Substance - The Old Magic Rule That Was Once Vital

A look at Magic: The Gathering's old "substance rules."

Like any long standing institution, Magic: The Gathering has been around long enough where a few rules manage to get caught up and stay around like a vestigial organ. And there have been a few floating around the game for a while. However, most noteworthy was the "substance rules."

What are they?

So glad you asked.

In 2005 there was a bit of a rules update due to Ravinica: City of Guilds, and as a result, about a dozen cards kind of made a mess of the turn structure. Cleanup phase? Congrats, it's now the end phase.

The phrasing "until end of turn?" It no longer exists.

Basically, it gave us the modern turn structure. In doing so, however, a few cards had their abilities kind of cut off, with damage and other effects subsequently put after where sacrificing should be.


Seems counter-productive?

Seems like this could lead into some arguments?

Congrats, that's what Magic R&D found. So, they needed something to sand over that. They needed substance.

Substance was added in to allow a triggered ability at the end of the turn, allowing the cards to work like they did before the rule changes, but now structured to work under the new rules.

So, with substance all ready to go in changed a grand total of....twelve cards. Yeah, later expansions quickly figured out how to restructure cards to move it out, so it never really got to be added on any later cards. Just a few released in 2005.

Yeah, Spider Climb was cool to use, but within a few years it kind of got cycled out. And with it, substance kind of died.

Mostly. Despite it not applying to, well, anything anymore, the rule stayed in the rule book.

In 2010 it was officially made obsolete and had it removed from all reprinted cards, but thank to the older cards having, and older players maybe calling it causing newer players to be confused, it has stayed in the rulebook.

It's marked as obsolete now, of course, but it's still there. It's like Magic's little equivalent to the appendix or pinky toe. If this rule was a baseball team it would be the Oakland Athletics -- something you just don't even notice nowadays.

And unfortunately for this rule, it can't just drop everything and move to Las Vegas. So there it is:

- Rule 502.49. Substance (Obsolete)

- 502.49a Substance is a static ability with no effect.

While now unimportant, substance is one of those parts of Magic: The Gathering that shouldn't be forgotten - it is just too unusual.

Barry White

Barry White is a longtime Magic: The Gathering player, having started in 1994 shortly before the release of 'Fallen Empires.' After graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno, he went on to a 15-year journalism career as a writer, reporter, and videographer for three different ABC affiliate newsrooms.