If you have been paying any attention at all, you know by now that one of the all-time coolest mechanics for Limited is coming back in Khans of Tarkir: morph!
Morph creatures are serving a specific service in this set, as they ease the pressure on three-color mana bases while also providing an outlet for multicolored shenanigans. There aren't many mechanics that can do both of those things, but morph does. Before we get into the cards—and some twists—this time around, let's review how morph works in the modern Magic era.
Here are the basics.
You can cast any morph card from your hand, face down, as a 2/2 colorless, nameless, typeless, ability-less, mana-costless creature for three colorless mana. That's a lot of nothing, but that's what morph creatures are. Then, any time you have priority and can pay the morph cost to turn the morph face up, you can do so.
This turning face up reveals a few things:
The first is that there is in fact a creature under there, with a color, mana cost, creature type, perhaps a different power and toughness, etc.
The second is that usually the morph will do something when it's turned face up. Some morphs don't have a triggered ability when turned face up—they just change power and toughness plus any static abilities they may have. Others will have a triggered ability that you can use to your benefit.
Turning a morph face up doesn't use the stack itself—it's what judges call a "special action" and it can't be responded to.
It just happens.
I know. Just trust me, it simply happens. Or you can trust Rules Manager Matt Tabak, who goes into greater detail here.
Art by Clint Cearley
Turning a morph face up won't cause "enters the battlefield" triggers to trigger, and the creature won't be summoning sick again. It will also retain any +1/+1 counters it had and any Auras or Equipment attached to it.
The creature is just changing from a boring morph into something cooler.
Logistically, you can look at any of your face-down morphs whenever you want to. Also, if a face-down morph leaves play for any reason, you have to reveal it to your opponent. This includes going to the graveyard, returning to its owner's hand, being exiled…anything. This is to make sure that nobody plays an Island face-down as a 2/2 creature, for example.
So morph creatures are a little complicated, rules-wise, but well worth the overhead. Remember, you don't have to play them as morphs. You can just pay whatever normal mana cost they have and cast them from your hand. Or you can try to surprise someone by entering combat with a morph, turning it face up in combat, and changing the situation for the better.
There are always many decisions when it comes to morph creatures, and that's part of what makes them great.
There is one thing that is different this time compared to when morphs were last clacking about in Draft matches. (Besides damage no longer using the stack. That was fun.)
Before, when you had morph-on-morph combat, there was a constant guessing game around blocking. You were taking on some risk, as some morphs became big enough or powerful enough to outright eat other morphs once they were turned face up. But at the same time, some morphs badly punished you for not blocking.
This kind of decision-making will not exist in Khans of Tarkir—at least not early in the game.
No morph, when turned face up, will outright trump another face-down morph in combat for anything under five mana, across all rarities.
That's right, if you block a morph with your morph, and your opponent has less than five mana available, the other morph is not going to kill your morph and survive whether it's turned face up or not. If your opponent has five or more mana available, then all bets are off. This is something that will be very useful to you in the early stages of your first Khans of Tarkir Limited matches.
Usually, the morph cost is some amount of mana or another form of payment. With the cycle we have today, getting them turned face up costs no mana at all.
To the Morphs!
Now that you are debriefed on the whole morph thing, let's look at some key uncommon morphs for Khans Limited!
Let's start with the green one, Temur Charger:
*Dusts off Vanilla Test Manual*
First things first: the Vanilla Test. If any of these are played for their morph cost, (a 2/2 for three colorless mana) they are fine. They aren't good creatures for that cost, but hey, at least you can cast them.
We have that as a baseline no matter what.
For Temur Charger, we also have a 3/1 for . This is pretty good! Oreskos Swiftclaw has been playable in Theros block and Magic 2015, and Temur Charger should be as well. If you really need that extra point of toughness, you can always cast this Horse for its morph cost anyway.
To turn it face up, all we have to do is reveal a green card from our hand. This means zero mana invested, and it's a scary prospect for our opponent. The downside for us is that if we don't have a green card in hand, we simply can't turn it face up until we draw one. Additionally, revealing a card from our hand may affect how our opponent plays the game. Giving the opponent more information is never a good thing.
As you can see, when Temur Charger is turned face up, you get to give a creature trample until end of turn. There will be some percentage of the time that you will simply target the Charger itself, but the really good stuff happens when you have other huge green creatures on the battlefield. When your opponent chump blocks with a random 1/1 on your 5/5, he or she has to live in fear of you having this morph on the table.
This card is good all around. A 3/1 for is good, the morph cost is easy and cheap, and the trample is in the right color to take advantage of it.
Watcher of the Roost is a 2/1 flying creature for . This definitely passes the Vanilla Test, but it doesn't do it with flying colors or anything. The bonus you get from turning it face up is nice, but not ground shaking either. Incidental life gain is something I am always a fan of, but it's never super powerful.
Depending on how aggressive this set is, I could see Watcher of the Roost holding a nice slot in a fast deck. It will see play either way, given that just casting it is fine and turning it face up is quite fine. Especially when you consider that there is no mana involved with turning it face up.
The shields. They are up.
Dragon's Eye Savants is cool because if you cast it face down, it can attack and block at a reasonable clip for Limited. But if you turn it face up (or just cast it for its printed mana cost) it's a total stopper on the ground. Not many cards can get through a 0/6.
It opens up interesting opportunities to play around pump spells as well.
Imagine you have Dragon's Eye Savants on the battlefield face down. Your opponent attacks with a 2/2. You block, and are happy to trade your creature for your opponent's. But instead, your opponent plays a pump spell on the attacker in an attempt to win combat. You respond by turning your morph face up, and now it survives the hit, effectively negating the pump spell for free.
Pretty cool. The bonus you get is nice too. It will range from very important to not too important depending on the game state and, of course, what the opponent is holding in his or her hand. Still, any information is good information, even if it's not game breaking.
Also remember that while it's a 0/6 in its natural state, it doesn't have defender. It can attack if needed.
Here is another interesting one: Ruthless Ripper. The idea with this card is to play it on turn one when you need a Typhoid Rats, but wait until turn three if you can turn it face up regularly. Basically, this morph wants to get into combat, where deathtouch allows it to trade up for something more important.
This can happen on your turn during attacks or when setting up blocks yourself. Either way, it's not great for your opponent, which makes it good for you. People will dread this little assassin. Attacking into a morph with your huge green creature looks a lot less enticing after you see what is hiding underneath.
The bonus for turning it face up is great. The 2 extra damage adds up quickly, even if it is slightly at odds with what it looks to be doing.
I like this card for its ability to play defense very well and offense just well enough.
Let's get aggressive. Horde Ambusher is a solid 2/2 for two mana if cast the good old fashioned way. It does have a minor drawback of dealing 1 damage to you when it blocks, but this is minor indeed.
Remember, you would rather be attacking anyway. On top of that, how many times do you block with a 2/2 and have it either die or eat a 1/1 attacker? Either way, the 1 damage isn't a big deal.
The special ability when turned face up is very strong in an aggressive deck. You can easily imagine a scenario where you play this as a morph on turn three, then on turn four or five you turn it face up, taking one blocker out of the equation, then battle with your creatures.
The mini "Falter" effect is powerful when it doesn't cost any mana, like this one.
So there we have it, a basic overview of five of the new morphs from Khans of Tarkir. There will be a lot more to say about these morphs and others in the coming months. The key takeaway with this cycle is that it doesn't cost any mana to turn the morphs face up. This is a big deal and will lead to these seeing a lot of play over the course of the set.
Also, remember to keep at least one unneeded extra land in hand when you have any morph on the battlefield. With five of these running around, if you find yourself with no cards in hand, your opponents will know they don't need to play around these particular morphs.
Keep them guessing.
More previews next week!