Text by: Dragni Dragnev
When news broke that Games Workshop was teaming up with Wizards of the Coast for a crossover set in MTG, the community reacted with a resounding “meh.” I’m not entirely sure if this reaction was localized or universal, but it seemed that the guys at GW’s PR team were the only ones who could muster any real enthusiasm about the news. While the negative remarks died down rather quickly, people just didn't seem to care all that much — and this apathy is well-warranted.
From an MTG player’s perspective, this crossover set would probably be just another entry in a long list of gimmick sets. It could be fun to play as a standalone product, but it’s unlikely to add anything to the game in the long term. From a Warhammer 40K player’s perspective… Well, we’ve had a few Warhammer-themed card games. All of them were either dead on arrival or failed to pick up steam regardless of how much time passed. All of them struggled to bring distinct and interesting mechanics to the table and ended up being clunky and contrived.
There are quite a few good reasons why so few people jumped on that particular hype train. Unsurprisingly, expectations are low — but could this set actually be any good? This may be an unpopular opinion, but I’d have to argue that, yes — if done right, a Warhammer 40K-themed MTG set could be awesome.
Thematic changes to mana
The terms and themes in the mana system don’t really fit into 40k. There’s no real reason why you’d tap three Plains cards to produce three white Mana, that would then be used to summon a Blood Angels Intercessor. The good news is that this problem could easily be fixed with a few name swaps.
Mana, a concept that doesn’t exist in 40K, could be renamed Resources or Planets, for instance.
Plains could become Populated Planets that produce a white resource.
Mountains could be renamed as Industrial Planets, and incorporate art filled with heavy industry and complex mechanisms. Vistas from Mars, for instance, would be especially fitting.
Islands don’t make sense in a 40k setting, either. However, they could be re-named as Leyline Planets — places where the veil between dimensions is thinner, and reality and the Warp can interact more freely.
Swamps are basically sinkholes of misery, despair, and villainy so they could easily be rebranded as Hive Worlds, without losing any of their feel or theme.
Finally, Forests could become Death Worlds or Verdant Worlds, or Jungle Planets.
These small changes are entirely cosmetic but could make a world of difference to the game's theme. When you played the game, you wouldn’t be tapping swamps to cast the Summon Tyranid Lictor spell; you’d be using resources harvested from a Jungle World to bring said Tyranid Lictor in to fight for you. The mechanics of the system would be the same, the fundamental utility of the color wheel would not change, even the symbols could remain the same. However, the end result would be much more thematic and engaging.
Some other tidbits that need renaming
The player Life total is another good core concept that could do with a bit of renaming. It could be changed to something like Battlefield Presence or Command Structure. Lose all your Battlefield Presence or Command Structure - you lose the game. Simple.
Sorcery means something quite different in 40K than what it does in MTG, but renaming it may cause some confusion. Luckily, there’s a word that’s pretty similar in appearance that could easily replace it - Strategy.
Where would 40K factions fit on the color wheel?
Now that we’ve established how MTG can accommodate 40K themes, it’s time for the fun part - imagining where each faction would fall on the color wheel we established.
Without a doubt, Imperium factions would be all over the place. For a TL;DR:
- Imperial Guard — White or White/Green (Selesnya)
- Adepta Sororitas — White
- Adeptus Astartes — White
- Grey Knights — White/Blue (Azorius)
- Adeptus Mechanicus — Red
- Custodes — White
- Imperial Knights — White, White/Red (Boros), or White/Green (Selesnya)
Imperial Guard, a.k.a. the Astra Militarum would mostly be white, possibly with a few splash colors, such as a bit of Green for Catachans. Tanks could be represented by medium-sized creatures, and the actual Guardsmen Platoons would mostly come in the form of 1/1 tokens generated by Strategy cards.
Adepta Sororitas should also be mostly white, but their infantry could have a more diverse and interesting range of abilities, such as Battlecry, Exalted, First Strike, etc.
Adeptus Astartes, a.k.a. Codex-compliant space marines, as well as their eccentric loyalist cousins, could incorporate all sorts of colors, but they would probably mostly be white as well. It would make sense that special characters from specific chapters would be multicolor legendary creatures with keywords that would make them powerful threats on their own or great force multipliers in “tribal” decks. Game designers could have a day translating 40K chapter tactics into keywords. For instance, Vigilance for Ultramarines, Haste for Black Templars, etc.
Grey Knights would do well in white/blue, with their creatures sporting powerful abilities such as Unblockable and Detain, and their Instants being counterspells, flickers, and powerful destruction effects. I have personally suffered more than my fair share of Vortex of Doom psychic powers, and I can attest to the fact that being on the receiving end of one feels quite similar to being hit with a timely Wrath Of God. Come to think of it, “Exterminatus” is just “Terminus” with a few extra letters.
Adeptus Mechanicus falls entirely in the red section of the color pie. Their Skitarii infantry can fill the niche of small, aggressive red creatures perfectly. In the 40K narrative, they can pull off some impressive explosions - so we have the big interesting sorcery and instant type of spells, as well as the “burn” spells, covered. Their most powerful creatures could even be Imperial Titans and Ordinatus-grade machinery that could end the game in one or two swings. Tapping an Imperial Titan to Trample over all opposing defenders and obliterate your opponent in one hit - that’d be glorious.
Custodes would also unsurprisingly be white, and any card designed around them should be an absolute beatstick. Few abilities could represent their sheer prowess in combat, but slapping something like Double Strike on any card that features them would probably be a start.
Then there are the Imperial Knights. Also white, with a possible splash of green or red, to represent their origin from a colony world or a forge. Maybe that could be a “kicker” type of ability - if you paid green, they’d get one ability, but if you paid red instead - you’d get another. It is doubtful that there’d be room for more than one or two of these absolute beasts in the set, but they should be a sizable creature at the very least and should sport Trample or another ability that's themed around stomping things.
Let’s do a TL:DR first again, before we break down our reasoning;
- Orks — Red/Green (Gruul)
- Tyranids — Black/Green (Golgari)
- Genestealer Cults — Black
- Craftworld Eldar — Blue/Red/White (Jeskai)
- Harlequins — Blue
- Drukhari (Dark Eldars) — Black
- Tau — White
- Necrons — Colorless
Orks are one of the simplest factions to pin in the color wheel — they are resoundingly red/green in theme, and mechanically. They have aggression and brute strength in abundance, and often come from savage places, and/or are interested in smashing and looting technological wonders. Ideally, ork design should be straightforward and simplistic — most of them would fit the role of middle-tier aggressive creatures, sporting mechanics such as Bloodthirst and Ferocious.
Tyranids are black/green through and through. No contest here — thematically, they stand to gain the most from devouring forest worlds and hive worlds, so that’s the type of resources they’re going to use. Their smaller organisms could fill the role of weaker green creatures, genestealers can be black creatures with nasty abilities like Menace or Wither, the larger siege beasts could be green beat sticks with Trample. A Trigon is basically a spiky wurm anyway. Finally, certain key monstrosities such as Hive Tyrants could be both green and black and have both high Power and Toughness and abilities such as Flying and Absorb, or Devour.
Genestealer cults should also be black, due to their connection to Hive worlds as well as the Tyranids. The Raid and Menace mechanics would perfectly fit their theme of sabotage and subterfuge - and they could interact with creature tokens, like those generated by the Imperial Guard cards.
Craftworld Eldar just screams “Jeskai” a.k.a. blue/red/white when you consider their play style. Taking advantage of both speed, trickery, destructive bursts and shenanigans is what they do best - and unsurprisingly, Prowess is a mechanic that fits their theme perfectly. They could also use a lot of counterspells, bounce spells, cantrips, and all sorts of trickery.
Any Harlequins cards would probably have to be pure Blue, for the sheer amount of tricks they can pull out of their jester caps. Their creatures would have all the cool evasive abilities, such as Shroud and "Can't be blocked", but should be low on Toughness.
Drukhari, or Dark Eldar, would probably be black. They live in a veritable nightmare of a Hive city and specialize in removing choice targets quickly and playing nasty tricks on the rest of the units on the battlefield. Interestingly enough, on the tabletop their arsenal sports what is the closest thing 40K has to a "counterspell," but in light of the fact that we made blue a psychically focused color they probably should not be associated with it. Their disruptive tactics could probably better be represented by discard efects.
Tau could fill the white Xenos niche, with their drones giving battlesuits Absorb, or sacrificing themselves to prevent damage to their battlesuits. The battlesuits in question could fill the role of mid-sized creatures with a variety of activated abilities such as gaining flying or increasing their Power.
Necrons aren’t really interested in what’s on a planet they use to muster their armies - so they’d probably be colorless, and probably require colorless mana, rather than generic to bring out. Mechanics such as Absorb, Unearth, Embalm, and Persist as well as high toughness values would fit them well thematically.
- Chaos Daemon — Green (for Nurgle), Red (for Khorne), Blue (for Tzeentch), Black (for Slaanesh)
- Chaos Space Marines — Black/Red (Rakdos)
- Death Guard — Black/Green (Golgari)
- Thousand Sons — Red/Blue (Izzet)
- Chaos Knights — Black
The color of Chaos Daemon cards should depend on their alignment — Nurgle ones should be Green, Khorne ones should be red, Tzeentch ones should obviously be blue, and Slaanesh ones should be black. It’s rather fascinating how well those colors map onto the portfolios of the gods of Chaos.
Chaos Space Marines, or Heretic Astartes, should be red/black, with lots of aggressive creatures and nasty creature removal, as well as damage-dealing spells. Mechanics such as Unleash, Riot, and Bloodthirst would fit the relentlessly aggressive style of play they have on the tabletop. Creatures such as Berzerkers can have abilities such as Double Strike - which they literally do on the tabletop.
Death Guard map well on the black and green sections of the color wheel. Their creatures would be low power, high toughness creatures, and sport all sorts of nasty abilities, such as Wither, Afflict, and Death touch. Death Guard is also uniquely positioned to have the most gruesome single target creature-destroying “Strategies” and Instants.
Thousand Sons have both wits and warp-lightning in their arsenal. This means that they’d fit really well in a red/blue theme, with lots of counterspells and direct damage spells, and have creatures with odd stats and quirky triggered or actovated abilities.
Chaos Knights cards, if they manage to find a spot in the set at all, will probably be a dark mirror of their Imperial kin. They would probably require black mana to hit the table and be equally as expensive and powerful as their loyalist counterparts.
This is what the crossover could look like if the designers of the set are as passionate and as knowledgeable about both MTG and Warhammer 40K as we could hope. A set with strong themes and a bottom-up design that is well tested and researched, with the awesome art of 40K - this sounds like it could be a very interesting product.
Time will tell whether we'll get something worthwhile, or just another poorly designed, generic MTG set smeared with Warhammer 40K visual assets, that the naysayers think is coming.