MTG Core Concepts: Modal Cards

Magic: The Gathering has a wide range of decisions that need to be made in order to successfully play the game. It starts with deck building, choosing colors, cards, and the numbers of any given card type, but one of the strengths of the game lies in the decisions that many of the cards force the player to make. Many of the best cards in the game take substantial advantage of this, giving the player numerous ways to play any one card. These cards with modes are, unsurprisingly, called Modal cards and their most common variations are more than worth reviewing.

What is a Modal Card?

As noted above, a modal card is (as the name implies) cards that have different modes. They may feature text such as “choose one,” or they may use mechanics that allow you to cast the card in different ways. For some, this may feel needlessly complicated but it is deeply important for impactful gameplay. Being able to gain access to more than one affect without having to take up more than one card slot is hugely beneficial for both deck building and making for a unique play experience.

Darigaaz's Charm

Charming Cards

The most common form of modal cards allow you to “choose one” effect out of a list. Usually, this packages a handful of utility effects alongside some form of removal, card advantage, or other beneficial effects. Notably, these cards tend to be just slightly over costed, meaning you’re paying a little bit more mana to get the flexibility of the card. Take Grixis Charm, for example.  Each of its individual effects can be represented by a roughly two mana value card individually, but you get to enjoy having extra options.

Grixis CharmBoomerangGrasp of DarknessBurn Bright

Commanding Effects

Right behind the many charms that have been released over time, the next most notable modal cards are unquestionably the command cycle. These cards allow you to choose two modes from an even larger pool of effects, often having a truly outsized effect on the game. The flexibility here becomes even more notable, as the total permutations are wild to consider. Of these, Cryptic Command has had the most overall impact, though Profane Command being particularly effective in Commander is also giving it some notable numbers.

Cryptic CommandProfane CommandAustere Command

Punishing Pieces

The most interesting “modal” cards that only technically hit the definition have to be punisher cards. These are effects that do, in fact, have multiple modes, but they instead put the control of how they resolve into your opponents hands. The majority of these are hard to recommend, as the opponent will obviously always  pick the effect that hurts them the least. My favorite of these is Temporal Extortion, as few players really want to sac half of their life total to stop you from getting an extra turn, but it pales in comparison to the two red punisher cards that have seen the most play. Browbeat, back in the day, presented a lose-lose situation- five damage or three cards (which were likely to be damage-dealing burn cards), while Risk Factor is the modern equivalent. You trade off both a point of damage and a card, but it can be played twice!

Temporal ExtortionBrowbeatRisk Factor

Enchanting Alternatives

Technically, any form of alternative casting ability is also a modal card, changing how a card is played entirely to bring about a different “mode.” Bestow gives you the option to play a creature as an enchantment, Adventure effects let you first play the creature as a spell if it seems best to do so, and evoke may be the “best” of these effects letting you either choose to tack a powerful enters the battlefield effect on to a creature or play them earlier as a “spell.” 

Boon SatyrBonecrusher Giant // StompShriekmaw

Two-Faced Power

The newest form of modal cards are the modal double-faced cards. These are cards that feature two sides, but give the immediate option to play it as either side. Of the MDFCs, the double-sided lands from the most recent trip to Zendikar are excellent, the best of which feature removal or “finisher” effects for the late game while still giving you the option to play them out as tap lands when you still need the mana. Kaldheim also offered up a cycle of solid God cards that can also be played as synergistic artifacts depending on your immediate needs.

Agadeem's Awakening // Agadeem, the UndercryptKhalni Ambush // Khalni TerritoryHalvar, God of Battle // Sword of the Realms

A Flexible Future

We’ve seen many other variations of modal cards, including old-school split cards and Kamigawa flip cards. We’ve moved away from these cards as, aesthetically, they don’t particularly appeal to a lot of players. Instead, we can expect to see more dual-faced cards and charms, with the possibilities being truly limitless within just those frameworks. I love flexibility, and am thoroughly looking forward to seeing some new modal powerhouses.

Nezumi Graverobber // Nighteyes the DesecratorBreaking // EnteringOdds // Ends


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