Magic: The Gathering steps back in time for the new Brothers War set

Brothers War - Gix the Phyrexian praetor rules over minions
(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)
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In The Brothers War, Magic: the Gathering is setting aside planeswalking and instead time walking (opens in new tab) back to its very first storyline. 

Way back in the earliest days of Magic: The Gathering, it broke all kinds of new ground and invented the collectible card game. The idea of dueling planeswalking wizards was pretty fantastical already, but with Magic's second expansion Antiquities (opens in new tab)—released in March, 1994—the team at Wizards of the Coast stepped their game up by having the new set tell a story. The brothers Urza and Mishra—each a powerful wizard—fought over possession of two powerful stones, while the first appearance of the Phyrexians loomed as a consequence of their actions.

With the recent set Dominaria United setting up another climactic showdown with the evil bodysculpting Phyrexians in the upcoming Phyrexia: All Will Be One and March of the Machines sets, it's time to revisit the origin of Magic's longest running story.

You'll get your first chance to step back in time into The Brothers War with the prerelease weekend from November 11 in paper ahead of the full release on November 18. It'll also be arriving in full on Magic: The Gathering Arena on November 15, with an early access on November 10 for those of us more keen for digital cardboard.

What's the story behind The Brothers War?

At the end of the twisting betrayals of Dominaria United, Teferi (opens in new tab) and his allies Kaya and Saheeli are left desperately trying to figure out how to defeat the cockroach villainy of the Phyrexians. Casting about for solutions, they decide to craft a temporal anchor—a device that will allow Teferi to peer back into Dominaria's past for any clues to how Urza defeated the Phyrexians during his war against his corrupted brother Mishra.

The Brothers War takes an in depth look at the lives of Mishra, Urza, Ashnod, Tawnos, and those around them. Teferi follows the brothers from their younger years and the splitting of the powerstone that gave them power and sparked their rivalry, to the Phyrexian Praetor Gix and his corruption of Mishra, and then to the cataclysmic end of their fratricidal war.

Teferi going back in time to discover how Urza destroyed the world with the Golgothian Sylex (opens in new tab) definitely gives off big Red Alert vibes, so hopefully he's smart enough not to make the same 'nuke the world' mistakes as Urza.

What new and old card mechanics will we see?

There aren't too many band new mechanics, but you'll find the Powerstone mechanic—which creates artifact tokens you can tap to fuel activated abilities or cast artifacts—first revealed on Karn, Living Legacy (opens in new tab) coming back in a big way. While this Karn was correctly regarded as one of the weaker planeswalker cards initially, a flood of new cards that create or rely on Powerstone tokens could bolster his power level. Most of the strength in the mechanic will depend on how good the cards the mechanic appears on are.

On the more reliable side of things, the new Prototype mechanic will let you play a less expensive version of creatures that have a smaller power and toughness. Versatility has always been a staple of great cards in Magic, giving you different options in a single card has resulted in some of the most powerful and format defining cards, from spells with multiple modes (opens in new tab) to creatures once considered the best for their flexibility (opens in new tab). Phyrexian Fleshgorger is already a powerful example, and it's easy to see how other cards from Brothers War could tip the scale on the Prototype mechanic even further when revealed.

The main returning mechanic is Unearth, which lets you temporarily reanimate permanents from your graveyard. Magic hasn't seen much use of the Unearth mechanic since it was on the plane of Alara, and it's got the potential to bring a lot of power in aggressive creature-based strategies. Giving you the chance to re-use your creatures to chip in for extra damage can give an edge to decks that grind value out over a longer game—or just let the fastest decks chip in the last few points of damage through waves of removal spells.

To a lesser degree, The Brothers War also sees the return of the unusual Meld mechanic, where two cards can be combined to form a more powerful card that has its halves printed on the back of its component cards. It's an awkward mechanic, and hasn't often been very good—but some of the cards we've seen for it already, like Argoth, Sanctum of Nature and Titania, Voice of Gaea make a strong case for slipping into decks with their low mana cost.

What showcase card frames and alternate frames are in The Brothers War?

With The Brothers War, Magic is bringing back some old favorites, quite literally as we're seeing the return of retro borders, which apply to 63 different artifacts from Magic's history. You'll have a shot at these with every pack, as there's one showing up in every Set, Draft, and Collector booster. In addition, these retro artifacts can show up as a schematic, which is a new art that portrays blueprints of the artifact. Maybe the absolute coolest thing about the retro frame coming back is keyed into Brothers War commander, where both commander decks—one for Mishra and one for Urza, of course—will be entirely retro frame, every single one of their 99 cards a buffet of old school framing.

To add to this, Magic is stealing an old idea from the realms of sports cards and late-night shopping channel collectible plates. Schematic showcase cards can show up in collector boosters as a serialized print—which is a double rainbow foil that's numbered out of 500. What this means is that for each of the 63 different schematic artifacts, there are 500 copies out there each individually numbered (for a total of 31,500 in total). While there's nothing distinct about the mechanics of serialized cards, they're certain to be highly sought after collector items and likely to fetch hefty prices on the secondary market.

Piling onto the glut of options, there will also be some tie-in cards, similar to the Dracula cards released in Crimson Vow. Matching up with the giant robots of the Brothers War storyline, the Transformers will be sneaking into set and collector booster packs. There are 15 different cards in the sub-set, all mythic rarity and mechanically unique—unlike the Dracula cards, which were just normal Crimson Vow cards given alternate names and art. There are also alternate universe 'shattered glass' versions of the Transformers sprinkled into collector boosters, which are mechanically identical to their normal versions, but feature different art and frames.

As usual, there will also be extended art and borderless cards, so you can expect to see that pesky black border disappearing once again. 

Is MTG Arena getting anything special?

MTG Arena - Golden Booster

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

While the usual assortment of avatars and cosmetics are showing up with The Brothers War, something far more important is coming along in the form of the new golden booster. When purchasing booster packs of The Brothers War, Every 10 boosters you purchase will net you a single golden booster, regardless of whether you purchased the pack with gems or gold.

What's so special about golden boosters? Well, they come with six rares or mythic rares from the current standard environment and won't include anything from Alchemy. Here's a more specific breakdown of what comes in each golden booster:

  • 1 Mythic Rare from all of the current Standard sets.
  • 2 Rares (with normal chance to upgrade) from the most recent Standard set.
  • 3 Rares (with normal chance to upgrade) chosen from all of the current Standard sets.

While this isn't as massive a change to Arena's economy as many would like to see, it's good to see an increase in the quantity of rares and mythics being earned through regular play, since this effectively puts about an additional half a rare in each pack over time.