Lately, a friend of mine in the Commander group started playing with more coin flip cards. Most of these are red. Cards like Game of Chaos or Impulsive Maneuvers or Krark’s Thumb. I absolutely love these approaches to both 1v1 and multiplayer formats, especially any card that creates a mini-game inside the larger game. It’s reminiscent of the times (or so I hear) when Magic: The Gathering had a more chaotic feel. An “anything goes” type of atmosphere. Chaos Orb, anyone?

So I let the gods of random inspiration–much like a coin flip–dictate what I wrote about for today’s column. I wanted an old, weird card. One I’d never heard of, never played, couldn’t even tell you what it did if I heard the name. I randomly chose a set and then scrolled to find a black card that sounded like a coin flip type adventure. And today’s card is the aptly named Head Games from the Onslaught set. The Oracle text reads:

Target opponent puts the cards from their hand on top of their library. Search that player’s library for that many cards. The player puts those cards into their hand, then shuffles.

Magic needs to return to more head games like this. More manipulation of player tempo from a different angle.

Head Games dials right into what I like about interaction with another’s library in such an intimate way. Making one’s secret in the game outside of their hand, their library, totally transparent. There is, of course, Opposition Agent, but that card feels almost too invasive. Controlling a person’s decisions is almost like playing by yourself. But choosing their cards is just disruptive not to break all enjoyment in playing. And Head Games does exactly what it says. It messes with the opponent’s head. A combo or two-turn plan could be set up and you invert everything by handing them a dud grip.

So one has to consider: which cards am I going to choose? At first, I though that selecting all lands for an opponent would be the best way to mess with them. But, what if they’re short on mana? You’re kind of helping them. Then if they draw into a huge threat or spell, you’re potentially toast. Or your tempo is set back in a similar way. Likewise, if they already have mana, then you’re just assuring their continued mana ramp. If one went with all lands, then you’d have to hope that the draws were going to continue to also be lands, or mostly lands, to extend the slow-down.

Another direction could be to put the highest converted mana cost (CMC) cards into their hand. Thus, you ensure that they can’t do much, at least for a while. But the downside there is that if they already have plenty of mana–figuring you likely play Head Games no earlier than turn 5–then you’re giving them a steady flow of bodies. Of course, you could destroy a couple of lands prior to casting Head Games or play a Cursed Rack and then a Locust Miser to make sure the target opponent has to keep discarding down to size. (Especially beautiful if, say, Tourach, Dread Cantor is your commander or on the battlefield.)

As for its black pie qualities, I could easily see this being a red card, as well. Maybe even blue. The classic black qualities of it are in the searching the other’s library and picking a new hand. Personally I think it would be a bit better if you gave them back one less card, but then perhaps that’s a little too dark?

All said, the card does something unusual. It doesn’t add counters, stop combat damage, give haste, flying, or shroud, nor does it destroy or discard cards. It upsets all of those, by now, Magic-like conventions. I’d like to see more cards and abilities that have players switching hands or decks or laying cards face down and only playing every other one in that order. I’d like a bit more “coin flippery” and “red card chaos” in the overall gameplay. Head Games is a bit of a wacky card in today’s current play, and I’d encourage more folks to play it (and those like it) and for Wizards of the Coast to print more of them. I got a whole notebook of lunacy at the ready. Just ask.

Kyle Winkler (he/him) is a teacher and fiction writer. While he was pre-teen when Magic: The Gathering was released, he didn’t start playing until recently. He’s the author of the cosmic horror novella (The Nothing That Is), a collection of short stories (OH PAIN), and a novel (Boris Says the Words). His favorite card is a toss up between Crypt Rats and Oubliette

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