Magic The Gathering: What Are Activated And Triggered Abilities?
- What Is An Ability?
- What Is A Triggered Ability?
- What Is An Activated Ability?
- What Is A Mana Ability?
Abilities are one of the biggest mechanics in Magic the Gathering. Almost every card has some kind of ability that can range from a small boost to a potential game-ender, but the problem for new players lies in when they actually happen.
With timing so critical in any game of Magic, knowing the difference between an activated ability and a triggered ability is vital. And what on earth is a mana ability? Here is everything you need to know about abilities in Magic the Gathering.
What Is An Ability?
Ignoring the different types of abilities for a moment, an ability is any effect a permanent (land, creature, artifact, enchantment, or Planeswalker) can have on the game.
For example, Trample is an ability that means any excess damage that creature deals to a blocking creature is then dealt to its controller, while Haste means a creature can attack and tap the turn it enters the battlefield.
There are more complex abilities like Ajani's Welcome giving you one life whenever a creature enters the battlefield, and then really complicated ones like Sphinx of the Second Sun. Let's not go into Sphinx of the Second Sun, just trust that it's a triggered ability that triggers at the beginning of your postcombat main phase.
A permanent that doesn't have any abilities, like a Gigantosaurus or Fortress Crab is called "Vanilla". A creature that only has an ability keyword (like Trample, Haste, Flying, Lifelink, or Deathtouch) but nothing else is called "French Vanilla".
Abilities are split into two types that determine when, or even if, the ability of a permanent is set off: activated and triggered abilities.
What Is A Triggered Ability?
A triggered ability is one you can't activate manually, but instead happens when something else happens in the game. Triggered abilities are the most common kind of ability, with most keyword abilities (Lifelink, Magecraft, Landfall, Trample etc.) being triggered abilities as well.
To identify a triggered ability, look for words relating to a specific time or condition such as "whenever", "when", or "at". For instance, "whenever a nontoken creature you control dies", "when X enters the battlefield", or "at the beginning of your upkeep" are all common triggered abilities.
Like most other things in the game, a triggered ability will put the trigger on the stack (where spells and abilities go before they're resolved and become part of the game), and it must be resolved in the same way casting a spell would be. This means a triggered ability can be countered with cards like Tale's End or triggered again by things that resolve on the stack before it.
What Is An Activated Ability?
Activated abilities can be manually set off by their controller by paying some kind of cost. Activated abilities can be identified by using a colon in the card text. Anything listed before that colon is the cost, while anything after it is the ability's effect.
For example, Kwain, Itinerant Meddler has an activated ability that lets you 'pay the cost' of tapping it. Its effect is letting everybody draw one card, and then giving everybody who drew a card one life. Other costs might include paying mana, such as the three generic and one green needed to give Almighty Brushwagg +3/+3 until the end of the turn, or even things like sacrificing a creature, as seen on Viscera Seer.
It's important to be sure about which bits of a card are the cost and which are the effect, as sometimes something that seems like it should be a cost is actually the effect. Drowned Rusalka's ability has a cost of paying one blue and sacrificing a creature, with the effect then being to discard a card and draw a card. Some players may mistake the discarding as part of the cost, which can cause complications if that ability gets countered by something like a Stifle.
Generally, activated abilities can be activated any time you have priority, like an Instant or a spell with Flash. Unless the card says otherwise, you don't have to wait until your turn to activate an activated ability. The biggest exception to this is Planeswalkers. Their Loyalty abilities are seen by the rules as activated abilities, however most of them only let you use them on your turn.
What Is A Mana Ability?
"Mana ability" is a weird phrase that some cards use that can easily throw off newer players, but it is very simple to understand: a mana ability is an activated ability whose sole effect is producing mana.
Cards like Sol Ring, Arcane Signet, Llanowar Elves, and even lands are permanent with mana abilities, as they do nothing but make you mana. Some cards care about mana abilities too, like Moonsilver Key, which can search for an artifact with a mana ability, or Battlemage's Bracers, which copies an ability unless it is a mana ability.
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