Judge’s Chamber: Morphology 101 by Ken Briscoe



mtg card back

Get used to seeing the back of this!



You’re probably asking yourself why I’m writing an article about Morph, the mechanic returning (for the third time!) in Khans of Tarkir. Surely it’s not so complex that it needs its own rules explanation…right?


WRONG. Read on to see why I, as a Judge, want you to know all the ins and outs. I definitely don’t want to issue any penalties, so as a favor to me, please soak this up…


What’s complicated?

Did you know that Morph doesn’t use the stack? That’s right, you can flip the card face-up and pay the cost, and your opponent can’t respond to it. In the same way they can’t respond to you tapping a Forest for green mana. Once you decide that flipping a Morph creature face-up is what you want to do, it just happens. No responses, no triggers, no instants, no nothing will cause this to not happen. No Trickbind or Stifle (even if they’re not in Standard) will stop this. IT JUST HAPPENS. PERIOD. HARD STOP.
OK, so that’s not so bad, but what is? Some cards, such as the recently-spoiled Master of Pearls have triggered abilities that trigger when they are turned face-up. While the act of turning a creature face-up does not use the stack, any abilities that trigger when that happens do use the stack and can be responded to. Other cards have effects that happen as the creature is being turned face up, such as Hooded Hydra. Take the following example:
You attack me with a 3/3 while I control a face-down creature (which, at this point, is a vanilla 2/2). I block, and you have no effects. Surprise, I do! I pay five mana and turn my creature face up to reveal that it’s Hooded Hydra. As it is being turned face up, I put five +1/+1 counters on it.
Remember, this all just happens. No stack involved, and no opportunity for you to Shock my creature. Once it’s face up, you can Shock it, but that won’t destroy it because it’s a 5/5. Once combat damage is dealt, both creatures will die. But once I said that I had effects and paid the Morph cost, it’s too late for you to respond by killing my face-down creature.
Another common question from players who’ve never played with Morph before is one similar to what we recently had with the Bestow mechanic. That is, “When I flip a Morph creature face up, does that count as coming into play?”
The short answer is no. The long answer is no, here’s why: Face-up/face-down is a status, just like tapped/untapped or flipped/unflipped (from Kamigawa-block flip cards). If that piece of cardboard was already on the battlefield and you just move it around a bit, that doesn’t count as entering the battlefield. It counts as staying on the battlefield.


What’s My Name?

Heads up, folks, we have a new token. It looks awesome, but as a judge, I have one issue with it.
This looks pretty sweet, with one exception – a Morph’s name, while face-down, is not “Morph”. Face-down creatures do not have a name. No name at all. These tokens are strictly a reminder and not a hard-and-fast representation of the game state.


Why does that matter?

I control two face-down creatures. You have Bile Blight. You want to kill one (or both) of them. You cast Bile Blight on one of them. I have no responses. What happens? The answer is that the face-down creature you targeted with Bile Blight is the only one that dies. Why? Because since Morph creatures don’t have a name (despite what that silly token may imply), then they can’t share a name. Which means the creature targeted with Bile Blight will die, its face-down comrade will not.


Face-down non-Morph

This is really the impetus for the article.You’re at the pre-release and you decide that you want to bluff your opponent. You decide to pay 3 and put a card into play face-down. Except, since you’re bluffing, you put an instant face-down, not a creature with Morph. Turns go by and you eventually win, maybe thanks to your bluff. Your opponent isn’t so happy but is none the wiser to your bluff.






Not sure I can express this any other way. Only creatures with Morph should be placed face-down on the battlefield. (Ixidron shenanigans aside.)


In fact, if there is a face-down creature on the battlefield, you must reveal it to all players when either of the following things happen:


  • The game ends.
  • The face-down creature would move from the battlefield to any other zone. If it’s bounced to your hand, you reveal it. If it’s destroyed, you reveal it. If it’s exiled, you reveal it. If it’s put on top of your library, you reveal it.


These measures are in place to prevent the scenario of having an instant (or any other non-morph card) being on the battlefield, either by accident or by an ill-intentioned player.


Moving Morphs

“Ah ha,” you’re saying, “I won’t play my non-Morphs face down, but I will move around my face-down creatures on the battlefield so my opponent won’t know which is which!”
This is another one of those “don’t do that” scenarios. While your opponents don’t have the right to know the exact Morph creature that any particular face-down creature is, they do have the right to know certain characteristics about them. For example, they have the right to know the order in which they entered the battlefield. They have the right to know which, if any, are summoning sick, tapped, or have any counters on them.
So my recommendation is to lay out your battlefield in such a way that your face-down creatures are side-by-side in chronological order. This will reduce confusion all around.


Speaking of Counters

If a face-down creature has any counters on it, when it’s turned face up, it will retain those counters. So if you cast Hunt the Weak and choose your face-down creature to fight one of my creatures, later on when you turn it face up and reveal it to be that Hooded Hydra from earlier, that Hydra will be a 6/6, not a 5/5.
What about the other type of counter? You cast a Morph creature face-down. I decide I want to counter it, even though I don’t know what it is. What happens? Recall from earlier that if a face-down creature would go from the battlefield to any other zone, you must reveal it. That’s only part of the story. When a face-down spell is countered, it goes to the graveyard face up, like any other spell. So while it’s on the stack, I might not know what the creature is, but if I counter it, I’ll know exactly how good or bad my decision to counter it was.


In a Nutshell

So while there are a couple of non-intuitive features to the Morph mechanic, if you remember the following few things, it should get you through 99% of your interactions with Morph:


  • Always remember to reveal the Morph at the end of the game, or if it would change zones!
  • Keep your face-down creatures distinct and clearly separated so each player can differentiate them.
    Counters, Auras, and Equipment will stay on the Morph creature even after it’s turned face up (unless the face up creature has protection from the Aura or Equipment).


And some strategic advice straight from 2002: Kill the Morph.
Thanks for reading.

About the author

Ken Briscoe is a local competitor of the Abington store and lover of all things “Magic: The Gathering.” He began playing “Magic” during Revised, and quit for about 6 years. He then picked things right back up at Mirrodin block. For real work, Ken is an IT Consultant. He is also a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan. He attended Syracuse University and Bridgewater State. but not at the same time. His latest accomplishments include beating Paul Calder last week in fantasy baseball.


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