Beginner Planeswalker Guide: All About Abilities

Beginner Planeswalker Guide: All About Abilities

September 20, 2018 Off By Tifa

This is an ongoing series of Magic articles aimed at welcoming people into Magic: The Gathering! If you are an experienced Magic player, I hope you can use this article series to help your friends become Planeswalkers. If you are new to Magic, let me show you some things that will help you break into the game.

Let’s talk about all those words on your Magic cards! With each new Magic set the brilliant minds at Wizards of the Coast come up with new abilities (described by keywords) that players all learn as the set releases. However, there are a number of evergreen keywords that every Magic player must learn over time.

Before I teach you the specific keywords you’ll need to know and understand, let’s discuss different types of abilities.

Static Abilities: These are abilities that are always in effect. For example, Rustwing Falcon has the ability Flying. This bird will always have Flying (I’ll teach you what that means next time). It’s important to remember that these static abilities are always on.


Activated Abilities: These abilities have a cost in order to activate the ability. These are represented by a cost followed by a colon. For example, Vampire Neonate has an activated ability. The cost reads as (2), Tap: meaning that paying 2 of any mana color and tapping the creature is required to activate the ability. If you pay this cost, each opponent loses 1 life and you gain 1 life.

As long as the cost can be paid, the ability can be activated. Activated abilities can be used as many times as you are able to pay for them. The Enchantment above shows an ability that can easily be activated multiple times. If you have 5 red mana available, you can pay to activate this ability 5 times and the enchanted creature would get +5 to their power.

Triggered Abilities: These abilities only happen if the triggered event takes place or a condition is met. The required event or condition will be listed very clearly on the card followed by a comma. For example, “Whenever a creature with flying attacks,” if you have Windreader Sphinx in play you can draw a card. This means any creature with Flying. So, if you attack with Rustwing Falcon and Windreader Sphinx you would have the option to draw 2 cards.

  • Side note: “You may” means that you can do the triggered effect. If the text doesn’t say “may” it is not optional and is required to be completed if possible.

Often triggered abilities start with When or Whenever. This is also a common place for the Upkeep Step in the beginning phase of your turn to come into play. Remember: Untap, Upkeep, Draw happens at the beginning of every turn. If you see “At the beginning of your upkeep,” on a card, you know that this is a triggered ability triggered during the Upkeep Step on your turn (every turn the card is in play). If you have Colossal Majesty in play, every turn after you Untap you enter Upkeep and check to see if you control a creature with power 4 or more. If you do, you draw a card. You then move on and draw the normal card for your turn before moving into your Main Phase.

  • Side note again! This is an example of an ability that is not optional because it does not say “you may draw a card.”

I hope you now understand the different abilities on your Magic cards. Join me next week to learn some important Keywords that you should commit to memory.