Cranial Insertion: The Morph You Know

Cranial Insertion
The Morph You Know
or, Up Down Up Down

By Eli Shiffrin, Tom Fowler, and Ted Dickinson

Think of it as a big, squishy present.
In 2002, Ixidor, Jeff Donais, and Mark Rosewater unleashed morph upon the world in Onslaught. The player reaction was immediate.

"It looks like Yu-Gi-Oh."
"Wow, bluffing!"

But regardless of opinion, they shared one common cry:


Onslaught was released more than two years before Cranial Insertion started, but we've answered almost every question there is to answer about morph. Until Time Spiral, morph was largely restricted to Exalted Angel and casual decks -- now morph is in the limelight again, making an even greater number of players scream, "JUDGE!"

Since answering these questions one-by-one in the column and in our [email][email protected][/email] mailbox hasn't stymied the rush, we'll go through these in one convenient place so you can quickly find the answers you need.

The first thing you do with a creature with morph is play it. (Well, you draw it first, but the morph ability doesn't interact with being drawn. Yet.) You play it as a creature spell with no mana cost (so it has no color) for which you pay 3. It has no name, no subtype, and no abilities. It tastes like plain, unsalted crackers or cardboard.

Q: How much does it cost to play Spell Burst targeting a face-down spell?

A: It costs a single lonely :symu:. Since a face-down spell has no mana cost, its converted mana cost is 0 -- like any spell, the mana cost is not dependent on what you paid for the spell and only takes into consideration what is actually there.

Q: Will Emerald Medallion reduce the cost to play a face-down Krosan Cloudscraper?

A: Nope. While the face-down spell is Green on the inside, it's well-done - er, colorless - on the outside. As far as the game can see, your spell isn't Green, so it still costs :3mana:.

Q: Does Mycosynth Golem give my face-down spells affinity?

A: No affinity for you. Although a colorless creature spell, the spell is not an artifact.

Q: Do I have to pay 5 mana for a face-down creature under Feroz's Ban?

A: You do. It's a creature spell, after all.

Q: Can I slip creatures with morph into play face down for free with Aluren?

A: Aluren is an alternate way of playing a spell, and so is morph. And rule 409.1b says that you can't use more than one alternative method of playing a spell. So sadly, you can't drop oodles of free morphs.

Q: If I Remand my opponent's face-down spell, do I get to see what it is?

A: You do - otherwise you'd have no way of knowing whether or not he just tried to put an Island into play as a creature.

And amazingly enough, your morpher made it into play uncountered! Hurray! But now there are lots of questions that come up before you get to turn it face up.

Remember how you had that plain, unsalted card? It's still plain and unsalted and very boring. Its power and toughness are each 2, though, which didn't matter a bit while it was on the stack.

Easily the most popular card with
morph played in any format.
Q: How much do I need to pay to Repeal a face-down creature?

A: It costs a single lonely :symu:. Since a face-down permanent has no mana cost, its converted mana cost is 0 -- like any permanent, the mana cost is not dependent on what you paid for the spell and only takes into consideration what is actually there. (Ooo, déjà vu.)

Q: Can I turn a Clone face up if it comes into play copying a face-down Grinning Demon?

A: Your Clone is already face up! And very, very bland. Those "no details, 2/2" characteristics of the morph creature are copiable values, and your poor Clone went and copied them. He sure didn't copy the hidden values.

Q: What happens if I Cytoshape a Scornful Egotist, while face down, into a copy of a face-up Grinning Demon?

A: You have a face-down Grinning Demon. The Egotist does copy the values of the Grinning Demon, but it's still face down. Since the characteristics of being face down apply last in the same layer as copy effects, the copy effect will be overwritten by the "2/2 blank" characteristics, but the copy effect will still be there lurking under them like a morey eel.

Q: If I get to see what my opponent's face-down spell is when I Remand it, I also get to see what his face-down creature was when I Boomerang it, don't I?

A: You do, and for the same reason: it prevents savage cheating. The option would be to call a judge every time a face-down object changed zones, and that's no fun for anyone.

Q: Since my Brine Elemental is turned face up when my opponent Boomeranged it, does he skip an untap?

A: Nope. You reveal your Elemental as it goes to your hand, but it's not turned face up while in play, so it won't trigger. The same thing goes for putting a face down creature with an onTurnFaceUp trigger into the graveyard, removed-from-game zone, or your library -- even if it ends up face up, it's not in play to trigger.

Q: I have Grizzly Bears that I Cytoshaped into a Soul Collector. My opponent turns it face down with Backslide, and Cytoshape's effect wears off. What's defining how big my Bears are now?

A: The happy rule 502.26e! It's in the comprehensive rules under "Morph," but it's not specific to morph; this rule clarifies the characteristics of any object that's face down without an effect defining those characteristics. And that rule says that they look just like any old morph creature.

Morph isn't the only thing that can define the characteristics of a face-down card, although it's the only one that we normally see: check out Illusionary Mask for a weird old card that makes 0/1 face down creatures.

Okay, it's time to turn your morphed dude face up! And that causes even more questions.

Q: Can I Stifle morph?

A: If you take "morph" to mean "play it face down," then you can't Stifle it because that's neither an activated nor triggered ability; it's just playing a spell. You can't use Stifle on the "turn-it-face-up" ability either -- that's a special action, not an activated ability. More importantly . . . (see next question)

Q: Can I respond to my opponent turning his creature face up by Shocking it?

A: . . . you can't even respond to turning the creature face up since that special action doesn't use the stack.

Q: Can I flip my Krosan Cloudscraper in response to a Sudden Death aimed at it?

A: You can turn it face up, since morph isn't an activated ability, but you can't flip it. Krosan Cloudscraper isn't a flip card. (This may seem like meaningless nitpicking, but since "flip" has two clearly defined meanings in the Magic rules (flip cards and coins) it shouldn't be used for other purposes.)

This card is just plain annoying.
Q: Will a Vesuvan Shapeshifter trigger if I turn it face up copying Brine Elemental?

A: It will -- in fact, a popular deck called "Pickles" has been based on this interaction. Just like how Clone's copying ability replaces its coming into play with coming into play as a copy, the VS' ability replaces its turning face up with turning face up (or coming into play) with doing so as a copy, causing many a happy trigger.

Q: Will Krosan Cloudscraper smash my opponent for a lot if I turn it face up with Pandemonium in play?

A: No, you'd have to actually play it to smash face. Turning a creature face up doesn't cause it to come into play, since it's already there and in play.

Q: Can I attack with Akroma, Angel of Fury on the same turn I turn her face up?

A: As long as it was in play since the start of your turn, you're good to go. It doesn't matter that your Akroma looked more like a puddle of goo than a fiery angel. Akroma didn't become a new creature when she turned face up, she just changed her looks (for the better, if you'll take my opinion on it.)

Q: There's a Moldervine Cloak sitting on my Red Akroma. Will the Cloak still be there if I turn her face up?

A: It will! Since the face-up Akroma is the same object as the face-down Akroma, there's no reason for your enchantment to not still be there.

Q: What if I slipped an Auramancer's Guise on my Red Akroma while she was face down?

A: Okay, there's a reason for your enchantment to not still be there. Part of protection from Blue means that at no time may a Blue enchantment find itself happily sitting on that creature. As soon as state-based effects are checked, Akroma chucks the Guise into the graveyard.

Q: I play Giant Growth on my Scornful Egotist and then turn him face up. How big is he?

A: He's 4/4 now. Just like with the enchantment, a continuous effect that was affecting your face-down creature will continue to affect it once it's turned face up.

Q: I played Brute Force on a face-down Aquamorph Entity. My opponent didn't block, so I turned the Entity face up, making it 5/1. Or is it 8/4 now?

A: It's 8/4. Ouch. The power and toughness setting abilities of Aquamorph Entity, Primal Plasma, and the like have been ruled to replace the printed values, being applied before any of the other layers, well before layer 6b where Brute Force applies.

Q: I tossed out a Seething Song to get the mana to turn up my Red Akroma, and my opponent used Sudden Spoiling in response. Can I still turn Akroma face up?

A: Nope, Akroma is stuck face down for this turn. To turn a face down creature face up with morph, you need to reveal what the morph cost will be once it's face up. However, Sudden Spoiling took away that morph cost! In fact, it took away the entire morph ability, so there's nothing allowing you to turn her face up.

Q: My opponent attacked with a face-down creature, and then after I didn't block, he paid some mana and triumphantly turned it face up to reveal . . . an Island. What happens now?

A: Now you shuffle up and go on to the next game. This is a pretty severe procedural error (or a major one with an upgraded penalty into a game loss), especially since there's no way that you could have seen that an error was even made.

However, note that the Penalty Guidelines are about to change dramatically. I can't tell whether or not a game loss will still be the penalty given for not-a-morph morphs, but until the new Penalty Guidelines go into effect, that's what you should expect.

(For those of you looking at the current Guidelines, note that the Procedural Error--Major listed currently is for not revealing morphs at the end of the game, not for playing an illegal morph.)

And there you have it. Lots of funky creatures turning face up, turning face down, and spinning in circles.

I hope that you either learned something new or remembered something forgotten today. If nothing else, pass this column along whenever the endless morph questions bubble up, and everyone will be happy.

Until next time, show your face!

-Eli Shiffrin
Tucson, AZ


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