MTG Arena's new Dungeons & Dragons set is brilliantly nerdy and surprisingly fun

Magic: The Gathering Adventures in the Forgotten Realms
(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

Magic: The Gathering's next set, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms (AFR for short) is officially launching on July 23, although it'll be landing in MTG Arena today. I managed to get my hands on the new set a day before it lands, and while initially unsure how the D&D universe sits in the MTG multiverse, I have to say I had a lot of fun turning cards sideways and doing completely nasty things to my opponents.

This is Magic's 88th expansion, but it's the first time there's been a direct crossover between Magic and Dungeons & Dragons. With so many expansions under its belt, Wizards of the Coast clearly knows what it's doing, and any new expansion is fun to explore and find out how it all works. AFR absolutely does that, and seeing how the various themes and mechanics work together is interesting and rewarding. 

Surprisingly, AFR only introduces two new mechanics to the game: venture in the dungeon and pack tactics. The first goes hand in hand with the Dungeon cards, which I'll get to shortly, but are great fun. Pack tactics meanwhile is an ability that causes an effect when creatures attack with a combined power of 6 or greater. 

There are 281 new cards in the set, made up of 101 commons, 80 uncommons, 60 rares, 20 mythic rares, and 20 basic lands that have flavour text for the first time in the game's history. It may not sound like much, but having flavour text on lands does sum up what this set is trying to do in lieu of a Core set this year.

All the mythics from the latest set can be yours in minutes if you're happy to drop a big pile of cash on the game. (Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

While I played D&D in my formative years, it's not something I've kept up with, and I was fearful that the set would be awash with references that I had no idea about. 

Thankfully this isn't the case. While there may be enough easter eggs and references to keep diehard fans happy (or annoyed because their faves haven't been included), for the most part, it can all be ignored. If Vorpal swords, Beholders, and Tiamat mean nothing to you, you can still just enjoy throwing around big creatures, ridiculous weapons, and frustrating your opponents regardless.

I do vaguely remember some of those things, and while I know there's plenty of lore for Wizards to dive into, it's shown restraint and kept things approachable. It isn't trying to tell a specific story from a specific timeframe with the set, and it's more of a general environment and setting than anything else. 

There are only three dungeons to choose from, but they do offer different benefits depending on your deck. (Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

As with any set, there are some key themes that subtly change the game, and here the introduction of Dungeons is the most fun, even if it is probably destined to be ignored by serious gamers unless some hideously broken combo is unearthed.

There are three dungeons you can adventure through while playing a normal game, with certain cards inviting you to 'venture into the dungeon.' This essentially means start a dungeon if you haven't already or advance if you have. There are choices to be made, and rewards to be won, and it's a neat addition, if somewhat gimmicky. The fact that there are only three dungeons feels a bit limited, and the idea will probably get old quickly, but at least to start with it's fun.

Acererack the Archlich is a lot of creature for 3 mana, but there are caveats. (Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

Acererak the Archlich is a particularly fun example of what's possible with Dungeons. This undercosted 5/5 for 2B is returned to your hand unless you've already completed the Tomb of Annihilation dungeon. But playing it before you have completed it, advances you in a dungeon, for a fairly low, easy cost. 

That's dungeons covered, so it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that there are plenty of dragons in the set as well. One uncommon dragon for each colour and then more powerful, more impactful options as you move up the rarity ladder. 

These dragons are fun to play, and some may see competitive play, although several feel like they've been included for flavour rather than their potential to shake up standard. Black Dragon, for example, is overcosted at 5BB for a 4/4 flier even if it does give a creature -3/-3 when it enters play. Reasonable in limited, but not a must pick.

Classes are enchantments that you can level up for more beneficial effects: Powerful and good fun.  (Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

There are a series of class cards that exist as enchantments that buff your creatures or the way you play. I managed to do some horrible things with a pair of Rogue Class cards that meant every time my creatures attacked, I got to steal cards from the top of my opponent's library and then cast them on my turn. My poor opponent conceded after I did this a few times.

One other element that has made its way into MTG this set is dice rolling. Several cards call on you to roll a D20, with the outcome affecting how strong an effect is. Several cards pay big if you hit a "natural 20", with the Deck of Many Things being a particularly impressive example, I should know as I lost to it one game. 

Treasure also plays a pretty big role, with numerous ways of creating and then benefiting from treasure—artefacts that can be sacrificed to produce mana of any colour. Thematically it makes sense and smoothing out coloured mana requirements is always welcome. 

The set does feel overly wordy. While thematically nice, I don't really need a name attached to gaining 2 life. (Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

My only criticisms of the set so far are that the cards are very wordy and that there is a lack of effects for the bigger, more impactful rares and mythics. While not essential, it's always nice to get a graphical flourish as some massive bomb enters play and destroys your opponent's plans. These may enter MTG Arena at a later date, but it does feel like there has been a downward trend on this front for a while now, so I wouldn't hold your breath.

That said, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms looks like another fun expansion for a game that was originally designed to be played in between bouts of D&D. Given that Wizards of the Coast owns both franchises, it makes sense to combine them. I'd imagine this won't be the last time we'll see such a crossover.

Adventures in the Forgotten Realms launches on July 23. The expansion comes to MTG Arena today, July 8, with Lolth and Elllywick bundles available for $49.99. Individual packs are available to buy from 1,000 gold up to 90 packs bundles for 18,000 gems (about $100). Alternatively, you can earn packs for free by completing the mastery track.

You can claim 3 packs for free by redeeming the code PlayDnD in the store too.

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.