Zendikar Rising has flipped the script on card design. From a four-color Omnath to Panharmonicon for lands, Wizards of the Coast has pulled out the stops for this set. Above all else, though, the double-faced cards represent the biggest departure from conventional design as we know it. While there are many to go over, we’re going to focus on the five that I feel have the best chance of impacting Commander. Those five are none other than the cycle of mythics.

What Makes These Special

Unless we’re playing Manaless Dredge, the foundation of Magic rests on a balance of lands and nonland spells. We go to great lengths to figure out this balance, as it’s one of the biggest aspects that sets Magic apart from other games. We read articles on the topic, delve through Discord servers, or debate our friends over Twitter; but the problem is never truly solved. There’s beauty in that, as it keeps us coming back for more. These five cards in particular don’t solve that balance, but they make our decisions just that much easier.

Only occasionally do the lines blur between lands and spells. Utility lands are the poster children for this blend between game pieces. They typically have a single ability that is small in scale, such as Desolate Lighthouse or Terrain Generator. However, this new cycle of DFCs can bolster a deck in ways that utility lands can’t. They allow us to tinker with that fundamental balance of lands and spells, without doing much harm to either side.

You could think of them as either a land that has a payoff if you draw it late, or a spell that you can use as a resource in the early turns. Spell-to-resource transformation has been used in the card game space before, most notably in the discontinued World of Warcraft TCG. Once per turn, players were allowed to play an unwanted card face down and use it as a resource instead. This mechanic was meant to get around the “feels bad” moments of mana screw that can happen in Magic. While there has been discussion about bringing such a system to Magic, it hasn’t really taken off in a big way. Mana variance is as integral to the game as life totals and the combat step.

The mythic DFCs stand out because they can come into play untapped. For that reason, they have a big leg up on the lower rarity DFCs, when it comes to odds of affecting the format. Commander is becoming less and less of a place for tapped lands, so untapped lands are at more of a premium than ever before.

The End is Nigh

On top of being able to hit play untapped on turn one, the spell sides of mythic rare DFCs are big and splashy. Three of them cost seven mana, which is in the realm of game-winning effects, and the other two are huge X spells. Agadeem’s Awakening and Shatterskull Smashing could be cast for less mana, but their design nudges the caster to put seven or more mana into them. While they aren’t in the realm of Expropriate, Cyclonic Rift, or Torment of Hailfire, they still offer a chance to blow a game wide open.

While we all know the cards that effectively say “you win the game,” there’s something to be said for powerful spells that get you closer to winning. For instance, just think about every time you’ve seen a game turned on its head after resolving Living Death, Triumph of the Hordes, or an overloaded Vandalblast. The DFCs aren’t the knockout punch, but they can be the body blow that knocks our opponents off balance, setting us up for victory on the next turn.

If we run a few of these DFC’s in our deck, we’re upping our amount of haymakers that our deck can throw, with the fallback plan of using them as lands. Theoretically, we could have an opening hand where our only lands are found in DFCs, and still keep it on clean conscience. We can play them as lands if we keep drawing nonland cards, or keep them in reserve if we get flooded on mana. That means we’re holding onto more ways to close out the game, as compared to our opponents. None of the famous game-winners have that level of flexibility. Granted, it’s unlikely that you’ll be the only playing with these DFCs at the table, since they can fit into a variety of decks. But when everyone at the table has more ways to win, we reduce our chances of creating board stalls that drag out game night. That creates a win-win situation for everyone in the playgroup.

A Time and Place for Everything

So, are these truly “free” to put in any deck? While this question is sure to be hotly-debated, my answer is this: in most cases, yes. However, it all comes down to if we have the room for them. How we make space for these can make all the difference.

Most decks run around 35-40 lands. Since the DFCs are single-colored, it makes sense to have them replace another single-color land. That means you’ll mostly be swapping out basic lands to make room for the new DFCs. The size of your deck’s pool of basics will vary based on its color requirements. The more colors we need, the more multi-color lands we’ll run, and the less basics we have to sub out.

When it comes to swapping out basics, though, there’s a balancing act to be had. These DFCs are not fetchable by conventional means. Basics, however, are easily grabbed off of staples like Evolving Wilds or any opposing Path to Exile. While there are tons of multi-color lands to choose from, more than we have slots to fill, most decks still need some number of basics. As a general rule, I never run less than what my cards can pull from my deck.

For instance, my daily driver deck, Gahiji, Honored One needs to be able to fetch at least five basic lands—two from Cultivate plus one each from Solemn Simulacrum, Evolving Wilds, and Prismatic Vista. This doesn’t count cards like Wood Elves or Arid Mesa, which can grab dual lands. Of course, it’s unlikely that I’d draw all four of these cards in one game; but that doesn’t mean I should only run the bare minimum of basic lands. If we skirt the bare minimum, not only do we run the risk of running out, but we also get punished by cards like Burning Earth, Blood Moon, or Thalia, Heretic Cathar.

Thus I used to run nine basics in the deck, and have cut that to six to add the three DFC mythics in my colors. Based on experience, six basics for a three-color deck feels low, but I’m not too worried. My mana fixing is very reliable, so I’m rarely locked out of a color. I might actually have room to cut back on one or two of multicolor lands, if testing revealed that more basics were needed. This is just one example, though, and there are other nuances to consider before sleeving up these DFCs.

For some decks, the land types can make a difference. Someone with Cabal Coffers, Emeria, the Sky Ruin, or Mystic Sanctuary might want to run as many lands that can satisfy those needs. They might also be playing lands-matter creatures like Crypt Ghast or Charix, the Raging Isle. Having a DFC without a basic land type can punish those land-specific tools. Ultimately, the choice is yours—but if you’re on the fence, you should go for it.

Consider the opportunity cost. If you’re running 25 swamps for Cabal Coffers, how much value does running 25 get you over 24? Is that benefit more substantial than the flexibility of having Gruesome Menagerie attached to a land? Chances are there’s a nonland card you’ve been thinking of cutting anyway, so replacing it with Agadeem’s Awakening means you can up your land count in the process. While either side of the DFC is a worse version of an existing card, no other cards offer that foundation-breaking flexibility. That, to me, is enough to slot these pretty much anywhere you can find space.

If you’re still unsure, though, flip a few of your basics upside-down in their sleeves, and use them as stand-in proxies. If you topdeck one in the later turns, will you be happy that it’s a Plains, or would you rather it be Emeria’s Call?

Homogeneity and Looking Beyond

With universally-good cards, there always comes the topic of homogeneity in the format. For instance, are we better off for having cards that go in every deck, like Command Tower and Arcane Signet? Do they take away from the creativity on which the format is built? In my opinion, we have less slots than we think we have. Kristen Gregory wrote a great article about how many slots we truly have, detailing how most are gobbled up by the staples that make our decks function.

Every format has their staples, and I think these DFCs will quietly become staples in their colors. By staples, though, I’m not saying these cards will win games outright. Rather, I’m referring to the workhorse nature that the sum of their parts will put in. Less Craterhoof Behemoth, more Acidic Slime or Mind Stone. They’ll smooth out the edges that decks have, either for an early land drop, or for something to cast with Nyxbloom Ancient mana later. Giving players more chances to do big things is going to help more than hurt.

We can get into the weeds arguing about optimization, but Commander is still a singleton format that’s rife with variance. We make ambitious goals for our decks, but they have a way of getting thrown out the window when a game doesn’t go according to plan. So I invite you to give these DFCs a try, because there’s little reason not to. Rarely have Magic cards offered this much of a game-breaking take on design, with little to no consequence for running them. This cycle won’t be the last we see of Modal DFCs, so we can expect to see more developments in this space. I’m here for it, and I hope that you are too.

Travis is a Virginia-based player and writer, who has been turning things sideways since Starter 1999. He primarily plays Commander, Pauper, and Legacy, and has a passion for introducing new players to the game. When he isn’t making people pay the Thalia tax, he can be found mountain biking or playing the guitar. You can follow his exploits here on Twitter and Instagram.

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