Wizards made an announcement on Friday which will completely transform how their Universes Beyond designs fit into the wider hobby. They announced that Set and Collectors Boosters for The Brothers’ War will be… more than meets the eye with the addition of Transformers.
Yes, after dancing around the idea for years, tournament legal Transformers cards are finally going to be a thing in Magic. And in fitting with their role as “robots in disguise,” these powerful mythic rares will be found not in their own precons or Secret Lairs, but in packs right alongside normal, Standard-legal Brothers War cards!
THAT’S A LOTTA BOTS
There’s some parallel to previous initiatives here, like the mechanically unique Buy-A-Box promos. But having these cards randomly appear across all booster packs will (hopefully) make them more accessible than tying their price directly to the expense of a full booster box.
There are 15 Autobots and Decepticons represented here, all appearing at Mythic rarity, so there’s no reason to expect that Optimus Prime will be harder to get ahold of than say, Slicer (other than fan favoritism, of course). The Autobots mostly fall into Jeskai colors, while the Decepticons are mostly Mardu, with Optimus and Megatron naturally set up to lead Commander decks full of their subordinates.
As with the mechanically-unique Street Fighter cards we got a while back, existing outside of any set or precon deck has seemingly given the designers freedom to chase the most flavorful and cool mechanical design for each character. Every Transformer has a Robot front side and a Vehicle back side, with a new mechanic which lets you choose the side you cast (like MDFCs) while also transforming back and forth in play.
There’s quite a lot of text on each card as the designers work to capture their unique character, but it helps if you start by reading the Vehicle side first. They don’t crew like regular Vehicles, instead automatically becoming creatures when it’s your turn and lying dormant on opposing turns.
Despite that being the “back” of the card, the Vehicle sides are almost always cheaper, and the intended play pattern seems to be that you cast that half, fulfill some condition, and flip into the powerful Robot.
But maybe the coolest part is that the design team clearly weren’t satisfied leaving things there. After all, if your Transformers cards are going to do one thing, it should be “transform a lot”. So, almost every card incentivizes you to switch back and forth between the two sides – whether to adapt to the situation, or to repeatedly farm value from each side a la Huntmaster of the Fells.
It’s a very clever bit of design work to ensure these cards feel unique. But more than that, it’s a great testament to how having a strong flavor and associated mechanical identity can help mitigate the complexity of even the wordiest cards! Maybe it takes a read or two to understand what mighty Megatron is capable of, but our cultural awareness of Transformers makes it much easier to remember once you do.
READING THE FINE PRINT
So, to recap: the way to get these cards is going to be simply opening boosters of The Brothers’ War (Set, Collectors or Bundle – but not Draft, since they obviously aren’t part of the Limited format). This doesn’t make them legal in Standard, though. They fill a similar position to the non-precon Commander-set cards which were seeded into boosters from the last couple of expansions.
The Transformers cards will be Eternal-legal, giving them full tournament legality in Commander, Legacy and Vintage. Given they’re all Legendary creatures, it’s fair to say they were mainly designed with casual Commander in mind – although they’re all quite powerful. But some of the cheaper ones seem like they might tempt certain Legacy archetypes with their synergies – and any “cares about artifact” cards are always worth a look for Vintage, especially if they’re Tinker-able themselves.
ASSEMBLING THE AUTOBOTS
While each of these cards has its own subtleties and could be a worthwhile piece to slot into some existing deck, a lot of people will be trying to play as many as possible. If you’re a fan, you’ll understandably want to get the kick of having Optimus Prime and Prowl and Arcee and Goldbug/Bumblebee all in play together. And even if you don’t feel a special level of affection for these characters, their visuals and mechanics will fit better alongside their fellow Transformers.
So what are our options like? An Optimus Prime-led Commander deck will have color access to six other Transformers in the 99. Arcee and Jetfire make for a decent duo and can utilize the +1/+1 counters from Optimus, while Slicer (mysteriously fighting on the side of good this time) is just a straightforward beatstick. Prowl and Ratchet work great with any of the other Transformers but are particularly useful for resetting Optimus to his front side to give him as much durability as possible.
A Megatron-led Mardu deck gets access to one additional Cybertronian over the Jeskai version, and while you do lose out on some of the more elaborate interactions, you also don’t need to do as much work to enable Starscream and Blitzwing as you do to get value from Goldbug and Jetfire. You could also play Esper or Naya variants under Soundwave or Ultra Magnus, none of which stand out as being significantly better or worse than the two iconic leaders.
This highlights what is definitely my biggest gripe with these promos as a whole. Maybe the designers decided that they could only accurately reflect these characters by spreading them out across the color pie, or they felt some obligation to get green in on the action somewhere.
But with only 15 Transformers cards in total, to leave at least half of them out of any themed Commander deck seems like a net negative, particularly when the missing cards break up the most natural mechanical and flavor pairings, like using Blaster to enable Arcee and Jetfire.
As it stands, the best way to build your Transformers theme deck is to simply pick an existing 5c commander and jam all 15 cards in there together, since there’s no strong mechanical distinction between Autobots and Decepticons.
The first port of call for a 5c deck of similarly-typed creatures is Morophon, the Boundless, and its discount ability is very effective here. Not only does this more or less remove all color requirements, since none of our Transformers have double-color costs, but the discount applies regardless of which side you’re casting! However, the lack of other Robot cards (just the usual changelings and some weird draft chaff from UNFINITY) makes Morophon less exciting, particularly since we won’t go wide enough to really feel the +1/+1 bonus.
Instead, I would recommend either Esika, God of the Tree, Sisay, Weatherlight Captain or the new Jodah, the Unifier for this 15-Transformers deck. These Legendary-matters commanders help us get our starring cast of robots into play, meaning we can confidently build around them even from within the 99.
Which one you choose is down to personal preference, with each having unique strengths. Esika gets off the ground fastest, Sisay can find specific combinations of robots, while Jodah offers a massive boost to combat stats. If you’re a diehard Transformers fan, you can always have these commanders altered to fit the theme. Or just play Ramos, Dragon Engine, who looks like he hails from Cybertron anyway.
Regardless of your commander choice, a committed Transformers theme deck probably wants to focus more on artifact synergies than legendary ones, with a smattering of combat tricks and +1/+1 counter generation. Together, these should ensure every robot’s effect is utilized and supported somewhere, which will keep the deck ticking over regardless of which ones show up for you in a given game. Filling your curve with smaller artifact creatures will fit both flavorwise and mechanically, since your most likely win condition will be combat damage.
WHO PUT ROBOTS IN MY MAGIC??
As far as Universes Beyond crossovers go, I think these cards represent both the current apex, and a potentially historic turning point.
For Wizards to include these tie-in cards and their blocky, cartoon robots inside Standard set boosters – theoretically one of the game’s entry-level products – shows a new level of confidence in Universes Beyond as an idea. But as we’ve learned from the positive response to the Warhammer 40k precons, the choice of tie-in property and execution on design can make all the difference for these sets.
Transformers has been a staple of pop culture for generations, and the decision to keep this a tightly-focused set of rare, powerful cards has led to interesting and flavorful top-down designs for its most iconic characters. None of them seem likely to produce some obnoxious corner case interaction that takes over Legacy, so chalk that up as back-to-back wins for the Universes Beyond team. It’s always going to be a case-by-case thing, but it’s nice to see the potential of these crossovers be realized after some rocky beginnings. I’m excited to see that trend continue.
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.