Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Memorizing MDFCs: Kaldheim Edition

This is the second edition of my series on the inherent memory issues with modal double-faced cards and how different sets resolve them in different ways. Part 1, on Zendikar Rising, can be read here. I also wrote a companion piece for my personal game blog about why memorizing things in tabletop games is often a slog.

When I started this series, I expected all three of the sets with MDFCs this year to have them in a variety of rarities like ZNR had. So obviously, things became a little trickier when it was revealed that Kaldheim's MDFCs were a) restricted to rare or above, and b) with the exception of the rest of the Pathway lands, massively more complicated. At first glance, it looks like the design team decided that players playing with enough rares would be able to figure it out and left them to their devices.

But that's just at first glance. There are a number of subtle tricks employed by the designers to make the back side of even the most complex of Kaldheim's MDFCs easier to remember. Many of these can be grouped into a few broad categories, which this article will cover.

Early-Late MDFCs

Let's start with our prime target. Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor is by far the most complex back face on any MDFC currently revealed. Although his mana cost can be summarized in the little stripe on Valki, his front, you still have to know his starting loyalty and the details and costs of at least his first two abilities. So how can players be expected to remember this? The Kaldheim design team neatly cut the Gordian knot here by making it so that players don't have to remember.

Valki's Duress effect is strong if you play him on turn 2 or 3, but in subsequent turns you'll likely be unable to grab any meaningful creature. Meanwhile, Tibalt costs 7 mana, meaning he can only be played in the lategame. So if you draw Valki, you don't need to know what Tibalt does at all! Based on how late it is in the game, how much mana you have open, and how many cards are in your opponent's hand, you'll be able to make the right decision without needing to see the back.

Valki/Tibalt is the most obvious use of the early-late MDFC trick, but there are several other cards that do the same thing.

For example, Alrund, God of the Cosmos can be played as a 2/3 Bird that self-bounces when it deals combat damage. Notably, all you need to know about the card is that it's a Bird (so presumably it flies and isn't that large) and that it costs 1U. Because it doesn't self-bounce until you want it to, and that situation would be one where you feel safe attacking anyway, it's okay if you don't exactly remember that rule until you play it.

Two Situational Cards

The other way to make a choice obvious when you can't fully remember what one side does is to make both sides extremely situational.

Reidane, God of Justice punishes larger decks for playing sweepers and other expensive nonland cards. Meanwhile, Valkmira punishes go-wide aggro decks and other decks with low to the ground mana curves. It's rare that an opponent's deck will be troubled by both sides, so as long as you generally know that the shield is good against aggro decks you can merrily put Reidane in your deck without having to worry too much. (Of course, in Limited you'll want to play the 2/3 flyer 90% of the time over the shield that doesn't really do anything; the split here is more for Constructed purposes.)

Edit: GA commenter craftedlava corrected me on a misconception I had about Cosima, so I've moved her section to here. Cosima, God of the Voyage is good if you already have a lot of lands in hand, essentially allowing you to cash them in for a bunch of card draw later when you return her from her voyage. Meanwhile, The Omenkeel benefits if you're a bit light and lands and want to get greedy by stealing them from your opponent. It's the closest this set of cards comes to the land-creature MDFCs from Zendikar Rising.

Jorn, God of Winter takes this concept to a higher level, combining a few different factors that make one side or the other the obvious decision. The staff costs 1UB instead of Jorn's 2G, meaning in many situations you will likely only be able to play one of the sides. Additionally, Jorn himself requires you to have a lot of snow permanents in play, while the staff wants a bunch in the graveyard, so you'll have an easy heuristic as to which side is better. That said, what helps Jorn's memorizability the most is that both sides are relatively simple effects that you can mostly remember without paying attention.  

Equipment Gods

Planeswalkers may be the hardest card type to fully memorize, but equipment are pretty close. Much of their value comes with how expensive they are to equip to creatures, and if you play an equipment you can't equip, you just spent your turn casting a useless bit of metal. So for an MDFC that has an equipment on the back face, the most important thing to remember here is the equip cost.

The two gods that turn into equipment deal with this issue elegantly – the casting cost plus the equip cost of the equipment is exactly the same as the casting cost of the god on the front. So as long as you've seen the back side at any point, you know that mana-wise, your two options are essentially the same.

In order to give some guidance as to which side you can cast, seeing that the mana costs are essentially equal, both equipment gods are situational like in the previous example – you only want to cast Halvar if you already have some auras and equipment on board, and Toralf if you have some burn in hand. Honestly, it would have been nice if the choices were tougher, but this might also depend on the format. I can imagine Toralf in particular being more of a tough choice in Constructed decks with a lot of redundant burn effects.


While higher rarities offer the option to create significantly more complex cards, that doesn't mean that providing ways for players to remember the more subtle details of these cards is unimportant or unappreciated. Kaldheim's design team, knowing the inherent memory issues of MDFCs with complex back faces, included these subtle tricks so that players, some of whom may only get a couple chances to cast an MDFC in this format, can choose the side they want with confidence.


  1. It seems like you misread how the omenkeel works, it only allows you to play lands among the exiled cards. This also makes it so you’re more likely to have lands to put into play, making playing the omenkeel before Cosima the “correct” way to play.

    1. Yeah Cosima is really more of a situational example.

      The front side provides flood insurance by reloading your hand after you play out your lands and the back side provides screw insurance by giving you extra chances to "draw" lands.

    2. Thanks! I've updated the article to reflect that.

  2. This is a nice article!

    For what it's worth I think you frequently want to play Valkmira over Redaine in limited. Effectively giving all your opponents creatures -1/-0 can be quite strong, as is taxing their removal spells (and direct damage removal is made even weaker).