With the return of Morph in Khans of Tarkir, this seems like an excellent time to go back and review some of the more common and uncommon situations you might run in to with face-down creatures!
Face-down Cards in General
Morph is an ability that lets you pay 3 to cast the card face-down. While the card is face-down, it is a 2/2 creature with no name, color, creature type, abilities, mana cost, etc. The converted mana cost of a face-down creature is 0 since it has no mana cost. Morph is only an option if you’re casting the spell. If you’re putting it on the battlefield, you cannot put it onto the battlefield face-down. Morph is an alternate cost, so you cannot combine it with other alternate costs. For instance, you could not cast a face-down creature for free if you control an Omniscience. But cost increases or reducers can still apply to the spell, since you’re still casting it. You can look at any face-down spell or creature you control at any time.
Each card with Morph has the ability to be turned face-up by paying a cost (generally by paying mana, but some cards have a Morph cost of “Discard a card” or “Reveal a white card from your hand”). To turn a creature face-up, you reveal the face-down side (revealing the Morph cost), then pay the Morph cost and turn it face-up. This is a special action (like playing a land): it does not use the stack and cannot be responded to. This means your opponent cannot try to Shock your face-down creature in response to it being turned face-up: by the time they get priority, it has been turned face-up. You can turn a face-down creature face-up any time you have priority.
Even though turning a face-down creature face-up does not use the stack, any triggered abilities that trigger when it’s turned face-up do use the stack. This includes abilities like Rattleclaw Mystic‘s triggered ability. It is not a mana ability (since it is not triggering off of another mana ability), so it will use the stack.
When a face-down creature is turned face-up, it’s still the same permanent. If you started your turn with the creature under your control and you turn it face-up, it can attack that turn: it doesn’t regain “summoning sickness” after it’s turned face-up. Any counters on the creature will remain on it once it’s turned face-up, and any auras and equipment will remain attached as well.
Turning a face-down creature face-up does not remove it from combat. If you attack with a face-down creature, turn it face-up, and it has defender, it will continue attacking. Having defender only prevents it from being declared as an attacker. Giving an already-attacking creature defender won’t remove it from combat. Players no longer get priority between combat damage being assigned and combat damage being dealt. It is no longer possible to put damage on the stack and then turn your Wall of Deceit face-up and effectively have a 2/5 creature: you either need to turn it face-up before combat damage is assigned and dealt, or leave it face-down.
Turning a face-down creature face-up doesn’t change any spells or abilities targeting it, though the spells or abilities may become illegal on resolution. If you attack with a face-down creature and it’s targeted by a Devouring Light, it’s still the same attacking creature even if you turn it face-up and will still be exiled. However, if it’s targeted by something like Doom Blade and, when it’s turned face-up, it’s a black creature, Doom Blade would be countered on resolution since its only target is now illegal.
Turning a face-down creature face-up is a one-way street: unless the card has some way to turn itself face-down again (like Wall of Deceit or Vesuvan Shapeshifter), you can’t turn it face-down once you’ve turned it face-up. You could return it to your hand and then recast it face-down, but you can’t just turn it face-down while it’s on the battlefield unless some spell or ability allows you.
If a face-down creature would go to any other zone except from the stack to the battlefield, it is revealed to all players. This is to confirm that the face-down creature did indeed have Morph and you didn’t try to sneak an extra Forest onto the battlefield as a face-down creature. In addition, at the end of each game, we reveal each face-down creature for the same reason.
You also need to maintain the order the face-down creatures entered the battlefield. You cannot move them around and play “three card monte” to hide the order your face-down creatures entered the battlefield or to confuse which creature is which if it was face-up and was turned face-down.
Face-down Creatures and Bile Blight
Let’s say you have a bunch of face-down creature and your opponent decides to Bile Blight one of them. Did you just lose your face-down army? Nope, you didn’t. A face-down creature has no name, and cannot share a name with another creature with no name. While the face-down creature that was targeted by the Blight will die, your other face-down creatures will not be affected.
Face-down Creatures and Turn to Frog
Let’s say that your opponent casts Turn to Frog on your face-down creature? Well, mostly what you’d expect: your face-down creature becomes a 1/1 blue Frog with no abilities. But what happens if you try to turn it face-up? Well, this is where things become a little weird. Remember, as stated above, if you want to turn it face-up, you need to reveal the Morph cost and then pay that cost. But since it’s affected by Turn to Frog (and has no abilities), when you turn the face-down creature face-up, there is no Morph cost to be paid, so you’re unable to pay the Morph cost and cannot turn it face-up.
Let’s change the situation a little bit. Let’s say you have one of the Future Sight morphs that wouldn’t be a creature when it’s face-up, like Lumithread Field, plus a Humility. What happens if you want to turn it face-up now? Well, when you reveal what the Morph cost would be, you see the Field is not a creature, so Humility doesn’t apply to it, so it has a Morph cost that can be paid and you can turn the Field face-up.
The Cavern is kind of a weird card especially, since it’s a land while face-up. We’re going to take a look at two situations.
You have a Courser of Kruphix on the battlefield, and a Zoetic Cavern on top of your library. What are your options? Well, you can play the Cavern like normal as your land drop for the turn, but you cannot cast it face-down. When you cast a spell, the first thing you do is put it on the stack and see if you’re allowed to cast it. To cast the Zoetic Cavern from the top of the library, first you turn the Cavern face-down and put it on the stack, and the game checks to see if you’re allowed to cast it. The Courser just lets you play lands from the top of your library, it won’t let you cast spells. Since nothing else is letting you cast a creature card from the top of your library, you won’t be able to cast the Cavern face-down with the Courser on the battlefield.
Oddly enough, if you have a Garruk’s Horde on the battlefield, you can play the Cavern face-down from the top of your library (you put the Cavern on the stack face-down, the game sees you’re casting a creature spell, and the Horde allows that).
Secondly, let’s say you have a face-down Zoetic Cavern and everyone’s favorite card Blood Moon on the battlefield and you want to turn it face-up. What happens now? Just like before, when you reveal it to show the Morph cost, the game sees it’s a nonbasic land, so Blood Moon applies to it, makes it a Mountain, and removes all other abilities. Since it no longer has a Morph cost, you can’t pay it, so you won’t be able to turn the Cavern face-up with the Blood Moon on the battlefield.
Face-down Creatures and Clone
Let’s say that you want to Clone a face-down creature. What do you get? You’re going to get a face-up 2/2 with no name, creature type, abilities, color, etc. The important thing to note here is that it is face-up: you cannot try to turn it face-up, since it is already face-up, so you’ll just be stuck with a boring 2/2.
Face-down Creatures and Split Second
You have a face-down creature creature on the battlefield, and your opponent casts Sudden Shock targeting it. Can You turn it face-up in response? Yes. Turning a face-down creature face-up is a special action. It is not an activated ability or casting a spell, so it can be done even if there’s a spell with split second on the stack. Even better, since split second doesn’t stop triggered abilities from going on the stack, if your face-down creature has a triggered ability (like Willbender or Voidmage Apprentice), you could change the target of their Sudden Shock or even counter it.
Face-down Creatures and Restoration Angel
Let’s say you have a random face-down creature and cast Restoration Angel. With the Angel’s triggered ability, you target your face-down creature. What happens? Since the face-down creature left the battlefield, it’s turned face-up. When it returns to the battlefield, it’s a new permanent that has no memory of its previous life, and nothing is telling you to turn it face-down, so it will return face-up. This can be a cheap way to turn it face-up. A combo in Modern involves using the Restoration Angel to turn an Akroma, Angel of Fury face-up faster than normal.
However, you will not get any “When this card is turned face-up” triggers. It’s not on the battlefield when it’s turned face-up, so you will not get any of those triggers. You can’t use the Angel to get a Brine Elemental trigger for a discount, for instance.
Face-down Creatures and Ixidron
Ixidron is one of the few ways that you can turn a creature without Morph face-down. If a face-down creature doesn’t have a Morph cost when it’s revealed, then it can’t be turned face-up, so most creature will be stuck face-down until they leave the battlefield.
An additional note: the double-faced cards from Innistrad block have no face-down side, so Ixidron will do nothing to them: they’ll remain on whichever side is currently being revealed.
Face-down Creatures and Mirrorweave
If you thought things were weird before, just wait until you see what happens with Mirrorweave! For this set of examples, we’ll assume that you control a face-down Exalted Angel and a Trained Armodon.
If you cast Mirrorweave on the face-down creature, the result will be similar to what happened if you Cloned a face-down creature – the Armodon will be a face-up 2/2 with no name, creature type, mana cost, etc.
But if you cast Mirrorweave targeting the Armodon, things get a little weird. The game applies copy effects like Mirrorweave in layer 1, but it doesn’t apply the face-down status until after that. So initially, it would appear that Mirrorweave has no effect on the face-down creature – the face-down creature is still a 2/2 with no name, creature types, mana cost, etc. But if you try to turn the face-down creature face-up, the game sees that it’s a copy of the Armodon. Since it’s a copy of the Armodon when the face-down side is revealed, it doesn’t have a Morph cost, so you cannot try to turn it face-up.
But let’s say that instead of targeting the Armodon, you target a face-up creature with Morph, like Ruthless Ripper. If you reveal the face-down creature now, you see that it does have a Morph cost, so you can choose to turn your face-down creature face-up by revealing a black card from your hand. When the effect of Mirrorweave wears off at the end of turn, it will turn into its normal face-up self (in this case, the Exalted Angel).
I occasionally get questions about Illusionary Mask and what exactly it does. For most players out there, you can skip this section, but if you really want to know what the Mask does, keep on reading.
We’re going to break this card up into two parts: what happens when you activate the ability, and what happens when it’s on the battlefield. When you activate the Mask’s ability, you pay X. It’s very important that you note what color of mana you used to activate the Mask’s ability (a slip of paper works well here). When the activated ability resolves, you choose a creature card in your hand that could have been cast using some or all of the mana you paid to activate the Masks’ ability. For instance, if you paid WGG to activate the ability, you could choose a Savannah Lions or a Kalonian Tusker, but not a White Knight). Activating X as more than the mana cost of the creature lets you hide what the creature may be. Once you’ve chosen your creature, you cast it as a face-down spell (so it will be a 2/2 with no name, creature type, abilities, etc).
What happens once that card is on the battlefield? If it’s face-down and would assign or deal damage, be dealt damage, or would become tapped, instead it’s turned face-up and assigns or deals damage, is dealt the damage, or becomes tapped (whichever would have happened before). Just like turning a face-down creature face-up for its Morph cost, this does not use the stack and cannot be responded to. This is also a time that an opponent can verify that you did indeed have the proper amount of mana to cast it face-down with the Mask.
This is the basis for how Illusionary Mask lets you cheat in a Phyrexian Dreadnought for one mana and not have to sacrifice any creatures.
When Fate Reforged was released, we got a new twist on face down creatures: manifest. It allows you to put a card (usually from the library, but occasionally from another zone) face down on the battlefield. Once it’s face down on the battlefield, it’s just like any other face down creature: it’s a 2/2 creature with no name, creature types, colors, etc. Manifest cards do work a little differently than morph cards (as explained below), and since it’s possible to have both morph and manifest cards in play, I would recommend using the morph and manifest tokens cards to be clear which card is a morph and which one was manifested.
So how do you turn one of these manifested cards face up? Well, if the manifested card is a creature, you can turn it face up by paying its mana cost. Just like morph, you can do this any time you have priority, and it does not use the stack and cannot be responded to. If the creature happens to have an X in its mana cost, then X will be equal to 0. If the manifested card is a creature with morph, you can turn it face up by paying its mana cost or by paying its morph cost. And just like morph, turning a face down creature face up doesn’t cause any “enter the battlefield” abilities to trigger, so turning something like Siege Rhino face up won’t cause its ability to trigger. The creature will also keep any counters that were on it, and any auras or equipment will remain attached (assuming there’s nothing preventing them from being attached, like protection).
But what if you managed to manifest a noncreature card? The ability to turn it face up by paying its mana cost is only an option if it’s a creature card, so you can’t normally turn a noncreature face up. If you use something like Ixidor, Reality Sculptor to turn it face up, and it’s an enchantment, artifact, land, or planeswalker, it will be turned face up. Note that this isn’t a good idea with planeswalkers or auras. Planeswalkers won’t have any loyalty counters on it once it’s face up, and the aura won’t be attached to anything, meaning that the aura or planeswalker will go to the graveyard due to state-based actions. If it’s an instant or sorcery, then you’ll reveal that it’s an instant or sorcery and it will remain face down. Even if you managed to use some copy effect like Mirrorweave with the manifested instant or sorcery, you still can’t turn it face up, since we look at what the actual card is (not the effect from Mirrorweave) to determine if we can turn it face up.
A similar thing happens if you use Cloudshift on it. If it’s a permanent card, then it will return to the battlefield face up. If it’s an instant or sorcery, it will be exiled, but will not return and will remain in exile, since instants and sorceries can’t enter the battlefield.
At the end of the game (or if the manifested card would leave the battlefield), we turn it face up so all players can see what the card is. This rule applies to all face down permanents and spells, not just cards with morph, so you’ll still have to reveal the manifested card.
A popular question has been how manifest interacts with a double faced card, like Delver of Secrets. The answer is that the double faced card will enter the battlefield face down like any other manifested card. As long as it’s face down, it cannot transform. If the front face of the card is a creature, you can turn it face up by paying its mana cost. If you do that, then it will be turned face up with its front side up. For instance, if your Delver of Secrets is manifested, it’ll be a 2/2 creature with no name, creature type, etc. You can pay U to turn it face up, and it will be a Delver of Secrets (not an Insectile Aberration), and it will behave like normal from there. Note that a double-faced permanent on the battlefield still can’t be turned face down (so the Delver is still safe from Ixidron).
I hope you’ve enjoyed another article from me, and I hope you’ve learned a thing or two about face-down creatures. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to send me an e-mail.
DCI Level 2 Judge