Thanks to a cryptic tease and plenty of leaked cards last year, MTG players have known for some time that change is on the horizon. First teased my MTG’s Lead Designer, Mark Rosewater, the hype for this monumental change has steadily increased. In a recent MTG Arena Announcements post, for instance, Wizards stated that “in 2023, Magic will be changed forever, so buckle up, steel yourself, gird your loins, and all the other metaphors to prepare for what’s to come!” From this statement alone it’s clear that Wizards is up to something, however, it’s not exactly clear what.
Due to the cryptic nature of Wizards’ teases and the general distrust of the company right now, many players have been fearing the worst. There was some concern, for instance, that this monumental story change would make the controversial Universes Beyond cards cannon. Thankfully, Mark Rosewater was quick to shoot down these rumors, confirming that no such change was on the cards. Instead, according to Rosewater, the major changes will affect both the gameplay and story of MTG in some mysterious way. Expected to occur in March of the Machine, very little is known about these changes so far, however, players have been given some hints.
Mystery of the Machine
The first major hint that MTG players picked up on was the obvious tease within Atraxa, Grand Unifier. First leaked in Spanish, MTG players would quickly realize this Phyrexian Angel referenced a brand new card type. Known as Battle, this reference was no accident, as it was a purposeful tease of what was to come. Interestingly, this isn’t the first time that Wizards of the Coast has spoiled a new card type in this way. Back in 2007’s Future Sight, Tarmogoyf teased the arrival of Planeswalker cards ahead of their Lorwyn release. Similarly to the tease from Tarmogoyf, unfortunately, Atraxa, Grand Unifier doesn’t reveal anything more than the new mechanic’s name. Subsequently, MTG players have been speculating to no end about what this new card type could actually be.
The most popular suggestion about what battle could be centered around the scrapped Skirmish mechanic. Initially proposed for War of the Spark, this mechanic introduced a new “game board” to represent a field of combat. By performing specific actions, or meeting conditions, players would progress across this Skirmish board toward the opponent’s side. After advancing enough, a player would win the Skirmish, netting them some kind of additional reward. When envisioned by Mark Rosewater, this mechanic was designed to raise the stakes of War of the Spark’s combat. Ultimately, however, the mechanic was scrapped because “it didn’t capture the essence of what we were trying to do with the set.”
While Skirmish was scrapped for War of the Spark, March of the Machine promises to be a similarly high-stakes war for Magic’s multiverse. Subsequently, alongside the naming similarities, players seem convinced that Battle cards are reworked Skirmish cards. As exciting as this new card type would be, however, it appears Battles might not be the prophesied gameplay change.
While the Skirmish mechanic returning as Battle cards would certainly be exciting, ultimately, it could just be a new mechanic. If this is the case, Battle cards, sadly, wouldn’t be anything to get too excited about. After all, typically, we’ll see two or three brand-new mechanics with the release of every MTG set. Phyrexia: All Will Be One, for instance, features four new mechanics, Toxic, Corrupted, For Mirrodin!, and Oil Counters. Even new card types aren’t entirely unheard of in MTG, as Unfinity has introduced the Eternal legal Attraction extra deck. For better or worse, however, while Battle could just be another mechanic, it appears major gameplay changes are still in the works. Thanks to the leaked Ria Ivor, Bane of Bladehold, it appears that MTG’s combat system could be getting reworked.
At first glance, Ria Ivor, Bane of Bladehold’s “Battle cry” and damage mitigation abilities, appears to be pretty ordinary. Giving the card a second look, however, the specific wording of Ria Ivor’s rules text starts to stand out. Noticed by Reddit user u/Sp00ky_Skelet0nz, the reference to dealing combat damage to “one or more players this combat” is rather unique. Subsequently, u/Sp00ky_Skelet0nz looked to ask the community for clarification, as this wording doesn’t appear in any other card’s oracle text.
“Now I could be mistaken, but is this the first time a card has referenced a single creature doing combat damage to more than one players? I do not think WOTC would try to make this already pretty big text box bigger without having a legitimate rules reason to do so. I just wanted to get the communities opinion on this. If I am missing a ruling or there is some sort of backwater way of achieving this please let me know.”u/Sp00ky_Skelet0nz
In the comments of the post, several players joined u/Sp00ky_Skelet0nz in suspecting something was afoot. Reddit user u/Plungerdz, for instance, commented, “interesting analysis. I really wonder if the wording means anything for the future.” Meanwhile, u/johnreusch proposed that “it may just end up being that Battles can change when and/or how combat damage is applied.” Despite these speculative suggestions, however, other players pointed out this could just be a rules quirk.
“This is to account for effects that redirect damage being dealt. For example, if my 3/3 creature swings at Bob and Bob casts Harms Way to redirect two of the damage, this clause applies, because now it’s one creature with one source of damage dealing it to two different players at the same time.”u/Taysir385
Ultimately, despite all the rampant speculation, we don’t actually know what’s in store for March of the Machine. Yes, battle cards have been confirmed, but we still don’t know what they are or if they’ll impact MTG’s rules. Similarly, we don’t know if the weird wording on Ria Ivor, Bane of Bladehold actually means anything for the future, or if it’s just a rules quirk. Unfortunately, we likely won’t know more until the Set Debut Livestream for March of the Machine. This is likely to occur on the 28th of March, however, an exact date has not yet been confirmed. In the interim, what we do know is that March of the Machine’s story will have some serious consequences.
Following on from the end of Phyrexia: All Will Be One’s story, it appears that Elesh Norn actually wins. Activating the Phyrexian world tree, Realmbeaker, planes will soon be forcibly merged with one another. Depicted in March of the Machine’s box art, this act will obviously have some enormous consequences for MTG’s future. That is, so long as this major story event doesn’t get reversed in March of the Machine: The Aftermath. For better or worse, at the moment, it’s far too early to tell what March of the Machine will contain. Major story and gameplay changes have been teased and hyped up, but whether or not they’ll live up to the growing expectation remains to be seen.
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