Metamorpho...Whoa

Posted in Serious Fun on September 10, 2002

By Anthony Alongi

Here's a riddle for you: what's brown and white and beats the cartilage out of your opponents starting on turn four?

Answer: this. -

Before I get into this card's specifics, some words on how the morph mechanic plays broadly in casual formats.

A Boon, and a Bane...But Mostly a Boon

On balance, I think the upside of the morph mechanic far outweighs the potential downside for casual play groups. But it's smart to take a look at both the good and the bad things that can happen to your group as a result of these cards. Have a clear head and heart going into this expansion, because you'll need both.

From the good side, we have a bevy of strategic considerations. Strategy = fun, right? Here's the stuff you'll need to consider as you put together your morph deck:

Surprise vs. warning. Morph cards blend what I would call the "spider" and "rattlesnake" elements of multiplayer Magic. On one hand, they can spring a nasty trap on your opponent(s). On the other, they're fairly visible - the trap is in not knowing what exactly will come out, right?

So morphs, when face down, act as vague signals to opponents, polite suggestions that they take their business elsewhere. A Shock will kill one…but would it really be worth it, to kill every face-down card you see?

One color vs. multiple colors. If you believe the above, then the strength of your "morphing" strategy will depend on how many morphs you can put in one deck. If all you have is just one morph, opponents will know exactly what it is after the first game, and it will work like a mediocre Nemesis seal. ("Seal of Serra", in this case!...but still an eminently killable 2/2 for a full round, and believe me, it will die if everyone knows what lies beneath.)

Therefore, you want to pack in lots of different morphs. You don't necessarily want bad morphs; but you want some that are less good than others, or else all you're doing is giving people an excellent opportunity to kill your favorite creatures before you even get a chance to show their face.

And the more colors you play, the more morphs you can use. The problem is, some of the best morphs, like Exalted Angel, require a fair commitment to their color to play. So you've got mana base work to do, if you leave the monochrome path.

Less color screw. Given the above analysis, it might not be "less" color screw as much as "different" or "delayed" color screw. Morphs give you the ability to put a 2/2 creature on the third turn every time, no matter how many colors you're playing. That can be helpful in group games, when early attacks go toward those players who haven't managed to put up a blocker yet. It'll also do wonders for your blood pressure.

That blood pressure will increase, however, if you can't pay the morph cost to get evolution moving along. (Expect many, many "slower than evolution" jokes across the Internet Magic community for the next couple of months.) As I hinted above, color commitment may be an issue with a few morphs. Don't just look at the upper corner of the card, now - you've got to read the text box, too, just like you did with Invasion's kicker mechanic.

Colorless damage. It doesn't happen constantly, but it happens occasionally enough in multiplayer games that someone will have a mild (or strong) color hoser that gives your deck fits - Light of Day, or Yavimaya Barbarian, or whatever. It'll be nice then to have these lovely, colorless creatures at your disposal.

Less attention…or more? Finally, I'll challenge my original assumption that morphs work like rattlesnakes. With enough mana open and an additional blocker you can depend on, I'd say yes - morphs add to your array of warning signals. But the round after you play a morph, you can expect every opponent with a creature to take a swing at you - just to test the waters and see if you consider your creature expendable. Morphs present your opponents with a "known unknown" - they see something they can't identify completely, and they're going to try hard to light it up. One way or the other.

That may build a case, in group play, for playing morphs late, when you can pay both the initial 3 and their morph cost. This may not sound like a good deal (you could just pay the casting cost instead, and get the creature face-up to begin with) - but I suspect there will be plenty of times when this is the right tactic for a given game.

So much to work out! It will be loads of fun. In the meantime, be watchful of these potential problems:

Cheating. You can bet that the DCI will have severe punishments for misrepresenting face-down cards at sanctioned tournaments. For us casual players, it is time to revisit our cultural norms. We've got to have a broad understanding, starting here and now, that the end of the game does not mean an immediate scoop. It means, first of all, that everyone turns face-down cards face-up. If you need comprehensive rules backing, here you go:

504.6 (last sentence) At the end of each game, all face-down spells and permanents must be revealed to all players.

If someone refuses to show their face-down card, or shows it and it's a basic land or whatever, then your group has a decision to make. This is the rule I suggest:

The first time it happens, the offender sits out a game - they can use the time to get to know their deck better, perhaps, since we'd all like to believe it was just a horrible mistake and they just mistook one card for another.

Fyndhorn Brownie
The second time it happens, the group asks the offender to sit out the rest of the day. The third time, the offender should be asked to leave and not come back. I don't care if it's your best friend or your sister or whoever - you can't have a group game where half the people are playing Mountains and Fyndhorn Brownies as 2/2 creatures. It ruins the game for everyone else.

Confusing. If there are multiple morphs, there is a real chance that a very understandable error could take place - you'll get 'em mixed up, target one with something you meant to target the other with, etc. Again, tournaments force a certain structure on playing morphs that make this less likely.

To avoid this, just keep your morphs visible, and in order of them coming into play. That will take care of most of the problem. Now might be a good idea for those of you who play with your "lands forward" (and your creatures and other permanents behind them) to give up that habit - it's hard enough to track permanents that way when they're face up.

Misplaying. There is a good deal of opportunity for misplaying around morphs - for example, not knowing that counters and enchantments stay on a morphing creature (they do), or treating the newly morphed creature as if it has summoning sickness (it doesn't, unless you played it as a morph that turn), or "responding" to a morph (you can't - it's like tapping mana, it doesn't use the stack, although you only use the ability whenever you could play an instant).

All this sounds terrifying, perhaps; but there's an easy solution. Do yourself and your group a favor; go to this link, print it out, and keep it by the group for the first month or two after Onslaught is released. You'll be glad you did.

Morphing may be one of the most interesting curve balls Wizards has thrown at us - if we want to have a fun and complex game, let's show them that we can handle it.

Speaking of handling.

Exalt. Exult. Exhale.

So back to this 4/5 angel with Spirit Link that shows up on turn four. Is this what Randy Buehler meant when he told us flying white weenies would be getting better???

In all seriousness, this is not at all in the Suntail Hawk family - it's more akin to Serra Angel, Warrior Angel, and Angel of Mercy - a fat, angelic flier that comes later in the game, after the defense has established control, and closes out the match.

Multiplayer games won't be overly phased by this - the thing still responds delightfully well to Swords to Plowshares and Terror. (Red and green may need less conventional solutions, like Aftershock or Cockatrice; but it's not too much worse than what they've seen for years. They'll figure it out, I'm sure.) Where the casual white mage will find the most value in Exalted Angel is in letting his or her life drop to dangerous levels - and then sending this thing flying and unmasked.

A word on usage - most players will morph their creature after blockers are declared, or maybe even after damage goes on the stack. (The triggered ability will work off of the two damage that's on the stack.) This sometimes makes sense to do, since Mark's and my previews aren't the last morphs you'll see that do something upon dealing combat damage. The Exalted Angel, however, may be in that group of morphs that you reveal before blockers are declared - if the defender has only ground troops that can block, and if you desperately need the life gain.

My point here is that it's not always obvious when the best time to morph is - and you should be careful to note the battlefield conditions, before you swing. Go through each step of combat carefully, and you'll be fine.

There may be some interesting applications of Exalted Angel with at least three existing cards - Warpath, Souldrinker, and Radiant, Archangel. In all cases, the timing of the morph is critical. Do it carefully, and let your opponents see the steps. As I suggested earlier, the morph ability will test the integrity of your group. Don't be the first to be too fast and free with the rules.

Warpath - wait for blockers, always. In most cases, you do not want damage to go on the stack. (Why add the blocker's damage to your angel, which would otherwise survive?) Play the Warpath and morph in response. This trick takes eight mana, but could be worth it.

Souldrinker - wait for blockers, usually. Depending on the blocks, you may or may not want damage to go on the stack. (If the Souldrinker and unmorphed angel will kill their blockers anyway, just wait.) Before your own creatures take damage, pay 3 life however many times you want, or can, to boost the Souldrinker. Your angel's damage (4 if you morphed before damage on the stack, 2 if you morphed after) will immediately start rebuilding your life total. There are other life gain/drain tricks (e.g., Hatred), but this one is probably the cheapest from a mana standpoint.

Radiant, Archangel - wait or don't wait for blockers, as you like. Exalted Angel's elevation boosts Radiant immediately , and remember: you can't respond to it. So a Lightning Bolt on the stack targeting Radiant will not do lethal damage on its own; and a red mage who wants to play Lightning Bolt in response to your morph is out of luck, and must wait for priority (and by then, Radiant is at least a 4/4).

The deck I suggest below has a few copies of cards you haven't heard of yet. It also includes Powerstone Minefield, which is probably the best pro- and anti-morph tech I can think of right now in one card. Opponents attacking with unmorphed creatures must morph them before the Minefield's triggered ability resolves, which should give you a full view of what's coming. Meanwhile, you don't mind so much if your Exalted Angel goes over the head of defending creatures.

If Minefields seem too tricky, you can either discard them to Dirty Wererats, which should be able to handle most early-game morphs, or play more white anti-attack removal - the bane of all morphs.

FogOfWar.DEQ

Download Arena Decklist

Morphing = The Next Superman?

I know that some of my readers have tournament aspirations. Well for once, we're talking about a card that you'll like, too! Here are the interesting strategic questions I think serious players will have to answer to be successful with this card (casual players can still read this and not go blind):

  • Is the surprise value worth anything, or is it good enough as a 2/2 on turn 3 and something spectacular on turn 4?
  • Put another way, do morphs hurt the permission player? Are there enough tournament-quality morphs that a blue mage will not know whether to counter? (And if they're all good, will the blue deck in the environment counter them all anyway?)
  • Put still another way, are there enough good 2-damage (or other efficient removal) spells in the environment to make tapping out to play this on turn 3 a foolish play?
  • Can blue permission decks use the Angel, or is the morph requirement too strict? Can other colors splash it, or is the problem even worse since other colors generally need to push faster?
  • Once you morph this thing, can your opponent just scoop in response, or is that illegal since morphing doesn't use the stack?
  • Can you turn this thing into a bird and use Soulcatcher's Aerie?
  • Okay, okay, back to a serious question. If Exalted Angel is good enough to build a dominant deck around, what will you do in the mirror match-up?

My own prediction is that this card will be a serious defining card in Onslaught block constructed, a card worth serious consideration if white can find a couple more good cards in Standard, and not quite good enough to define a worthy mono-white deck in Extended or Type I, where too much cheap removal and permission awaits the vulnerable 2/2 pre-morph.

Wherever you play this card, enjoy it!

Anthony may be reached at seriousfun@wizards.com.

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