Sunday, January 8, 2012

Dual-Faced Designs with GDS2 Ideas

I've explored possible future uses of the Dual-Faced Card mechanic here, here, and here. I would like to go at it one more time. I found many of my ideas converging with themes from the Great Designer Search 2.

Multi-phase Lifecycle:

I think one of the best ways to use the transform mechanic is with cards that have a life cycle with multiple phases. A caterpillar turns into a butterfly, then it gives birth to another caterpillar. A vampire gets wounded, rests in a coffin, then goes hunting again. A facehugger implants a parasite which emerges as a chestburster, which grows into an alien queen, which lays eggs, which hatch more facehuggers?

If it gets too complex, it will cause memory issues. Players don't want to have to flip over the card to remember what it did, especially while the card is in hand. But something like the Golem above seems reasonable.

In the Great Designer Search 2, Devon Rule's set was about peaceful societies converting its peacetime resources into tools of war. It would be interesting if such a set had dual-faced cards, so that one side could represent a peaceful buildup, and the other side could represent the uses of those resources for war.

Many of the Nostalgia cards I posted here, could work as that type of card, if you remove the nostalgia element from it.

Learnable Spells:

Based on a mechanic by Dan Emmons:

Dan Emmons, a GDS2 collaborator who turned into a WotC employee, posted this mechanic on his GDS2 Wiki page:

Imbue (When you resolve this spell, if you cast if from your hand, you may exile it imbuing target creature. Whenever that creature deals combat damage, you may copy this spell and cast it without paying its mana cost.)

In the past, I've also designed spells you can "equip" to a creature, as Kamigawa-style flip cards. But with my version, you needed to choose between casting it or teaching it to a creature, which could cause tension. It would especially feel bad if the creature was killed in response. It is swingy too, in terms of balance. Dan's version is a good all-upside execution of the concept.

Here is a similar spell I designed that can be cast from both sides. 

If there can be Dual-Faced cards that can be cast from both sides, this is one of the cases where it's easy to remember what the other side does. Will there be a "planeswalkers matters" set that also uses Dual-Faced cards in the future? Probably not...

Choose Your Evolution

Ethan Fleischer's set was about evolution, and one of the Wiki collaborators suggested a level-up creature with multiple evolution paths. While it would be fun, I don't know how that could fit on a card.

Something like this might come close to it though:

It would be fun to adapt a creature to best suit the matchup or the board state.

Dark Side/Light Side

The same idea can be applied to Jonathon Louck's set Penumbria, which featured a battle between dark and light. It seemed to be a difficult theme, since light and dark already have heavy associations with the colors White and Black in Magic.

If the set theme is interpreted as "White vs. Black" (which may or may not be the best way) this type of card can allow decks of many colors to align themselves with a "White or Black" theme, without having a skewed color scheme as in Torment.

These "triple-faced cards" have the problems that the Kamigawa flip cards had - the art is hard to see, and it's hard to tell which side is up if the creature is tapped. It can't be printed as is, but I do think it's worthwhile to explore where ideas can lead to, even if the logistics can't be solved at this point.

A Hero's Life and Death

This card represents a hero who's soul is in peril. Can he find a cure for his soul before it's too late?

It's also a forced attempt to fix the "can't tell if it's flipped when tapped" problem. But unfortunately, it can't be applied to many cards, since they can't all have vigilance or defender.

This is like the Essence cards in Saviors of Kamigawa, such as Homura, Human Ascendant. The Raging Spear-Thrower leaves behind a different legacy based on how he lived his life. It could fit into a set with a legendary theme, since one characteristic of heroes is that they inspire others.

It's also interesting how this guy acts like the Borg - if it died to removal, it makes your creatures better against removal. If it died trading with a blocker, it makes your creatures better against blockers.

Dark Ascention's Dual-Faced Cards?

In less than an hour, the spoilers of Dark Ascension will begin. Just for fun, I'd like to take some shots at guessing what the new uses of Dual-Faced cards could be.

This feature article, which preceded the spoiler week, seems to hint at some mechanic like Unearth or Persist.
Now even the bonds of death no longer hold. Apparently slain werewolves have begun to stagger back to their feet, their hunger only renewed by their seeming destruction. Geists return after being exorcised by the clerics' most powerful banishment spells. Vampires laugh off stakes and fire, rising in spite of every trick and country secret known to kill them.
Unearth and Persist are both like flashback for creatures, and would be a natural continuation of flashback from the large set. Both mechanics ensure the creatures only come back only once - Unearth by exiling the creature at end of turn, and Persist by placing a -1/-1 counter on it as a marker. Transforming the card would also be a good way to make the card only come back once, and would be flavorful as well. (Although I don't know how a what kind of sides a Dual-Faced Zombie Werewolf should have...would it always be in Werewolf form before it dies?) So my guess is that Dual-Faced cards will be used in an Unearth-ish mechanic.
Avacyn might no longer support their feats of faith, but their magic has become enhanced by desperation, as the threat of death encroaches. Those practitioners of magic have learned to hurl the despair of their spiraling losses into their spells, giving them the strength to slice through the ranks of the dead rather than join them. The humans have even learned from their enemies, discovering new ways to tap into the tempting power of the grave and to cast deathly spells with amplified strength.
This seems to imply a mechanic reminiscent of Delve, or Hellbent. It probably has nothing to do with dual-faced cards. But if it does, maybe it could be a kind of flashback spell where you get a different effect (written on the back side) when you flash it back. But to not cause memory issues, it would have to be an effect that can be derived from the front side. For example, the front side is an instant that deals 2 damage, while the back side deals 4 damage. Or the front side causes target player to draw 2 cards and discard 1 card, while the back side causes target player to draw 1 card and discard 2 cards.

I hope you enjoyed this.


  1. DFCs cannot be cast from the back side because the back side does not exist in any zone except the battlefield. Even if theoretically this rule could be changed, it would be a terrible idea because DFCs were not designed with this functionality in mind; for example, you'd be able to drop Ludevic's Abomination into play on turn 1 with Aether Vial, or cast it for free off of Bloodbraid Elf's cascade.

    I like Learn, though I'd prefer if it targeted and possibly only as a sorcery. As written, if I wipe all your creatures in response to the Learn ability, you're forced to attach the Aura to one of my creatures, which can't be a good feeling.


  2. I like Raging Spear-Thrower very much, although it takes quite some effort to grok. I like the idea of the cursed knight as well, but I fear the flavour gets lost amongst the fiddliness.

    I think Self-Repairing Relic is the most printable of the lot in this article, though.

  3. The "triple-faced" cards are very unwieldy. The Pokemon TCG uses the evolution mechanic, which is an imperfect solution. Unfortunately, I don't think it would go over well if Magic borrowed mechanics from Pokemon. Also: card disadvantage would be part of the cost. Not cool.

    You know what? Just forget I said anything.

  4. I like Self-Repairing Relic and Battle Golem quite a bit, Chah.

    Jensis, you could make DFCs that can be cast from either side and remain compatible with the current DFCs by making the rule that you must choose which side is your starting side when you put into your deck. (And to get around the sneaky stuff you mentioned, you're not allowed to choose a side with no mana cost.)

    Yeah, the triple-faced cards would never happen like this—Heaven help us—but it's still a very interesting vein to kick around in. Maybe instead of transforming, you get to search for a card to replace it. Preferably not a named card so it can work in Limited.

    Doomed Luminary 2B/W
    Creature-Changeling (unc)
    1WW, Exile ~: Search your library for a white creature card with CMC 5- and put it OTB.
    1BB, Exile ~: Search your library for a black creature card with CMC 5- and put it OTB.

  5. Thanks for your comments.

    @Jenesis, there can be a rule that says "1.You can cast the night side of a dual-faced card if it has a cost written on it." and "2.In addition to that, you specifically can't cast the night side if it doesn't have a cost on it." That would prevent shenanigans with Aether Vial and Cascade.

    If there's a reason why that can't be done, at the very least the front side could have a keyword that states "this card can be cast from the back side," granting that cast-ability only to a specific set of cards.

    @MadOlaf, the Champion mechanic from Lorwyn might have been inspired by Pokemon, who knows.

    To provide a branching path of evolution though, there could be a Transfigure mechanic for a creature with a higher mana cost like Jay suggests. During the GDS2, I also suggested a transfigure ability for Ethan Fleischer's set. Those creatures searched for a creature card that shares a creature type with it that has +1 or +2 CMC. There could be a variant that searches for the evolved form from cards in your collection.

    Finally, since level up creatures have 3 text boxes, it's not physically impossible to have a 1-step branching evolution in 2 directions, though I don't know how elegant the layout would be.

    @Jay, that's a seriously interesting proposition - DFCs where you decide which side is the starting side. I like having more ways to customize your deck and make it your own.

  6. I wouldn't mind a werewolf with, "You may have CARDNAME enter the battlefield transformed."