Split in Review
By Stefan Preiml on June 1st, 2006 · Filed in General Magic · Comments not available just now
One of the most exciting mechanics and also only the second major block mechanic to be reused in a later set is the split cards. For anybody who hasn't seen them yet (I know this is only a small group of players), they are essentially two cards that use the deck designspace of only a single one and you have to choose which side you want to cast. The difference between split cards and normal modal cards is that the casting cost of each side of a split card can differ in converted mana cost and you need different colors of mana for each side.
Now Dissension, which inherits a lot from the Invasion block, brought them back to us, reviewing the concept and adding a very neat twist to a card type that is seen by many people as one of if not the best designs in the history of our fine game. The fact that split cards are almost guaranteed fan favorites as well as influencing constructed formats quite easily just add to the excitement.
As you might know, the split cards were a concept by Mark Rosewater reversing from the Unglued card B.F.M., a card that is distributed over two cards. The splits on the other hand are two cards molten into one. The concept was disliked and even dismissed by some of Magic's R&D at first due to its "difference" from a normal Magic card. But our stubborn little MaRo punched it through anyways, much to the players’ excitement.
The idea behind them was to head into a new, undiscovered and unexpected direction of making multicolored cards. With a split card, you get two absolutely different effects depending on the mana you pay for it, that seem to form a nice little entity when put together. As much as this is putting diversity into a single card, it is also limiting for the actual design of the card, as for future cards to come.
Starting with the Flavor
It is quite easy to observe that the design of split cards starts out with the name of the card. Both halves form a linguistic pair that is a well known combination in the respective language. This treatment is almost unique to the split cards as names are normally given to cards at the very end of the design process, and it's also putting up a barrier that is as much unavoidable as it is hard to pass by in the future.
Split cards eat twice as many names as a normal card and make it impossible for a single half to be reprinted as a single card. You cannot reprint cards as a half of a split card; for example, Divide and Conquer is a well-known pair of words, yet there can never be a split card named Divide // Conquer as a card named Conquer already exists.
Next, the names dictate the color(s) the half will be as it has to have a meaning and an alignment to it. Or, as the Dissension split cards underwent, you have to spend a whole lot of time to find names that fit a split card and the colors the sides are supposed to be. This steals a little elegance from the cards. For example, all the Apocalypse split cards are actually in reverse order in terms of color structure to keep the normal linguistic order of the card names (Fire // Ice is more natural to an English speaker than Ice and Fire).
This again, shows up another problem of the split cards. Some of these linguistic pairs are hard to translate into other languages without losing their meaning in the process. For Example, Hit // Run's German name is Zusammenprall // Anrennen, which is taken out of context and is in reverse order for German.
Revisiting the Concept
The story of Dissension reusing split cards is as strange as interesting. When the design team for Ravnica went through the things a multicolor set can and can't do without becoming a rerun of Invasion block, they excluded all of the Invasion signature mechanics, including the split cards. After all, split cards were one of the most popular concepts among the players in Magic's history, and it would just seem a little awkward to try to distance yourself from Invasion but using split cards. The splits were ruled out by non other than Mark Rosewater himself, Magic's Head Designer.
Yet, when Dissension design rolled around, one of the first meetings was about how to make the set memorable and fun for the players, and Mark Rosewater brought up the split cards again. The other designers were at first distrustful that the guy who ruled out the split cards for Ravnica brought them up as a possibility for Dissension with only one set in between. The reason for it is easy: R&D already had accomplished the "Ravnica Block isn't a rip-off of Invasion" feel and the split cards could be used to fill a design space that is still deep and mostly undiscovered. It would give them also the opportunity to sneak in some cards for all ten guilds into a single set without overloading it, and finishing the block with cards that could help the themes of all three sets is never a mistake.
So let's take a look at what the designers made of the concept of reusing split cards, putting one color pair of each side. I will go through each card in a cycle of WUBRG, the uncommon ally-split card cycle first, the rare enemy cycle later. For everybody who is not that familiar with English phrases, I'll also add a little paragraph explaining the cardname.
Supply and Demand
Supply and Demand is a common method to approximate the prize for a product at the stock market. It is based on how many units of the product are available (the supply), and how many people are requesting it (demand).
The Selesnya side of this card is almost a little too obvious. I know some people that even expected such a card for the Ravnica set itself when they learned that the Conclave has a lot of token generators. The card easily goes hand in hand with the theme of the guild, power through numbers. The card looks quite promising as the last card with such an effect, Decree of Justice, was a tournament staple for years after its release. However, as Supply is only a sorcery; it's not quite as powerful as the Decree that could make you x 1/1 tokens at instant speed and would also draw you a card in the process. You might also think of it as a color-corrected Goblin Offensive.
Demand is not as tightly bound to its guild, the Azorius Senate, as the other half is to its guild, but Demand shines in its sheer versatility. R&D has learned a lot from past tutor mistakes that were normally too powerful and/or too cheap and those cards are still sitting on the banned/restricted lists of the eternal formats. This, however, for the power of a lot of the multicolored cards emerging from this block and the Invasion block that is still legal in Extended might see a lot of application in the constructed formats, giving some easy toolbox variation.
Trial and Error
Trial and Error refers to a process of testing, e.g. a software program, and is applied if it is only possible to make multiple tests with different inputs and then look what inputs work and fail.
This card was Card of the Day on www.magicthegathering.com recently, where it was stated that the Trial side didn't do too much on its own and for that reason was put onto a split card that would provide way more versatility for it. Unfortunately, it still lacks a little bit of power and might only get used as a combat trick in Limited. A very nice combat trick, but still. However, the card very nicely hooks up on both aspects R&D wanted to weave into the Azorius Guild. It is keeping your opponent at bay, slowing down his play and forcing him to recast his creature, which might not be possible the turn you cast Trial or even the turn after. But as you need a creature yourself to bounce the opponent's creature, it also walks hand in hand with the Skies theme of the Azorius. You can also keep your creature from being killed in combat. Just put damage on the stack and have all creatures returned that blocked or were blocked by target creature an opponent controls.
The Dimir side of this card might pass as the direct opposite of the aforementioned Demand. Unfortunately it's the weaker part. Demand is a very proactive card, whose drawback can be easily be avoided with smart deck construction and is essentially in your hand. Error, on the other hand, is only useful if your opponent casts multicolored spells, something that is far out of your control. In the gold setting of Ravnica, it is practically impossible to make a competitive deck without using at least two colors, but even then the counterspells that are already available are just better.
Rise and Fall
Rise and Fall means the lifecycle in a political environment, like the rise and fall of a country or a political person. The picture of Fall however shows a physical fall.
Rise is a very good example of a multicolored card that combines two rather common abilities of two colors into one card, and forms a very neat and flavorful unit. As you can see, Rise sets back the life cycle of creatures twice. First, the basic Blue ability of returning a creature to it's owner's hand, making your opponent recast it if he wants to have it. Second the Raise Dead, typically Black, neutralizing your opponent's attempts at getting rid of your creature and also giving you an advantage in resources as your opponent had to use things to kill your guy. But there was a possibility to make this card even more flavorful, if the dead creature would be put directly into play. However, that would have resulted in a mana cost of and up.
The other half of this card, Fall, has a lot of buzz going around at the moment, as everyone and his brother is trying to figure out if a fast aggressive aggro deck is viable in Standard constructed. If it is, this card is a surefire candidate for the deck. You might see it as an unbroken version of one of the most powerful, non-choice discard spells ever printed, Hymn to Tourach. Fall is not quite as powerful as it is harder for you to "screw" your opponent out of the game with it, but that is more or less a welcome change in my eyes, making the card a lot more fair and way less frustrating, still very playable. The problem with this card is to find the right number to include and also when to play it. Too early and you may only hit lands. Too late and the opponent might just have emptied his hand already.
Hit and Run
An interesting side story is that the name of this card was originally intended to be for Assault // Battery but was dismissed as it referred to an automobile accident with the culprit leaving the crime scene, but is also used by some tactic gamers as a strategy to attack your opponent when he doesn't expect it or is not prepared for it, then flee before he can strike back. R&D seems to have changed their minds.
One of the aspects of the new split cards are some hidden puns in the names. In English, hit means successfully striking as well as assassinating, with the later represented on the card but the former being meant by the title pair. Hit is a quite interesting take on the Black effect of edicting, which means forcing your opponent to sacrifice something, that sometimes bleeds into Red. The card is very flavorful, but sometimes, Cruel Edict does the same only cheaper, although we live in times where the most hated card in Standard is an artifact. But one thing that is really helping the card is that it is an instant, when edict effects lately have almost exclusively been printed as sorceries. A very nice entity is formed in that manner. The damage the card does is just the icing on the cake.
The Run half of the card as an entirely different story. You might have already heard numerous times that Gruul is the guild that is probably making the biggest moves during the combat step, just attacking with a lot of huge creatures. However, I think this fact has not been expressed enough on the cards themselves. Thanks to the Bloodthirst mechanic, there are a lot of cards that benefit from you dealing damage to your opponent, but none that outright encouraging you to attack the opponent to actually kill him (aside from the desire to win the game, that is). This card pretty much fills this hole in design. In Limited I'd like to compare this card to both Dance of Shadows and Rally the Righteous. This card puts the Strike into Alpha Strike as the result will probably either an empty board or a dead opponent. Unfortunately, I don't think this will really put it into the constructed ranks. That you have to pay eight points of life when it is revealed with a Dark Confidant is just even more hindering.
Pure and Simple
The name is pretty easy. It describes something that has no useless shenanigans to distract someone.
Pure has almost the same problems as Error. It's a reactive card that needs your opponent to actually play cards that you can answer with Pure. That is rather restricting, yet Pure has the advantage of giving you more time. Error is a counterspell, which means that when you draw it after your opponent pushed through the crucial multicolored spell, it is essentially useless to you. Pure bypasses this in exchange for the inability to handle instants and sorceries. Unfortunately for it, I don't think this will help it much either and both cards will see an equal amount of constructed play, which is very little.
Simple on the other hand is a nice take on Serene Heart. Now also equipped with the ability to destroy equipments as well, for the cost and being a sorcery. This side makes it appear as a nice little sideboard card for Limited, but unfortunately takes it pretty much out of competition for Constructed. Umezawa's Jitte is a huge and very influential card, but other equipment is unused and there are a lot of cheaper and/or more flexible ways to combat that pesky little card. The number of Auras in the Standard field is also still very low unless it's regrowable anyways.
Now, let's take a look on the split cards from Dissension with enemy-colored guilds on each half.
Hide and Seek
Hide and Seek is a kid's game, where one or more children have to hide themselves in a designated area and a specific amount of time. Another child comes looking for them after the time ran out.
Hide is another way on a split card to get rid of an artifact, and therefore another way to deal with that pesky Jitte. With Condemn also in the set, White seems to get another domain of moving permanents to zones other than the graveyard or hand to get rid of them. I don't think this concept will go through and actually replace the normal "remove from game" mechanic white normally uses, as it is a lot weaker but still very interesting. The Red side of this can be explained as this card is normally a Shatter that can take out a Darksteel Colossus or Masticore if needed, but nothing much more. This card will only be used as a sideboard material at most.
Seek gives us a card I longed for over a long time. A black Extract. It looks like R&D has officially shifted the mechanic of this library exhaustion to black with such cards as Cranial Extraction or Neverending Torment in recent memory, although they seem to emphasize that this mechanic might occasionally show up in Blue again, as they gave us Lobotomy as a FNM promo. Adding the lifegain of White seems to be quite natural, as some decks only have single copies of expensive cards as the deck rather wants to tutor for them if needed rather than playing multpiles, wasting space in the deck and may have them stuck in their hands. That this card is an instant makes it also a whole lot interesting from a playing standpoint. Yes you can play them in response to the tutor of your opponent, but you still have to figure out what your opponent may actually search for.
Research and Development
Research and Development is the department of a company that is actually working on a product, collecting information, analysing them and forming concepts (Research) and shaping the product in multiple iteration by correcting errors and constant improving.
Research bears a lot of resemblance with the Judgment Wishes. On the other hand, it will not force such deckbuilding decisions as the sideboard of a deck with Wishes looked normally like a toolbox full of one-ofs. Research doesn't give you the card you want in the matchup into your hand right away. The possibility to instantly sideboard even in game one seems promising, but in a rational thought it is way more complicated than that. When you shuffle four cards into your library, the probability of drawing a specific card drops no matter if the card was in there before or not. This card ensures some deckbuilding shenanigans and a lot of people will try to break it. I can already see it in Heartbeat combo decks making your deck a little more Extraction-proof.
Yet, Development has even more buzz going around it when it was announced. Research makes this card imprintable on Isochron Scepter. Constantly casting Development will give you a lot of card advantage as it ends between Ancestral Recall and a Feral Lightning that doesn't die at the end of turn. Putting nine points of power worth of attackers into play at instant speed is nothing to sneeze at for your opponent, so you can easily give him a hard time with this card. Having this in a Scepter Chant deck will ensure that you either reach your win conditions in time, or it will become a win condition itself. Casting it as a single is still very interesting, but the Scepter is still the place where this card shines the most.
Crime and Punishment
Crime and Punishment is a book by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky. The Crime side of the card refers to thievery or graverobbing, Punishment on the other hand seems to send a biblical plague as a punishment.
You can't help but compare Crime to a rather weak card from Darksteel, Scrounge, in both the mechanic and the artwork. The mixture between Monk Idealist and Zombify looks quite natural on this card, but how this is meant to work with the themes of Church of Orzhov is disputable. The restriction that Crime only works on your opponent’s graveyard is more or less flavorful for the card, even if it seems unnecessary as Breath of Life and Zombify proof that both colors can recur creatures. For enchantments it's a little different story, but that doesn't interact with the restriction either.
Punishment had to be compared to Pernicious Deed quite often, although the "or less" clause is missing. The argument can go both directions. The card sure is weaker and doesn't have the ability to put such pressure on the opponent as the Deed with it's seal character, but is one mana cheaper and you can save your own permanents if you play this card correctly. Another feature of the card I don't want to leave unmentioned is that it has returned to the old wording of destroying multiple types of permanents. Unlike Oblivion Stone or Plague Boiler, it is capable of destroying Artifact Lands (at least the non-indestructibles). This doesn't seem like much, but making a one-sided Armageddon for against an Extended deck is still nothing bad.
Odds and Ends
Odds and Ends refers to bits, pieces and leftovers of something. Odds may also mean probability.
Odds embodies almost everything the League of Izzet is about. This card is very wacky, but fun and exciting. The flip a coin factor just what this makes a perfect fit to the UR guild in terms of flavor and also very interesting with the probability that this is the first tournament constructed playable card featuring this phrase. I have a friend who was outright upset that Wizards printed a coin card in the tournament ranks. There is a whole slew of cards in Standard that you can can either counter or copy and equally be happy with it, e.g. Cranial Extraction or Gifts Ungiven, not to mention that against other counterspells this is equally a hard counter. Only time will tell if this card actually makes it.
Next to it is Ends. A Wing Shards that always hits for two. Quite a simple effect, yet very flavorful and fitting for the Boros. Wing Shards was always a tournament card and still sees a little play in Extended, however Ends looks like it will end up somewhere else. Five mana is pretty steep for a destruction effect, especially such a conditional one. Ends is unable to take out utility creatures that will almost never attack. That it only targets the opponent can also be interpreted two different ways. It sure would be more powerful if it could target the creatures, yet it gives you the possiblity to get rid of Troll Ascetic or Simic Sky Swallower. I think of this card as a limited bomb, but I would rather be surprised if it sees much constructed play.
Bound and Determined
Bound and determined refers to a person that has set his mind on a task and won't desist from it until it finished. The image of bound however shows two people tied together.
Bound can be easily compared to All Suns' Dawn as both cards work in the same channel. However, Bound demands a creature as a tribute for being an instant, limiting you to the timeframe where a smart player will play it to the times where a creature he or she controls would die anyways in combat or by a removal spell of an opponent. This card can produce a ton of card advantage, but you have to play it correctly. Both cards are also not the worded the same. If you sacrifice say, Transguild Courier, you can also return up to five land cards, where the Dawn would only let you return one White, one Blue, one Black, one Red and one Green card, but neither artifacts nor lands. This is outweighed by the fact that the creature you sacrifice determines the number of cards, and unless you actually play the aforementioned Hill Giant or a Nephilim, it is normally limited to a 3-to-2 carda dvantage if you play it in a combat trade, but as you choose the cards you get this is a very good trade.
Determined has its predecessors in Overmaster and Insist from Odyssey Block, two cantrip sorceries that will make the next spell you play this turn of a type specified by the card uncounterable. Next to them, Determined looks like it's on steroids. Sure it costs you twice as much as these two cards but for that it is an instant, making it usable during your opponent's turn, and preventing your opponent from interfering with ALL your spells you play after it until end of turn. This can also have your enchantments and artifacts protected and for that may make a big impact on Extended, but mainly as a sideboard tech card. Unfortunately, the instant speed makes it unfetchable for Burning Wish, so Balancing Tings will still have to rely on Overmaster.
And after that
Wizards did a very nice job with the new split cards as they have something for everybody. There may be some little oddities throughout and something that could have been made better, but the new cards look even more promising than the first set of splits, and may even impact formats a lot more (well, maybe not more than Fire // Ice). They can now be included as one of the best cycles in Magic and also in a list of examples of cards that single-handedly improve an entire set.
By Stefan Preiml on June 1st, 2006 · Filed in General Magic · Comments not available just now
About Stefan Preiml
I was born in a small town in southern Austria and went there to school till I was 14. Then I transfered into a technical school in carinthias capitol Klagenfurt making my "Matura" (A-Level Exam) at the age of 19. I'm currently studying Informatics at the University of Klagenfurt. I started playing Magic in the summer of 2003 after some friends from school played in the school and I played a small scale CCG about The Simpsons before.