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Morph Overlay card

Overlay card for a face-down permanent.

Some cards allow permanents and spells to have the face-down status. Face-down cards are usually treated as simple 2/2 creatures, and some also have ward 2. A few effects turn cards face down with completely different properties instead. The Morph keyword ability introduced the face-down status category, and it was followed by Manifest, Megamorph, Cloak and Disguise.

Hidden zones such as the library contain face-down cards by default, and some abilities may exile cards face down. These cards are simply hidden from view, and are unrelated to permanents or spells being face-down.

Description[ | ]

Face-Down

MTGA icon for face down cards.

A face-down permanent is, by default, a 2/2 creature with no rules text, no name, no subtypes, no expansion symbol, and no mana cost or color indicator (consequently, it is colorless). Similarly, Morph-type abilities allow cards to be cast as face-down spells, which have the same properties and become face-down permanents when they resolve. Disguise and Cloak also grant ward 2 to the face-down creature. Some abilities provide alternative characteristics for the face-down object instead of using the 2/2 creature default (e.g. the Cybermen from Doctor Who). A player may look at the front of face-down spells and creatures they control at any time.

All Morph-like keywords allow any of their face-down creatures to be turned face up as a special action (i.e. the actual card must be a creature). This can be done any time the player has priority - any time they could cast an instant - but it doesn't use the stack and can't be responded to (like playing a land). A cost must be paid by the controller at this time: morph, megamorph and disguise can turn up by paying the ability's cost (which varies per card), even if its ability wasn't what resulted in it being face down; manifested or cloaked creature cards may turn up with the creature's mana cost. Either cost can be paid for a manifested or cloaked card which itself has a morph or disguise ability. Cards turned face down by means other than these abilities often do not have a way to be turned face up.

A permanent that is already face up can't be turned face up again, even if it's a copy of a face-down creature. Permanents turning face down or face up remain the same object, and don't trigger enters the battlefield abilities. Any counters on it remain on it, and any Auras or Equipment attached to it remain attached to it.

Cards with morph and disguise abilities are frequently designed with "when this creature is turned face up" triggered abilities.

Special interactions[ | ]

Like other status categories, face-up or face-down is not a copiable value, so a copy of a typical face-down permanent or spell will counterintuitively be a face-up 2/2 creature or creature spell with no other characteristics. It would still have any characteristics given to it by the effect that made the original creature face down, or given by the copy effect itself. Since it's already face up, such a copy can't be turned face up. Copy effects cannot "see" the true creature under the face-down object, so the object that is a copy has no characteristics of the original card whatsoever, regardless of subsequent changes to its status.

While most cards which allow permanents to be turned face down are specifically written to avoid applying to tokens, there is no general rule preventing tokens from doing so. Tokens have status just like any other permanent, so they may be turned face down with the same mechanics as nontokens. This could most easily happen by creating a token copy of another permanent which has the ability to turn itself face down.

Double-faced cards (DFCs) and Meld cards may be cast or placed onto the battlefield face down if the appropriate abilities are applied to them, just like any other card. In this case the object has the same properties as any other face-down card, not the properties of the back face of the real card, which remains hidden via substitute card or opaque sleeve just as when it was in the deck or hand. However, once they are face-up on the battlefield, they cannot be turned face down. Players may informally say "face-up" and "face-down" to describe DFC and meld mechanics, but "front face" and "back face" or "melded" are preferred to avoid confusion.

Other zones[ | ]

Main article: Zone

Cards may be face-down in zones other than the battlefield and the stack. This is the default for the library, which is therefore known as a "hidden zone", as is the hand. Some effects also place cards into exile or the command zone face down. The special decks in the command zone for Planechase and Archenemy are usually face-down as well, as are Attraction and Contraption decks. Drafting is normally done face down, but some cards from the Conspiracy series may be drafted face up. Depending on the effect, certain players may be allowed to look at specific face-down cards.

None of these uses is related to the face-down status of a permanent or spell, which only occur on the battlefield or stack. Therefore, face-down cards outside of those two zones simply have characteristics hidden from players without permission to look at them, and do not count as 2/2 creatures.

Cards[ | ]

These cards have unique effects that allow cards on the battlefield to be face-down without involving Morph-like abilities. Most retain the 2/2 sizing, with additional types for flavor.

A small number change the power and toughness entirely:

Rules[ | ]

From the glossary of the Comprehensive Rules (June 7, 2024—Modern Horizons 3)

Face Down
1. A card is “face down” if it’s physically positioned so the card back is showing. Cards in some zones are normally kept face down. See section 4, “Zones.”
2. A status a permanent may have. See rule 110.5 and rule 702.37, “Morph.”
3. Face-down spells have additional rules. See rule 708, “Face-Down Spells and Permanents,” and rule 702.37, “Morph.”

From the Comprehensive Rules (June 7, 2024—Modern Horizons 3)

  • 708. Face-Down Spells and Permanents
    • 708.1. Some cards allow spells and permanents to be face down.
    • 708.2. Face-down spells and face-down permanents have no characteristics other than those listed by the ability or rules that allowed the spell or permanent to be face down. Any listed characteristics are the copiable values of that object’s characteristics. (See rule 613, “Interaction of Continuous Effects,” and rule 707, “Copying Objects.”)
      • 708.2a If a face-up permanent is turned face down by a spell or ability that doesn’t list any characteristics for that object, it becomes a 2/2 face-down creature with no text, no name, no subtypes, and no mana cost. A permanent that enters the battlefield face down also has these characteristics unless otherwise specified by the effect that put it onto the battlefield face down or allowed it to be cast face down. These values are the copiable values of that object’s characteristics.
      • 708.2b A face-down permanent can’t be turned face-down. If a spell or ability attempts to turn a face-down permanent face down, nothing happens and that effect doesn’t change any of its characteristics or their copiable values.
    • 708.3. Objects that are put onto the battlefield face down are turned face down before they enter the battlefield, so the permanent’s enters-the-battlefield abilities won’t trigger (if triggered) or have any effect (if static).
    • 708.4. Objects that are cast face down are turned face down before they are put onto the stack, so effects that care about the characteristics of a spell will see only the face-down spell’s characteristics. Any effects or prohibitions that would apply to casting an object with these characteristics (and not the face-up object’s characteristics) are applied to casting this object. The permanent the spell becomes will be a face-down permanent.
    • 708.5. At any time, you may look at a face-down spell you control on the stack or a face-down permanent you control (even if it’s phased out). You can’t look at face-down cards in any other zone or face-down spells or permanents controlled by another player.
    • 708.6. If you control multiple face-down spells or face-down permanents, you must ensure at all times that your face-down spells and permanents can be easily differentiated from each other. This includes, but is not limited to, knowing what ability or rules caused the permanents to be face down, the order spells were cast, the order that face-down permanents entered the battlefield, which creature(s) attacked last turn, and any other differences between face-down spells or permanents. Common methods for distinguishing between face-down objects include using counters or dice to mark the different objects, or clearly placing those objects in order on the table.
    • 708.7. The ability or rules that allow a permanent to be face down may also allow the permanent’s controller to turn it face up. Spells normally can’t be turned face up.
    • 708.8. As a face-down permanent is turned face up, its copiable values revert to its normal copiable values. Any effects that have been applied to the face-down permanent still apply to the face-up permanent. Any abilities relating to the permanent entering the battlefield don’t trigger and don’t have any effect, because the permanent has already entered the battlefield.
    • 708.9. If a face-down permanent or a face-down component of a merged permanent moves from the battlefield to any other zone, its owner must reveal it to all players as they move it. If a face-down spell moves from the stack to any zone other than the battlefield, its owner must reveal it to all players as they move it. If a player leaves the game, all face-down permanents, face-down components of merged permanents, and face-down spells owned by that player must be revealed to all players. At the end of each game, all face-down permanents, face-down components of merged permanents, and face-down spells must be revealed to all players.
    • 708.10. If a face-down permanent becomes a copy of another permanent, its copiable values become the copiable values of that permanent, as modified by its face-down status. Its characteristics therefore remain the same: the characteristics listed by the ability or rules that allowed it to be turned face down. However, if it is turned face up, its copiable values become the values it copied from the other permanent. See rule 707.3.
    • 708.11. If a face-down permanent would have an “As [this permanent] is turned face up . . .” ability after it’s turned face up, that ability is applied while that permanent is being turned face up, not afterward.

Exiled face down[ | ]

From the Comprehensive Rules (June 7, 2024—Modern Horizons 3)

  • 110.5d Only permanents have status. Cards not on the battlefield do not. Although an exiled card may be face down, this has no correlation to the face-down status of a permanent. Similarly, cards not on the battlefield are neither tapped nor untapped, regardless of their physical state.

From the Comprehensive Rules (June 7, 2024—Modern Horizons 3)

  • 406.3. Exiled cards are, by default, kept face up and may be examined by any player at any time. Cards “exiled face down” can’t be examined by any player except when instructions allow it. However, if a player is instructed to look at a card and then exile it face down, or once a player is allowed to look at a card exiled face down, that player may continue to look at that card until it leaves the exile zone or is part of a pile of cards that are shuffled, even if the instruction allowing the player to do so no longer applies.
    • 406.3a A card exiled face down has no characteristics, but the spell or ability that exiled it may allow it to be played from exile. Unless that card is being cast face down (see rule 708.4), the card is turned face up just before the player announces that they are playing the card (see rule 601.2).
    • 406.3b Some spells and abilities allow a player to cast spells with certain qualities from among face-down cards in exile. A player may cast such a spell only if they are allowed to look at the face-down card in exile and if the resulting spell has the specified qualities.

Rulings[ | ]

  • Casting a face-down creature spell using a morph ability now requires you to declare that you are using a morph ability. (You were probably doing this already, but it's now necessary in order to distinguish morph and disguise.)[1]
  • At any time, you can look at a face-down spell or permanent you control.
    • You can't look at face-down permanents or spells you don't control unless an effect instructs or allows you to do so.
  • If a face-down creature loses its abilities, it can't be turned face up with a disguise ability because it will no longer have a disguise ability (or a disguise cost) once face up.
  • Because the permanent is on the battlefield both before and after it's turned face up, turning a permanent face up doesn't cause any enters-the-battlefield abilities to trigger.
  • Because face-down creatures don't have a name, they can't have the same name as any other creature, even another face-down creature.
  • A permanent that turns face up or face down changes characteristics but is otherwise the same permanent. Spells and abilities that were targeting that permanent and Auras and Equipment that were attached to that permanent aren't affected unless the new characteristics of the object change the legality of those targets or attachments.
  • Turning a permanent face up or face down doesn't change whether that permanent is tapped or untapped.
  • If a face-down spell leaves the stack and goes to any zone other than the battlefield (if it was countered, for example), you must reveal it. Similarly, if a face-down permanent leaves the battlefield, you must reveal it. You must also reveal all face-down spells and permanents you control if you leave the game or the game ends.
  • You must ensure that your face-down spells and permanents can be easily differentiated from each other. You're not allowed to mix up the cards that represent them on the battlefield to confuse other players. The order in which they entered the battlefield should remain clear, as well as what ability caused them to be face down. (This includes disguise, cloak, and in games involving older cards, morph and manifest, as well as a few other effects that turn cards face down.) Common methods for doing this include using markers or dice, or simply placing them in order on the battlefield.
  • If something tries to turn a face-down instant or sorcery card on the battlefield face up, reveal that card to show all players it's an instant or sorcery card. The permanent remains on the battlefield face down. Abilities that trigger when a permanent turns face up won't trigger, because even though you revealed the card, it never turned face up.

Terminology[ | ]

Generally "face-up" and "face-down" with hyphens are the adjective forms of the status. "Face up" and "face down" are adverbs, including with the verb "is". For example, a face-down creature is face down, and may turn face up.

Gallery[ | ]

References[ | ]

  1. Eric Levine (January 25, 2024). "Murders at Karlov Manor Release Notes". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
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