Friday, June 24, 2011

CCDD 062411—The Flipback Mechanic Gets Schooled

Cool Card Design of the Day
6/24/2011 - So, funny story: Yesterday I talked about the similarity between the flip mechanic and its cousins as well as some of the things you've got to need before you're justified in using that crazy card frame and then I showed off a cycle of cool non-permanent flip cards. While the flip mechanic gave those cards a unique identity and allowed a couple fine details to be tweaked for the benefit of the designs, there's an easier way:

You can get essentially the same effect by simply specifying an alternate effect. We lose the ability to make one side a sorcery while the other's an instant, and the text itself doesn't read as smoothly, but we've eliminated the use of a sometimes bewildering card frame. I didn't remake the whole cycle, but here's one more for context:

When translating Flipback Burn into Start the Fire, I discovered this change also limits our ability to cleanly specify different types of targets. "Shock target creature or lava axe target player" actually gets really weird when the spell isn't modal in the traditional "choose one" sense because of the way targets are declared while casting a spell. (You'd have to do something like "shock the target if it's a creature or, if you flashed ~ back, axe the target if it's a player.")

Still, the added restriction just requires us to think harder about what cool things we can do within our scope and I'm not displeased with how Start the Fire turned out. So is this cycle better with flip or without? Out of context, I'd have to say it's better without because more/fiddlier text is a lower game cost than a totally different frame (
of which some folks have an irrational hatred), but there could be a set where flipping matters in other ways or there could be brand reasons warranting something splashier (but I doubt it).

Props to Luminum Can, Anonymous and the rest of my fine readers. This exercise was productive in that we have identified yet another situation flipping can be avoided in favor of something more appropriate.


  1. I think it's ok to have a different frame because the second half has sorcery speed and different targets. But the two text boxes need to be in the same direction, one on top of the other, not rotated 180 degrees.

    A new frame will make it much easier to read and compare the two effects, as well as communicate visually that the spell works in two steps.

  2. I'd ask why it's important to have one "mode" be a sorcery. It simplifies everything to have the card just have the same type all the time.

    I'm thinking that I'm actually more in favor of eschewing Flashback and going with something like Channel from the graveyard. Less text overall, and probably easier to grok.

  3. I agree with Lumin, an ability word is mostly all that's needed. This mechanic is a favorite of custom card forums because its such a natural outgrowth of flashback:

    Gravecast- X, Exile ~: Do something.

    Having it as an ability means it can be on spells and permanents. it's uncounterable for blue, but open for counters in green and white. You could add a line for "sorcery speed" if you really thought it necessary.

    The problem is that cards in the graveyard are super hard to read and remember. They get covered up, and they aren't in your face like your hand. Flashback/Unearth solved this by having them do the exact same thing, so at least you had seen the cards effect before. They also used that ugly tombstone icon, which is since died a deserved death.

    Going full circle, I would suggest a card template change for these cards like you were discussing earlier. Maybe a Vertical split card, or just a split card name bar. Maybe they go to the graveyard tapped, or go to a seperate nongraveyard pile. Maybe they're printed upside down, so the Gravecast line is the top of the card and the name is at the bottom. Or a flip card like yesterday with the bottom half having the card type gravecast and a manacost. Maybe the bottom half could just be the text box like curse of the fire penguin. Maybe a gravecast card could have a distinct border with darker colors.

    There's no reason to shoehorn it into existing mechanics when there are so many possibilities.

  4. Funny story. I was checking for new comments on the site and I found a new one on this old post which is pretty uncommon. It turned out to be spam, but nevertheless reminded about this—which relates directly to the card(s) that have been spoiled just this week.

    Not quite as simple as Dark Ascencion's 'double' flashback, but still.

  5. I had forgotten about this when I mentioned "transformback" in my Innistrad predictions, but this must have been the reason it popped into my head!

    You discovered an interesting vein before it was released in a set!