Thanks to a blockbuster “season overview” from WotC, we’ve finally gotten our first glimpse at Adventures in the Forgotten Realms: the first official crossover set between Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons. The article seems to indicate another top-down set design, emphasizing the flavor and even some of the mechanics of D&D. Adam Styborski writes that:
“Adventures in the Forgotten Realms is Magic’s take on the most popular Dungeons & Dragons setting, bringing the characters and experiences of the world’s greatest roleplaying game to life in the world’s greatest card game,” and that it “brings the storytelling and roleplaying of Dungeons & Dragons to Magic through every card, including the basic lands.”
Those basics are sweet, but beyond some extra flavor text, it’s tricky to say what exactly will be new and exciting about this set. So many of D&D’s classic tropes and aesthetics already inform the basic fantasy sensibilities behind Magic, and there’s precious little left over that can really drive home the point that “we’re doing D&D now!”
Magic also has several previous sets which specifically adopted D&D concepts — if not the name itself. Legends was created by a group of fantasy roleplayers and depicts characters and places from their campaign; this was where the very idea of having named legendary characters in Magic came from!
Zendikar aimed to capture the thrills and spills of classic dungeon-crawling and exploratory adventures of early D&D, with elaborate traps, lurking monsters, mysterious relics and parties of adventurers with mixed skillsets who work better as a team. The party mechanic from Zendikar Rising is such an obvious homage that it’s already earmarked to appear in this new D&D set. Even Ravnica, with its plane-wide megacity governed by 10 philosophically-opposed guilds, is an obvious adoption of the famous Planescape campaign setting — and matches many D&D urban fantasy tropes in the process.
So, how will WotC make sure Forgotten Realms stands out from these sets, and from the rest of Magic in general? By going back to basics with those oh-so-iconic D&D initials themselves!
WE GOT DRAGONS!
The most important and powerful card previewed in the article shows off D&D’s goddess of (evil) dragonkind, Tiamat.
Conveniently, the colors of D&D’s evil draconic bloodlines match Magic’s color pie. While Magic normally puts its dragons into red, Forgotten Realms looks like it will feature Tiamat’s brood across all five colors. Tiamat herself seems to have plenty of Constructed potential, especially with some way to reduce her cost or ramp up to it.
Compared to similar recent legends like Kaalia, Zenith Seeker or Niv-Mizzet, Reborn, the fact that Tiamat will always “draw five” out of your deck is much more exciting. But the “differently-named Dragons” requirement implies you’ll need a committed tribal deck to fully utilize it. Such decks are more commonly seen in Commander than Standard, but Forgotten Realms could add some cheaper Dragons along the lines of Kaldheim’s two- and three-mana Angels to fill out the curve here.
D&D places a strong emphasis on Dragons starting as weak wyrmlings and growing over time, so a cycle of wyrmlings could very easily be the foundation for Dragons as a pillar of this set’s Limited and Constructed gameplay. Imagine them as weak one- or two-drops which discount the larger Dragons in your deck as they remain in play, or when they die!
We could also see functional reprints of Dragonlord’s Servant or Dragon’s Hoard to facilitate this tribal deck. Kobolds exist as a cult-favorite creature type in Magic already, and in D&D history, they often play the role of minions to full-blooded Dragons. I could also see a cycle of mana dorks that have “Spend this mana only on an instant, sorcery or Dragon spell.” D&D Dragons are powerful magic-users, and this could tie into Strixhaven’s mechanical themes as part of post-rotation Standard.
D&D technically features as many good-aligned metallic Dragons as evil-aligned ones. But there’s only so much room in the set, so I suspect WotC will limit their inclusion to Tiamat’s divine counterpart, Bahamut. I can easily see the Platinum Dragon appearing as a white or colorless mythic rare, and having “Protection from Dragons” to show him as a flavorful and mechanical foil to the other Dragons in the set.
WE GOT… DUNGEONS?
Of course, Dragons are only half of the D&D formula. And since other Magic sets have already explored Dragon-centric design, it’s important that Forgotten Realms makes “Dungeons” equally important. The preview confirms this is WotC’s plan, teasing that “you’ll have to wait to see how we handled the other half.” The idea of having such famous dungeons and lairs as Castle Greyhawk or the Tomb of Horrors as their own Magic cards is just too exciting for R&D to not have them in this set. But what will they look like in play?
Magic may not have explored dungeons as a mechanical theme until now, but there are adjacent ideas from previous sets which might clue us in to how these cards will function. How does the game classically represent specific, distinctive locales? “Dungeon” could appear as a new land subtype (“Lair” is already!), but that would severely limit the power and quantity of these cards. Lands are an inherently strong and protected card type, and with plenty of competition among utility lands in Standard already, I would be surprised to see dungeons appear this way.
One zany way to include a ton of famous dungeons at once would be to have them exist outside the game as a Planechase-style deck of emblems, where certain cards would “enter the dungeon” and put a dungeon effect into play. Planechase as a mechanic has surprisingly many fans, but the reliance on extraneous game pieces means it’s tough to justify in black-bordered sets. A compromise would be to have dungeon cards start in the sideboard like companions, whether as expensive enchantments, lands – or even a new card type! – that is then “entered” and put into play mid-match.
A top-down approach could see dungeons appear as enchantments or other cards which can be “built on” (attached to) other lands. We do technically have fortifications in the game, but the whole idea seems clunky and slow in the context of current Standard design. So what about world enchantments?
To quickly quote the ruling on this oft-forgotten (but not errata’d) card type: “When a world permanent enters the battlefield, any world permanents that were already on the battlefield are put into their owners’ graveyards. This is a state-based action called the ‘world rule.’ The new world permanent stays on the battlefield. If two world permanents enter the battlefield at the same time, they’re both put into their owners’ graveyards.”
It’s a type of card common to several different card games, and for good reason — it’s a cool, evocative, and easy-to-understand way to represent “battling in a specific place.” Representing dungeons as world enchantments would allow their effects to be more powerful and complex, which is necessary to capture the storylines behind these famous locales. It’s true that WotC dislikes making cards “replace” opposing copies, because it can end up forcing everyone to play said card as an answer for itself. That’s why they changed the legend rule to allow one copy per player. But because a world enchantment can be destroyed by any other world enchantment – not to mention a galaxy of general enchantment removal – I think the risk for that here is very low.
IT’S ABOUT THE VIBE, MAN
The preview piece certainly gives the impression that we’ll get actual dungeon cards in Forgotten Realms, but perhaps it’s more elegant to convey that part of the brand by showing off the denizens, treasures and traps which make up a dungeon instead? This is the Zendikar approach; that set already showed off a clever implementation of “trap cards” which Adventures in Forgotten Realms could easily re-use in creating its own dungeoneering atmosphere.
Likewise, we already know about how the set will likely feature the quintessential D&D adventuring group — that’s the party mechanic in a nutshell. I’m personally hoping we get to see a few of the more esoteric character classes as well. We know the set is finally adding Halfling as a type (sorry, Kithkin fans), so let’s get some Bards and Paladins in here as well!
I’m looking forward to seeing some of the flagship D&D monsters — which WotC wouldn’t normally allow into Magic settings — finally get their cardboard incarnations. Beholders have already been confirmed with the preview of the delicious Monster Manual card frame (congrats, Orms-by-Gore fans), and we’re very likely to also see Mind Flayers, Gith, Kuo-Toa, Yuan-Ti, and Displacer Beasts make their way into the set alongside new Kobolds, Owlbears and Gnolls.
SO MUCH TO PREDICT, SO LITTLE TIME
Magical items are the last piece of this puzzle, and hardest to pin down. Magic tends to represent artifacts as larger and more powerful — or more mass-produced — objects than the magical bric-a-brac that exists in D&D. The previewed cards Portable Hole and Vorpal Sword seem to show a subtle approach here: just make a lot of low-cost colored artifacts and equipment, which I’d expect many of our party-candidate creatures to synergize with.
In this case, we are guaranteed to get a Jarlaxle Baenre legendary creature in WBx colors who uses and abuses these noncreature artifacts. As a fan of R.A. Salvatore’s novels, I’m definitely looking forward to him and other famous Forgotten Realms legends showing up in this set. But those sorts of predictions could easily fill an article on their own, and we’ve got plenty more time to speculate on Adventures in the Forgotten Realms before its release. Whatever sort of D&D tropes are on the cards for this set, it’s going to make spoiler season even more exciting to know that this crossover will be paying off a combined 75 years of gaming history!
Tom’s fate was sealed in 7th grade when his friend lent him a pile of commons to play Magic. He quickly picked up Boros and Orzhov decks in Ravnica block and has remained a staunch white magician ever since. A fan of all Constructed formats, he enjoys studying the history of the tournament meta. He specializes in midrange decks, especially Death & Taxes and Martyr Proc. One day, he swears he will win an MCQ with Evershrike. Ask him how at @AWanderingBard, or watch him stream Magic at twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard.