Hey everybody! Welcome back to Eye of the Stack. This time around, we’re not really tackling the card Regenerate but rather the keyword regenerate, as requested in this tweet. In the early days of Magic it was printed on cards that saw a lot of play, and people generally understood how it worked. However, the keyword has since been retired, so when it comes up in play some of the nuances can trip people up. In this article, I’m going to break down all the core concepts you need to know to be a regenerate expert!
First things first, what does it mean to “regenerate”? Here’s the official definition from the comprehensive rules:
701.14a If the effect of a resolving spell or ability regenerates a permanent, it creates a replacement effect that protects the permanent the next time it would be destroyed this turn. In this case, “Regenerate [permanent]” means “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.
So regenerating a creature stops a creature from being destroyed one time, that’s easy enough to grasp. But what does the rest of that stuff mean? Let’s start at the beginning, with the phrase “replacement effect”. Here’s a blurb from the rules:
614.1. Some continuous effects are replacement effects. Like prevention effects (see rule 615), replacement effects apply continuously as events happen—they aren’t locked in ahead of time. Such effects watch for a particular event that would happen and completely or partially replace that event with a different event. They act like “shields” around whatever they’re affecting.
The first tricky thing about regenerate is that it’s only effective if it’s done before a creature is destroyed. Intuitively, to regenerate a dead creature we would wait for it to die before we regenerated it. However, the rules of Magic don’t allow this. Once a creature is destroyed, it goes to the graveyard before anyone can cast spells or activate abilities. Creatures in graveyards are not legal targets for regenerating because they are not permanents, and regenerate only effects permanents.
So the the regenerate ability creates a “replacement effect” that stays on the creature until the end of the turn. Like the rules said, replacement effects act like “shields”. This means that when you regenerate a creature, it gains a “shield” that replaces the next time it would be destroyed. But what does it replace the destruction with?
Regenerate replaces the next time [permanent] would be destroyed with three effects, which happen in order:
- Remove all damage marked on [permanent]
- Tap [permanent]
- If [permanent] is an attacking or blocking creature, remove it from combat.
Let’s start with number 1. What does “damage marked” mean? Let’s return once again to the comprehensive rules:
302.7. Damage dealt to a creature by a source with neither wither nor infect is marked on that creature (see rule 119.3). If the total damage marked on that creature is greater than or equal to its toughness, that creature has been dealt lethal damage and is destroyed as a state-based action (see rule 704). All damage marked on a creature is removed when it regenerates (see rule 701.14, “Regenerate”) and during the cleanup step (see rule 514.2)
When damage is dealt to a creature, that damage is marked on the creature until the cleanup step at the end of the turn. The important thing to note here is that a creature that has damage equal to or greater than its toughness marked on it is destroyed, which means it will trigger our regenerate “shield”. If regenerate didn’t remove the marked damage from the creature, it would be destroyed again as soon as it finished regenerating! That’s why damage is removed.
Unfortunately, infect and wither tell another story. When a creature with one of these abilities deals damage to a creature, it doesn’t mark damage on that creature. Instead, that many -1/-1 counters are placed on the damaged creature. If those counters reduce the creature’s toughness to 0 or below it will go to the graveyard, but it won’t be destroyed. Here is the rule:
704.5f If a creature has toughness 0 or less, it’s put into its owner’s graveyard. Regeneration can’t replace this event.
The rules even mention regenerate specifically, because they know it can be a little confusing!
Wither and infect aren’t the only foils for regeneration, of course. Any effect that reduces the toughness of a creature to 0 or below will cause that creature to die, not be destroyed, which means the effect won’t be replaced by regenerate.
Moving on to number 2 on the list, “tap [permanent]”. Um… I don’t really have anything to say here. Just tap it.
The final effect of regenerate says “If [permanent] is an attacking or blocking creature, remove it from combat”. This can cause confusion if players don’t understand the timing of regeneration. I’m going to illustrate with examples so that this is easier to imagine:
Let’s say we’re attacking our opponent with a Cudgel Troll, and they block with a Canyon Minotaur. We regenerate our troll so it won’t die. Our opponent says their Canyon Minotaur doesn’t die, because our Cudgel Troll was removed from combat when we regenerated it.
Here’s why our opponent is wrong: when we regenerate our troll, the list of “regenerate effects” don’t happen immediately. Activating the ability only applies the “shield” of regeneration to our creature; after we activate, combat damage happens, causing lethal damage to both creatures. The Canyon Minotaur will be destroyed, while our Cudgel Troll survives thanks to regenerate!
Another way regeneration causes confusion is when it’s used in response to instants during combat. Let’s say this time our opponent is attacking us with his Canyon Minotaur, and we block with our Cudgel Troll. Our opponent casts Lightning Bolt to kill our troll before combat damage, and we regenerate the troll in response. When Lightning Bolt resolves, the Cudgel Troll will survive. However, regeneration causes our troll to be tapped and removed from combat. That means it won’t deal any combat damage to our opponent’s creature. Similarly, our opponent’s Canyon Minotaur won’t deal any combat damage this combat because it is still considered “blocked” but there is no blocking creature for it to deal damage to.
There’s one more bit of confusion about regeneration, and that’s tied to cards that say something can’t regenerate. What this means is that if a permanent has a regenerate “shield” on it, and it would be destroyed… well, it gets destroyed. The “can’t regenerate” effect simply stops the shield from doing its thing. What it doesn’t mean is that regenerate effects can’t be applied to creatures. Why does that matter? Well, it usually won’t, but it’s important to note that abilities that include regeneration can be activated regardless of a “can’t be regenerated” effect.
For instance, let’s say we attack our opponent with a Deity of Scars who has two -1/-1 counters on it and they block with a Vorstclaw. Our opponent then taps a Hurr Jackal targeting Deity of Scars. Even after this ability resolves, we can still activate the ability of Deity of Scars, removing the -1/-1 counters and making it a 7/7. However, when combat damage is dealt, the Vorstclaw and Deity of Scars will both die because Hurr Jackal‘s ability prevents the Deity’s regenerate shield from working. I know it’s an extreme edge case, but I felt it was worth mentioning if only to show off this super cool Hurr Jackal art by Drew Tucker.
That’s All, Folks!
That’s all I’ve for you got about regenerate. I know there weren’t any wacky combos or brain-twisting rules interactions but I hope you learned a thing or two anyway. Go forth and educate your friends, and maybe frustrate them a little with your super-hard-to-kill creatures (extra special shout out to my friend Luke, his Goblin Chirurgeon, and one of the most frustrating games of Commander I have ever played). Tune in next time, when I’ll cast a kicked Rite of Replication targeting Risen Reef!