The Best March of the Machine: The Aftermath Cards and Theorycraft Decks for MTG Arena Constructed
Table of Contents
Hey everyone! With the release of March of the Machine: The Aftermath just around the corner, I’ve gone through the whole set and picked out any cards I think have potential to see play in Arena’s constructed formats, and included some early theorycraft decklists too. I haven’t played much Standard until very recently so the main focus of the set review will be on the Historic, Explorer, and Alchemy. Let’s get into it!
Ob Nixilis, Captive Kingpin
This is a really interesting option for sacrifice decks and I definitely expect it to see play in both Explorer and Alchemy, and also could have potential to see fringe play in Historic too. This is reminiscent of Korvold, Fae-Cursed King as a card advantage engine that grows and takes over the game (which was one of the biggest reasons to splash green in sacrifice) but this is both 1 mana cheaper, and in Rakdos colors too.
This seems like it could fit nicely into Rakdos sacrifice in Explorer as a top end threat since it triggers off Cauldron Familiar and Mayhem Devil which are two of the key cards in the deck. Space is pretty tight in these lists but there’s usually a couple of flex slots, and this does seem like it could be worth it since one of sacrifice’s biggest weaknesses is that it can take a while to close games out and this could definitely help that issue.
In Alchemy this seems like it’ll be a slam dunk as a top end card in Oni-Cult Anvil decks since it triggers off Voldaren Epicure, Oni-Cult Anvil, and both the Blood Artist and blood token pings from Sanguine Brushstroke. You also wouldn’t have to run that many copies since you could build the deck in a way where Crucias, Titan of the Waves can tutor for it if you pick ambitious when discarding a 3 drop so that’s another home I’m excited to try it in.
In terms of Historic there isn’t really a good home for it right now because of the Cauldron Familiar nerf – Oni-Cult Anvil decks are still a possibility and I have had some success with builds using Crucias, Titan of the Waves to tutor and ramp into Korvold, Fae-Cursed King in the past, but I don’t think this will be an upgrade there since one of the biggest appeals to running Korvold, Fae-Cursed King was that it isn’t killed by Fatal Push whereas Ob Nixilis, Captive Kingpin is.
Speaking of which, if anything is likely to hold this card back it probably is that it’s vulnerable to Fatal Push and also other removal like Abrade, but I definitely think it has potential.
This is probably the card I’m most excited for from the set since it’ll be a great addition to Humans decks in both Explorer and Historic. Even though the Humans tribe does have access to decent disruptive elements off cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Esper Sentinel, decks that run a lot of interaction like Rakdos Midrange and Rakdos Sacrifice can still be tricky matchups and Coppercoat Vanguard giving all of your other Humans ward 1 is going to be huge against any decks like that which are trying to interact with single-target removal.
One of the biggest reasons Humans hasn’t been that popular recently in Historic is because of the big presence of both Rakdos and Jund Midrange which are both difficult matchups, and I feel like this card could be enough to flip that matchup on its head since those sorts of decks are really going to struggle to deal with starts like turn 1 Esper Sentinel into turn 2 Coppercoat Vanguard which both gives the Esper Sentinel ward 1, and boosts its power making it even harder for the opponent to pay the tax.
Boosting the power of your whole board is great too and fits perfectly with what Humans wants to be doing. Outside of Explorer and Historic it’s also notable that this is a Soldier so it could be a nice fit in the Azorius Soldiers deck in both Alchemy and Standard too.
Jirina, Dauntless General
Humans is also getting another nice addition here although I probably see this one as more of a sideboard card. This essentially acts as a Selfless Spirit for Humans which is a really desirable effect in the archetype since it protects really well against destruction based sweepers like Supreme Verdict and Brotherhood's End, and combined with Coppercoat Vanguard gives you really good protection from most interaction.
I’m slightly less excited for this in Historic than I am in Explorer because of the existence of Divine Purge which this doesn’t stop (and is still the sweeper of choice in Azorius Control from my experience), but it is really appealing against Rakdos Midrange as a way to hedge against Brotherhood's End postboard.
It also has incidental graveyard hate stapled on too which is a really nice upside, although I don’t think I would primarily run it for that ability since it’s sorcery speed and single-use so the opponent could fairly easily interact with the graveyard during their turn, or just utilize their graveyard after you’ve cast Jirina, Dauntless General. For that reason I would still prefer to run more dedicated alternatives for graveyard hate like Rest in Peace, Tormod's Crypt or Unlicensed Hearse for example, but having that incidental hate will still be useful in some situations.
This is a really interesting card because most of those style of effects that can reanimate cheaper creatures are sorcery speed, so this can potentially double up as a combat trick since you can reanimate a blocker at instant-speed.
The downside of this card is that most other effects like this such as Can't Stay Away and Recommission are 1 mana cheaper, but the fact that this is instant-speed, can reanimate non-creature permanents, can bring more expensive permanents back to your hand, and has incidental lifegain means that I could definitely see this seeing play in a deck with both smaller permanents you can reanimate, and bigger permanents you want to get back to your hand too (for example Domain Reanimator in Historic where you could reanimate Crucias, Titan of the Waves or Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, or get a Leyline Binding back to your hand).
Outside of that I think most decks that would be interested in using this to reanimate creatures would probably prefer either a cheaper option like Can't Stay Away (in Explorer Greasefang, Okiba Boss for example), or Collected Company (in which case you probably won’t want this because it hurts your Collected Company odds), so the other main home I see for this is decks that want to use it to reanimate non-creature spells like enchantments, or planeswalkers (Recommission is probably the preferred option for artifact decks), and so I could see this seeing play in the sideboard of Historic Enchantress maybe against interactive decks like Rakdos Midrange.
Overall this is a really interesting card that probably doesn’t have a great home right now, but is definitely one to keep an eye on in future.
Vampires as a tribe has never really been near the top tier in either Historic or Explorer but it does have access to some really powerful tools like Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord and Cordial Vampire so getting new options is always exciting since it does feel like a deck that has potential once we get a high enough density of good threats.
This is an interesting card because having a lord effect that you can also convoke out is potentially very powerful in a low to the ground deck, since you can swarm the battlefield with cheap early vampires, cast Markov Baron for cheap or even free, and then represent a ton of additional damage the following turn.
I’m initially drawn to try this in Orzhov because I feel that has the better 1 drops and payoffs for swarming the battlefield like Legion's Landing and Legion Lieutenant, plus the new Dusk Legion Duelist has nice syerngies with Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord, Cordial Vampire, and Indulgent Aristocrat, but I could also see a Rakdos build being viable because it more easily enables the madness off cards like Voldaren Epicure and Bloodtithe Harvester.
Since Markov Baron really wants you to be running a high density of cheap creatures, it could also fit nicely alongside Pile On which is one of the more powerful cards from March of the Machine that just hasn’t really found a good home yet.
Sarkhan, Soul Aflame
Dragons aren’t really a viable deck in either Historic or Explorer, but it is a supported archetype in Alchemy that’s had reasonable success in the past. With the addition of Sarkhan, Soul Aflame we now have a pretty high density of ways to ramp into dragons in Alchemy which means you can accelerate into your powerful 4 and 5 mana dragons ahead of curve very consistently.
Sarkhan, Soul Aflame is in slightly awkward colors because a lot of the best dragon support cards are in Rakdos, but it does work particularly well with the new Zurgo and Ojutai since it’s in the same colors, and essentially gets you two triggers if you have Sarkhan, Soul Aflame when you cast Zurgo and Ojutai if you can connect with both which is really powerful, so that’s the main direction I would start with.
We do also have some cards it pairs really nicely with in Explorer such as Glorybringer and Goldspan Dragon, and the new Invasion of Tarkir is a great reason to play Dragons, but I’m not sure Sarkhan, Soul Aflame is really enough to make the archetype playable in older formats.
Nahiri, Forged in Fury
This is a card that obviously wants you to be playing a high density of equipment which means it also doesn’t really a home in Historic or Explorer, but it seems like a really strong addition to the Alchemy Boros Equipment deck. This deck was already running a high density of equipment, a lot of which was very cheap like Inchblade Companion and Rabbit Battery so enabling the affinity on this should be relatively easy.
Once it’s in play it then starts producing card advantage immediately and will probably snowball the game which is a great fit for the deck since it’s generally very aggressive but can sometimes run out of steam against decks that go bigger.
It dying to cards like Molten Impact and Go for the Throat is a bit of a concern but if you can consistently cast this for cheap and get at least one trigger then it definitely seems worth it, and if the opponent can’t answer it it will likely run away the game, so I expect both Rakdos Anvil and Boros Equipment to be the two biggest winners in Alchemy from this set by far.
Narset, Enlightened Exile
This is a powerful card in strategies that produce a lot of tokens such as Young Pyromancer + Third Path Iconoclast decks in Explorer if you can untap with it since it gives everything prowess (this stacks on tokens from Monastery Mentor too which is really powerful), and acts as a better Dreadhorde Arcanist if you can attack.
The big weakness here is that it doesn’t provide any immediate value the turn it comes down which is a big risk for a 4 drop especially since it dies to Fatal Push, but the main home I see it going in is a Jeskai token generation shell alongside Young Pyromancer, Third Path Iconoclast and potentially Monastery Mentor too, all of which are must-kill threats which means there’s a reasonable chance the opponent might have gone through all of their removal by the time you cast Narset, Enlightened Exile.
This sort of deck would also be able to make great use of the new convoke spells like Meeting of Minds, but there is a real concern that the deck will likely struggle a lot against matchups like Rakdos Midrange that run a lot of single-target removal.
Samut, Vizier of Naktamun
This is an interesting card that probably won’t be making waves in any top tier decks, but definitely seems worth trying in a deck like Gruul Aggro in Explorer and Historic since that deck is already running a lot of haste creatures, and doesn’t have great ways to produce card advantage either.
Gruul aggro has always been a generically powerful deck but is very all-in on just attacking and tends to run out of gas if the opponent is able to stabilize against your early aggression, and this could potentially give that deck a way to either play a longer game, or produce tempo by using Samut, Vizier of Naktamun to get some early card advantage, hopefully digging you closer to your haymaker cards like Embercleave.
You would probably have to build the deck more heavily around haste creatures to really maximize this but that seems like a reasonable way to build the deck anyway. On the flip side you only get the card advantage the turn the haste creature enters play so the opponent can hold onto their removal or hold blockers back for creatures that enter play that turn to prevent the card advantage so there’s a chance this is too easy to stop but it’s hard to say without testing.
Additionally in Historic we already have Ambergris, Citadel Agent which does a very similar thing but more consistently and that hasn’t really improved the archetype too much, although you could potentially run them both together.
This is notable mainly because it’s a thopter so is a potential option for Retrofitter Foundry decks in Historic, and gives your legendary permanents ward 2 so seems like a potential option in legends decks in Alchemy and Standard.
If this was to see play in a Retrofitter Foundry deck then it would likely by in Azorius since that color combination doesn’t have as many options for additional thopters to run alongside Ornithopter outside of Hope of Ghirapur and Barbed Spike, neither of which are amazing.
There are some nice upsides to this card like it having lifelink (which is great against aggro when paired with cards like Michiko's Reign of Truth), 3 toughness (which can be important against decks that rely on red-damaged based removal), and it gives your Lurrus of the Dream-Den ward 2 as well which is really nice upside.
Having said that you already have Vault Skirge at 1 mana for a flyer with lifelink, and Hope of Ghirapur for 1 mana as a cheaper thopter, so there’s a chance this doesn’t make the cut, but if you’re struggling for space and want a card that can fill both roles then this is definitely a consideration.
This is a cool effect that we’ve never seen before that essentially shuts off planeswalkers for as long as it’s in play, and replaces itself which is really nice. This is definitely relegated to the sideboard and would probably only be brought in against control and Mono Green Devotion decks right now in Explorer and Historic since those are the only decks where planeswalkers are their most problematic threats.
Having said that, the only real appeal of running this over something like Pithing Needle is that it also shuts off multiple planeswalkers so hits both Karn, the Great Creator and Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner against Devotion, and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and The Wandering Emperor against control, but it’s 2 mana more expensive which means it’s much more vulnerable to counterspells versus control, and interrupts your curve more against Devotion, so you’d have to be running a deck where you’re really scared of multiple of their planeswalkers for it to be worth it.
This could potentially be a good sideboard card against the more planeswalker heavy Mono White midrange decks in Alchemy and Standard though, and is definitely one to bear in mind in your sideboards going forwards if planeswalker heavy decks become more prevalent.
This is a potential option in the sideboard in Angels decks in Historic and Explorer to both protect against combos that target you directly like Goblin Charbelcher or Kethis Combo in Historic, as well as protecting from burn spells and discard spells too.
Having said that I’m not sure it warrants a slot in the current Historic metagame since graveyard hate is typically better against Kethis Combo (especially if they’re running Jace, Wielder of Mysteries), angels has a great burn matchup, and it being 3 mana means it’s often too slow at stopping discard spells when they’re most impactful on turn 1 or 2, so I think this will probably only be worth it if there’s an emergence of more combo decks that target you directly.
In Explorer this could potentially be worth a slot against Rakdos Midrange if you expect Invoke Despair to be a popular card as being able to shut that off in addition to their discard spells and the Liliana of the Veil -2 for example, does potentially seem worth it. In general I think I prefer a card like Shapers' Sanctuary in that matchup but if you wanted to keep your creature count higher for Collected Company and Kayla's Reconstruction then I could see an argument for running this in the sideboard if you’re expecting Invoke Despair.
So those are the main cards I expect to see play in constructed formats and while the set is quite small on the whole, there are definitely some interesting cards in here that have the potential to really boost certain archetypes. Thanks a lot for reading!
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