Gathering, and it’s nice to see how both were corrupted by power in their own way in card form, becoming something inhuman in the process. We love a bit of meta-narrative in our card games.
Meld isn’t the only returning mechanic in The Brothers’ War, as unearth is also back. Unearth allows you to bring a creature back from the dead for a turn, give them haste and then exile them at the end of the turn or if they die. It’s a fun way to have threats available in your graveyard, and there are some interesting synergies in the set itself. That’s especially true of Meticulous Excavation, a card that allows you to pay three mana to put a permanent you control back in its owner’s hand. This wouldn’t normally stop an unearthed creature being exiled, but it literally has a clause on it that means you can get around that.
The brand new mechanics are a little more mixed. Powerstones are a new token type which can be tapped to add one colourless mana that can’t be used to cast a nonartifact spell. However, you can use them to fuel the abilities of your permanents on the board, so they can be a powerful source of mana. It’s not especially exciting, but it’s useful, especially with so many artifacts in this set.
Then we’ve got Prototype, which is just a blast. This mechanic allows you to cast some spells for a lower mana cost, and it changes their power and toughness. It’s a great way to have a creature spell scale up as you get more mana, and offers some huge potential plays when it comes to reanimation spells. It’s also lip-smackingly flavourful. We hope it sticks around beyond this set.
It’s the most consistent MTG set we’ve had this year by a fair way.
Also, there are Transformers, representing this set’s showing of MTG’s Universes Beyond pop-culture crossovers. While they’re technically part of the set, and obviously innately cool because they’re Transformers, we’d be lying if we said they didn’t feel overwhelmingly out of place. We love Optimus Prime as much as the next nerd, but unless Urza is building him, it’s an odd decision.
It feels nice to be able to wholeheartedly embrace a new Magic: The Gathering set without some kind of disclaimer in our impressions of it, but The Brothers’ War is just good. The only weakness here is when you find yourself up against a Wurmcoil Engine in a draft, but that’s mostly just jealousy on our part.
That aside, everything else about The Brothers’ War feels cohesive and solid. It’s the most consistent MTG set we’ve had this year by a fair way, with each mana colour feeling fun to use in limited, a good balance of absurd cards for every kind of player and plenty of power to be found at every rarity too. It’s just a very good set, and it does MTG’s lore and the game proud.