Cipher – MTG Keywords Explained

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Cipher is a little strange, and appears on instants and sorceries. When you cast a spell with Cipher, if you are casting the actual card (more on this weird clause in a minute), you may exile the card encoded on a creature you control. When a card with Cipher is encoded on a creature and that creature deals combat damage to a player, you may copy the encoded card and cast the copy without paying its mana cost.

Got that? Hope so, because there’s a looot of weirdness with this one.

  • The Cipher spell needs to resolve to be encoded onto a creature. If it gets countered, it just goes to the graveyard.
  • The encoding part of the ability happens as the spell resolves. It goes straight from the stack into exile, encoded on the creature you choose, never hitting the graveyard on the way.
  • Note that encoding doesn’t target, so you can encode onto a creature with shroud.
  • If the creature the Cipher card is encoded onto leaves the battlefield, the encoded card stays in exile.
  • You can encode onto a noncreature permanent that is currently a creature, and it will stay encoded on that card for as long as it remains on the battlefield.
  • You get to cast the copy as the triggered ability resolves (which is triggered whenever the encoded creature deals combat damage to a player), ignoring timing restrictions.
  • You can choose not to cast the copy.
  • If the encoded creature loses all abilities, the card will stay exiled with the creature, but nothing will trigger when the creature deals combat damage.
  • If another player gains control of the creature, they get to cast the spell when that creature deals combat damage.

All right. That covers most of it. This was not the most popular mechanic, as it’s a lot of hoops to jump through and somewhat difficult to track, adding a lot of complexity to the game for what was seen as a bit of a lackluster payoff. That said, in the right situation Cipher can be absolutely overpowering – as getting a free spell every turn often can be.

If you want to encode some cards into your collection, head over to!