Replacement Effects And How To Apply Them

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Like That Keanu Reeves Movie

People often talk about replacement effects in the same hushed tones they use for layers. They ascribe mystic, cursed meaning to these things, and as soon as something wanders into their vision that might be a replacement effect they throw their hands up and yell "JUDGE!"*

But fret not, friends. This week I tackle replacement effects, from the mundane to the insane. Buckle up.

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 a good thing. Always call a judge if you have any doubts or want to double-check something.

The Basics

Broadly speaking, a replacement effect watches for an event it cares about and then replaces that event, either partially or completely. The replacement effect has to exist before the event they want to replace would happen. Perhaps most importantly, a replacement effect can only apply to a given event one time. If that weren't true, a card like Teferi's Ageless Insight would have you draw your entire deck the first time you tried to draw a card.

Modern templating gives us keywords and phrases to watch out for when determining if something is a replacement effect:

  • "instead," as on Winding Constrictor
  • "skip," as on Brine Elemental
  • "enters the battlefield with," as on Metallic Mimic
  • "As [this] enters the battlefield," as on Metallic Mimic
  • "[This] enters the battlefield as," as on Clone
  • "[This] enters the battlefield [state]," as on Bojuka Bog
  • "[Objects] enter the battlefield [state]," as on Orb of Dreams
  • "As [this] is turned face up," as on Gift of Doom

...okay, so even the basics get a little wordy. Let's look at some things in practice.

Like Wolverine, Not Like Jesus

Regenerate is a replacement effect that specifically replaces the "destroy" event. While "instead" doesn't appear on the card that has regenerate, it's implicit in the definition:

614.8 [...] The next time [permanent] would be destroyed this turn, instead remove all damage marked on it and tap it. If it's an attacking or blocking creature, remove it from combat."

Magic Comprehensive Rules

The regenerated creature never leaves the battlefield, so it won't trigger any abilities like "when [something] dies" or "when [something] enters the battlefield."

Applying No Replacement Effects

Sometimes, replacement effects don't get to do what they set out to do. If I resolve Gather Specimens, but my opponents never try to make any creatures enter the battlefield, Gather Specimens's effect does nothing. If I regenerate one of my creatures but it would never be destroyed, I basically wasted that regenerate.

Torbran, Thane of Red Fell doesn't like when you deal 0 damage. If you try to deal 0 damage with a red source, then no damage would be dealt at all. Torbran's replacement effect doesn't get to increase it.

If an object has a replacement effect on it that would affect a subset of permanents, that replacement effect can't apply to that object as it's entering the battlefield. If you cast an Orb of Dreams, for instance, it enters the battlefield untapped.

Cards entering simultaneously can't apply their replacement effects to one another, either. For instance, a Clone entering the battlefield at the same time as a Grizzly Bears can't copy the Bears. Similarly, if Living Death brings back Containment Priest and several other creatures, none of them will be exiled.

Applying One Replacement Effect

Sometimes, applying a replacement effect to an event can make other things happen (or not happen). For instance, let's say I control Thought Reflection[card] and [card]The Locust God and want to draw for my turn. I instead draw two cards, and The Locust God triggers twice. The original event of "draw one card" turned into "draw two cards," which made The Locust God trigger for each of those draws.

On the flip side, let's say I control Underrealm Lich and The Locust God. If I try to draw for my turn, Underrealm Lich's replacement effect turns that into me not drawing any cards at all, so The Locust God won't trigger.

This Is Getting out of Hand! Now there Are Two (Or More) of Them!

We can also apply multiple replacement effects to a single event. Let's say I control Teferi's Ageless Insight and Thought Reflection and want to draw a card with Opt in my main phase. I can apply Teferi's Ageless Insight first, which turns the card draw of Opt into "draw two cards." Then, I apply Thought Reflection's replacement effect, turning "draw two cards" into "draw four cards."

At this point, we're done applying replacement effects. As mentioned earlier, a replacement effect can only apply to an event once, and the root event here never changed from "draw a card with Opt."

And now, if I haven't scared you off... it's time to get weird.

An Island Unto Himself

Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle made a fair bit of noise when it came out in Commander 2018. After all, players love weird cards. It also deviates from the usual Simic commander template of "generic value." But soon, people started asking questions about how it interacted with other cards. Most of the confusion stems from one line of text: "As long as Arixmethes has a slumber counter on it, it's a land."

So, let's say I control Winding Constrictor and cast Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle. How many slumber counters does it enter with?


Originally, we only have Arixmethes' replacement effect to apply -- Winding Constrictor can't apply first because there aren't any counters yet. So we apply Arixmethes' effect, which says that it will enter tapped with five slumber counters on it.

"But wait," I hear you cry, "It has counters on it now, so it's a land! Winding Constrictor can't apply!"

Not quite. While it's true that Arixmethes will have counters on it once it's on the battlefield, it doesn't have counters on it right now. Since it currently has no slumber counters, it's still a creature, so Winding Constrictor's replacement effect still applies to it.

Feed Me, Seymour

The devour ability can lead to some downright unintuitive interactions. First, let's remind ourselves what devour does:

702.82a Devour is a static ability. “Devour N” means “As this object enters the battlefield, you may sacrifice any number of creatures. This permanent enters the battlefield with N +1/+1 counters on it for each creature sacrificed this way.”

Magic Comprehensive Rules

Cool. We know from earlier that this is definitely a replacement effect since it says "as [this] enters the battlefield." However, figuring out how devour interacts with other replacement effects gets weird.

Let's say I control a Corpsejack Menace and cast Thromok the Insatiable. If I choose to devour Corpsejack Menace, how many counters will Thromok enter the battlefield with?


First, we choose to apply Thromok's replacement effect -- but it doesn't sacrifice the creature yet because it hasn't entered the battlefield. Next, we have Corpsejack Menace's replacement effect to apply. Since Thromok is now going to have counters as it enters, Corpsejack Menace doubles that amount. The end result is a Thromok entering with two counters and a playgroup insisting you're wrong.


Replacement effects have enough depth that we may need to revisit this in the future for some more weirdness (especially if any rules around replacement effects change). Also, I know I didn't cover every nook and cranny. If you have any burning questions about replacement effects in general, something I didn't cover, or want clarification on what I did, drop me a line!

Join me next week for another layers article. See you then!

Question of the week: What's your favorite card with a replacement effect?

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