Last updated on April 23, 2024

Regeneration - Illustration by Jeremy Jarvis

Regeneration | Illustration by Jeremy Jarvis

Regeneration is a complicated ability. In fact, has been a long time since a new card with regenerate was released, leading the mechanic to be effectively replaced with the indestructible ability for some very valid reasons.

How Does Regeneration Work?

Lethal Sting - Illustration by Randy Vargas

Lethal Sting | Illustration by Randy Vargas

Regeneration is an ability that protects your creatures from dying. As the name suggests, creatures with regeneration don’t die when dealt lethal damage and instead stay on the battlefield. Meaning, their damage gets removed, they’re no longer attacking or blocking and they get tapped.

The Details

Before we dive into the good stuff, we’ve got a treat for the visual and audio learners in the group. Here’s a quick, concise video explaining all the stuff you need to know about what regeneration is and what it can and can’t do:

All right, now for those of you who prefer to learn by reading, the first thing you need to keep in mind is that a regenerated creature doesn’t get a chance to die, and so it never leaves the battlefield. This means it doesn’t apply any ETB (enter the battlefield) effects. It also means that regeneration can be used for tokens as well.

Does Regenerate Work Against Counters? Do Creatures Lose Counters After Regenerating?

No, the creature’s counters stay on it because the regenerated creature does not leave the battlefield. It is kept from harm's way. This also means that counters, enchantments – auras, equipment, etc. aren’t removed from a regenerated creature—token or otherwise—because the creature remains alive and well.

The next thing to know is that regeneration isn’t revival; regeneration needs to be activated before the creature is destroyed. It can’t bring them back from the realm of the dead, only protect them from venturing there in the first place.

What Is a Regeneration Shield?

The term “regeneration shield” was introduced to better clarify the ability because of the confusion. A regeneration shield is granted to a creature when a spell or ability is activated. The shield lasts until the end of the turn and activates when the creature is about to be destroyed.

If a creature that has a regeneration shield faces a creature with deathtouch, both creatures deal combat damage. As the damage is dealt, however, the creature with regeneration is tapped, taken out of combat, and has all damage removed from it, thus bringing it back to full health.

Can You Regenerate a Creature During the End Step to Save It from Dying?

You can’t regenerate a destroyed creature because it’s already dead and gone so there’s nothing to regenerate. This means that you have to grant regeneration before lethal is dealt. Regeneration functions as a “replacement effect”, meaning that the effect waits for one conditional event to replace with another. In this case, it would replace “destroy” with “tap, remove from combat, and remove all damage”. If the creature is already destroyed, this event has already passed and can’t be replaced, so nothing would happen.

Some Restrictions

Mad Auntie - Illustration by Wayne Reynolds

Mad Auntie | Illustration by Wayne Reynolds

If you're thinking that regeneration makes your creature invincible, wait until you learn about its restrictions. There are multiple ways to deal with regeneration since it only guards against the creature being destroyed.

Does Regenerate Prevent Exile?

No, a creature with regenerate will not be protected from exile. Other things that won’t trigger regeneration shield protection are effects that move the creature from the battlefield to another zone, like back to its owner’s hand.

Can Regenerate Save a Creature from -X/-X Effects?

Regeneration will be unlikely to save your creature since most -X/-X effects are static or at least last until the end of the turn. So while damage gets removed with a regeneration shield, a toughness of 0, would cause you to lose your creature.

An Example

You’ve got an Undercity Troll on the battlefield while your opponent has Typhoid Rats. During your combat phase, your Troll attacks and gets blocked by the Rats. Since your opponent’s creature has deathtouch, your creature will die when Typhoid Rats deals it even a measly 1 damage. So, you activate your creature’s regeneration ability before any damage is dealt, between the declare blockers and the combat damage steps of the combat phase.

After both creature’s damage is dealt, Typhoid Rats dies and Undercity Troll’s regeneration shield activates. It becomes tapped, back at full health. Your opponent really wants to remove your Troll, so they then cast Shock targeting your Troll.

Also of note, if your opponent had cast Shock after they declared blockers but before the combat damage step, your Troll would be removed from combat and no damage would be dealt, leaving their Rats unscathed.

How Many Times Can You Regenerate?

As many times as you have available mana, you can activate regeneration shields. And, lucky you, in this scenario you do! You activate the ability’s namesake, Regenerate, before Shock resolves which puts your shield on top of the stack.

After your shield resolves, your opponent’s spell resolves and deals your Troll lethal damage which is then removed as it regenerates again. Regenerate can pretty much keep your creatures alive given the proper resources, unless your opponent drops a regeneration-preventing nuke like Death Pits of Rath.

History of Regeneration

Relentless Dead - Illustration by Ryan Yee

Relentless Dead | Illustration by Ryan Yee

Regeneration is one of the first abilities ever used in Limited Edition (First Edition), the first MTG card set ever released back in 1993. So, it has every right to be one of the strongest abilities. Although the very first cards that used the mechanic—Death Ward, its counterpart Disintegrate, and of course Regeneration —were fairly simple, the ability came to be considered one of the most convoluted mechanics in the game at the time.

It gets even more complicated under the old rules with damage going on the stack.

Why Regeneration Was Killed Off

Creatures can still be regenerated today, but new cards have simpler mechanics. As Aaron Forsythe stated in an article on the Ninth Edition set back in 2005: “The truth is that the mechanic is so complicated and wonky that we would never greenlight it today, but it has been grandfathered into the fabric of the game, and it does fill a nice niche”. This is slightly in contrast to mana burn, which ended up being completely nixed.

Among some of the first is Reassembling Skeleton, producing what comes down to the exact same effect as Drudge Skeletons with much less hassle.

Eventually, the ability saw its last use in Oath of the Gatewatch in 2016, with Birthing Hulk being the last to bear its name. All of this means that it’s impossible as of now to try it out for a spin in MTG Arena.

Before it saw its last feature, though, there were some wicked cards that carried the regenerate mantle. Some of them have been used to frustrate opponents to no end. Especially Thrun, the Last Troll.

Thrun, the Last Troll

Thrun is a hell of a card. It can’t be countered, can’t be the target of spells or abilities (effectively rendering it hexproof), has a ridiculously cheap regeneration cost, a decently intense threat as a 4/4, and costs a measly four mana. You have just about no options to deal with this guy, other than a dedicated blocker like Wall of Mist or a hexproof-remover like Glaring Spotlight.

There are also some less annoying but equally useful creatures with regeneration, such as River Boa. There are even some lands like Yavimaya Hollow. In fact, regeneration became so widespread at one point that some cards had a “can’t be regenerated” clause to prevent it from taking over the game. Remember Death Pits of Rath? Great example. There’s also Terror, whose art really carries its name.

The Best Regenerators

Aside from the examples I gave earlier, there are some astounding cards that you should definitely try if you’re looking to build a regeneration-themed deck. Let’s take a look at some of them and very quickly touch on why you should consider each:

Rakshasa Deathdealer

Rakshasa Deathdealer

A 2-drop that can be buffed up to 4/4 with the ability to regenerate will definitely cause some headache for your opponent.

Loxodon Hierarch

Loxodon Hierarch

Although it can’t regenerate itself, you can think of Loxodon as a critical lifesaver. Its ability to regenerate all your creatures might change the game when you’re facing a board wipe.

Debt of Loyalty

Debt of Loyalty

In my opinion, this is one of the best regeneration cards in the game since it allows you to steal an enemy creature at the death’s door. Since you can also use it on your creatures if you end up in a pinch, it’s useful all around.

Mad Auntie

Mad Auntie

If you like Goblin-themed decks, Mad Auntie is a good addition. It also provides a slight power boost with its +1/+1 bonus in addition to the ability to regenerate a fellow Goblin. Pair it with Pemmin's Aura in a Dimir deck and enough mana and you’re practically unstoppable.

The Shield is Down

Rakshasa Deathdealer - Illustration by John Severin Brassel

Rakshasa Deathdealer | Illustration by John Severin Brassel

Although it’s more common to see indestructible over regeneration mechanics in current Magic, it’s definitely a fun ability to play with. Convoluted? Maybe, but it allows for more varied plays instead of just an indestructible creature bashing away.

Regeneration has been out of the game for quite a while, and anything similar that comes along in new sets would be a great door to some unique gameplay. What do you think? Should (maybe a simpler version) of regeneration be brought back, or is this just a relic of the past that seems better than it was? Let us know your thoughts in the comments down below!

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  • Avatar
    Bob February 19, 2020 6:37 am

    “which is also why sacrificing creatures doesn’t trigger “whenever a creature dies” effects” is incorrect/

    • Avatar
      Dan Troha February 19, 2020 7:23 am

      Thanks for pointing that out – oversight on our part. Fixed!

      • Avatar
        Jimmy August 1, 2021 3:21 am

        I like regeneration more than indestructible. To me, indestructible is more confusing. If something is indestructible, why is it removable at all? It is also boring because it is so hard to get rid of. If indestructible replaced regeneration, cards like Terror should kill indestructible.

        In my opinion, the best regeneration card is Zombie Master.

  • Avatar
    Phil April 22, 2021 7:38 pm

    Finding this article really late, but…. Ran into an issue I couldn’t find an answer to online. If you play a creature with Morph face down, that creature gets destroyed, and you regenerate it using an instant… does it regenerate face down, or does it regenerate face up? After a brief debate we settled on regenerating face-down… preserving the state it was in when it was regenerated. Was that the right call?

    • Avatar
      Dan Troha April 22, 2021 8:17 pm

      Yes I think that’s right. It doesn’t leave play or anything so no reason to reveal it.

      • Avatar
        Phil April 23, 2021 8:33 am

        Appreciate the input!

  • Avatar
    Chris June 9, 2022 5:40 pm

    Revive and Regenerate. Ok so I don’t agree that the creature should get to keep it’s counters. In order for a creature to be regenerated or revived it has to die, otherwise it wouldn’t need to be regenerated or revived, but it clearly dies, thereby loosing counters however when it’s revived it will come back with artifacts and equipment with it.
    So the reasoning is it’s coming back fresh all the counters it gains is because it’s alive in the field, but it keeps equipment and artifacts when it comes back.

  • Avatar
    Ben October 10, 2022 4:56 pm

    So, it removes damage delt. In the case of infect or wither, damage is dealt as -1/-1 counters but IS damage delt. Would regeneration remove the counters placed during this combat/damage instance?

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