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The Seven-Layer Cake

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Good day, everyone! Now for the article about the rules that probably have the most impact on games of Magic. Most sites that have judge articles have a “layers” article, but most of the ones I can find are outdated, so here’s one that should (I hope) be relevant for a while (or at least until they change the layers again)!

You may be asking yourself, what are the layers? Well, the comp rules have a more technical term—the “Interaction of Continuous Effects”—but they apply in a certain order, which has been affectionately termed “layers.” What they are is the method that certain effects in the game state apply to your permanents and how multiple effects interact. If you ever find yourself wondering what happens if you Diminish a Birds of Paradise that is currently under the effect of a Giant Growth and a Mighty Leap, this article is for you!

First, let’s talk about how effects apply in each layer. 99% of the time, they are going to apply in timestamp order. Timestamp order means that you apply the effects inside each layer in the order they started to affect the permanent. There are a few exceptions to this rule that are more fodder for judge tests than relevant to most tournament Magic. The first exception is something called dependencies. These are rare, but do happen.

For something to qualify as a dependency, the effect cannot be a “characteristic-defining ability,” and must apply in the same layer that the effect it “depends on” is applying. Effect A is said to depend on Effect B if:

  • Applying B first would cause A to no longer apply.
  • Applying B first would change what A would apply to.
  • Applying B first would change how A applies to the things it applies to.

The most common example used to illustrate this is Blood Moon and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. Here we have Blood Moon wanting to turn every nonbasic (including Urborg) into a Mountain, and we have Urborg wanting to make everything Swamps. Well, Blood Moon’s effect causes Urborg’s effect to no longer apply (because when it becomes a Mountain, it loses its ability to turn everything into Swamps) so we apply Blood Moon first and Urborg is a Mountain.

The other exception is “characteristic-defining abilities.” These abilities are something that defines a characteristic normally found printed elsewhere on the card. Some good examples of this are Tarmogoyf’s ability, which sets its power and toughness, or Evermind’s ability, which tells you the spell is Blue. Those abilities always apply first in a layer regardless of timestamp.

Now let’s get on to the layers! For those of you following along at home, open your rulebooks to Rule 613!

Layer 1 – Copy

This is the layer where you apply “copy effects.” These are going to be effects that mention the word “copy” in there somewhere. Some great examples are Clone and Quicksilver Gargantuan.

Layer 2 – Control

This is the layer where you apply control-changing effects. Some good cards with control abilities on them are Sower of Temptation and Mind Control.

Layer 3 – Text

This is where you apply effects that change the text of your permanent. An example of a text-changing effect is on the card Sleight of Mind.

Layer 4 – Type

This is where you apply effects that change the type of the permanent. This is the layer being used in that Urborg, Tomb of Yaygmoth/Blood Moon example above. Both of those cards want to change the type of permanents.

Layer 5 – Color

This is where you apply effects that change the color of a permanent. Things like Thoughtlace or Chaoslace or any of those other junk rare ’laces from Alpha change the color of permanents.

Layer 6 – Abilities

This is where you apply effects that add or remove abilities to a permanent. This is where Jump and the Deathtouch part of Virulent Swipe will apply.

Layer 7 – Power/Toughness

This layer is actually broken down into five “sublayers” because P/T effects can sometimes get pretty complicated and there are multiple types of effects that affect P/T.

    Sublayer A – Characteristic-Defining Abilities

      This is where you would apply the effect of Tarmogoyf or Dungrove Elder. Pretty much any creature with asterisks (*) in the P/T slot is using a CDA to determine its power and toughness.

    Sublayer B – Power and Toughness Setting Abilities

      This is where you apply effects that set the P/T to a certain value. Diminish turning a creature into a 1/1 would apply here.

    Sublayer C – Power and Toughness Modifying without Counters

    Sublayer D – Power and Toughness Modifying with Counters

      This is where +X/+X counters and -X/-X Counters apply.

    Sublayer E – Power and Toughness Switching

      This is where things that switch power and toughness apply. A good example of this is the effect of Twisted Image. It’s good to remember that switching always happens last.

That’s all the layers in order! Now, what good is that whole list without some examples? Let’s first go to that one I mentioned in the intro.

Example 1

What happens if you Diminish a Birds of Paradise that is currently under the effect of a Giant Growth and a Mighty Leap? Let’s break down the relevant layers and find out!

In Layer 6, we have Mighty Leap giving our Birds of Paradise Flying, but it already had that, so no big deal. In Layer 7b, we have Diminish turning our Birds of Paradise into a 1/1. In Layer 7c, we have Giant Growth and Mighty Leap giving our Birds of Paradise a nice +5/+5 boost, making our bird a 6/6 with Flying! This might seem counterintuitive to a lot of newer players because the bird was already a 5/6, and now your Diminish just made it into a 6/6! These scenarios aren’t hard to divine with a functional knowledge of the layers, however, so don’t let that play happen to you!

Example 2

Let’s say Player A has a Glory Seeker currently enchanted with Runes of the Deus. Player B casts Snakeform targeting the Glory Seeker and it resolves. What is Glory Seeker now?

In Layer 4, Glory Seeker becomes a slithering snake! In Layer 5, the slithering snake turns Green. In Layer 6, we have Runes of the Deus wanting to give it Trample and Snakeform wanting to remove all abilities. Since Runes was in play first, it applies first, giving the Glory Seeker Trample. Then Snakeform applies and takes the Trample away—easy come, easy go. In Layer 7b, Snakeform is going to set Glory Seeker’s power and toughness to 1/1. In Layer 7c, Runes of the Deus is going to give Glory Seeker +1/+1, making it a 2/2. So at the end of the layers, we have a Glory Seeker, 2/2 Green Snake with no other abilities. So once again, with a functional knowledge of the layers, Player B would realize that casting this Snakeform wouldn’t be the best idea (unless he is holding a Slay).

Example 3

Let’s say Player A has an Assault Griffin in play and attacks with it. Player B casts Twisted Image on the Griffin, which resolves, and then Dizzy Spell on the Griffin, and informs Player A that the Griffin is now dead. Player A calls a judge, so let’s break it down.

Assault Griffin starts as a 3/2. With all resolved effects, we have the Griffin becoming a 0/2 in Layer 7c thanks to Dizzy Spell. We then have it becoming a 2/0 thanks to the Twisted Image in Layer 7e, so Player B is correct here.




From these examples, it’s easy to see how a superior knowledge of the layers can lead to much better plays and an increased ability to avoid misplays. Especially in Limited, knowing these layers and how they apply is very important for the guy holding the combat trick. I hope you enjoyed this walk through the layers; as always, feel free to comment!

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