March of the Machine is a massive Magic: The Gathering set. A pivotal story set, March of the Machine highlights the climax of the Phyrexian saga, spanning not only the preceding three sets, but one of the longest story arcs in Magic's history. It's a set with utterly dynamic and fantastic art, showcasing the Phyrexian invasion across the multiverse.
Check out the key art from Billy Christian:
Throughout the art of the set we can see a clear story progression of the beginning, middle, and end of the invasion.
Before we get into the intense action and story elements of the art of March of the Machine, one aspect I really appreciate in the art direction of this set was the showcase of the impending threat of the Phyrexian invasion.
Take Sun-Blessed Guardian // Furnace-Blessed Conqueror by Brian Veleza for example:
This is a double-faced card, with the backside of the card being the creature transformed as a Phyrexian, but I love on the frontside of this card we get the shadow of the Phyrexian symbol in the staff of this warrior of the Sun Empire on Ixalan. It's a great allusion to the threat that is to come, which also makes sense in the card's design as you can flip it after you cast it to turn it into a Phyrexian creature.
Featured in the Commander release for March of the Machine, Begin the Invasion by Campbell White is another really powerful piece of art for this set. This art showcases a fractured multiverse, showing planes like Kamigawa and Kaladesh as Realmbreaker rips through the multiverse, signifying the beginning of the end.
One key aspect of the set's art is the focus on the various invasions across planes both familiar and unfamiliar to the average Magic player. March of the Machine showcased this integral part of the story to players in the form of a brand new card type to Magic: Battles.
Battles are a new type of permanent. They enter play with a number of counters on them. You can deal damage through spells and by attacking Battles to remove their counters. Once the last counter has been removed you have the option of casting the Battle's other side. The flipside of each Battle is unique, most being creatures but others flipping into other card types.
Battles feature action-packed art, showcasing Phyrexians standing off between the protectors of other multiverses. For example, here's the art of Invasion of Alara // Awaken the Maelstrom:
In the midst of this battle, painted by Mathias Kollros, we can clearly see Phyrexians poised to strike on the left, with creatures from the various Shards of Alara ready to defend their plane. It's an epic showdown and I really love the contrast between the super light and dark areas of this piece.
Another really interesting aspect of March of the Machine is the showcase of Phyrexian influence upon other planes. Take Norn's Inquisitor for example, a once Innistrad knight now Phyrexian horror:
What was once probably an inquisitor of the Church of Avacyn has been grotesquely transformed into a Phyrexian soldier, keen on spreading the word of Phyrexia. I appreciate how all instances of Avacyn's symbol have been snuffed out, and while this once-Knight creature has taken the form of a Elesh Norn Phyrexian, I love artist Denix Zhbankov included traces of this creature's original Innistrad outfit, such as the torch, leather belt, dagger, and chains.
While the Phyrexian forces are unbent on subsuming the multiverse to the will of Phyrexia, there are those that fight back. Certain legendary creature cards in this set showcase two unlikely forces of each showcased plane fighting side by side with a common enemy standing before them.
In the art for Borborygmos and Fblthp, we get a snapshot of Borborygmos tearing through a Phyrexian monster as Fblthp shakes his fist riding on top of the cyclopean guild leader's head. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and I love the art direction of these two fighting together. Perhaps two eyes are better than one. Rudy Siswanto, popular for his work across various Riot Games projects, has done an excellent job showcasing this dynamic duo teaming up to defend Ravnica.
In addition to the various legendary creatures staking their lives for the multiverse, another dynamic part of this set's art direction is the art design for the planeswalkers.
In this art for Chandra, Hope's Beacon, by Randy Vargas, we see an impassioned Chandra, pushed to her limits, about to whirl a humongous fireball. There's so much emotion and strength poured into this art, it feels like Chandra's about to incinerate everything standing in her way. I also love some of the smaller details, such as the metal ground beginning to melt underneath Chandra's feet. For me, this art encapsulates the true essence of Chandra's determination and drive as a planeswalker.
While there are many other incredibly detailed and emotional pieces of art across March of the Machine's cards, there's one card in particular I want to turn my attention to: Storm the Seedcore.
Storm the Seedcore feels like a painting I've seen at the Met. It's such an incredible snapshot of a crucial plot point - the Mirrans paving a way and carrying Wrenn to reach the Invasion Tree. There's a lot to take in upon a first glance. My eyes first situate on Wrenn and the Mirran woman carrying her. Based on the action shown in this piece my eyes then follow the Mirrans to the right as they pave their way through the Phyrexian horde. I love how the Mirrans and Wrenn feel bathed in a golden light that completely blots out the Phyrexians above, below, and to the right of this heroic team.
While I wish I had the artistic prowess to describe how breathtaking this art is, the artist, Jason Rainville, posted a Twitter thread detailing his process. It's really interesting to see his breakdown of the colors used in this piece and what influences across various centuries helped bring this story moment to life.
In addition to the card art that's featured in March of the Machine, there's one more piece of media that I want to share - one that I actually got to be a creative part of!
For those of you who don't know me personally, I work professionally as a game sound designer at the studio Formosa Interactive. Formosa has contributed to the sound design and audio mix of every non-anime Magic: The Gathering cinematic trailer since the debut of the stunning War of the Spark trailer back in 2019. As an assistant sound designer, I got to create some sound design elements for Elspeth's magic throughout this trailer.
Before working at Formosa I wouldn't have realized just how much meticulous design goes into these trailers. I was lucky enough to sit in for one of the recording sessions for Elesh Norn, voiced by the incredibly talented Laila Berzins. It was surreal to watch someone perform the lines of one of MTG's biggest antagonists, and even more chilling to hear Laila's performance in the final mix of the trailer.
I assisted lead designer and mixer Patrick Ginn on this project. I had previously expressed how much of a MTG fan I was and that if a trailer came in I'd be first in line to work on it. I talked extensively with Patrick about which specific areas of the trailer I could provide design input, since other sound designers were taking on specific parts of the trailer, such as the Phyrexian creatures' individual sounds and vocalizations.
Using various lightning and magical sound effects I was able to mix in various elements for Elspeth's sword attacks. You can hear my work at around 0:45, 1:15, and 1:45 in the trailer. The sequence where she rains down lightning upon the Phyrexians attacking Karn was particularly tough, as I had to balance out the audio mix between Elspeth's lightning Magic and the subsequent metallic destruction of the Phyrexians. I was elated to hear elements of my design used in the final product on the March of the Machine debut day.
Overall, working on this project was a dream come true and a huge milestone in my career as a sound designer. I'm grateful I was able to provide some artistic influence on a pivotal story trailer, especially for a character I've been a fan of for so long. Special thanks to Formosa and Patrick Ginn for helping me reach this point in my career.
March of the Machine will stand as one of the most memorable Magic sets of all time. It's a masterclass in showcasing the sheer will and determination of the heroes of the multiverse, as they band together in one final fight to defeat the Phyrexian menace. March of the Machine features breathtaking clashes between Phyrexians and the defenders of the multiverse, dynamic team ups, powerful Planeswalkers, and vital story moments of this climatic story set.
I hold a high appreciation for the countless hours of work that went into all aspects of this set's art design, including art, cinematic trailer design, and marketing. I'll always hold this set in a special place in my heart, as it remains the first (and hopefully not last) set I got to contribute to in an artistic capacity.