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Split Column, Secret Split Cards, Split Card

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The letter O!ne fact for which I will be eternally grateful (that you probably didn't know about me, or either of us) is that Mark Rosewater gave me my first break at a professional writing gig. Mark and I used to write a sort of "split card" column in The Duelist, which was an honest-to-God paper magazine publication that used to come out every month (long ago, before there was any such thing as DailyMTG). Mark would write a half that was a glance into the secret halls in Renton, WA,... not unlike the column he has sustained so brilliantly over hundreds of Mondays here. My half, though, you might not recognize from any of my later theoretical, technological, or strategic punditry on the Magic Internet. Rather, it was about the language and culture of Magic, stories from the Pro Tour, how if people said "janitor" they might mean Sanctum Custodian, or how Patrick Chapin won a long game with High Tide despite having his combo pieces removed. Tiny inside jokes or jargon, little winks about what we love in living Magic from the other side.

Now, both Mark and I, in earlier years, attended lots more big events than we might be able to today... Mark was one half of some of the most entertaining Pro Tour Top 8 booth commentary teams ever and I was what you might kindly call a Pro Tour "irregular"—almost every appearance I made at the big show I had to earn the hard way.

Art by Ryan Barger

Chatting up my old writing partner at the odd Grand Prix was a box of chocolates... where you could be everywhere surprised but still pretty much enjoyed all the flavors. Usually, we would just talk about stuff we liked and was important to us in our other lives. I am sure 99.99% of Mark's interactions with Magic players is from the perspective of the outsider (ultimate insider) lead designer; but to me he was a writer and writing mentor from the start. We'd talk about Mark's impressive history on Roseanne or when I got written up in Daily Variety. Or comics! Rosewater's favorite comic is Robert Kirkman's Invincible (you may know Robert Kirkman from his other creator-owned smash hit, The Walking Dead).

But yeah, even so... I had my fanboy moments too. Like that time I ran up to tell him how much I admired the functional cyclers from Onslaught block.

Mark beamed, proudly. It wasn't just that he (and all the team) had done something I liked... but I would realize only a few minutes later that he had pulled one over on the entire planet; like that time the Devil convinced everybody he didn't exist or Kevin Spacey led us on for two hours in The Usual Suspects.

"How do you feel about split cards? Cantrips?"

What is this feeling?

Wheels turning.

Scales falling from eyes.

OH MAH GAWD.


Speaking of Kevin Spacey... It was like House of Cards, where Netflix data-mined what people liked, liked in concert, monstered together a frankly great show, and let the viewers gorge themselves on it. Of course, I loved the functional cycling cards! They were the Magic equivalent to House of Cards... split cards and cantrips glued together! No one would likely play a Krosan Tusker just for its burly bod... but add a kind of green Rampant Growth/terrible Fact or Fiction? You suddenly had an indomitable building block for someone like Brian Kibler or Ben Rubin.

Mark—who has spent so many years pulling back the curtain on Mondays—taught me explicitly that R&D is very good at figuring out what players like, cloaking and obfuscating those things just enough, and recombining them in many wonderful varieties of repetition and variation.

Split cards. Jeez.

It was with that story in mind that I set out to uncover the mysteries of Turn & Burn.

Turn & Burn and The Power of Three

Which of these things is worth a White Mana (and a card)?

  • Target creature gains first strike until end of turn
  • Gain 2 life
  • Destroy target Aura

It's a horrible Swift Justice!

It's a bad Healing Salve!

It's a putrid Erase!

Actually, all on one card, it was a pretty serviceable Limited trick. I used every version of Hope Charm on the way to winning my second-ever PTQ. It wasn't an obvious card to not-cut... not unless you were besties with then-future Lead Developer Brian Schneider.

Top Decks is mostly a Constructed column, so let's switch gears a sec.


In making Day Two of the same Extended Pro Tour, I (1) lived through an Illusions of Grandeur + Donate, (2) "countered" multiple Replenishes, and (3) sent a Hunted Wumpus past multiple blockers for lethal. No one in his right mind plays any of those effects in Constructed—let alone Extended—as separate cards, even at a meager Black Mana. But all on one card? Possibilities that wouldn't come up else-when suddenly started flowering.


I am sure somebody some-when has grounded an angry Morphling into a bad block but I can't say I ever had... but I have untapped many a Thawing Glaciers and put away everything from Illusions of Grandeur to Survival of the Fittest for just a Green Mana.

And none of these even touches King Funeral Charm!

Now, let's compare today's preview card:


You see where I am going here?

I first saw this card and immediately said "Fire & Ice."

Then mentally compared Burn to Fire.


"Wow, this is horrible!" That was my next thought.

Only...

Top Decks doesn't get horrible preview cards. Ever. This is the column of Heartbeat of Spring. Our unspectacular stuff is Shriekmaw or Cathedral of War. We are the column of Terminus and Lightning Helix and Cryptic Command.

"Mark, you bastard. Ten years later... you got me again."

R&D is a palace of tricksters. If they were launching a thousand ships to war every one of them would be Odysseus.

This card is a terrible Fire & Ice... and oh, does it beg to be compared to Fire & Ice.

I don't know how much a competitive Spike wants bad Shock or weird Turn to Frog in Constructed... but what if this "split card" is a big and different kind of something-else-we-love in disguise? What if R&D tricked us all by changing the casting cost away from the usual three-effect model? What if instead this is a card that reads...

Turn [to Frog]—Target creature loses all abilities and becomes a 0/1 red Weird until end of turn, or...
Burn—Expensive Shock/Kindle with no upside (take your pick), or...
Prophetic Bolt—[fuse]

When you fuse this, you can take out almost any creature. You can tear apart a Sylvan Primordial or paired Wolfir Silverheart. At five mana, this Bolt might not be Prophetic any more, but it hunts any sized game.

Burn | Art by Ryan Barger

You might not be in the market for a five-mana Murder, but remember... Turn & Burn doesn't just play that game. Sometimes it will be, functionally, Agony Warp. Getting attacked by a flipped Ravager of the Fells and its 2/2 apprentice Wolf from the old Huntmaster of the Fells days? You can Turn the big guy to block (with anything) and Burn to death the other half. Maybe you can time this after the opponent has poured all his or her mana into a Kessig Wolf Run and make it really Time Walk-y too.

When will you ever be in the market for just a Turn? You would probably never play the card if that's all it ever did... but when some currently unforeseen situation comes up and Turn & Burn is in your hand, I'll bet there will be a story there! I never thought I'd give a Hunted Wumpus fear, either... but I had Ebony Charm in my deck and a situation came up that I could kill someone. What do you think the chances are that that Grand Prix Top 8 competitor across the table looked me in the eyes, soul gazed, and said to himself, "Self, I think we need to play around fear this turn." What are the chances?

Cards like these give you means you might never have had before. We all of us Spikes have motive to win. We have opportunity in every game. But we just don't have the ability to action some lines because we are so often in restrictive positions based on always playing focused and tightly costed scalpel cards. Is a Shock (marginal card) better than the Burn side of this? You betcha. Burn is no Fire, neither. But Burn might be just good enough to play (when bundled in the full Power of Three) that we have weird synchronicities, Sliding Doors, baby universes of opportunity that would just have never come up before.

Boros Reckoners will die. They will be blocked and they will die and they will die without mugging you for 13. Turn will make this happen. You will laugh.


Thragtusks will die. They will die and leave no legacy. No one will mourn their passing for they will have no little 3/3 Beast-children. Turn will do that, too.


Mages will die. They will think they have a turn to live but you will have a bad Shock and a Snapcaster Mage and that will be that. Burn will do that. You wanted to play Burn to burn creatures but hey, sometimes you just gotta give your Hunted Wumpus fear, am I right?

Turn & Burn is challenging. It is not a card that screams "play me" like certain other Blue Mana & Red Mana split cards. But R&D got us good, didn't they? This split card with its three distinct and differently costed modes... well, it is absolutely charming.






 
Mike Flores
Mike Flores
@FiveWithFlores
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Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo. He'd claim allegiance to Dimir (if such a Guild existed)… but instead will just shrug "Simic."

 
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