March of the Machine: The Aftermath Review - Legends Part Two

Nick Wolf • May 16, 2023

(Niv-Mizzet, Supreme | Joshua Raphael

Commanders I | Commanders II | Noncommanders I | Noncommanders II


Just Plain 'Walkers

We're in the epilogue of March of the Machine, or denouement if you have an English degree. Things have changed since those rascally Phyrexians sputtered oil all over the place, most notably in terms of our planeswalking friends. No longer able to traipse through the Blind Eternities on a whim, the members of the Protagonist Guild are sparkless, and are thus rendered inert. This 50-card set, wordily titled March of the Machine: The Aftermath, tries to tie a bow on as many stories as possible, in a post-credits stinger kind of way. As a result, almost 50% of the cards are legendary creatures, an occurrence we're likely used to by now.

Our good Canadian friend Mike Carrozza (of Am I the Bolas? fame) tackled half, and I'm doing the other half. I'm Nick Wolf, by the way, writer of the Commander Canvas series, in which artists spill the beans on their own personal Commander decks.

So let's stop rambling and get to the goods.


Calix, Guided by Fate

Poor Calix only received one planeswalker iteration before losing his spark, but judging by this version, he's probably okay with it.

Now a lowly Human Druid, Calix's Constellation effect isn't exactly realm-shattering, simply distributing a +1/+1 counter whenever an enchantment enters the battlefield under your control. There are plenty of ways to make that into a motor by utilizing cheap enchantments and Auras, especially my personal favorite, Gossamer Chains.

It's that second ability that makes Calix an interesting choice. Typically, enchantress decks win through card advantage, but with Calix at the helm, we're looking to cast Auras and punch people in order to copy enchantments we control. There'll be a narrow balance in a Calix deck between creatures for punching, Auras for punching harder (or smarter), and enchantments to copy, but getting a second (or third or fourth) copy of Grasp of Fate might be what we need to turn the enchantress archetype into one that loves combat instead of hiding behind Ghostly Prisons. Or, conversely, we can just copy Ghostly Prison a bunch.

Keep in mind that Calix triggers whenever an enchanted creature deals combat damage to any player, but will still only copy something once per turn, so it's less important to have multiple evasive attackers than it is to just ensure one creature + one Aura gets through, so slap that Alpha Authority onto some Gorilla Berserkers and go to town.

Kiora, Sovereign of the Deep

Kiora's been depicted as a planeswalker three times (or four times, if you count the Arena-only version), so it's a little sad to see everyone's favorite fork-loving fish lady reduced to swimming around in whatever water she was in when the Phyrexian apocalypse happened.

Lucky for her, those waters are absolutely teeming with the deep-sea Mount Rushmore of creature types in Kraken, Leviathan, Octopus, and Serpent. With this Kiora in play, each one of those creatures you cast from your hand in essence get Sea Monster Cascade. Or to be more accurate, Sea Monster Sunbird's Invocation.

Kiora's one of those commanders that doesn't allow a ton of wiggle room when it comes to deckbuilding. Most games will see you ramping as fast as you can in order to play high-cost sea critters, with the randomness (and thus, fun) coming from flipping cards from the top of your library with each cast. If you're curious, the best sea monster to cast with Kiora in play is Icebreaker Kraken, in terms of making the X in her ability the biggest X it can be, so pack those snow lands. The next best is Polar Kraken, which is much, much worse.

There are two ten-mana options in Deep-Sea Kraken and Octavia, Living Thesis, and five nine-mana sea monsters. The best of the nine-mana bunch might be Grozoth, which allows you to stack your library for the next sea monster to be cast from your hand.

Still, that's just half of what Kiora wants to do. The other half will hopefully make playing Thing from the Deep worth it. Whatever the mana value of the sea monster is, you'll flip that many cards from the top of your library to cast something for free. Sometimes that'll be a Cultivate. Other times, it'll be a Time Stretch off the aforementioned Icebreaker Kraken. We can dream.

Samut, Vizier of Naktamun

From creature to planeswalker and now, back again. It's been a journey for Samut, and not a very fun one, if my memory for lore is to be trusted. But things seem to be looking up: Samut's buddied-up with a one-armed God in a desert and picked up a Cleric subtype.

No longer Naya, like her original creature incarnation, Samut's strictly Gruul these days, and because this new version is two mana fewer to cast, she's also coming to town without flash and double strike.

We've gotten a few instances lately of "haste matters" strategies on legendary creatures, from Ognis, the Dragon's Lash to Goro-Goro and Satoru. Samut's less terrifying than those two, but only on the surface. You can't discount having a card advantage engine in the command zone, especially one that can trigger itself, albeit only once. Obviously, Samut wants you to play as many haste creatures as possible to ensure you're getting as many draw triggers as you can, and she even encourages spreading that aggression around the table each combat to get multiple draws a turn. That means you'll need lots of haste creatures every turn, or Sneak Attack. I vote the latter.

Samut seems like a pretty linear commander, but the more you think about it, the more options arise. While she's a regular ol' Human herself, she might be secretly an amazing Goblin commander. Goblins historically aren't great at card draw, but with something like a Goblin Chieftain in play, every subsequent Goblin will draw you a card if it connects, keeping the party going. Then again, there's also Sneak Attack.

You can also go the tokens route, as many of the tokens that can be created in red also come with built-in haste. Force of Rage might end up Divination that also hits for six damage, or maybe Samut teams up with Rakka Mar in a cross-plane fan fiction to draw a card a turn from hasty Elementals. Or, and perhaps I've mentioned this already, Sneak Attack.

Sarkhan, Soul Aflame

If it's a lizard with wings and a penchant for fire, Sarkhan Vol's likely got a strong opinion about it. He's been all about Dragons since he first appeared in 2008's Shards of Alara(Ed. note: Originally Rise of the Eldrazi's Sarkhan the Mad was identified as Sarkhan's first iteration, but has been corrected thanks to an eagle-eyed commenter -- Sarkhan's just less interesting when he's sane), and despite a few color shifts and some love/hate Dragon drama over the course of his eight planeswalker iterations, not that much has changed. He's still that guy who's really into his one hobby.

Nowadays, he's a Human Shaman with a text box that says the word "Dragon" more than once. His first ability reduces Dragons' cost, making him more or less a Dragonlord's Servant, and his second ability allows him to achieve his dreams of becoming that which he most idolizes.

We have plenty of Dragon-matters commanders, and we have plenty of commanders that can clone or shapeshift into other things, but we've never had both in one card, so that's neat. This version of Sarkhan provides an interesting opportunity to combine the three strategies of Dragons, clones, and Voltron should you want to walk that particular path. Since Sarkhan himself enters the Dragon, there's room to finesse wins with commander damage as he takes to the skies in the form of a Dragon Tyrant or similar. At the very least, Sarkhan's more intriguing as an Izzet-colored Dragon commander than Firkraag, Cunning Instigator or Lozhan, Dragons' Legacy.

It's likely that Sarkhan will see more play in the 99 of more established Dragon commanders, like The Ur-Dragon, Miirym, Sentinel Wyrm, or Tiamat, but he's certainly capable of helming his own list. If I were to build a Sarkhan deck right now, at this very minute, it'd be with blink spells like Ghostly Flicker, Displacer Kitten, Deadeye Navigator, Essence Flux, Displace, and Blur, along with copy effects, like Twinflame, Flameshadow Conjuring, Orthion, Hero of Lavabrink, and Heat Shimmer. Then a bunch of Dragons. Like, all of them, because that's what Sarkhan would want. Say what you want about the man, but he has a one-track mind.

Tyvar the Bellicose

Tyvar picked up a lot of new fans during the story of the Phyrexian Invasion, coming across as a gruff and honorable hero who will clap his friends on the back just a little too hard, but out of love. He's already back with a new card, and this time, he's sending those fans to Google to find out what "bellicose" means.

Without a spark, Tyvar is now an Elf Warrior, and if we're all honest here, basically the same as he ever was. Every iteration of him prior to Tyvar the Bellicose -- namely, Tyvar Kell and Tyvar, Jubilant Brawler -- care in some way or another about Elves, deathtouch, +1/+1 counters, and punching things.

Tyvar points you heartily in the direction of an Elf deck (almost literally, based on the art), and in the realm of Golgari Elf commanders, he's at least on par with Abomination of Llanowar, though likely not as powerful as Lathril, Blade of the Elves. It's that second ability, though, that we can get creative with.

Sure, in an Elf deck, mana-producing Elves, like Priest of Titania, Elvish Archdruid, Marwyn, the Nurturer, Circle of Dreams Druid or Wirewood Channeler can get really big, really quickly. But what about non-Elves? It's worth noting that Tyvar's second ability does not restrict the +1/+1 counter boon to Elves exclusively but provides it to any creature that produces mana. In that case, we have a ton of interesting options ranging from good to terrible/hilarious. In the latter category is Witch Engine or the airplane-impersonating Bog Witch. In the former category, we have Haruspex, Kami of Whispered Hopes, Sanctum Weaver, Karametra's Acolyte, Magus of the Coffers, Soldevi Adnate, Priest of Yawgmoth, Metalworker, Illuminor Szeras, or even Undermountain Adventurer. Any of those could provide a theme for a potential Tyvar deck that isn't all about Elves.

And lastly, in the "so that's why they added the 'this ability triggers only once per turn' clause" category, we have Cryptic Trilobite. Boo.


Jolrael, Voice of Zhalfir

As a diehard Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse player, I'm devastated that this new version does not make Cats. Of course, her original version from Prophecy, didn't make Cats either, and in fact cared about animating lands, but still. Cats.

Unlike the mythic rare legends we've discussed already, Jolrael was never a planeswalker, just like all the other rare legends. Instead of darting to and fro through the Multiverse, Jolrael never came out of her jungle, and when Zhalfir swapped places with New Phyrexia, it's likely Jolrael was very confused. It'd be like if you woke up one day and walked out your front door to find out your house is now on the moon.

As a commander, Birdland Jolrael will be very familar to players of Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper and Tatyova, Steward of Tides. You'll probably be dusting off your Halimar Tidecallers and Embodiment of Insights, your Sylvan Advocates and your Earth Surges. Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes it's nice to see a legendary creature printed that doesn't make you want to play some random card from Fallen Empires.

Nashi, Moon's Legacy

In which Rat Boy digs up dead things with the help of the ghost of his mother; I don't watch anime, but if someone said that was the synopsis of an anime, I would believe them. Still, it's a better plot than the other Rat Boy I can think of.

For three Sultai-flavored mana, we've got a new Nashi, who no longer steals cards from the top of opponents' libraries on attack, but instead allows us to quasi-reanimate legendary or Rat cards from our graveyards. In practice, it'll be more akin to Feldon of the Third Path than a true Reanimate, though unfortunately you have to exile the target. Whether you'll be making gravemasks of legends or Rats is up to you. I think one will end up being much more powerful than the other. A cursory Scryfall search will show you that there are 65 Commander-legal Rats, and one of them is Rats of Rath.

On the other hand, Nashi can make a copy of Garruk, Apex Predator.

But if you insist on sticking with Rats, you'll probably be doing so with Rat Colony or Relentless Rats, so don't forget that since you have access to blue and green, you can make use out of Bloodbond March and the almost-useless-in-Commander-until-it-really-isn't Sphinx of the Chimes.

Niv-Mizzet, Supreme

Despite a card name that sounds like he should come with olives and sausage, Niv-Mizzet, Supreme is perhaps the most buildable version yet, and that's saying something, since this is his fifth different card, and two of his versions, Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind and Niv-Mizzet, Parun, are two-card combos with Curiosity. Of course, my first reading of the card was the showcase version with no reminder text, so I didn't know how buildable new Niv was until after I realized I had no recollection of what Jump-start did and subsequently looked it up.

In a lot of ways, Niv will be as annoying to play against as a bizarro Muldrotha, the Gravetide. A quick rundown of the most popular instant/sorcery in each color pair as per EDHREC include:

Conversely, the top spell in each color combination in terms of how cool I'll think you'll be if you cast them are:

Being in five colors and largely open-ended, new Niv presents a pretty blank slate in terms of build theme. You can focus on bounce spells, like the aforementioned Soulquake, along with even more fun spells, like Worldpurge. You can see just how many different kinds of creature tokens you can create, with spells like Revel of the Fallen God, Inkshield, and March of the Multitudes. You can try to win though a bunch of direct damage using anything from Beacon Bolt and Debt to the Deathless to Blood for the Blood God! and Treacherous Terrain. The world really is your oyster.

Pia Nalaar, Consul of Revival

Chandra's mom appears on a third card, and second solo outing. This time, she gains white, but she's still all about those Thopters.

Pia's a lot like a Boros-colored Faldorn, Dread Wolf Herald in a lot of ways, and in practice you won't see much of a difference between the two other than the token you're creating. Both lean heavily into the red half of their color identity to make use of the "impulse" effects, such as Light Up the Stage, Ignite the Future, Jeska's Will, and the like. Pia will also trigger off of Cascade effects, like Throes of Chaos, as well as Suspend spells, like Chronomantic Escape.

Just don't forget that you're jumping through hoops just to make a bunch of Thopters, so be sure to make that relevant in some way, either with a big-mana artifact package powered by Krark-Clan Ironworks or Kuldotha Forgemaster, or a way to make the Thopters more threatening by using old favorites Tempered Steel and Steel Overseer.

Sigarda, Font of Blessings

Another day, another Sigarda. This'll be the Angel's fourth iteration, mixing together elements from the other three into a new, yet intensely familiar, flavor. That slightly unfamiliar note you detect, however, is Sigarda's attention toward Angels as a creature type. That's new.

Sigarda's pretty straightforward as a commander, of course. She wants you to play Humans, Angels, or some combination of the two. And for your trouble, you get a little Realmwalker action (with the creature type choice made for you ahead of time) swirled up in the static Privileged Position already humming. It's likely, though, that this particular Sigarda will see more action in the 99 of commanders that are looking to synergize with Humans or Angels, and not both simultaneously.

At least one thing is for certain: every card on which Sigarda appears features A+ art, and Sigarda, Font of Blessings is no different in that regard, in both the regular version and the showcase version. Good work all around.

Old Names, New Beginnings

That's a wrap on the legendary creatures from MOM:A, which is not a museum but a Magic: the Gathering expansion. Which of these ten seem most appealing as your next commander? Any you're looking to add to the 99 of existing decks?

And lastly, what are your thoughts about Aftermath as a concept? It's been said that this 50-card tack-on is an experiment, and like any experiment, favorable results bear repeating. So if this does well, we'll probably see more of it. Is that going to be a good thing?

Time will tell. Until then, see you around.