Starting April 18th, March of the Machine will be available in Magic Arena, kicking off extensive testing of its new cards in the main competitive formats.
Explorer is one of the most famous non-rotating format on the digital platform, perhaps due to the sudden changes in Historic in the past year, but probably also because of the similarity with tabletop Magic, practiced in weekly events, FNMs and major competitive events, like the Regional Championships.
Last week, I presented my Pioneer set review of the new set, and given the similarity of both Metagames, I recommend reading it for a better understanding of the possibilities its cards bring to the format.
Today, the focus will be on Magic Arena, with the top ten cards from March of the Machine for Explorer!
Monastery Mentor & Chrome Host Seedshark
Released in Fate Reforged, Monastery Mentor finally comes to Magic Arena with its reprint in the new expansion. Despite not making as much noise on Pioneer due to the lack of free spells, this creature is a solid alternative wincondition for Control shells that want to adopt a more proactive stance post-sideboard.
With the same theme as the card above, but requiring an activation cost, Chrome Host Seedshark and Monastery Mentor can also unlock new variants of Spellslinger, alongside Third Path Iconoclast, Young Pyromancer and Ledger Shredder.
And speaking of blue shells, Faerie Mastermind deserves an honorable mention for its potential to punish extra draws while replenishing its controller's hand in the late-game. The creature is also a Rogue, and despite being a commonly worse archetype than Spirits, Dimir Rogues is a famous strategy in Magic Arena, and occasionally gets results in events and ranked.
Despite considering that Bloodfeather Phoenix can add some extra strength to Burn strategies in Pioneer, in Explorer, its main focus might be on more proactive and aggressive variants of Arclight Phoenix decks, given that Explorer doesn't have access to Treasure Cruise, but received Bedlam Reveler in Shadows Over Innistrad Remastered.
A version of Mono Red Phoenix also looks more viable on Explorer than on Pioneer.
As long as Greasefang, Okiba Boss is among the top threats in the format, Lithomantic Barrage will be overshadowed by Fry on the sideboards of red decks. However, should the Metagame change to the point that this archetype is less popular, or should Greasefang get banned, its inclusion seems reasonable against Humans, Azorius Control, and Spirits.
Errant and Giada
Errant and Giada was a creature that I didn't appreciate in my Pioneer review. Its ability is similar to Cemetery Illuminator, but it trades the recurring graveyard hate for the possibility of being cast on the opponent's turn.
It is yet another motivator for Angels decks, which tend to go all-in with Collected Company and have trouble recovering after a sweeper, to adopt a splash for blue. As for Spirits, I'm uncertain if a card that doesn't interact with the rest of the archetype is necessary, especially when Cemetery Illuminator has the same function and still helps against Greasefang.
Thalia and the Gitrog Monster
Thalia and the Gitrog Monster is efficient on its own: it has a body that swaps positively with almost anything in the format, punishes greedy mana bases, creatures with Haste, allows you to speed up your game, and/or offers card advantage in exchange for other resources.
Since it's so complete, it's hard to imagine that this duo can't see play in Explorer, except that there is no specific home for them in the format today.
The Abzan Midrange was never as successful in the format as it was in Standard, and it lost ground to a more efficient two-color variant with Rakdos Midrange. Also, the only Abzan decks in Explorer today are Greasefang, Okiba Boss strategies, and Thalia and Gitrog don't deserve a slot in the maindeck of a combo archetype, while dedicating Sideboard slots to that card looks bad.
So, Thalia and the Gitrog Monster will need to find space in the Goodstuff lists, or it will have to prove itself strong enough to establish and/or ascend a new archetype on its own.
The 10 Best March of the Machine Cards for Explorer
10 - Volcanic Spite
Indomitable Creativity or Transmogrify decks are very common in Magic Arena because of their "free-win", where they punish players who don't play around their combos, while still managing to exercise "fair game" with cheap removals and efficient threats.
In these lists, Volcanic Spite will not only replace Fire Prophecy, but complement it in the format's cheap removal packages, given that three damage is a key number to deal with many threats. Also, the fact that it hits Planeswalkers is vital to deal with Liliana of the Veil, The Wandering Emperor, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, among others that show up occasionally.
9 - Baral and Kari Zev
Baral and Kari Zev was another card I overlooked in my Pioneer review, but which I now consider has enough potential for both formats. Many comment on its potential in Izzet Phoenix in the neighboring format, alongside Treasure Cruise, but its proposal is very counterintuitive to Thing in the Ice.
Therefore, the potential of this duo is found in archetypes that want to keep a full board, where it becomes a value engine. Decks like Izzet Pyromancers seem like an ideal choice for Baral and Kari Zev, especially considering the value the duo can extract from Of One Mind alongside every other spell in the graveyard.
8 - Guardian of Ghirapur
Guardian of Ghirapur is a decent option for reusing ETB effects, but its main function will be to trigger abilities of cards that care when Angels enter the battlefield, such as Bishop of Wings, Youthful Valkyrie and Righteous Valkyrie in Selesnya Angels.
Its body is pretty decent for the cost, too, and a single trigger of its ETB effect alongside Bishop of Wings already grants a total of eight life. In addition, it also allows an attacking creature to be "untapped" to block the next turn, or increases the amount of interactions alongside Skyclave Apparition and/or Reflector Mage.
7 - Halo Forager
In a world without Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time, other means of reusing the graveyard deserve a closer look for their potential. And under those conditions, Halo Forager is pretty efficient for Explorer.
The best comparison to this creature would be Bloodthirsty Adversary, where it swaps Haste for Flying and puts it in colors where spell recursion is even better: four mana for a 3/1 Flying and a Fatal Push, or Thoughtseize, are good enough for the format.
Furthermore, despite not having Flash (and let's face it, it would be too strong with Flash), the new faerie also has the Rogue subtype, from which its main archetype tends to benefit from low-cost spells to hold the game and/or perform efficient Tempo plays.
6 - Change the Equation
As simple as it sounds, Change the Equation has some uniqueness compared to other counterspells in Control decks. Its biggest advantage is its versatility, where it counters Esika's Chariot and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben with the same effect.
It won't replace Aether Gust on all occasions, but it seems far more worthy of maindeck space than any other answer against green and red archetypes, as it doesn't lose its usefulness outside those strategies.
5 - Elesh Norn
As mentioned in my review, I consider Elesh Norn the strongest card in March of the Machine. Its body is decent for its cost, its ability is punishing for go-wide strategies, and despite requiring setup, its transformation is by far the most powerful of the Phyrexian praetors.
What makes the Mother of Machines so powerful is her second ability and how threatening she is with a stable board: The Argent Etchings is a two-turn combo, where you first create five tokens to, on the next turn, turn them into 3/3 creatures with Double Strike, and if that's not enough to win the game, Elesh clears the opponent's board before reverting to its original form.
That is, on its own and in the right shell, Elesh Norn becomes one of the most powerful winconditions Pioneer has ever received, and we can imagine it in creature-oriented Midranges, as in an Esper Legends. However, this archetype isn't common in Explorer, so the praetor still doesn't have a specific home in the format, and it will be necessary to create a strategy that can make the most out of her.
4 - Wrenn and Realmbreaker
Wrenn and Realmbreaker is one of the most debated cards in March of the Machine since its preview. Some claim she's another broken Planeswalker and even compare her to Oko, Thief of Crowns, while others believe that she, while good, isn't as impactful, and won't be an instant staple in the competitive scene.
I didn't give Wrenn much credit for Pioneer, but the Explorer environment has two advantages for her: Sylvan Caryatid, the main colorfixing for Goodstuff decks, is not yet available in Magic Arena, and the Transmogrify archetypes are much more common in the digital environment.
In the first case, Wrenn and Realmbreaker add greater consistency to multicolored strategies, while offering a major recursion effect and/or a growing army of hard to kill Creature-Lands. Decks like Five-Color Niv-Mizzet (which doesn't yet have Bring to Light), or Four-Color Omnath can use this Planeswalker as a value engine.
In the second case, it gives its controller every opponent's worst nightmare against Transmogrify or Indomitable Creativity: creatures that can't be killed with traditional removals. Wrenn and Realmbreaker is a "free pass" for an Atraxa, Grand Unifier or any other bomb starting on the fourth turn, and few opponents can come return to the game after the Phyrexian Angel enters the battlefield.
Lastly, it's possible that Wrenn is also useful in some versions of Traverse Greasefang, given that she's a Planeswalker and offers recursion, manafixing, and creates a new threat every turn in attrition games. However, its cost is quite restrictive for a strategy that wants on the first turn, and between the second and the third.
3 - Polukranos Reborn
Polukranos Reborn fits into one of the most well-known Pioneer and Explorer archetypes: Mono Green Devotion. Usually, the slot where it can fit belongs to the Old-Growth Troll, and both have advantages and disadvantages when compared.
Old-Growth Troll seems better suited to dealing with early-game removals, where it turns into a ramp that interacts with Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner. However, it generates little to no value on the battlefield when facing Abzan Greasefang or the Spirits.
Polukranos Reborn, on the other hand, doesn't generate a favorable trade against removals in the first turns, but its body allows it to block and survive against most creatures of the format, and having Reach means being able to hold any Spirit, or even an Angel created by Parhelion II, and still stay alive.
Also, if you have enough mana, and it's not difficult when you're playing with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, it's possible to turn it into Polukranos, Engine of Ruin, where it becomes a Wurmcoil Engine and adds value to any creature that dies on your battlefield, in addition to greatly reducing the clock of strategies that try to play under Mono Green Devotion.
While not as effective as Old-Growth Troll against removals, Polukranos Reborn seems more effective at holding the clock in a Metagame where more people are betting on playing with Spell Queller and Parhelion II. One or two turns are all that Mono Green needs to "explode" and make its most absurd plays.
2 - Sword of Once and Future
Sword of Once and Future might not look impressive at first glance, and I imagine few lists wanting it in the maindeck, but its true utility lies in attrition matchups, where it excels against Rakdos Midrange. Any creature equipped with this sword will have protection from its major removals, will evade Bonecrusher Giant's Stomp, and will pass through Sheoldred, the Apocalypse.
Its recursion ability is also important, even for decks that don't run as many Instants or Sorceries, and Surveil 2 ensures good filtering and topdeck manipulation, optimizing its controller's draws.
Finally, Sword of Once and Future seems essential in mirror match as long as they don't adopt Abrade or Kolaghan's Command as a default answer, as a single attack from the equipped creature will mean reusing a Power Word Kill and/or a Thoughtseize against the opponent, doubling the number of interactions, in addition to creating good synergies with Fable of the Mirror-Breaker.
1 - Surge of Salvation
Having a card that will mostly be a Sideboard piece as the best card of the set seems strange, but Surge of Salvation is at a very high level of protection spells, to the point of being comparable to the banned Veil of Summer.
This spell costs little mana for such efficiency. Hexproof for you and permanents you control means the opponent will have to think carefully when targeting their removals against a given threat, and its use is amplified by offering, for just one mana, a "protection against Thoughtseize" for combo decks without needing to resort to less comprehensive answers, like Leyline of Sanctity.
Also, although Hexproof's effect counts only for permanents you control at the time you cast the spell, the damage prevention lasts for the entire turn. Therefore, against red removals, we can cast Surge of Salvation before, for example, trying to perform a combo with Greasefang, Okiba Boss, or playing a permanent that we don't want the opponent to kill that turn with a red damage spell.
Given this card's versatility against the Metagame today, its usefulness in protecting combo decks in a format where Silence isn't available, a dozen micro-interactions that add to its scope, and its potential to break into various archetypes and different strategies, Surge of Salvation is the best card of March of the Machine for Explorer!
That's all for today.
If you believe a card should be in the Top 10 or higher on the list, feel free to leave it in the comments, and we can discuss its inclusion and/or absence.
Thanks for reading!