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Mystic Remora (Secret Lair) - Illustration by Kelogsloops

Mystic Remora (Secret Lair) | Illustration by Kelogsloops

Magic has, as many players find out the more that they play, an astounding level of complexity when it comes to how each player’s turns and interactions take place. Most games have simple systems of damage and turn-taking, but Magic’s turn system is (I think )a work of art.

It’s wildly complex so that every possible situation can be worked out to know what action is correct in a mess of cards, but still simple enough to be understood by young children at its fundamental level. Today I’m focusing in on the upkeep step and answering some common questions as to how it works.

Let’s get started!

What Is Your Upkeep in MTG?

Mishra's Bauble (Coldsnap) - Illustration by Chippy

Mishra’s Bauble (Coldsnap) | Illustration by Chippy

Your upkeep is the second step of your turn, between your untap and draw steps. It’s meant for triggers that are set to happen before your draw step and open up the opportunity for players to cast spells and activate other abilities before a player’s draw step, but after they’ve untapped.

Is Upkeep Before or After Draw?

The upkeep step is before you draw.The draw step is immediately after it, with the untap step being just before.

What Is the Beginning of Upkeep?

The “beginning of upkeep” is when all abilities that trigger on upkeep or at the beginning of upkeep go onto the stack. Then the player whose turns it is gains priority for the first time. That player can then either do something or pass priority, to which their opponent(s) can respond or let the items on the stack resolve.

How Does the Upkeep Step Work?

The upkeep step is the second of the three beginning steps during your turn. It follows the untap step when you untap all of your permanents and is often where a lot of triggered abilities are put onto the stack from other spells or cards.

The upkeep step is important to have because it allows actions to take place before a player has drawn their first card. It’s also where some of the earliest interaction can take place.

What Can You Do During Your Upkeep?

You can do anything at instant speed during your upkeep, and that’s it. You can’t cast any creatures without flash or any sorceries since you’re limited to instant-speed spells and abilities.

Do You Get Priority During Upkeep?

Yes, you get priority during your upkeep. The beginning of upkeep after any triggered abilities have been put on the stack is the first time a player receives priority for their turn.

Can You Respond to Upkeep Abilities?

Yes, you can respond to any upkeep abilities as long as you have priority.This priority is given first to the active player, whose turn it is. After they put a spell onto the stack or just pass priority, the opponent(s) get their chance before the stack resolves.

Can You Skip Your Upkeep?

No, you can’t skip your upkeep. But you can just move through it without doing anything by passing priority and having no triggers or spells on the stack. The upkeep step still happens, but it just happens instantly and is quickly moved past.

Can You Activate Abilities Before Your Upkeep?

No, you can’t activate abilities before your upkeep. You get priority for the first time during your turn once your upkeep has started and any triggered abilities have gone onto the stack. After that you gain priority during your turn as normal.

What Is an Upkeep Cost?

Mystic Remora

An upkeep cost is something that you need to pay to maintain an ability or permanent on the battlefield, usually a mana cost. It’s a sort of tax that allows for cards like Mystic Remora to be balanced. The effect would be far too broken if you only had to pay for it once.

Upkeep Phase vs. Upkeep Step

The upkeep is a step, not a phase. The upkeep step is in the beginning phase, which contains your untap, upkeep, and draw steps.

What Is Cumulative Upkeep?

Mystic Remora

Cumulative upkeep is an upkeep cost that grows in size each turn. Mystic Remora is a great example here. The amount you have to pay each turn is one more than the last, and it starts at one.

What’s an Extra Upkeep? Can You Get One?

Paradox Haze

An extra upkeep is just another upkeep step that happens immediately after your first upkeep step.This is incredibly useful in decks with a lot of different upkeep triggers that want to double the value being generated by those triggers. Paradox Haze is one such card that gives an extra upkeep.

Wrap Up

Smokestack (From the Vault : Annihilation) - Illustration by Daniel Ljunggren

Smokestack (From the Vault : Annihilation) | Illustration by Daniel Ljunggren

That wraps up just about everything you need to know about the upkeep step! Magic is certainly a game that’s easy to pick up and play, but you’ll quickly notice as you grow in skill it has much more complexity than you once thought. Don’t even get me started on state-based actions!

I’ve always loved Magic’s setup when it comes to turn phases and how the stack works. I think it’s a near-perfect system that’s been perfected over the decades. But what do you think? Could there be improvements or adjustments made? Let me know in the comments or over in the official Draftsim Discord.

Until next time, stay safe and stay healthy!

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