Layers, Part Two: Control- and Text-Changing Effects

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We'll Get There When We Get There

I know, I know. Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty is everywhere right now. While we've seen some very cool cards, I'm not quite ready to write about the set mechanics yet. I need the new comprehensive rules first. Expect a Neon Dynasty article in a couple weeks!

We've Been Here Before

With that out of the way, welcome to my second installment on layers. This week we'll tackle layer 2 (control-changing) and layer 3 (text-changing) effects. These layers have a bit less complexity than copy effects, so I figured I should collapse them into a single article.

Let's cover what these effects do before looking at some of the weirder stuff involved.

The Basics: Control-Changing Effects

Astute readers might recognize that a "control-changing effect" changes control of an object—think effects like Act of Treason. Control-changing effects are usually pretty straightforward and tell you that a player "gain[s] control" of one or more things.

Out of Control

Sometimes, an effect might seem like a control-changing effect without actually being one. Bribery, for instance, lets you snag a creature out of your opponent's library and put it onto the battlefield under your control. However, this is not a control-changing effect; the person who stole a creature with Bribery is that creature's default controller.

What's a "Default Controller"?

An object's default controller only matters in multiplayer games. This distinction helps us figure out what happens to objects when a player leaves the game.

For example, let's say Abby, Bill, Carlos, and Deb are playing a game of commander. Abby steals Bill's Grizzly Bears with Act of Aggression. That same turn, Abby loses the game. When Abby leaves the game, any control-changing effects that granted her control of other people's stuff end. Act of Aggression's effect ends, and the Grizzly Bears goes back to Bill.

On the other hand, suppose Abby steals Bill's Grizzly Bears with Bribery. When Abby leaves the game, there's no control-changing effect that needs to end. The game requires that object be somewhere, but since the Bears was only ever controlled by Abby, the game shrugs and exiles it instead.

Odds and Ends

Most of the time, control-changing effects depend entirely on timestamps, but on rare occasion, a dependency can occur. A good example is In Bolas's Clutches. If you played any Dominaria limited, you've probably seen something like this happen once or twice. If Abby enchants Bill's Grizzly Bears with In Bolas's Clutches, Abby gains control of the Bear. However, if Bill then enchants Abby's enchantment with his own In Bolas's Clutches, the first enchantment is now dependent on the second. The "you" on the first Clutches now refers to Bill, so Bill will regain control of his own Grizzly Bears.

It may surprise you that cards like Homeward Path and Bladebrand also create control-changing effects. While it's an easy mental shortcut to just say "other effects end and I get my stuff back," that isn't quite accurate. If that's how Homeward Path worked, you wouldn't get back the creature your opponent stole with Bribery.

You Know One When You See One

Text-changing effects, much like control-changing effects, are easy to spot. They tell you to change the text of something. This kind of effect is also rare; there are about 20 cards (out of over 20,000!) that have text-changing effects. But they're still part of the game, and we should still know how they work.

Generally speaking, text-changing effects modify text in a card's rules text and/or its typeline. If an effect tells you to replace text with something else, the effect only replaces words that are used in the right way. For instance, if you Magical Hack your opponent's Island Fish Jaconius and change "Island" to "Forest," the card's name is unaffected. The "Island" in its name isn't used as a land type.

Effects that modify or change an object's name, like Spy Kit and Awakening of Vitu-Ghazi, are also text-changing effects.

The Elephant (Or Something Else) In the Room

Volrath's Shapeshifter is a weird card. It's the only Magic card that uses the words "full text." That makes it do even more than a normal text-changing effect.

612.5. One card (Volrath’s Shapeshifter) states that an object has the “full text” of another object. This changes not just the text that appears in the object’s text box and type line, but also changes the text that represents its name, mana cost, color indicator, power, and toughness.

Magic Comprehensive Rules

Now, a sane person might think to themselves: "Self, if Volrath's Shapeshifter copies everything printed on a card, why isn't it a copy effect?" In fact, as originally printed way back in Stronghold, it was a copy effect! But that reading fell apart when Wizards developed the current layers system.

Let's pretend for a moment that Volrath's Shapeshifter did use a copy effect. I play a Shapeshifter and the top card of my graveyard is a Grizzly Bears. You cast Act of Aggression on the Shapeshifter, and the top card of your graveyard is Hill Giant. Because we apply copy effects before control-changing effects, the Shapeshifter that you control would still be a copy of my Grizzly Bears. See why that doesn't work?

So, the solution they came up with to maintain the card's intended functionality was just to jam it all into a text-changing effect. Its effect applies after any control-changing effects, so it will always properly "see" the correct player's graveyard to determine what characteristics it has.


Text- and control-changing effects are probably some of the easiest to understand, since by and large you do what they tell you to do. As always, if I overlooked something or you'd like something clarified, don't hesitate to reach out. And the same goes for if you'd like a specific topic covered! Feel free to reach me on Twitter or our Insider Discord.

Next week, we'll look at the ins and outs of triggered abilities.

Question of the week: What's your favorite control-changing effect?

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