Smells Like Urza Spirit

Ever looked at a set and thought to yourself that a mechanic looked surprisingly… Familiar? Well, not surprisingly, morph is a lot like echo in that it allows you to spread a high cost over a few turns. What effects does this have on the Constructed environment?

Ever looked at a set and thought to yourself that a mechanic looked surprisingly… Familiar? Sometimes R&D reuses old ideas, and sometimes new abilities play a lot like old abilities. And Onslaught, my friends, smells like Urza’s Saga in all the right places.

Certainly a lot of people will say negative things about Urza’s block and that’s fine, but there were elements to this set that people don’t look back upon with anger. Remember sleeping creature enchantments? Remember cycling? Remember echo? Do people hate echo?

I really hope not – because Morph, my friends, is a lot like echo.

In case you haven’t been following Onslaught, which seems unlikely, Morph is one of the two”named mechanics” which will be used in Onslaught and its resulting block.* Morph allows you to play face down critters for three mana that are little 2/2 colourless doggies. Should you pay their morph cost, they snap out of four-legged mode and turn into a normal creature, like an angel, demon, or goblin. The joy of Morph is that your opponent doesn’t necessarily know what the unmorphed creature is.

Consider this situation: Your opponent lays down a forest on turn 3. That brings him to two swamps, a forest, and six cards in hand. He taps his land, drop a card on the table. Face-down. Sure, it’s a colourless 2/2 right now, but beyond that, you don’t know what it is or if you can deal with it.

So how does this remind me of Urza’s block and echo?

Well, look at it like this: With Echo, you take a reduction to the casting cost of a creature. For example, Cradle Guard, a personal favourite of mine during the days of my youth, is a 4/4 for 1GG (A lot like Arrogant Wurm). The drawback is its echo cost – which in effect increases the overall cost, but splits it over multiple turns. With echo, you have to pay the echo cost or the creature dies.

With Morph, you play the creature face-down for a reduced cost (in some cases) and then later on pay a cost to change it into its real form. This has a lot of the same pattern as echo; you pay a lower overall initial cost but in the end pay more mana for the same card.

There are, of course, changes from echo. The echo cost was always there and it had to be dealt with, or the creature would be sacrificed but a turn after coming into play. You don’t have to morph a creature until you need or want to, the creature isn’t going to die because you don’t. Nor do you have to play a creature morphed if you don’t want to. A Blistering Firecat can hit the table for its normal mana cost, swing and die without ever needing to be an unmorphed creature.

But it still reminds me of Echo – and for me, that’s a good memory. There are other interesting traits to Morph creatures that do and don’t tie in with the old echo theme.

Take our old friend Spiritmonger. Everyone likes Spiritmonger, right? The only time you feel kind of bad with mister Spiritmonger is on turn 2. Say you dropped a land, dropped a bird on your first turn. Your opponent is sitting across from you with an island untapped, but that’s it. You know he’s playing blue. You know if ‘Monger doesn’t hit the board now, he runs the risk of being countered.

Well, a fattie green creature played morphed does hit the board now, doesn’t he? He gets on the table. Later on, when you have the mana, after he’s slipped by counterspell, you can unmorph to start going for the beats. Granted, he can be bounced at this point or earlier on, but you did get him onto the table. And sometimes that’s enough to give a blue deck fits.

Of course, Blue gets a benefit from Morph too, in some cases.

Take the newly-previewed white card, Exalted Angel. Notice this card has an awful lot in common with the previously-used Rakavolver? In fact, if you think about it long enough, those two cards are very close to each other. Both cost six mana, both fly, both have a Spirit Link effect. Exalted gets -1 to her power – but at the same time, she doesn’t have red or blue in her casting cost. And both can be played for three mana to get a 2/2 gray ogre.

So we can admit Exalted Angel might be playable. Of course, at six mana for a 4/5, a blue/white control deck probably won’t want to pay all that mana at once. So why not add another point to it and spend it over a turn or two? While a 2/2 is vulnerable while on the table, it’s still a lot nicer on the white/blue deck to drop her for three mana, then wait ’til his opponent’s end step and unmorph the angel. Since you can’t respond to Morph with a waiting Shock, it’s a pretty safe bet.

Note that I said,”might be playable” not,”Is definitely playable in Constructed.”

There might be better Morphers out there, but a pre-Spirit Linked creature with evasion is pretty good at working within U/W control. Who knows?

Of course, besides those Morphers, there are”stealth” morphers; creatures that revolve around damaging your opponent to produce an effect on the board. The two confirmed red ones, Skirk Commando and Snapping Thragg, deal damage to that player’s creatures when they slip through. Hopefully we’ll see a balance of creatures that have stealth abilities, fast-drop-fatties, and”combat trick” morphers, like Daru Lancer. All in all, an interesting bunch.

By the way, the Orb of Insight reveals ninety-three hits for”Morph.” Morph is mentioned twice on each morph card, meaning there will likely be forty-six morph creatures and then at least one Morph hoser. Or forty-five and three; whatever. A lot of the set, though, so there will be lots of morphing in limited. (That, or the Orb is screwing with my mind)

Of course, while Morph reminds me of Echo, Cycling doesn’t exactly remind me of Cycling.

Cycling is back – or so we think. It’s pretty much confirmed that the new cycling might be a bit different sometimes though. Unlike Morph, though, we haven’t seen a lot of the”new” cycling cards, so you’ll have join with me during some speculation time.

The only confirmed one is translated from, I believe, Japanese. This one would a new counter spell, Complicate, which sits as a pretty standard Mana Leak +1 mana to cast. However, it also offers a player access to cycling with the added bonus of still having its normal effect, except at reduced power.

This isn’t quite normally cycling, then. Cycling, if you didn’t play during Urza’s block or don’t remember, is about the most boring mechanic ever, since it was never explored. You pay two, you discard it, you draw. That’s it. Every single cycling card cost two mana. There were no”pay 1 life” or”tap a white creature you control.” There was nothing special about any cycling card ever. You didn’t even pay coloured mana.

However, Complicate offers us a view into a new version of cycling which I like to refer to as”reverse kicker cantrip.” (Say that three times fast.) Essentially, assuming most of the cycling cards follow Complicate’s example, you are given the option of adding cantrip to the spell and making the spell weaker… But if it accomplishes the same goal, the spell isn’t really weaker anyways.

Examples might include something like a red sorcery that deals three normally, but only one when cycled. Or a white enchantment destruction card (because white can never have enough bad enchantment destruction cards) that normally allows you to hit an enchantment, but when cycled, only lets you hit a black enchantment or an enchantment with converted mana cost of three or lower.

Since these situations allow you to draw cards, it creates an interesting sort of card advantage. Unlike, say, Dismiss, you won’t always get the extra card – and you are activating a discard, with means things like Spirit Cairn and Megrim get triggered, as well – so the cantripping is a little more interesting, a little more complex. There’s only one confirmed neo-cycling card, and the Orb of Insight offers thirty-one hits off the word”cycling.”

I call it”reverse kicker cantrip,” by the way, because you do the reverse of kicker – get a smaller effect for the same amount of mana, while getting a cantrip out of it. Of course, the interesting point may very well be in the workings of the cycled cards. Cycling did not cast as counting a spell, will the effects created by cycling cards count as spells or will they count as abilities? Time will tell, of course.

On a final note, apparently there are”tribal” cards in Onslaught – things like the unconfirmed Wellwisher, an Elf that taps to give you one life for each elf. What does this remind me of? Why, Priest of Titania, of course!

* – We just did OBC. Is this O2BC? ONBC? TBC?