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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Apr 18 2023 10:27am

The finale of the Phyrexian arc is a giant event, with tons of planes covered and a new card type to boot. It’s also coming at an important place gameplay-wise, after Phyrexia: All Will Be One bombed out in Limited as the fastest format since original Zendikar. However, the plus side of hitting rock-bottom is that there’s nowhere to go but up, so let’s see how March of the Machine shakes things up, starting with the mechanics.




This is the big new mechanic for the set, and Magic as a whole—it’s not every day a new card type is introduced. However, I’m extremely worried that in terms of gameplay the battles are just a variant on sorceries, since most of them are costed extremely aggressively on the front side, and the ones that aren’t are removal and/or help you get through to defeat the battles. One thing that’s clear is that you’ll see a lot of them, since they’re mostly evenly spread throughout the colors (with a slight emphasis in red and green) and there’s one in every pack.



This is the fourth time we’ve seen Convoke, and the main difference this time is that it’s focused in red and blue, colors that have seen exactly two Convoke spells (and Chief Engineer) up to this point. We’ll talk more about the (lack of) strength in these cards in the archetype, but the biggest thing I’m worried about is the lack of creature support in these colors. Convoke was kept out of these colors for a reason, and Preening Champion, Ral's Reinforcements, and Saiba Cryptomancer (basically an instant that leaves a meaningless body behind) can only do so much.



If there’s ever a mechanic that screams “constrained by lack of design space” it’s this one. I’m surprised there aren’t any repeated mechanics outside of “obvious constructed pushes” Boon-Bringer Valkyrie and Archpriest of Shadows, but that means we also get weird choices like Streetwise Negotiator, Enduring Bondwarden, and Scorn-Blade Berserker. It’s also pretty evenly spread among the non-blue colors despite red/white being the backup archetype, which is another sign of how thinly things were stretched.



Incubate is an interesting take on creature tokens, especially since they can be transformed at instant speed (a choice I’m surprised modern Wizards made to be honest, especially considering the Phyrexian DFCs are sorcery-speed). They’re also being made very efficiently, with Eyes of Gitaxias, Ichor Drinker, and Traumatic Revelation being some of the more obvious common examples. The mechanic is spread through all five colors with each getting at least two commons, though there’s more of a focus in white and black at higher rarities.


Other Double-Faced Cards:

There are a ton of non-battle DFC’s in this set, and all of them have a mana cost to transform, mostly involving a Phyrexian mana of a different color than the card. I want to default to that being a late-game manasink (especially if I’m not playing that color), and thus for most cards you should purely evaluate them on the front side. I’m also wondering about there being so many mana sinks in this set, between Incubate, natural costs for Convoke cards, and these DFCs, so I don’t think you need to prioritize having a late game.


Multiverse Legends:

It’s bonus sheet time again, and we’re explicitly going for impact with legendary creatures. Obviously not everything is a mythic, but even uncommon legends are pushed, especially since many of them are coming from strange places like Commander Legends (Imoti, Celebrant of Bounty) or Masters downshifts (Zada, Hedron Grinder). Overall it does mean there’s a lot of Theros, Kamigawa, and Dominaria representation, and only a few directly connect to the set’s themes. The other important batch of cards is the entire cycle of Companions being reprinted, which will add a lot of color to the limited environment (and give all of them updated reminder text in paper, which is a nice add-on effect).



White/Blue: Knight Tribal

Marshall of Zhalphir is one of the strongest uncommons lords in a while (remember when Merfolk Mistbinder was pushing boundaries just by being a two-mana 2/2?), but there’s actually more nuance to this archetype than just “play a bunch of creatures and smash.” Instead, there’s a bit of knight-fall (Swordsworn Cavalier, Zhalfirin Knight) and the creatures are bigger than you might expect (lots of four-toughness, and 2/2’s are the creature token). I think the fact that each creature is a meaningful threat on its own is the main selling point here, with Protocol Knight and Knight of the New Coalition the most blatant examples. I think the intersection of Vigilance and Convoke (or Raff, Weatherlight Stalwart) is another crucial interaction here: Thunderhead Squadron looks overpriced to me (compare it to Conclave Equenaut, an almost 18 year old card that was average back in original Ravnica), but if it’s actually good enough that improves this archetype a lot. I think it’s a middle-of-the-pack archetype, though if it’s the fastest archetype in the format with a lot of tempo-focused removal (Ephar’s Dispersal, Temporal Cleansing, and multiple battles)), that could bump it up.


Blue/Black: Mill Value

This is a strange archetype, as all the mill cards mill both players and it includes both stuff that wants your graveyard to be filled (Ichor Drinker, Halo-Charged Skaab) and Eldraine-style threshold cards (Tenured Oilcaster, Expedition Lookout). The weirdest part is that its strength isn’t in those synergies but instead just by rate. The signposts Halo Forger and Invasion of Amonkhet are strong, and minor synergies like Nezumi Freewheeler and Rona, Sheoldred's Faithful are strong as well. The biggest question is whether it’s worth going all the way, as Tenured Oilcaster is a rate monster if you get your opponent to threshold, but that seems harder than average (notably, a large proportion of good sorceries are battles that won’t go to the graveyard easily). Either way, this deck seems worth experimenting with.


Black/Red: Sacrifice

Here we go again. However, this feels like a fundamental flipping of the archetype, as while most Rakdos Sacrifice decks have an abundance of payoffs but not as much fodder, this has a ton of fodder but not many payoffs. Between Incubate tokens, Ral's Reinforcements, and tiny value creatures like Nezumi Informant and Skittering Surveyor, you have plenty to sacrifice, and other creatures that want to die like Etched Familiar help as well. However, beyond Stormclaw Rager (which seems extremely above the curve) and other average cards like Akki Scrapchomper and Dreg Recycler, there aren’t ways to reliably use your fodder. Similarly, Juri, Master of the Revue is a crazy payoff for things being sacrificed, but the other non-rare payoffs are lackluster like Ichor Shade. I think this archetype gets there mostly because the removal is extremely strong: Deadly Derision, Final Flourish, and Volcanic Spite are all efficient, instant-speed options (relevant in a world where battle defense is important), and the uncommon options are also good. Combined with all the value you can get (and absurd signposts), this looks like an early best archetype of the set.


Red/Green: Battles Ramp

This is obviously the biggest question mark, as it’s not clear how good battles are to attack, even if you’re getting big benefits like War-Trained Slasher and Rampaging Geoderm. It’s also not clear how many battles you’re supposed to play: Invasion of Zendikar and Invasion of Ergamon point towards a five-color strategy that splashes battles, but I don’t know if you should be spending all of your time attacking battles rather than your opponents (notably, there are multiple extremely strong wraths at rare in this format with Sunfall, Invasion of Fiora, and Invasion of Karsus that punish over-extending). It’s also interesting to see if you should be prioritizing cards that kill battles: Invasion of Regatha seems strong for that and giving Volcanic Spite and Shatter the Source the option to let your battle ambush an attacking creature is also interesting, but again, any damage you spend on a battle isn’t going towards your opponents, which is the fundamental hurdle for the card type as a whole (and it doesn’t have the same impact as killing a planeswalker, the obvious analog). I’d hope this deck is at least playable since the set is being built around the mechanic, but we’ve seen Wizards miss before (*cough*Werewolves*cough*), so you can’t rely on that. Maybe that’s a reason to play and learn about it regardless.


Green/White: +1/+1 Counters

This feels like the filler archetype for this set, combining Backup cards, Incubate, and other cards that grant counters like Placid Rottentail and Storm the Seedcore. There aren’t many explicit synergies (only Kami of Whispered Hopes and Botanical Brawler below rare in these colors), but extra power itself is a benefit. Those also want you to go wide more than tall (with Shanna, Sisay's Legacy making it explicit), which works perfectly with Invasion of Moag and Renata, Called to the Hunt. This seems fine, but there’s nothing really pulling you here besides raw power.


White/Black: Phyrexian Tribal

This feels like the obvious set to have a Phyrexian tribal theme, since there are enough creatures for it to matter but the entire set isn’t full of Phyrexians. However, it doesn’t seem like there’s much pulling the theme together. Sure, Phyrexian Awakening, Norn's Inquisitor, and Gift of Compleation are fine on the base rate beyond the lasting bonus, but whenever I look at any Phyrexians, I see expensive cards and/or cards I have to spend extra mana on. The only natural Phyrexians below four mana at common are Alabaster Host Sanctifier, Dreg Recycler, Etched Familiar, Ichor Drinker, and Ichor Shade, and most of those are pointed towards the sacrifice deck (though I’d still play some of them here). This format is looking to be slower than average, but I don’t know if it can be this slow.


Blue/Red: Convoke

As I mentioned before, most of the Convoke spells seem very weak—in general the good ones are generally one mana more expensive than normal, while here most of the impactful spells are closer to two mana more expensive. Even ignoring that a lot of the spells are clunky—I’m not sure I’d want to play spells like Artistic Refusal, Ramosian Greatsword, and Astral Wingspan (remember, the removal is good and instant-speed in this set) even if they were a mana cheaper—you also have to take a lot of your shields down (risky in a format with battles and a ton of haste) to cast sorcery-speed Convoke cards. The archetype wants you to actively play a lot of Convoke spells with direct payoffs like Joyful Stormsculptor, creatures with Vigilance, and token producers. I still don’t think this deck is good, but the Convoke cards are so overcosted in my eyes it feels like it’s a me problem—or Wizards made a late nerf, or this format is a lot lower power than recent sets.


Black/Green: Incubate Ramp

Another “filler” archetype, this deck is built around big stuff, particularly large Incubate spells. The problem is that I think this is the wrong set for it. Yes, cards like Wildwood Escort, Tangled Skyline, and Gloomfang Marauder are worth their high mana costs, but this is a set where you don’t have to invest a ton of mana at once into one spell. Instead, the DFC Phyrexians and cards like Converter Beast are a more efficient way to use mana, and I don’t want to spend five or more mana in one shot for multiple cards (or for Elvish Vatkeeper’s ability) in most cases. There is support for things like ramp (Invasion of Zendikar and landcyclers) and a decent amount of Surveil to help smooth your draws, but it seems extremely clunky overall.


There’s another interesting archetype in black/green built around a Multiverse Legend: Fynn, the Fangbearer. Both Aetherblade Agent and Serpent-Blade Assassin are good commons with deathtouch (with the latter even granting it to other creatures), so it could be worth focusing on if you get the legend early.


Red/White: Backup

This is a fairly straightforward archetype, where you’re playing the efficient Backup creatures and using them to get value faster through spreading evasion and good abilities like Bola Slinger. There are also good outlets to put counters on like Kithkin Billyrider and Karsus Deathguard. I think this deck is fine, though I’m interested in a sub-archetype enabled by the Multiverse Legends: Equipment. Valduk, Keeper of the Flame and Reyav, Master Smith are good payoffs, and there’s a decent amount of cheap equipment with Kor Halberd, Beamtown Beatstick, and Mirran Banesplitter that is worth playing on its own. I don’t think it’s dense enough to build a deck around and you might not be able to afford spots for equipment in a heavy backup deck, but it’s an interesting idea overall.


Green/Blue: Double-Faced Cards

This is the most interesting archetype, as between packs having multiple DFCs and Incubate making double-faced tokens, there’s finally enough density to make transform an archetype in and of itself. The problem is that I’m not sure the specific payoffs are that good. Sure, cards like Overgrown Pest and Invasion of Pyrulea are fine on their own, but you don’t need as many DFCs for them to be playable. Conversely, the rewards for going all-in like Mutagen Connoisseur and Corruption of Towashi are extremely clunky. The other problem is that most of the DFCs are so good every deck in their (primary) colors wants them, so you won’t get ten or more cards (even counting Incubate cards) to really go off with the payoffs.


Three-Plus Color Archetypes:

Between a full set of gainlands, Skittering Surveyor, and a cycle of land cyclers, it’s easy to play a ton of colors in this format. Some of the trios also have natural synergies, like a red/white/green counters deck or a black/red/white sacrifice deck, but this also leads to more splashes, especially since the format is slower than average. Don’t be afraid of playing more than two colors, especially if you have the support.


Other Important Cards:

The main cycle that hasn’t been mentioned yet is the enemy color hate cycle, which vary in their playability (Change the Equation is strictly sideboard, Sandstalker Molach is easily playable in any deck that can handle 1GG, and the others fall within that range). There’s also a ton of removal, and while you don’t need me to tell you Volcanic Vision, Deadly Derision, and Seal from Existence are good, the artifact/enchantment removal is better than average, as Sunder the Gateway is extremely good (especially since it’s always at least a 2/2 for 2), and Atraxa's Fall hits enough to be maindeckable. Combined with sacrifice outlets and Scrollshift, removal auras are worse than average, even high-quality ones like Realmbreaker's Grasp. Finally, while the land cyclers may seem redundant in a format with a ton of other mana sinks, they’re all extremely good (especially Alabaster Host Intercessor, which is a crazy common).



As I mentioned in the opening, it would be hard for this set to be worse than Phyrexia: All Will Be One, but it looks like it’s up to the challenge, and not just because it looks to be a lot slower than that set. The mechanics are interesting, and there’s a lot of gameplay and decisions to make (so much so that I’m worried the less-invested audience will be turned off by the set). It’s a shame that this cycle is going to be cut off by Lord of the Rings, since it looks like it could sustain games for a while.


Speaking of Lord of the Rings, I’m not sure what my plans are for that set. I normally should cover something like a Modern Horizons set, but I have basically no interest in it at all (and if they weren’t trying to warp Modern with it between FIRE and explicit plants like Reprieve, I would have no interest). I’m also having major life upheavals at the moment, so I’ll play by ear if I do an article on it. I also said I won’t do predictions for Commander Masters, but I’ll likely do something on it—maybe a Report Card-style look at the reprints? And then for Wilds of Eldraine, that’s so far in the future I don’t know if I’ll still be doing articles at all. I assume I’ll write at least one more article, but depending on where my life goes I might be winding down here. Until then.