I confess I am not much of a Magic: The Gathering fan.
I adore both the art and world-building of Wizards of the Coast’s legendary CCG, and I’ve always been fascinated at how it crafts a constantly evolving rules meta. But, frankly, the ‘fun’ of standard MtG never quite clicked with me. Whenever I sat down to play with friends over the years, I always found the game to be an incredibly dry experience. So much so that, despite my growing curiosity about it, Magic turned me off even trying its increasingly popular Commander format.
As I said, I am not much of a Magic: The Gathering fan. I am, however, a massive Warhammer 40,000 fan and have been for over 20 years.
As the days counted down to the recent launch of the Magic x Warhammer 40,000 Commander Decks, the first time these games and their respective universes have collided, hype started to get the better of me. I told myself ‘you probably won’t enjoy it any more than regular Magic, and even if you do, you do NOT need another expensive hobby.’ But the screeching child within me that Wanted The Thing grew too loud to be ignored. I decided I simply had to have it.
With the decks conveniently timed to release on the first day of PAX Aus, and with multiple open MtG play sessions on the PAX schedule, I sleeved up the Ruinous Powers deck kindly supplied to me for review and hit the convention floor in search of anyone willing to challenge/teach me.
The result: I like Magic: The Gathering now. Oops.
What is Magic Commander, exactly?
Commander is a variant of Magic: The Gathering where two to five people battle it out using decks of 100 cards. One of those cards is the proverbial ‘commander,’ who is placed on a separate area of the table until they directly enter the battlefield. The remaining 99 cards in the deck support and synergise with them thematically and mechanically. None of the cards in the deck can be doubled except for basic Lands. Each player has a higher number of health points than in standard Magic. Further, the whole concept of seasonal set rotation doesn’t apply, ensuring players can use practically any cards from their collection regardless of age.
For those unfamiliar with Warhammer 40,000, it’s a tabletop miniatures wargame setting from Games Workshop that is currently in its 35th year. There have been a lot of video games based on Warhammer 40K too, some of which have been good!
The Ruinous Powers set is one of four decks within this release and represents the daemonic legions of Chaos and their heretic Space Marine p̶a̶w̶n̶s̶ allies. Chaos Space Marines were the first army I collected way back in 40K’s 3rd edition, so it felt delightfully serendipitous that my first taste of the Warhammer 40K x Magic crossover would be with them.
Being an amalgamated faction comprised of nine different marine legions, each of which has its own style of warfare, and the Hell-spawned minions of the four very different evil gods whom they serve, they’re a quite diverse and varied army to play upon the miniature battlefields of Warhammer 40K. Here in MtG, they’re a blue, black and red deck that I was pleased to find feel much the same!
The deck features a number of ‘Legendary Creatures’ capable of acting as your commander, but the two centrepiece options around whom the deck is designed are the Chaos Marines Warmaster Abaddon the Despoiler and the daemon lord Be’Lakor, the Dark Master. Both have been central figures in Warhammer 40K lore for years and have been mechanically adapted to Magic in quite fitting ways.
Abaddon’s Warmasteryness manifests through the cascade ability, allowing him to pile more pressure onto his enemies as more of their blood is shed. Be’Lakor on the other hand is all about buffing his demonic minions and ensuring more of them can pour out from the warp. He also wounds the player as he enters the battlefield, which is fitting as daemons of Chaos tend to like having a mortal vessel to enter our reality through.
I’ve been hugely impressed by how every card in the deck has been adapted from its source material without losing any flavour. Pink Horrors spawn two Blue Horrors whenever one is killed, blight grenades poison all living organisms across the battlefield, Kharn the Betrayer will probably end up damaging his own forces just as much as the enemies… There’s even a saga card for the Horus heresy itself which allows the player to turn enemy creatures over to their side, swell their hand, and then commit mass violence across its three phases. Marvellous!
The other three decks in this series represent the human Imperium of Man, the ravenous Tyranid swarm with their Genestealer Cult disciples, and the ancient robot-skeleton Necron empire. I haven’t had the opportunity to play with any of them yet, but the decklists can be viewed on the official website for the range, and each looks to be just as respectfully reflective as their Games Workshop counterparts.
I did wonder at first exactly why these armies were chosen for MtG adaptation, but it makes sense when you think about it. The Imperium and Chaos were kind of mandatory, and while Orks, in particular, would have been a blast, Necrons and Tyranids do arguably kind of stand out better as aesthetically more 40k and less typical fantasy. Necrons featuring in all of the current Warhammer 40,000 starter sets make them a clear choice too. Genestealer Cults also got a new rulebook a few months ago too, so that’s a thing.
It made me a convert
I parked myself at a table in the PAX Together lounge at the top of the Magic the Gathering hour on Friday morning and was quickly welcomed by two strangers who patiently and politely taught me how to play. I lost pretty badly and made a mountain of poor decisions, but I realized within just a few turns that I was actually having *fun*. This was fun! MAGIC CAN BE FUN.
Oh dear. Oh no.
Slaanesh help me.
Immediately after our game ended we were joined by another friendly stranger and dived into a second match. I lost again but had even more fun.
I’ve had a lot of friends over the years who were big Magic fans who slowly all evolved to only really being Commander fans. I’ve worked in nerd retail for a lot of years and heard the same thing from a lot of customers in that time too. It turns out everyone was right! Commander is where it’s at.
I managed to squeeze in a few more games across the weekend and loved every second of them, despite how badly I got stomped even while playing what I’m told is a quite powerful deck.
I enjoyed playing it SO much that I even hunted down an Imperium deck on Saturday and drove out of my way to collect it. A minor challenge considering how heavily pre-sold the series had been.
Am I going to go out and start ripping booster packs? Right now, I don’t know. Am I going to track down the Necron and Tyranid decks to complete the set? I sure am trying *real* hard to convince myself not to.
Pray for my wallet friends. Also please pray that we soon get Commander decks for all of the remaining Warhammer 40,000 factions because I would like to own them and play with them.
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