The new set of Magic the Gathering is a love letter to D&D

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It’s unthinkable, untenable, pure heresy. Sure, there were supplemental D&D books for multiple levels of Magic, but classic D&D characters, monsters, and gear featured in Magic: The Gathering? No way. And yet, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms is a perfect match for Magic.

I recently had the chance to play around with the entire Forgotten Realms set in Magic Arena and build some decks. There are so many complex interactions between all of these new maps that it’s just as good that the Arena client does most of the management for you, but even so, this set is not for beginners. It’s not even strictly for D&D players looking to cut their teeth in MTG.

Descriptions are overly verbose, especially on cards that require you to roll a d20 – the most iconic D&D die. There are up to four different outcomes for such cards, all of which you must weigh carefully before deciding to play. There is a lot to think about in the middle of a round. Take the treasure chest as an example. Depending on the D20 roll, this card can trigger a trap that will damage you, heal you, and add some extra cards to your hand, generate extra mana resources, or let you play an artifact card. Reading and understanding these effects during the limited time rounds of the game leaves little margin in determining whether it is the best game.

As complicated as they are, the volatility of D20-based cards often leads to dramatic moves. After setting up three Barbarian Class Cards at level two, I use Delina, Fierce Mage (who can continually create token copies of a creature with each roll of the dice) to bolster my attacking Pixie Guide (a 2/1 blue flying creature, the additional Dice) to your roll, of which you take the best), which sails to my opponent and leads him into premature defeat. It’s a deck combo that rarely works, but when it does it feels devilishly satisfying.

The Adventures in the Forgotten Realms set does an excellent job of celebrating the themes and mechanics of D&D while still feeling like Magic: The Gathering. Each card is either a reference to or a character from D&D history. There are cameos of characters from the universe like Minsc that fans of the Dungeons and Dragons game Baldur’s Gate will recognize, and there is no shortage of infamous dragons and onlookers. Iconic pieces of equipment that casual D&D fans will recognize can be snapped up as artifacts. I was immediately drawn to cards like holding pouches, an artifact that acts as a repository for your discarded cards, which you can then bring back all at once.

Many cards also offer some degree of flexibility, which is a great way to mimic the choices that exist in a D&D game. For example, the marauding barbarian – a red 2/2 creature – can come into play either by smashing a treasure chest that destroys an enemy artifact or by breaking open the chest to create a mana resource.

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Another important feature of the new set is the class enchantment cards. These are similar in format to the legends from the last Magic sets, but enchantments work more like a level mechanic. Each has a perk that is activated when the card is played, followed by two more perks that you get after paying mana costs to level up. There are 12 in total, and each has perks that reflect archetypal D&D grades.

Let’s take the Barbarian Class card as an example. For a red mana I play the card and it immediately gives me an extra die to roll, ignoring my worst result. Invest another red mana and any other additional mana in the barbarian class and my creatures gain more attack power / and / the keyword threat every time I roll one or more dice until the end of this turn. Then if I add one red mana and two colorless mana, all of my creatures gain speed. These effects only last as long as the class is on the battlefield, but they seem powerful enough to fortify entire decks.

In this MtG arena game, the player uses the venture ability to go into a new dungeon room.

As you’d expect from a D&D expansion, the Adventures in the Forgotten Realms set also includes a dungeon mechanic. When you first step into a dungeon, you have a choice of three campaigns. Each has a unique layout that grants different effects depending on which rooms you enter, and once you’ve decided on a dungeon, you’ll have to explore it from start to finish. Venture Decks take a little longer to get going, but soon snowball and quickly start activating effects that can be difficult for opponents to deal with.

For Magic players, this set is a lot of work no matter what game format you’re playing. The Protection Cards appear to be very powerful in older formats and block spells that would affect them as long as an opponent doesn’t throw extra mana into the spell to break it. Pack Tactics buffs green creatures when I attack with creatures with a total strength of six or more. Wherever you look in this set there are tools to tinker with your favorite decks and drawing will be a lot of fun with these cards.

A D&D Beholder with a Planeswalker symbol in mind.

If you’re a D&D fan, you may want to start with one of the easier sets to familiarize yourself with the core rules of Magic: The Gathering first. But if you’re familiar with verbose text descriptions, know your keywords, and familiarize yourself with some of the more complicated interactions in the set, then this is definitely the best place for you to start your Planeswalker spark.

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