Dragons of Tarkir is going to deliver plenty of its namesake, and while I look forward to seeing what winged beasts await us, it's another incredibly iconic creature from Magic's history that has me really excited. I have the pleasure of previewing that card today, but first, let's look at its accomplished ancestors.
Morphling was arguably the best creature in the game when it was printed, and it won tournaments in every Constructed format. Providing an unstoppable, unkillable threat that also happened to play defense incredibly well, this was the gold standard for finishers. When a five-mana creature sees honest Vintage play, it is likely that the creature is great, and Morphling certainly was.
The less said about Torchling the better. Let's just say it didn't light any fires in Constructed (although it was a formidable draft opponent).
Then, there was Thornling.
Thornling did dish out some beatings, and saw a solid amount of play in the Shards of Alara block Pro Tour. A 7/1 indestructible with trample does a number in a world of 3/3s and 4/4s, although it still lived in Morphling's shadow.
More recently, we got to play with Ætherling.
This was a successor worthy of Morphling, and it saw a ton of play in both Standard and Block, thanks to its good friend Sphinx's Revelation. Ætherling harkened back to Morphling in both form and function, but it had some powerful upgrades. Exiling let it dodge sweepers (both the opponent's and the controller's), it was a 4/5 instead of a 3/3, and unblockable was mostly just better than flying.
Here's the list that Hall of Famer Makihito Mihara used to make Top 8 of Pro Tour Dragon's Maze, and it was very similar to what many people played at that Pro Tour.
Why all the talk about Morphlings of years past?
It isn't just because there's a mechanic called megamorph, although this card does have said mechanic. Take a look at Shorecrasher Elemental and it will all make sense:
This is the cheapest Morphling we've ever seen, and it's got some interesting new additions to the pantheon. Let's go through all the things this does, as it has a lot going on.
1) The casting cost.
At UUU, Shorecrasher Elemental (which I will be referring to as Megamorphling from now on, and I don't just mean in this article) comes out early in a deck dedicated to casting it, making it a strong threat in more than just control decks. Ætherling went the other direction, and saw play almost exclusively in decks with 26–27 lands and full of removal and Wraths, so I like that this will be an option for a wider range of decks. It still looks good for control decks, as it doesn't cost a ton to play and protect, but I can easily imagine a lower-curve aggressive deck being interested. If only there were blue cards that worked well with a powerful card that costs UUU.
2) The exile ability.
Like Ætherling, Megamorphling protects itself for only one mana. Unlike Ætherling, that protection costs a little more the second time around, as it comes back face down. It's reminiscent of Ashcloud Phoenix, and provides a similar kind of value. The first time your opponent kills it, you save it, and your opponent has to use another spell to kill it before you can flip it face-up and have it be protected again. Given the cheaper mana cost, playing this with a blue up is not unreasonable in a mono-blue or nearly mono-blue deck, and that's an awesome plan indeed.
3) The +1/-1 and -1/+1 ability.
This ability is what makes Megamorphling a fearsome brawler or staunch defender, as needed. Threatening to hit for 5 damage when cast or 7 when turned face-up is a lot, and there's no limit to how big its toughness can get on defense. It's mana-intensive, but your opponent has to block as if you are using all your mana, which often will let you use none of it when it goes unblocked.
4) The megamorph ability.
This is what gives this its twist—and its awesome name. Megamorph justifies the exile ability, as it makes Shorecrasher Elemental a different take on the Morphling story, and it also gives you a way to get it into play even if you are missing the blue mana needed to do so. Late game, you might even play this face-down when you do have the blue mana, as a 4/4 is much better than a 3/3 when you take the +/- ability into account.
Megamorphling seems awesome, and I can see this popping up in a number of different strategies. I will admit that the casting cost is a restrictive one, so any control deck would have to be creatively built, but a blue devotion deck is not a bad place to start at all. I hope this makes it, if only for the name alone, but given the power level here, I suspect that won't be a problem.
Shorecrash Elemental | Art by Igor Kieryluk