Thursday, June 23, 2011

CCDD 062311—The Flipback Mechanic

Cool Card Design of the Day
6/23/2011 - A couple weeks ago I was thinking about the flip mechanic from Kamigawa. Flipping falls under the same category of mechanics as split cards, modal cards (see charms and commands) and level-up cards: basically, things that can be other things. Despite their similarities there are important differences and if you design a card using one of these methods that could just as easily be designed using another method, you've almost surely stepped over the line.

For example, a split card where both sides have the same mana cost and card type might as well just be modal. So what is required to justify a flip card? There must be a way to flip it during the game or else it's a just split or level-up card. I've got some quirky flip permanents I'll show you tomorrow, but I really wanted to crack the nut that is instant/sorcery flip cards. Such spells are normally one and done, but if they're going to flip, they can't just have two sides, there has to be a way to cast both sides.

My answer is flipback:

For those of you who haven't trained in the ancient Chinese art of reading upside down, the flipped text is "Backflip Burn deals 5 damage to target player."

Okay, so we've combined flashback and flip. So what? It's actually kind of a match made in heaven. The flashback story was basically, this spell's so easy to remember you can cast it twice. Usually the second casting costs more as in Chainer's Edict, sometimes just as much like Beast Attack, less as in Embolden, or totally different as in Cabal Therapy, but at the end of the day you're still just getting a second copy of the effect (without paying another card).

Flipback lets you set up a more interesting story. (Not that flipback is better than flashback—it's definitely not.) The first time you cast any flipback card, you're setting up another effect; an effect you couldn't get without first playing the top half of the card. In the case of Flipback Burn, we've got to shock a creature before we can Lava Axe a player.

You shouldn't be surprised when I tell you I've got a common cycle for your consumption today. While I know flipback has fun potential for higher rarities, if you can't make a common cycle from your mechanic, it's not a real mechanic.

The flipped text on the Backflip Necromancy half reads "Put target creature card in any graveyard OTB under your control." I followed the same formula as the red card and gave the "bad" one-mana discard spell of the set an upside in a free Rise from the Grave. This would be pretty boring by now if you didn't notice that the card automatically sets you up to discard your reanimation target. Regardless, let's break this mold:

Backflip Growth reads "Target creature gets +4/+0 and gains trample until EOT." Everybody loves the new Giant Growth of each set, right? Maybe not everybody. Anyhow, I like the story here because first you save one of your guys and then he swings back angry.

At this point, I'll point out for anyone that missed it that the top halves of these cards are instants and the bottom halves are sorceries. This may seem like an unusual choice, but I really like what it does for the gameplay. Maybe you cast the instant on your opponent's turn to set up playing the sorcery on your next turn. You could play them during your main phase, of course, to get the immediate one-two-punch, but most of the time, you'll play the first part early and leave your opponent to anticipate the day you're ready to unleash the second part. What you don't do is play them both one after the other in a single combat or end step, getting both total surprise and ruining the dread your opponent should feel while waiting for your follow-up.

To abuse a serious term for comedic purposes, players are racist against life gain. True, it doesn't win you the game (Felidar Sovereign excepted), but that doesn't make it worthless. Pre-Scars, I had a deck that combined a number of the absurdly good lifegain cards Wizards had printed recently (Serra Ascendant, Survival Cache, Ajani's Pridemate, Baneslayer Angel, and yes even Rest for the Weary) just to see at what point "enough life gain" is enough. It was enough. The deck was actually great. You probably know it better as Soul Sisters. I guess that version was all right too.

Backflip Study's text is "Draw a card for each car you've already drawn this turn." So if you cast these two halves on different turns, you'll be up a card and two filterings for 1UUU, but if you cast them on the same turn, you'll net two more cards. Flipback Study almost certainly needs some development tweaking, but the gameplay should appeal to the I'm-clever crowd.

So that's flipback. Its chocolate-in-peanut-buttery goodness doesn't merit a major mechanic from a big set, but it could certainly be a minor mechanic across a block, or a major mechanic in a third set.


  1. This is pretty easily implemented without using unconventional frames. It could simply be Flashback with the addition of "If you cast ~ from your graveyard, [different effect] instead." Or if not flashback, then "[mana], Exile ~ from your graveyard: [Effect]." Flip frames are not something that should be used lightly, I think, when it's so easy to accomplish the same thing without them.

  2. Simpler is certainly better and your solution is simpler, but then we lose the sorcery/instant distinction. Definitely a discussion.

  3. I'm glad we're sticking with the classic "Blue is the overpowered color" modus for cycle design.

    Rockin' it since the Alpha boons! *wink*

  4. I already wasted a lot of words deriding flip cards when Ethan was experimenting with Flip-Equip, but damn are they ugly.

  5. Maybe another card frame can be invented, where there are two small text boxes for each mode, but you don't need to rotate the card to read it.

    I love cards that combo with themselves (like Entwine or Planeswalkers) and this is my favorite episode so far.

  6. The green Flipback gives the creature Shroud, meaning you can't target it again with the Flip activation. Was this on purpose or a mistake? If a mistake, may want to reword to Hexproof. Also, 2 mana for +4/+4, Trample and Hexproof is TOO good. I'd suggest making the Flip cost at least 1G.

  7. I think Luminum Can is right. If you want desperately to switch from Sorcery to Instant or vice-versa, you can change "Flashback" to "Instant Flashback" or "Sorcery Flashback" or something better to indicate the timing of when you can flashback.

    The problem with flipback is that it doesn't flip the card. Card orientation is meaningless to instants and sorceries because the only place card orientation matters is the battlefield, and they never go there. It's like having spells that tap instants or cards in your graveyard. It's fundamentally meaningless.

    That said, the reason why the battlefield has card orientation related rules like tapping and flipping and face-up face-down is because this is where most of the play is and where permanents hang out. The library and hands can't have card-orientation because they're secret, and neither can the stack because things aren't meant to ever stay there. But... exile and graveyards have things that remain there for a long time. Unfortunately, you're supposed to just pile things in those zones and their order doesn't matter, but there might be something in coming up with card orientation rules for those zones. Exile already uses face-up and face-down. Tapping and flipping could possibly work in those zones.

    But what you've done hear is just said "it flips" when it's just a modal spell with needless complexity, unfortunately. :/