Understanding Magic: the Gathering’s March of the Machine with Dave Humphreys

Exclusive interview with Dave Humphreys for MTG's March of the Machine set

Understanding Magic: the Gathering’s March of the Machine with Dave Humphreys

Magic: the Gathering’s newest release March of the Machine pits the multiverse against the mechanical and maniacal Phyrexians. This struggle has brought about a completely new card type called Battle. Tap & Sac even got to preview one of the Battle cards during spoiler season!

We reached out to Wizards of the Coast Game Designer Dave Humphreys to talk about Battles, the powerful new mechanics within MotM, and if this mega event made the creative process difficult.

March of the Machine has just been released, can you tell us anything about new mechanics in this set?

The mechanic I’m most excited to see in the wild is certainly the new card type: Battle. These double-faced cards give you an effect when they enter, then an opponent protects them, and you can try to remove all their defense counters much like you would against an opposing Planeswalker.

Invasion of Belenon is one of the new Battle cards in MTG March of the Machine expansion

If you are successful, you are rewarded by casting a card on the reverse side of the battle without paying its cost. The reverse side highlights a key character or moment in the fight to liberate that plane from the Phyrexian invasion. I’m eager to see how these play out both in constructed and limited games.

Backup is a mechanic on creatures where they can put one or more +1/+1 counters on themselves or on other creatures. If they target another creature with this ability, that creature gets their relevant printed abilities until end of turn. These provide a lot of fun ways to mix and match abilities.

Backup is a new mechanic in MTG's March of the Machine

Incubate is a mechanic where you create non-creature artifact tokens that enter with +1/+1 counters. At any point, you can then spend two generic mana to transform them into Phyrexian creatures. I look forward to seeing how these can get used as fodder for sacrifice effects, be durable ways to rebuild after board sweepers, or simply fill the board and transform into action.

Beyond these, we also have the return of the Convoke mechanic that lets you use creatures to fuel paying the mana costs of these cards. We have two previously known legends appearing together on single cards as a team-up (or mashup) of those characters. We have familiar creatures transforming into Phyrexian forms of themselves. We have Praetors transforming into ridiculous Sagas. And more!

Toxic is turning out to be quite a powerhouse despite it being a rather toned down version of Infect. Will we see more Toxic cards for MotM and beyond?

Unless you count the Phyrexian form of Etali in March of the MachineEtali, Primal Sickness (a callback to Blightsteel Colossus) – there are not any creatures that explicitly give Poison counters to an opponent. While Toxic could appear again in the more distant future, I wouldn’t expect any Toxic creatures anytime soon. There are still cards in the set that we are still hoping that can provide possible tools to the deck, including perhaps Archangel Elspeth, even if that’s not thematic.

Toxic is still popular in Standard meta, despite the mechanic only appearing in one set so far.
Click on image for deck list

Every standard release now comes with special Commander-only cards. Apart from following the mechanics of the set, are there any special guidelines into how these cards are designed?

We generally design cards with more of an eye for multiplayer in terms of game play and strength. We also look to encourage you to play cards from the main set, while also finding hooks to play well with existing cards from Magic’s rich history so they can fit into folks’ existing decks. We’re also always looking for novel themes that haven’t been practical to build into decks previously and create cards to enable those themes.

Rowan's Talent is part of a cycle of cards that are Commander-legal only but found in March of the Machine Set Booster packs.
Rowan’s Talent is one of several Commander-only cards found in March of the Machine booster packs.

March of the Machine takes place across multiple planes – did this complicate the design process as to which world to put more focus on?

Having access to all the planes was a lot of fun as a designer and I didn’t really feel that it complicated my process. It was perhaps a bit overwhelming in options at some points but ultimately, we had a lot of flexibility to make good decisions. We did decide to focus on some prominent planes more than others, but mostly from a storytelling perspective. That in turn affected how many cards were conceptualised for art. In general, though, we were able to implement all the ideas we had in satisfying ways.

End Step

March of the Machine has already proven itself to be a powerhouse set in prerelease weekend for the Sealed format. The jury’s still out on how its cards will shift the other formats, but the new mechanics Backup and Incubate show promise.

The biggest impact to the game will still be the brand new Battle card type. It will take some time to see if they will have the same staying power as Planeswalkers or Sagas. They certainly have their place in the right decks, so give them a try in your next game!

After playing from Tempest to Urza's Saga block, Ted took a 20 year break from the game before returning to the classic Plane of Dominaria in 2018. His favourite formats are Commander, Draft, and, grudgingly, Standard.

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