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In Magic: The Gathering, the term spell has three meanings; one technical, one casual and one flavorful.

  • Technically, a spell is an object on the stack that exists before the spell takes effect. Players turn cards into spells by casting them, usually from non-land cards in their hand.
  • In casual terms, "spell" is often used by players to refer specifically to non-permanent spell types, namely instants and sorceries.
  • In the lore of the game, a spell can be almost any kind of magical effect requiring expenditure of effort and energy by a magic user, usually based on some kind of ritual or knowledge.

Technical[]

A spell is either a card that has been cast and thus placed on the stack,[1] or a copy of another spell. A card is only a spell when it is on the stack; in most other zones it is simply a card, or a permanent when on the battlefield. All card types other than lands are types of spells; even permanent cards are normally cast as spells before becoming permanents. Spells exist as game objects, and their rules determine what interactions and effects are possible between the casting of the spell and the spell taking effect by "resolving".

From the glossary of the Comprehensive Rules (April 29, 2022—Streets of New Capenna)

Spell
A card on the stack. Also a copy (of either a card or another spell) on the stack. See rule 112, “Spells.”

From the Comprehensive Rules (April 29, 2022—Streets of New Capenna)

  • 112. Spells
    • 112.1. A spell is a card on the stack. As the first step of being cast (see rule 601, “Casting Spells”), the card becomes a spell and is moved to the top of the stack from the zone it was in, which is usually its owner’s hand. (See rule 405, “Stack.”) A spell remains on the stack as a spell until it resolves (see rule 608, “Resolving Spells and Abilities”), is countered (see rule 701.5), or otherwise leaves the stack. For more information, see section 6, “Spells, Abilities, and Effects.”
      • 112.1a A copy of a spell is also a spell, even if it has no card associated with it. See rule 707.10.
      • 112.1b Some effects allow a player to cast a copy of a card; if the player does, that copy is a spell as well. See rule 707.12.
    • 112.2. A spell’s owner is the same as the owner of the card that represents it, unless it’s a copy. In that case, the owner of the spell is the player under whose control it was put on the stack. A spell’s controller is, by default, the player who put it on the stack. Every spell has a controller.
    • 112.3. A noncopy spell’s characteristics are the same as those printed on its card, as modified by any continuous effects. See rule 613, “Interaction of Continuous Effects.”
    • 112.4. If an effect changes any characteristics of a permanent spell, the effect continues to apply to the permanent when the spell resolves. See rule 400.7.

      Example: If an effect changes a black creature spell to white, the creature is white when it enters the battlefield and remains white for the duration of the effect changing its color.

Spell ability[]

Any text on an instant or sorcery spell is a spell ability unless it's an activated ability, a triggered ability or a static ability.

From the glossary of the Comprehensive Rules (April 29, 2022—Streets of New Capenna)

Spell Ability
A kind of ability. Spell abilities are abilities that are followed as instructions while an instant or sorcery spell is resolving. See rule 113.3a.

From the Comprehensive Rules (April 29, 2022—Streets of New Capenna)

  • 113.3a Spell abilities are abilities that are followed as instructions while an instant or sorcery spell is resolving. Any text on an instant or sorcery spell is a spell ability unless it’s an activated ability, a triggered ability, or a static ability that fits the criteria described in rule 113.6.

Casual[]

Except for land, all of the original basic kind of card (summons, enchantments, sorceries, instants, interrupts and artifacts) are spells from the time they are cast until they resolve.[2] However, non-permanents are collectively referred to as "spells" in common language. This includes sorceries and instants, along with the obsoleted mana sources and interrupts. This is because, under normal circumstances, these types of cards never exist in play except while they're on the stack. Thus, whenever instants and sorceries are collectively referred to as a set theme or mechanic, it falls under the umbrella of "spells matter".

In some other contexts such as deckbuilding, spells can be referred to in the context of what they contrast to: "spells vs. lands" asks about the land count ratio; "creature vs. noncreature spells" informs to what lengths the deck wishes to play to the combat step; "subtyped/tribal spells vs. those spells not subtyped" asks functionally what proportion of the deck satisfies a certain tribal playstyle.

Flavor[]

In the storyline, spells are the effect of a ritual that involves mental activity and a varying amount of both physical activity and the channeling of mana.[3][4][5][6]

Mages use many different practices to channel mana, including chants, screams, and ritual motion.[7] The concept of magic, unlike physics, has no unbreakable laws[8]; spellcasters can use their spell do virtually anything. [9]

References[]

  1. Reid Duke (August 31, 2015). "When to Cast Your Spells". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
  2. Magic: The Gathering Pocket Player's Guide, p. 53
  3. Matt Cavotta (April 19, 2007). "Spelling It Out". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
  4. Doug Beyer (December 5, 2007). "Magic in Stories". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
  5. Doug Beyer (August 5, 2009). "Keeping Spells Spellish". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
  6. Doug Beyer (November 30, 2011). "The Only Constant". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
  7. Theros: Godsend, Part I, Chapter 2
  8. Flavor text for Empowered Autogenerator
  9. Flavor text for Expedition Diviner
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