Too-Specific Top 10 – The Adventure of the Flip Split Saga

(Framed! | Art by Alan Pollack)

What’s in a Frame?

Welcome to Too-Specific Top 10, where if there isn’t a category to rank our pet card at the top of, we’ll just make one up! (Did you know that Assault is the best Shock variant that can also make you an Elephant friend?)

Back in October of 2004, Champions of Kamigawa splashed onto the scene with an emphasis on legendary creatures, Japanese mythology, and something no one had ever seen in Magic before: flip cards.

In retrospect, while flip cards are one of the more clunky-looking mechanics out there sporting an alternate frame, my nostalgia just kicks in when I see them. I mean, just take a look at Kev Walker’s invertable art for Budoka Gardener:

In the long run, flip cards would end up transitioning into the larger double-faced cards like the Werewolves in Innistrad, but the idea of an altered frame to allow for an easier understanding of a mechanic would stick around. Really, innovations with the frames of cards have always been an interesting design space in Magic; just look at the split cards from Invasion block, which allow you to crane your neck to one side during competitive play to figure out which half of a card you wanted to play.

These new advents with the traditional template of Magic cards have been repeated several times over the years, and it was no surprise when other sets began to explore what else could be done with alternate frames, bringing us Sagas like Phyrexian Scriptures and Level Up creatures like Lighthouse Chronologist.

Which brings us to today, where Throne of Eldraine is pushing the envelope once more as we receive new cards featuring the Adventure mechanic:

Some would call these various frames and the mechanics that go with them eyeblight rather than eye candy, though that opinion obviously differs from person to person.

Regardless of how you feel about the aesthetics, however, there have been some powerful cards over the years sporting peculiar frames. My question is this: which ones are the best?


Top 10 Abnormally-Framed Cards

While it is tempting to include the various masterpieces, Miracles, and other frames that have been used to differentiate card value over the years, I think for this one we should stick to frames which specifically serve a mechanical purpose. By my count, that includes flip cards, split cards (including ones with Fuse), Aftermath cards, Level Up creatures, and Sagas. There’s an argument to be made for Meld creatures like Bruna, the Fading Light, but given that they are also double-faced cards whose more common side contains a normal frame, I decided against it.

So, with that potential controversy out of the way, let’s use EDHREC scores to find out the 10 most-played cards with weird freaky frames!

Commit seems rather lackluster for a number one pick, but it also does a bit more than meets the eye. It would be easy to dismiss it as a four-mana counterspell and quit for the day, but you’ll notice that it’s also a bounce spell with a Time Spiral stapled on to it for use from the graveyard. It’s also worth noting that the “Counterspell” effect on this card doesn’t actually counter the spell, getting around effects like Supreme Verdict and Rhythm of the Wild.

As with many of the split and Aftermath cards, then, the whole package is much more noteworthy than the pieces. If you’re playing control, you’ll like the flexibility of the counter or bounce, along with the fact that the target “loses” a draw further down the line. If you’re playing mill, you’ll like that whether you bounce it or “counter” something, you have the option of just milling it off the top of the opponent’s library. That is, unless you shuffle their library first with the Timetwister half of the card.

Finally, the other nice thing about Timetwister effects is that they act as graveyard hate. And trigger Nekusar, the Mindrazer. Seven times.

Commander is filled to the brim with various decks and strategies that try to get huge, game-changing creatures on the table. That’s all well and fine for the Timmys and Tammys of the world, but what about the rest of us that are just trying to keep our little guys alive without dying to eighteen copies of Thorn Elemental? Enter Dusk, your friendly, neighborhood, not-on-the-Reserved-List version of Retribution of the Meek.

But what happens when your opponents don’t take kindly to all of your Hatebears still being alive while all of their huge creatures have passed on from this mortal coil, and they decide to do something about it? Dawn takes care of that, too, bringing back all of your cheap shenanigans from the graveyard to be recast from your hand. The combination of selective board wipe and mass recursion makes for quite a bit of card advantage in a color not known for it, so it’s not too surprising to see this fairly high on our list.

It seems like with each new set we’re getting another spin on Return to Dust, but in Boros colors at least, there is still a king when it comes to flexible, cheap, two-target removal. Wear // Tear is a simple, elegant Fuse spell that has earned its place at the top of the pile, so make no mistake: it’s only number three on the list because of the colors it requires.

While there are a lot of Llanowar Elves out in the world that make Joraga Treespeaker look a bit foolish and inefficient at first glance, there’s something to be said for staying power. Playing out this little Druid on turn one, then leveling it up on turn two and tapping it for the mana you just spent is… pretty strong. If you then manage to keep on using all of this excess mana to keep on climbing the level counter ladder, having those other Llanowar Elves tap for even more mana can be a bit of fun, too.

It’s worth mentioning that Level Up creatures in general can get a bad rap since players tend to feel like they never have the time to put resources into them. To those players, I would submit that just because you have cards in your hand doesn’t mean that you have to play them. After all, how many board wipes do you see in a typical Commander game at your table? Devoting mana to a Level Up creature can sometimes be a better allocation of resources than playing everything in hand.

There are a lot of things black does to control a game of Commander, and The Eldest Reborn just happens to tick them all, one by one. Being able to follow up a Fleshbag Marauder with a Burglar Rat and then get the best creature or planeswalker from any graveyard on your battlefield is just a lot of advantage, even at five mana.

In a world where Splendid Reclamation and World Shaper exist, surely there’s already enough gas out there for land-focused decks to get a big ramp out of their graveyards, right?

Wrong. The Mending of Dominaria is played in 4,126 decks, and 13 out of 15 of the top commanders for those decks directly reference lands in their rules text. Of the remaining two, only Izoni, Thousand-Eyed seems to actually care much about the first two steps of this green Saga, and I would have to imagine it’s used fairly often to get back the likes of Sakura Tribe-Elder. The power of getting back multiple lands from your graveyard directly onto the battlefield simply cannot be underestimated, especially with how easy it is to get fetches and Cycling lands in your graveyard.

That said, it is nice to mill a few extra and get a utility creature back, too.

Speaking of powerful green Sagas that ramp you, Song of Freyalise is a perfectly functional Cryptolith Rite for the same mana, all the way up until it makes all of the creatures you’ve been casting with your creatures’ mana into huge indestructible beasts who can still block after swinging into an opponent’s face. It’s not quite as easy to time as an Overrun, but given how far ahead you’ll be in both resources and life total after you’re done ticking this thing up, I’d say the trade-off is worth it. Comes at a three-mana discount, too.

Hey, remember Fork, from back in the old days? Remember it being an example of a card that was too good to ever be reprinted for half of Magic’s lifespan? Well, they tried it again anyway in 2011 with Reverberate, and formats didn’t even shudder, much less break themselves in half. Then the floodgates opened and we got all sorts of variants, leading us to the latest one which allows for you to not only pay either red or blue mana to get the same effect, but also staples a removal-and-card-advantage-in-one spell onto it. Sure, you can only copy spells that cost four mana or less, but that still leaves quite a bit of room to play around for spells-focused decks, all while giving them a great finisher for when they manage to make infinite or just a lot of mana. The Izzet really outdid themselves here.

Speaking of ways for spellslinger decks to finish out games, Insult‘s ability to double damage for that Chandra’s Outrage you just pointed at a Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius is probably gonna be good enough, but just in case you need the extra shove, Injury is there to help. It may not be the best damage doubler in the game, but having removal stapled on in case you don’t finish things out the turn you cast it makes up for a lot, honestly.

There’s been a theme with our last couple picks, and it continues into number ten with The Mirari Conjecture. While Archaeomancer did most of the work in the area of spell recursion for all of EDH’s history, this backup outshines the old staple in a couple of different ways. Being able to get back a spell is great, but what if you could get back two? Better yet, what if you could get back two, and then copy them both to make them into four? Sure, that’s greedy, but isn’t that just the type of big splashy play that Commander is all about?


Honorable Mentions

It’s a little sad to see how underplayed both my beloved flip cards are, along with Level Up creatures. So let’s go a little further down the list and see where they ended up, shall we?

Not gonna lie, that was more for me to feel good about the fact that people are actually playing flip cards and Level Up creatures out there than anything else. Granted, some of them are terrible people for playing Lighthouse Chronologist, but what can you do?


What Do You Think?

Do you like the alternate frames Wizards has been using over the years? How about the new Adventure cards out of Throne of Eldraine? Does changing the frame of the typical Magic card help make a mechanic easier to understand, or just serve to make the game look messy and convoluted?

And finally, what’s your pet card when it comes to alternate frames? Can you just not stop yourself from stuffing Fire // Ice into decks despite it not really holding up anymore, or is it an insistence that Nezumi Graverobber is actually the best Scavenging Ooze? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll see you at the flipped tables! (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

Doug has been an avid Magic player since Fallen Empires, when his older brother traded him some epic blue Homarids for all of his Islands. As for Commander, he's been playing since 2010, when he started off by making a two-player oriented G/R Land Destruction deck. Nailed it. In his spare time when he's not playing Magic, writing about Magic or doing his day job, he runs a YouTube channel or two, keeps up a College Football Computer Poll, and is attempting to gif every scene of the Star Wars prequels.