Pattern Recognition #192 - MDFC

Features Opinion Pattern Recognition


22 April 2021


Hello everyone! This is Pattern Recognition, TappedOut.Net's longest running article series as written by myself, berryjon. I am something of an Old Fogey who has been around the block quite a few times where Magic is concerned, as as such, I use this series to talk about the various aspects of this game, be it deck design, card construction, mechanics chat, in-universe characters and history. Or whatever happens to cross my mind this week. Please, feel free to dissent in the comments below the article, add suggestions or just plain correct me! I am a Smart Ass , so I can take it.

So, this week I'll dust off my 'I'm a valid contemporary content creator, honest!' card and talk a bit about the unifying theme - if that's what you can call it - over the past year in Magic. No, this isn't going to be like my April Fool's joke. This is going to be serious! Well, as serious as I can take any subject, really.

So, if you haven't read the title of the article at the top of the page or when you clicked the link to get here, I'm going to talk about Nodal Dual Faced Cards. What they are, what they do, where they succeed and where they have failed. Because, yes, they have failed in a couple of small ways.

So let's do some defining here. Dual Faced cards are nothing new. No, let's not talk about Kamigawa, and instead skip straight to Innistrad where, thanks to our friends the Werewolves, we got creatures that could transform between their default facing and their more moon-touched side. Such as how the Mayor of Avabruck  Flip would become the Howlpack Alpha in the light of the full moon.

Yes. I know that it was more than those, with some Vampires transforming. You know, like Bloodline Keeper  Flip becoming Lord of Lineage ? It's just that the Werewolves had a consistent mechanism for flipping back and forth, and it was that you could flip them back and forth.

It was a pretty popular mechanic, all things considered, and its return with the second Innistrad block was seen as a good thin - along with the not-as-well-received Meld thanks to the complexity issues involved. But that's a different subject entirely, so let's dispense with that for now.

The point I want to say is that Modal Dual Faced Cards - and because I don't want to type that out any more, MDFC's - had their groundwork laid out long before they were printed and are the conjunction of two mechanics. Dual faced cards, and Modal Cards. And good Urza, that article is old. I feel old re-reading it!

So how do these things work out? Well, let's start from the beginning, with Zendikar Rising.

The first MDFC's we got were an interesting way to hook the playerbase into their existence. The notions of Mana Screw and Mana Flood are well known, so much so that I've devoted time and space on this website to both subjects and how they are necessary flaws in the game. In that set, we were presented with the dual lands of the set first. Clearwater Pathway  Flip and Murkwater Pathway  Flip are an example of this type of card, the two being opposite sides of each other. A cycle that started in this set, and was finished in the next one. These lands allowed you the choice of picking which color of mana you wanted to have.

I recall some doomsayers of the time worried that these might replace Basic Lands, but saner heads prevailed. How the Pathway cycle works is that you pick a color, and play the land with that side facing up to provide mana of that colour. By the rules of Dual Faced cards, they cannot be flipped without a specific effect, of which there are none thanks to certain other cards that would react very badly to appearing on the battlefield. But these cards had the advantage over most other lands that can produce two colours by unconditionally coming into the battlefield untapped. But, this was countered by only allowing you to choose one color or the other to have access to. Not both.

It's a good balance, honestly, and I can see these being a staple of formats and reprints in the years to come.

Anyway, the other side of things are the MDFC's that are a land on one side, but not a land on the other. Now, here is where things get really weird. Let's look at Hagra Mauling  Flip... Actually, no. That's just a worse Murder on the front end, so let's talk about Glasspool Mimic  Flip and its back side, Glasspool Shore  Flip.

These cards are not lands. They exist in the deck, in your hand and in all other locations as the card on the 'front' of the piece of cardboard in your hand. This is signified by the small black triangle in the upper-left corner, replaced with two white triangles on the 'back'. And because when there was a card that was both a spell and a land on opposite sides of the card, the land was always placed on the back side.

This means that Glasspool Mimic  Flip exists in all states as a creature that is treated in all ways as a creature, from being immune to Duress to being able to come into play with additional +1/+1 counter on it thanks to Shaile, Dean of Radiance  Flip.

But, because the other side of the creature is a Land, you have the option of playing it as a Land instead of casting it as a creature. It comes into play - in this case tapped, but the Mythic Rare versions of the card can come into play untapped if you pay 3 life - and acts in all cases as a (non-Basic) Land on the battlefield.

This is the Modal nature of the Dual Faced Cards. When I talked about Modes in the distance past, one of the points I wanted to make was that these sorts of cards provided options for the player without sacrificing space in the deck for more cards, or to be able to include multiple potential effects that by themselves wouldn't be worth printing as individual cards.

In addition, by making sure that there was a land on the back of each of these cards, Wizards found a unique and elegant workaround for Mana issues in a deck. Well, I would say that if Arena hadn't already figured it out over a year previously. Either that, or Wizards had an idea, an used Arena to test the idea.

I should explain that.

One of the unique gimmicks that I've had fun with (but not as much fun as the Omniscience formats) was where Arena would provide you with a deck that was pre-customized, and very much over 60 cards. But every player started with an Emblem that let them discard a card form their hand to create a Token Land that could produce 1 of any color of mana when tapped.

The challenge of the deck then came with trying to balance your growth in terms of mana by reducing the cards in your hand, with the cards you had in your hand as resources to be played. This is an extension of the regular issues faced with mana bases and deck building in general, and by doing this, Wizards created spells that also doubled as mana should they be needed as such, rather than being stuck with lands but no spells, or spells and no lands.

Kaldheim mixed things up a little as the MDFC's were all Legendary Creature - God on one side, and a different non-Land card on the back. From Artifacts ( Tergrid's Lantern ) and Equipment ( Toralf's Hammer ), Enchantments ( The Prismatic Bridge ), other Creatures ( Hakka, Whispering Raven ) or even a Planeswalker in Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor . I could have sword one or more of the Gods had an Instant or Sorcery on the back, but it turns out not to be the case.

Of note, Tibalt was responsible for a rules change in the game, where you couldn't cheat out the back side of a Dual Faced card if you could cast the front half for free. Gee, it's almost like Tibalt's Tickery was a badly designed card. Who knew?

Anyway, back on subject here. The Kaldheim MDFC's were all representative of the Gods of Kaldheim and the way they affected their Plane. Either the God would show up personally, or you would get their indirect help through the card on the back side.

For Stirxhaven, we get the last of our current run of MDFCs. Here, the lessons learned by Wizards and taught to the playerbase come to roost. We have all sorts of non-land pairings from this set, from the level of "everyone saw this coming a mile away" of Rowan, Scholar of Sparks  Flip and Will, Scholar of Frost . The less obvious Mila, Crafty Companion  Flip and the back mode of Lukka, Wayward Bonder .

But with the design for Strixhaven being about strictly Enemy Colour pairings, this is the first set with this top-down (or perhaps being bottom up for the mechanics design first?) since Apocalypse of the early 2000's. And that shows on all the MDFCs in this set.

They are all mono-colour on one side, and an enemy color on the other side, including the five - sorry ten Deans of the campus.

OK, not completely true. We also got the colourless Wandering Archaic  Flip and the back side of Explore the Vastlands , while the other example is the guy who got tossed out for having too many majors (or so I would like to believe) - Extus, Oriq Overlord  Flip and his grand plan to Awaken the Blood Avatar .

Look, when Professor Onyx thinks this is a stupid idea, maybe you should re-evaluate your life decisions, because she knows bad ones when she sees them. Don't ask me how I know that as she obviously not Liliana Vess as a teacher. That would be silly.

MDFC's are more than just mere Modal Cards, and that is because of two very different reasons. First is that because they are two separate card-sized cards, they can have the full effect of a full card on them. Compare something like Sublime Epiphany in terms of options and how much space is needed for them, and then compare any other such MDFC. There is more room on the MDFC to write things down, allowing for admittedly fewer options, but on the other side, equally allowing more more complex options that don't require the same 'flip' text that appeared on all the Werewolves.

In addition, MDFCs can have multiple, distinct colours on them. Yes, I know about Split cards. I was there for Invasion Block when they first came out, thank you. But those historical cards run into the same problem as current Modal cards, in that there is a lack of space on them to do large effects. Wear / Tear is an example of how little text goes onto these cards, how simple the effects turn out to be. But when going for a full MDFC, that's no longer an issue. Colours can be more varied, casting costs can be more, and yes, text can be denser.

Huh. I was going to make a Size Matters joke at this point, but it turns out there's no card by that name in the game so far. Weird.

Going into the future, I don't see MDFC's being a large part of the game. While, yes, we got 68 of them over the past year - almost two dozen a set, you have to remember that an even ten of them are pure lands, and another 30 of them - all from Zendikar Rising mind you - have a land on the back side. When you start to look at how much we actually got, it's not a lot. It's supported, yes, but it also removes the card back from the card, necessitating printing of special filler cards for the packs to hide the existence of a non-standard card in them.

In addition, MDFC's add to the work being done in a set, for each card that is printed needs to have two cards worth of testing done to it. And that they can't be separated so that also requires additional testing.

Right now though, for the Commander Crowd, I see people adding onto the Hybrid Mana argument, the argument that cards that are MFDC's can be put into their Commander deck, but only the side that matches their Commander can be used. So, in a Valki, God of Lies  Flip deck, they can put Flamescroll Celebrant  Flip and Awaken the Blood Avatar in them as those cards match the colour identity of the Commander. Just ignore the other sides of those cards that happen to be .

I really have no opinion on that at the moment, the subject is still too new.

So in summary, I doubt we'll see them outside of specialty products for a few years. I can already hear the incoming Secret Lairs though, so those of you who are Whales, have your wallets ready.

That's all for this week. Join me next time when I talk about a different subject. What? I don't know yet.

Until then please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!

This article is a follow-up to Pattern Recognition #191 - A Set Design - Concept The next article in this series is Pattern Recognition #193 - A Set Design - Theme

wereotter says... #1

If they had kept the ruling that attempting to produce any color of mana outside of your deck's color identity turned it immediately into colorless, I could see it being much easier to argue that the dual faced cards should be allowed in commander decks that can cast either side of them. But I think it's a harder sell now.

April 22, 2021 6:32 p.m.

Please login to comment