Welcome to the first week of March of the Machine card previews. Today, I'm going to introduce the Exploratory and Vision Design teams, start telling the story of March of the Machine's design, and then show off two preview cards. Hope that sounds fun.

Lean, Mean Designing Machines

Before I can talk about how we made the set, I'd like to start by introducing the teams (at least for the beginning part of the design—I'll introduce the Set Design team next week).

Click here to meet the Exploratory and Vision Design teams


As always, I have the lead of the Vision Design team introduce the Exploratory and Vision Design teams. In the case of March of the Machine, that person is me.

Chris Mooney (strong second – exploratory and vision)

Chris was scheduled to lead the vision design of Wilds of Eldraine (their first premier vision design lead), so I wanted them to be the strong second for the set to get some hands-on experience putting a file together. They fulfilled that role for all of exploratory design and the start of vision. We ended up starting Wilds of Eldraine's design a bit faster than expected (due to behind-the-scenes scheduling issues), so the position of strong second was passed onto Ari after Chris left the team to focus on Wilds of Eldraine. Chris was one of the finalists in Great Designer Search 3 and has been an invaluable member on numerous design teams. They have a great insight for seeing design ideas that are exciting but not obvious. I was glad to have them by my side for this design.

Ari Nieh (strong second – exploratory and vision)

Ari is also from Great Designer Search 3, which she won. Ari led vision design for The Brothers' War and has been on a lot of design teams, and I value her willingness to question everything and force the team to reevaluate decisions. It's easy in design to get locked into an idea and pursue it in place a potentially better idea that went left unexplored. March of the Machine was a major undertaking and needed that questioning more than the average design. Ari would stay on for some of set design to help transition the file.

Annie Sardelis (exploratory)

Annie transitioned from the Creative team to design, and I wanted to expose her to the various parts of design. She would go on to lead the vision design for "Swimming" (coming out in 2024). Annie approaches every design team with an enthusiastic vigor and has insights that always help us push the design in new and exciting directions. March of the Machine was a big ask (as you'll see), so I was happy the Exploratory team had her unique vantage point.

Dan Musser (vision)

Dan is the play designer on most Vision Design teams. He's gotten very good at determining whether a mechanic will be something that can be balanced down the road. It's easy to get cool ideas that functionally won't work, so you want your Vision Design team to have someone that can point out future pitfalls. That's Dan's job, and he does it well.

Dave Humpherys (vision)

Dave was the set design lead for March of the Machine. When he leads the set design, he likes to be on the Vision Design team. He and I have worked together on several sets (Amonkhet, Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, Dominaria, War of the Spark, and Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty), and we have a great working relationship. Dave is good about letting the Vision Design team follow the path it wants while raising concerns to ensure we're delivering something he can turn into a great set.

Mike Mearls (exploratory and vision)

Mike came to Magic from Dungeons & Dragons. This was the first premier set he worked on. March of the Machine was large in scope and very focused on the various planes of the Multiverse. Mike provided a different vantage point for how to think of the larger conflict and the way to view the different planes. It was nice to have someone who honed their game-design chops on a different game bring that expertise to the design.

Mark Rosewater (lead – exploratory and vision)

And then there was me. I knew March of the Machine was a major design challenge, so it didn't feel right inflicting the vision design upon any of my other designers. As you will see, it was a crazy design ask.

Cogs in the Machine

Each individual set has its own story, but we like to make larger overarching stories that take place over several years. With the Bolas arc, we decided to try something new. We designed a top-down set to tell the final chapter of the giant storyline. I called it an "event set." For the Bolas arc, that set was War of the Spark. It ended with a conflict that involved almost every known Planeswalker fighting Bolas and his army of Eternals on Ravnica.

War of the Spark was a bold ask. Most sets only have a handful of planeswalker cards, so telling a story of a giant Planeswalker war was daunting. But it made for an amazing story conclusion, so we figured out how to make a set that represented it. March of the Machine was the event set for the Phyrexian arc. And like War of the Spark, the Creative team had very grandiose ideas for what the set represented.

Here, with plenty of dramatic license, is me first hearing about the set's story. Doug Beyer oversees the story and worldbuilding (however, I'd like to stress that there are many people who worked hard to make it):

Me: Okay, so the Phyrexians figure out how to get off New Phyrexia, and then what?
Doug: They invade.
Me: Invade what?
Doug: Invade the Multiverse.
Me: Which plane do they invade?
Doug: It's not just one plane.
Me: Okay, which planes do they invade?
Doug: All of them.
Me: So, what does "all of them" really mean? Like five to ten?
Doug: No, all of them. Every plane we've ever referenced in any Magic set or Magic-related product.
Me: So, thousands of planes? Hundreds of planes? I'm not sure quite how big the Multiverse is.
Doug: We'll probably focus more on the planes we've visited.
Me: So, tens of planes?
Doug: Yes.
Me: It kind of makes a war of Planeswalkers seem quaint.

I won't lie, it was an idea so large in scope, it was a bit daunting, but you don't make Magic sets for 28 years if you don't enjoy a challenge. The key for me, and the rest of the design team, was to get a hook we liked about it. What was the essence of the design? Luckily, it came to me early in exploratory design. I used an analogy to explain it to everyone. Planes were going to be to March of the Machine what Planeswalkers were to War of the Spark.

Okay, what did that mean exactly? It meant that I wanted the mechanical definition of the set to be focused through the lens of the various planes. We spent a lot of time in exploratory design figuring out what that meant. Ultimately, we wanted players to have the ability to pick their favorite plane and get a chance to see it shine in the set. This led me to the idea of having a new card type that represented the planes. Planechase had plane cards that represented various places on different planes. I was interested in something that represented the entirety of the plane.

Also, we needed to play up the story, which was a giant war between all the denizens of the Multiverse and the Phyrexians. Again, we wanted the focus of this war to be through the lens of the various planes. We accomplished this by focusing on the different planes fighting back. The idea was that whenever you saw an individual card, assuming you were up on all the planes, you could tell which plane it was from. We chose to make about 70% of the creatures represent the Coalition (that's what we called them, borrowed from Invasion when the Phyrexians invaded Dominaria—invading just one plane, how quaint; it's not officially canon or anything).

This meant that around 30% of the creatures were going to be Phyrexians. We had two issues to solve for the Phyrexians. One, we had just made a set, Phyrexia: All Will Be One, filled with Phyrexians, and I wanted these Phyrexians to feel creatively connected but mechanically explore new space. Two, how could we make the Phyrexians such that they also represented the lens of different planes?

The Exploratory Design team did a great job of raising all these questions, but the Vision Design team had to solve them.

Double-Face Your Fears

We wanted the Phyrexians to represent all the various planes. Luckily, their whole schtick is turning other creatures into them, so we made a list of creatures that were iconically from each plane. For example, if you saw a Phyrexian Samurai, you would know what plane it was from. Then it dawned on us that it would be even cooler to show off creatures in their natural forms on the planes before Phyrexianization. Transforming double-faced cards (TDFCs) would also solve another issue, that is, finding a way to make something that felt Phyrexian but wasn't in Phyrexia: All Will Be One. It wouldn't take us long to realize that we could also use this on legendary creatures. Nothing emotionally captured the trauma of a Phyrexian invasion than watching beloved characters get Phyrexianized. (Oh, Omnath.)

Heliod, The Radiant Dawn
Heliod, The Warped Eclipse
Heliod, The Radiant Dawn // Heliod, The Warped Eclipse
Multiverse Legends Heliod, The Radiant Dawn
Multiverse Legends Heliod, The Warped Eclipse
Planar Booster Fun

Once we had TDFCs in the set, it became a tool we could use elsewhere. The next idea we explored was making an artifact token that could create a Phyrexian creature token. Our best artifact tokens had been ones where once you had them, you then had to spend mana to get the resource (think Clues and Food). Having a cost allows us to be more generous with cards creating the token.

We liked the idea that what the Phyrexians were best at was making more Phyrexians. Our first stab at this idea, which we called cocoon in vision design (it's called incubate in the set), was a token that you could spend some amount of mana to create a 2/2 Phyrexian artifact creature. We then thought it would be even cooler if the size of that creature could vary, but we weren't sure how to do that. We didn't want every incubate token to require a different amount of mana to get the creature token. We also didn't want to make the players have to use two different tokens each time they used this mechanic. The solution rested in using the tool of double-faced cards.

First up, what if the noncreature artifact token that made the Phyrexian creature token was all on one card? Yes, we could have our first double-faced token (well, one where the sides work together mechanically). If that was the case, we could make use of +1/+1 counters. A transforming permanent keeps counters, and you can put +1/+1 counters on noncreatures (they just don't do anything until it becomes a creature). The mechanic would then create the token, noncreature artifact side up, and put a number of +1/+1 counters on it equal to the variable of the mechanic. Then there would be a locked cost, two generic mana, to transform it into the creature, which was on the back face. That would be a colorless Phyrexian artifact creature. There was some talk if the rules could handle a double-faced token, but we got it all worked out.

Incubator token
Phyrexian token
Incubator // Phyrexian token

Next, we knew that the five Phyrexian Praetors were going to show up again (we felt the five main villains had to show up in the finale), so we wanted some novel way to represent them. We presented several different options to the Set Design team, most of which involved TDFCs. Set Design chose to use the Praetors that transformed into Sagas.

The Great Synthesis
Jin-Gitaxias // The Great Synthesis
Multiverse Legends Jin-Gitaxias
Multiverse Legends The Great Synthesis
Planar Booster Fun