MORPHING 101

Posted in PRO TOUR KHANS OF TARKIR - COVERAGE - EVENTS on October 10, 2014

By Corbin Hosler

Some Magic players already know all about morph. They played during the Onslaught or Time Spiral blocks and know all about the rules and strategies surrounding morph thanks to older cards like Willbender, Akroma, Angel of Fury, or even Scornful Egotist (okay, maybe not that one).

So while morph's return in Khans of Tarkir may be a blast from the past to some, for the rest of us it's a new foray into the world of face-down creatures.

And what a world it is. The colorless 2/2 creature your opponent plays on turn 3 may turn into a 1/4 undead gorilla (Sidisi's Pet); it may completely swing the life totals by revealing itself to be an Abzan Guide; it could become a giant Woolly Loxodon; it could even turn out to be nothing more than a brick wall (Dragon's Eye Savants). Morph introduces an unparalleled layer of tension to a game of Magic, and that comes with its own unique set of circumstances.

Capable of enabling blow-outs, flexibility, and mind-games, Morphs represent an interesting space in the new Limited format.

For starters, the rules surrounding morph are important to learn. In-game, unmorphing creatures doesn't use the stack, which means a Bring Low can't stop you from turning your creature face-up. Maybe most important is that all morphed cards must be revealed when they leave the battlefield or at the end of the game. Whether your creature dies or is returned to your hand while it's face-down, it must be revealed. The same is true when the game ends—win or lose—regardless of what the board state looks like when that happens. Failure to do so could result in a judge being forced to award a game loss.

Another unique aspect of morphs is the most obvious but most important: they can be played as a 2/2 creature for three mana. That allows them to fill out a mana curve regardless of the actual converted mana cost of the card, meaning a Sage-Eye Harrier can hit the battlefield before you have five mana. It also means even a defender like Monastery Flock can attack if it's morphed.

And while relatively few morph cards have yet made their way into Standard, they are the backbone of the Khans of Tarkir Limited format. One of the more common sights at the Pro Tour is a pair of morphed creatures staring each other down on the third turn. That also makes playing first very important. There are some decks that would prefer to draw first, but having the initiative to unmorph the first creature is something that typically equates to success in the format and forces the opponent to guess at what's hidden.

"You always want to play your morphs and you want to play them first," said Ray Perez Jr., who begins his second season after an impressive rookie campaign that earned him Silver status in the Pro Players Club. "It's really important to be aware of how much mana your opponent has open to try and figure out what their morph could be. That also allows you to bluff with your morphs when you attack."

Learning to play around morphed creatures is a lot simpler thanks to what has become known as the "five-mana rule." No card in the set can unmorph for less than five mana, kill a 2/2 and survive. It's a rule of thumb that lets you make some educated guesses about what could be waiting on the other side of the table. However, once your opponent has five mana untapped, all bets are off.

Morph creatures like Abzan Guide represent the kind of power that you possess when you're attacking in a bunch of 2/2 morph creatures, assuming you are following the "five-mana rule."

Which is one reason not everyone is a fan of playing with morphs.

"Most of the morphs aren't great," said Dan Jordan, who like many pros spent the week before the Pro Tour testing in Honolulu. "You have some decks that crazy four or five colors and will play them, but I'd rather play a two-color deck with the best mana and just be consistent. If you told me I could play 17 cards and six Gray Ogre I wouldn't want to do that."

Jordan may not prefer playing a bunch of morph cards himself, but he recognizes the power they can potentially represent.

"You do have to respect a morphed card if your opponent has five mana," he said. "You can't really attack if they do and you can't beat them unmorphing. It makes for some really interesting levels of mind games."

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