Last updated on April 30, 2023
Fire // Ice | Illustration by Dan Scott
Split cards were introduced back in the Invasion block in 2000 and really changed the way that designers and players thought about MTG cards. Suddenly you have two different cards and effects on a single piece of cardboard, and although the new aesthetic of the split cards received mixed reactions, the gameplay more than made up for it.
It’s a common thing to hear that every mechanic in MTG is a variation on kicker and split cards. Cards like Crushing Canopy, Return to Nature, or the Charms can be seen as two or three different cards in one.
But today we’re talking about the cards that have two names in one, two arts in one, and a “split” artwork.
What Are Split Cards in MTG?
Refuse // Cooperate (Hour of Devastation) | Illustration by Yongjae Choi
Split cards in Magic are cards that have two spells in one, both on the front face. Invasion had ally-colored split cards like Stand // Deliver in Azorius () colors, while Apocalypse had enemy-colored split cards like Life // Death in Golgari () colors.
Split cards also became an identity of Ravnica sets since it’s easy to tie the guilds into them. So a Selesnya () card can have a green half and a white half, which is obviously better in Selesnya decks. But it’s also playable in white or green decks, working as a pseudo-hybrid card.
In the more recent Ravnica sets, Guilds of Ravnica and Ravnica Allegiance, the pattern was to make a split card half hybrid half multicolor, like Discovery // Dispersal for Dimir () or Collision // Colossus for Gruul ().
Split cards also include the aftermath cards released in the Amonkhet block, though they work in different but similar ways.
How Do Split Cards Work?
Split cards are all about options. They’re literally two cards in one, after all. These are one-time effects that WotC opts for when they want permanent cards that have more than one option.
Split cards have both their sides’ names, their mana value is the sum of both sides’ mana values, and their colors are the sum of all their sides’ colors everywhere other than the stack. Confusing, right?
Let’s see some examples:
Wax // Wane has two names: “Wax” and “Wane.” It’s a green and white card with a mana value of two. To cast Wax you pay a single green mana, and on the stack it’s a green instant called Wax with a mana value of one.
Catch // Release has two names: “Catch” and “Release.” It’s a tricolor card with a mana value of nine. To cast Release you pay and on the stack it’s a Boros () spell called Release with a mana value of six.
The fact that split cards change whether it’s in your hand, graveyard, or on the stack is important because of how rules consider each spell. For example, Disdainful Stroke can’t counter Catch, but it can counter Release. A creature with protection against white would be protected from Wane, but not from Wax.
Since we’re also considering cards with fuse and aftermath as split cards, here are some differences to consider:
- Aftermath allows you to cast the front side from your hand and the back side from your graveyard. This means that almost every time the front side is cast before and the two sides have some synergies together, which isn’t true of split cards where you can only cast one or the other.
- Fuse lets you cast the left side, the right side, or both if their mana costs are paid at the same time.
What’s the Purpose of Split Cards?
The main purpose of split cards is to offer options for players, usually combining narrow effects that wouldn’t be playable by themselves. In the case of Wax // Wane you probably wouldn’t play an instant that gives +2/+2 to a creature in a deck, or a narrow effect like enchantment removal.
But in a meta game with good enchantments to destroy like Wedding Announcement, enchantment creatures, and sagas, it suddenly becomes a worthy consideration. The sum of two or more narrow effects can make a very good card in some cases.
Honorable Mention: Who // What // When // Where // Why
Who // What // When // Where // Why was designed in an Un-set (Unhinged), but it shows the modality of split cards. Note that no particular effect is worth a card, but between an Essence Scatter, a Sinkhole, a Disenchant, and lifegain, this card covers all your bases.
#32. Refuse // Cooperate
Although very narrow in both parts, Refuse // Cooperate is nice in formats like EDH where you have big spells being cast. It’s also a way to punish the caster via damage while also being able to copy that big spell.
#31. Consign // Oblivion
Consign // Oblivion is a way to make a boring bounce effect better? Tackle on some card advantage in the form of a later discard and a mana sink.
#30. Toil // Trouble
Toil is a good “draw two” effect that black usually has access to in cards like Read the Bones and Sign in Blood. Trouble can hit a greedy Simic () player with a full hand.
#29. Far // Away
Far // Away is a good removal spell in multiplayer that can hit two different players with different effects (or hit a certain player twice).
#28. Research // Development
Research has seen some play in Vintage decks as a way to tutor for cards in the sideboard, particularly in Doomsday decks.
#27. Dead // Gone
There’s nothing wrong with Dead // Gone, other than that the Gone side is in the blue color pie, so this card could only be made in the Time Spiral block. Giving a bounce effect to mono-red decks is interesting since the color usually doesn’t deal with big creatures well, and it’s an extra Shock for small creatures if needed.
#26. Flesh // Blood
The baseline for Flesh // Blood is to cast Blood, which is your typical fight effect in green but with the upside of dealing damage to players like Fling. Casting Flesh or the fused effect of this card allows for some shenanigans in EDH with counter doubling.
#25. Supply // Demand
Demand is an extra tutor for plenty of EDH decks while Supply can be played in a pinch to make tokens.
#24. Repudiate // Replicate
One of the good things about split cards is allowing the user to play narrow effects, and fewer cards are narrower than Stifle (Repudiate). And when Stifle is good, it’s very good. Having another effect raises the playability, and the token can even be populated.
#23. Breaking // Entering
The Breaking half of Breaking // Entering is just Glimpse the Unthinkable, which is a nice card to have in mill decks (or if you want to mill yourself, eight cards for two mana is a good rate). Combining with Entering is just icing on the cake.
#22. Armed // Dangerous
Armed // Dangerous can do lots of damage out of nowhere to kill someone since the Lure effect in Dangerous makes a bad creature get blocked while the huge double strike monster passes through. It’s also good in EDH decks designed to get the most of commander damage.
#21. Pure // Simple
Pure // Simple is a flexible removal spell, especially in EDH. Either you destroy a multicolored permanent (which are everywhere) or you have a silver bullet hate option for Voltron strategies. Or that player that plays Lightning Greaves and Whispersilk Cloak).
#20. Prepare // Fight
Prepare // Fight represents a huge life swing, since giving lifelink at instant speed is already powerful. And the Fight side is, well, a fight effect.
#19. Spite // Malice
Spite // Malice is the conjunction of two good and playable cards, Negate and Terror, but both overpriced for their flexibility. It’s interaction that’s almost never dead.
#18. Life // Death
Life kills players out of nowhere in EDH with enough token/pump support and lands. The other side is a Reanimate that goes well in midrange and Golgari strategies.
#17. Crime // Punishment
Crime // Punishment is another good Abzan () card for EDH since Crime is your typical Zombify effect, but it needs to be from your opponent. The Punishment side can be a mini wrath getting mana rocks, enchantments, and small creatures.
#16. Reason // Believe
I have reason to believe (pun intended) that certain decks can cheat big creatures into play using a combination of top-of-library manipulation and Reason // Believe‘s two effects combined. The only bad thing is that Believe half costs five mana.
#15. Cut // Ribbons
Cut // Ribbons is a nice removal spell that can be used later to deal damage and makes the most out of your mana. It’s also playable in some Rakdos () aggro decks.
#14. Ready // Willing
Ready // Willing allows for a good attack step or defense in the Abzan decks that can cast both parts. You can even attack in a turn and cast it to defend in the next one, killing a few aggressors and gaining life. The Ready half is good by itself to defend from wraths.
#13. Appeal // Authority
Appeal // Authority is another one of those cards that rewards you for having lots of creatures. Appeal sets a strike with a big creature, and Authority gives all your buddies vigilance.
#12. Boom // Bust
Boom // Bust together with the indestructible artifact lands makes a symmetric land destruction effect very much one-sided. You can also play an Armageddon effect for six mana.
#11. Beck // Call
A card that was responsible for a rules change almost by itself, Beck // Call was abusable by the old ruling that let you cast both parts of this card via the fuse mechanic without paying the mana cost. That leaves you with four 1/1 fliers and four cards, which is very nice to get for free.
If you have mana to spare in Bant () decks or a heavy ETB in your EDH deck, then Beck is probably good enough to cast by itself.
#10. Dusk // Dawn
Decks with small creatures and tokens can have good turns using Dusk // Dawn since your creatures are protected by Dusk and resurrected at Dawn (it even makes sense thematically). Some aristocrat or white weenie decks have put this card to good use in Standard.
#9. Discovery // Dispersal
Discovery was an overpriced Preordain in Standard, which is probably good enough with the upside of being able to cast Dispersal later in the game to answer a key threat. The synergies with surveil in Ravnica Allegiance helped too.
The good part about Discovery // Dispersal is that it’s good early and late in the game, and you can cast it with blue or black mana.
#8. Turn // Burn
Turn // Burn can deal with any creature when fused (including indestructible ones) and is an excellent tool for dealing with big threats. If you have token makers like Young Pyromancer, turning an attacking creature into a 0/1 is even better.
#7. Expansion // Explosion
Expansion // Explosion had its moment in the sun in Standard. You could go infinite with spell copying or just generate lots of mana on the end step and deal damage/draw cards in conjunction with Wilderness Reclamation or Ral, Storm Conduit.
#6. Driven // Despair
Driven // Despair is a combination of cards worth four mana and responsible for a huge card advantage swing. Golgari/Abzan decks should use this resource well to their advantage and set up a huge attack with evasion. And it’s not wrong to use just Driven on a turn and Despair on another depending on the board.
#5. Commit // Memory
Commit // Memory sees play in Explorer and Pioneer as a way to deal with uncounterable spells. Memory is game-winning on the spot combined with Narset, Parter of Veils.
#4. Claim // Fame
Claim // Fame is an interesting card in Rakdos midrange builds with Dreadhorde Arcanist since it raises the power of Arcanist and you can Claim a small creature.
#3. Warrant // Warden
Warrant // Warden is a threat and answer in a single card. When Azorius control/tempo decks are low on mana, they can play Warrant. Warden is there to make a Serra Angel token when needed.
#2. Wear // Tear
A sideboard staple since its release, Wear // Tear deals with two problematic card types at the cost of one sideboard slot. And it can sometimes be a powerful 2-for-1 thanks to fuse. This is solid even in formats like EDH where there’s always a mana rock to destroy and a Doubling Season or two.
#1. Fire // Ice
Fire // Ice is so good because it’s never dead since you can cantrip it via Ice. Two mana to tap a permanent and draw a card isn’t the worst because you can deal two damage to an opponent. When Fire can kill one or even two creatures, it’s very good.
Best Split Cards Payoffs
There used to be tons of ways to exploit the fuse mechanic in Dragon’s Maze, which allowed you to cheat on the mana cost of split cards. That ended with a rules change regarding the cost of split cards, especially in situations where you could cast a spell with mana value X or less without paying its mana cost.
Companions like Keruga, the Macrosage actually benefit from some split cards since it’s a way to cheat on the requirement while still having cheap spells to cast.
Cards like Narset of the Ancient Way and Sorin, Grim Nemesis benefit from discarding a split card since it deals damage equal to the mana cost. Similarly, commanders like Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow can deal higher damage with a higher concentration of split cards.
Are Split Cards Multicolor?
It depends on the card. Cards like Dead // Gone are considered red since both sides are red. But since split cards consider both halves of the card the ones have two or more colors are considered multicolor. More than 90% of split cards are multicolor.
What Color Are Split Cards?
The color of the split cards is equal to the color of both halves as if they were one single card. So Discovery // Dispersal is a Dimir () card, Wear // Tear is a Boros card, and Catch // Release is a Jeskai () card. That counts for color identity in EDH, so your commander would have to be at least in Boros colors to play Wear // Tear.
What’s the Mana Value of Split Cards?
The mana value of a split card is equal to the combined cost of the two halves. So Wear // Tear has a mana value of three while Beck // Call has a mana value of eight.
Do Split Cards Count as Two Spells in Your Graveyard?
No, split cards only count as a single card and a single spell. If you consider cards like Crackling Drake that care about that, it’s only one instant or sorcery.
Can You Play Both Sides of a Split Card at Once?
The fuse mechanic in Dragon’s Maze allows you to play both parts of a split card if you pay their mana costs combined. In this case both sides are considered cast and go to the stack as usual. But most split cards don’t have the fuse mechanic and you need to choose one of the sides to cast.
Commit // Memory (Amonkhet) | Illustration by Ryan Alexander Lee
Well, that’s all I have for today folks! Flexibility is good, and modal cards add too much to the game to the point that there are lots and lots of modal cards in the latest sets. Especially now that MTG Arena offers BO1 matches.
Split cards make for interesting designs and can give your deck lots of options. They’ve been used in lots of sets so far, and from the looks of it we’ll be seeing more in the future.
What split cards are staples in your EDH decks? What do you think of my rankings? Let me know in the comments section below or over on the Draftsim Discord.
Stay safe out there, and make good decisions with your split cards!
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