Innistrad lurks just ahead! No, really, it does. It’s not some normal set that might be looming or approaching or something along those lines. Innistrad lurks, friends, and its stealthily approaching our position as we speak. Hope you’re ready, because it’s not for tourists.
Over the next few weeks, you’re going to see an increase in material here on the website. Some of it will be extra Innistrad-related articles or snippets from the hosts, some of it will be semi-random polling, and some of it may seem inexplicable. This is just the first, so keep your eyes open and visit the site daily!
Chewie gave us free reign for what we wanted to discuss in some of these features. After thinking long and hard about Innistrad, I came up with what I feel are some decent discussions about some of the cards and their applications in various decks and formats. Through it all, though, I just had this nagging feeling that I was avoiding the biggest elephant in the room: the controversy surrounding Double-Faced Cards (DFCs, from here on out). Since they are by far the most talked-about and divisive feature of the new set, I thought it was only right to go ahead and get out a commentary as exhaustive as I could muster. If you have any thoughts on this new card type that breaks open one of the game’s most solid taboos, whether positive or negative, this is for you.
On the latest episode of the show, 195, all of the hosts did have a chance to discuss DFCs, so some of what I say here will be a bit repetitive. Also, each of the other hosts had his own perspective and thoughts that hadn’t occurred to me, so I recommend giving it a listen if you haven’t already. This article isn’t meant to promote my view over theirs; I just wanted to give the subject more coverage than we could afford on an already over-packed episode.
Unless you’ve been hiking up Mount Kilimanjaro the last week (and I hear even some cell phones get reception on its grand slopes!), you’re aware of what I’m talking about. This is just a quick refresher.
DFCs are just that, cards with card faces on both sides. The easiest way to describe this is with an example. Here’s Gatstaf Shepherd, who illustrates this well because he’s an otherwise vanilla creature that shows off the basics of transformation:
Your DFCs always start on the side with the sun symbol and mana cost (sunny-side up, if you will). In fact, they are represented by that side while anywhere other than on the battlefield as well. This means that you can’t name Gatstaf Howler when Memoricide-ing your opponent, nor can you cascade into a moon side DFC. If your DFC was transformed into its moon side and then bounced to your hand or “blinked” (temporarily exiled), it will revert to being sun-sided.
That’s just the basics. I could spend an entire article on how the cards work, but luckily Wizards did that already. I want to just briefly mention their rarity and frequency in booster packs before we move on.
DFCs have their own print sheet. What this means is that they will not exactly randomly be mixed in with the other cards in boosters, but rather one DFC will be present in each pack. No more, no less. The DFCs take the place of a common. However, it is important to note that just because they are one to a pack does not mean that they effectively have the same rarity. Because they have their own print sheet, they still have designated rarities. Therefore, among individual packs, you will see far more Gatstaf Shepherds than Garruk Relentless’s. I’m not a numbers person, so I’m not qualified to discuss how this will impact chances of pulling any given DFC or how scarce they may be, but I do think that this may lead to some interesting price shenanigans on the secondary market if any DFCs turn out to be coveted. Consider yourself warned.
Before getting to the really contentious stuff, since Innistrad is just oozing flavor (no, literally, just like it’s lurking), it seems appropriate to discuss the flavor of DFCs and whether or not they get the job done. This is a highly subjective area, since everyone has different likes and dislikes for the flavor of magic cards, but here’s just my thoughts. Feel free to voice your own in the comments below!
So what do DFCs represent? Essentially, they represent exactly that which they all have in common: a transformation. Quite frequently it’s from a human being to a monster, but not always. It can also represent the birth of a beast of doom from a nondescript egg, or it can show a powerful hero falling under the dark curse of his tormentor. In Innistrad, at least from what we’ve seen so far, the transformation is always from something normal, right, or pure into something twisted. The transformation itself is always into something evil, or at least commonly associated with evil. Even a bat, admittedly very much a creature of the night, is far more normal and less menacing than a vampire. Therefore, it is fitting that the DFCs always start on the sun side and transform into the moon side.
The act of turning the card over has some significance all its own. Unlike a flip card from Kamigawa (more on this subject later, to be sure), no part of the other face is visible. The wolf leaves the human half behind, not to be revisited until morning. While the two share the same body, which keeps with the retention of counters and auras, they otherwise are two separate beings. This tension of similarity between beings of polar opposite natures creates a fantastic image in the mind that the card has to work pretty hard to pull off.
In my opinion, DFCs capture the flavor of transformation very well indeed. I greatly enjoy the direction that the artists have taken, where the subject is shown in either the same setting or one that transitions well from one to the other as in Village Ironsmith or Mayor of Avabruck. When I physically turn over my leveled-up hatching Ludevic’s Test Subject, it is no longer a mere egg. It’s a giant Godzilla of the apocalypse! Gee, I hope that no meddling wizards come along with an Oblivion Ring to stuff it back into its shell!
DFC werewolves deserve their own mention, since they all have the same transformation trigger. As far as designating night from day, the no spells versus two or more spells works just fine. You really don’t want to have the wolves switching back and forth every turn or every other turn regardless of action; while this might work to represent the passage of time, it would probably be annoying in practice. Besides, sticking to flavor, not all turns have to represent the same amount of time. Using instead the relative calm of inactivity to represent night and bustling spell-casting to represent day passes the test for me.
I would think that despite some of the concerns and differences of opinion concerning DFCs, we can all find their flavor to be spot-on, but that’s just me listening to my own opinion. What do you think?
Controversy and Concerns
Here we go! DFCs do things we’ve never done (or very infrequently done) before, like removing the Magic back and allowing for proxies at sanctioned events. While I sometimes complain that Magic players complain too much (see, even I do it! Irony!), this is a pretty big step. While I could compare this to other “Magic is ending” events of the past, at least all of those cards actually had a back. I’m not saying that I agree with all of the arguments (which will become clear soon), but I am saying that I can at least see where the concern is coming from. Let’s get to it. I’ve listed what seem to be the most common complaints or concerns about the DFCs, which I will address in turn. Note that I’m not necessarily trying to debunk all of these; it’s not my job to sell you on them. Rather, I’m just responding with my own take.
1. The back of a Magic card has always been the same, and that itself is static and should not be changed.
This is a big one. It’s true, every card thus far has had a Magic back. Exceptions like oversized cards (Schemes, Planes, Vanguard, etc) and tokens don’t really address this, because they’ve never been able to be in your hand.
However, even though it’s a big question, I just don’t have that much to say about it. A week ago, I never thought they would have made DFCs. My initial reaction of shock was never really accompanied by any anger, though. I suppose I’m okay with this, as long as I like the result. So far, so good. The real question for me is whether the implementation of the rules surrounding DFCs and the checklist address their inherent problems.
2. The checklist is an inelegant solution.
The word “elegance” gets thrown around in reference to Magic design quite a bit, and as such saying that X is “inelegant” has essentially come to represent that the speaker feels its implementation was sloppy. Elegance can have meanings as unique as its user, which unfortunately means that using the term objectively can be very difficult. In his article “Design of the Times,” Mark Rosewater once defined an elegantly designed card as one that “accomplish[ed] its task in a succinct and well crafted manner.” The whole article is found here.
When talking about the checklist, we have to assume that we are discussing it as a solution to a problem. The problem is, of course, that having DFCs in a sleeveless deck is simply unfair because it allows all players to know with certainty when particular cards are on top of your deck. In this section we assume that we want DFCs, because if we don’t then we don’t need a solution. Of course, not everyone wants DFCs, but for at least this section, that argument is irrelevant.
Essentially, elegance is about getting the job done using the least amount of resources. With this in mind, the checklist is actually reasonably elegant. By printing one card that comes in 3 out of 4 packs, this new card can serve as a proxy for any DFC, essentially making it a universal stand-in for any 1 of 20 cards. This is certainly a more elegant solution for printing 20 tokens, one for each DFC moon side card (not to mention the headaches inherent in having five DFC sun cards and no matching moon side tokens).
Given the inherent problems DFCs present, the checklist is probably a decent answer. Its creation at least shows us that Wizards acknowledged DFCs and wanted to do more for us than say “just play sleeves.” They still aren’t great, but they get the job done.
3. Checklists may allow some people to cheat, either representing more copies of a DFC than they actually have or trying to use them as a toolbox tutor.
I’ll acknowledge this argument, but I don’t want to spend too much time here. If people want to cheat, they will somehow. If you’re cheating, you’re not really playing Magic. Congratulations.
If you’re concerned about your opponent’s use of the checklist cards, make sure that they seem to be using them clearly and correctly. If you’re not sure, there’s no shame in asking a judge. If the opponent is doing the right thing, they shouldn’t mind too much. If this is a sanctioned tournament (higher profile than a prerelease or FNM, anyway) we’re talking about, opaque sleeves are often required under the floor rules anyway, so I would wonder why they are using the checklist.
4. Those that do not want to use the checklist must use sleeves, and doing so can actually wear out the card.
This is definitely true. I just don’t see it as a problem.
Let me clarify. I use sleeves for all my decks, including sealed decks and draft decks. I find that I shuffle better with them and I’m not as worried about marking up valuable or semi-valuable pulls. I’m probably not going to be using the checklists, then, and I’m one of the people that will have to worry about pulling cards into and out of sleeves. Quite frankly, I am simply not worried.
The amount of wear and tear on a card that comes from removing it from sleeves is minimal at most. Trust me; I have tons of deck, have built several times that many over my Magic career, and I am always tearing them apart and putting them back together. To do any noticeable damage to a card this way would require a lot of time. If this is really getting to be an issue, there are a number of alternatives, including (gasp!) the checklist card or another proxy (keeping the real DFC in a clear sleeve), using a printout of the card for reference in the appropriate setting, or having another copy of the card as reference.
5. DFCs are ugly.
Some people don’t like how DFCs look. I’ve heard the moon side called a terrible-looking Planar Chaos timeshift due to its similarities with the template. I suppose I like the look fine, but for those that have a problem with the aesthetics, please elaborate more in the comments.
6. DFCs are just terrible and shouldn’t have been made.
I’m listing this for completeness, because I’ve seen it come up on various forums. In my observation, the opposition to DFCs has progressed from initial disbelief and disagreement over their use to passionate discussion about their problems to a blank “oh look, another terrible DFC.” One person made such a comment in response to the reveal of Garruk Relentless, and that was the entire post.
Not everyone has to like them, even if you like other things about Innistrad. If you’re going to just bash them, though, try to at least keep up the appearance of having a legitimate discussion.
7. DFCs are not good for limited, especially draft.
This is another big one. I think we (the hosts of The Mana Pool) actually covered this in pretty good detail on Episode 195, but here’s a little more. I personally don’t know how successful the whole theory of taking a DFC to signal will be, because even if I see the person to my left take a black DFC, I’m going black if that’s what I open and that’s what’s coming to me. That may make me a bad drafter, but in that case DFCs are actually more useful for draft than I thought. Regardless, the best drafters won’t be bothered by DFCs at all and will simply adapt.
Again, I always use sleeves, even for limited play. I have a feeling this practice will benefit me soon.
8. Flip cards could do the same thing without having to go onto the back.
Technically, this is true. The biggest problem here is what you lose. Neither side of the flip could be very long without being in incredibly small print, especially werewolves if they had the same trigger. You’d lose out on flavor text. Finally, the art would be a pale shadow of what it is now. The art on flip cards is basically just large enough to show the immediate subject of the card (usually the creature). The art on DFCs is some of the best in the set in my opinion, as I went into in the flavor section above.
Could they have done DFCs as flip cards? Yes. Should they have? That’s really a question we’ll have to ask later, but at this point I’m glad they did them the way they did.
9. Wizards didn’t think hard enough about the consequences.
I’m sure that this is wrong, if for no other reason than the fact that Wizards stands to lose a TON of money if DFCs turn people off too much.
Sometimes people mention the fact that Wizards makes money off of Magic as a negative. They are portrayed as many corporations are: money-hungry with an ultimate eye on the bottom line. Never mind the fact that corporations employ countless people (most not overpaid executives) who themselves like to get paid for their jobs. Also overlooked is that these corporations make products many of us count on or enjoy. Wizards is just such a corporation, and Magic is one of its flagship products. I like that they make money, because it means that they will keep making Magic. The more popular Magic is, the better off everyone is.
Any time they release any given set, a huge amount of time and resources goes into its creation. Do mistakes happen? Yes. Check out the recent banning of Jace 2.0 and SfM for an example. This, however, isn’t about a single card being underestimated. We’ve just gone through eight at least semi-relevant concerns. They’re printing cards without a Magic back, for Pete’s sake! For all the reasons we’ve talked about, this is a huge deal. This in and of itself tells me that they almost certainly put in more hours on DFC than other big decisions in the recent past.
We tend to blame Wizards when they make things we don’t like, and those stand out to us. What we forget are the 90% or more of the time when we’re perfectly happy with what they do. Do you think they know what they’re doing? I suppose that’s a pretty personal question. I do, but maybe you have your reasons for disagreeing. What are they?
Wow, this was long! I was going to discuss some specific DFCs (I love Kruin Outlaw SO MUCH), but I’m pushing my luck already that anyone is still reading. Hopefully you found this at least somewhat thought-provoking. Please, please share opinions respectfully in the comments below. Keep checking the site, and you’ll hear from me again!