Replacement effects

Replacement effects are continuous effects, but they're so peculiar they're better treated as their own kind. They act as "sentries" and watch for a particular event to happen. Then they "intercept" that particular event and cause something else to happen in its stead. It's easy to recognize a replacement effect: they always use the words instead or skip. (Well, almost always: see below). ,

Note: Don't mistake replacement effect with triggered abilities! Triggered abilities let the trigger event happen, and then do something; replacement effects stop the event and substitute it with another event - or sometimes with nothing at all.

Example. Darksteel Colossus has the iconic replacement effect. Let's say its controller is forced to sacrifice it: the resulting event would be to put it into his or her graveyard. However, its replacement effect will change this event, and shuffle it into the library. The Colossus never touches the graveyard: if Fecundity is into the battlefield, it will not trigger.

Replacement effects can be generated by either static abilities or resolving objects. If they're generated by spells, activated abilities or triggered abilities, they only replace the event the next time it happens, and then disappear. If they're generated by static abilities, they are active as long as the static ability that generates them exists.

Example. If I control a Words of Wind and activate its ability, it generates a replacement effect that will only apply to the first time the event "I draw a card" happens in the turn. I can activate it more than once to replace more card draws. On the other hand, if I control Thought Reflection, its replacement effect will apply to all card draws, since it's generated by a static ability.

Interaction of replacement effects

Sometimes, two or more replacement effects will try to modify the same event. In this case, the affected player or the controller of the affected object will choose the order in which these effects will be applied. Since the event will change each time one of the effects is applied, the other effects may become inappropriate and we don't apply them any more, or effects initially unrelated will be involved.

In any case, each effect will only apply just once to a given event.

Example. Fire Servant generates a replacement effect that modifies how red spells I control deal damage. As soon as it sees that such a spell is going to deal damage, it steps in and doubles the damage. In case I control two Fire Servants as I'm resolving a Lightning Bolt, both will try to replace the event.

The player that is being damaged or the controller of the creature that is being damaged is the one that decides which effect is applied before, even though in this case it's irrelevant, since they are identical. The first effect will replace the event "Lightning Bolt deals 3 damage" with "Lightning Bolt deals 6 damage". Now we have to check if the other effect is still applicable: since the event is still a red spell dealing damage, it is, so the event becomes "Lightning Bolt deals 12 damage". Since the first effect has already been used up, it doesn't try to replace the event any further.

Example. Now let's say I cast a Lightning Bolt targeting my opponent as I control a Fire Servant and he controls a Benevolent Unicorn. He can choose the order in which effects are applied; if he chooses to apply Benevolent Unicorn first, the event will become "Lightning Bolt deals 2 damage", which Fire Servant will turn into "Lightning Bolt deals 4 damage"; if he goes the other way around, Fire Servant will cause the Bolt to deal 6 damage, which Benevolent Unicorn will reduce to 5.

Example. I control Furnace of Rath, Words of War and Thought Reflection, and I activate Words of War once during my upkeep, which sets up a "single-use" replacement effect. I'm about to draw a card for my turn, so I have to choose which one of the available replacement effects I want to use first.

If I choose to turn my draw into damage, Thought Reflection will not be applicable to it any more.

So, I'd probably choose to apply Thought Reflection first. This will turn the event "Draw a card" into "Draw 2 cards". Then the effect from Words of War will turn it into "Draw a card and deal 2 damage". Furnace of Rath will see that the effect now involves damage, and step in to modify it into "Draw a card and deal 4 damage".

There's a special kind of replacement effects that mess with this rule: self-replacement effects. A self-replacement effect is not a a continuous effect, but the effect of a spell or ability that modifies what the rest of the spell/ability itself does. Self-replacement effects are always applied before other replacement effects. ,

Example. Dissipate has a one-shot effect (countering a spell) and a replacement effect that modifies what this one-shot effect does (instead of moving the spell to the graveyard, it will move it to the exile zone). This is a classical example of a self-replacement effect.

Let's say we use a Dissipate to counter a Darksteel Colossus. The Colossus replacement ability will try to replace the event of "Put it into a graveyard" with "Shuffle it into its owner's library". Normally, the Colossus controller would get to choose, and he could apply the Colossus' effect first, to avoid to have it exiled. However, since Dissipate has a self-replacement effect, we always apply it first: since the Darksteel Colossus is now heading to the exile zone, its replacement ability can't apply any more.

Note: Planeswalkers used to have an intrinsic replacement effect, that allowed us to burn opponents and then have the damage dealt to a planeswalker they control instead. This rule was removed with the release of Dominaria, and many spells and abilities (but not all the ones that could damage planeswalker before) were reworded so they can directly target planeswalkers. Make sure to look at the official Oracle text to determine whether a card released before Dominaria can target a planeswalker or not.

Other rules

Replacement effects must exist at the time the event would take place: if something happens, it's too late to replace it. This means that you might have to create replacement effects expecting that something you want to replace will happen. In case the event you were expecting doesn't happen the effect simply does nothing.

Example. My opponent casts Lightining Bolt targeting my Gnarled Mass. Since I expect the Bolt will deal damage to my creature, I protect it with Healing Salve. My opponent casts Misdirection on his Lightning Bolt, choosing me as the new target. When the Bolt resolves, I happily take 3 damage, and the effect from Healing Salve does nothing at all, except expiring at end of turn.

An event that's replaced by something else or skipped never happens, which means no triggered abilities can trigger off of it. Only the new event will be taken into account to check if something triggers. Similarly, if damage is reduced to 0 while applying replacement effects, it's not dealt at all: other replacement effects that replace damage will not apply to it.

Example. I activate Words of Wind during my upkeep to replace the "I draw a card" event that happens during my draw step. My Jace's Erasure will not trigger, as I didn't actually draw a card.

Example. I control Sulfuric Vapors and cast Lightning Bolt targeting my opponent. He responds shielding himself with a Healing Salve. When Lightning Bolt resolves, he will choose to apply Healing Salve before. Since this will reduce the damage dealt to 0, there is no damage dealing at all any more, so Sulfuric Vapors can't apply. My opponent takes no damage.

Some effects offer you or the opponent the choice to do something, and then do something based on your choice. In case your action of choice gets replaced with something else, the original effect doesn't care, it just notes what you choose, not what actually happens. However, I can never choose to do something that would be impossible, even if it ends up being replaced.

Example. Riddlesmith's triggered ability asks you if you want do draw a card and, in case you do, causes you to discard a card. If you choose to draw and replace the draw with something else (for example with Words of War), Riddlesmith will force you to discard anyway.

However, if a Spirit of the Labyrinth is currently forbidding me to draw cards, I can't choose to draw for Riddlesmith's ability, even if I know the draw would be replaced by Words of War, as I can't even try to choose an impossible action.

In the same vein, if you play Browbeat and your opponent prevents the damage it would deal (for example, he activates a Circle of Protection: Red in response), he can still choose to be dealt damage, and you will not draw: even though the damage wasn't actually dealt, he took the choice.

There's an exception to this: if an effect replaces card draws, it will apply even if the library of the affected player is empty. This will not cause players to lose the game.

Example. If I control Words of Wind and you mill me out with a massive Brain Freeze, I can still activate Word of Wind during my upkeep and replace the card draw that would knock me out with the bounce effect.

Special replacement effects

Some replacement effects don't use the instead/skip template. These are still replacement effects, so they follow the general rules we have seen so far, but also have some more strings attached.

  1. Prevention effects always use the word prevent
  2. Redirection effects always use the words is dealt to something else instead
  3. Regeneration effects always use the word regenerate
  4. Effects that modify how permanents enter the battlefield , are replacement effects as well

In the following pages, we'll look in detail at each of these categories of effects.