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Abilities and Mechanics Series – Alara Block


Good morning/afternoon/evening! Today, we are going to look into the popular Alara block mechanics. For those of you who didn’t play then or have short memories, this block hinged on multicolored cards. The first set was all about the five shards, which were three-color “guilds” (see Ravnica for two-color guilds). The second set was all about the five colors all together and Domain, which made spells have better effects for each type of basic land you controlled. The third set was entirely multicolored cards, and it was one of the most powerful sets for Limited. This is also the block that introduced the mythic rare! Let’s get to the nitty-gritty!

Shards of Alara


This is the mechanic of the Jund shard (Black, Red, and Green). “Devour X” means, “As this object enters the battlefield, you may sacrifice any number of creatures. This permanent enters the battlefield with X +1/+1 counters on it for each creature sacrificed in this way.” Devour has so far only appeared on creature cards, and a creature with Devour can “devour” other creatures no matter how it enters the battlefield. You can choose to sacrifice 0 creatures to devour. When you play a creature with Devour, you don’t choose how many things you are going to sacrifice until the spell is resolving, so by this time, it can’t be countered. If you have multiple creatures with Devour entering the battlefield at the same time, you can use each Devour ability, but a sacrificed creature will only pump up the one Devour creature to which it was sacrificed—you can’t double-dip!


This is the mechanic of the Bant shard (Green, White, and Blue). Exalted on a permanent means, “Whenever a creature you control attacks alone, that creature gets +1/+1 until end of turn.” Basically, the idea is that you collect a lot of Exalted permanents and attack with a single creature at a time. That creature will receive +1/+1 for each Exalted permanent you control when it attacks. Exalted triggers right after the attacker is declared, and it goes onto the stack when the active player receives priority in the declare-attackers step. Each instance of Exalted triggers independently and resolves independently, and an opponent can respond to each one before it resolves. Some rules flukes here are that this only cares about one creature being declared as the attacker in the declare attackers step; it doesn’t care about things that are put onto the battlefield attacking. For instance, if you had two permanents with Exalted and attacked with a Hero of Bladehold, the Hero would receive the +2/+2 and still place tokens into play attacking. The tokens would not receive the Exalted bonus, but they would receive the Battle Cry bonus from the Hero of Bladehold as long as you stack the token-creation trigger on top of the Battle Cry trigger.


This is the mechanic of the Grixis shard (Blue, Black, and Red). “Unearth [cost]” on a card means, “[Cost]: Return this card from your graveyard to the battlefield. It gains haste. Exile it at the beginning of the next end step or if it would leave play. Activate this ability only when you could cast a sorcery.” This neat mechanic lets you put something back into play for one last hurrah, and since you activate an ability to return the creature, it can’t be countered by typical counterspells! Instead, it’s only vulnerable to the types of counterspells that can hit activated abilities. There are some neat interactions with Unearth, especially with its replacement effect that exiles it when it would leave play. For instance, if you cast Momentary Blink on a creature that has been unearthed, it will exile, come back, and no longer die at the end of turn! The reason for this is that Momentary Blink wants to exile the creature and the Unearth replacement effect can’t replace “exile this” with “exile this,” so it will have no effect. When the creature comes back onto the battlefield, it is a new object that was not placed there by the Unearth ability, so it will no longer have the delayed trigger to exile itself at the end of the turn.

Colored Artifacts

This was the theme of the Esper shard (White, Blue, and Black). Colored artifacts are artifacts that also have a color. They usually cost colored mana, but they still function as artifacts in every other manner. Naturalize still kills a colored artifact. A colored artifact has its color in all zones and will count for any abilities that reference a card of a particular color.



As I stated above, one of the key mechanics of Conflux was playing all five colors. Domain is a mechanic that encourages this. Domain is an ability word printed on cards that become stronger for each basic land type among lands you control. This doesn’t mean that the lands have to be basic lands; they just have to have a basic land type. The shock lands from Ravnica would count for Domain, as would nonbasics like Mistveil Plains or Tundra. Domain abilities on a static ability continually check how many basic land types you control and update immediately. Domain abilities on instants and sorceries check as the spell resolves.

Alara Reborn


Alara Reborn only gives us Cascade as a new mechanic, but boy is it a big one. It’s very relevant in Modern, since it’s used to cheat out spells like Restore Balance without having to Suspend them. Cascade basically turns your spell into a free two-for-one. There is a random facet to Cascade, however. Very strong decks have been made by taking the randomness out of it by carefully selecting the mana costs of cards in the deck. Cascade is a trigger that triggers when a spell is cast; when it is cast, the trigger for Cascade goes on the stack above it. When this trigger resolves, the player who cast the spell will reveal cards from the top of his library until he hits a card with a converted mana cost less than the initial spell that had Cascade. When this card is revealed, he may then cast it without paying its mana cost. At that point, the original spell resolves. Many games in Standard were won with Bloodbraid Elf cascading into Blightning. Many games in Extended were won with Ardent Plea cascading into Hypergenesis. Many games in Modern are won with Ardent Plea cascading into Restore Balance. The way these decks function is that they play low-cost Cascade spells and no other spells with a lower mana cost than the intended Cascade target. As you can see, this means that any time the player casts a spell with Cascade, he is guaranteed to cast his degenerate spell and to take control of the game, if not win it outright.

Those are the mechanics in Alara block! We are rapidly catching up with Magic releases. As soon as we do, I’ll go back to more general rules articles with scenarios like my original few articles had . . . until I think of a new series to write. Thanks for reading, and tune in next week for Zendikar block!

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