What’s up, friends? Welcome back to Cardsphere, where twice a month I try to unravel the mysteries of the Commander Cosmos.
As I’m sure you’re aware, we’ve got a new set coming out soon! March of the Machine (“MOM”) is bringing us the climax of the Phyrexian invasion story (with the denouement happening in March of the Machine: Aftermath). And with this set, we’ve been gifted a brand new card type: battle. So for the first part of my set review for MOM, I thought I’d spend some time digging into this new card type, looking at how they work, which ones are any good, and what kind of impact they might have on the Commander format. Let’s go.
Let’s start with this important question: What the hell is a battle?
It’s a brand new permanent card type that you can cast at sorcery speed that functions like a blend of planeswalkers and enchantments. Here’s the important details:
- Each battle in MOM has the Siege sub-type. Future set battles will likely have different sub-types. All battles in this set are double-faced, which is also not a requirement of battles and may not be present in future sets. At this point, it’s unclear how other battle sub-types will function differently from Sieges.
- Battles have a defense number, which are tracked with defense counters. This number is in the lower right corner (held horizontal) of each battle. Defense counters can be manipulated (more on this later).
- For the Siege sub-type, the defense counters are normally removed when the battle is damaged. A battle can be damaged through combat, or through spells and abilities that can deal direct damage to “any target.”
- When your Siege enters the battlefield, you choose an opponent to be its “protector.” That player cannot attack the battle, but is responsible for defending it. They can also deal direct damage to it or target it in other ways if they choose.
- For combat, battles are treated similarly to Planeswalkers, in that they can be defended against attacks with creatures the same way you’d defend yourself. However, with Sieges at least, it’s the protector that blocks the battle with creatures, not the controller of the battle.
- When all defense counters are removed, you exile the battle and cast the other side for no cost. The opposite side can be any kind of spell, including permanents and non-permanents. Some even flip into legendary creatures - again, future battles may function differently.
The Good, the Battle, and the Ugly
The set doesn’t waste any time in filling our battle card pool. Right off the bat we’ve got 36 of them to play with, in a multitude of colors ranging from colorless (Invasion of Ravnica) all the way up to WUBRG (Invasion of Alara). And the rarities range from uncommon to mythic rare.
But are they any good?
As with any other card type, the power and versatility of battles range dramatically, even within the small card pool. While I don’t think any of them are going to be format staples, like
Dockside Extortionist or
Smothering Tithe, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some really cool cards in the bunch. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
Invasion of Fiora - Marchesa, Resolute Monarch
The only bad thing about this card is that it can’t be your commander (sad trombone sound). The Commander Rules Committee already ruled on it. But hey, if your playgroup is cool with you circumventing a few rules, go ahead and build it!
Why I’m digging this card is that its front side acts as a mini-board wipe, with some potential one-sidedness if you’re running a legends-matter commander like
Dihada, Binder of Wills or
Jodah, the Unifier. On the back side we get Marchesa, Resolute Monarch (long may she reign), which has an absolutely sick ability of removing all counters from one target permanent when she attacks. Not only is this cool if you’re running other battles (remember, defense is tracked with defense counters), but she’s also a planeswalker-killer. She also means death for
Ghave, Guru of Spores,
Gyrus, Waker of Corpses,
Hangarback Walker, or any other creature that gets its power/toughness only from +1/+1 counters.
Invasion of Ikoria - Zilortha, Apex of Ikoria
Finale of Devastation, but it’s definitely an upgrade on
Green Sun’s Zenith. For just one extra mana, you (eventually) get Zilortha, Apex of Ikoria, which makes your alpha strikes all the more potent.
Invasion of Gobakhan - Lightshield Array
Here’s our first example where one side is vastly better than the other. The Siege side here is fairly meh, but thankfully it only has three defense. The flip side, Lightshield Array, can pump your creatures. But what I’m most interested in here is the activated
Heroic Intervention ability. Since it’s an ability, it’s much more difficult to counter than the green staple.
Invasion of Kaldheim - Pyre of the World Tree
I don’t think this is great, but I do think it’s worth looking at. There aren’t a ton of decks that can consistently discard land cards regularly enough to really make the damage from the enchantment worthwhile, but the card advantage can be really good, especially if you’re running an exile commander like
Prosper, Tome-Bound or
Faldorn, Dread Wolf Herald. Or run it with a discard commander like
Brallin, Skyshark Rider and makes friends with a
Invasion of Karsus - Refraction Elemental
Is Refraction Elemental a new storm win-con? It kinda looks like it.
Invasion of New Capenna - Holy-Frazzle Cannon
The Invasion side of this is a surprisingly good bit of removal for aristocrat/token/treasure decks. And if that deck also happens to be focusing on a certain creature type, then the Equipment side is going to be a bonus. Also, I won’t be able to say “Holy-Frazzle Cannon” without immediately saying “Batman” after it.
Invasion of New Phyrexia - Teferi Akosa of Zhalfir
This battle comes with its own ways to defeat itself. How thoughtful! On the flipside we get a new Teferi, which is surprisingly underpowered, considering how much work you need to do to get him, and also how overpowered Teferi cards usually are. But the card advantage and removal you get are pretty good.
Invasion of Segovia - Caetus, Sea Tyrant of Segovia
This one’s actually a bit of an in-joke, as everything on Segovia is really small. And what’s the use of a 1/1 with trample? Not a whole lot. But the legendary creature side of this is extremely good for decks that are going wide.
Invasion of Shandalar - Leyline Surge
Possibly the best battle so far. Both sides of this battle do fantastic things, starting with grabbing some goodies from your yard, and then giving you free permanents on the field once it flips. Pair it with an upkeep doubler like
Sphinx of the Second Sun for extra fun. Or you could do some shenanigans in a blink deck by repeatedly blinking the battle side to keep grabbing things out of your yard.
Invasion of Tarkir - Defiant Thundermaw
This is just going to make dragons more awful. If you’ve played against a lot of dragon decks, you know what I’m talking about.
Invasion of Tolvada - The Broken Sky
I’m liking this a lot for Orzhov token/aristocrat decks, like
Thalisse, Reverent Medium or
Elas il-Kor, Sadistic Pilgrim. The life drain from cards like
Corpse Knight and
Cruel Celebrant is great, but they’re made even better when your tokens all have lifelink to pad your life total even more.
All right friends, those are the battles I think are worth looking at. Again, nothing earth shattering or anything truly worthy of the “staple” tag, but certainly some fun and nuanced cards, even if they don’t break any games. I don't see anything here that will cause any serious impact to the Commander format, but then look how wrong we all were about Backgrounds. You never can tell until the packs get cracked.
What do you think of the first roster of battles? Hit me up on Twitter to let me know what you think. And make sure to check back soon, because I’ll be dropping my full March of the Machine review very soon. Until then, take care. And play lots of games!