The original Innistrad block was the first to introduce double-faced cards, a mechanic that quickly outpaced its skeptical critics to become a fan-favorite. Since then, sets from M19 to Ixalan to Strixhaven have all included double-faced cards of various types. With Innistrad: Midnight Hunt bringing the total count of double-faced cards to over 230, let’s have a look at some of the most impactful double-faced cards ever printed.
He’s back! Delver of Secrets was massive in Standard almost 10 years ago, enabled by cards like Ponder and defended with cards like Mana Leak (it didn’t hurt that Snapcaster Mage was around to complement the instant-and-sorcery-heavy deck, either). Now, as a spicy reprint in the most recent set, all people are trying to do in Historic at the moment is flip their Delvers and get in for three in the air.
The card has also been a rock-solid staple of the Legacy format since it was printed. As we talked about in my recent Innistrad Reprints article, Delver of Secrets has been the go-to win condition for fast tempo decks that use Brainstorm and Daze (much like Standard Delver used Ponder and Mana Leak). Today, almost a decade after Delver’s original printing, it’s still one of the most-played cards in Legacy.
Delver of Secrets has one of the more unique flip triggers, and obviously benefits from not just having a deck filled with instants and sorceries but also having ways to stack them on top of your deck. It’s a demanding card – we’ve still never really seen it take off in Modern long-term, despite its power level – but when you can meet its demands, well, a 3/2 flyer on turn two isn’t too bad!
Perhaps more than any other double-faced card ever printed, Valki, God of Lies has spends almost all of its time on its back side, as Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor. And, fittingly for a card with the tricksy and chaotic Tibbers, you’re rarely actually casting him for his retail price of 5RB. Why would you, when you can use cards like Emergent Ultimatum to cheat him straight into play?
The applications of having a two-mana card that could cheat out a seven-drop actually prompted a change to the rules of the cascade mechanic, but even that wasn’t enough to stop Tibbers from sneaking into play ahead of time. Sultai Ultimatum decks were a huge part of Standard for a long time – thankfully, Emergent Ultimatum has rotated out – but it remains to be seen if Valki, God of Lies can continue to get up to his old tricks in new Standard.
A card famously described by Hall of Famer Josh Utter-Leyton as a “mistake,” Search for Azcanta didn’t prove to be unbeatably broken, but is an incredibly powerful piece of technology for slow, controlling decks in any matchup expected to go long. Usually played as a one or two-of at most, flipping a Search for Azcanta more or less guarantees a steady stream of action as the game progresses.
It’s an extremely hard card to deal with – coming down on turn two, often under opposing countermagic when on the play, and then only answerable with land destruction or something like Pithing Needle once it flips. The fact that it largely ignores counterspells and removal makes it obscenely strong in control matchups, and when used in conjunction with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, things get really nasty. You can untap your Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin after a main-phase activation so as to get even more value from the card.
Still, the card doesn’t affect the board and in a fast matchup spending your second turn and two mana on a do-nothing enchantment rather than interaction can be the difference between life and death, so we don’t see people playing Search for Azcanta in huge numbers. Nonetheless, it remains a very powerful option in the arsenal of any blue mage!
Speaking of powerful blue two-drops, how about Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy? While this card hasn’t really made the transition to older formats, there was a point at which the entire Standard format revolved around Baby Jace – and Siege Rhino, too. The solution? Play both! Blue Abzan was the deck to beat during Khans of Tarkir Standard, using fetchlands to ensure you could reliably play four colors and curve 1U into 1WBG.
Jace was ridiculously expensive as well, and top Standard decks pushed upwards of $800 thanks not just to this marquee two-drop, but the fetchlands required to jam him into an Abzan or Jund deck. Thankfully, Standard decks don’t tend to be quite as expensive these days, but there was a time that Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy was pushing $100 a copy – and many decks played a full playset!
Many players expected Jace to make the transition into Modern, but he never did. As a two-mana looter that flips into a moderately-powerful planeswalker, it’s a little surprising, but as an 0/2 he dies to more or less every piece of removal under the sun and doesn’t provide immediate value, so perhaps it makes sense. Still, older players will remember how format-warping this card was – perhaps it’s a mercy it hasn’t taken over Modern and Legacy!
The poster card for Grixis mages everywhere, Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is a card with legions of hardcore fans that just will not give up on it. Every now and again, while grinding away on the Historic ladder, you’ll come across someone who is attempting to make this card work, and it’s truly awful when they actually manage to beat you.
Apart from its applications in formats like Historic, Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is immensely popular in EDH, often used by purist Grixis enthusiasts who can’t use their Dragon-God in any of his planeswalker forms to lead their decks into battle. Every single Nicol Bolas EDH deck feels like its designer just dropped their trade binder, picked up 60 random cards, threw in 40 lands and called it a day, which makes it all the more frustrating when you sit opposite them with an empty hand they’ve ripped apart with discard and an empty board they’ve cleared with removal. Grixis mages, dude. Wow.
All that aside, Nicol Bolas, the Ravager remains one of the most powerful and popular double-faced cards ever printed, depicting an iconic and beloved character and offering a suite of extremely powerful abilities. It’s little wonder that people love it so much, I suppose – I just wish I could build a deck that could actually beat Grixis Trade Binder.
Double-faced cards, despite the initial misgivings some players had about them, have proven to be a popular and long-standing part of Magic, and I’d wager people are very pleased to see them back in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt (indeed, had they not been included, I’m sure the complaints would have been deafening). Maybe this list will have to be updated soon enough, with some of the offerings from the new set!