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Magic the Gathering: Arena’s new set is a love letter to D&D

Roll for initiative

A beholder with a planeswalker symbol on its main eye.

It’s unthinkable, untenable, pure heresy. Sure, there have been supplementary D&D books for several Magic planes, but classic D&D characters, monsters, and gear represented in Magic: The Gathering? No way. And yet Adventures in the Forgotten Realms is a perfect fit for Magic the Gathering: Arena – which you can play for free here.

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 these new cards that it’s just as well the Arena client does a lot of the admin for you, but even still, this set isn’t for beginners. It isn’t even necessarily for D&D players looking to cut their teeth in MTG.

Descriptions are excessively wordy, especially on cards for which you have to roll a D20 – the most iconic D&D die. For such cards there are up to four different outcomes, and you’ll need to consider them all carefully before committing to the play. It’s a lot to think about in the middle of a round. Take Treasure Chest as an example. Depending on the D20 roll, this card can trigger a trap that damages you, heal you and add some extra cards to your hand, create extra mana resources, or let you play an artifact card. Reading and understanding those effects during the game’s time-limited turns leaves little room for deciding if it’s the best play.

Complicated though they may be, the volatility of D20-based cards often leads to some dramatic plays. Having set up three Barbarian class cards to level two, I use Delina, Wild Mage (who can constantly create token copies of a creature with every dice roll) to strengthen my attacking Pixie Guide (a 2/1 blue flying creature that adds extra dice to your roll, of which you take the best), who sails over to my opponent and leads them into an untimely loss. It’s a deck combo that rarely works, but when it does it feels fiendishly satisfying.

In Magic Arena, the active player is rolling dice to pump his creatures.

The Adventures in the Forgotten Realms set does an excellent job of celebrating D&D’s themes and mechanics while still feeling like Magic: The Gathering. Every card is either a reference to, or a character from, D&D lore.

There are cameos from in-universe characters like Minsc, who fans of the Dungeons & Dragons game Baldur’s Gate will recognise, and no shortage of notorious dragons and Beholders. Iconic pieces of gear, which even casual fans of D&D will recognise, can be nabbed as artifacts. I’m immediately drawn to cards like Bag of Holding, an artifact that acts as a depository for your discarded cards, which you can then bring back all at once. 

A lot of cards also boast a degree of flexibility, which is a neat way of emulating the choice present in a game of D&D. For example, the Plundering Barbarian – a red 2/2 creature – can enter the battlefield by either smashing a treasure chest, which destroys an enemy artifact, or prying said chest open to create a mana resource.

Want more cards? Here are the best card games on PC and the latest, free MTG Arena codes.

Another key feature of the new set is its class enchantment cards. These are similar in format to sagas from recent Magic sets, but enchantments actually function more like a leveling mechanic. Each one has a perk that activates when the card is played, followed by two more perks you get after paying a mana cost to level up. There are 12 in total and each one has perks that reflect archetypal D&D classes.

Let’s take the card Barbarian Class as an example. For one red mana, I play the card and it immediately gives me an extra die to roll, ignoring my worst result. Invest another red mana, plus one of any other additional mana into the Barbarian Class, and my creatures get more attacking power and the menace keyword every time I roll one or more dice until the end of that turn. If I then spend one more red mana and two colourless mana, all my creatures gain haste. These effects only last as long as the class is on the battlefield, but they seem powerful enough to underpin entire decks.  

In this MtG Arena game, the player is using the venture ability to go into a new dungeon room.

As you might expect from a D&D expansion, the Adventures in the Forgotten Realms set also includes a dungeon mechanic. When you first venture into a dungeon, you get a choice of three campaigns. Each one has a unique layout that grants different effects depending on which rooms you enter, and as soon as you choose a dungeon you must explore it from start to finish. Venture decks take a bit longer to get going, but soon snowball and start quickly activating effects that can be hard for opponents to deal with.

For Magic players, this set gives you plenty to work with, no matter what game format you play. The Ward cards seem to be very powerful in older formats, blocking spells that would affect them as long as an opponent doesn’t dump extra mana into the spell to break through.

Pack Tactics meanwhile, buffs green creatures whenever I attack with creatures that have a total power of six or greater. Wherever you look in this set there are tools that will allow you to tinker with your favourite decks, and drafting is going to be a lot of fun with these cards.

Drizzt, an elf ranger from D&D with his beast companion, standing by the planeswalker symbol.

If you’re a fan of D&D, you may wish to start out with one of the more basic sets to get your head around the core Magic: The Gathering rules first. But if you’re no stranger to wordy text descriptions, know your Magic Arena keywords, and you can get your head around some of the more complicated interactions in the set, then this is definitely the best place for you to ignite your planeswalker spark.

The Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms set comes out today on all digital platforms, and if you’ve not tried MTG then you can play Magic the Gathering: Arena for free.