The Spoilers March On

Christian "Sir EPIC" takes a look at the March of the Machines cards and mechanics that have been spoiled so far and how they might impact Pioneer.

The End of an Era

Some of the most exciting times for Magic players are when a new set is spoiled or an arc of the Magic story reaches its climax and conclusion. With March of the Machines being the first time since the release of War of the Spark in 2019 that a long-spanning arc in the lore will come to an end, it has become one of the most anticipated sets of the last couple of years for many people. 

Between new and returning mechanics and, of course, new cards, there is a lot to break down even just a couple days into the spoiler season. Let’s break all of this down, and take a look at the impact these early spoilers could have on Pioneer on April 21 when the set releases.

New Mechanic: Incubate

Incubate is an interesting mechanic that creates a token with +1/+1 counters on it, and allows the controller to pay two mana to transform it into a 0/0 Phyreian creature which retains those +1/+1 counters. We see this mechanic explained on Merciless Repurposing and showcased in The Argent Etchings – the Saga on the backside of Elesh Norn

In evaluating Incubate through the lens of the Pioneer format, the biggest question is: what are the Incubate Tokens worth? 

While Merciless Repurposing will likely not see Pioneer play due to its high mana cost, the card helps us understand how much mana one Incubate Token costs. In this case, black Pioneer-legal exile effects with no upside or downside typically cost four mana. This makes the 3/3 creature we eventually get from it cost four mana (the two mana difference between a vanilla exile effect and the six-mana cost of the card plus the two mana it costs to transform the artifact into a creature), which is a little inefficient. However, being able to break up the cost and being able to transform it at instant speed could be extremely relevant especially when playing around sweepers. 

Returning Mechanic: Transform

With nearly every plane the Magic story has ever visited being affected by the Phyrexian Invasion, impactful characters from every plane have become compleated. Various cards are showcased throughout the set with transform abilities. While some of the showcased Praetors have the ability to transform into Sagas, various other characters throughout the history of Magic have become Phyrexian. While there are creatures transforming into more powerful versions when compleated, this is the first set with creatures transforming into Sagas. Elesh Norn is a prime example of this.

Elesh Norn is a 3/5 Phyrexian Praetor with Vigilance. It has the static ability “Whenever you or a permanent you control takes damage, its controller loses two life unless they pay one mana”. This effect, on its own, forces opponents to limit how they attack and block, as paying one mana for each source of damage becomes taxing extremely quickly. In addition, this card is a nightmare for Sacrifice decks, as it becomes almost impossible to win, as Mahem Devil has to target something every time a permanent is sacrificed. 

On top of having a static ability that can hinder various gameplans, Elesh Norn can transform into a Saga called The Argent Etchings. This Saga generates five Incubator Tokens that immediately transform into 2/2 Phyrexians, making up for the loss of four creatures it took to get you here (Elesh Norn plus the three creatures you have to sacrifice to flip her). The following turn, all of your creatures will have +1/+1 and double strike. If Elesh Norn finds a home in Pioneer, expect to see it in go-wide decks, as it generates five token creatures and the anthem is a perfect finisher for these styles of decks. 

New Mechanic: Battle

The easiest way to view the Battle mechanic is to see it as a spell that provides value when it enters the battlefield and then becomes a pseudo-Planeswalker that your opponent controls. I say “psuedo-Planewswalker” as you can swing your creatures at it, deal damage to it and destroy it with cards that destroy Battles or non-land permanents generally.

Upon defeating the Battle that you put under your opponent’s “Protection”, you’ll get an additional benefit in the form of a permanent or sorcery. With the Battles currently revealed as only being sorcery-speed, it will be important to evaluate how much value you can get upon it entering the battlefield and whether that value can help get you to the other side of the card.

Invasion of New Phyrexia is a perfect example of a card that provides value immediately upon casting and transforms into a powerful permanent. 

When first cast, Invasion of New Phyrexia generates multiple creatures that are able to attack the Battle, allowing it to transform into a card advantage engine. As both sides are finishers on their own, this could be a solid inclusion to various Pioneer control decks, as the multiple creatures allow control decks to pressure their opponent’s life total, and the card selection that Teferi provides allows control decks to dig to find additional cards that are important to close out the game.

Returning Mechanic: Convoke

While Convoke doesn’t see much play in Pioneer, it is a welcomed sight to see the return of the mechanic. These types of cards tend to see play in aggressive-leaning decks, as they tend to have the resources to lessen the cost of the spell.

As such, Stoke the Flames is a perfect card to showcase what the mechanic has done in the past: being an excellent card in aggressive red decks, as it can be cast for zero mana if four creatures are tapped. 

New Mechanic: Backup

Archpriest of Shadowsis one of the first cards previewed with Backup. Being a 4/4 Deathtoucher that can reanimate on its own is already very powerful., but being able to give a smaller creature these same abilities can help decks that want to reanimate powerful creatures from the graveyard.

The biggest concern with Backup is how many points of interaction there are. The spell can be countered while it’s still on the stack or the creature that is being targeted with the counter can be removed before it gains any additional effect. As such, while looking at cards spoiled with Backup, it is important to see which cards are more difficult to interact with, as those will be the ones that have the highest likelihood of seeing play. 

Returning Mechanic: Basic Landcycling

While Landcycling is a mechanic we often see in Commander sets, it is coming to Pioneer for the first time! Although the mechanic does give flexibility to overcosted cards – as they can become lands in the early game – these cards typically don’t see play unless there are other means of interacting with them. In order for cards with Landcycling to see play in Pioneer, they would have to be on an already-efficient card that decks are comfortable discarding early on in order to reduce the number of lands in the deck. 

New Cards

Invasion of Ikoria 

When it comes to creature-tutor effects of the past, one of the best grabs has always been a mana dork. Invasion of Ikoria is no different. Ikoria allows Mono-Green Devotion to have a line where they can play a turn-one mana dork, play Invasion on turn two, and, with a Nyxthos, Shrine to Nyx in play, cast Storm the Festival with the four devotion plus the two mana dorks. While Mono-Green was already able to do this with certain hands, having additional consistency when it comes to one of its most powerful starts will always give any archetype a boost, and Mono-Green is no different. 

Polukranos Reborn

In addition to Invasion of Ikoria, Mono-Green is receiving another potential tool in Polukranos Reborn. Being a 4/5 with reach while adding three devotion, Polukranos gives the deck a great blocker to stall the board while it builds up its gameplan. In addition, Polukranos is one of the Compleated Legendaries in the set (which means it can transform). In the case of Polukranos, six mana and a Phyrexian/White can be paid to turn it into a Phyrexian Hydra at sorcery speed. While losing the devotion on the backside can be tricky, you’re rewarded with a Hydra lord and additional protection against sweepers, as whenever a creature dies, you get a Wurmcoil Engine-esque effect, making two 3/3 Hydras – one with Reach and the other with Lifelink. 

Invasion of Tarkir

In essence, Invasion of Tarkir is a card we’ve seen before: a two-mana spell that deals two damage and has an upside. In this case, it can deal more damage in a Dragon-focused deck. However, it can transform into a finisher, allowing the card to act as a flexible card in aggressive-leaning midrange decks. The stats on the back are nothing to scoff at, being a 4/4 flying trampler that, when attacks, deals two damage to anything. This can easily swing a race or close out a game, but the five points of damage required to flip it into the creature is a bit daunting. 

Marching Forward

In all, March of the Machines is looking to become one of the most impactful sets storywise since War of the Spark, and the cards in the set seem to be living up to those expectations. With the completion of a 20-year cycle, a new and exciting card type, and team-ups happening across the multiverse, this set has something for anyone. Now, the only thing left for us players is to enjoy the remainder of the spoiler season and prepare for the Aftermath of March of the Machines as it affects the Pioneer metagame. 

  • Christian "Sir EPIC"

    Guest Author

    Christian, aka Sir EPIC, has been playing Magic since the days of Kaladesh and enjoyed Frontier before Pioneer existed. Naturally, when Pioneer was announced, he fell in love with the format - a love that is only exceeded by his love for Enchantments. Today, you can find him making Enchantments work at the highest level possible.

Liked it? Take a second to support PlayingMTG on Patreon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *