The team over at Wizards of the Coast have really leaned in on the nostalgia as of late and it seems to shine for it. We’ve spent a few weeks with the latest set and ventured into lands of Dungeons & Dragons and have been left quite impressed with what we’ve found. Here are our thoughts
Magic: The Gathering Adventures In The Forgotten Realms New Mechanic - Dungeons
Dungeons are a fascinating addition to the base game, having a subtle meta game go on alongside the board. Essentially, Dungeon cards are kept on the sideboard (there are three in this set) and you can only move through them if a card ability tells you to do so. Moving through them may net you an advantage like creating a token, gaining life or something more mischievous. Once you’ve made your way through the entire dungeon (usually only a handful of levels) some cards may get bonuses like double strike or +1s.
Essentially, a deck may be built around this meta-game of dungeon crawling where another may go straight for the throat. It sets up this dichotomy between your own board and something off to the side that is genuinely fascinating. This isn’t an evergreen mechanic but it is worthwhile to try for yourself.
Magic: The Gathering Adventures In The Forgotten Realms New Mechanic - Rolling
Rolling is a fascinating mechanic. Essentially, when the card tells you to do so, you have to roll a dice and the effect is dependent on your result. Unlike D&D, 1 generally doesn’t mess you up but it will be the weakest buff there. To call out an interesting card, Djinni Windseer is a blue 4 mana 3/3 flyer that has the roll ability. Between 1-9 lets you scry 1 when they enter the battlefield, 10-19 lets you scry 2 and 20 lets you scry 3. Generally, this mechanic isn’t consistent enough to play all that competitively but it adds a sense of adrenaline to combat that has genuinely surprised me, something that MTG hasn’t done for a while. It’s not a mechanic that makes cards all that powerful but it adds much needed levity to the set.
Magic: The Gathering Adventures In The Forgotten Realms New Mechanic - Classes
Classes are one of my favourite additions to this set. A new enchantment type, this equips to you and can grant new abilities or buffs. Taking the druid class as an example, attaching a class sets it at level 1 and grants the abilities of a level 1 class (whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, you gain 1 life). You can then, at any time you can cast a sorcery, level up that class with the right mana to give you a brand new ability.
The key to this is information. You get some very powerful abilities but your opponent can then see the next two levels you take. You have to play with that information in order to scare them into doing certain moves or misunderstanding what you are ramping up to. You can also have multiple classes and can work on them at the same time.
Magic: The Gathering Adventures In The Forgotten Realms: White
White will always have its problems but this set plays into the theming of D&D to do some very interesting things. There’s something almost cheeky about some of best cards in this set. The Guardian of Faith is a particularly great card that allows you to phase out as many creatures as you like for one turn as they enter the battlefield. They cost 3 mana (2 white) and are a flying creature with vigilance and 3 / 2 stats. The best thing about it is it has flash. If challenged by a board wipe or any other particularly nasty card, this is a hail mary that could win your game and it only costs three mana.
Making up for white’s lack of mana, the Loyal Warhound is a really solid 2 mana cast. It’s a 3 / dog with vigilance that allows you to place a land from your library if your opponent has more than you. In a non-commander deck, having four of these ready is a nice way of getting guys on the field alongside a nice mana ramp. White isn’t incredibly powerful but these cards play around its biggest weaknesses in ways that pay homage to D&D well.
Magic: The Gathering Adventures In The Forgotten Realms: Blue
Blue plays into the roll mechanic quite a lot in my time with it. This plays into the theme of a mage constantly attempting new ideas and awaiting the outcome in a fun way. It can be great among your friends to not entirely know the extent of the card you’re about to play. The flash 2 /1 Scion of Stygia allows you to either roll to tap a creature or roll to tap it and keep it tapped for an extra turn. This is a small difference that leaves a little tension in the air, especially when played alongside Pixie Guide, which allows you to roll two dice and pick the greatest outcome.
Blue doesn’t feel fundamentally changed by this set but the interesting lore and fun new mechanics add just one more side to the way you think about the game. I wouldn’t play this set for the blue but it’s a solid addition.
Magic: The Gathering Adventures In The Forgotten Realms: Black
Black fits with the D&D theming so well and is possibly my favourite addition to any colour. Lolth, Spider Queen is not only a really cool planeswalker with great abilities but it fits so well into what exactly black aims to do. All about buffing yourself by killing yourself, she can only gain loyalty by letting your own creatures die. This does mean destroying your own board but it also means you can gain tonnes of loyalty in one go, a worthwhile trade off. Though she is a bit expensive, she’s worth every drop of mana.
Black plays into the venture mechanic well with cards like Zombie Ogre that lets you venture if you lost a creature that turn. There’s also a meaningful risk with the likes of Herald of Hadar who gets you to roll to potentially deal damage to your opponent or even make a few tokens to sacrifice. This is a really cool colour this time around.
Magic: The Gathering Adventures In The Forgotten Realms: Red
As you might anticipate, red has quite a few goblins this time around, a good fit for the set. It doesn’t just stay here though and the Earth-Cult Elemental is a worthwhile card to talk about for how much it can mess up either player. If you roll between a 1 and 9, each player sacrifices a permanent, if you roll between 10 and 19, only your opponent does. If you’re really lucky and get a 20, each opponent sacrifices two permanents.This is an interesting card that can potentially mess up your own board, a perfect fit for red.
This being said, you can pair it with the likes of Flameskull to mitigate some of those risk. A flying 3 / 1 that can’t block, Flameskull can essentially take the place of the next card in your library having both exile when it dies. You can then cast only one of the two exile cards and the other goes. This means that every death risks that choice of getting rid of a great card but it’s almost always worth it to keep that fiery skull in the air. Ultimately, red cards feel much cooler than they are practical this time around. It didn’t appear to get cards that are all that noteworthy but it did get some fun additions.
Magic: The Gathering Adventures In The Forgotten Realms: Green
Green has a few surprisingly nasty cards when put into the right deck. Being often deceptively dangerous, even something as innocuous as the Lurking Roper can be a challenge for some. A 4 /5 creature for 3 mana, it is only untapped when you heal. This may not seem all that good but information is key in Magic: The Gathering. Just the thought that I have that on the field and have the potential of untapping it at any time with the right spell often frightens players into not attacking. This subtle way of bluffing can get you through some sticky encounters. For only 3 mana, it’s a pretty good bluff.
There aren’t all that many huge hitters but the low mana cards are really solid. The druid class is a compelling enchantment, Circle of Dreams Druid has a really great ramp ability and the Sylvan Shepherd has the potential to net you up to 5 life every single turn if you're really lucky. All round, this set has lots of smaller cards you should check out and think about adding to a deck.
Magic: The Gathering Adventures In The Forgotten Realms - Verdict
I adored the set, this time around. The previous two sets have been fairly solid but this is the most accomplished and confident Magic I’ve played this year. This felt cheeky, a little geeky and surprisingly approachable. It feels entirely willing to add new mechanics, ideas and genuine creativity.
I felt genuinely surprised opening up packs in this set which hasn’t happened in a little while. Although I originally feared this may feel gimmicky, it doesn't at all. It feels accomplished. This isn’t just an interesting sign for the future of Magic: The Gathering, it’s a bold new direction that MTG’s other sets should learn from.
The Magic: the Gathering Kaldheim cards used to produce this article were provided by ICO Partners.