Last week, Mark Rosewater discussed the goals of March of the Machine: The Aftermath in his article. In short, we wanted to tell the story of the ramifications of the Phyrexian invasion across many planes before we head to Eldraine later this year. As designers, we wanted to see what fun we could have without the constraints of being tied to crafting a Limited environment while making Standard-legal content. For example, we felt we could be more ambitious with returning mechanics and in creating cards with specific goals that might otherwise feel like unsupported traps in a draft environment.

As discussions about this product developed, I was excited to focus on the de-sparked legendary creatures in the set. Many of these are particularly iconic characters in our game. While some Planeswalkers had been seen on pre-sparked legends previously, this would be the first time for most to be enjoyed as creatures rather than planeswalker cards.

There was some interest in having all the de-sparked legends share a mechanical identity, like using some past keyword for each of them or some other throughline. While we spent time on this exploration, I was skeptical that these constraints would be more charming than simply trying to use all the text to speak to the characters.

One process we use routinely involves sending out a request for design submissions for each set. We typically do this for about ten cards in each set. Those cards are then gathered for the set design lead to review with their team. For this set, we also heavily involved the Casual Play Design team. Who submitted each individual design remains anonymous until after cards have been selected to playtest as part of the set.

The submission process can be tricky since it's challenging to convey to a larger group our lessons learned for each mechanic and which cards in current or upcoming sets are already operating in similar design spaces. It can also be challenging to convey the background for new characters. But for these de-sparked legends, I was especially excited to see what my coworkers could do. The obstacles felt rather trivial here. Folks here would already know a lot about these characters and have their own favorites. They would be naturally invested in making versions of their favorite characters built to align with how they like to play Magic.

Forty-one people here submitted one or more cards to help us make these mythic rare legends. This was truly a huge team effort. Let's look at what submissions we started with for our de-sparked heroes and how they turned out after further iteration by our Play Design teams.

Submitted by Ethan Fleischer:

Nissa, Friend to Nature
Legendary Creature — Elf Druid
Whenever the second land enters the battlefield under your control on your turn, search your library for an Elemental card, reveal it, and put it into your hand. Then if the revealed card was named Ashaya, Soul of the Wild, you gain life equal to the number of lands you control.

Nissa, Resurgent Animist

There were several landfall submissions for this card. We liked the build-around nature of the Elemental callout here. We preferred a "reveal . . . until" structure to a search for more varied gameplay. Adding Elves into the mix felt like another fun, flavorful way to speak to the character. We wanted a first landfall trigger each turn, too, and felt like the iconic Lotus Cobra would be a good design callback.

Submitted by Noah Millrod:

Karn, Mastercraft Metalworker
Legendary Artifact Creature — Construct
CARDNAME's power and toughness are equal to the greatest mana value among artifacts you control.
T: Add C equal to CARDNAME's toughness. Spend this mana only to cast artifact spells or activate abilities of artifacts.

Karn, Legacy Reforged

We went with a very similar design here. We liked that this had a solid floor to its power level but would reward you for being ambitious in playing yet more impressively huge artifacts. We changed from a tap ability to a trigger to avoid some potential loops and tension with attacking and blocking. The Brothers' War Lead Set Designer Yoni Skolnik suggested we change the mana generation to the wording on Powerstones, which also felt like a good modification.

Submitted by Daniel Xu:

Tyvar, Scion of Skemfar
Legendary Creature — Elf Warrior
Attacking Elves you control have deathtouch.
Whenever an Elf you control deals combat damage to a player, add B. Until end of turn, you don't lose this mana as steps and phases end.
Whenever an Elf you control adds mana, put that many +1/+1 counters on it.

Tyvar the Bellicose

To start, we moved the first ability into a trigger so that removing Tyvar mid-attack would not be as devasting of a play against its controller. We modified the text some so that the card would not create a combo with Devoted Druid. We believed the card already had enough cool stuff going on that it didn't need the saboteur text.

Submitted by Daniel Xu:

Samut, Who Leads the Way
Legendary Creature — Human Warrior
Double strike, haste
Whenever a creature you control attacks, if it entered the battlefield this turn, draw a card.

Samut, Vizier of Naktamun

The heart of this design didn't change much. We adjusted rates and playtesting. We felt like it was more fun and appropriate for the creatures needing to connect in combat instead of just attacking. Switching from double strike to first strike allowed us to focus more strength on the rest of the rules text. I believe this is the first example of a card with exactly this trio of keywords and not others.

Submitted by Daniel Xu:

Ob Nixilis, the Cruel (rejected name: Ob Nixilis De-ignited)
Legendary Creature — Demon
Flying, trample
Whenever a player loses exactly 1 life, draw a card and put a +1/+1 counter on CARDNAME. (Damage causes loss of life.)

Ob Nixilis, Captive Kingpin

We loved the novel and torturous trigger condition here. We moved the card drawing into the exiling red impulsive draw. We changed it to not care about your own life loss, since that felt too easy with pain lands. We also moved to a "one or more" wording so as not to scale too well with Pestilence effects and so we could keep it strong enough for other fairer situations.

Submitted by Benjamin Weitz:

Narset, Monastery Abbot
Legendary Creature — Human Monk
Creatures you control have prowess.
Whenever Narset attacks, exile target instant or sorcery card from a graveyard with mana value less than or equal to Narset's power. You may cast that spell without paying its mana cost.

Narset, Enlightened Exile

This was a very popular design, both within my team and in other internal polling we did. We mostly only needed to clean up the wording so that the instant or sorcery wouldn't be resolving into your graveyard again and let you cast it repeatedly. The prowess hear is a cool take on another Dreadhorde Arcanist variant.

Submitted by Jacob Mooney:

Nahiri, Stonewarden
Legendary Creature — Kor Artificer
Affinity for Equipment (This spell costs {o1} less to cast for each Equipment you control.)
When Nahiri, Stonewarden enters the battlefield, choose one —
• Create X 1/1 white Kor Warrior creature tokens. For each of those tokens, you may attach an Equipment you control to it.
• Sacrifice an Equipment you control, then create X token copies of it and attach them to Nahiri. Exile those tokens at the beginning of the next end step.

Submitted by Glenn Jones:

Nahiri, Stoneblade Smith
Legendary Creature — Kor Warrior
Whenever CARDNAME attacks, exile the top X cards of your library, where X is the number of Equipment attached to it. You may play those cards this turn.
Equipment you control have "Equip legendary creature {o1}."

Nahiri, Forged in Fury

We really liked the affinity-for-Equipment idea. We also liked the red impulsive draw being tied to attacking with equipped creature(s). We liked the incentives of having the ability work off any equipped creature, not just for Nahiri, and in piling the Equipment onto Nahiri herself. Rather than reducing equip costs, we felt it would be more fun to reduce the costs of the Equipment to make sure you got the most out the trigger.

Submitted by Glenn Jones:

Sarkhan, Dragonmancer
Legendary Creature — Human Warrior
Dragon spells you control cost {o1} less to cast.
Whenever you cast a Dragon spell, you may have CARDNAME become a copy of that creature until end of turn, except it's 3/3.

Submitted by Carmen Handy:

Sarkhan, Draconic Destiny
Legendary Creature — Human Berserker
Ward 2
Dragon spells you cast cost 1 less to cast.
Whenever a Dragon enters the battlefield under your control, you may have CARDNAME become a copy of that Dragon, except it retains its other abilities and name.

Submitted by Andy Clautice:

Dragonlord Sarkhan 2
Legendary Creature — Dragon Human
Flying, haste
Whenever another Dragon you control enters the battlefield or attacks, you may have Dragonlord Sarkhan become a copy of that creature until end of turn, except its name is still Dragonlord Sarkhan and it's still legendary in addition to its other types.

Submitted by Ethan Fleischer:

Sarkhan, Dragon Ponyboy
Legendary Creature — Human Shaman
Dragon spells you cast cost 2 less to cast.
Whenever a Dragon enters the battlefield under your control, CARDNAME gets +1/+1, becomes a Dragon, and gains flying and haste until end of turn.

Sarkhan, Soul Aflame

When this many people submit a card this close to each other, it would be hard not to go in that direction. We mostly relied on feedback from other surveys in the building to pinpoint some of the other specifics here.


Kiora, Sovereign of the Deep

We didn't find any one design that really felt like the origin of the design we went with. Almost half of the designs referenced the whole sea monster squad, so we used that as affirmation that we should go that direction. We went our own direction as a design team in going the route of a giving you better and more reliable rewards the bigger you went with your sea creatures.


Calix, Guided by Fate

We tried out a design submission early on, but we hit issues with implementing it successfully. Ultimately, the Set Design team created a very different card here and the Casual Play Design team helped us refine the various abilities. I do very much like that we used constellation here and have a nod to enchanted creatures that feels evocative of past Theros sets.

I'm looking forward to seeing what you all can do with these cards. I hope you feel that we got your favorites correct. Thanks for reading!

Dave Humpherys