Last updated on September 30, 2022
Counterspell (Mystical Archive) | Illustration by Olena Richards
If you’re like me and started playing Magic after 1999, you’ve probably only seen “interrupt” on old versions of cards you already know, like Counterspell. If you’re really like me, you just thought interrupt was the old word for “instant.”
Luckily for us, they basically work the same at this point and you could feasibly go the rest of your (pro-tour-winning, hopefully) Magic career without ever having to treat them differently. But you’re here to know more about this mysterious mechanic, so today I’m going to run down just what an interrupt was, how it used to work versus how it works now, and why it was removed in the first place.
Let’s just jump right in!
What Was an Interrupt?
Force of Will | Illustration by Terese Nielsen
Interrupts were essentially a faster-than-instant-speed card type that resolved before any other spell, and you could respond to them using other interrupts. It was basically a “stop whatever you’re doing and resolve this now” card type.
Examples of interrupts are the original Counterspell and Dark Ritual. They were the ultimate spells in terms of speed and also benefitted in power level because of that.
But their unique interaction spell timing and other cards made them increasingly more confusing as the game aged. This resulted in their eventual removal, but I’ll get to that later.
Interrupts vs. Instants
Instants are spells that can be cast anytime a player has priority and they’re responding to something other than an interrupt. This meant that if your opponent Counterspell‘ed (originally an interrupt) whatever you cast, you couldn’t respond with an instant like Lightning Bolt; your only option was to cast another interrupt.
This made interrupts much stronger than instants since they transitioned interactions from instant vs. instant to interrupts being the minimum speed of actions you could take. This shut down potential responses like Giant Growth that otherwise would have been perfectly viable.
This was pretty unintuitive and made for a much more disrupted and rougher game pace than we’re used to today.
What Do Interrupts Do Now?
Hydroblast | Illustration by Joseph Meehan
Interrupts were no more with the release of Sixth Edition in 1999. Most of the interrupt cards that you’ll run into have since been reprinted as instants, but it’s important to know how they work just in case they haven’t.
Wizards of the Coast retroactively changed all interrupts to instants and added errata text to make sure they still worked as intended. Cards with the errata text “activate this as an interrupt” had their text changed to “activate this only any time you could cast an instant” or just outright removed mana abilities to follow the new rules.
What this means is that, if you or somebody in your play group is playing with an old version of a card or a card that was only printed as an interrupt, you should play it as an instant with the associated rules.
History of Interrupts
Interrupts were in the game from the very start. They were first printed in 1993’s Alpha and in every set until the release of Sixth Edition in April 1999.
Since their rules were faster than instants and would only respond to instants or other interrupts, they came in the form of cards like Red Elemental Blast and Interdict. Interrupts were the ultimate card when it came to player interaction. They created an environment far more one-sided than we have with instants and the new version of the stack today.
Why Were Interrupts Removed?
Blue Elemental Blast (Signature Spellbook: Jace) | Illustration by Slawomir Maniak
To the experienced player who’s familiar with the stack and how priority works in Magic, interrupts may not seem too complicated. After all, they’re basically a slightly worse split second. But things were a lot more difficult to understand for new players in the early days of Magic. There weren’t really any resources to learn other than the official rules you got with a starter kit, so complicated mechanics were even more confusing.
So Wizards started a series of changes to simplify confusing and unintuitive mechanics and make the game more accessible to newer players in Sixth Edition. One of these changes including cutting interrupts from the game entirely.
The removal of interrupt simplified the stack and how it worked. It also created a power shift in different directions for a lot of cards. Some got much weaker while others got much stronger.
Forbid was originally an interrupt, which meant you could buy it back to counter a second spell after it resolved. You could basically counter multiple instants without letting your opponent respond as easily. Now that it’s an instant, your opponent could cast another instant in response. Pretty neat, huh?
Interrupts vs. Split Second
The super-fast speed of interrupts may remind you of the split second mechanic that still exists today. It was originally created as a callback to the long-gone mechanic.
But split second is much stronger than interrupt since other spells can’t be cast when a split second card is on the stack. This means that you can only activate mana or triggered abilities once a card with this mechanic has been played.
Split second cards are also typically very flavorful, with the theme of last-second moves like Angel’s Grace and Trickbind. Because of the obvious nature of the term “split-second” implying it’s speed, the rarity of the mechanic, and the on-the-card rules text explaining the mechanic, split second is definitely simpler than interrupts.
What Does an Ability That Says “Play as an Interrupt” Mean?
Mana Drain | Illustration by Raymond Swanland
“Play as an interrupt” was rules text that gave certain abilities or cards functional interrupt speed, meaning they could be used or cast in response to interrupts or any other time an interrupt could be cast. This was commonly put on mana rocks and artifacts with activated abilities. Lands are tapped for mana without going onto the stack, so it made sense to extend this power to abilities and cards that also generated mana.
After the rules changed to remove interrupts from the game, some other changes came with it to further clarify and simplify certain Magic mechanics. Cards that generate mana at “interrupt-speed” became something called a “mana ability.”
This is now the fastest speed mechanic and can’t be responded to at all. Cards that still needed to be at instant speed instead got the rules text, “play any time you could cast an instant” to clarify.
Luckily for us players, the general rule of “treat it like it says instant” for old cards that still use interrupt is intuitive and a great solution to the change.
Mana Abilities vs. Interrupts
Thanks to the nature of how casting cards requiring mana works, mana abilities don’t go on the stack and can’t be responded to. In case you didn’t know, a mana ability is any ability (activated or triggered) that generates mana, doesn’t require a target, and isn’t a loyalty ability.
Since they don’t go on the stack and resolve instantly, you can’t Shock your opponent’s Llanowar Elves to stop them from generating mana when it’s active and you can’t Abrade your opponent’s Sol Ring to stop them from getting the two colorless. This meant that mana abilities could be used in response to interrupts when they were still around.
Interrupt Card Gallery and List
- Blue Elemental Blast
- Dark Ritual
- Magical Hack
- Power Sink
- Red Elemental Blast
- Sleight of Mind
- Spell Blast
Dark Ritual (Mystical Archive) | Illustration by Robbie Trevino
At the end of it all, I don’t see interrupts as an especially confusing card type, but I don’t see them as one that’s fun or that promotes interaction in any way. I like the current rulings around the stack and how responding to instants work and I’d be disappointed if interrupts returned in their original state.
It would mean that the amount of interaction and planning around resources would be reduced, since there’s drastically few things you can do in response to an interrupt. I like interacting with my opponent, but not when it’s one-sided. I think that split second gives us a best-of-both-worlds deal.
Well, that’s all I have for you on interrupts in Magic! Did I miss anything, or is there something you’re still wondering about? Let me know down below in the comments or head over to our Discord to talk about it there.
Until next time, stay safe and stay healthy!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: