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Magic: The Gathering Murders at Karlov Manor review — Is this set just killing time?

Back in December, a set called Khans of Tarkir made its way to Magic: The Gathering Arena. At the time, I thought this was odd for Khans to appear, because while a classic set from its time, I didn’t know anyone was clamoring for access to it again. Now in February, I understand why Khans was added to Arena, it was the perfect testing ground for the Morph mechanic on Magic Arena. Why does that matter? Because our first Standard set of 2024 is Murders at Karlov Manor, which has an update to the Morph mechanic. Murders at Karlov Manor (MKM) has a lot of expectations to live up to. This set returns to the iconic plane of Ravnica and it’s the first set with the new Play Boosters. How do the Play Boosters impact Limited? We’ll talk about that, but first let’s take a look at that update to Morph alongside the other new set mechanics introduced with MKM.

Set Mechanics – Assemble the Players

The big update rules wise is the Disguise mechanic which is another iterative design update to the Morph mechanic. Disguise is complicated enough I’m going to link the MTG Wiki rules page for it here. The basics are that you may cast a disguise creature face-down for three generic mana. It will be a “mysterious creature” that’s a 2/2 with Ward 2. As a special action you may pay the disguise cost on the creature turning it face up and triggering any abilities for doing so. There’s also another mechanic in the set, Cloak (an update to Manifest), that does the same thing, but can even do that for non-creatures. Hidden information is a rarity in Magic and face-down creatures help make MKM unique from other sets. The disguised creatures having Ward 2 helps keep them alive long enough to flip up. It was very common for Morphs to get killed before they could be flipped, because opponents knew that the Morph was likely something powerful. Disguise is the hallmark mechanic for MKM that sets its entire play style.

Examples of new the new mechanics for MKM.

The next major mechanic is Collect Evidence. This is an additional cost when casting spells or using abilities. Collecting evidence requires a player to exile a certain amount of mana value from cards in their graveyard. Similar to Descend from Lost Caverns of Ixalan, this is a common thing to have as games progress. If you’re playing Magic, you’ll be putting cards into your graveyard. This is also a payoff for decks that can get cards into their graveyard early allowing them to pay for more powerful collect evidence costs earlier than most.

There’s a new enchantment type called Cases. Cases come into play with their top ability active. The “To solve,” section gives the player a goal to complete that if they do the case will become “Solved” at the beginning of their end step. The “Solved” section tells you what reward you’ll get for solving your case. These enchantments are fun goals to have within a game and can help shape your deck as they give you something to work toward.

There’s some smaller mechanics that help shape MKM, with one of the new ones being Suspect. If a creature is a suspect or becomes suspected, it gains a suspect counter that grants the creature menace, but also that the creature can no longer block. There are varying cards scattered across MKM that cause a creature to gain or lose the suspected status. Surveil, rather than Scry, is common in MKM as it is a helpful way to get cards into your graveyard for collecting evidence. Lastly, Investigate returns from previous sets as a way to generate artifacts and draw cards. Whenever a player investigates they create an artifact clue token that can be sacrificed for two mana in order to draw a card.

New and returning mechanics.

Pros – Connecting the Dots

My favorite thing about MKM is the flavor and the story behind the set. Using Ravnica to tell a murder mystery is a fantastic idea and everything in MKM does a great job of communicating that feeling of a murder mystery. The artwork, flavor text, and even the names of cards are just great. While my brain thinks it’s weird to see a typewriter font on Magic cards, the Dossier Showcase and Magnified Showcase frames are beautiful.

From a mechanical perspective, I do think Disguise/Cloak are good updates to Morph/Manifest. In the past few sets we have been seeing that iterative design process show through, and MKM benefits from the deep history Magic has. I also appreciate other smaller design decisions in MKM as callbacks to previous Ravnica sets. As I wax nostalgic for Ravnica these are nice reminders of why the plane is so beloved.

These cards are design callbacks to previous Ravnica sets.

Other design elements are also quite clever. Unlike previous Ravnica sets where mana fixing was everywhere, MKM is a very grounded set with very little fixing to be found. I would stick with two colors and only try for a third if you’re also in green as most of the fixing is rooted there. This is pretty normal for Magic overall and MKM does give players wiggle room with hybrid mana costs and split cards. The disguise creatures with a hybrid mana cost are particularly nice as you can plan to play them in decks that could never cast the creature normally. You know you’ll have to play the creature as a disguised creature, but this flexibility allows you to play cards you normally couldn’t. Because Ward is so common in the set, the designers also planned for a few ways to get around it with specific cards. Cards like Long Goodbye cannot be countered, and the card will even remind you that it punches through Ward. These are all small details that show off the expertise that Wizards has long held in designing Limited environments.

I mentioned Play Boosters at the start of this review and that MKM is their debut. How do the Play Boosters feel so far? A Play Booster exclaims on its front, “The best of draft and set boosters!” That’s probably true? I haven’t noticed any huge changes in how an MKM draft feels from previous sets. There are higher chances for more rares running around, but I didn’t see any outrageous maxed out rare/mythic packs. Maybe the design team is playing it safe with their first outing and that’s ok. I can firmly say that Draft has not been ruined as some people predicted.

The other big change with Play Boosters was adding The List to Limited packs. For the first time ever, The List is doing something for me. As someone who never cared about its inclusion in Set Boosters, The List slot in MKM packs is fun to see because it’s a literal wild card. This is where I’m most excited to see what designers do as they are able to inject specific cards into Limited environments. I watched a game where a Smuggler’s Copter from Kaladesh popped out and it turns out that card is still amazing. Every so often you’d be looking through a pack and go, “Oh, that’s not in the set. What do you do?” I found that these small moments added good fun to constructing a deck.

A hybrid mana disguise creature, a spell that can’t be countered, and a Magnified Showcase frame card

Cons – It Doesn’t Add Up

It has been a while since face-down creatures were in a set and they take a different approach to playing the game. Not everyone likes the hidden information and I’m finding I’m one of these people. There’s a lot going on within Magic games and the hidden information is another layer to consider. As a casual player I’m not able to memorize all the creatures that could be lurking under the disguise. Along with that Morph, (and thus Disguise) is an odd rule from Magic’s past. Flipping a disguise creature is a special action that doesn’t use the stack and cannot be responded to. This takes some getting used to. Maybe that puzzle with hidden information is something you like, but I’m learning I’m adverse to the surprise aspects of Magic. The other mechanics, while nifty, aren’t super powerful, and I don’t feel like they are going to break out of MKM. I like Collect Evidence, Cases, and Suspect, but I would be surprised if I see them in another set after MKM. Though, the set feeling lower power is not a bad thing, and this could be a very intentional design choice.

Someone is having fun making these cards, and I’m having fun reading them.

There’s also an unwritten rule involving Morph that carries over to Disguise called The Five-Mana Morph Rule. Originating with Khans of Tarkir, Morph was designed around the idea that any creature that turns face up for less than five must trade (the creatures each kill each other) with any face-down morph cards. This was to prevent games from grinding to a halt when players were unsure if they could attack into Morph creatures. This design doctrine is also in MKM meaning that players can attack into disguised creatures confident they won’t outright lose their creatures unless their opponent has five mana to flip a disguised creature. To my knowledge this design doctrine isn’t communicated anywhere within MKM and it’s possible that some players aren’t even aware of it. I don’t like this as it leaves people at a disadvantage they aren’t even aware of. I’m sure most long standing players know the Morph Rule, but I would like this kind of information to be more transparent.

My other major criticism for MKM is the general flow of the games. I find that the games are either really fast or go long. It’s normal to get run over by the occasional aggressive deck and MKM is no different. In Magic, if I see my opponent play a Plains and then a Mountain (or vice versa) I usually make an exasperated sigh suddenly knowing I’m about to be run over by some Boros bull****. (This is a joke. I’m usually trying to be that monster.) In MKM, that sigh isn’t as exasperated as I at least appreciate the cards that are currently killing me.

It’s hard to stay mad after you’ve been beaten up by some teenagers and a puppy.

If that doesn’t happen, a lot of games seem to go long. Disguise creatures can’t usually arrive until turn three and it’s not that uncommon for that to be someone’s first play. This has likely changed the longer MKM has been out, but was common with my experiences with the set. As the board stalls out, disguised creatures can help you break past your opponents creatures, but sometimes the game devolves into both players waiting until they draw an answer. Creatures with flying help, but I’ve found Suspect to be underwhelming. I was initially intrigued by the mechanic, but I haven’t found suspected creatures to be useful or common enough to rely on it.

Commander Decks – Final-Word Phantom

Before we go I’d like to quickly touch on the Murders at Karlov Manor Commander decks. With the main set, four new Commander decks have been released. I feel like a broken record, but once again I can recommend these decks. They’re good starting points for new players and offer decent value to established players. Just like their main set counterpart, Wizards doesn’t usually make bad Commander decks. I’m not sure how many more times I can keep saying the same thing about the accompanying Commander decks. In the future I may have to mention the Commander decks only if I feel they are subpar from their counterparts.

Summary – Aftermath Analyst

If someone told me that Murders at Karlov Manor was their favorite or least favorite set, I would understand why. I’m strangely medium on the set. The artwork and the setting are top notch. There’s a lot of smart design decisions inside and I absolutely enjoyed my time with it. It’s just… the more MKM I experienced, the less I liked face-down creatures. If the only thing you read is this summary, I implore you to try MKM as you might find the opposite. The core idea of unknown information within Magic: The Gathering has always been a unique offering. Wizards of the Coast are experts at crafting their games and Murders at Karlov Manor is not bad. It’s just not my thing.

Tabletop Editor | [email protected]

Chris began tabletop gaming in college and quickly fell into the addictive world of cardboard. Beginning with D&D and Catan he became an enthusiast of all things gaming; analog or digital. Chris, now a relapsed MtG player, loves connecting with people via gaming through RPGs, board games, and video games. A particular favorite is testing friendships through social deduction games.

65

Alright

Magic: The Gathering

Review Guidelines

If someone told me that Murders at Karlov Manor was their favorite or least favorite set, I would understand why. I’m strangely medium on the set. The artwork and the setting are top notch. There’s a lot of smart design decisions inside and I absolutely enjoyed my time with it. It’s just… the more MKM I experienced, the less I liked face-down creatures. If the only thing you read is this summary, I implore you to try MKM as you might find the opposite. The core idea of unknown information within Magic: The Gathering has always been a unique offering. Wizards of the Coast are experts at crafting their games and Murders at Karlov Manor is not bad. It's just not my thing.

Chris Wyman

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