Magic Arena gets all dark and dangerous in the Streets of New Capenna

Concept art for Streets of New Capenna
(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast, Tyler Jacobson)

Ask most gamers what they can expect to find in Magic the Gathering and you'll hit the usual high-fantasy tropes of ogres, demons, dragons, and maybe planeswalkers. All of those are present and correct in the Streets of New Capenna, but the setting for this 92nd expansion is notably different to what has gone before. After the cyberpunk vibe of Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, Wizards of the Coast has decided to take inspiration from 1920s prohibition-era America, complete with organised crime and an Art Deco aesthetic. 

This being Magic, those crime families are headed by demons, and of course, there are those goody-goody angels around to try and keep everything in check at the same time. The good news is there's loads of beautiful art to ogle, with a total of 281 cards in the set, plus alternative versions. 

Even so, there's an air of the mundane, with the oft-grimy characters being thematically on point, but lacking the excitement of some high-fantasy sets that Magic is famed for. If you've been hankering after pin-stripe suits, waistcoats, and flat caps, then this is the expansion for you.

Core to the set are the five crime families that each have an associated theme and mechanic. There's a loose three-colour theme which harks back to the Alara block, although the fact that these are all crime families muddies the water somewhat—there's not quite such a clear distinction.

As an example, the Obscura family is built around white, blue, and black and focuses on card draw and control. It also uses the Connive mechanic, which is surprisingly powerful, and sees you draw a card and then discard a card, giving the creature a +1/+1 counter if you discard a nonland card. The actual creatures though feel largely interchangeable with the Brokers (GWU) and Mastros (UBR). 

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

Of the new mechanics, the introduction of shield counters, ostensibly aligned with the Brokers, is probably the most interesting, as it protects a creature from destroy effects—whether that's in combat or from spells. This kind of protection has been around before, but never so neatly handled as it is here. It can make for some head-scratching moments when it comes to first strike and normal damage—block a shielded creature with both, and you will potentially kill it. Pinging a shield for any damage at all can also remove it.

Beyond that, there's your usual mix of new keywords alongside familiar ones, although the observation that these mechanics are variations of the kicker mechanic still holds true. They may have more elaborate names, but you're often looking at spending a bit more as you cast a spell for a slightly more powerful effect. Blitz, for instance, lets you pay a different amount of mana (sometimes more, sometimes less) to give a creature haste but you have to sacrifice it at the end of turn. You also get to draw a card when that creature dies. 

As far as drafting is concerned, Streets of New Capenna desperately wants you to draft three colours. There are plenty of payoffs for doing so, although as ever you do run the risk of messing up your mana and dying to a weenie rush as you sit there with a clenched fist full of powerful-but-currently-useless cards. 

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

Most reasonable draft builds are still going to want to go dual-colour

Wizards of the Coast invited me to an early access event to try out the new set before the official release date. In my first draft, I purposefully drafted a mono-green deck to see if I could punish the more elaborate mana bases. Sure enough, I did take a few down, just by virtue of being able to play all the cards in my deck easily. I did lose to some of those more potent gold cards though when I couldn't overpower my opponents quick enough.

Streets of New Capenna does include some decent mana fixing to help you realise this multi-coloured dream. There are plenty of dual-colour lands to slam in your deck, and there are five crime family-themed lands that you sacrifice when they come into play in exchange for one of three associated basic lands. For instance, the Obscura Storefront sacrifices to get a plains, island, or swamp and that land is put into play tapped. 

There are a series of on-theme creatures that you can exile to allow a land to tap for an associated three mana types until you cast that creature from exile. Masked Bandits, for instance, enables access to black, red, and green mana. It's a good solution that does allow you to go wide on your mana base.

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

Even so, most reasonable builds are still going to want to go dual-colour, with a possible splash of a third colour for more powerful game-changers. As ever, it pays to be flexible when playing limited, and you'll be punished for sticking to a particular colour too early. More so here than what we've seen in previous sets.

Keep an eye out for bombs too—both in terms of which ones to look out for (draftsim is a great resource for this), but also on how to handle them. Streets of New Capenna doesn't feel quite as bomb-heavy as some recent sets, but it's still easy to be overwhelmed—particularly when it comes to the Planeswalkers. I mean how exactly are you going to handle an opponent's Ob Nixilis, the Adversary that has copied itself by sacrificing a buffed Celebrity Fencer to come into play with seven loyalty? 

Shot of Magic the Gathering Streets of New Capenna

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

Overall, I'm not as enamoured with this set as I am with Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, or indeed the sets before that, namely Crimson Vow and Midnight Hunt. Wizards of the Coast has proved that it can handle different themes and settings well, and there are some neat ideas here (shields are a great addition in particular), but it feels a bit contrived, and it's trying to push the three-colour drafting a bit hard for my liking. I'll still play it way too much.

Streets of New Capenna hits Magic Arena on April 28.

Alan Dexter

Alan has been writing about PC tech since before 3D graphics cards existed, and still vividly recalls having to fight with MS-DOS just to get games to load. He fondly remembers the killer combo of a Matrox Millenium and 3dfx Voodoo, and seeing Lara Croft in 3D for the first time. He's very glad hardware has advanced as much as it has though, and is particularly happy when putting the latest M.2 NVMe SSDs, AMD processors, and laptops through their paces. He has a long-lasting Magic: The Gathering obsession but limits this to MTG Arena these days.