There's no doubt that the something old that's also something new is making a splash here this weekend. I'm referring, of course, to the mana-smoothing, bluff-inducing, headache-causing mechanic of morph. The complexity of morph directly led to the five Clan mechanics in Khans of Tarkir being relatively straightforward, so that we could all clear our brains to tussle with the facedown challenge that morph represents. ('Represents' is a really important word here.)
We set up an imaginary game of Khans Limited, and invited a trio of brave souls to navigate their way through our hodgepodge of hypotheticals. They are:
It's game one of a match of Khans of Tarkir Sealed Deck. You're on the play, and cast a face-down Morph on turn three, which you know is a Sage-Eye Harrier. Your opponent opens with a Plains, a Mountain, and a Mountain, and also casts a face-down Morph. What can you tell us about that opposing Morph creature?
DC: Not much. Probably not green, because if it's green they would have to be at least four colors. They've played three basics, so it's unlikely to be four color.
WE: It can be red or white morphs, revealing the colored card. Considering he has white and red, he could be Jeskai or Mardu. If it's blue, maybe it's the 0/6. My biggest concern is that I want to trade right away – it could be Master of Pearls. Most of the morphs he could have will outpower my 1/5.
MdT: I would assume that they're missing their third color. Maybe it's Ponyback Brigade or something. I would probably attack into it, and want the trade.
It's turn four. Your Morph is unexciting, and you'd like your opponent to trade. To help them with their decision, you spend your first main phase casting Unyielding Krumar, tapping you out. Then you offer them the trade, having spent all your mana to reassure them that there can't possibly be a trick up your sleeve (unless, of course, it's a 'reveal a colored card' Morph!). They refuse the trade. What more can you guess about their Morph?
DC: It depends how much credit I give them. If they're good, I can't say as much, since they will have correctly identified that I don't care about my own morph. They either have the mana to unmorph it, or it's good. If it's mono red or mono white, they might have traded. It could even be the same one I have.
WE: Two things. If it's a 'reveal a card' morph, it's probably not the white one, because it's pretty valuable, since it flies, and gains you life. Could be either the 1/5, like me, if he has a defensive deck, or it's a good morph that he wants to unmorph on turn five.
They lay a second Plains, and a second Morph. Do you have any sense of why they might have played the two Morphs in the order they have?
DC: I don't have a theory about that. Spending a lot of time stressing over the way your opponent casts their morphs is a path to madness. In general, maybe the second one is likely to be better. But more like 51-49% kind of likely.
WE: I was talking about this with my friends yesterday. The first morph is often the one you want to trade. The second one is the one you want to morph on turn 5. For example, you wouldn't risk Sagu Mauler on turn 2, but you might risk it on turn 4. So, since he didn't trade the first one, they're probably both pretty good.
MdT: I would consider the first one might be the 2/1 flyer, which he wants to get evasion going and gain the life. He's still missing his third color, so maybe they're both unflappable at this point, and therefore not very good.
On your turn five, you attack with both your morph and your Unyielding Krumar. They once again decline to block, and fall to 13. You spend your turn five casting Abzan Battle Priest, and pass. Now it's their turn five. They lay an Island, and pass back to you. So they now have three colors of mana available, and two morphs sitting on defense. You have your face-down Sage-Eye Harrier, your Unyielding Krumar, which can get first strike, and your Abzan Battle-Priest. You lay your sixth land, so you know you can both unmorph the Harrier, and use the ability on the Krumar.
Do you attack, and if so, with what?
DC: I'm certainly not attacking with my 3/3. Blue and white common morphs eat him. You're kind of hoping they have the Efreet Battlemaster which is only ok. I'm not attacking with the 3/2 either. I'm assuming I don't have much going on with my hand, and the 3/2 gets eaten by even more stuff. I might attack with just my morph, or maybe unmorph it and attack. I may just Outlast and pass the turn. If I do that and pass the turn, I can still represent five mana to turn up my morph.
WE: I don't see myself attacking. First of all, he probably has two good morphs. The Jeskai morph that gives +3+0 (Efreet Weaponmaster) is really good. I probably just Outlast my Battle Priest, but the problem with that is that I'm basically saying that my morph isn't very good ie it doesn't turn up for five mana.
MdT: I would assume that one or both morphs would be the Efreet Weaponmaster, so if he flips that you can give your Unyielding Krumar first strike and trade. I wouldn't attack with my morph, because he has to flip at least one of them up this turn, otherwise he's just skipped his turn five.
Imagine a world in which you've taken leave of your senses, and have decided to just pile in with your team. What's likely to happen? What's a good outcome for you? How might they destroy you?
DC: A good outcome is they block morph on morph, and their other morph on my 3/2. A bad outcome is where they block the 3/3 with a morph, and the 3/2 with the other, then they get to unmorph both. They end up with an 0/6 flyer, and a 4/5, take three damage and eat my 3/3 first strike. I have a mediocre morph against a decent ground guy. There are probably some rare morphs that make things much worse for me.
WE: Master of Pearls destroys me. If he blocks right, I lose my morph, my Outlast guy...he can flip any five mana morph, or even the 3/3 first strike (Ainok Tracker) or the 3/6 (War Behemoth). Attacking is always bad here, especially as I have my Abzan Battle Priest. Pretty much any mediocre morph blows me out here. The only way I don't end up getting beaten badly is if I can save my 1/5 flyer. Attacking is just terrible! Five mana is the critical point, and it's the reason that pretty much everyone plays 18 lands. If he only has four, I just close my eyes. If I have any kind of trick, I just close my eyes and keep aggressive. But five mana, and I don't have a trick, the board is stalled.
MdT: He blocks the Unyielding Krumar, flip it to make it a first striker to trade. Trade morph on morph, and Weaponmaster on Krumar. As for badness, there have to be some rares that are terrible for me. Master of Pearls – now that would be terrible for me. He gets to kill both my guys for free – although I get to unmorph my Sage-Eye Harrier. I still lose my 3/3. That's bad.
Thanks to all our willing accomplices in our fictional game. Of course, as soon as you start factoring in cards in hand, things get exponentially more complicated. Want to come out on top in Khans Limited? Better start thinking about those morphs!