Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
How to Use Transforming Cards in Magic
One of my favorite mechanics in Magic is the two-sided transforming cards, most of which are creatures. These guys hit the field looking fairly tame until their conditions trigger and they morph into their final form, ready to wreak havoc. Additionally, their twin artworks usually tell an engaging story without needing words.
While many of the transformers belong to the werewolf creature type, you might be surprised by how many potent non-werewolf double-sided spells exist. But with dozens of powerful cards to pick from, which entries reign supreme?
These are the ten best transforming pure creatures (excluding cards that shift into planeswalkers like "Jace, Vryn's Prodigy") in Magic: The Gathering!
- Geier Reach Bandit/Vildin-Pack Alpha
- Docent of Perfection/Final Iteration
- Hanweir Militia Captain/Westvale Cult Leader
- Mayor of Avabruck/Howlpack Alpha
- Ulrich of the Krallenhorde/Ulrich, Uncontested Alpha
- Curious Homunculus/Voracious Reader
- Lone Rider/It That Rides as One
- Scorned Villager/Moonscarred Werewolf
- Archangel Avacyn/Avacyn, the Purifier
- Huntmaster of the Fells/Ravager of the Fells
10. Geier Reach Bandit/Vildin-Pack Alpha
CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 3
The best evolving cards are ones that demonstrate power even in their base forms. The red camp's Geier Reach Bandit enters as a decent 3/2 (three power and two toughness) for three mana and she also wields the haste trait, letting her attack or tap the turn she hits the field.
Then, like many werewolves, Geir transforms during the next upkeep after a turn where no spells were cast. At this point, she morphs into Vildin-Pack Alpha, wielding a fierce 4/3 battle stats and the ability to automatically transform werewolves whenever they enter the field under your control. That's quite a bargain for only three mana, but note that if two or more spells are ever cast at the same time, at the next upkeep Vildin will morph back into Geier. You'll see these shifting conditions among many of today's entries.
9. Docent of Perfection/Final Iteration
Docent of Perfection demands a hefty chunk of mana (five) but enters as a sturdy 5/4 with flying, letting it soar over ground-based blockers when attacking. Additionally, whenever you cast an instant or sorcery card (some of blue's specialties), you create a 1/1 wizard creature token. Then, if you control three or more wizards, Docent transforms into the menacing Final Iteration, retaining flying and the same wizard-token creation while harnessing 6/5 battle stats. Final Iteration also grants all wizards you control +2/+2 and flying, greatly boosting the power of blue's most popular creature type.
Formidable in both its forms, Docent supports any blue wizard deck by both swarming the field and upping their power. As a final bonus, unlike most double-sided sets, Final Iteration never morphs back into Docent, letting it retain its best abilities indefinitely.
8. Hanweir Militia Captain/Westvale Cult Leader
Hanweir Militia Captain is cheap and strong enough in its default stage. For two mana, you've got a 2/2 warrior with the human and soldier subtypes, the former of which boasts many white type-dependent effects. Hanweir doesn't have any special effects other than transforming at the beginning of your upkeep where you control at least four creatures (including itself), so be sure to utilize white's strengths to swarm the field with tokens.
Once converted into Westvale Cult Leader, the card's power and toughness stats become equal to the number of creatures you control (likely at least 4/4 considering the transformation requirement). Luckily, during your end phases, Westvale creates a 1/1 black and white human cleric token, simultaneously granting you extra units while upping its own combat prowess. An inexpensive card that combos with itself? Yes please.
7. Mayor of Avabruck/Howlpack Alpha
Not all human support cards stem from white. Green's Mayor of Avabruck enters as a puny 1/1, but he helpfully ups the power and toughness of other humans you control by +1/+1. A fair base rendition, but Avabruck's real beauty comes when he transmutes into Howlpack Alpha after a turn where no spells were cast.
In this werewolf state (I hope the dog featured above lived!), Howlpack wields a sweet 3/3. He no longer strengthens humans but rather supports other werewolves and wolves you control by +1/+1. Additionally, during your end phases, he puts a 2/2 green werewolf token onto the field; thanks to Howlpack's passive boon, this token will really function as a 3/3, quickly filling the field with capable units. Just remember he'll shift back after a turn where two or more spells were cast, and this one's a case where you definitely want him in his second stage.
6. Ulrich of the Krallenhorde/Ulrich, Uncontested Alpha
Red and green blended creatures, especially werewolves, often impress as sizable forces of nature. Enter the legendary creature Ulrich of the Krallenhorde, who adheres to the legend rule, meaning you can only control one at once. While his 4/4 stats are slightly low considering his five mana cost, whenever he enters the field or transforms back from his stronger form, you get to boost one of your creatures by +4/+4 for the turn, quite a tempting increase. When no spells are cast in a turn, he'll alter into Ulrich, Uncontested Alpha at the next upkeep.
In this state, Ulrich dominates in battle as a 6/6, and at the moment of transformation, you can have him fight a target non-werewolf creature you don't control, typically letting you wipe out an opposing unit. Plus, while he'll transform back at the next upkeep after a turn where two or more spells were cast, remember this will let you get the +4/+4 boost again, making it surprisingly beneficial to keep mutating Ulrich between his two modes.
5. Curious Homunculus/Voracious Reader
Mana-tappers are almost exclusive to green, making 1/1 Curious Homonculus's ability to tap for a colorless mana a welcome addition to the blue faction. The catch is you can only spend this mana for an instant or sorcery, but fortunately blue wields many of the game's strongest sorceries. Be sure to cast them as soon as possible because Homonculus will transform into Voracious Reader during an upkeep where there are at least three instants and/or sorceries in your graveyard.
Voracious Reader's stats jump all the way to 3/4 and it gains prowess, further boosting it by +1/+1 for the turn whenever you cast a noncreature spell. Even better, all instants and sorceries you unleash cost one less colorless mana to play! With this, both forms of Homonculus let you access your precious instants/sorceries sooner, and once transformed, it's permanently morphed and a lethal contender in battle.
4. Lone Rider/It That Rides as One
Lone Rider may look weak as a 1/1, but remember it only costs two mana and belongs to the human creature type. It also wields the first strike, letting it hit first in battle (and potentially avoid a counterattack if it defeated the other unit) and lifelink, gaining you a corresponding amount of life points whenever it deals damage. This stacks well with its transformation trait, which triggers in any end phase where you gained three or more life during the turn; luckily, white offers several health-recovering abilities.
Once remodeled into It That Rides as One, the card jumps to a mighty 4/4, losing the human and knight types but gaining eldrazi and horror. It That Rides as One retains both the first strike and lifelink while also acquiring trample, letting excess damage bleed through blockers to hit opponents. These three awesome traits, high stats, and a permanently upgraded state make Lone Rider one of white's most underestimated champions.
3. Scorned Villager/Moonscarred Werewolf
A fun take on what looks like the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, Scorned Villager begins as a pipsqueak 1/1 who can tap to add one green mana to your pool. A decent base form that minutely contributes to mana ramp becomes fearsome when no spells have been cast in a turn. At the next upkeep, Villager transforms into Moonscarred Werewolf, increasing her power and toughness to 2/2, gaining vigilance, and letting her tap for two mana—an awesome benefit for a low-cost card.
Vigilance lets Moonscarred attack without having to tap, letting you both swing and use the tap for mana in a single turn, and this duo fits well into many mana-ramping EDH green decks. Additionally, since she's not legendary, I also enjoy fielding multiple copies and watching opponents panic as I amass six or more mana in a single turn. As icing on the cake, Scorned Villager is one of today's least pricey cards, and you can often snag her for less than a dollar!
2. Archangel Avacyn/Avacyn, the Purifier
Many of white's strongest creatures are angels, a prime example being the legendary Archangel Avacyn. She costs five mana, but arrives as a 4/4 and wields flying, vigilance, and the rare flash quality, letting you cast her at instant speed on any phase. As if that weren't enough, when she enters the field, creatures you control (including her) gain indestructible for the turn, a massive shield that temporarily defends your entire army.
When a non-angel you control dies, at the next upkeep Avacyn is reborn as Avacyn, the Purifier, who loses vigilance but retains flying and becomes a massive 6/5. She also deals three damage upon entry to all other creatures; while this hits your units as well as enemies, since she shifts when one of your creatures died, hopefully your foes will be losing more than you. While Avacyn's metamorphosis doesn't increase her effectiveness as much as most transformers, you'll hardly notice since her base state arrives a good deal more competent than most double-sided cards. Overall, a worthwhile angel who first guards your units before unleashing her wrath on foes.
1. Huntmaster of the Fells/Ravager of the Fells
Don't let the low 2/2 initial stats of red/green Huntmaster of the Fells fool you. When she enters the field, you gain two life and create a 2/2 green wolf token, so you're really gaining a combined total of a 4/4 unit as well as regenerating health. Like her brethren, she'll transform the turn after no spells were cast.
Ravager of the Fells becomes a fierce 4/4 with trample, and when transformed she deals two damage to a target opponent plus two damage to one unit they control. That's a heap of damage on top of trample and good attributes, and when two or more spells are cast during a turn, Ravager morphs back into Huntmaster, once again replenishing two life and creating a 2/2 wolf token. Take advantage of these awesome entry abilities to continuously cycle between constructing tokens/gaining life and hitting your opponents/hitting their creatures. Easily my favorite two-sided card yet, and since she's not legendary, feel free to field multiple copies.
How to Support Double-Sided Magic Cards
Variety is the spice of life, and between transform, flip, and fuse cards, Magic knows how to entice players with multiple effects in a single package. Take advantage of these vigorous creatures to overcome foes with a heap of boosted final forms, especially in longer EDH matches where you should definitely have time to pull off the transformations.
Remember that cards like the instant "Moonmist" and our earlier-seen "Vildin-Pack Alpha" can automatically transform werewolves and hasten your upgrades. But for now, as we eagerly await Wizards of the Coast's next double-sided expansions, vote for your favorite spell, and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
© 2018 Jeremy Gill