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The Best March of the Machine Cards for Historic & Explorer

March of the Machine is out and Altheriax wants to show you its potential! Find out all the cards he believes could make a splash in Arena's older formats and where you would look to play them!

Hey everyone! With the release of March of the Machine just around the corner, I’ve gone through the whole set and picked out any cards I think have potential to see play in either Historic or Explorer. Let’s get into it!

Surge of Salvation

This is a really great sideboard option for a lot of white decks that not only provides protection from single-target removal and damage from red and black creatures in combat, but also stops discard spells like Thoughtseize and other spells that target you like Invoke Despair too.

RBx midrange decks are very popular in both formats right now and so there are a lot of white decks that can really take advantage of this: white aggressive decks can make use of this to protect against removal including red damage-based sweepers like Brotherhood's End, and white combo decks like Greasefang can make great use of this as a way to protect their key combo cards like Greasefang, Okiba Boss from both spot removal and discard spells. You could even consider maindecking this in a deck like Auras as a way to protect your creatures from removal, and your hand from discard spells.

This is also a potential option in a deck like Historic Hammer Time which is a deck that ideally wants protection against both discard spells and spot removal, although it is important to note that Surge of Salvation only protects against the damage-based mode on Brotherhood's End and not the artifact destruction mode so it might get edged out by Loran's Escape which can at least protect your most important artifact against Brotherhood's End or Shatterstorm.

Change the Equation

This is another great sideboard card that is essentially an easier to cast Counterspell against red and green decks. Good 2 mana counterspells are something that are sorely missed in control decks in both formats since the banning of Memory Lapse, and there are a good portion of decks in red and green in both formats so this definitely seems worth the sideboard slots in control, and also potentially in other blue decks too.

I could see an argument to this being a viable maindeck card depending on the metagame since hitting red and green cards, and cheap earlygame cards in other colors covers a lot of bases, although you will definitely have some blind spots. Either way I expect this to definitely see play at least in the sideboard of blue decks going forwards.

Pile On

This is an incredibly good removal spell if you can consistently convoke it out for 2 or less mana. This is a card where the power level is there for sure if you can enable it but I’m not sure it has a lot of immediate homes right now since there aren’t many black decks with a lot of cheap creatures in either format outside of maybe Yawgmoth, Thran Physician combo and Dimir Ninjas in Historic.

This is very near the top of my list for removal spells if I’m ever building a black deck with a number of cheap creatures though since it’s so flexible and has surveil as an upside, so I expect this to see a lot of play in those style of decks in future.

Ozolith, the Shattered Spire

This is a really exciting addition since it essentially allows you to run 8 copies of Hardened Scales in your +1/+1 counter synergy decks without needing to splash for cards like Conclave Mentor or Winding Constrictor (which are also much more vulnerable to interaction).

Hardened Scales has always felt like a strong deck that just wasn’t quite good enough in the past, and the main issue with the deck was that it felt really strong when you had the Hardened Scales, and sometimes a little underwhelming when you didn’t. Having access to essentially 8 copies should really help improve the overall consistency of the deck, and while this version is legendary and 1 mana more expensive, it does come with some nice upsides.

Firstly it has an activated ability meaning it’s both an enabler and a payoff, it being an artifact means it has nice synergy with cards like Ingenious Smith (and artifact synergy Hardened Scales decks have generally felt the best builds I’ve tried in Historic), and even though it’s legendary you can cycle it away if you draw multiples which means you can get away with running 4.

Polukranos Reborn

This seems like a great option for Mono Green Devotion decks in both formats. In explorer (where there are fewer options) this seems significantly better than Lovestruck Beast since it provides much more devotion, and reach will be very useful against decks like Spirits, Angels, and Greasefang for example.

In the Historic version space is definitely tighter because of additional options like Leyline of Abundance, Grizzled Huntmaster, and Forceful Cultivator, but I definitely think this is worth considering because Izzet Wizards is one of your worst matchups where your only real way of stabilizing is blocking with Cavalier of Thorns, so getting access to a big reach creature that you can get down on turn 2 or 3 should definitely improve that matchup.

It being legendary means you probably don’t want to be running more than 3, but it does have additional upside of being able to transform which is great since it provides you with another mana sink – I’ve often found myself in spots where I have access to a ton of mana off Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx but nothing to spend it on, especially if the opponent is playing a Thoughtseize deck, so having a potentially game winning mana sink in the transform ability seems like it should be helpful to fix that issue too.

Kroxa and Kunoros

I don’t expect this one to see play in Explorer but it does notably have a combo in Historic alongside Altar of Dementia.

If you have Altar of Dementia in play and you either cast or cheat Kroxa and Kunoros into play, with the enter the battlefield trigger on the stack you can sacrifice the Kroxa and Kunoros to Altar of Dementia milling 6 cards, you then exile 5 of those cards to the ETB ability and can reanimate Kroxa and Kunoros itself. You can then repeat this loop as many times as you want, curating your graveyard as you go, allowing you to potentially mill your whole deck and can then use the last Kroxa and Kunoros to reanimate something else.

The easiest way to win from this point would be to reanimate Thassa's Oracle with no cards left in your library but Thassa's Oracle is banned so the next best alternative I’ve come up with so far is reanimating Vesperlark with Body Double in the graveyard which allows you to mill the opponent out with Altar of Dementia, but there could be some interesting options using Scholar of the Lost Trove or Capricious Hellraiser too.

Elspeth's Smite

This is a nice addition to the arsenal for white interactive decks and is one of the best options you have access to at 1 mana. The only real alternatives at that cost in white are Portable Hole (which is sorcery speed and can’t deal with 3 drops), Lay Down Arms (which is also sorcery speed and has a pretty big deckbuilding requirement), and Fragment Reality in Historic (which isn’t ideal if you’re using it against 2 drops or higher when the opponent has an even curve) so I can definitely see Elspeth's Smite filling a niche if you want cheap white interaction to deal with early creatures.

It does obviously have blind spots against bigger creatures so how good this is will largely depend on how common smaller creatures are in the meta, and also how easily your deck is able to deal with bigger creatures, but this is a great option for white decks to have that I definitely imagine will see play in some decks, especially if they’re weakest against fast aggro decks.

Invasion of Gobakhan

This is the first battle on the list, and I think this will be a nice option in the sideboards of white aggressive decks for both control and combo matchups.

The Elite Spellbinder effect is really effective at delaying a sweeper against control, or getting rid of a key combo piece which often buys you enough time to close the game out, and having this at 2 mana which can consistently go underneath a 3 mana counterspell even on the draw is really nice. The matchups you’ll be bringing this in against will typically be matchups where the opponent doesn’t really commit to the board in the early game which should make attacking the battle easier than most, and the enchantment you get on the back side seems very strong against control in Explorer at least.

Having an instant-speed way to protect against sweepers like Supreme Verdict and single-target removal off the Lightshield Array seems pretty huge, and getting the +1/+1 counters somewhat offsets the damage that you directed towards the battle instead of the opponent’s life total. Having said that it is worse against control in Historic because it doesn’t protect against Divine Purge which makes attacking the battle a lot less appealing, but I could definitely see some decks wanting to run this just for the front side and just ignoring the battle once it’s in play.

The big drawback of this card is that you do have to take 2 mana off from developing to the board in order to cast this so it will slow your clock and pressure down quite a lot which also makes it a lot harder to attack the battle if you do play it on turn 2 so there’s definitely some tension there, but I still think this has potential to be a good sideboard card for white aggressive decks.

Saiba Cryptomancer

This is a really interesting card that is both an instant-speed protection spell, and a creature with hexproof. The main home I’m excited to try this out in is Auras which is a deck that wants to run both a reasonably high density of threats and some amount of protection for their creatures too, and this working as both seems quite appealing.

Needing to hold open 2 mana for this isn’t ideal when you could be running something like Loran's Escape instead, but one of the big weaknesses of Auras is your deck basically does nothing if the opponent runs you out of threats, and so replacing your protection spells with Saiba Cryptomancer will naturally increase your threat density while still providing some protection, plus it has hexproof which is huge in Auras and makes life very difficult for decks that rely on single-target removal to beat you.

There’s a chance that this could be a jack of all trades and master of none, but I’m optimistic about this since we’ve already seen Invisible Stalker be a scary threat in Auras in some matchups, and I feel like doubling up as a protection spell (albeit an expensive one) is generally more useful than unblockable for this archetype.

Volcanic Spite

This is basically a strict upgrade over Fire Prophecy which can now hit both Planeswalkers and battles! This is going to be a nice upgrade for Indomitable Creativity decks or other strategies that want to put combo pieces back into the library, especially against control decks where Fire Prophecy was often dead.

It also now opens up the possibility of running more than 4 of this effect – I’m not sure any deck right now would want to do that but I could see a world where Indomitable Creativity wanted 6 copies of this effect if it lined up well against the commonly played threats at the time.

Ghalta and Mavren

This is a card that I’m only really interested in because it’s a vampire so it can be cheated into play on turn 3 with Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord which is really powerful. This has been tried in the past with cards like Lord Xander, the Collector but I think Ghalta and Mavren is generally much more of a game ending threat.

Having said that, the mana cost is pretty restrictive meaning it’ll be very difficult to ever hardcast so it could easily get stranded in your hand if you can’t find or resolve Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord, and therefore might end up being too inconsistent.

One potential idea to circumvent that could be running a hybrid reanimator deck since Vampires has access to a lot of good discard outlets like Voldaren Epicure, Bloodtithe Harvester, and Insolent Neonate, so you could focus on trying to cheat big vampires like Ghalta and Mavren into play off both Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord and reanimation spells.

Dusk Legion Duelist

This is another vampire that could see play in both Vampires or a +1/+1 counter synergy deck like Hardened Scales.

In vampires this is another card that synergizes really nicely with Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord since putting a +1/+1 counter on it every turn off the +1 ability lets you draw an extra card every turn, and it also has synergy with cards like Indulgent Aristocrat and Cordial Vampire. Having said that, Vampires hasn’t really ever been a top tier strategy in either format and I’m not sure Dusk Legion Duelist is really enough to move the dial on it.

It also seems like it could be good as a card advantage engine in a deck like Hardened Scales which traditionally hasn’t had great access to card advantage, so running it alongside a card like Luminarch Aspirant seems like a really nice synergy. The main issue with this card is that you need to have a reasonably high density of effects that can put +1/+1 counters on other creatures every turn like Luminarch Aspirant or the new Ozolith, the Shattered Spire.

There are a number of options like Yotian Dissident, Ranger Class, Fight Rigging, Generous Visitor etc. but they all require building your deck around them in one way or another so it may end up diluting your synergies elsewhere. Either way this is a card I think has potential in Hardened Scales and I’ll definitely be trying it out.


This is a strong card that can enable really powerful ‘storm’ like turns. There are already some Historic decks that run Birgi, God of Storytelling in more combo-focused builds of Underworld Breach for example – Urabrask does a similar thing and provides more utility but it being one mana more expensive probably means that it isn’t worth running there since speed is generally very important in these more glass cannon builds.

Because of that I think the main decks that will be interested in this are more ‘fair’ decks that are already running a lot of cheap instants and sorceries where Urabrask can basically work as a way to give you crazy combo like turns if you can flip it. The main pre-existing deck that fits this description is Izzet Phoenix which already has a plethora of great options for threats so I’m not sure Urabrask makes the cut there although it could be worth testing.

I could definitely see more fringe or new archetypes be interested in Urabrask though like maybe Mono Red Phoenix or more ‘fair’ Underworld Breach variants so this is definitely one to watch.

Wrenn and Realmbreaker

This is an interesting planeswalker that can provide a number of benefits and also has quite a lot of starting loyalty for a 3 mana walker.

The first home I’m excited to try this in is an Indomitable Creativity or Transmogrify shell since the +1 giving the land hexproof is huge at ensuring you can resolve your Transmogrify through spot removal, and the passive would also enable you to potentially hardcast something like Atraxa, Grand Unifier if the game goes long. Having said that it doesn’t untap the land so isn’t able to protect itself if you cast it on turn 3 which can be an issue since you need to +1 again the following turn to be able to use Transmogrify (although 5 loyalty will often be hard to attack down especially if you’re on the play).

I could also see it potentially fitting into Mono Green Devotion or Historic Yawgmoth, Thran Physician combo but there’s already a lot of competition for slots in those decks so I wouldn’t be surprised if this didn’t end up making the cut there.

Errant and Giada

This is a really cool card that definitely has potential if you build around it. The first home I’m excited to try this in is Angels which has always been a deck that struggles to come back from behind against interactive decks unless you draw Collected Company or Kayla's Reconstruction, and this could potentially be another way for the deck to produce card advantage.

You would have to change how the deck is built since you really can’t afford to run many cards that aren’t creatures with flying or flash or you’ll end up bricking a lot, so you’d probably probably only be able to run 2 out of 3 of Bishop of Wings, Collected Company, and Kayla's Reconstruction, and you’d have to run Gilded Goose instead of Llanowar Elves or Avacyn's Pilgrimfor example so there are definitely deckbuilding costs to running this but the payoff seems very strong if you can enable it.

This could also be nice in spirits since the majority of that tribe has flash and/or flying although it not being a spirit itself is a drawback, and with the release of SOI Remastered that deck already has a lot of options, and it could potentially enable some sort of bant blink deck too, although that style of deck hasn’t really been viable in a long time, and you tend to want to run actual counterspells in that sort of deck too which doesn’t play particularly well with Errant and Giada.

Overall I wouldn’t be massively surprised if this one doesn’t see play immediately but it’s definitely a build around that I’ve got my eye on going forwards.

Honorable Mentions

Knight-Errant of Eos: This could be an interesting top end option for mono white Humans that has a very low curve – tapping for convoke will slow down your clock but mono white generally doesn’t have great options for card advantage outside of Inquisitor Captain in Historic so this could be a good way to give your low to the ground aggro deck a way to grind into longer games.

Monastery Mentor: This is a very powerful card with a high ceiling but it doesn’t really have a great home right now in either format. Definitely one to keep an eye on as we get more cheap spells.

Bloodfeather Phoenix: This is a nice recursive threat that could maybe find a home in more burn-heavy versions of mono red madness in Historic, or potentially even regular burn if you wanted more resilient threats.

Invasion of Kaladesh: Another Thopter generator for Retrofitter Foundry decks in Historic that is an incredibly strong turn 2 play after turn 1 Retrofitter Foundry + Ornithopter. It is in slightly awkward colors but could definitely be worth trying if you wanted to run a high density of Thopters.

Rona, Herald of Invasion: This could potentially fit into Kethis combo decks in Historic since it can fix your hand, provides a lot of mana when combined with Relic of Legends, and has a built in mana sink too.

Boon-Bringer Valkyrie: This is a potential upgrade over existing Baneslayer Angel variants. Typically this sort of card is only ever run in control sideboards but the ability to backup onto a Shark Typhoon or The Wandering Emperor token the turn it comes down means it’s probably better than existing alternatives.

Glistening Deluge: This is a nice sideboard sweeper option for black decks to improve their matchups against go wide white and green aggro decks.

Lithomantic Barrage: Another nice sideboard option for red decks. We did recently get Rending Volley which will generally be better against creature decks but the fact this can kill planeswalkers, especially Teferi, Hero of Dominaria the turn after it comes down means it could have more flexibility across matchups.

Nahiri's Warcrafting: This seems like the best 3 mana deal 5 we have which is very important in the sideboard of decks that rely on red removal to be able to kill Sheoldred, the Apocalypse. The big weakness of most other options is they’re very mana inefficient if you have to use them on other creatures but this can potentially provide card advantage which is very valuable against the RBx decks that you’ll want to bring this in against.

Invasion of Ergamon: This is probably the best Trash for Treasure enabler for Historic, and could also be useful in Indomitable Creativity + Reanimator hybrid decks.

Faerie Mastermind: Dimir Rogues have always wanted additional good threats to go alongside Thieves' Guild Enforcer and Soaring Thought-Thief – we did recently get Mercurial Spelldancer which is nice but that deck would ideally prefer to play flash threats and so this could be a potential option there. At the very least it should be a good sideboard option against cantrip decks like Izzet Phoenix and Auras.

Omen Hawker: Definitely one of the biggest sleeper cards in the set – a 1 mana dork being able to produce 2 mana is insanely strong. There isn’t currently a good way to abuse this as far as I’m aware but this is one to keep an eye on in future for sure.

Corrupted Conviction: A new version of Village Rites which means you can now run up to 8 copies of this effect if you wanted – the only deck I’ve played that might have wanted more than 4 copies of Village Rites is Abiding Grace sacrifice so I doubt this will have much of an impact.

Invasion of Kaldheim: This seems like a potentially powerful combo extender in a storm deck. I don’t think this has a great home right now in either format but is worth bearing in mind if storm becomes more viable in future.

Invasion of Ixalan & Invasion of Ikoria: These are two more considerations for Mono Green Devotion. Invasion of Ixalan is basically a worse Oath of Nissa but we don’t have access to that card so this could be an alternative if you want that sort of effect. Invasion of Ikoria is slightly more interesting to me since it’s essentially a Finale of Devastation that provides an additional two devotion so could be decent since it works as an enabler for your devotion, and a payoff once you have a lot of mana.


So those are the cards I think are most likely to see play in both of Arena’s eternal formats. While there isn’t anything in here that is likely to massively warp either format, there’s a ton of really nice upgrades to certain archetypes which has the potential to either spawn new decks, boost more fringe archetypes or change the way some other decks are built which is really exciting as a brewer.

I’m personally most excited to try out Hardened Scales, the new options for Mono Green Devotion, Vampires with Ghalta and Mavren, and try and figure out the best way to build around Errant and Giada and the Kroxa and Kunoros combo just to mention a few. Thanks a lot for reading!

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Alth is an MTG Arena grinder who has been #1 on the ladder multiple times and is always looking to bring new ideas and archetypes to the format and push them to the top spots on the ladder. You can follow him on Twitter and YouTube.

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