Layers, Part One: Copiable Values

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What's a "Layer"?

Like onions, ogres, and some cakes, Magic has layers. The layers system determines how continuous effects interact with one another. If you've ever seen a question about how Humility and Opalescence work together, layers define that interaction.

This week, we'll take a look at the first of the seven layers: copiable values. Fret not — I'll definitely tackle that Humility/Opalescence interaction in a future article!

As a reminder, If you have any topics you'd like to see covered, you can reach me on Twitter or our Insider Discord.

This Is Simple!

613.1a Layer 1: Rules and effects that modify copiable values are applied.

Magic Comprehensive Rules

On the surface, this rule says exactly what it is. "Copiable values?" you think to yourself. "I've cast Clone before. This is easy!" And, for a lot of situations, you'd be correct. You can think of copying an object like running the card through a Xerox machine. You end up with what's printed on the card. A copy doesn't copy any other effects such as granted abilities (Fly), modified power and/or toughness (Might of the Masses), or added counters (Battlegrowth) to the object it's copying.

Unfortunately, Magic life is rarely simple. For every ten obvious situations, we have something weird to deal with.

...Except for Mutate

Ah, mutate. I could write an entire article about this mechanic. Today, though, I'm going to spare you all and focus on how it interacts with copy effects.

First, a brief reminder of how mutate actually works. As you resolve a mutated creature spell, you choose whether it goes on top or bottom of the pile (it can't go in the middle). The resulting mutated permanent includes all of its parts in its copiable values. For instance, if you mutate Chittering Harvester onto Ajani's Sunstriker:

  • If you put Chittering Harvester on top, the resulting permanent has the types Creature — Nightmare and the name "Chittering Harvester." Its P/T is 4/6 and it's a black permanent with mana value 6.
  • If you put Chittering Harvester on bottom, the resulting permanent has the types Creature — Cat Cleric and the name "Ajani's Sunstriker." Its P/T is 2/2 and it's a white permanent with mana value 2.
  • In either case, the resulting permanent has the abilities "Whenever this creature mutates, each opponent sacrifices a creature" and "Lifelink."

The properties above become the card's "copiable values." So, if you Clone this mutated permanent, you'll end up with a copy of the entire pile, as it were. Note that this new permanent hasn't mutated before since "how many times has this mutated?" isn't a copiable value. Even if the original mutated permanent has a whole mess of Huntmaster Ligers in it and may have mutated a half dozen times, the Clone of that permanent doesn't know anything about that.

...Except for Status

A copy's status applies after its copiable values and can alter the end result. A permanent has four kinds of status: tapped/untapped, flipped/unflipped, face up/face down, and phased in/phased out. A permanent has one of each pair at a time. By default, a permanent enters the battlefield untapped, unflipped, face-up, and phased in.

But what happens when a permanent's status changes after becoming a copy of something else? Let's look at some examples.

  1. You control a flipped Jushi Apprentice // Tomoya the Revealer. If Tomoya becomes a copy of Nezumi Shortfang // Stabwhisker the Odious, the permanent has all the characteristics of Stabwhisker the Odious. First it copies Nezumi Shortfang, then its flipped status applies.
  2. You control a face-down Grinning Demon. If Grinning Demon becomes a copy of Branchsnap Lorian, it's still a face-down 2/2 colorless creature... for now. If you want to turn it face up for its morph cost, you have to pay {G} - the morph cost of Branchsnap Lorian. First the Demon copies the Lorian, then its face-down status applies. This also means that if your Demon copies a Grizzly Bears, you can't turn it face-up because Grizzly Bears doesn't have a morph cost!

...Except for Exceptions

Some cards give us exceptions to the copy process. These usually have the form "becomes a copy, except it's [some characteristic]." Any of these exceptions become part of the copiable values of the permanent. For instance, if you copy your Grizzly Bears with Quicksilver Gargantuan, the resulting permanent is a 7/7 Grizzly Bears. Then if you copy that permanent with Clone, the resulting permanent is also a 7/7 Grizzly Bears. The exception in Quicksilver Gargantuan's copy effect makes the 7/7 part of the permanent's copiable values.

Exceptions can also remove some abilities. Let's have the Comprehensive Rules lay this one out for us:

707.9d When applying a copy effect that doesn’t copy a certain characteristic, retains one or more original values for a certain characteristic, or provides a specific set of values for a certain characteristic, any characteristic-defining ability (see rule 604.3) of the object being copied that defines that characteristic is not copied. If that characteristic is color, any color indicator (see rule 204) of that object is also not copied. This rule does not apply to copy effects with exceptions that state the object is a certain card type, supertype, and/or subtype “in addition to its other types.” In those cases, any characteristic-defining ability that defines card type, supertype, and/or subtype is copied.

Magic Comprehensive Rules

That's a lot of words! If Quicksilver Gargantuan copies a Tarmogoyf, the resulting permanent is just a vanilla 7/7 creature. Tarmogoyf's characteristic-defining ability isn't copied at all because the exception from [c]Quicksilver Gargantuan[/card] precludes it. Great news for all you Muraganda Petroglyphs players!

...Except for Some Very Specific Cards

Some of the rules in 707 Copying Objects apply only to a small number of cards.

707.9e Some replacement effects that generate copy effects include an exception that’s an additional effect rather than a modification of the affected object’s characteristics. If another copy effect is applied to that object after applying the copy effect with that exception, the exception’s effect doesn’t happen.

Magic Comprehensive Rules

This rule applies to cards like Spark Double and Altered Ego. Since their exception is an additional effect, we can't chain them together to get an arbitrarily large Spark Double. This slipped through the cracks originally. For a while you could keep copying a Spark Double that hadn't copied anything, piling up +1/+1 counters along the way. People may have abused it a little on Arena.

...Except for Even More Specific Cards

707.9f Some exceptions to the copying process apply only if the copy is or has certain characteristics. To determine whether such an exception applies, consider what the resulting permanent’s characteristics would be if the copy effect were applied without that exception, taking into account any other exceptions that effect includes.

Magic Comprehensive Rules

This rule applies exclusively to Moritte of the Frost. If you have Moritte enter as a copy of an animated Lavaclaw Reaches, look at the result of the copy without looking at any changes Moritte wants to make. Since Lavaclaw Reaches would be a non-creature land, Moritte won't give it extra counters or the changeling type. However, it will still be legendary and snow since those changes don't have any prerequisites.

And to wrap it up this week,

707.9g Some replacement effects that generate copy effects are linked to triggered abilities written in the same paragraph. (See rule 603.11.) If another copy effect is applied to that object after applying the copy effect with the linked triggered ability, the ability doesn’t trigger.

Magic Comprehensive Rules

This rule applies to Wall of Stolen Identity. To quote then-rules manager Eli Shiffrin when he added this rule,

This rule spells out that Wall of Stolen Identity only gets to trigger if its copy effect is the last one to copy the creature. This stops any sort of awful loops where Wall of Stolen Identity can tap down multiple creatures.

Eli Shiffrin, Comprehensive Rules Changes - 27 Sept 2019

Now, I can't think of any way to make that happen off the top of my head. If I overlooked something, please point it out! Otherwise, this rule may just pre-patch some eventual situations.


That's all this week, friends. Join me next week for a look at replacement effects. If you think layers get weird, you're in for an adventure.

Question of the week: What's your favorite card or ability that can copy another object? This can include cards like our old friend Clone, Thousand-Year Storm, or new hotness like Double Major.

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