Playing With Morph--Off And Online

Pop Goes The Brackus

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Eugene Harvey, US National Champion, said to me after the morph mechanic was announced that he thought it might change the whole Magic game, and he just hoped he would still be good at it. While I don't think it turned out to be that drastic, morph has certainly added a new level of strategy and, more importantly, bluffing to the game. Before you could only bluff combat tricks and spells, but now every face-down creature is a potential trick if the right combination of mana is available.


In poker, bluffs are fairly common because the only drawback of getting called on a bluff is the loss of the pot on that hand, which is somewhat negligible over the course of a night. It can actually be advantageous to be caught in a bluff, as it will make players more likely to call your bets later on when you actually have the cards to back it up. A player who never bluffs will quickly find that the other players are scared out of the hand as soon as he makes a sizeable bet, so he will have trouble capitalizing on his strong hands. It doesn't take long to realize that the way to make a lot of money is to have the cards when other people think you don't.

Poker has long been a popular second game for Magic players. At most high-level events you can find at least one group running a game of Texas Hold 'Em. With the addition of the morph mechanic, Magic shares more with poker than it ever has. The opportunity to bluff comes up almost every turn. However, it's generally much riskier to bluff in Magic, as one called bluff can mean the difference between winning or losing a game. Walking a 2/2 creature into a 3/3 creature when you can't morph it into something bigger means going down a card for no apparent gain.

In poker, a bluff consists of the fairly straightforward idea of betting as if you have a better hand than you actually do. In a Magic game, bluffing isn't as straightforward. Attempting to bluff to get a morph creature past a bigger blocker is, at best, a gain of two damage, and at worst it's the loss of a card. In most cases, the risk outweighs the benefit. Only when your opponent's at a low life total is it worth spending a card for only two points of damage. But the lower your opponent's life total is, the more she's going to value those two points and the more likely she is to block.

The rules change when that morph creature is one with a strong effect when it damages your opponent, such as Cabal Executioner, Haunted Cadaver, or Riptide Entrancer. Now you're still risking a card but you have more to gain if your bluff isn't called. The more mana you have open, the easier this is to pull off--your opponent has to think about a larger range of possible creatures that the face-down card could morph into. It also helps if one of the colors in your deck is green or, to a lesser extent, red.

Paul's Picks
Top Commons With Morph
Card Morph Cost
Daru Healer White Mana
Daru Lancer 2 Mana White Mana White Mana
Gravel Slinger 1 Mana White Mana
Card Morph Cost
Ascending Aven 2 Mana Blue Mana
Disruptive Pitmage Blue Mana
Riptide Biologist 2 Mana Blue Mana
Card Morph Cost
Fallen Cleric 4 Mana Black Mana
Haunted Cadaver 1 Mana Black Mana
Spined Basher 2 Mana Black Mana
Card Morph Cost
Battering Craghorn 1 Mana Red Mana Red Mana
Charging Slateback 4 Mana Red Mana
Skirk Commando 2 Mana Red Mana
Card Morph Cost
Snarling Undorak 1 Mana Green Mana Green Mana
Spitting Gourna 4 Mana Green Mana
Treespring Lorian 5 Mana Green Mana

If you do get caught bluffing, remember that, just like poker, it will affect your opponent's outlook for the rest of the match. Your opponent will be more likely to block your morph creatures, as he knows that you are willing to bluff and wants to catch you again. You can use this to your advantage later in the game by attacking with morph creatures that will actually be able to morph and destroy blockers. For the same reason, it's probably not a good idea to run another bluff against the same opponent, as Magic matches are short enough that your opponent will remember your earlier attempt and most likely block again.

Attacking Against Face-Down Blockers

In the same way that good players are always tracking how much mana their opponents have available and, therefore, what spells they might be able to cast, players need to track what morph creatures their opponents might flip over. In OdysseyTM block, attacking a player who had 4 ManaWhite Mana open usually meant Second Thoughts. Now, however, it could mean that the player's untapped face-down creature might be Crude Rampart or Ironfist Crusher. While it's impossible to play around all morph creatures, it's important to at least watch out for the commons and, to a lesser extent, the uncommons.

It's not enough to just keep track of how much mana your opponent has available, however. You also need to decide if it's strange that your opponent didn't use that mana on her turn. Going back to the Second Thoughts example: if your opponent ends her sixth turn with five lands untapped (including a plains) and five cards in hand, it's likely that she's waiting to Second Thoughts the Rabid Elephant that you just played. In this case, it's best to cast more creatures and not attack. Eventually she'll have to use mana to play more blockers or else be overwhelmed, regardless of the Second Thoughts. But as soon as she has less than five available mana, feel free to attack with the Rabid Elephant and anything else.

The situation is different if it's late in the game and your opponent is down to one or two cards in hand with nine or ten lands in play. There's no way to know if your opponent just drew Second Thoughts, and it's almost never worth worrying about the possibility. Your opponent will almost always be able to keep five lands untapped, so there is really nothing you can do about it, unless you are waiting to draw into an answer like Hydromorph Guardian or Syncopate.

Similarly, when playing with Onslaught cards, you must keep track of the game state and whether or not it makes sense for your opponent to have a certain amount of mana available. If it doesn't, then look at what colors of mana your opponent has available and think about what a face-down creature could be. Green may mean a dangerous ground creature, blue means a possible flier or a creature with protection from beasts, and white could be a healer or first striker. After you've factored in any information you know about your opponent's deck, make a decision about whether attacking is worth the risk.

Blocking Face-Down Creatures

The choice of whether to block an incoming face-down creature is a whole different world. Again, you have to take careful note of the mana your opponent has available and the colors he's playing. Some people say that you should always block morph creatures, although that's certainly an oversimplification. Remember, however, that blocking with a larger creature almost always forces your opponent to morph the creature, which can often tie up all his mana and prevent him from committing anything else to the board that turn.

If your opponent just has white mana available, you don't have too much to fear from an attacking creature, as most of the white morph creatures are either defensive or have activated abilities. The only common to watch out for is Daru Lancer, which will become a 3/4 with first strike as soon as the opportunity presents itself. Other possibilities are Dawning Purist, which will destroy an enchantment if not blocked, or Crude Rampart, which is capable of attacking and then morphing mid-combat into a 4/5 wall.

The more untapped forests your opponent has, the scarier it gets. For 1GG your opponent could turn over Serpentine Basilisk, which will destroy your blocker, or Snarling Undorak, which you want to send to the graveyard if at all possible. At five mana or more it starts to get dangerous, with creatures like Venomspout Brackus, Treespring Lorian, or even Towering Baloth being possibilities. You'll have to make your blocking decision based on if you can afford to take a hit from one of these monsters.

Blue creatures almost never get larger when they morph (Nameless One is a possible exception), so it's likely they will be morphing before blockers are declared in order to fly overhead. If your opponent is playing blue, attacks into a large creature, and allows you to block, you generally want to look at the player's other color when thinking of what it might be.

One of the first things everyone notices about the common morph creatures is that red is the only color with both a creature that you want to block (Skirk Commando) and a creature that you don't (Battering Craghorn). This creates some tough blocking decisions in the early game if your opponent has access to the double red mana. You also might want to watch out for the Snapping Thragg, but it's expensive to morph and will often be hard-cast.

Black is the color that you often want to block against, as it has the common Haunted Cadaver and the uncommon Headhunter and Cabal Executioner. Black doesn't have any great ways to make you regret blocking other than morphing Spined Basher, Fallen Cleric, or Thrashing Mudspawn.

There's no easy formula for if you should block a face-down creature or not. Every situation has to be evaluated individually. It depends on many factors: what you would be blocking with, what your life total is, what colors your opponent is playing, and how much mana your opponent has available.

Morph And The Stack

Although the morph ability doesn't go on the stack, it still matters when you choose to morph a creature that's involved in combat. For unblocked creatures like Skirk Commando and Cabal Executioner that have the same power after morphing, you should morph after combat damage is on the stack. If your opponent decides to destroy the creature only after seeing what it is, it will still deal its damage regardless (although it's ability won't trigger).

During creature-to-creature combat, you can choose to morph your creature before or after damage is on the stack. It depends on how likely it is your opponent will have instant speed removal and how likely it is you need the extra damage. You don't want to pay six mana to morph your Treespring Lorian before damage if your opponent is just going to Cruel Revival it. On the other hand, you don't want to morph after damage is on the stack if your opponent might save a 2/2 creature with Vitality Charm. Just be sure you understand both possibilities and the decision will usually be straightforward.

Morph On Magic Online

There are several advantages to playing with morph on Magic Online.

First, there is no possibility of cheating. Although the DCI has made it clear they will treat this harshly, it's always possible that someone will get away with playing a non-morph card face down in physical Magic play.

Second, the order that face-down creatures were played is always clear, as each is labeled with a number. This is valuable as it's important to keep track of what your opponent does with each face-down creature he controls. With enough information you can often identify what a face-down creature before it's flipped over.

Third, it's easy to keep track of your own morph creatures, as they have identifying text boxes on them. In addition, you can press F5 to flip over your own morph cards for a peek. (Note: This is different from paying the morph cost and flipping them over for good.)

Finally, it clears up confusion on exactly how the morphing ability interacts with phase changes and priority--Magic Online handles it all for you.

Morphing Online

To play a creature with the morph ability, click the card in your hand. A menu pops up with the options to play the card normally or face down. Select the option you want and pay the mana cost.

When you want to use a face-down creature's morph ability, click the creature in play. Magic Online will prompt you to pay the morph cost and flip the card over once you have.

If you want to see the full text of a face-down creature you have in play, just point your mouse at the creature. A yellow pop-up box will appear with the full text in it. As stated above, you can also press F5 to take a quick peek at your face-down creatures

These images give you a feel for how morph will work on Magic Online. More importantly, don't forget to log on starting Friday to watch some of the top Magic pros play with Onslaught in the 2002 Magic: The Gathering Invitational.

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