A Brief History Of Split Cards, And The Amonkhet Aftermath
Magic’s newest block, Amonkhet, brings a new mechanic called Aftermath. This mechanic is a combination of two well-known spell mechanics: Flashback and Split. The very first spoiled Aftermath card was Dusk /// Dawn (pronounced “Dusk to Dawn”). This card was met with skepticism by the Magic community regarding its authenticity due to the controversial card frame and its ability.
As more Amonkhet spoilers were released, and other aftermath cards were introduced to the community, there was been some outcry due to the rarity of these cards relative to the power levels and cost of the abilities when compared to similar card effects.
The purpose of this article is to look back at the design of split spells, their history, and the design decisions that led to this current iteration. Hopefully after reading this, people will have a better understanding of these cards.
A brief history of split cards
Split cards have been released three times previous (four if you count Boom // Bust and Dead // Gone in Planar Chaos). The first iteration of split cards was during Invasion and Odyssey. These split cards were two cards in one: They were both the same card type (instant or sorcery), but with different mana costs and abilities. They gave players the choice of one of two completely different cards. They were very well received by the community, thanks to their versatility and interesting frame.
The cards were each slightly worse than their normal counterparts (for example, Assault is a worse Shock, and Death is a worse Reanimate). However, each card’s effect was fairly powerful, as the opportunity cost of casting a split card was forgoing the other side.
The second iteration of split cards occurred during the Dissension, part of the original Ravnica block. These split cards followed the same pattern as the original split cards, except that each split card was gold due to multiple colour requirements on each half.
The cards were more powerful than their original counterparts due to their multiple colour nature, although their effects were somewhat narrower. However, the player base still enjoyed the return of split cards. Like before, these cards came with the opportunity cost of forgoing one half when casting the other.
The third iteration of split cards (Planar Chaos notwithstanding) occurred during Dragon’s Maze, part of the Return to Ravnica block. These split cards came with a twist: The Fuse mechanic. Fuse allowed players to cast either side of the split card, or to cast both halves together from their hand to create a greater effect. The fuse cards were a great design as it retained the versatility of the original split cards, but added a new layer of gameplay by giving players the option to cast both spells simultaneously. Additionally, following the original Ravnica design, a cycle of multicolored split fuse cards was also made at rare.
In order to balance the versatility, the individual pieces were either slightly depowered, or had their costs increased. However, the versatility made this premium worth it. Additionally, some of the fuse spells saw tournament play as part of a now defunct deck that took advantage of the muddy rules involving the converted mana cost of fuse spells.
This all brings us to now, where split cards are once again making their return. However, this time, only the first half can be cast from the player’s hand, as the second half can ONLY be cast from the graveyard. As a simple reminder, split cards come with a frame where the second half is rotated 90 degrees in order for players to lay Aftermath cards sideways in their graveyard for ease of access.
So, why is Cut to Ribbons a rare? Why is Destined to Lead uncommon? Surely these aren’t effects that should be printed at rare, as Ribbons is worse than cards like Exsanguinate and Profane Command, which are also rare, while Cut is worse than Flame Slash (a common).
In order to fully understand this mechanic, we need to be familiar with one of Magic’s core concepts: Card Advantage. While a game of Magic is typically over when a player’s life total reaches zero, most games of Magic are won by a player simply gaining more card advantage over the other over the course of a game and using this advantage to secure a victory.
However, card advantage is only one piece of the puzzle, the other is mana cost. A card that generates card advantage for a low cost is usually good, and the better the card advantage and lower the cost, the higher in rarity it gets pushed to. Whether this is in order to balance the limited format or to simply sell packs is a matter of speculation that does not need to be discussed in this article.
In order to understand Cut, we need to see what it really does. Yes, it deals 4 damage to a creature for 1R. In the limited and standard metagames, it is safe to say that 4 damage is enough to kill the majority of creatures played in the format. At face value, Cut generates card parity. You are trading your 2 mana spell for your opponent’s creature. Hopefully you can gain some mana advantage (sometimes referred to as “tempo”) by using Cut to destroy a creature with a mana cost higher than 2.
Then comes Ribbons, the Aftermath part. This card lets you trade excess mana for a one-shot damage effect to the opponent, comparable to other spells in the past. This card can be cast from the graveyard, requiring no additional cards from your hand to be invested in order to use it. As such, the cards acts like these:
When looking at it this way, this is card advantage. If we are willing accept Ribbons as a card we would be willing to cast without the opportunity cost of putting it in our deck, then Cut’s text is closer to “Destroy target creature. Draw a card.”, and THIS is a very powerful effect. Especially in a colour that usually does not get card advantage like red. This justifies the rarity. Maybe I am picking the most powerful card of the spoiled cycle, however, the combination of useful effects, card advantage, and complexity, all point to this card being a rare. That is without even mentioning how powerful this card will be in limited, as efficient removal is at a premium, and this comes with a late game way to win the game.
Next, let’s look at another rare Aftermath card: Mouth to Feed. Let’ look at it as two separate cards:
Mouth as a spell is a simple one. It creates a 3/3 token. We have this this type of effect in Call of the Conclave (costing GW originally an uncommon, recently shifted to common), Call of the Herd (A rare with Flashback), and Pulse of the Tangle (Which could recur itself provided the right condition was met). As such, we see there is a precedence for mono green spells that create a token and provide some sort of card advantage at rare.
Now let’s talk about Feed. Feed lets you draw a card for each creature you control with power 3 or greater, an effect which has been seen previously on Collective Unconscious (and the better version, Shamanic Revelation) without restriction. As such, this card has a more forgiving colour requirement with a single green, and is cheaper to cast. This card is also justifiably at rare.
The uncommon versions, such as Destined to Lead and Onward to Victory, follow a similar pattern. However, I think that at that point, the rarity might also have to do with New World Order, which is the notion that the complexity of a common card should not be high as to keep the barrier to entry low for newer players. It should also be noted that when we account for card advantage, a lot of these uncommon effects become more powerful simply because the spells are replacing themselves with a new one.
Finally, it should also be noted that a number of these spells are designed in a way that casting them together creates a bigger effect. Ideally, the combined spell should be on par in terms of power level to a spell we would see at uncommon. Take Onward to Victory as an example, and compare to a card like Sangrite Surge (which was a playable card in limited, and could easily end games).
Similarly, Destined to Lead not only “fuses” to create a devastating limited card, but also has the upside of card advantage by giving you an extra card like discussed earlier.
To conclude, the design on the new Aftermath cards is great as it allows players to once again play with split cards without giving up the opportunity cost that comes with playing them, while still being able to be played separately in a way that can generate card advantage.
Community Question: What two MTG cards would you like to see combined to make a new Aftermath card?
Thank you for reading,