Doing the Aftermath
Many months back, I talked about how March of the Machine was going to fundamentally change Magic. I've had a lot of players ask what I meant by that. Today, I'm going to explain. I'm going to walk through many of the huge ramifications of the latest Phyrexian invasion, talk about what it means for larger Magic, introduce a new product (Epilogue Boosters), tell the story of what went into it, and show off a cool new preview card. (Not necessarily in that order.)
In my articles about designing March of the Machine, I talked about the scope of the story. The Phyrexians invaded every plane of the Multiverse; managed to compleat some amount of the natives of these planes, turning them into Phyrexians; and then fought tooth and nail to take over the planes, in many cases coming very close.
In the end, the good guys prevailed and the Phyrexians lost, but that doesn't mean they didn't do a lot of damage. They fundamentally altered the lives of almost every character and plane. We felt it was important to convey the events of the war and the impact it had on the Multiverse. The problem: it was too hard to do the former in a set while also doing the latter.
One of the challenging things about a trading card game is that it's tricky to tell sequential events where you want to guarantee players see thing A before thing B. Our usual trick is to put them in separate sets, but the way this story played out, we didn't have that chance. The big finale "event set" wanted to be about the event, but the impact of the event on the Multiverse was so important that it made us realize we needed another product to convey it.
So, before I get to how we made March of the Machine: The Aftermath, let me run through the major ramifications of the Phyrexian war:
1. A Lot of Characters Died
Just because the Phyrexians were not successful doesn't mean that the victory didn't come at a great cost. As you could see in March of the Machine, many characters (and creatures) were Phyrexianized. While not every single Phyrexianized creature died (there are some future stories to be told), most of them did.
In addition, many other characters, who weren't Phyrexianized, died fighting in the war. Saving the Multiverse came with a lot of sacrifices. Cards in Epilogue Boosters will talk about (and in some cases hint at) some of these deaths. Above, for example, is a card we already previewed that shows the funeral of King Kenrith and Queen Linden from Eldraine.
2. Most Characters Lives Were Radically Changed
The latest Phyrexian war was not an event most people had the option of sitting out. Most characters actively fought against the Phyrexians. They watched friends and family get compleated and die. They saw their planes fundamentally change (more on this in a second). And they lived through probably the most nightmarish event of their lives. It had a huge impact on people's lives, and it will have ripples throughout the stories of characters for the rest of Magic. Cards in Epilogue Boosters will show you how some of them fared.
3. Most Planes Were Fundamentally Altered
A plane is shaped by its conflicts, and the Phyrexian war was the largest conflict almost every plane had ever seen. As you will see when we revisit planes, the Phyrexian war impacted and reshaped it. It has become an integral part of the identity of each plane. There's now a "before the war" and "after the war." How it impacted each plane will vary, but its impact will have huge ramifications on many of the planes.
March of the Machine: The Aftermath will give you some teasers about the impact on some of the planes, but you won't get the full picture of the cosmological changes until we revisit the planes. First up will be Eldraine with Wilds of Eldraine, followed by Ixalan in Lost Caverns of Ixalan. As you will see, both planes were hugely affected by the war. (For starters, on Eldraine, as mentioned above, the king and queen died.)
4. Zhalfir Is Now Its Own Plane
While there are a lot of negative impacts of the war, there are some positive outcomes as well.
Zhalfir was finally freed from limbo (which Teferi stuck them in many years ago), and instead of returning to Dominaria, it got swapped with New Phyrexia. That means the land is Zhalfir, but the sky is New Phyrexia/Mirrodin (with its the five suns).
What does this mean for Zhalfir and how will this new home impact their world? March of the Machine: The Aftermath teases it a little, but it will be an open question for future Magic to answer.
5. New Phyrexia Is Locked Away
New Phyrexia is now trapped in limbo. What does that mean for the Phyrexians? Will we ever see them again? Only time will tell. While the Phyrexian's influence is felt in March of the Machine: The Aftermath, no Phyrexians appear in it.
The next point is so big that I'm going to show you my preview card before revealing what it is.
Click here to see Spark Rupture
In Alpha, Richard Garfield made cards that animated both artifacts and lands. We would later animate enchantments. While we've made planeswalkers that can turn themselves into creatures, and there are card combinations that can do it, we've yet to make a card that lets you directly turn all your planeswalkers into creatures.
That is, until now.
Why? Because it's part of an important story point. As a result of the Phyrexian war, something big happened to many of the Planeswalkers.
6. Most of the Planeswalkers Lost Their Spark
One of the biggest cosmological impacts of the Phyrexian war and their invasion of the Multiverse through the Invasion Tree is that it caused most Planeswalkers to lose their sparks. This means in March of the Machine: The Aftermath and in many future Magic products, you'll see the Planeswalkers you've come to know on legendary creature cards.
7. There Are Now Omenpaths Allowing Non-Planeswalkers to Travel Between Planes
The biggest impact I've left for last.
Before the Mending, there were planar portals (a rarity in most cases) that allowed non-Planeswalkers to move between planes. The Mending changed that and shut down all the portals (save the Planar Bridge, but even that couldn't transport living tissue). The Phyrexian invasion—with the use of the Invasion Tree—has opened up Omenpaths (formerly only on Kaldheim) between many of the planes.
Now, the Omenpaths can vary quite a bit. Some can be tiny, some huge. Some permanent, some temporary. Some stable, some moving. They present a great risk for non-Planeswalkers, as there's no promise of a way back. And not every plane is connected to every other plane, so some trips can be quite a journey. All that said, traveling between planes is no longer limited to Planeswalkers.
While I can't give you details, this is going to have huge ramifications on the stories and the sets we build. There are numerous sets in design right now, for example, that we couldn't have made prior to this change, so this cosmological shake-up is going have a huge impact on the narrative Multiverse and the game.
Time for an Epilogue
Once we stepped back and realized how much of an impact the war was going to have on the Multiverse, we realized it was too much to just stick in March of the Machine. What we wanted was something like the extra scenes you see in Marvel movies during the credits. Just the opportunity to sum up a few things and to hint at where the story is going. Could we make a product that's part of March of the Machine but somehow separate? That's where the idea of the Epilogue Booster came from.
This happened in set design many months after I'd turned over the set from vision design. Dave Humpherys and his Set Design team were responsible for making the Epilogue Booster in addition to the main set. The two were made mostly side by side and were tested in the FFL (Future Future League, which tests future Magic Standard) at the same time.
Cards in Epilogue Boosters are Standard legal and were designed to help reinforce different decks in Standard, with a number boosting strategies that Play Design felt needed help.
The biggest challenge of making Epilogue Boosters was defining them. It wasn't something we'd ever made before, so there was nothing to copy, nothing to build off, nothing to act as inspiration. Magic design has its many challenges, but usually we're making something we've iterated on for decades. The first question was what's in it? Obviously, new Magic cards, but how many?
Dave worked with Emily Teng from the Creative team to make a list of things they wanted to show on cards. Okay, here's our post-credits scenes. What did we want to show?
We're wrapping up the Phyrexian storyline, and we wanted the opportunity to give you a last look at a bunch of characters and let you know what happened to them. Some die, some suffer dire consequences, some are coping, and a couple even have a (somewhat) happy ending. We needed to make some cards that showed you those story points.
Fill You in on Various Planes
The Phyrexian war had a giant impact on almost every plane. Let's make some cards that let you see the planes starting to recover and hint at the challenges each faces. In movies, there are often some scenes at the end that show characters coming to grips with the big events of the film. We wanted some cards with a similar vibe. We don't go into detail (as we'll do that in our various returns), but we wanted to give you a general sense. Again, the Phyrexians being defeated doesn't mean the victory didn't come at a very personal cost for many planes.
Peek in on Some De-Sparked Planeswalkers
One of the biggest reveals in March of the Machine: The Aftermath was the de-sparking of a huge number of Planeswalkers. We wanted a chance to have some cards of these characters now as legendary creatures.
Check in on Some Legendary Creatures
March of the Machine got a lot of legendary creatures on cards, but there were many unaccounted for. The Epilogue Booster could let players look in on some others to see how they fared in the war.
Hint at Future Storylines
While the Phyrexian war might be over, that doesn't mean there isn't trouble left in the Multiverse. The set could have some cards give subtle teases of other issues that will take center stage in future sets.
Make Some Cool Cards That Didn't Fit in March of the Machine
There was a lot going on in March of the Machine, and we couldn't fit in every cool design we came up with, so Epilogue Boosters were a good place to put some of those designs.
Show Off the New Omenpaths for the First Time
The Omenpaths are going to be an impetus for a lot of future stories, so this set gets a chance to visually show them off for the first time.
There was a lot of potential things to show, but we didn't want to make the set too big. The goal wasn't to make a whole second set. We just wanted something small to hit the highlights of what we just laid out.
After much discussion, we decided to make the set 50 cards (15 uncommons, 25 rares, and 10 mythic rares). We didn't make any commons because we didn't want as many cards in boosters. Since commons fill out the majority of boosters, including them wasn't the opening experience we wanted. When you are only making 50 cards, you want to make the higher rarity cards, so we decided to not have commons. Also, we decided early on that the booster wasn't going to be designed for Limited play (as there weren't enough cards to do so), so leaving commons out made even more sense.
The next big decision was to define the major focus of the set. We decided to focus on the de-sparked Planeswalkers. These are some of our biggest characters and the most unique story point of the product. The de-sparking happens at the end of the story. To hammer this home, we chose to make all ten mythic rare slots legendary creatures who formerly had planeswalker cards. A few of the characters have had a legendary creature card before, but the majority hadn't. This would also allow them to serve as Commanders for the first time.
Because we weren't concerned with Limited, we were allowed to make more creature cards than normal, so we also made a dozen rare legendary creatures that represented characters from across the Multiverse that we hadn't made cards for in March of the Machine.
For most of the rest of the cards, Dave turned to Emily, who made a long list of key things she'd like to see on cards to represent different story elements (with an effort to spread across a lot of different planes), which Dave and his team then top-down designed. The one other difference design-wise is that the epilogue cards are allowed to mention one of the named nonevergreen mechanics, much like we do in Commander decks.
Now let's get into the gritty details of what exactly you get when you purchase a March of the Machine: The Aftermath Epilogue Booster. As I said above, the set has 50 cards (15 uncommons, 25 rares, and 10 mythic rares). Each of the 50 cards has a Booster Fun version. The Booster Fun version will follow the frame used in March of the Machine based on what plane it is. There is one new frame, or should I say old frame. For the planar Booster Fun cards set on Zhalfir, we used the retro frame.
There's a traditional foil of each normal version and of each Booster Fun version. The Collector Boosters have a couple of other versions in addition. There's a foil-etched version of each normal card. There's a Halo foil (the same foiling found in normal March of the Machine) of each Booster Fun version. And there's an extended-art version in both non-foil and traditional foil.
Here's what shows up in each of the two different Epilogue Boosters.
Normal Epilogue Booster
(Five cards and an ad card/token)
- Slot 1: Non-foil uncommon with normal art
- Slot 2: Non-foil uncommon with normal art
- Slot 3: Non-foil rare or mythic rare with normal art
- Slot 4: Booster Fun card of any rarity (can be traditional foil or non-foil)
- Slot 5: Traditional foil card of any rarity with normal art
- Slot 6: Ad card/token
Collector Epilogue Booster
(Six cards and a traditional foil token)
- Slot 1: Traditional foil Booster Fun uncommon
- Slot 2: Foil-etched uncommon
- Slot 3: Traditional foil rare or mythic rare with normal art
- Slot 4: Extended-art rare or mythic rare (can be traditional foil or non-foil)
- Slot 5: Booster Fun rare or mythic rare (can be traditional foil or Halo foil)
- Slot 6: Foil-etched rare or mythic rare
- Slot 7: Traditional foil token
Again, the Epilogue Booster is not intended for Draft, which is why there's no separate "Draft" Epilogue Booster. All 50 cards will be Standard legal.
Before I wrap up for today, let me answer a few questions I expect to get.
Why so few cards per booster?
It's a combination of factors. There are only 50 cards in the set, and we want to make each booster exciting to open, so it was our best guess at the right number. It's a very different kind of product, so we're trying something new.
Are we going to have other Epilogue Boosters?
We're going to start by seeing how this one goes. The ongoing theme here is that we're playing in new space, something we don't have 30 years of history iterating on, so we want to see what players think of it.
Can you give us the list of all the de-sparked Planeswalkers?
No. This set tells of ten that have been de-sparked. Future sets will nod to those who aren't de-sparked by having them on planeswalker cards and those who are de-sparked by having them on legendary creature cards. We like the idea that the players will slowly learn this over time, and we think it will spawn much discussion.
Can you give us a full list of who died in the Phyrexian war?
That's another list that's going to slowly come out over time. We have a lot of Magic sets to make, including a lot of return sets to do, so we want the fate of some characters to be something that gets revealed through cards in sets. And remember, just because a character has disappeared from their own plane doesn't mean they're necessarily dead, as the Omenpaths now exist. Part of the fun of the new cosmology is having old favorites pop up in places you might not expect.
__________ Will Return
That's all the time I have for today. I hope this gave you all better insight into what March of the Machine: The Aftermath Epilogue Boosters are all about.
As always, if you have any thoughts on Epilogue Boosters, the characters and events of March of the Machine, or on today's column, you can email me or contact me through my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok).
Join me next week for the March of the Machine vision design handoff document.
Until then, may you find the storyline you're most intrigued by in March of the Machine: The Aftermath.