A few weeks ago, Jordan wrote an article about Torbran, Thane of Red Fell. In that article I added an editor’s note that said you could stack Torbran’s ability with Furnace of Rath so that he would add four additional damage instead, but a sharp-eyed reader informed us that that’s not actually true: The player who would have the damage dealt to them chooses how to stack those abilities! While looking for the rule behind this ruling I found several strange rules about replacement effects, which gave me some ideas for how to abuse them! Let’s get started.
Today’s Eye of the Stack, like many before it, starts with a look at the comprehensive rules:
614.1. Some continuous effects are replacement effects. Like prevention effects, 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.
A replacement effect exists continuously, waiting for a certain event to happen, but it doesn’t trigger or use the stack. When that certain event happens, the replacement effect immediately replaces it with something else. We covered this concept briefly in a previous article about Regenerate, since regenerate is a replacement effect.
In order to recognize a replacement effect, there are a few words we should look for: “instead”, “skip”, “with”, and “as”. The majority of replacement effects use “instead”, because they wait for one event and replace it with a different one instead. When an effect uses the word “skip”, that effect is waiting for a specific event and replacing it with nothing.
“With” and “as” replacement effects usually effect permanents entering the battlefield. For example, Clone enters the battlefield “as” a copy of another creature on the battlefield – the effect takes the event “Clone enters the battlefield” and replaces it with “a copy of another creature enters the battlefield”. Similarly, Walking Ballista enters the battlefield “with” X +1/+1 counters on it – the ballista would enter the battlefield as a 0/0, but the effect replaces that with a battlefield entry which includes X +1/+1 counters.
There’s also another way “as” gets used in replacement effects: “Shock lands” like Sacred Foundry gives us a choice “as” the land enters the battlefield. If we pay two life, the effect does not replace anything, but if we choose not to pay life it replaces “Sacred Foundry enters the battlefield” with “Sacred Foundry enters the battlefield tapped”.
There is one more kind of replacement effect that doesn’t use any of our keywords: Cards like Rakdos Guildgate simply enter the battlefield tapped. This kind of effect doesn’t say “as” or “with”, but it still replaces “enters the battlefield like normal” with “enters the battlefield tapped”.
A Helpful Metaphor
The rules say to think of replacement effects like shields, but I prefer to think of them like filters in a tube. Every event has to run through the tube before it can happen, and each replacement effect creates a filter in that tube. It’s not a perfect metaphor (neither is the shield), but I find it very helpful when figuring out how a replacement will work, especially when multiple replacements interact with one another.
There are a LOT of very specific little rules about replacement effects, and it would not do anyone any good for me to list them all here. Instead, I’m just going to talk about a few of them that I find the most broadly relevant and interesting.
614.5. A replacement effect doesn’t invoke itself repeatedly; it gets only one opportunity to affect an event or any modified events that may replace it.
This rule basically says that once an event passes through a replacement “filter”, it moves on and won’t go through it again. For example let’s say we control a Doubling Season and an Anointed Procession, and we would create one 0/1 Plant token. That event will pass through one replacement “filter” and become two tokens, then pass through the other “filter” and become four tokens. Modifying the event does not cause it to become a new instance of that event.
614.6. If an event is replaced, it never happens. A modified event occurs instead, which may in turn trigger abilities. Note that the modified event may contain instructions that can’t be carried out, in which case the impossible instruction is simply ignored.
This rule just reinforces the “filter” metaphor. If an event passes through a replacement filter and gets replaced, the original event is gone.
614.7a If a source would deal 0 damage, it does not deal damage at all. Replacement effects that would increase the damage dealt by that source, or would have that source deal that damage to a different object or player, have no event to replace, so they have no effect.
This rule clarifies that if a source would deal zero damage, the damage event is never created. That means cards like Torbran, Thane of Red Fell won’t make a red creature with zero power deal two damage; since the creature has zero power, the damage-dealing event never actually happens, which means it can’t go through the replacement “filter”.
614.10a Anything scheduled for a skipped step, phase, or turn won’t happen. Anything scheduled for the “next” occurrence of something waits for the first occurrence that isn’t skipped. If two effects each cause a player to skip their next occurrence, that player must skip the next two; one effect will be satisfied in skipping the first occurrence, while the other will remain until another occurrence can be skipped.
This rule doesn’t require much explaining, but it is extremely important. A replacement effect will not go away until it gets used, or its duration ends (if it has a duration).
When multiple replacement effects overlap things can get a little tricky, but with a few key pieces of information we can usually figure out what happens.
616.1. If two or more replacement and/or prevention effects are attempting to modify the way an event affects an object or player, the affected object’s controller (or its owner if it has no controller) or the affected player chooses one to apply...
If more than one replacement (or prevention) effect would modify how an event affects a player, the affected player chooses one of them to apply, no matter who controls the effects. For example, let’s say we have a Words of Wilding and we are about to draw a card. Our opponent casts a Notion Thief, and it resolves. In response, we activate Words of Wilding; now there are two effects that replace our card draw. As the affected player (the player whose card draw is being replaced), we get to choose between the two. If we choose Words of Wilding, we create a 2/2 green Bear token instead of drawing a card. Then, since we replaced drawing a card with a different event, Notion Thief will not apply and our opponent will not get to draw a card.
Another example: If we control Furnace of Rath and Torbran, Thane of Red Fell, and Torbran is dealing combat damage to our opponent, our opponent is the one who chooses which to apply first. Since the outcome of the replacement affects them, they choose how to apply the effects.
616.1e Once the chosen effect has been applied, this process is repeated (taking into account only replacement or prevention effects that would now be applicable) until there are no more left to apply.
The key word in this rule is “applicable”; When choosing which replacement effect to “filter” our event through, we only choose between replacement effects which are applicable. However, sometimes the result of the replacement makes an event which other “filters” are applicable to. The event will pass through the newly applicable “filter”, then we evaluate if any other replacement effects are applicable (and haven’t been applied yet).
Close your eyes and take a deep breath, you’ll make it through this example, I promise.
For example: We control Underrealm Lich, Words of Wilding, Essence of the Wild, and a Metallic Mimic with Avatar as the chosen creature type. During our upkeep, we activate Words of Wilding. On our draw step, we choose between Underrealm Lich‘s ability and Words of Wilding, choosing Words to replace the draw with a Bear token. Before that can happen, though, we need to check for applicable replacements: Essence of the Wild now applies, so we replace the 2/2 Bear token with a token copy of Essence of the Wild. Once again checking for applicable effects, we see that the token is now an Avatar, meaning it will enter the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter on it. After a final check, we can see that there are no more applicable effects, and at the beginning of our draw step we create a 6/6 green Avatar token named Essence of the Wild with a +1/+1 counter on it instead of drawing a card.
It’s Just That Easy
Now you’re an expert on replacement effects! Congratulations! I hope you learned something, or were inspired to brew up a deck that exploits these rules. If you have any questions, or if I was wrong about something, leave it in the comments or join our Discord server and chat with us directly! If you want to request an article, talk to us on Twitter (or join our Patreon for priority requests)! Thanks for reading, and tune in next time when I create a 6/6 green Avatar token named Essence of the Wild with a +1/+1 counter on it instead of drawing a card.