Not opinion, just Fact (or Fiction).
Once you play a certain amount of Magic, you start to know what you like. You know whether or not you prefer to be the beatdown. You know whether you prefer creatures or spells. You know whether you prefer Lightning Bolt or Giant Growth. You know whether you prefer Draft or Standard or Commander or Modern.
But while you’re still figuring things out, there are moments, often brought about by playing specific decks or specific cards, that teach you what you like. For me, resolving my first Fact or Fiction was one of those moments.
In this article, I’d like to break this card, my favorite card, down into its component parts and examine exactly what makes it my favorite. We’re going to walk through each part of the card and figure out exactly what makes it so appealing to me. Hopefully, this exercise will help you examine your own favorite cards, and in turn help you figure out what it is you most enjoy about Magic, if you don’t know already.
Let’s start with that name: Fact or Fiction. Truth or Lies. X or Y. The important part here is the variability. This is a card that, in its name, is telling you it’s unpredictable. You get one thing, or you get the other.
Linear Magic is not my style. I prefer decks, like Delver, where you’re playing tightly to find an edge. Where the choices you make while playing are at least as important as the choices you made while building your deck. Fact or Fiction tells you right away that someone is going to make a choice when you cast the card. That the exact outcome of the spell is not set in stone.
Let’s move on, jumping to the card’s type: Instant. I come from a background of other TCGs that relied heavily on surprise factor. Yu-Gi-Oh had Trap Cards. VS. System had Plot Twists. Both of these were sets of cards that you got to play face-down and then use in response to your opponent’s plays. They were hidden information that both players got to play with and had to play around. I always liked this factor of both of those games.
One of the closest things Magic has to that feel of face-down cards is instant-speed spells. It’s not quite the same, as leaving up four mana, some of it Blue, telegraphs that you likely have something to do on your opponent’s turn. But you still get to play that sub-game with your opponent. They have to guess what you have or what you could have, decide if they care, and then play around it (or not). The guessing game creates another set of choices and adds an element of surprise.
Now let’s get into the rules text. Three pretty simple sentences, but we’re going to take them one at a time. The first is:
“Reveal the top five cards of your library.”
In Magic, five is a lot of cards. It’s enough to pretty consistently find something that could change the course of the game. But there’s still some uncertainty there. Will those five cards be enough? What do I do if they’re not? Flipping each of those five cards over, so the whole table can see them, is always a fun moment, as everyone looks to see what’s coming off the top of your deck and starts to assess how it could affect them. It’s right here that the card starts to be communal, as both you and your opponent(s) are starting to figure out what’s going on.
The next sentence is:
“An opponent separates those cards into two piles.”
Here’s where the magic (Magic?) really starts to happen. I mentioned above how my favorite games of Magic involve choices. Here we start to see exactly how many choices are baked into this one card. There are two choices within these eight words alone.
The first choice is yours, and while it’s only relevant some of the time, it’s very relevant when you primarily play multiplayer formats, like I do. The first choice is deciding which opponent to give the next choice to.
There are times this is a big deal, and there are times it isn’t. Either way, it’s always fun. You get to pick who to involve, and by extension who to exclude, from the action. If you’ve got a co-conspirator, bring them in to further your alliance. If you know there’s someone who’s bad at making the next choice the card demands, give them the chance to screw it up to your advantage (or maybe get it right for a change!). If you’re playing a game where someone hasn’t gotten to be involved very much, you can give them the choice so they feel like they’re at least doing something.
The main reason I don’t play Magic Online, and why I rarely play Magic Duels, is that, to me, Magic’s a game of both play and social interaction. Fact or Fiction incorporates both kinds of interaction, and, in multiplayer, it even leads with the social interaction. Which is extremely important to me.
So now we’ve worked through the first two words of this second sentence. Let’s check out what’s happening in the rest. This opponent that I’ve chosen above? Now they have to make a choice. They have to choose how to split up these five cards I’ve revealed from the top of my deck. They get to split those cards into two piles. Which will then, in turn, create another choice, a choice for me.
I’ve seen a group of three opponents work together to figure out how to optimally split the five cards. I’ve seen an opponent purposefully reject the advice of another player, just to spite them. I’ve seen people divide the cards into a pile of all five and a pile of zero. I’ve seen players make the exact right split, and I’ve seen players make the exact wrong split.
It’s just five cards, and it’s just two piles, but there’s a lot of thinking and bickering and politicking and decision making that goes in to figuring out how to divide everything up. It’s a game within the game, and it’s wonderful.
But eventually, a choice gets made. That’s when the card’s third sentence kicks in:
“Put one pile into your hand and the other into your graveyard.”
There’s a very obvious choice here, the choice you make about which cards you put in your hand. It’s usually a pretty easy choice to make, much easier than the choice your opponent(s) just had to make. If you’re lucky, you can gloat that they split the cards wrong, that they played right into your hand. Heck, even if they didn’t, you can bluff and gloat anyways.
But there’s one last choice you get to make here, one that’s slightly less obvious. And it’s one that you had to have made a while ago, before you even sat down to play the game. And that choice is: Do you care about the cards that are going to your graveyard?
The final cool part about Fact or Fiction is that it teaches you about synergy and deck construction. Regardless of how you build your deck, Fact or Fiction is good. For a very reasonable rate, Fact or Fiction essentially draws you the best two to three cards out of the top five cards of your library. But if you go a little deeper, if you ask the question “Can I do something with those cards that are going to my graveyard?”, you can use the card to its fullest potential.
A good example of this is using Fact or Fiction in a deck full of Flashback spells, like Mystic Retrieval.
I’m using Mystic Retrieval as my example not only because I have a good amount of experience with it, but because of how deep its synergy is with Fact or Fiction. Imagine a Fact or Fiction reveal that looks something like this:
Assuming you have a bunch of lands in play, how does your opponent split this into a pile where you can’t just cast a huge Comet Storm? They really can’t. No matter what kinds of piles your opponent makes, you’ll be able to use all three cards at least once on your turn. And probably more than once.
Fact or Fiction teaches you, or at least it keeps teaching me, that text you thought was tacked on to a card, that didn’t have any value, can actually be the most important words on the card. It’s extremely relevant that the cards that don’t go into your hand go to the graveyard instead. Or at least it can be, if you build your deck right. And a card that encourages thoughtful deck construction and reading your cards carefully, on top of everything else, appeals to the deck designer and slightly competitive player in me. The part of me that’s always looking for an extra edge.
So there it is. Roughly 1500 words later (or 32, if you want to just keep track of the words on the card), we’ve resolved a Fact or Fiction, the best card in all of Magic. Or at least my favorite. This article’s no book on Gush, but I hope it helps you to explore why your favorite card is your favorite card, or at least what parts of Magic appeal to you the most.
As for me, I’ll be back next week with stories that may or may not involve five card piles. ‘Til then, keep on slinging spells, in whatever way you enjoy the most.