Face-Down Creatures

Welcome back to Eye of the Stack! With Commander 2019 spoilers in full swing, I want to take this opportunity to dig into the rules about my favorite of the new decks: the face-down themed Sultai deck. This deck looks like it is mainly focused on Morph and Megamorph, but it also features cards with Manifest and Ixidron. All of these abilities use cards that are face-down to represent creatures, and today we’re going to explore exactly what that means. Let’s dig in!

Raymond Swanland killing it on these

As I covered earlier in my Mirrorweave article, face-up/face-down is a status, which means that a card on the battlefield is always one or the other. The other statuses are tapped/untapped, flipped/unflipped, and phased in/out. By default, permanents are untapped, phased in, unflipped, and face-up; these statuses are only altered by an effect that specifically mentions them (e.g. “enters the battlefield tapped”). But what is a face-down permanent? What does the game “know” about them? Let’s look at the comprehensive rules:

707.2. Face-down spells and face-down permanents have no characteristics other than those listed by the ability or rules that allowed the spell or permanent to be face down. Any listed characteristics are the copiable values of that object’s characteristics.

So, a face-down permanent only has the properties assigned by the ability that made it face-down. Simple! But what if an ability doesn’t specify properties for its face-down targets, like our pal Ixidron? Sure, it has some reminder text, but reminder text is not rules text! It’s not “legally binding!” Where does that information come from? Well, there’s a rule for that too.

707.2a If a face-up permanent is turned face down by a spell or ability that doesn’t list any characteristics for that object, it becomes a 2/2 face-down creature with no text, no name, no subtypes, and no mana cost. A permanent that enters the battlefield face down also has these characteristics unless otherwise specified by the effect that put it onto the battlefield face down or allowed it to be cast face down. These values are the copiable values of that object’s characteristics.

Wizards was ready for weirdos like me, trying to break their game. Unless otherwise specified, a face-down card on the battlefield is a 2/2 colorless creature with no other properties.

Casting Face-Down Spells

Does this count as “French Vanilla?”

What does casting a morph creature look like, to the Magic rules? Let’s have a look:

702.36c To cast a card using its morph ability, turn it face down. It becomes a 2/2 face-down creature card with no text, no name, no subtypes, and no mana cost. Any effects or prohibitions that would apply to casting a card with these characteristics (and not the face-up card’s characteristics) are applied to casting this card. These values are the copiable values of that object’s characteristics... Put it onto the stack (as a face-down spell with the same characteristics), and pay {3} rather than pay its mana cost. This follows the rules for paying alternative costs. You can use a morph ability to cast a card from any zone from which you could normally play it. When the spell resolves, it enters the battlefield with the same characteristics the spell had. The morph effect applies to the face-down object wherever it is, and it ends when the permanent is turned face up. 

The ability “Morph” has two components. One defines how to cast a morph card face-down, and the other defines how to turn it face-up. The first component says we can cast a card with morph as a face-down creature for three generic mana. However, the spell itself has a converted mana cost of zero. In fact, the face-down creature spell has no mana cost at all! This is because mana cost is an attribute of a card, just like name or type, which the morph ability does not specify. The way we cast morph cards is actually an alternate cost, like miracle or flashback, meaning that if something lets us cast a spell “without paying its mana cost” we cannot cast a face-down creature using morph.

Flip it! Flip it Good.

The second half of the morph ability allows us to turn the creatures face-up for the specified cost. Here’s how the rules define it:

702.36e Any time you have priority, you may turn a face-down permanent you control with a morph ability face up. This is a special action; it doesn’t use the stack (see rule 115). To do this, show all players what the permanent’s morph cost would be if it were face up, pay that cost, then turn the permanent face up. (If the permanent wouldn’t have a morph cost if it were face up, it can’t be turned face up this way.) The morph effect on it ends, and it regains its normal characteristics. Any abilities relating to the permanent entering the battlefield don’t trigger when it’s turned face up and don’t have any effect, because the permanent has already entered the battlefield.

It’s important to note that the face-down creature on the battlefield has no abilities, which means that the morph ability doesn’t “exist” at all. It is considered a “special action” which does not use the stack and therefore can’t be responded to. Funky!

Get ready for the salt

Some morph cards have triggered* abilities that occur “as ~ is turned face up,” but technically the permanents do not have abilities until after they have turned face up. To solve this, Wizards has made this funky rule:

707.11. If a face-down permanent would have an “As [this permanent] is turned face up . . .” ability after it’s turned face up, that ability is applied while that permanent is being turned face up, not afterward.

There’s nothing breakable about this rule, I just find it fascinating that they needed to write it in order to make morph work the way you think it should. I should also note that these triggered abilities can be responded to, and use the stack as normal. Only the act of turning the card face-up is treated as a special action.*

*EDIT: Thanks to Reddit user /u/BIGchikin for this correction – I was thinking of “when ~ is turned face up” abilities when I wrote this, such as Brine Elemental‘s, but the rule I referenced only applies specifically to abilities worded “as ~ is turned face up.” These abilities create a replacement effect, not a triggered ability. These replacement effects can NOT be responded to, where abilities like Brine Elemental‘s can.

We Gonna Get Funky

Look, down in the ground! It’s a bear! No, it’s a construct! No, it’s a cave. Just a cave.

Zoetic Cavern is a fascinating Magic card. It’s a land that only taps for colorless mana, and it has an ability that only applies when it isn’t a land at all. It’s the only land card in Magic that can be cast! Sure, Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle enters as a land, and all those Ixalan cards transform into lands, but they aren’t land cards. Zoetic Cavern is a land in all zones until we cast it with morph, when it becomes a creature spell. This creates an interesting interaction with Muldrotha, the Gravetide: Muldrotha only cares about unique card types, so we can cast a creature card from our graveyard then cast Zoetic Cavern as a morph creature from our graveyard in the same turn, because Zoetic Cavern is a land card. On that same turn, we could also cast Whetwheel from our graveyard as a creature, and the new card Gift of Doom! Muldrotha doesn’t care what kind of spell we cast, only the card type before we play it.*

*EDIT: This is not true, (thanks to Reddit user /u/madwarper for the heads up) Muldrotha checks card type as you cast the card, at which point the face-down spell is a creature spell. Looks like I’m taking my Morph-Drotha Commander deck apart!

Yeah it’s worse than Beast Whisperer, but it lets us feel clever so it’s worth it

Guardian Project works with face-down creatures in an interesting way: Since face-down creatures don’t have a name, they can’t share a name with anything else. That means no matter how many face-down creatures you control, when one enters the battlefield Guardian Project will let you draw a card.

If you manage to manifest a creature that has morph, you can pay either its morph cost or its mana cost to turn it face up. If the creature has a triggered ability when it is turned face up, it will trigger no matter what cost was paid. This can create a lot of value with cards like Fathom Seer, Hooded Hydra, and Master of Pearls which have morph costs significantly steeper than their mana costs.

You’re All Special to Me

Commander 2019 is just around the corner, and I hope you’ve all learned what you need to know in order to maximize Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer and her deck of face-down tricks. Use your special actions wisely, and let me know if you end up breaking something using a face-down mechanic! I’d love to hear it in the comments, or you can tweet at us anytime. Tune in next time, when I put an Infinite Reflection on a Vesuvan Shapeshifter!*

*If you’re curious what would happen, see my article Mirrorweave part I

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