Last updated on April 12, 2024

Coercive Portal - Illustration by Yeong Hao Han

Coercive Portal | Illustration by Yeong Hao Han

Magic has a long history of sets and mechanics, and one way that they’ve varied cards over the years is by including ability words on cards and in designs.

These offer both design and flavor benefits in the game, simplifying how you understand the cards while also tying the abilities to the set and the story in a way that wouldn’t be possible without them.

Often overlooked, you get to take a good look at ability words today and get your head around just what they are!

What Is an Ability Word in Magic?

Winged Words - Illustration by Chris Seaman

Winged Words | Illustration by Chris Seaman

Ability words are the names of certain abilities that appear on Magic cards in italics but have no direct rules tied to them. One example is landfall. The word itself tells us something about the ability, while the rest of the description of the ability tells us everything you need.

Lotus Cobra

Looking at Lotus Cobra, if you took “landfall” out of the ability, it would still function in exactly the same way as if it was there. It exists to tie the mechanics of a set together in a very flavorful manner.

Ability Words vs. Keyword Abilities

Ability words are different from keyword abilities. Where ability words don’t have rules tied to them, keyword abilities do. For example, haste gives a creature the ability, “This creature can attack and  as soon as it comes under your control.” This text sometimes even shows up in italics as reminder text to explain what haste means. Just writing landfall or heroic on a creature doesn’t give it an ability, however.

Ability Words vs. Keyword Actions

Keyword actions in MTG are words written on a card that have a specific meaning in the context of the game. A good example is destroy. It’s a word that has a meaning in day-to-day life, but in Magic, it specifically means to move the permanent from the battlefield to the graveyard. Ability words are different in that they have no specific rules tied to them at all.

Ability Words vs. Triggered Abilities

Triggered abilities are abilities that have the prefix “when” or “whenever” on them and trigger because of another action happening in the game. Ability words could be tied to a triggered ability, like landfall which is an ability word that’s always tied to a triggered ability that triggers when a land enters the battlefield under your control.

Ability Words vs. Activated Abilities

Activated abilities are abilities that you need to pay a cost on before using. There are some ability words that are tied to activated abilities, like channel, which has an ability that’s activated by paying a cost and discarding the card from your hand.

Are Ability Words Part Of The Card's Rules Text?

No, the ability word does not affect the rules text of a card.

Can Ability Words Be Used On Any Type Of Card?

Ability words can be found on just about any type of card. Look for hellbent, and you'll find it on lands, creatures, enchantments, sorceries, and instants.

Are There Ability Words That Only Appear In Specific Magic Sets Or Blocks?

Slaying Fire Boros Fury-Shield

Yes, some ability words only appear on one set or block, even if the same functional ability exists elsewhere, but without the ability word. For example, adamant appears in Throne of Eldraine, though you might have cared about what color mana you spent for a spell as early as Ravnica: City of Guilds with a card like Boros Fury-Shield.

Can Creatures Lose Ability Words?


Creatures can’t really lose ability words because they never really have them in the first place. The ability word itself is just a flavorful way to tie similar abilities together on cards, and which has no reference in the comprehensive rules. The ability that the ability word relates to can be lost, however, through normal effects like Humility.

Can Ability Words Trigger Other Abilities on the Same Card?

Eidolon of Blossoms

If an ability word’s ability refers to an ability that can be triggered by an ability on the same card, as long as the wording of the card allows it to be triggered by itself, this is fine. One example is an enchantment creature like Eidolon of Blossoms with the ability word constellation triggering the constellation ability when it enters the battlefield.

List of Ability Words

Wrap Up

Exchange of Words - Illustration by Zoltan Boros

Exchange of Words | Illustration by Zoltan Boros

Ability words are definitely a small part of what’s made Magic mechanics so iconic over the years and have helped tie sets together without over-complicating them. It’s actually very difficult to think of Magic without them. People genuinely get excited when a favorite mechanic is coming back in a new set, even if that mechanic doesn’t actually have any rules tied to it. Funny that, really, when you think about it.

What do you think of these ability words? Had you given them much thought before? Are there any that you hold in particularly high regard? Let me know which ability words stand out to you in the comments or in the official Draftsim Discord. No doubt we’ll see you again in future, talking about some new, even cooler, ability word.

Until next time, stay safe, and stay healthy!

Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates:

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *