How to Properly Use the New Modal Double-Faced Cards (MDFCs)

Shatterskull Smashing

Hello everyone! So this is a post I’ve been working on for a little while, simply because I wasn’t resolute in all my opinions yet. However, I believe I reached the point that I can say, with relative confidence, I know how good the new modal double-faced cards are (MDFCs) These were probably some of the most difficult cards I ever had to evaluate when I did my Wildcard Crafting Guide and Tier List, as nothing else in the history of Magic performed like these. However, once I finally got to play with them for a few weeks, I think it’s become more clear now.

Before we move on, I believe it’s prudent that I once again rank the MDFCs now that I have the perspective of playing with them. With knowing how powerful that I find the cards, understanding my reasoning in how to apply them will also make more sense. As a reminder, these rankings and the article in general will be in relation to Standard, but I will touch on Limited briefly as well.

If you look closely at these cards, you may find a pattern in how I ranked them, not that it isn’t kind of obvious. The better the front half of the MDFC cards are, the better the card is in general. With my rankings in mind, there’s something I need to establish about these cards that I feel like hasn’t been talked about or are being misrepresented currently.

THEY AREN’T FREE

Spikefield Hazard

When you’re building a constructed deck, you have to strike a delicate balance of spells and lands. Pack all the amazing spells in your deck that you want, if you don’t have enough lands to support them, it doesn’t matter. However, with the new DFC lands, you don’t have to choose anymore! Your spells can double as lands! Thus, you can just add a bunch of DFCs in your deck and it’s way more powerful because, on average, you have more spells than your opponent!

Well, yes and no. It’s true that you could certainly do that, but the lands you’re getting from your spells are worse than your average land. Beyond the Mythic “boltlands” (dealing 3 damage if you want them to come into play untapped), every other DFC is a tapland. In some decks, it’s not too problematic, such as Jwari Disruption in Dimir Control. Having an untapped land every turn is certainly nice, but not a requirement in a slow deck. However, in aggressive decks, the tapland becomes significantly more punishing.

Take for example, Makindi Stampede, a card that doesn’t have a particularly bad effect, but would only slot into an extremely aggressive deck, an archetype that can’t support having a tapland. In a better example, you have Kazandu Mammoth, which is an excellent card; however, when I played Kazandu Mammoth in Gruul, there were games where I was forced to use it as a tapland and it put me off curve. That’s not a knock against Kazandu Mammoth specifically, but there will be games you’ll be forced to use it as a slow land.

So, I hear you pleading, what about the Mythic lands? They never have to come into play tapped if you don’t want them to! Very true, thus they mostly rank higher than every other DFC in the set. However, I believe the 3 life to make it untapped is not a free cost either. Maybe not enough of the community has played Modern, you go fetch, shockland, Thoughtseize and your opponent drops their hand of Burn spells. Congratulations, you did 25% of the work for them. Although this shouldn’t occur frequently, that 3 life to utilize the land can very much be relevant, doubly so if you’re facing an aggressive deck. With this in mind, I want to discuss the 3 different methodologies of how players have been utilizing the taplands and which approach I prefer.

Grixis Control by Crokeyz – Post-Uro Ban Standard

Crokeyz has been a big proponent to jamming as many of the DFC cards as he can reasonably fit into the deck, and with the look of this list, I can’t necessarily blame him. Control can live or die by it’s land drops and flooding out is a common issue in Control decks since the dawn of time. However, by having only 18 real lands and a functional 10 more on top of them, he often shouldn’t be missing his land drops, and later, his lands will double as spells. This is likely the most extreme use of DFCs that you’ll find in Standard.

Mono Green Stompy by Rumti – #1 Mythic – October 2020 Season (Post-Uro Ban)

You have to pay penance to the king of green, Rumti. Before anything else, on September 30th he was the first person to reach Mythic in slightly under 8 hours of play. You’re a maniac and I love you. Now, Rumti’s use of DFCs are still somewhat heavy, with 8 copies, but he’s more often than not intending Turntimber Symbiosis to be a land and Kazandu Mammoth to be a spell. In that vein, he functionally plays 23 lands, which is more than enough for a Mono Green Deck, and 4 emergency lands in the form of Kazandu Mammoth. It doesn’t come up often, but I’ve seen Turntimber Symbiosis be cast and fetch a Questing Beast which isn’t amazing, but it’s something.

Four-Color Ruin Crab Omnath by Alec Levy – Post-Uro Ban Standard

The last type of use of the DFCs is the sparing approach that most Omnath decks use nowadays. They play all the lands they need to, this list has 26 for example, but also has access to 6 more in the form of Spikefield Hazard and Glasspool Mimic. This approach maximizes the amount of times you can use the DFCs as their spell half rather than their land half.

So, with these 3 approaches in mind, can you guess which I approach I like the most?

It’s the SPARING APPROACH

Turntimber Symbiosis

As I stated before, utilizing these lands aren’t free and they incur a non-marginal cost for playing them. If you take a look at Crokeyz deck again, his list allows the smallest likelihood of flooding out, definitely a desirable characteristic of any deck. However, what he’s trading to achieve that is consistent and fast mana. He has 7 DFCs that tap for red and 3 that tap for black, and with only 18 other lands, he’ll frequently have to use most, if not all of the DFCs, just to hit land drops. Furthermore, none of the DFCs tap for Blue, and he plays 4 Neutralize! It makes sense he wouldn’t include something like Silundi Vision or Jwari Disruption because neither of those tap for Kroxa, but how are you casting all your spells on time? Although the concept is cool and there are going to be games where this theory works out, I believe on average that the stream of taplands (counting the temples and tapped DFCs there are 13), is going to impede casting spells on curve more often than it’ll help the few times you’ll flood out. Is this a bad use of them? No, but I believe we can do better.

Rumti’s a very smart man and a master of Mono Green, but I think he plays more Turntimber Symbiosis for his own good. I watch a lot of Rumti’s streams, mostly because the only people smarter than Rumti are his viewers. However, when I watch him keep a hand of 1 Forest and 2 Turntimber Symbiosis, I can’t help but to wince. I can’t see how being able to sometimes cast a low power 7 drop is worth having to pay the 3 life for a land, especially if he finds himself up against an aggressive deck. Overall, I’m really not a fan of Turntimber Symbiosis or Sea Gate Restoration. I just don’t believe that they’re good enough to justify their cost, especially since you’ll need them as a land 99% of the time. Furthermore, considering he only plays 19 lands naturally, I think it would be extremely rare that he would be able to actually cast the spell half. It certainly has happened, but I don’t believe having a Forest shockland is worth those few scenarios it’s going to be castable. I don’t purport cutting all of them, I think he should shave 2 and likely one of the weaker spells in his deck and play 22 lands. I could be wrong about the precise number of lands, but I don’t see 4 being the right number either.

The sparing approach, I think, is head and shoulders the best approach to utilizing the DFCs. I don’t think you should use them as a surrogate for lands, rather, just play good cards that can have utility if you’re mana screwed. Every Standard deck I’ve built this season that has followed the sparing approach has felt significantly better for it. At the beginning of the season, I played terribadmtg’s Sultai list, which utilized an approach most similar to Crokeyz does now. Here was my version of the list which only changed 2 cards, but the land and DFC count is the same.

Sultai Control by Robert Lee – Zendikar Rising Standard

As you can see, this list has 20 lands, but 8 DFCs to fill you out to 28 lands. When I drew a lot of my real lands, the deck felt amazing; however, when I drew a few lands and a lot of DFCs, the deck felt horrible. I quickly learned that these DFCs aren’t replacements for lands, they’re supposed to be a land in a pinch. If you’re dedicated to playing taplands, it makes way more sense just to play Temples which give you a scry and multiple colors, especially because the newest lands, although they fix colors, can only produce one color once on board. Getting color screwed is a reality in this format, especially if you’re branching past 2 colors.

So, for my thesis today, I suggest that if you’re building a new deck with the DFCs, make sure you add roughly the same amount of lands you normally would, especially if you’re playing an aggressive deck. If your deck is a bit on the slower side, then you can definitely afford to use a few of the DFCs as additional land drops. In my 8 Shark deck, I played 24 lands which was a bit light for a control deck, but played 4 DFCs to help offset it. My rationale at the time was that every 2 DFCs equaled roughly one land, which I still mostly support, however I think I played too few lands in that list. 26 is not an unacceptable number of lands for Control, but moving forward, I added an additional Jwari Disruption. If you want to see my newest list, check out this article, on that note, I’ll likely have another article on Shark Control in the future.

QUICK LIMITED NOTE

Although this article was made for Standard, I’ll get on my soapbox quickly for Limited. The DFCs are very good, but also very overrated. Don’t put unplayable cards in your Limited deck because it can also be a land, as I’ve said twenty times now, there’s a non-zero cost for doing so. Furthermore, don’t have 8 DFCs and think that 12 lands will be enough since “half your deck is lands.” You’ll be off curve the entire game and then feel sad. Still, take them relatively highly and you can sometimes do a cool splash if you get enough off color DFCs.

That’s it for today! Creating manabases is definitely one of the most challenging aspects of Magic so I can understand the contention around this issue. Furthermore, there could be shifting circumstances in the future that would force me to reconsider my position, however, I’m a magic player, I’m never wrong! If you enjoy my content, you can check me out at Twitch as well! Have a nice day!

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Sean Kelly
Sean Kelly
17 days ago

While I agree that using too many MDFCs is going to be a disaster, I think midrange is most likely to benefit from over committing to the taplands. A midrange deck could run ~18 lands if they’re able to effectively play under curve. Which means managing the battlefield and having value creatures.

Surprised to find Emerias Calling ranked over Hagra mauling. Calling is a fine card, I just would commit to more to the black card given their strengths.

Cool article, and well thought out!