I became a little burnt out on Magic The Gathering last year. With so many new packs, mechanics, and styles, nothing settled long enough to really enjoy everything new. Though they are still being regularly released, March of the Machine furthers what recent packs have thrived in - continuity.
Each pack now feels like a new arc in a story, working together to recontextualise and justify past decisions. Given how fast they come out, this is a wonderful decision that rewards returning players, but gives enough for newer players to go back and explore. New packs don't make older expansions feel obsolete, rewarding your own curiosity.
The new packs get a lot right and they need to with how big the story is. Though some of the new mechanics are less interesting than others and I've preferred the aesthetic of previous sets, this seems like an obvious crowd-pleaser.
There are three brand new mechanics with the March of the Machine set: Battle, Backup, and Incubate. Battle isn't just a new mechanic, it's an entirely new card type. They are displayed horizontally and are double-sided. The front side shows a battle and tends to show some kind of summon ability. You can then flip this by doing enough damage to it, giving you access to a special spell of some kind.
As you place the battle on someone else's field, it serves almost like a planeswalker in the way that you can focus attacks on it or the player. When placed on another player, it is your goal to take it out quickly. This adds a lot of politics to commander games, and can quickly overwhelm an opponent if you are smart about it.
Moving from here, Backup is a more straightforward mechanic. When a creature enters the battlefield, it can apply 1/1 counters to a friendly creature and gives a handful of effects that both creatures share until the end of turn. It's a nice snowball mechanic that goes especially well with White and Green creatures.
Turning the tide
Incubate is the last new mechanic, and this works particularly well with the brooding evil decks like Black that focus on creating and destroying life. With this, you essentially create a cocoon that you can transform into a 0/0 Phyrexian artifact. Alongside Incubate will be parameters, giving you special abilities or counters for incubating.
It choreographs your play in ways that give your opponents subtle advantages, but you can surprise them by building an army of tokens quickly. Fundamentally, all three of these mechanics fit the aesthetic of the new set well. Taking a more Marvel-style approach to the Magic The Gathering universe, March of the Machine is a multiverse story joining great evils with even greater goods.
Incubate really feels evil by giving you the ability to use the battlefield to place hosts, which can effectively hatch at any time. Backup allows troops to synergise and battles give you dynamic ways of attacking each other.
They all work well in their respective ways, and fit exactly like new mechanics should do: they incentivise changing the way you approach Magic, whilst knowing they won't stay around. They are small events that shape the meta for a few months until players move on to what is next.
As a singular celebration of everything Magic The Gathering is, March of the Machine works brilliantly. Artistically, March of the Machine feels cohesive, proudly displaying grand soldiers, knights, horrors, and more. Thematically, the set can come across a little shallow but it gets by in pure cool points. Though the art isn't quite as distinctive as some of the more recent expansions, it still works well with the new theme.
Unfortunately, the more ethically clear sides of the storyline can leave more morally grey characters on the sideline. This gives the art and story less room to play around with. If you want to roleplay the bad guy, incubating horrors and dismembering your opponents, March of the Machine is a really great time, but others can't indulge in that fun to the same extent.
Long term change
March of the Machine does manage to add almost equally to all five colours, giving some great cards all around. White cards like Sunfall are both a great board wipe and excellent for getting some tokens on the field. On the other side, Urabrask, the pure Red card, gives incredible value with a strong attacker that can transform into a game-changing Saga card.
Moving from here, the three-mana Thalia and the Gitrog Monster can sweep fields with mana and card draw, something that will really help when you're running a deck that is heavy on Green cards. Though it could perhaps play into the mix of colours better thematically, card choices are pretty superb.
A review set of March of the Machine was provided by Wizards of the Coast.