Instants, like sorceries, represent one-shot or short-term magical spells. They are never put onto the battlefield; instead, they take effect when their mana cost is paid and the spell resolves, and then are immediately put into the player's graveyard.
Instants are the only card type in Magic, something unique to it compared to other card games, to have no timing restrictions. They can be played at any time one has priority, including during other player's turns and while another spell or ability is waiting to resolve.
Due to the immense design space of flash, and how Instant is the only card type without timing restrictions, the idea has been floated that Instant could have been removed as a type and all current Instants turned to Sorceries with a subtype that grants "instant speed", and other card types would also use this subtype to gain "instant speed", like how Flash is used now. This would also simplify the rules regarding casting spells, subtyping, and collective references. Due to the strong inertia, this is seen as an unlikely to impossible change.
- A card type. An instant is not a permanent. See rule 304, “Instants.”
- 304. Instants
- 304.1. A player who has priority may cast an instant card from their hand. Casting an instant as a spell uses the stack. (See rule 601, “Casting Spells.”)
- 304.2. When an instant spell resolves, the actions stated in its rules text are followed. Then it’s put into its owner’s graveyard.
- 304.3. Instant subtypes are always a single word and are listed after a long dash: “Instant — Arcane.” Each word after the dash is a separate subtype. The set of instant subtypes is the same as the set of sorcery subtypes; these subtypes are called spell types. Instants may have multiple subtypes. See rule 205.3k for the complete list of spell types.
- 304.4. Instants can’t enter the battlefield. If an instant would enter the battlefield, it remains in its previous zone instead.
- 304.5. If text states that a player may do something “any time they could cast an instant” or “only as an instant,” it means only that the player must have priority. The player doesn’t need to have an instant card they could cast. Effects that would preclude that player from casting an instant spell don’t affect the player’s capability to perform that action (unless the action is actually casting an instant spell).
Friendly to instants
The informal term "instant speed" means "whenever you would be able to cast instant spells". This is most often used by the keyword Flash, granting "instancy" to any card type. Some abilities have "sorcery speed" baked into their rules, and some cards allow them to be activated "any time you could cast an instant". However, the timing restriction has been used to turn mana abilities into non-mana abilities, most famously Lion's Eye Diamond - this is to prevent it from casting spells, as part of the process of casting a spell is putting the spell from the hand onto the stack before paying costs. Starting with Strixhaven: School of Mages, the card text "only any time you could cast an instant" was shortened to "activate as an instant."
The opposite of instant speed is sorcery speed.
Obsolete card types
- Mark Rosewater (June 23, 2003). "Instant Winners". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (May 15, 2006). "It’s About Time". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Ted Knutson (July 15, 2006). "Instant Gratification". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Ben Bleiweiss (June 27, 2003). "Best Instants of All Time". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Gavin Verhey (June 8, 2017). "The Instances for Instants". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (2019-12-06). "Can you break down the "adding instant/sorcery subtypes change"?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
- Mark Rosewater (June 5, 2017). "Mechanical Color Pie 2017". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Wizards of the Coast (April 20, 2021). "Comprehensive Rules Changes". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.