March of the Machine: The Aftermath - cEDH Set Review

Jake FitzSimons • May 18, 2023

Nissa, Resurgent Animist by Tuan Duong Chu

Commanders I | Commanders II | Noncommanders I | Noncommanders II | cEDH

Greetings marchers and machines, Jake FitzSimons here, digging through the aftermath of the Phyrexian invasion in search of the best cards for cEDH. With March of the Machine: The Aftermath being Magic's first "micro" set, this will be a "micro" cEDH review, but thankfully big, satisfying things can come in micro packages. At least that's what I keep telling myself. Anyway, we have a risky tutor, a symmetrical bounce spell, and multiple ex-'walkers that could make a splash in the command zone. Let's get into it!

Arni Metalbrow

As a creature with Human typing and a card that benefits from cheating creatures into play, Arni Metalbrow looks like the sort of Berserker that could find a home in Winota, Joiner of Forces. You can flip into it, you can use spare mana to place more creatures into play, and it's even worded in such a way that you can generate immediate value from a Winota flip rather than having to wait a turn to attack again. That sounds promising on the face of it, but "I have too many creatures stuck in my hand" isn't a complaint I often hear from Winota pilots. At the point this comes into play and you have the spare mana to activate it, Winota pilots should have already emptied their hand or very close to it. This makes Arni Metalbrow a little win-more, but it could still pull weight in the right list.

Filter Out

Returning every nonland/noncreature permanent to the hand from whence it came for just three mana is massively impactful. There are precious few boards where Filter Out won't completely disrupt someone's plans, if not everyone's. The trick is to not be included in that "everyone". You can totally nullify a Dockside Extortionist's enter-the-battlefield trigger, but as a symmetrical effect, Filter Out requires more building around than your usual bounce spell. You want either a creature-heavy deck, a commander that can take advantage of the bounce, or a board state where you're removing more of your opponents' tools than your own.

Getting rid of all the Rule of Laws and Mystic Remoras in play might be just what you need to go off and execute your own combo, but how far back will you set your own board? If you're bouncing the likes of Mana Crypt and Mana Vault, you're advancing your plan and possibly even going mana-positive, but if you're forced to replay your own Arcane Signets and Fellwar Stones, you're wasting time and mana.

The most natural home for the card will be in Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain. Resetting your own cheerios (zero-mana artifacts) will lead to huge value as each one can be recast for draw triggers. This is already possible with Paradoxical Outcome, but redundancy is nice and the upside of bouncing all the noncreature/nonland permanents your opponents control is perfect. Elsewhere in cEDH, I think Filter Out will struggle to find a home outside of dedicated Storm decks looking to jam up their Storm count.

Karn, Legacy Reforged

My gut tells me to dismiss Karn, Legacy Reforged without a second thought. A little while ago I was asked if a colorless deck could ever be cEDH-worthy. I was polite to be sure, but I asserted colorless decks in cEDH were about as strong as snowmen in saunas. I was wrong.

Just a few weeks ago, a Liberator, Urza's Battlethopter took first place at the Bufftown Bullies: Win A Dual cEDH tournament. You read that right: a colorless deck with no card advantage, no mana advantage, and no inherent combo took down a cEDH tournament. I'll be the first to admit it when I misevaluate a card, but I'm still in a mild state of shock over this three-drop Thopter doing so well. The cEDH community has a tendency to overreact to a tournament win (as was the case with the first-place Slicer deck), and it's important to remember that a single win doesn't translate to long-term success, but what this tells me is that colorless decks aren't as dead on arrival as I once thought. Okay, back to Karn.

Karn, Legacy Reforged is a massive mana-maker. The one thing colorless decks do exceptionally well is play a lot of artifacts, and Karn, Legacy Reforged is going to reward you for doing the only thing thing you can do. He makes it easy to play through a Trinisphere, a Damping Sphere, or a Thorn of Amethyst, not to mention powering out every other artifact in your hand, likely more stax effects. The only catch is that he's a whopping five mana to begin with, so at the point you can bring him into play you should already have a lot of rocks up and running. He's a decently sized beater, but it's not much of a clock even with a staxed out board. To be clear, I don't think Karn, Legacy Reforged stands a real chance, but take this as a challenge to prove me wrong.

Markov Baron

Another card with Madness for Anje Falkenrath decks. That's it. That's the review.

Narset, Enlightened Exile

Finally, we have the answer to the question we'd all been asking: what if Kess, Dissident Mage was Jeskai? We've come full circle here, first seeing Narset as a creature, watching her grow into an up-and-coming planeswalker only to lose her spark. I'd wager that, despite the nostalgia many feel for the original Narset and the place she used to have in the cEDH metas of yesteryear, this is her natural successor.

Prowess isn't much to get excited about beyond occasionally tricking your forgetful opponents in the combat step, but it does improve her ability to cast cards from the graveyard. Granted, the majority of cards you'll see in cEDH are already three mana or less, but the ability to raise her power and pull out a Smothering Tithe will come up from time to time. The best thing about her second ability is that it doesn't stipulate your graveyard. That's right, you can cast any noncreature spell as long as its in a graveyard, a huge boost in potential targets compared to Kess, Dissident Mage. Needing to attack first does make her slower, but in a longer game Narset, Enlightened Exile will have her pick of the litter and consistently churn out powerful spells.

Jeskai is already well suited to playing out of the graveyard via support cards like Intuition, Underworld Breach, and Sevinne's Reclamation, so I anticipate Narset, Enlightened Exile decks running the usual Brain Freeze combos to win.

Nissa, Resurgent Animist

Lotus Cobra might only see a scintilla of play in cEDH, but Lotus Cobra can't put creatures in your hand, and you can't put it in the command zone. Enter Nissa, Resurgent Animist, a card that can do both and has the potential to be the new mono-green cEDH deck on the block. Triggering Nissa, Resurgent Animist is easy as pie and green decks rarely have trouble with land drops, but it might surprise you just how easy it is to get a double trigger every single turn.

Of course, fetchlands do the trick, but you can only run so many in a mono-green deck, and the well goes far deeper. Usually a card like Riveteers Overlook would be a waste of space in a cEDH deck. It can only find specific basics and they enter tapped? Much too slow! But in Nissa, Resurgent Animist, any land drop will produce mana, so even clunky lands, like Bant Panorama, end up being mana-positive. Cards like Nature's Lore and Three Visits become immediately mana-neutral with Nissa, Resurgent Animist in play, and providing you've already made your land drop, set up the Elf/Elemental trigger.

You can even set up double triggers when it isn't your turn. Cards like Crop Rotation are already playable in their own right, but obscure land tutors like Harrow and Roiling Regrowth will do the trick. The real juice is what Nissa actually flips out of the deck with a double trigger. It's tempting to fill the deck with every Elf under the sun like most mono-green decks do, but this dilutes consistency and would lead to a lot of dead draws. Mana dorks aren't nearly as valuable when your commander produces mana from every single land drop.

Instead, the deck needs Elves and Elementals that will make for immediate combos. Namely, Quirion Ranger and Ashaya, Soul of the Wilds. With Ashaya in play, Quirion Ranger will enter the battlefield as a Forest, producing one {G} from Nissa. Nissa can then be tapped for another {G} and untapped by bouncing Quirion Ranger back to hand. This can be looped for infinite green mana and only requires the addition of Beast Whisperer to draw your deck, at which point old faithful will make for a win.

Ob Nixilis, Captive Kingpin

An exciting build-around commander for Rakdos and my pick for the strongest commander of the set, Ob Nixilis is no stranger to losing his spark, so I can only imagine he'd laugh at all the first-timers if he had any way of contacting them.

A four-mana Rakdos creature that casts spells from exile already exists in the form of Prosper, Tome-Bound, so what makes Ob Nixilis, Captive Kingpin worth taking seriously? It's a matter of architecture, the distance between the ceiling and the floor. While Prosper will always net you one card in exile every end step (and a Treasure when you play it), that's about as far as the Tiefling can take you. Ob Nixilis, Captive Kingpin comes with no such guarantee, but has the potential to place multiple cards into exile per turn cycle, either from your opponents' actions or your own.

First, the incidental triggers. The most obvious are the eleven1 good fetchlands; nearly every deck in cEDH is running as many fetchlands as they can get their hands on, even mono-color decks. Every fetchland represents one +1/+1 counter on Ob Nixilis, Captive Kingpin and one card in exile. That's a good start, but it's only the tip of the incidental iceberg. Just in the lands, you also have City of Brass, Mana Confluence, Spire of Industry, and Cephalid Coliseum, all of which will generate a new trigger every time they're used rather than just once like the fetches. Add the Talisman cycle, Mana Vault, then Force of Will, Elves of Deep Shadow, and times when a Tymna player only pays one life, and you're looking at a ridiculous amount of triggers.

Don't forget Lim-Dul's Vault, all the one-drops flipped from an Ad Nauseam, and as for Necropotence? That's the Kingpin's Necropotence from now on, ya hear? All this to say that without any additional effort, Ob Nixilis, Captive Kingpin does what all good mobsters do: he generates value from the suffering and loss of others.

As for what to do with that value, Ob Nixilis, Captive Kingpin will likely follow a typical build of Rakdos good stuff, a mixture of rituals and tutors and major payoffs, like Ad Nauseam or Peer into the Abyss. As for how to win, Ob Nixilis, Captive Kingpin will go infinite with All Will Be One if you can place a +1/+1 counter on Ob Nix. That's right, this is the second set in a row with a commander that can go infinite with All Will Be One!

If you want to build around additional pings instead of just relying on opponents' actions, you're spoiled for choice. Roiling Vortex and Copper Tablet can generate three exiled cards per turn cycle, Soot Imp should generate three per cycle at minimum, and the sky's the limit with Manabarbs and Burning Earth. But the best of them is Kederekt Parasite, always live as long as Ob Nixilis, Captive Kingpin is in play and a huge liability for anyone with a Rhystic Study or Mystic Remora in play. Throw a Wheel of Fortune on top and you're looking at seven damage to every opponent, seven new cards in your hand, and twenty one cards in exile. Stay tuned for a list in the coming weeks.

Reckless Handling

It's Gamble, but it costs twice as much mana and it can only search for artifacts. That sounds like a death knell, given Gamble's inconsistency and tendency to be left on the cutting room floor in lieu of all the hard tutors common in cEDH, but for red decks that revolve around specific artifacts, Reckless Handling still stands a chance. To begin with, Goblin Welder and Goblin Engineer don't care about the discard clause. For them, a card in the bin is as good as a card in the hand. The same is true of Underworld Breach. Low-color lists looking to combo off with Underworld Breach and Lion's Eye Diamond can do worse than Reckless Handling, particularly given how starved red is for tutors. Even an unreliable tutor is still a tutor.

But let's be honest. Me being me, I'm excited for Reckless Handling because when I see "search your library for an artifact card" my brain reads it as "search your library for Skullclamp". That's right, baby, another card for Koll, the Forgemaster! I think Reckless Handling will show up elsewhere, but I know for a fact that it's going to see a tremendous amount of play in Koll.

Samut, Vizier of Naktamun

I love to see Gruul getting interesting cards. Samut, Vizier of Naktamun isn't reinventing the wheel; rewarding hasty creatures is only a step or two removed from "Gruul smash", but at least she's smashing in a more enticing way than usual. Who doesn't like drawing cards? The bad news is that despite how good commanders with inbuilt card draw are, that's just about all Samut, Vizier of Naktamun does. She can't combo, she can't produce mana, and even though three mana is a good rate, it's no better than Tymna the Weaver, also at three, but a Partner with more flexible draw requirements.

The good news is that it's not just creatures with haste that will make Samut, Vizier of Naktmun sing. Creatures that entered tapped and attacking will do the trick. And if there's one deck who brings creatures into play tapped and attacking at a ludicrous rate, it's Najeela, the Blade Blossom. As a five-color deck, Najeela is already spoiled for choice when it comes to card advantage engines, but few have as much potential as Samut, Vizier of Naktamun. A Warrior with haste, Samut, Vizier of Naktamun will immediately start generating her own Najeela triggers and as a 3/3 with vigilance and first strike, opposing Tymna attackers won't stand a chance on the backswing, so if you're already drowning your opponents in Warrior tokens, why not drown them in cards as well?

Sigarda, Font of Blessings

A four-mana creature that rewards you for playing Humans? Sounds like Winota with wings to me. Well, not quite. Sigarda, Font of Blessings won't let you cheat Humans into play, but it will let you play from the top of your library, and thankfully for anyone with a taste for stax, most of the best disruptive creatures are Humans. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Drannith Magistrate, Esper Sentinel, Ethersworn Canonist, the list goes on and on. We can't quite say the same for Angels; the only winged saviors you're like to see in cEDH are Linvala, Keeper of Silence and Shalai, Voice of Plenty, but the sheer quantity of playable Humans more than makes up for it.

In addition to casting from the top, Sigarda, Font of Blessings will bless you with hexproof permanents. Not herself, mind you, she's just as vulnerable as any other commander, but it adds an additional step for anyone who might dare try remove one of your stax pieces. Forcing your opponents to find two sources of removal rather than just one is everything a stax player wants to do.

Sigarda, Font of Blessings may also find a home in the 99 of Abzan decks as a source of unreliable advantage and blanket board protection. But the main question is how well Sigarda, Font of Blessings will stand up to Dhalsim, Pliable Pacifist. Dhalsim has less restrictive deckbuilding requirements and doesn't rely on the ever changing top of your library so both provide card advantage, but what Sigarda loses in flexibility she makes up for in hexproofing.

Training Grounds (Reprint)

Not a new card, but a much-needed reprint for fans of Thrasios, Triton Hero. While plenty of decks run Thrasios in the command zone for the sake of extra colors and an infinite mana outlet, some choose to go all in on the activated ability, trying to grind out as much value as possible. Training Grounds literally doubles the effectiveness of that strategy, and all for the low low price of a single blue pip. If you're looking to play Thrasios, Triton Hero or you think Wizards will print more good commanders with powerful activated abilities (who are we kidding, of course they will), then Training Grounds is the card for you and now is a great time to pick one up.

May of the Machine: The Aftermath

I'm here to review cEDH cards, but while I've got your attention, why did this need to be a micro set? Planeswalkers losing their spark en masse seems like a massive deal, why couldn't it have been a full set? I yearn for the days of multi set blocks and releases like March of the Machine: The Aftermath just remind me of what they took from us. Alas. Overall the set is on the weaker side, but only just. There's a lot here that's worth brewing around and the designs are interesting, but there aren't any must include staples. That's either great or terrible, it depends what you're looking for.

What did you think? Which is your top pick for best card of the set? Is there something I missed? Let me know in the comments below!

  1. Prismatic Vista isn't as good as the rest, but sees enough play in cEDH to get a mention.

Jake FitzSimons is a writer from Sydney and a Magic fiend. He's either the johnniest spike or the spikiest johnny, nobody is sure which. When he isn’t brewing or playing cEDH, he can be found writing, playing piano, and doting on his little cat.