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MTG keywords explained: What every keyword means in Magic: The Gathering

From Absorb to Wither, all the keywords a MTG player needs to know.
Image: Wizards of the Coast

There are an awful lot of Magic: The Gathering keywords, and frankly, it’s hard to keep them all in mind. While many will often have reminder text on the card, with some cards being so wordy already, it’s useful to know what each of these does.

In order to help you learn more about them, including where we first saw each of the many MTG keywords, we’ve decided to go ahead and make a giant list explaining what keywords in Magic: The Gathering mean. There’s a lot of them to get through, but each of them is either a part of the history of the game, or a key part of modern-day play.

A lot of these are unlikely to be seen outside of niche Commander decks, but hey, knowledge is power, and we’re aiming to make you very powerful indeed.

Magic: The Gathering keywords explained


Absorb

Absorb was introduced in Future Sight and hasn't been seen since. Absorb allows a creature to prevent some damage.

Affinity

Affinity was introduced in Mirrodin. This ability reduces the cost for a spell based on the number of certain permanents you control, usually artifacts.

Afflict

Afflict was introduced in Hour of Devastation, and allows creatures to deal damage to the opponent even if they’ve been blocked.

Afterlife

Afterlife appeared in Ravnica Allegiance and is a triggered ability that occurs when a creature dies, that allows you to create 1/1 White and Black Spirit tokens with flying.

Aftermath

Aftermath is an ability that first appeared in Amonkhet, and it is on the second spell on dual-spell cards and allows the spell to be cast from the graveyard.

Amplify

Amplify appeared in Legions and allows you to reveal creature cards from your hand to put +1/+1 counters onto a creature.

Annihilator

Annihilator is an ability unique to Eldrazi and appeared in Rise of the Eldrazi. It’s a triggered ability that occurs when attacking, and causes opponents to sacrifice a number of permanents.

Ascend

Ascend is an ability that grants the city’s blessing once you have ten permanents in play. It was in Rivals of Ixalan and usually offered benefits for having the blessing.

Assist

Assist is a Battlebond mechanic that allows other players to pay mana towards a spell you’re casting.

Aura Swap

Aura Swap appeared in Future Sight and lets you swap the card with an Aura in your hand.

Sephara, Skys Blade Magic: the Gathering
Flying enemies can be particularly difficult to deal with. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Awaken

Awaken is an ability that allowed you to put +1/+1 counters onto a land and then turn it into a 0/0 Elemental creature with haste, that mostly appeared in Battle for Zendikar.

Banding

Banding is an ability that thankfully doesn’t see much play now. It was introduced in Alpha, and the short version of the ability is that it allows creatures to attack as a group.

Battle Cry

Battle Cry was first seen in Mirrodin Besieged and grants other attacking creatures +1/+0 whenever the creature with the ability attacks.

Bestow

Bestow first appeared in Theros and allows you to cast a creature as an aura instead, and grant a creature some buffs.

Blitz

Blitz appears in Streets of New Capenna and allows you to cast a creature, give it haste, and then allows you to draw a card when it dies. You also have to sacrifice it at the beginning of the next end step if you cast a creature with blitz.

Bloodthirst

Bloodthirst appeared in Guildpact first, and allows creatures to enter with +1/+1 counters if an opponent has taken damage in that turn.

Boast

Boast appears in Kaldheim and allows you to pay a cost to activate a special ability if the creature it is on has attacked in that turn.

Bushido

Bushido appeared first in Champions of Kamigawa, and gives creatures extra power and toughness when they block or are blocked.

Buyback

Buyback is an ability that allows you to pay an additional cost to put a spell back in your hand after casting it. It first appeared in Tempest.

Cascade

Cascade is an ability that exiles cards from the top of your library until you find one with a lower mana value than the spell you cast, you may then cast the new one for free. It was first introduced in Alara Reborn.

Casualty

Casualty allows you to sacrifice a creature to copy the spell you’re casting. It first appeared in Streets of New Capenna.

Champion

Champion has you sacrificing the creature unless you exile another creature as it enters the battlefield. The exiled creature returns if the first card leaves. It first appeared in Lorwyn.

Changeling

Changeling is a keyword that means that the creature is every creature type, and it first appeared in Lorwyn.

Cipher

Cipher is a keyword first introduced in Gatecrash that allows you to exile the spell you cast and encode it onto a creature, which means you can recast it whenever that creature deals combat damage to a player.

Cleave

Cleave is a way of casting spells that changes their effects by removing words. It appeared in Innistrad: Crimson Vow.

Companion

Companion is an ability that allows you to pay three mana to put the card into your hand from outside of the game as long as your deck follows specific rules. It first appeared in Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths.

Compleated

Compleated appeared in Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, and allows players to pay life instead of mana to cast some spells, but makes the cast planeswalker weaker as a result.

Conspire

Conspire allows you to tap creatures as you cast the spell to copy the spell. It appeared in Shadowmoor.

Convoke

Convoke allows you to tap creatures to reduce the cost of a spell. It first appeared in Ravnica: City of Guilds.

Crew

Crew is a unique ability found on vehicles that allows you to tap creatures in order to turn the vehicle into a creature for the turn. It first turned up in Kaladesh.

The Magic: The Gathering - Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty set is inspired by a cyberpunk-style Japan. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Cumulative Upkeep

Cumulative Upkeep is an ability that first appeared in Arabian Nights that has players paying a cost in their upkeep then placing a counter on the permanent and increasing the cost for the next turn.

Cycling

Cycling allows you to pay a cost to discard the card and draw a new one, or fetch up a specific kind of card. It first showed up in Urza’s Saga.

Dash

Dash first appeared in Fate Reforged and is an alternate cost that grants a creature haste and has it return to your hand at the beginning of the next end step.

Daybound and Nightbound

Daybound and Nightbound appeared in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt and have the time of day changing based on the number of spells cast. This affects a few different things including werewolf transformations.

Deathtouch

Deathtouch means that any damage a creature deals to another creature is lethal. It was first seen in Future Sight.

Decayed

Decayed first turned up in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, and it means that the creature can’t block, and has to be sacrificed at the end of combat if it attacks.

Defender

Defender means that the creature can’t attack. It first appeared in Alpha.

Delve

Delve allows you to exile cards from your graveyard to reduce the cost of a spell. It first appeared in Future Sight.

Demonstrate

Demonstrate is an ability that appears on spells that allows you to copy the spell, but if you do so then another player also gets to cast a copy of it. It appeared in Commander 2021.

Dethrone

Dethrone is a Conspiracy keyword that gives a creature a +1/+1 counter whenever it attacks the player with the most life.

The Ragavan Nimble Pilferer was released as part of the 2021 Core Set. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Devoid

Devoid simply means that a card has no colour. It mostly appeared in Oath of the Gatewatch.

Devour

Devour allows you to sacrifice creatures or other permanents to give the creature you’re casting +1/+1 counters. Shards of Alara was its debut.

Disturb

Disturb allows you to cast a spell from your graveyard in a different form. It appeared in both Innistrad: Midnight Hunt and Innistrad: Crimson Vow.

Double Strike

Double Strike means that the creature deals first-strike damage and regular combat damage. It first appeared in Legions.

Dredge

Dredge allows you to trade your draw for a milling effect in order to return a card from your graveyard to your hand. It was first seen in Ravnica: City of Guilds.

Echo

Echo is a cost you have to pay in your upkeep to stop a permanent from being sacrificed if it entered the battlefield last turn. Its debut was Urza’s Saga.

Embalm

Embalm was first seen in Amonkhet and is an ability that allows you to exile a card from your graveyard to make a token of it that’s a White zombie.

Emerge

Emerge allows you to reduce the cost of a creature by sacrificing another creature. It is a mechanic from Eldritch Moon.

Enchant

Enchant allows you to attach an aura to something. It first appeared in Alpha.

Encore

Encore allows you to exile a creature card from your graveyard to create a token of it that has to attack each opponent you have. It was first seen in Commander Legends.

Magic: The Gathering Innistrad: Midnight Hunt artwork
The Magic: The Gathering - Innistrad: Midnight Hunt set features plenty of gothic and horror imagery.Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Entwine

Entwine allows you to choose every option on the card if you pay the cost and debuted in Mirrodin.

Epic

Epic appeared in Saviors of Kamigawa and allows you to copy the spell in each of your turns for the rest of the game, but you can’t cast any other spells.

Equip

Equip is a cost you pay to attach an equipment card to something. It first appeared in Mirrodin.

Escalate

Escalate appeared in Eldritch Moon and allows you to pay extra mana to choose other options on a card.

Escape

Escape allows you to pay mana to cast a card from your graveyard and was found in Theros Beyond Death.

Eternalize

Eternalize exiles a card from your graveyard to create a copy of the creature that is a 4/4 Black zombie token. It was seen in Hour of Devastation.

Evoke

Evoke lets you pay a different amount of mana to cast a creature and immediately sacrifice it when it enters the battlefield. It was first seen in Lorwyn.

Evolve

Evolve triggers whenever a creature enters the battlefield that has more power or toughness, and it allows you to put a +1/+1 counter on the creature with evolve. This one made its first appearance in Gatecrash.

Exalted

Exalted grants a creature +1/+1 when it attacks on its own and was first seen in Shards of Alara.

Exploit

Exploit allows you to sacrifice a creature to gain an additional effect. It was first found in Dragons of Tarkir.

Extort

Extort was first seen in Gatecrash, and allows you to pay White or Black mana to drain each opponent by one life.

Fabricate

Fabricate allows you to create 1/1 servo tokens or put a +1/+1 counter on your creature as the creature enters the battlefield. It was only seen in Kaladesh.

Fading

Fading was first seen in Nemesis and means a creature enters with a number of fade counters on it which are removed at the beginning of your upkeep. The creature is then sacrificed when you can no longer remove a counter.

Fear

Fear means a creature can only be blocked by artifact creatures and Black creatures, and was first seen in Alpha.

First Strike

First strike allows a creature to deal damage before creatures without first strike or double strike. It was first seen in Alpha.

Flanking

Flanking means that creatures without flanking that block a creature with flanking get -1/-1 until the end of the turn. It was first seen in Mirage.

Flash

Flash allows you to cast spells at instant speed and was first seen in Visions.

Flashback

Flashback allows you to cast a card from the graveyard for its flashback cost and then you have to exile it. It debuted in Odyssey.

Flying

Flying creatures can only be blocked by other creatures with flying or those with reach. The first flying creature was seen in Alpha.

Forecast

Forecast is an ability that you can pay for in your upkeep if the card is in your hand that has a specific effect. It was first seen in Dissension.

Magic: The Gathering - Streets of New Capenna contains a lot of intimidating gangs and mob bosses. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Foretell

Foretell allows you to pay two mana to put a card into exile and then cast it in a later turn for a different cost. It was first seen in Kaldheim.

Fortify

Fortify appeared in Future Sight and allows you to attach the card to a land for an additional effect. It only ever appeared on one card called Darksteel Garrison.

Frenzy

Frenzy is a Future Sight mechanic that gives a creature extra power if it isn’t blocked.

Friends Forever

Friends Forever is a unique partner mechanic that only appeared in the Stranger Things Secret Lair.

Fuse

Fuse only appeared in Dragon’s Maze and on cards that were two spells. It allows you to cast both parts of the card at the same time.

Graft

Graft first appeared in Dissension and means the creature enters with +1/+1 counters on it that you can move to another creature as they enter the battlefield.

Gravestorm

Gravestorm is a variant of storm that allows you to copy a spell for each permanent put into a graveyard during that turn. It only appeared on a card called Bitter Ordeal, and shouldn’t be confused with the spell Gravestorm.

Haste

An ability that allows creatures to attack or tap on the turn they come out. This was introduced in Alpha.

Haunt

Haunt appeared in Guildpact and allows creatures to have additional effects after they die by exiling themselves and targeting another creature.

Hexproof

Hexproof first appeared in Portal Three Kingdoms and means that opponents can’t target the creature with spells or abilities.

Magic: The Gathering Innistrad: Crimson Vow artwork
Magic: The Gatherinf - Innistrad: Crimson Vow includes many dangerous creatures of the night. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Hidden Agenda

Hidden Agenda is a Conspiracy keyword that allows you to name a card for special effects. It returned in Conspiracy: Take the Crown as Double Agenda.

Hideaway

Hideaway was a Lorwyn mechanic that has since returned in Streets of New Capenna. It allows you to exile a card from the top of your deck and then cast it for free by fulfilling certain criteria.

Horsemanship

Horsemanship is a Portal Three Kingdoms mechanic that meant that the creature could only be blocked by other creatures with horsemanship.

Indestructible

Indestructible is a keyword that means that a permanent can’t be destroyed by damage or effects that say destroy. It first appeared in Alpha.

Improvise

Improvise allows you to tap artifacts to reduce the cost of a spell. It debuted in Aether Revolt.

Infect

Infect first appeared in Scars of Mirrodin and is an ability that allows creatures to deal damage to other creatures as -1/-1 counters, and to players as poison counters. A player with ten poison counters will die (in the game).

Ingest

Ingest mainly appeared in Battle for Zendikar and makes it so that when the creature with ingest deals damage to a player, that player exiles the top card of their library.

Intimidate

Intimidate first appeared in Zendikar and makes it so that the creature can only be blocked by artifact creatures or creatures that share a colour with it.

Jump-Start

Jump-start is an ability that allows you to cast the card from the graveyard as long as you discard a cast along with the other costs, then you have to exile the card. It first appeared in Guilds of Ravnica.

Kicker

Kicker debuted in Invasion and allows players to pay an additional cost for an additional effect. There’s also a variant of it called multikicker which allows a player to pay that cost repeatedly.

Landwalk

Landwalk makes creatures unblockable as long as the defending player controls a certain land type. It first appeared in Alpha.

Level Up

Level up allows players to pay a cost to level up a creature. This can grant new abilities or stats. It first appeared in Rise of the Eldrazi.

Lifelink turns any damage dealt by the creature into life for its controller and first appeared in Mirrodin.

Living Weapon

Living weapon is an equipment keyword that sees a piece of equipment coming in and creating a 0/0 Germ token to attach to instantly. It first showed up in Mirrodin Besieged.

Madness

Madness allows players to cast a card for a different cost and potentially different effect by discarding it first. It first appeared in Torment.

Melee

Melee is a Commander ability that first appeared in Conspiracy: Take the Crown. It makes a creature +1/+1 stronger for each opponent attacked in that turn.

Menace

Menace debuted in Fallen Empires and makes a creature unblockable unless the opponent uses two or more creatures.

Mentor

Mentor creatures put a +1/+1 counter on a weaker attacking creature whenever they attack together. It first appeared in Guilds of Ravnica.

Miracle

Miracle first appeared in Avacyn Restored and allows players to cast a card for a different cost if it was the first card they drew in a turn.

Modular

Modular is an ability that first turned up in Darksteel and allows creatures to enter the battlefield with +1/+1 counters on them, and then any +1/+1 counters they have onto a different artifact creature when they die.

Morph

Morph allows players to pay three mana to cast a creature face down as a 2/2, and then pay a cost to flip that card over when they want to. There’s also a variant called megamorph that does the same but places a +1/+1 counter on the creature when flipped. It first appeared in Onslaught.

Magic: The Gathering Garbage Elemental Hector Ortiz
Behold! the Garbage Elemental Hector Ortiz card! Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Mutate

Mutate allows you to pay a different cost to put the creature over or under a non-Human creature. This allows the resulting creatures to have all of the abilities of that stack. It first appeared in Unsanctioned.

Myriad

Myriad creates a copy of the attacking creature that attacks every other available player. These copies then get exiled at the end of combat. It first appeared in Commander 2015.

Ninjutsu

Ninjutsu allows players to pay a cost to return an unblocked creature they control with the ninjutsu creature in their hand. There is a commander called ninjutsu too. It first turned up in Betrayers of Kamigawa.

Offering

Offering allows players to sacrifice a type of card to allow them to cast the card at instant speed. It only appeared in Betrayers of Kamigawa.

Outlast

Outlast allows players to tap a creature and put a +1/+1 counter on it. It debuted in Khans of Tarkir.

Overload

Overload is an alternate cost that means a spell will target all potential options instead of just one. It first appeared in Return to Ravnica.

Partner

Partner is a Commander mechanic that allows you to have two commanders instead of one. There’s also a variant where two creatures partner with each other specifically. It was first seen in Commander 2016.

Persist

Persist is an effect that triggers when a creature dies and brings them back to the battlefield with a -1/-1 counter on them as long as they didn’t already have one when they died. It first turned up in Shadowmoor.

Phasing

Phasing removes permanents from the game for a time meaning they can’t be interacted with in any way while they’re not there. This mechanic first appeared in Mirage.

Poisonous

Whenever a poisonous creature deals damage to a player they also put a number of poison counters on that player. This mechanic appeared in Future Sight.

Magic: The Gathering Innistrad: Crimson Vow artwork
A vampire hunter makes their first strike on a sleeping monster. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Protection

Protection means a permanent can’t be blocked, targeted, dealt damage, enchanted or equipped by anything that the permanent has protection from. It first appeared in Alpha.

Provoke

Provoke allows you to choose an opposing creature, untap it, and then have it block your creature. This mechanic debuted in Legions.

Prowess

Prowess gives a creature +1/+1 whenever you cast a noncreature spell. It was first seen in Khans of Tarkir.

Prowl

Prowl allows you to cast a creature for a different cost if you’ve already dealt combat damage to a player with a specific creature type. This mechanic appeared in Morningtide.

Rampage

Rampage creatures get extra power and toughness for each creature blocking them beyond the first creature. This mechanic appeared in Legends.

Reach

Reach allows creatures to block creatures with flying. It first turned up in Alpha.

Rebound

Rebound means that if you cast the spell from your hand it can be cast again for free in your next upkeep. This mechanic was first seen in Rise of the Eldrazi.

Reconfigure

Reconfigure is an equipment ability that allows you to attach or unattach the equipment to something. This mechanic was seen in Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty.

Recover

Recover allows you to pay mana to put a card from your graveyard to your hand. It appeared in Coldsnap.

Reinforce

Reinforce allows you to discard the card from your hand to put +1/+1 counters on a creature. This mechanic was first seen in Morningtide.

Renown

Renown initially appeared in Magic Origins and grants a creature +1/+1 counters if it deals combat damage to a player for the first time.

Replicate

Replicate is a Guildpact mechanic that allows you to copy a spell for each time you’ve paid an additional cost.

Retrace

Retrace allows you to discard a land to recast a spell from your graveyard. It first appeared in Eventide.

Riot

Riot is an ability that allows you to choose to either give a creature a +1/+1 counter or haste as it enters the battlefield. It was first seen in Ravnica Allegiance.

Ripple

Ripple allows you to reveal cards from the top of your deck and if you hit a copy of the same card you can cast it for free. It was only seen in Coldsnap.

Scavenge

Scavenge allows you to pay a cost to exile a creature from your graveyard and put +1/+1 counters on a different creature equal to the first creature’s power. It first appeared in Return to Ravnica.

Shadow

Shadow debuted in Tempest and means a creature can only block or be blocked by other creatures with shadow.

Shroud

Shroud means that nothing can target a permanent and initially appeared in Legends.

Skulk

Skulk stops creatures from blocking your creature if they have more power. It first appeared in Shadows over Innistrad.

Soulbond

Soulbond allows you to pair a creature with another creature as it enters the battlefield for beneficial effects. It was first seen in Avacyn Restored.

The llanowar Elves are a community within the world of Magic: The Gathering. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Soulshift

Soulshift allows you to return a different spirit creature from the graveyard to your hand as the creature dies. It was seen first in Champions of Kamigawa.

Spectacle

Spectacle is a Ravnica Allegiance mechanic that allows you to pay a different mana cost if an opponent has lost life that turn.

Splice

Splice allows you to cast a spell alongside a different spell for a cost. It first appeared in Champions of Kamigawa.

Split Second

Split second is a keyword that stops players casting anything else while it is on the stack. It was first seen in Time Spiral.

Storm

Storm makes a copy of the spell for every other spell you’ve cast that turn and debuted in Scourge.

Sunburst

Sunburst creatures enter the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter on them for each colour of mana used to cast them.

Surge

Surge is an Oath of the Gatewatch mechanic that allows you to pay a different mana cost for a spell if your or a teammate has already cast a spell that turn.

Suspend

Suspend puts a spell into exile for a number of turns with time counters on it. You then remove one counter in your upkeep and can cast the spell without paying its mana cost when there are no more counters on it. It was first seen in Time Spiral.

Totem Armor

Totem armor is an aura mechanic which means if the permanent they’re attached to would be destroyed, the aura is destroyed instead. It appeared initially in Rise of the Eldrazi.

Training

Training allows creatures to gain a +1/+1 counter by attacking alongside a creature with greater power. It was first seen in Innistrad: Crimson Vow.

Magic: The Gathering Innistrad: Crimson Vow artwork
Training is keyword that was first intoduce in Magic: The Gathering - Innistrad: Crimson Vow. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Trample

Trample allows your creature to deal any excess damage to a blocking creature to the opponent. Alpha marked its debut.

Transfigure

Transfigure allows you to pay a cost and sacrifice the permanent to look through your library for a creature with the same mana value and put it onto the battlefield. It was only seen in Future Sight.

Transmute

Transmute is a Ravnica: City of Guilds keyword that allows you to discard a card to find a card with the same mana value from your deck and put it into your hand.

Tribute

Tribute allows another player to put +1/+1 counters on your creature if they want to avoid its battlefield trigger when it enters play. It was seen first in Born of the Gods.

Undaunted

Undaunted makes spells cost less for each opponent you have. It only appeared in Commander 2016.

Undying

Undying brings creatures back to life with a +1/1 counter on them if they didn’t have a +1/+1 counter when they died, and was first seen in Dark Ascension.

Unearth

Unearth allows you to bring a creature back from the graveyard to the battlefield for a turn before exiling it and appeared in Shards of Alara initially.

Unleash

Unleash allows you to put a +1/+1 counter on a creature as it enters the battlefield, but stops the creature being able to block if you do so. This keyword appeared in Return to Ravnica originally.

Vanishing

Vanishing permanents enter the battlefield with time counters on which you remove one of in your upkeep, and then you have to sacrifice the permanent when all of the counters have been removed. This mechanic appeared first in Planar Chaos.

The artwork for the Thrasios Triton Hero card. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Vigilance

Vigilance means you don’t have to tap a creature when it attacks. It was first seen in Alpha.

Ward

Ward means enemy players have to pay mana if they want to target a creature with ward with an ability or spell they control and was introduced in Strixhaven: School of Mages.

Wither

Wither allows creatures to deal damage to other creatures in the form of -1/-1 counters and debuted in Shadowmoor.

About the Author

Jason Coles avatar

Jason Coles

Contributor

Jason spends a lot of time shuffling, sleeving up cards and playing decks that are bad. It's for this reason that he loves card games, even if they don't always love him. His poison of choice is Magic: The Gathering, but he'll play anything really, as it doesn't pay to be picky.

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