Last updated on April 12, 2022
Sudden Substitution | Illustration by Noah Bradley
Time Spiral was one of the most influential blocks to ever come out. I mean, have you ever seen how often these cards are used in older formats? It’s insane, really. It pushed the power level out the window and introduced iconic cards to the game.
It also introduced split second, a mechanic that oozes flavor for the time-themed set. A callback to the old interrupt card type from the early days of Magic with a flavorful twist.
Today I wanna talk to you about how the mechanic works, and more importantly, why it’s too good to see again.
Extirpate | Illustration by Jon Foster
Split second essentially means “as long as this spell is on the stack, players can’t cast other spells or activate abilities that aren’t mana abilities.” That’s the reminder text for the ability, and it’s pretty good. Nobody can do anything while a split second spell is on the stack until it resolves.
Well, not actually anything.
Split Second first appeared in the mechanics reveal for Time Spiral in 2006 with Sudden Death. The mechanic was originally intended to be Izzet’s keyword for Guildpact before being shuffled off to Coldsnap and then settling into Time Spiral‘s design.
Sadly, Mark Rosewater has confirmed several times that split second resides at a 7-8 on the Storm Scale, so it’s unlikely we’ll see it make a reappearance in the future.
If you weren’t aware, interrupts were a card type that was supposed to resolve before anything else on the “batch,” a precursor to Magic’s stack. They were errata’d to become instants with the release of Sixth Edition, which meant their near-uninteractable presence was gone.
Split second is a callback to interrupts, but they work a little differently. Once an interrupt was played, only more interrupts could be played. But once a split second spell is played, nothing can be played. Only triggered abilities and special actions (like morphing a card face-up or flipping a conspiracy card up) can be performed.
Word of Seizing | Illustration by Vance Kovacs
You’re only able to respond with “special actions” that don’t use the stack. Sadly, the only real actions that work in this scenario are flipping morph creatures face-up. Cards like Willbender and Voidmage Apprentice can be flipped face-up and their abilities will trigger, but you can’t cast any cards or use activated abilities.
Technically priority is still passed between players before the split second spell is resolved. But you can’t do much other than using special abilities.
Spells already on the stack resolve as normal after the split second spell resolves. Once a split second spell resolves, the stack can resolve as normal or be responded to again.
Triggered abilities still happen after a spell with split second hits the stack. Abilities like Hesitation, Standstill, and Decree of Silence will trigger. But any triggered ability that requires you to cast another spell (like Sunbird’s Invocation) won’t allow you to cast it but the ability will still trigger.
Angel’s Grace | Illustration by Zoltan Boros
Mark Rosewater once commented that “the game doesn’t like it when you stop mana abilities,” and he’s right. Very few interactions will stop mana abilities, and split second isn’t one of them. You can still activate mana abilities as needed, though there’s not much you can do until the spell resolves.
Morph in itself can’t counter a split second spell, but some morph creatures can interact with them. Because morph (and megamorph) are special actions, they don’t use the stack. I already mentioned the two cards that deal best with split second cards, but I’m sure you can find others.
You can’t cast a spell that copies another spell while something with split second is on the stack, but there are other ways around it. Triggered abilities that copy spells like The Mirari Conjecture, Mirari, and Bonus Round still trigger and copy those spells.
As of right now there’s no printed card that counters a spell and also has split second. The closest we have to that is Trickbind, but this only counters activated and triggered abilities, not actual spells. I wouldn’t be surprised if R&D ruled out a completely uncounterable counterspell when they were first designing Time Spiral, and I doubt we’ll see it anytime soon.
One of split second’s best features is that it’s really hard to beat. They’re basically uncounterable and they can’t be interacted with in most situations. You can redirect or counter the spell with morph creatures, or you can rely on triggered abilities from permanents to deal with split second spells, but that’s it.
Because you can’t interact with split second spells, it makes it hard to balance. Either spells are overcosted for the ability or they’re too good and there’s nothing you can do against them.
Split Second Card List and Gallery
- Angel’s Grace
- Celestial Crusader
- Krosan Grip
- Molten Disaster
- Stonewood Invocation
- Sudden Death
- Sudden Edict
- Sudden Shock
- Sudden Spoiling
- Sudden Substitution
- Sulfur Elemental
- Take Possession
- Wipe Away
- Word of Seizing
Bringing It Back to Speed
Wipe Away | Illustration by Jeff Miracola
Split second is a really unique mechanic. It balances between being extremely powerful while also not having enough cards to really explore the design space. Maybe it’s because of how powerful the keyword is; we don’t know. I’d like to see it return in a future set, but the theme’s limitations really puts Wizards in a tight space.
As for me, I’m going to go grind some Arena now that it’s back up after all that downtime. Make sure to wash your hands, and stay safe!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: