Understanding why cards work is a big focus of mine, especially for judges seeking to acquire the highest level of rules knowledge. To me, no topic exemplifies this more than abilities that work off the battlefield. This topic is handled so well by the rules that most people don’t even realize it’s an issue until you bring it up. For example, even people with minimal rules knowledge will easily tell you that Sphere of Resistance doesn’t increase its own cost or that Imaginary Pet won’t return itself from your graveyard to your hand or that Counterspell can target Sacred Wolf. They’ll even tell you the right reason why: those abilities only work on the battlefield.
And this same set of people will also intuitively know that Frogmite does reduce its own cost, Squee, Goblin Nabob does return itself from the graveyard, and Loxodon Smiter‘s abilites do work off the battlefield. How is this possible? How can Wretched Gryff let me draw from casting it but Primordial Sage can’t? If Serra Avenger‘s ability works, how can I cast Grid Monitor at all?
The answer is that this rule has exceptions, and they pop up pretty much anywhere you would expect them to. They pop up in some other cases also, and that’s where it gets weird. But understanding how these cards are able to function means having a firm understanding of which abilities can work off the battlefield and why.
112.6. Abilities of an instant or sorcery spell usually function only while that object is on the stack. Abilities of all other objects usually function only while that object is on the battlefield. The exceptions are as follows:
Example: Pyroclasm has a spell ability that causes it to deal damage to creatures when it resolves.
Non-example: Kozilek’s Return‘s spell ability deals 2 damage to all creatures. Its triggered ability, though, does not function on the stack, but from the graveyard. Reference CR 112.6b.
112.6a Characteristic-defining abilities function everywhere, even outside the game.
Example: Tarmogoyf, Avian Changeling, Vestige of Emrakul, Ghostfire
Non-example: Transguild Courier. Its Oracle text shows that it becomes all colors not from an ability, as its printed wording would lead you to believe, but through the use of a color indicator. This is not an ability, so it doesn’t need this exception to work. Rather, the CR section on color indicators states that they work everywhere (reference CR 204.2).
Non-example: Rusted Relic. Though its ability shares many characteristics with a CDA, it doesn’t meet all the criteria. This ability only works on the battlefield.
112.6b An ability that states which zones it functions in functions only from those zones.
Example: Wonder, Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (last ability), Greater Gargadon (both abilities; the CR definition for suspend explicitly states it functions in the player’s hand and the exile zone)
Non-example: Dauntless Cathar. Its ability functions from the graveyard, but not because its ability states it functions there. Rather, this is implied by the cost that can only be paid if Dauntless Cathar is in your graveyard. See CR 112.6i.
112.6c An object’s ability that allows a player to pay an alternative cost rather than its mana cost functions in any zone in which its mana cost can be paid (which, in general, means it functions on the stack). An object’s ability that otherwise modifies what that particular object costs to cast functions on the stack.
Example: Frogmite, Saprazzan Legate
Example: Amy manifests a Bringer of the Blue Dawn. She may pay WUBRG to turn it face up because taking this special action involves paying the face down card’s mana cost.
Example: Amy exiles Allosaurus Rider with Back from the Brink. This rule allows Allosaurus Rider’s ability to function, so Amy doesn’t have to pay 5GG.
Non-example: Helm of Awakening does not reduce its own cost because its ability does not apply specifically to “what that particular object” costs to cast.
112.6d An object’s ability that restricts or modifies how that particular object can be played or cast functions in any zone from which it could be played or cast.
Example: Ashcoat Bear, Serra Avenger (first ability)
Non-example: Steel Golem. The ability that disallows casting creature spells doesn’t apply to “how that particular object” can be played or cast, so it doesn’t interfere with casting Steel Golem.
Non-example: Evermind. Evermind can’t be cast normally because of its lack of a mana cost. It doesn’t have an ability that says you can’t cast it normally. It just doesn’t have something the game needs in order to carry out that process.
112.6e An object’s ability that restricts or modifies what zones that particular object can be played or cast from functions everywhere, even outside the game.
Example: Haakon, Stromgald Scourge (first ability), Panglacial Wurm (last ability)
112.6f An object’s ability that states it can’t be countered or can’t be countered by spells and abilities functions on the stack.
Example: Kavu Chameleon (first ability)
Non-example: Gaea’s Herald. This ability doesn’t state that “it can’t be countered”; it refers to all creature spells generally, so it doesn’t fit under this rule. Gaea’s Herald can be countered.
112.6g An object’s ability that modifies how that particular object enters the battlefield functions as that object is entering the battlefield.
Note: Usually, this zone is the hand (for lands) or the stack (for spells), but this rule works no matter what zone the card comes from.
Example: Coastal Tower, Clone, Endless One
112.6h An object’s ability that states counters can’t be placed on that object functions as that object is entering the battlefield in addition to functioning while that object is on the battlefield.
Example: Melira’s Keepers take the Long Road Home. Melira’s Keepers is exiled when the game wants to return it to the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter. This rule allows its ability to block the counter from being placed on it.
112.6i An object’s activated ability that has a cost that can’t be paid while the object is on the battlefield functions from any zone in which its cost can be paid.
Example: Paladin of Prahv, Dauntless Cathar
Non-example: Dregscape Zombie. The cost to activate its ability is B. This cost can be paid no matter what zone Dregscape Zombie is in. It’s true that this ability functions in your graveyard, but this rule isn’t the reason why. See 112.6k for the correct rule.
112.6j A trigger condition that can’t trigger from the battlefield functions in all zones it can trigger from. Other trigger conditions of the same triggered ability may function in different zones.
Example: Absolver Thrull has the ability “When Absolver Thrull enters the battlefield or the creature it haunts dies, destroy target enchantment.” The first trigger condition functions from the battlefield and the second trigger condition functions from the exile zone.
Non-example: Oculus, Servant of Volrath. These cards have leaves-the-battlefield abilities, which do not use this rule to allow them to function off the battlefield. That’s because leaves-the-battlefield triggers are treated specially; the game checks the game state immediately before the trigger event to see if they trigger. These abilities work on the battlefield.
Example: Guile (last ability). The phrase “from anywhere” exempts Guile’s “shuffle back in” ability from being treated as a leaves-the-battlefield ability. As such, it triggers based on the game state after its trigger event happens, so it needs this rule to function from the graveyard.
Non-example: Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (last ability). The trigger condition for this ability is “at the beginning of your upkeep,” which can happen no matter what zone Oloro is in. It uses an intervening if clause to do nothing unless Oloro is in the command zone. Reference CR 112.6b.
112.6k An ability whose cost or effect specifies that it moves the object it’s on out of a particular zone functions only in that zone, unless that ability’s trigger condition, or a previous part of that ability’s cost or effect, specifies that the object is put into that zone. The same is true if the effect of that ability creates a delayed triggered ability whose effect moves the object out of a particular zone.
Example: Drudge Beetle, Ghoulcaller’s Accomplice, and Simian Spirit Guide all have abilities whose costs involve moving the object they’re on out of a particular zone.
Example: Reassembling Skeleton and Vengevine have abilities whose effects move the objects they’re on out of a particular zone.
Non-example: Cyclopean Mummy has an ability whose effect moves it out of your graveyard, but its trigger condition specifies that it triggers when it is put there. Therefore, this ability does not use this rule to function outside the battlefield.
Non-example: Obzedat, Ghost Council‘s last ability has an effect that specifies it moves the object it’s on out of the exile zone. It doesn’t function only in the exile zone because the effect of this ability creates a delayed triggered ability whose effect moves Obzedat out of the exile zone.
112.6m An ability that modifies the rules for deck construction functions before the game begins. Such an ability modifies not just the Comprehensive Rules, but also the Magic: The Gathering Tournament Rules and any other documents that set the deck construction rules for a specific format. However, such an ability can’t affect the format legality of a card, including whether it’s banned or restricted.
Example: Relentless Rats (last ability), Teferi, Temporal Archmage (last ability)
Non-example: Wastes. Basic lands don’t have an ability that lets you include however many you want in a deck; rather, the four-of rule is written so that it doesn’t apply to them. This is analogeous (though coincidentally, not for any deeper rules reason) to the way reach does nothing by itself, but is used as a term that other abilities reference.
112.6n Abilities of emblems, plane cards, vanguard cards, scheme cards, and conspiracy cards function in the command zone.
Examples: Any object of any of these types.
Non-example: Derevi, Empyrial Tactician (last ability). Its ability functions in the command zone, but not because of this rule because it isn’t an emblem, plane card, vanguard card, scheme card, or conspiracy card. See CR 112.6k.
In what zone does each ability of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn function? For each ability that functions off the battlefield, identify the rule that allows this to happen.