How I learned to stop worrying and love the Morph

Written by Kim Warren
Level 4, United Kingdom

So, it’s unlikely that it has managed to escape your notice up to this point that the Morph mechanic is getting another day in the sun with Khans of Tarkir. Considering that this mechanic was introduced in Onslaught block in 2002-2003 and last popped up in Timespiral block in 2006-2007, it doesn’t seem a huge stretch to assume that this will be the first place that many judges and players have encountered the mechanic in tournament play. As such, a quick primer doesn’t seem out of place…

95% of your Morph rulings solved with these 3 simple tricks!
1. Turning a Morph face-up is a special action.

You can perform it any time that you have priority, and it does not use the stack. This means that no one can respond to turning a face-down Morph face-up. However, anything that triggers off the Morph turning face-up does use the stack as normal and so can be responded to.

2. Being face-up or face-down is a status.

Changing the status of an object does not make it into another object – just like with tapping or untapping a permanent. This means that anything that was affecting or targeting the face-down Morph will still be affecting or targeting the face-up Morph. If it was in combat face-down, it will still be in combat face-up.

3. Being face-down effectively acts like layer 1.5 for the purposes of interacting with continuous effects.

This is the tricky one, so we’ll run through a couple of examples. If you use Polymorphous Rush to turn your face-down Morph into a copy of Bear Cub, the Morph will become a Bear Cub… which is still face down. All of its visible characteristics would still be those of the face-down Morph – though of note, you would not be able to turn it face-up while this effect was active, because Bear Cub does not have the Morph ability!


If, however, your opponent targets you with Polymorphist’s Jest, the visible characteristics of your card will be changed – you will have a 1/1 blue Frog creature with no abilities. If you try to turn it face-up, when you try to reveal the front side to be able to pay the Morph cost… you will find that the front side is ALSO a 1/1 blue Frog creature with no abilities, which therefore cannot be unmorphed.

I hope that this helps to clear up some of the rules interactions for you!

Morph in Regular REL tournaments

One concern that has been voiced a few times recently is how to deal with errors playing the Morph ability at Regular REL events. One major point keeps coming up: players are required to reveal their face-down Morph creatures if they would go to a hidden zone or at the end of the game, to prove that the ability has been played correctly. How should we handle failures to observe this practice at Regular REL?

The simple answer is that failing to reveal a Morph at the appropriate time should be handled in the same way as any other errors. Explain to the player what they are required to do and the reasons that they are required to do it, to educate them for the future. In many cases, when this error is caught the card will no longer be uniquely identifiable; in this case, it is probably better to not attempt any kind of fix. Don’t be tempted to stray into punitive fixes with making the player reveal their hand or their deck, for example – we aim to fix problems, not exact justice! If you suspect that there is something shady going on, ask some more questions. If you think that the player has intentionally misplayed the Morph ability (whether by intentionally not revealing the card to conceal information, or even having intentionally played a card which did not have Morph face-down in the hopes that it would not be caught) and that they knew what they were doing was illegal, this is a Serious Problem and they should be Disqualified. If you think that it was an innocent error, educate the player and remind them to be more careful in the future. If a player is repeatedly making errors, we still have the option to upgrade to a Game Loss to reinforce the lesson, but that hopefully should not be needed.

It’s advisable to take preemptive action to reduce the number of issues with misplaying the Morph ability, especially for the first few events that people will be playing with it – such as at the Khans of Tarkir Prerelease or Launch Party events. Include a short sentence in your announcements at the start of the event reminding players of their obligations to uniquely identify their face-down Morphs if there are multiples on the battlefield (so that the order they entered the battlefield is known) and to reveal their face-down Morphs at the end of the game or if they would go to a hidden zone. As long as you are not also playing in the event, you could consider occasionally checking the faces of face-down Morphs that players have on the battlefield. This should help to reassure anyone concerned about potential for abuse that the judge is keeping an eye on the situation. Please don’t do this if you are also playing in the event, though – players are unlikely to be happy about a potential future opponent gaining extra information about their decks!

While there might be a few teething problems as people get to grips with a complicated returning mechanic on the prerelease weekends, it shouldn’t take long for it to be second nature. Make sure that you are aware of how the Morph ability works, go to your prerelease and relax and enjoy yourself. In my opinion this is one of the most interesting mechanics in Magic’s history, and the Khans of Tarkir spoilers suggest that it will really be exploring some cool design space this time!

4 thoughts on “How I learned to stop worrying and love the Morph

  1. Hi there, for revealing the cost of the morph card is that a verbal exchange or do you turn the card face up and show the cost for morph? I just want to be clear before the prerelease.

    1. You need to reveal the cost for Morph as the first step for turning the face-down card face-up using its morph ability (702.36d). Though considering that no one can take an action in response to or in the middle of you turning a face-down card face-up, if you pay the cost and then flip the card over that is also fine. The opponent can check that the cost was correct when they see the face of the card.

  2. I just want to make sure um understanding your example correct. The reason why the morph becoming a copy of the bear cub would remain a face down morph is that it is a copying effect. Where as the turn to frog is a characteristic setting effect.

    1. That is correct. Copy effects will apply only to the front face of the card and so will be modified by the face-down status. Effects that apply in any other layer will apply to the visible characteristics of the card (with Turn to Frog acting in layers 4, 5, 6 and 7).

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