Last updated on May 23, 2023
Deep Forest Hermit | Illustration by Chris Seaman
One turn they’re here, and then poof, they’re gone!
Magic’s vanishing mechanic puts a time limit on your permanents and forces you to use time as a resource. But what makes vanishing unique, and how did it come about?
Let’s jump right in and find out before our time’s up!
How Does Vanishing Work?
Keldon Marauders | Illustration by Alex Horley-Orlandelli
Vanishing is a mechanic that represents three effects, one static and two triggered. First, “vanishing X” means the creature enters the battlefield with X time counters on it. The first triggered ability happens at the beginning of your upkeep and removes a time counter from the card. When the last counter is removed, you sacrifice the card.
Time counters, introduced in the Time Spiral block, can be manipulated to keep the card in play longer or sacrifice it sooner.
The History of Vanishing in MTG
Vanishing appeared for the first time in Planar Chaos as a spiritual successor to the fading mechanic. Alongside suspend, it represented creatures pushing through the temporal fabric on Dominaria, time-traveling from the past of the future.
14 vanishing cards were printed across Future Sight and Planar Chaos: four blue cards, three white cards, two each of green, black, and red, and one colorless artifact creature. One more green card was printed in Modern Horizons, and one more white card in Modern Horizons 2.
Vanishing was designed as a simpler version of fading that could interact with the broader time counter theme in the Time Spiral block. It was considered the opposite of suspend. While suspend featured cards pushing through the time-barriers on Dominaria, vanishing cards show creatures being sucked back into their own alternate reality.
Is Vanishing a Triggered Ability?
Two-thirds of the vanishing mechanic are triggered. The first part, entering with a number of time counters, is static. Once it’s on the battlefield, the second part triggers at the beginning of your upkeep, and the final effect triggers only when the last time counter is removed.
Is the Vanishing Sacrifice a Separate Triggered Ability?
Vanishing’s triggered sacrifice ability can be treated as a separate ability. It’s placed on the stack as a different trigger than the first triggered ability.
Can You Counter the Sacrifice Ability? What Happens?
You could counter either of the triggered abilities of a vanishing effect. Stifle-ing the sacrifice trigger stops the creature from being sacrificed, effectively keeping it on the battlefield indefinitely. The creature won’t die since the sacrifice ability only triggers when the last time counter is removed, and you can’t remove “the last” time counter from a creature with no time counters.
Vanishing vs. Fading
Vanishing works similarly to fading with some key differences. First and foremost, vanishing uses time counters as opposed to fading’s fade counters. This allows interaction with more counter-manipulation cards, as well as the time-specific cards from Time Spiral.
Second, fading cards are sacrificed differently. Fading cards are sacrificed when you can’t remove a time counter from it instead of when the last one is removed on a card with vanishing. This means that the ability still triggers on your next upkeep, even if you counter the fading sacrifice ability, while vanishing only triggers once.
How Does Vanishing Work with Undying?
If a creature with vanishing gains undying (maybe via Undying Evil), then it returns to the battlefield with a full set of time counters and a +1/+1 counter when it dies. The vanishing ability doesn’t allow you to remove the +1/+1 counter, and the +1/+1 counter prevents it from making use of undying a second time.
What if Something has Vanishing More Than Once?
If a permanent has more than one instance of vanishing they each work separately. For example, if a permanent has two instances of vanishing and three time counters on it, then two will be removed at the beginning of your upkeep, leaving it with one.
The only situation where this comes up is Maelstrom Djinn. If this creature is turned face-up (gaining vanishing and two time counters) and then somehow turned face-down, it retains the vanishing ability and time counters. Then it gains another instance of vanishing and another two time counters if it’s flipped face-up again.
Are Time Counters Used Anywhere Else?
Time counters aren’t exclusive to vanishing. Most notably, suspend cards make use of time counters from exile and were released alongside vanishing in the Time Spiral block. They’re considered the antithesis of vanishing.
Aside from that, a handful of one-off cards also watch the clock. As Foretold is a powerful mythic that gets you a free spell every turn. Ice Age’s Infinite Hourglass and Time Bomb accelerate games quickly. Finally, there’s Fallen Empires’ Tourach's Gate. This card uses a proto-fading ability that requires sacrificial thrulls to stay on the field.
Is Vanishing an Aura?
All right wise guy, technically, yes, Vanishing is an aura. It’s not related to the vanishing mechanic unless you plan on using the phase out ability to skip the sacrifice effect on your vanishing permanent.
Vanishing Cards Ranked
The vanishing mechanic was only printed on 16 cards, but some are more useful than others. Let’s take a look all of the best vanishing cards ranked, before they’re gone!
#16. Lavacore Elemental
Lavacore Elemental is tricky. It vanishes the following turn if you can’t connect with a creature when it lands.
It can make a good turn 3 play if you’ve dropped an early unblockable creature. But it’s a fragile card that’s still susceptible to removal otherwise, even with more time counters.
#15. Soultether Golem
Similar to Lavacore Elemental, Soultether Golem only enters with a single time counter. Two mana for a 3/3 is aggressive, but you won’t want to cast it until you have another mana available to drop a cheap 1/1 to keep it alive.
#14. Deadwood Treefolk
Deadwood Treefolk is typical green recursion on a 3/6 body. While it returns you two creatures over the course of its life on the battlefield, it’s relatively low power and an awkward trade-off for six mana, considering two Regrowths are cheaper and more reliable.
#13. Deadly Grub
The key to Deadly Grub is keeping it alive long enough to trigger its second effect. Manipulating those time counters with a Fury Charm is your best bet to getting that sweet 6/1 shroud token.
#12. Waning Wurm
Waning Wurm is a simple card for an archetype we’ve seen before: a cheap big creature you can only use for one turn. Its threat range is pretty good at four mana for a 7/6, but there’s no guarantee any of that damage will go through without trample or some other evasion.
#11. Ravaging Riftwurm
Ravaging Riftwurm beats out Waning Wurm for best vanishing wurm, but just barely. Three mana for a 6/6 with a time limit is a little better than four mana for a 7/6, and it gets diversity points for its kicker ability.
Calciderm is actually a color-shifted version of Nemesis’ Blastoderm. A 5/5 for four mana is really good for uncommon, and shroud protects it from removal before its time is up.
Sadly, it also protects it from adding time counters via Timebender-like effects. But it’s still affected by non-targeted effects like proliferate.
Tidewalker doesn’t have a set number of time counters when it enters the battlefield. Instead, it enters with a number equal to the number of Islands you control and has power and toughness equal to its time.
Tidewalker gets at least one time counter weaker before it attacks, so it’s worth more in the late game once you’ve cleared the board of blockers.
#8. Maelstrom Djinn
Maelstrom Djinn is the only vanishing card that also has morph. Eight mana for a 5/6 flier isn’t great, but you can save yourself two mana by playing it face down first and then flipping it for its morph cost.
It’s important to note that you can do this at instant speed, meaning you can flip it after blockers have been declared to sneak in two turns of five damage.
#7. Keldon Marauders
Keldon Marauders also sees a lot of play in Pauper, particularly in red burn decks. It’s a guaranteed two damage for two mana, and the possibility of swinging in for three on top of that is just too juicy to resist.
#6. Lost Auramancers
Anything that lets you tutor something directly to the field is a great effect, even with the setup Lost Auramancers requires. Hit it with a Fury Charm real quick before it can be removed, then go search up something ridiculous like Overwhelming Splendor.
#5. Deep Forest Hermit
For the squirrel lovers out there. Deep Forest Hermit is five bodies for five mana, and four of them are even 2/2s! You’ll have a turn or two of attacks with those buffed squirrels before the Hermit dies, possibly putting down eight combat damage per turn. Not bad at all!
#4. Aven Riftwatcher
Aven Riftwatcher is another vanishing Pauper staple, and it works great with blink effects in that format. For three mana you’re effectively gaining four life and attacking with a 2/3 flying creature for three turns, a not-insignificant threat in a completely commons format.
A 3/3 flier with a time limit feels like a rip-off for four mana, but Chronozoa is actually one of the better vanishing cards. With a little bit of build-around you can expect to see two Chronozoas for the price of one within one turn.
It’ll be very hard for your opponents to remove all of them once two or more hit the field, save wiping the entire board.
#2. Out of Time
MH2’s Out of Time worked the vanishing mechanic into a board wipe, with phasing thrown in to boot. I really think this card should see more play, especially in Commander.
For three mana you can wipe a huge board without triggering any enters- or leaves-the-battlefield abilities. Granted, the creatures will return, but you’ll have dug up an answer to those threats by then.
#1. Reality Acid
Reality Acid is so cool. The star of the once-popular Acid Trip Pauper deck, this card is most often seen being bounced onto and off of the battlefield with Kor Skyfisher. It’s one of the only decks in the meta that attacks its opponents’ lands, making it a very nasty control piece at just three mana.
Decklist: Acid Trip in Pauper
Reality Acid | Illustration by James Wong
Aven Riftwatcher x2
Dream Stalker x4
Heliod's Pilgrim x2
Kor Skyfisher x4
Lone Missionary x2
Sea Gate Oracle x3
Flicker of Fate x3
Teferi's Time Twist x3
Journey to Nowhere x4
Reality Acid x3
Spreading Seas x2
Azorius Chancery x2
Kabira Crossroads x2
Secluded Steppe x2
Tranquil Cove x2
Circle of Protection: Red x2
Kor Sanctifiers x2
Relic of Progenitus x2
Serrated Arrows x2
Spreading Seas x2
Vanishing shines as a mechanic in Pauper, where three of its four common cards see regular play. This deck showcases one of the best ways to abuse Reality Acid’s vanishing ability.
You effectively Vindicate your opponent’s board over and over by bouncing it to your hand or blinking it over and over again. It synergizes well with Kor Skyfisher and Dream Stalker as well, turning their downsides into upsides.
Calciderm | Illustration by Dave Kendall
Vanishing and its parallel ability, suspend, do a great job at capturing the time-warped setting of the Time Spiral block. Its subtle differences from fading make it a fun mechanic to build around, and it shouldn’t be underestimated. I’m hoping to see more vanishing cards in future Modern Horizons sets, and maybe even on a commander someday!
What would a legendary creature with vanishing look like? Are there any other weird ways to give a creature multiple instances of vanishing you need to share besides Maelstrom Djinn? Let me know in the comments or over on Draftsim’s Twitter.
Thanks for reading!
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