Layers, Part Four: Color-Changing, Ability-Altering, And P/T-Changing Effects

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This week is my last week focusing on specific layers. In a few weeks, we'll tie everything together and get into some extra crunchy interactions. For now, we're looking at these beauties:

613.1e Layer 5: Color-changing effects are applied.

613.1f Layer 6: Ability-adding effects, keyword counters, ability-removing effects, and effects that say an object can't have an ability are applied.

613.1e Layer 7: Power- and/or toughness-changing effects are applied.

Magic Comprehensive Rules

Ready? Then let's get started the way all good articles start: with a reference to Culture Club's "Karma Chameleon."

Colors Were Like My Dreams

Much like text-changing effects, color-changing effects are obvious in that they tell you exactly what they are. Does an effect say something "becomes the color of your choice"? If so, bingo! That's a color-changing effect.

Making something become a color replaces all of its previous colors. For example, resolving Eight-and-a-Half-Tails's ability on Niv-Mizzet Reborn means Niv-Mizzet is only white until end of turn. Of course, if that effect makes something a color "in addition to" its other colors, it's additive. If I equip my Grizzly Bears with Blade of the Oni, my Bears will be green and black.

When deciding what color to make something, remember that Magic only has five colors: white, blue, black, red, and green. You can't choose "gold" or "pink" despite what certain Un-cards might suggest. "Colorless" is also not a color, in much the same way "barefoot" is not a type of shoe.


Behold, layer 6, truly one of the layers-iest layers.

613.1f Layer 6: Ability-adding effects, keyword counters, ability-removing effects, and effects that say an object can’t have an ability are applied.

Magic Comprehensive Rules

So... yeah. There's a lot of stuff going on.

We generally apply all of these effects in timestamp order. For example, if Nancy casts Jump on her Grizzly Bears, then Anthony Canopy Claws, on that same creature, the Bears won't have flying.

Count On It

First introduced in Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, keyword counters function as one would expect most of the time. The one thing to watch out for here is that the timestamp of abilities granted by keyword counters is when an object most recently got that type of counter. For instance, if a creature has a flying counter on it, then gets another flying counter two turns later, the timestamp of the counter granting that creature flying is when the most recent counter was put on it. The creature still has two flying counters on it, but the first one isn't really doing anything.

Of course, the corollary here is that if a creature has a flying counter, then I add another flying counter to it, both flying counters update to the newest timestamp. This probably sounds a little weird, but consider if we didn't do that. We'd have to distinguish between different flying counters.

The D-Word

On rare occasions, we can have dependencies in this layer; I believe that Kwende, Pride of Femeref is the first card to create one. Because Kwende cares about creatures you control with first strike, any effect granting a creature first strike has to be applied first. That is, it doesn't matter if Kwende is already in play and then I cast Fervent Strike on one of my creatures. Because giving a creature I control first strike changes the set of objects Kwende's ability would apply to, I have to apply the effect from Fervent Strike first.

You Shall Not Have Abilities

Some cards, like the Archetype of Endurance cycle from Born of the Gods, prevent other objects from getting certain abilities. As always, if one effect says to do something, and another says it can't happen, the "can't" effect wins.

Notably, this means that if I control Archetype of Endurance and an opponent casts Heroic Intervention, their creatures will have indestructible but not hexproof. Even if my Archetype leaves the battlefield later that turn, they still won't have hexproof. The effect that would have granted them that ability simply did nothing.

Conversely, any Auras attached to an opponent's creature will function as expected. If my opponent's creature is enchanted with Alpha Authority, that creature will once again have hexproof if my Archetype of Endurance goes away.

Gotta Get Up to Dress Down

After my event this past weekend, I'm reminded just how frequently Dress Down pops up in Modern. It's likely the most important ability-removing card in the game right now (sorry, Humility fans). Since it shows no signs of going away any time soon, let's look at some common interactions.

If I dash in Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and an opponent responds with Dress Down, two important things happen. First, Ragavan does not have haste. Second, the delayed trigger to return Ragavan still happens (last I heard, Magic: the Gathering Online gets this interaction wrong).

On the other hand, if I try to evoke City of Solitude and an opponent responds with Dress Down, we both get something out of it. I won't get to exile anything, but I also don't have to sacrifice my Solitude.

Dress Down hits Murktide Regent especially hard. Since delving is part of casting a spell and paying its costs, the Regent can exile instant and sorcery cards to help pay for it. However, I can respond with a Dress Down and make the Regent enter with no counters anyway.

I Have the Power (And Toughness)

While layer 7 is broken up into four subrules, the majority of the time, these effects work exactly how one would expect (we had some weird interactions with Skullbriar, the Walking Grave but those got patched out a couple years ago). Just remember that effects that switch power and toughness come last, and everything else pretty much falls into play.

Sublayer a

613.4a Layer 7a: Effects from characteristic-defining abilities that define power and/or toughness are applied. See rule 604.3.

Magic Comprehensive Rules

Simple enough. The first sublayer covers stuff like our old friend Tarmogoyf.

Sublayer b

613.4b Layer 7b: Effects that set power and/or toughness to a specific number or value are applied. Effects that refer to the base power and/or toughness of a creature apply in this layer.

Magic Comprehensive Rules

Here we handle things like Scale Up. As far as I know, the only effects that fit here that don't talk about "base" power and toughness are animation effects like those on Blinkmoth Nexus or Jade Golem.

Sublayer c

613.4c Layer 7c: Effects and counters that modify power and/or toughness (but don’t set power and/or toughness to a specific number or value) are applied.

Magic Comprehensive Rules

This sublayer covers the vast majority of power/toughness changing effects. This is where we take care of everybody's favorite 13/13 1-drop, Death's Shadow. This also handles any counters that modify power and toughness like Decimator Beetle, or effects like Dead Weight that change power and/or toughness without using counters or setting them to a specific value.

Sublayer d

613.4d Layer 7d: Effects that switch a creature’s power and toughness are applied. Such effects take the value of power and apply it to the creature’s toughness, and take the value of toughness and apply it to the creature’s power.

Magic Comprehensive Rules

This covers the rare effect that switches a creature's power and toughness, like Wandering Fumarole or Twisted Image.

Putting It All Together

Let's tie things up with a convoluted example.

I control an Alpine Grizzly. I equip it with Greataxe. My opponent casts an entwined Kami of Twisted Reflection on it. After that resolves, I cast Scale Up on my Grizzly, then equip a second Greataxe to it. What are its power and toughness?

Right off the bat, we can see we have nothing in sublayer a. Alpine Grizzly doesn't have any characteristic-defining abilities.

Scale Up applies in sublayer b, setting base power and toughness. Note that even if we used a creature that had a characteristic-defining ability, Scale Up would override it anyway. After applying the effect from Scale Up, we have a 6/4 Alpine Grizzly.

Moving on to sublayer c, we have a few effects: +4/+0 from each Greataxe, and -6/-0 from Twisted Reflection. Taken together, they give us +2/+0 for an 8/4 Alpine Grizzly.

Finally, we switch power and toughness in sublayer d thanks to the second effect from Twisted Reflection. Our end result, then, is a 4/8 Alpine Grizzly.

Notice that we applied these effects out of strictly timestamp order. Since they apply in different sublayers, we have to apply effects in that order. This means effects like Scale Up's will always apply before any counters or other effects, and as mentioned earlier, switching power and toughness always happens last.


That's it for this week. Hopefully, this has been insightful or useful, if only so that there's less confusion about Dress Down at the next local Modern events. Seriously, like, half my calls all day Saturday were related to that or Urza's Saga.

As always, find me on Twitter or our Insider Discord for any questions, comments, criticism, etc.

Question of the Week: What's the largest you've seen a creature's power/toughness get?

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