I don’t normally pay much attention to the story side of Magic: The Gathering. I know it has one, I’m looking at the trailers (opens in new tab) and appreciate enough of the wide scope to put the cards in context, but I’m not here reading novellas or tie-in comics or official cookbooks. (There’s actually no official cookbook, but it’s only a matter of time.) Then I saw that Miguel Lopez, co-creator of the Lancer tabletop RPG (opens in new tab)wrote the story for Magic’s new expansion The Brothers’ War.
Lancer is a fun mud and lasers game of giant robot pilots fighting gritty battles for a brighter future, while The Brothers’ War is about traveling back in time to a period of war between – wouldn’t you know – giant robots . It’s in Lopez’s wheelhouse, I mean. I thought I’d give his card game fiction a shot, and now I’m three episodes into one story about robots powered by magic rocks and the end of the world (opens in new tab)enjoy it so much I built a deck around it Queen Kayla bin-Kroog (opens in new tab) because I thought she looked neat. I don’t even recognize myself anymore.
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As far as the actual maps go, giant robots mean that the Brothers’ War contains a lot of artifact creatures, such as Terror Ballista, a cross between a beetle and a crossbow that allows you to sacrifice your own creatures to kill your opponent’s. I like to imagine using them as ammunition, just tossing goblins out of your big ballista beetle.
Then there’s Liberator, Urza’s Battlethopter, a troop carrier that starts with strength 1 and costs 3 mana, but gets a +1/+1 token when you cast something that costs more mana than it. When you play paper magic, you need a stack of tokens, because The Brothers’ War is full of cards that make it rain like confetti. My first win came from stacking counters on Thopter Mechanic and Lat-Nam Adept, two blue cards that get +1/+1 when you draw a second time during your turn (a specialty of annoying blue cards).
You’ll also want a lot of powerstone tokens, which I now know explain the lore for what fuels all these machines. They can be tapped for colorless mana that you can use to pay for more artifacts – as well as activate abilities, which the wording “This mana cannot be spent to cast a non-artifact spell” doesn’t mean. makes clear as it should.
To accentuate the themes of artifacts and time travel, 63 ancient artifact cards have been reprinted with retro frames. If you want a copy of Precursor Golem (opens in new tab) or Ramos, Dragon Engine (opens in new tab), now is your chance. Just because they’ve been reprinted doesn’t mean they’re legal in standard format again, which makes it tempting to go back to historic Arena play just to see if they shake things up.
The other way the Brothers’ War theme manifests itself is weirder. Each Physical Set Booster and Collector Booster has a chance to become a Transformers card. Yes, Transformers as in “robots in disguise”. They are double-sided to display their ability to switch back and forth between shapes, and have variant art that either resembles the 1980s cartoons, or is based on a mirror universe called Broken glass (opens in new tab).
It’s two of Hasbro’s biggest brands having a marketing crossover but I can’t be cynical about it because I saw the Laserbeak token and it unlocked a deep childhood memory where I thought a cassette that turned into a robot vulture was the coolest shit ever was. Now I actually want to collect them all, or at least Starscream and Cyclonus. Jetfire maybe? Goddamnit.
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Tempting paper products aside, Arena is where I play Magic the most. Collecting the Brothers’ War in digital form has been made easier with the addition of “golden packs”, which contain half a dozen rare cards from recent sets and come free with every 10 regular boosters purchased in Arena. That includes boosters you get with gold earned from wins and daily missions. Where previously the best way to get your money’s worth in Arena was to play draft or seal, buying boosters is now a competitive way to build your collection, which is great if these aren’t the formats you’re looking for. like.
While that Queen Kayla bin-Kroog deck hasn’t done too well for me, I’ve seen something else in The Brothers’ War where I’m tempted to build a deck around it. To be rescue retriever (opens in new tab). With this 3/3 dog soldier you can drop even more of those +1/+1 tokens: one on every other soldier card you have, and there are plenty of them in The Brothers’ War. Like Yotian Frontliner, a sword-wielding robot soldier who gives +1/+1 to another creature when it attacks, but only until the end of the turn. And Siege Veteran, an ordinary human soldier who, you’ll never guess, lets you put a free +1/+1 counter on a target at the start of each battle phase.
I started with the best of intentions and a heavily themed deck that matched the lore, but the urge to make something more solid and probably infuriate people never really goes away.
The War of the Brothers (opens in new tab) tickets will be available in stores from November 18 and are in Arena now. You can score three free boosters in Arena by entering the code PlayBRO.