Last updated on April 5, 2023
Past in Flames (Signature Spellbook: Chandra) | Illustration by Josu Hernaiz
Everyone likes to cast spells, right? It’s one of the core mechanics of how Magic works, after all. You cast spells and things happen.
But there weren’t a lot of ways to repeat spells back in the early days of Magic. Once you cast a spell that was it unless you drew another copy. We saw buyback in Tempest block as a way to repeat spells, but it proved to be a little too powerful when Urza’s block came soon after.
Today I’m going to talk about flashback, a similar mechanic that allows you to recast cards from the graveyard. Ready? Let’s get started!
How Does Flashback Work?
Deep Analysis | Illustration by Jesper Ejsing
Flashback is only available on instant and sorcery cards. It has two abilities:
- A card with “flashback cost” means you can cast it from your graveyard by paying [cost] instead of its mana cost.
- If a card’s flashback cost was paid, you put it in exile when it leaves the stack.
This basically means that you can cast flashback cards from your graveyard, but the cost is different depending on the card. And the flashback card always gets exiled regardless of whether the spell resolves.
The History of Flashback in MTG
Flashback was one of the new mechanics that came along with the Odyssey block way back in 2001. Sadly this was before Wizards did spoilers and online articles so we don’t know exactly what cards were teased first. But we do know that it was one of the principal design mechanics for the set as per Mark Rosewater.
Originally a less problematic callback to buyback, flashback was supposed to represent a memory coming back to you, i.e. a flashback. Cute, right?
The mechanic was mostly featured in red and green, giving options for making tokens and dealing extra damage. It was revisited in Time Spiral and a few supplemental sets mostly as a small cycle. We didn’t see flashback make a grand return until Innistrad and its return in Midnight Hunt and Crimson Vow.
The mechanic seems to be fairly plane specific, and it doesn’t look like it’ll become an evergreen mechanic anytime soon. That said it does get some love in supplemental sets. Several cards in Modern Horizons and some Commander sets have flashback.
How Many Times Can You Use Flashback?
The major drawback to flashback is that it’s one-time use only. There’s no way to get around the second part of the ability that exiles the card once it’s been flashed back. This was intentional in design since there were balance issues with buyback cards in the previous block, namely Capsize.
What Speed Can You Play Flashback Spells?
Using flashback still limits the card to its original casting speed. If the spell is a sorcery, you can only cast it for its flashback cost at sorcery speed. Flashback doesn’t skip any timing restrictions for spells.
Is Flashback an Additional Cost?
The first half of flashback is an alternate cost, not an additional cost. Additional costs would have to be paid in addition to the card’s mana cost while flashback only needs you to play the ability cost.
Is Flashback an Activated Ability?
Nope! Flashback is two static abilities. One of which is an alternate cost while the other is a replacement effect.
Can You Copy a Flashback Spell?
Galvanic Iteration | Illustration by Johann Bodin
Yep! A flashback spell on the stack can be copied just like any other spell. The only difference is that it doesn’t count as being cast from a graveyard so cards like Increasing Vengeance don’t get their extra benefits.
Does Flashback Count as Playing a Spell?
Absolutely. Since you’re just paying an alternative cost to cast a spell it still has to go through all the steps of spellcasting.
What Happens When You Counter a Flashback Spell?
Nothing different happens if a flashback spell was cast for its normal cost and then countered. But if the spell was cast via flashback, the spell gets exiled after the stack resolves. Regardless of how it leaves the stack, a spell that’s been flashed back must go to exile once it resolves. It can never go anywhere else.
What Happens if You Memory Lapse a Flashback Spell?
No matter what happens, a spell cast through flashback must go to exile on resolve. It doesn’t matter what’s supposed to happen to the spell, so effects like Memory Lapse just become hard counters.
How Does Flashback Work with Cost Reduction?
Flashback’s cost can be reduced just like any other spell or alternate cost. Effects like Paladin Class increase it and cards like Goblin Electromancer reduce it. There’s even Catalyst Stone that exclusively reduces your flashback cost.
Can You Overload a Spell You’re Flashing Back?
You’d be giving a card two different alternate costs if you gave a card with overload, like Cyclonic Rift, flashback through Snapcaster Mage or similar effects. Overload is an alternate cost just like flashback. But you can’t pay for more than one alternate cost when casting a spell.
Can You Buyback a Spell When You Flash it Back?
No, you can’t buyback a spell when you use its flashback ability. This is thanks to that secondary effect. Regardless of how it leaves the stack (whether it resolves, gets countered, or bought back), a flashed back card must be exiled. It can never go to another zone after flashback resolves.
Jump-start vs. Flashback
Jump-start was a mechanic that debuted with the release of Guilds of Ravnica as the primary mechanic for the Izzet League. It operates almost identically to flashback with the additional cost of requiring you to discard a card. It even has the same exile clause that flashback does.
Best Flashback Cards
Ancient Grudge sees plenty of play in eternal formats as a cheap way to destroy artifacts, and it can be used multiple times.
Army of the Damned
Army of the Damned is a casual Commander superstar offering an army-in-a-can effect twice.
Cabal Therapy is more common in dredge-style decks in Legacy and Vintage. It offers a powerful and repeatable discard effect as well as a sac outlet.
Deep Analysis is a common Commander staple for blue decks since it’s a good repeatable draw effect.
Dread Return & Unburial Rites
Dread Return and Unburial Rites both hold high ranks for being very common in reanimator-style decks. Dread is so good that it was immediately banned with Modern’s creation because of how abusable it can be in dredge decks.
Faithless Looting was one of the biggest problems in Modern for a long time as a cheap rummage effect that also allows you to flashback for cheap. It fueled a lot of red-based and Dredge decks until it was finally banned in 2019. It got a “fixed” version in Faithful Mending but this hasn’t seen anywhere near that amount of play.
Galvanic Iteration has seen plenty of Standard play as a way to copy powerful spells like Alrund's Epiphany.
Memory Deluge was another powerful Standard card and currently sees play in other formats such as Historic and Pioneer.
Past in Flames
Past in Flames is a common combo enabler in Commander and a value engine in formats like Modern and Legacy.
Sevinne's Reclamation is a common cEDH staple in white since it allows a lot of flexibility with mill, tutoring to the graveyard, and repeatable effects like Underworld Breach.
Flashback to Reality
Memory Deluge | Illustration by Lake Hurwitz
Flashback has been around the block a bit and I’m always happy to see it. I rarely feel bad when I see this mechanic appear on a spell and it doesn’t usually make it a powerful enough effect to feel broken. I’d be pleased to see more of it, but it may be some time before it reappears since we just got a huge dose of it with the two new Innistrad sets.
How do you feel about flashback? Did I miss something here that you’d like to mention? Let us know over on Twitter or tell us in the comments below.
As for me I’ve gotta prep for my weekly Commander night. Wash your hands and stay safe y’all!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: