Magic: The Gathering’s Zendikar Rising set will introduce over 280 new cards to the game this month, as well as bringing back mechanics such as Landfall and Kicker. However, one of the most significant updates is the introduction of modular double-faced cards (MDFCs).
Unlike previous double-faced cards, these new modular cards can only be played as one side or the other, unable to change between them on the battlefield. And unlike split cards, these new cards can be permanents such as creatures or lands as well as sorceries or instants. This expands the options in your hand and gives you more versatility than a normal card.
In the lead up to Zendikar Rising’s release on September 25, Mashable is excited to exclusively reveal one of the first MDFCs arriving in the set: Shatterskull, the Hammer Pass / Shatterskull Smashing, a Red Mythic Rare land/sorcery.
Shatterskull, the Hammer Pass
The first side of the card is Shatterskull, the Hammer Pass, a Red land. However, unlike basic lands, you won’t be able to use it immediately unless you’re willing to pay a cost: “As Shatterskull, the Hammer Pass enters the battlefield, you may pay 3 life. If you don’t it enters the battlefield tapped.”
This means that if you want to get mana from Shatterskull, the Hammer Pass in the same turn that you play it, you have to pay 3 life points. Otherwise you’ll have to wait until the start of your next turn, giving your opponent more time to build their defences.
Losing all your life points is the most common way to lose a game, so this life point requirement may seem like a significant downside. However, professional Magic player David Mines considers Shatterskull, the Hammer Pass’ cost “very minimal for a Red deck.” Who cares about losing a few life points if it’ll help get your opponents to zero first?
“Your life total is a resource, especially in your Red decks!” Mines told Mashable via email. “Sometimes the best form of defence is a good offence!”
On the literal flip side, sorcery Shatterskull Smashing can deal out some truly skull shattering damage — if you have the mana to pay for it. While playing this sorcery demands a minimum of three mana, including at least two Red, Shatterskull Smashing grows significantly stronger if you decide to use more.
This is thanks to the card’s ability: “Shatterskull Smashing deals X damage divided as you choose among up to two target creatures and/or planeswalkers. If X is 6 or more, Shatterskull Smashing deals twice X damage divided as you choose among them instead.”
So, for example, you could play Shatterskull Smashing using five additional mana on top of the two mandatory Red. This would allow you to deal five damage split up however you’d like between up to two of your opponent’s creatures. You could deal three damage to one and two to another, or four and one, or just spend all five in one place.
But if you were to cast Shatterskull Smashing using six additional mana instead, paying a total of eight, your allocatable damage output would double to 12. This should be more than enough to kill a pair of particularly beefy creatures — or one hulking behemoth.
“If you ever get to use the ‘X being 6 or more’ mode of this card, you’ll be killing some gigantic creatures. I can’t see you losing those games,” said Mines. “Rest assured once this card is cast, it will end a lot of games in quick fashion.”
While both of the card’s sides have their benefits, Shatterskull, the Hammer Pass / Shatterskull Smashing’s true power is in its versatility. If you get it early and need some mana, Shatterskull, the Hammer Pass will give some to you. If it’s later in the game and your opponent has established a defence, Shatterskull Smashing can help you come in like a wrecking ball. How you play this card all depends upon what you need when you draw it.
“The ability to have your card never be ‘dead’ in your hand massively adds to a card’s quality by always giving you a mode you can use,” said Mines. “Shatterskull Smashing / Shatterskull, the Hammer Pass lets us have a very powerful later game spell while also being able to make our land drops in the early game.”
This is particularly significant when building an aggressive Red deck, since they often contain as few land cards as a player thinks they can get away with. Red decks rely on keeping constant pressure on your opponents, so drawing too many lands can give them time to regroup and overpower you.
“So a Red deck that might normally need to play 20 [basic land cards] could potentially add 4 [Shatterskull Smashing / Shatterskull, the Hammer Passes] to their deck and only need to play 16,” said Mines.
Fitting with Zendikar Rising’s land theme, Magic: The Gathering head designer Mark Rosewater told Mashable that all of the set’s modular double-faced cards have a land on at least one side of them.
“Zendikar Rising has MDFCs that are also a creature, another land, an instant, or a sorcery,” said Rosewater via email. Further card type combinations will be revealed in the next two premier sets, Kaldheim and Strixhaven, which will include modular double-faced cards as well.
“We designed [modular] double-faced cards way back in [2011’s] original Innistrad when we first created the transforming double-faced cards and I’ve been waiting for the right place to finally make use of them,” said Rosewater. “I’m really excited that MDFCs finally have their day and I can’t wait to see the players’ reactions to it.”
Magic: The Gathering‘s Zendikar Rising set will be released on September 25.