Pattern Recognition #182 - Flicker
4 February 2021
4 February 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.
This week's article is a result of me going onto Gatherer and hitting Random Card until something catches my eye. I do this more often than I care to admit, but this week, I was just not coming up with anything to write about on my own accord, to off to pray to the random number god for help.
I eventually hit upon this card, Long Road Home , and with it, I realized that I could talk about one of the things that does, and does well. Though naturally there are both upsides and downsides to this, as there are or should be with all things, so let's get right to it.
The concept of Flickering was first codified in Urza's block with the card Flicker , a mechanic wherein a card would leave the battlefield, then return either right way or later. This has several effects on both the card and the board state, and from this, we can do many things.
The first thing I should note is that there are two types of flickering. There are various casual names for them, but for the purposes of this article, I will refer to Flickering as an effect where a card leaves the battlefield, then returns right away as part of the resolution of the card in question, while Blinking is where the cards in question return later, often at the next 'End of Turn' step.
Now, please note that these are not keywords. When I use Thassa, Deep-Dwelling 's ability on my Wall of Runes , and I refer to it as Flickering the Wall, there is no named ability in play here, just an ability that is spelled out each time as there can be variations on what is being done and when. And of course, when I say flicker casually, then you can assume I am also talking about Blinking. Look, language can be hard some days!
So anyways, Flickering and Blinking are most often done at instant speed, sometimes as an enters-the-battlefield effect, such as with Charming Prince . This opens up a lot of reactive possibilities, as well as proactive ones in terms of available actions.
But of course, why would people do this? Well, there are several reasons, so let me avoid answering the question by going over what happens mechanically when you flicker or blink something.
The first, and most obvious thing is that the permanent in question goes into Exile, and unlike Oubliette , which points out that when something Phases out, so to does everything attached to it. When you Flick or Blink something however, everything does fall off, so auras detach and go to the graveyard, equipment gets left behind on the battlefield, and any counters on the permanent in question go away, including Planeswalker Loyalty (this will be important in a moment).
Now, because the creature still leaves the battlefield, any effects that trigger when something leaves, but is not required to have died go onto the stack as well. So, if you Flicker Deadwood Treefolk , you get a creature back from the graveyard when it leaves the battlefield, then when it comes right back. Which it will, right away. So hey, win-win all around!
Of course, when a creature de-flickers, and comes back, it enters the battlefield properly. This means that enters-the-battlefield effects from itself, or from other permanents that are watching for such things, like Soul's Attendant . However, if a permanent would enter the battlefield with counters on it, such as with a Planeswalker, they enter with their initial loyalty counters, rather than what they might have had when they left the battlefield. This is how Kaya, Ghost Assassin can reset her Loyalty, by using her 0 to effectively flicker herself.
Of course, as I mentioned a couple weeks ago when I talked about making copies of permanents, if there are conditions for putting something onto that permanent when it comes into play, say, such as with the on that Hangerback Walker? That is a big, fat, , so be careful what you flicker or blink!
Now, the first option when Flickering or Blinking is to use it offensively. While this may not be as a permanent removal as what other colours can, and even Oblivion Ring effects that can put out, it is a way to remove something at instant speed, and reset it. An attacking creature isn't. A blocking creature is no longer blocking (but you'll still need Trample otherwise all the combat damage just goes away into the aether). Any permanent that is about to make your life miserable can be sent away and brought back fresh, to hopefully prevent it from going off on this turn.
Though if you were to Blink rather than Flicker, you can remove a troublesome permanent until the end of the turn, allowing you to act without it being on the board.
Flickering as an offense though, is more like a side effect of the mechanic. Rather, the larger and more in-line purpose of these effects is defensive in nature. By exiling then returning a permanent to the battlefield, it comes in as a new instance of that permanent, and not the same as the old one. When I mentioned flickering an attacker just now, on the flip side of that would be blocking said attacker, then in response to the block but before damage is dealt, flicker your blocker, resulting in keeping your creature safe and ready to use again.
In addition, if there was a case of direct removal, such as, say, someone playing Murder on your Banisher Priest , then you flicker it, the thing the Banisher Priest was containing does reenter the battlefield when the Priest goes away, but then when the Priest reenters the battlefield, not only is it a new creature as far as targeting goes, which means that the Murder won't hit it, but also it comes back into play and can re-banish the creature it had taken out before!
Something I did in Theros Beyond Death limited last year was when I played a deck. Or was this my Pauper deck at the time? I can't remember. Regardless, I would have Starlit Mantle , and use that to protect a creature. Well, naturally, people would love to take out the creature one the Hexproof fell off, so I would cast Flicker of Fate , not onto the creature that was being removed, but rather on the Starlit Mantle itself, which would reenter the battlefield, re-attach to my creature and re-apply the Hexproof!
So yes, using Flicker mechanics to move auras or equipment that attaches when it comes into play is a niche ability, but one that is an option if only you have the luck to have the resources to pull it off.
But is not just the primary when it comes to flickering and blinking single targets. Sure, can do it too on occasion, but also has the ability to flicker or blink their entire board.
Allow me to introduce you to Ghostway , this beautiful, beautiful card that earned a place in my heart forever back in Ravnica Standard. Being able to save everything on my board for a mere from what would come was a price well worth paying. Especially as at the time, damage still went on the stack.
What does that mean, you young people might wonder? Well, if damage went on the stack, then all my creatures flickered, all that damage would go away because these creatures were not the same ones that all took lethal damage. They would live! And many of my opponents creatures would die.
But with this, let's talk about the ultimate blink. One so powerful that it can affect players as well. Let's get those grins on people's faces, and talk Teferi's Protection . This glorious card allows a player to simply peace out from the board for a turn, taking you and your board state with you, leaving everyone else to fight it out, or just to avoid dying for a turn.
Sure, you're technically phasing, but the end result is nearly the same as a prolonged blink. Just without the enters and leaves the battlefield effects. But still, you're removing everything in a temporary manner so that they don't go away permanently.
Flickering and Blinking is, in the end, a strategic defensive ability, and a tactically offensive one. It's easier for to defend itself of course, but it is a card hidden up their sleeve that can be broken out as a surprise to offset their opponents. But like all things, it needs to be used wisely, and as one of the few things that can still claim dominance over, it is to be expected by your enemies as well.
Flickering and Blinking is a tool, nothing more. It's not a solution in of itself, it's a means to allow you to save yourself long enough to pull off a win. But it isn't a win in of itself.
Thanks for reading this week, and please leave your comments below. I enjoy a good discussion. And join me next week when I talk about a new subject. One that is hopefully more positive.
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!
Very nice article, berryjon! This was a fun look at one of my favorite mechanics, and was a pleasure to read. I will dispute the article's conclusion though, as whether or not flickering wins games depends entirely on what's being flickered.
Everybody knows card draw can win games, by ensuring you have the cards you need to win, so one of the most powerful effects flickering can abuse is card draw.
Watcher for Tomorrow and Sea Gate Oracle are great blink targets because they not only put a card in your hand, they also filter through your deck quickly, digging 3 or 4 cards deep with each ETB. Mulldrifter and Cloudblazer don't dig as deep, but make up for it by giving you 2 cards with every blink.
Another powerful, potentially game-winning ETB effect is token creation. Thragtusk is well-known for being a great flicker target, as it's 3/3 Beast token comes with a side helping of 3 life, and Armada Wurm starts as a great deal, with 10 trampling power for 6 mana, and just gets better with every flicker.
My personal favorite blink targets are the Splicers, e.g. Blade Splicer who not only produce 3/3 Golems, they boost their abilities as well. Nothing says inevitable victory quite like a couple of Soulherder flickering a Blade Splicer and a Master Splicer every turn, before you finally drop that Wing Splicer and have your Golem army fly in for the win!
Thanks again for covering one of my favorite subjects, I had a fun time both reading and replying to this one! As always, I look forward to your next article!