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Saturday
Aug272011

Double-Sided MTG Cards

The Magic: the Gathering world is flipping out over the new double-sided card mechanic.

I admire that they are trying to do something new and splashy, but this just seems so full of problems. You can't shuffle a deck that has a card with no back, so you'll have to either use opaque sleeves and actually take the card out of the sleeve during gameplay when you need to flip it, or you'll have to use the "checklist" card in place of the real card when it's in a hidden zone like your hand or deck. The checklist card looks like a joke to me, I thought it was maybe April Fools when someone linked it.

It's also pretty problematic in draft if you open a pack and decide to take a double sided card. Everyone can see that, and also everyone now has reason to scrutinize you as you look through your possible draft picks, just to look for this.

There's a lot of confusing interactions too. Imagine your double-sided guy interacting with this, this, or this. And in case you're wondering how double-sided cards work when things copy them, here's a quick explanation for you:

If a double-faced card becomes a copy of something else, the copied values will overwrite its characteristics for as long as the copy effect lasts, even if the double-faced card transforms. If a double-faced card that's copying something else is instructed to transform, it will do so, because the physical card has two faces, but its characteristics will still be those of whatever it's copying. This is true even if the object it's copying is one face of a double-faced card.

I almost wonder if these cards will end up banned, all of them, for some sort of logistics reason. I think a LOT of what MTG has been doing in the last couple years is really great, so this stands out as pretty wonky. It looks like the community of MTG players--people completely used to their game constantly changing--are even saying that this is just too much.

The theme and flavor of the new set looks great, at least.

Reader Comments (30)

Wow, how did they get away with that logistical nightmare? Why didn't they just design them like your Yomi cards?

August 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPoisonDagger

This is really going to kill drafts if these cards are first pick material. Personally, I think online is the way of the future for card games anyway, but it seems that you MUST draft this set online or it will be a joke. Also, what was wrong with the old cards that you would flip upside down when they hit their trigger? Such as http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Card/Details.aspx?multiverseid=87599 . This seemed to do the job better in my opinion, even thought you have much less room for art and text. Perhaps the idea is just bad to begin with.

August 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAphotix

Didn't they already try a vastly superior version of this mechanic? I suppose it's slightly different with creatures but it seems like it would have been significantly less cumbersome to list both cards on one side and used a "Transformation Counter" or something to designate which side was active.

August 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbbobjs

I question why they didn't just release two cards that synergize with each other, like this Gatstaf character being two cards.

In the WoW card game, heroes are double-sided, but also a separate element from the rest of the deck and purposely designed to be flippable in the game's rules. Seems like a more thoughtful approach.

August 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterspecs

Strangest Magic cards ever. They could have just made it like Nezumi Graverobber.

Sirlin, have you tried the new Commander decks? I think it's an interesting middleground between paying for a top-tier deck and playing casual/limited/draft. There's some pretty good cards in those decks, and you're only allowed to use one of each card anyway.

August 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermariodood

What really bugs me about these is that there's no legal way to play them as intended.

You can only play them in your deck if you have a checklist card as placeholder or opaque sleeves.

But if you're using opaque sleeves, you can't flip them, since they're in a sleeve! And if you're using a placeholder card, you're not playing with the physical card in the first place.

August 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLSK

I think this is pretty much the best way they could handle "transformations". Split cards and turn-around cards didn't leave enough room for rules text, and deck-searching is seriously a pain in the ass. In practice, everyone will just use sleeves. I suppose it sucks for drafting, but if it bothers you that much, you can use the checklist thing.

I agree its kind of clunky, but you get a pretty cool effect.

August 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohnL

The checklist card reminds me of Vancian spellcasting in earlier versions of D&D, except even worse.

August 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbrized

Transform cards have 0 interaction with Ixidron et al. They can't be turned facedown. This is covered in the article here that you quoted.

August 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLone Goat

It's pretty unfortunate that these cards are "immune to being turned face down" when the whole point of them is to turn them face down. It's just really confusing.

August 28, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

Agree on the confusion. The move to more and more (and MORE) "keywords" is really doing a number on teaching the game. Not only do new players have to learn the lingo of the game (tap, battleground, exile, graveyard, &c), but they also have to learn a number of keywords to understand what their cards do (flying, web, fear, shroud, vigilance, &c.) This kind of mechanic does not help--so now you have land cards, non-land cards, and.... this checklist bookkeeping thing. Which is really these cards over here. Or one of them. If you write on it. Terrible.

August 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjeblucas

Very bad mechanic. This is a joke.

August 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrTypo

I thought this was a joke as well...

They already did something similar to this in Kamigawa. This just seems... gimmicky. This is surprising because I felt they did a wonderful job with the mechanics of the last few sets. Landfall, Level up, Metalcraft, Living weapon all seemed really well thought out.

August 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAeka

If you read the Magicthegathering.com articles, Maro explains that Flip cards were initially tried out, but they realized that no only were Flip cards already unpopular, but they just couldn't do a lot of things that they wanted out of the Transform cards; the art section was too small as well was the text boxes, and it didn't really work well in the context of transform, flavor wise.

Personally, while I see the big deal, I don't think that it's a big deal for the competitive scene. It's more iffy for new players though.

August 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAncientSpark

To me, it's just clear that the old flip cards look bad, have confusing orientation issues, have not much room for text, and not much room for art. So it's kind of weird to see tons of people say "Why didn't they use the old flip cards for this?" Because they weren't that great, that's why. We don't even need Rosewater's explanation for *that* part, though he does confirm what I said.

The problem is that even if we accept all that *and* accept that the new double-face cards have good flavor, have room for text, and have room for art...they are just so logistically problematic that they shouldn't have even been considered, imo. It's a really shocking level of inelegance.

There's a Yomi player who I talk to about design sometimes, and he is always commenting how hard it is to make anything elegant, and how much work it is. He something like, "We now have permission to make the most terribly inelegant things we can even think of, if double-face cards are somehow allowed." I'm kind of still in shock over it. I really can't believe it was seen as ok to have an ugly checklist card in your hand, or a card you can't see the back of, or vision tests during draft, and so on.

August 29, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

My first thought when I heard about this through a friend was that he had read a hoax/joke, and been sucked in.

This decision artfully dodges many of the issues of the old flip cards, and instead stumbles into a completely new set of issues, which personally makes them even less attractive to use. Playing with these cards is just about the most awkward addition to play I can think of.

From the article explaining why they went with this design, there is this excerpt: "The problem was twofold. First, the flip cards proved to not be as popular as we hoped." I would bet serious money that's going to be true of this mechanic as well.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGarren

I'm looking forward to playing with this mechanic. I think most of the issues raised by Sirlin are valid ones, particularly regarding drafting, but I from what I have read so far, I feel that the actual game play of this mechanic will overshadow logistical issues it represents. I might be my like of the horror genre and my willingness to forgive a few "inelegant" logistic mechanics in favor of fitting theme and improving overall game play. My stance can't be confirmed, of course, until I actually play the game and see how the cards really work but as I said, I'm looking forward to it.

As an aside, it interesting to note that double faced cards will be easy to handle with Magic The Gathering Online which would seem to be capable of solving all of the card logistical problems, especially privacy/card information issues.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNojh

I know this solution will be deemed 'inelegant' but, if you're in a paper draft, just always take the token out and stack it atop your first pick. Put future picks under the token as well. This should be enough for casual games with friends that don't have prying eyes.

At the top level, it can be assumed that all players know what the cards do already and so the organizers can use the checklist cards all the way through the drafting process with the physical copies of the double faced cards being distributed after deck registration.

Further info on the wizards site indicates that each pack will have exactly one double-faced card (well, barring foil promos, not sure how that's panning out), and that it will take the place of a common. I think this info will make drafting with them easier as well.

And also of course drafting online with these will be peachy and snagfree. I imagine as time goes on more people will play MTGO and less will play paper and that will just be how it is. And we can all throw our hands up fifteen years from now when they release MTGO three-sided cards that are physically unprintable.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMaddAddams

Why didn't they combine the iconic "textless" card concept and split cards? You could have made really good split cards if you weren't hamstrung by the amount of room. Monocolor could work in the base set: Boomerang // Air Elemental or Grizzly Bear // Giant Growth. Then the expansions get allies and enemies: Incinerate // Terror, Naturalize // Mana Leak. Perhaps the ONLY text added is "Pay 1 life point to play this card", to keep them being strictly better.

Textless Mana Leak as referent

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjeblucas

Why doesn't WOTC simply ASK players what they think of something like this before they pollute the MTG environment with new gimmicky crap. Seriously, the players are the blood that runs in their veins and they just seem more and more separated from us with every passing day. "Hey, the gimmicky flip cards were poorly received by players. Maybe we need to make it MORE complicated. Yea!"

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOKnotOK
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