Designer Fun – Double Faced Cards 2: Future Sight

Mark Rosewater often writes (in his articles) about conserving the design space of a new mechanic, and promises that someday they will return to it and use some of that space.

You, on the other hand, want to know, right now, what might be done with that mechanic. Right?

In this article I will make an attempt to explore some of the design space of the most recent new, fancy, Magic mechanic, Double Faced Cards. I am totally stealing WotC’s thunder (sorry guys!) because some of these directions should be pretty obvious, and hopefully I will luck into things they’ve done in Dark Ascension and the 3rd set in this block. After dealing with some of the obvious, I will go beyond, into some more wild and crazy ideas, which is likely to include a few very bad ideas. Just want to warn you up front. Most of the designs I present here are off the cuff and not necessarily well thought out. When exploring a new mechanic it can be more effective to start out fast and loose and refine the ones that show promise later.

The Obvious

In the rest of the Innistrad block we will see some cards that fit the patterns established in the first set. (I’m a genius, right?) It should be obvious that each set in the block should contain some things that are the same, so link them together.

When DFCs are brought back in some future block, should that set also contain some of the same implementations as Innistrad? For example, should it contain werewolves that transform with the no-spells 2-spells triggers? That’s a much more interesting question. Having the werewolf creature type would depend more on the flavor of that block, and you could end up using the mechanic without a different type.

Creature – Human Weredragon
At the beginning of each upkeep, if no spells were cast last turn, transform ~.
Dragon Form Skyblazers
Creature – Dragon Weredragon
At the beginning of each upkeep, if a player cast two or more spells last turn, transform ~.

The question though, is should you repeat the mechanic just like this when you next use it? Probably. Especially the first time you bring it back, and maybe every time. For a mechanic like morph I would always expect to see basic, straightforward morphs each time it comes back. For DFCs I would expect to see at least one of the implementations come back, though it might not be the werewolf triggers. It might be the [card]Screeching Bat[/card] or [card]Thraben Sentry[/card] version, but at least one of the styles we’ve seen so far should return as a basic implementation when the mechanic returns in a future block.


Two main reasons. One is that new players will have come to Magic between now and then, and they may have never seen Innistrad, or may never have played with those cards. Innistrad obviously worked out, and since it did work these new players will enjoy it just as we enjoy it now. Furthermore, if they get some of the same as the rest of us they will appreciate the mechanic in the same way we do. That gives us shared experience and understanding of the mechanic.

The other reason is to connect the two experiences of the mechanic, now and future, for the players like us who were around the whole time. For a successful mechanic, why mess with success? If we’re talking 6 or 8 years in the future, we’ll want some of that old feeling back. Plus, it will be cool to see how DFCs interact in a different environment.

That’s another important point. The rest of the environment should be different when you bring back something old. Every Magic set is like a wedding, something old, something new, something borrowed, something Blue.

The most basic and obvious new thing, I think, is new transformation triggers. We should see a few new ones in Dark Ascension, and there will also be plenty of possible trigger conditions that we won’t see until transform gets used again, or that perhaps we shall never see in print.

Let’s start with a few examples:

Morvoth, the Bloodseeker
Legendary Creature – Vampire
When Morvoth deals combat damage to an opponent, transform it.
Morvoth, the Lifestealer
Legendary Creature – Vampire

I probably shouldn’t have made this a legend, or I should try to spice it up a little bit more. Anyway, a creature transforming when it hits a player is a pretty obvious way to trigger it.

Creature – Hippo
Whenever a creature dies that was dealt damage by ~ this turn, transform ~.
Creature – Hippo

You see, once he eats another creature…
I left out the word “combat” from this to make it work with [card]Prey Upon[/card]. Normally I would insist it be combat damage only, but I’m making an exception in Green for [card]Prey Upon[/card], with the assumption that it might become a core set staple card. I might avoid common auras or equipment that grant pinging in the same set as this hippo, though.

A more simple “Morbid – transform” or “Morbid – transform this at end of turn if a creature died this turn” is another possibility.

Raging Rhino
Creature – Rhino
When ~ attacks, transform it.
Enraged Rhino
Creature – Rhino
At the beginning of any player’s upkeep, transform ~.

This card attacks as another creature. This isn’t really much different from “when this creature attacks, it gets +4/+4 until end of turn” but it could be if the two sides were more different than I have made them here.

In design I often make a card like that, and then realize what I actually want to do, and that leads me to another card. In this case:

Prowling Panther
Creature – Cat
When ~ attacks, transform it.
Pouncing Panther
Creature – Cat
At the beginning of any player’s upkeep, transform ~.
~ can’t be blocked except by creatures with flying or reach.

Closer, anyway. Cards that transform so frequently and so easily, might not be doing the mechanic justice. I think it feels better when the change is more lasting than this.

Here are a pile of other possible trigger conditions:

At the beginning of each upkeep, if ~ is enchanted, transform it.
At the beginning of each upkeep, if ~ is equipped, transform it.
At the beginning of each upkeep, if you control 5 or more creatures, transform ~.
(Creatures… or lands, or artifacts, or whatever you want)
At the beginning of each upkeep, if you have 7 or more cards in hand, transform ~.
(That one is bad, because it encourages you to not play your spells, which is boring. Better to ask you to have no cards in hand.)
At the beginning of your upkeep, if no creatures attacked last turn, transform ~.
At the beginning of your upkeep, if you have 10 or less life, transform ~.

There are a huge number of possible triggers beyond these, I’m sure. How do you pick the best ones? You don’t! I probably wouldn’t even make this is with the intent of designing Dark Ascension cards, or cards for some future block in which DFCs return. I would be content knowing Magic has plenty of trigger conditions to provide me what I needed. I would decide what kinds of cards I wanted to make and only then look for trigger conditions that fit those needs.

For example, if White needed a [card]Thraben Sentry[/card] sort of creature, something that got angry and transformed to seek vengeance, I would seek out triggers that fit. Perhaps “if you took 5 or more damage last turn” would work. That might even make for some interesting decisions when it comes time to block. Instead of minimizing damage you might want to let exactly 5 through.

In addition to triggers, there are also player-controlled transformation abilities. We’ve seen paying mana on [card]Screeching Bat[/card], and [card]Ludevic’s Test Subject[/card], but it’s easy to imagine paying life, discarding cards, sacrificing another permanent, and more.

Reckless Roaster
Creature – Human Shaman
T: ~deals 1 damage to target creature.
Sacrifice a creature: transform ~.
Hell Blaster
Creature – Devil
T: ~ deals 4 damage to target creature
At the end of each turn, if no creatures died this turn, transform ~.

Good luck with that one, development.

Besides transformation conditions, there are other things we can vary while still holding to the overall form of Innistrad DFCs. For example, cards that transform from strong to weak (instead of the weak to strong we see in Innistrad):

Bold Bonebreaker
Creature – Devil
At the beginning of each upkeep, if you took no damage last turn, transform ~.
Cowardly Whelp
Creature – Devil
At the beginning of each upkeep, if an opponent took 5 or more damage last turn, transform ~.

I don’t expect to see this implementation in this block, because the B-side of cards are all currently “when the monsters come out” and the reverse doesn’t feel like it fits the flavor as well. It would also disrupt the flow of playing with them. With A-side weaker, you always want to get to B, and having the reverse around at the same time would interfere with elegance of that.

We’ve already seen two creatures that transforms between “equal” states in [card]Civilized Scholar[/card] and [card]Screeching Bat[/card]. (Perhaps many would argue the scholar transforms from strong to weak, but it is clearly two very different creatures instead of a stronger and weaker version of the same creature.)

Another broad category, which I’m sure you’ve thought of, are Double Faced Cards that Transform into other card types. This option is obvious, but begins to bridge the gap into the crazy.

Creature to enchantment, aura to equipment, land to creature, there are many possibilities, though perhaps not all are good ideas.

Bittersoul Witch
Creature – Human Shaman
When ~ dies, return it to the battlefield transformed.
Enchantment – Aura Curse
Enchant Player
At the beginning of enchanted player’s upkeep they lose 1 life and you gain 1 life.

Don’t think too much about what it actually does, I just want to illustrate the obvious implementation of the creature to curse transformation. Another way to word it would be “if ~ would die, transform it instead” but since Morbid is a thing in this block, it’s much better if the creature does get to die.

The Crazy

Here are some more wild uses for DFC. As I’ve said before, several of these are very bad ideas that I would expect Wizards would not actually try to print.

Lead Into Gold
Alchemy – Recipe
Exile ~.
While ~ is exiled you may sacrifice 4 mountains. If you do, return ~ to the battlefield Transformed.
Gold Bars
Alchemical Artifact
~ enters the battlefield tapped.
T: Add RRRRRR to your mana pool

The actual abilities here are somewhat dumb, I was making an attempt at “lead into gold” as rocks into mana.

Ral Zarek
Planeswalker -Ral
+1: Until your next upkeep, your instants count as sorceries, and your sorceries count as instants.
-2: ~ deals 2 damage to target creature, then scry 2.
-4: You get an Izzet Heart Emblem
Izzet Heart
When you cast an instant, draw a card.
When you cast a sorcery, ~ deals 2 damage to target creature or player.

This is not a particularly good planeswalker, I just wanted to show off the potential use of an Emblem on the other side of the card. It’s not actually that great of an idea either, because you might ult at 5 loyalty… and then what do you do? I suppose the ult could be “transform ~” and then the game rules say that Emblems automatically jump into the command zone if they ever find themselves on the battlefield? Yuck.

Ral Zarek, Izzet Hero
Planeswalker -Ral
+1: Put a 3/1 red elemental creature token with haste and trample onto the battlefield. Sacrifice it at end of turn.
-2: Put a token onto the battlefield that is a copy of target creature.
-4: Transform ~
Izzet Spellstorm
Whenever you cast a spell, draw a card.
Remove a loyalty counter from ~: copy target instant or sorcery, you may choose new targets for the copy.

I think Ral Zarek is from Ravnica.

This version takes advantage of any extra loyalty counters that were on him when you ulted. Cute right?

The use of an Emblem, in that first Ral, made me think of more command-zone uses for DFCs. Commander generals could be printed as DFCs, with some of the commander rules on the other side. The Lead into Gold card above could simply start the game in your command zone, with some new rule that allows you to put one Alchemy card into your command zone at the start of every game.

Here’s one I know you’ve been waiting for:

Appreciated Monk
Creature – Human Monk
Level Up: 1G [2/2]
2-3 [4/4]
4+ 1G: transform ~ [6/6]
Appreciated Monster
Creature – Beast
Level Up: 2G [6/6]
6-7: trample [8/8]
8+ trample, vigilance, reach [10/10]

This is not really a good use of complexity. If you’re going to all this trouble, the B-side should probably not have level up, and instead just be a really cool creature with an ability that normally wouldn’t fit on a leveler. Even then, it seems pretty shark-jumpy.

You could use DFCs to reduce the need for tokens too:

It’s a Snake!
Put a 1/1 green snake creature token with deathouch onto the battlefield
Creature – Snake

This is quite silly, as a comparison to [card]Ambush Viper[/card] demonstrates. My point is that allowing DFC to exist opens up a surprising number of possibilities, and several of those duplicate functionality that Magic already has. When your new mechanic stumbles upon this, what should you do? Should you use that space? You have to evaluate if the old way is better or worse than the new way. In this case, tokens are doing a fine job already, and this won’t substitute for cards that create multiple tokens, so I can’t imagine ever seeing this.

I also can’t imagine seeing any instants or sorceries with transform….

While ~ is on the stack, if you cast another red spell, transform ~.
~ deals 5 damage to target creature.
~ deals 5 damage to target creature, and 5 damage to its controller.

I’m sure a rules manager would have something to say about this, but I made sure to keep it to one target on both sides (and I intend that it cannot change targets when it transforms). Still, references to the stack are really awful, and should be avoided. Once again, this is the sort of thing that we shouldn’t need DFC technology to do, but unless we at least think about it a little bit we won’t know.

How about an enchantment that turns into an instant? Maybe I should quit before I get further behind.

DFCs could also be used as another implementation of split cards. You could cast either side (imagine a double top bar on the card, the name and casting cost of the opposite side listed below the current side’s). It would allow for more full-text split cards… maybe.

Morphs (a tangent)

I wonder what will happen to morph. They can, if they want, print morph cards with 3-mana 2/2s on the back. I do not expect that to happen, but it does seem a little silly to bring back morphs now that we have DFC technology.


Today I’ve shown you some, but not nearly all of the possibilities for the future of DFCs. I hope doing so has illustrated some of the workings of the design process. I showed a bunch of card ideas, but many of them I would just as quickly cross off, and would never allow them into a design file. Others would inspire coworkers to find a better use for the concept, or stir up a new idea in their head – not leading directly to cards themselves, but providing compost from which better cards can grow.

Double Faced Cards have a pretty wide range of possible futures. What’s the wildest thing you can think of to do with them?

Share this


Scroll to Top