Judge’s Tower: It’s Just A Phase

Chris Cornejo Commander

(Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in August 2017, in the lead-up to the release of Commander 2017. It has been updated on July 7, 2020 to reference the newest card with phasing — Teferi, Master of Time — released in Core Set 2021.)

Core Set 2021 just released (which, incidentally, you can order here), and players are already asking questions about new cards and mechanics. Core sets like this one generally don’t include new mechanics, but there’s one card in the set that everyone wants to know about: Teferi, Master of Time.

Phasing’s back! I mean, at least on this one card! Who’d have guessed that of all the mechanics that Wizards could’ve reprinted, they’d go with phasing?

Before I get too far ahead of myself, let’s answer the question that most newer players have been asking: What exactly is phasing? It’s an old ability that takes effect during the untap step – one of the only things (other than, you know, untapping) that ever happens at that point in the game. If a card has phasing, then during its owner’s untap step, it will phase out. If it’s already phased out during the untap step, it will instead phase in.

So…what does that mean?

Phased in/out is a status of a card. The other statuses are: tapped/untapped, face up/face down, and flipped/unflipped. By default, all cards are phased in, and nowadays, just about every card is always phased in during a game of Magic. Easy.

It’s when a card phases out that things start to get tricky.

A phased out permanent does not exist as far as the game is concerned. (There are a few cards that specifically reference phased out cards, but bear with me here.) If a creature gets phased out in the middle of combat, it’s removed from combat. However, a phased out permanent doesn’t change zones; it won’t be “summoning sick” when it phases back in, since it’s been on the battlefield the whole time. Any counters, equipment, or auras attached to that permanent are still attached to it. In fact, any auras or equipment on a permanent phase out when that permanent phases out, even if they themselves do not have phasing. This is referred to in the rules as “indirect phasing.”

The way I tend to explain all this when it pops up in a live game is to take a player’s deck box and put it on top of the phased out card. Where’s the card? Oh, it’s still on the battlefield. Try to target it with a Lightning Bolt? Can’t see it, so you can’t target it. Play a board wipe? All the creatures you can see die, but you can’t see the phased out creature, so…

It’s not a perfect metaphor, but it tends to get the point across.

Just to make sure it’s sinking in:

SCENARIO

Amy, Niles, and Nora are playing a game of Commander. It’s Amy’s turn, with Niles up next. The game has ground on for a while, and the board is cluttered on all sides – each player has a healthy collection of creatures, artifacts, and enchantments. Amy decides to shake things up, and casts Planar Cleansing. In response, Nora casts Teferi’s Protection. What happens?

ANSWER

Nora is happy, while Amy and Niles are probably sad. Since all of Nora’s permanents phase out, none of them are destroyed by Planar Cleansing. All of Amy’s and Niles’s nonland permanents do. Niles is going to get the next turn, but since the other clauses on Teferi’s Protection (Nora has protection from everything and her life total can’t change) won’t wear off until Nora’s turn, she’s sitting pretty until her permanents phase back in.

Anyway, back to “indirect phasing.” This rule comes up in Legacy from time to time thanks to Teferi’s Realm, an enchantment from Visions that occasionally shows up in sideboards. It used to be decent tech against Stoneforge Mystic decks, because of this rule:

702.25k Phased-out tokens cease to exist as a state-based action.

So, you’d choose creatures, and then the Germ token would phase out…along with the Batterskull to which it was attached, thanks to indirect phasing. The Germ token would cease to exist, and then, since Batterskull itself doesn’t have phasing, it would just…stay phased out.

It was nifty little corner-case that rewarded rules knowledge…and then, when Teferi’s Protection was revealed, this happened:

I’m not sure exactly what will be happening to the Comprehensive Rules, but 702.25k could very well be deleted in the next update. Token creatures would then be treated like any other phased out creature. There is a logical argument for this, as again, they technically aren’t changing zones – which is usually what causes token creatures to blip out of existence.

So, that’s how phasing works! Odds are, you won’t run into this mechanic all too often, unless you choose to play Teferi, Master of Time or Teferi’s Protection. And if you do, there’s no need to be intimidated anymore. Phasing isn’t all that tricky, as long as you don’t think about it too much.