Pattern Recognition #30 - Regeneration

Features Opinion Pattern Recognition


25 May 2017


I'm very glad for today's subject. For without it, I don't think I could have lasted this long.

Hello, I'm berryjon, TappedOut.Net's resident Old Fogey and all-round Smart Ass. Apparently, I've written 30 or so articles before this one, so I like to think I'm on to something.

For this week, I decided that I would like to address a certain mechanic that has been in the game since the first printing of Alpha, but has slowly been phased out over the past few years in flavor of a mechanic that is simpler and better capable of getting the point across.

No, not Phasing itself. I'm not that cruel.

Today, I'm going to talk about Regenerate.

Now, from the current version of the rules, we have:

701.13. Regenerate
701.13a If the effect of a resolving spell or ability regenerates a permanent, it creates a replacement effect that protects the permanent the next time it would be destroyed this turn. In this case, “Regenerate [permanent]” means “The next time [permanent] would be destroyed this turn, instead remove all damage marked on it and tap it. If it’s an attacking or blocking creature, remove it from combat.”
701.13b If the effect of a static ability regenerates a permanent, it replaces destruction with an alternate effect each time that permanent would be destroyed. In this case, “Regenerate [permanent]” means “Instead remove all damage marked on [permanent] and tap it. If it’s an attacking or blocking creature, remove it from combat.”
701.13c Neither activating an ability that creates a regeneration shield nor casting a spell that creates a regeneration shield is the same as regenerating a permanent. Effects that say that a permanent can’t be regenerated don’t prevent such abilities from being activated or such spells from being cast; rather, they prevent regeneration shields from having any effect.

But that's not how it used to be. You see, in the origin of the game, Regenerate meant "this creature avoids dying and stays in play when otherwise it would go into the graveyard".

Now, when I said it appeared in the glory days of Alpha, I should provide examples. It appeared on Drudge Skeletons, Living Wall, Scavenging Ghoul, Sedge Troll, Uthden Troll, Wall of Bone, Wall of Brambles, Will-o'-the-Wisp and Zombie Master.

And Living Wall is my favourite Wall ever. So hey, I get to mention that and make it relevant!

Now, looking this over, it's actually pretty interesting. It is Black that gets the lion's share of the mechanic, especially when you include the activation costs on some of them. Yet, you would expect a mechanic that involves saving creatures from death would be more White in nature.

And yes, White gets Death Ward while Green gets Regeneration.
That's pretty interesting. Yes, White and Green got Death Ward and Regeneration, but what I find interesting is that it's Black that got it to start with.

The reason for this is quite simple. Regenerate, as it was first conceived, was a case of rising from the dead, of overcoming death itself to return to service. Hence, the Black flavor.

You know, I really should find out exactly how the old rules for Regenerate work. So, I dig into the Ice Age Rules book and transcribe that...

Regeneration: Some creatures have the ability to regenerate, usually with an activation cost. If such a creature takes enough damage to send it to the graveyard, you can pay the activation cost for its regeneration ability and prevent it from dying. Keep in mind that this ability doesn't allow regenerating creatures to come back from the dead; if you don't pay for the regeneration, the creature goes to the graveyard and stays there like any other creature. (Though you can't use most fast effects during the damage resolution step, you -can- use damage prevention abilities, including regeneration. For more information, see "damage prevention" in the glossary.)

For example, Drudge Skeletons is a black 1/1 creature with the ability ": Regenerate.". If your Skeletons take lethal damage, no matter how much, you can save them from going to the graveyard if you pay . If they are killed again the same turn, you may spend another to regenerate them again. If you don't pay this cost, they go to the graveyard and stay dead.

When a creature is regenerated, it returns to life tapped and fully healed. All of the creature's enchantments remain. Creatures killed while they are tapped can still be regenerated. But if a creature gets hit with a card that says it buries or sacrifices the creature, the creature can't regenerate and goes directly to the graveyard. You can't regenerate a creature that is removed from the game either; such a creature must be set aside and returned to its owner only when the game is over.

If a creature regenerates during combat but before the damage resolution step, then it doesn't deal or receive any damage.

Ahhhhhh....... such old terms. But here, you can see how things have changed over time. There is no longer a Damage Resolution Step in the game, as I mentioned when I talked about the Stack. And Regenerate only affected death by damage. After all, -1/-1 counters didn't exist at the time, and cards that simply destroyed a creature without dealing damage, such as with Terror or Wrath of God specified that the creatures so killed could not be regenerated in order to avoid confusion.

Because Regenerate only worked on lethal damage!

Let me show you something. I want you all to look at the Gatherer page for Pyramids. In particular, I want to you look at the difference in the wording on the card, and the Oracle (which is the actual legal wording on the card) version.

The card as printed is actually more powerful than the card as it is written now. Why? How many times does a land take lethal damage? Only when it's a creature! As it was printed, Pyramids could save a land from destruction by any method - like Stone Rain.

In contrast, Regenerate in the more modern sense does work on non-damage effects. You can Regenerate from Doom Blade or Day of Judgment. But even though the effect that destroyed these creatures in the first place is non-damage related, the total regeneration effect goes through. You still remove all damage that might have already accrued on the creature, you still tap it, and you still remove it from combat if it was attacking or blocking.

Now Regenerate, in any version, doesn't avoid death due to State based Actions.

State Based Effects are those effects that are constantly checked for whenever a new player gains priority and at other points during the turn. The most common occurrence that is relevant to this discussion is that of the -1/-1 counter. A creature who has an accrued toughness of zero or less (but not because of damage) goes into the graveyard as such an action, which cannot be Regenerated from.

Also, if a creature is sacrificed, then Regenerate can't save it from doom. So no recurring your troll of choice after sacrificing it to Ashnod's Altar.

So, why was this mechanic rebuilt? Well, it's very complicated. Seriously so. As in, I would place it beside Phasing (HAH! I did mention it!) and Banding as one of the most complicated and rules-intensive mechanics in the game.

Did you know that a Regenerate is a trigger? And that it can last until the end of the turn? That's right! If you trigger Regenerate on a creature, then it doesn't have to be in response to anything! But the next time the creature would be destroyed then it would be regenerated!

However, this complexity was a mark against the usefulness of Regenerate. It's not something that's easy to explain to new players, especially the whole "tap it" deal. I've run into the problem myself - players who are new don't understand why that is. And given that I like to explain things by the whys, this is a problem for me.

So, what did Wizards do? Well, they phased it out. No, not by Phasing! Yeesh, that joke has long since been run into the ground, thank you all kindly.

So, mechanically speaking, what does Regenerate do? I mean, when you strip out the rules, what is the intention behind it?

Well, in effect, it keeps the creature alive when it would otherwise die. And you know what else does that?


Why have a mechanic that has to be changes with the advancing of rules, has multiple unintuitive consequences, and requires activation? It's no longer a good mechanic! It's only still in the game as a legacy of older versions of the rules, and taking it out was not something that could be done cold.

So flat out "I don't die" came into play, existed alongside Regenerate for the longest time, and from there Wizards had to decide which was better. And in the end, the simpler mechanic won out.

Indestructible has effectively replaced Regenerate. And this isn't a bad thing. It's an easier to understand mechanic, where it's a simple solitary response. Is it dead? The answer is no. There is no contingencies, no requirement to remember to activate an activated ability. It just is.

And that's a level of simplicity that just can't be beat. You can't really.

And if there's anything I can approve of, it's simplicity in game design. As much as I like Regeneration, it's the sort of thing that can drive new players away through its complexity. And when you want to introduce things to players, you don't want to make then think that the game is overly hard to understand. I mean, I've seen that happen.

So Regenerate is out. It served its purpose in the past, doing something to keep creatures in play when otherwise they would die. Indestructible is in, and in to stay.

This week's deck is yet another Aggro Deck of mine, this one full to the brim of creatures that just won't die. It could be better, I suppose, if I added White, but I'm allergic to triple colour decks without a very good reason.

Regenerate THIS!

Modern berryjon


Join me next week when I talk about a wrestling stable, and why they are very important to modern magic.

Until then, I'm selling out! Or is that tapping out? Basic donors get a preview copy of the final article, while advanced donors get that as well as the opportunity to join me in a podcast version of the series where I talk and you respond.

This article is a follow-up to Pattern Recognition #29 - Leviathans The next article in this series is Pattern Recognition #31 - NWO

I do like that indestructible has replaced regeneration. Simplify, simplify.

I'd say by and large that casting cost-wise, indestructible is more of an investment than regeneration was. It would be interesting to see more permanents with an activated ability that gave indestructible until end of turn - that would feel more regenerate-ish.

Another fun and educational post! Have you thought about doing this twice a week?

May 25, 2017 1:40 p.m. Edited.

I'm preeeeeetty sure Pyramids still stops Stone Rain. The Oracle text on Pyramids has only made it stronger, if anything.

May 25, 2017 2:47 p.m.

dotytron says... #3

ive read this entire series of articles, i get really excited to see a new one come out, and this has been my favorite so far!

one of my first cards was Thrun, the Last Troll and i remember it always being very confusing for me and my new-to-magic friends also

so I, for one, am very glad for the transition

just wanted also to suggest maybe an article on blinking as a mechanic its another confusing one for many new players and im curious of your thoughts

May 25, 2017 3:04 p.m.

Also I'm pretty two-minded on the whole Regeneration "confusion".

I'll agree that it can be a bit disorienting for new players, but here's the thing, it's nowhere near as rule-intensive as some of the combos out there that are used all the time. IMO, the sooner a new player is digging into the rules to figure out exactly how the game runs, the better. If Regeneration is getting new players to actually read the comprehensive rules, then it's a good thing.

There are so many casual groups of newer players out there who play Magic (or at least, think they are playing Magic, when what they're doing is playing a vague bastardization of it), that have no idea how half the rules work. There are players who have been playing for years that only ever learned the rules via he-said-she-said, who think they know it all, and abuse their ignorance of the rules to effectively cheat new players, possibly even unknowingly.

Literally everybody in my playgroup experienced this when they started out. They were all initially driven away from the game by people who weren't even actually playing Magic: the Gathering.

Rant aside, I feel like Regeneration is not as hard to understand as it has a bad rap for. I see questions in the Rules Q&A here that far surpass the complexity of Regeneration with simple two-card interactions.

May 25, 2017 3:19 p.m.

RazortoothMtg says... #5

Pyramids still stops Stone Rain from happening, in the oracle text the key word is "Instead", making the effect of removing all damage from the land a replacement effect that replaces the destruction of the land. So Pyramids still stops Demolish, Sinkhole, Creeping Mold, Armageddon, Erosion, Ark of Blight, or Strip Mine. Also, speaking of which, maybe do an article on Land Destruction? How it started off as Black and White, then shifted into Red and Green, with blue randomly getting Erosion and Annex.

May 25, 2017 11:24 p.m.

SpammyV says... #6

I always thought that Regeneration suffered from ultimately being misnamed. Regeneration sounds like something you do after you've been wounded or are about to die, and yet it's something you have to do BEFORE you take damage. I think to have the Regeneration effect something that could be easily understood, change the name to Withstand or something, have the name imply some kind of preparation you're doing before the event.

May 27, 2017 4 p.m.

TheRedGoat says... #7

Yeah, I think when I was still mastering the whole regen mechanic, the hardest thing I had to learn was that regen can wait and it also can happen technically as many times as you want (if you've got the resources for the regen ability).

Although I do still have some speculations about how the ability works in tandem with say Debt of Loyalty. I've been told that I can't gain control of a creature if it doesn't actually regenerate, but based on how you layout the mechanic, that can't be true ever unless somehow you can now regenerate a dead creature. :P

May 28, 2017 6:39 a.m.

GobboE says... #8

I must say that I really like regeneration. While the idea that a creature is tapped - when regenerated - can be confusing: the rest is pretty straightforward I think. In short I explain it as follows (I am no judge, and this is not the best explanation but it works): this creature cannot die this turn unless it specifically says so on another card. i think that it is the interaction with other cards (other rules) and the stack that can make it confusing.

May 29, 2017 3:25 a.m.

RoarMaster says... #9

I thought that the tapping of regenerated creatures made sense. I explained it to noobs something like this:

"When your creature would die, instead you can pay (X) and instead of dying, you tap him instead. Your (Troll) just had the shit kicked out of him by that (Dragon), and now he needs time to rest up and heal from those killer wounds. So he is tapped, resting and healing up"

May 30, 2017 1:03 a.m.

GobboE says... #10

Nice one RoarMaster I'll think I'll use that in the future :)

All in all, in response to this topic: I think I prefer regeneration over Indestructability: the latter often is often simply 'overkill' for lack of a better word. Yes it makes creatures stronger, I think regeneration allows for more board (player) interactivity (and I do not mean stacking the indestructable creature with enchantments and equipment, which I also do at times ;) )

May 30, 2017 6:06 a.m.


Debt of Loyalty has specifically been errata'd to read "You gain control of that creature if it regenerates this way this turn." because of this. Frankly it was just worded poorly in the first place.

And I agree with GobboE. My biggest fear with the gradual phasing out of Regeneration is simply that Indestructible is magnitudes more powerful, and I seriously doubt we'll see it thrown around as haphazardly as Regeneration can be. Cards like Dutiful Thrull would fall entirely out of design space if it was just passively indestructible. Even if it read "B: Dutiful Thrull is indestructible until end of turn." it would still be more powerful than Regeneration. It wouldn't have to tap, it wouldn't be susceptible to additional kills in the same turn, and it wouldn't be removed from combat.

The whole point of Regeneration's mechanics was to balance out the creature's resilience, and I thought it did a good job at it. If that goes out the window, they have to find other ways to "balance out" indestructible, and we'll get more stuff like Darksteel Gargoyle, where the "balancing factor" is a prohibitive mana cost that makes the card unusable.

May 30, 2017 1:47 p.m.

GobboE says... #12

@Tyrant-Thanatos: ...and more spells that exile, maling the game more two-dimensional. Yes I agree with you, Wizards are threading a fine line here of development, markeling (also an important factor in this) versus the powerlevel of cards

June 6, 2017 3:51 p.m.

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