Cranial Insertion: Taxonomagic

Cranial Insertion

By Eli Shiffrin, Thijs van Ommen, and Tom Fowler

Welcome to Cranial Insertion. Today we'll be discussing the study of classifying Magic cards according to type, supertype, and subtype. These three pieces of information are given on a card's type line. A card can have any number of each of these, but there's always at least on type given on the type line. Supertypes are listed before types, and subtypes are written after a long dash. For example, a Forest's type line reads "Basic Land - Forest". Its type is "land", it has the "basic" supertype, and the "Forest" subtype.

But before we begin, I have an incoming transmission from Brian, our esteemed editor.
Quote from epeeguy »
One comment we should probably make is that sometimes there are questions on whether or not a judge ruled correctly. That is something along the lines of "The judge told me my sleeves were marked really bad and gave me a Match Loss, is that the right ruling?" While we can provide you with where such an infraction is defined in the Penalty Guidelines (or other DCI document), and even explain a bit about the ruling; it's not our place to say whether or not the ruling was correct.

Many situations depend on the judgment of the judge in assessing what is going on, as well as other factors that may have been covered completely. In all fairness, it would be inappropriate for any of us to suggest what the "correct ruling" should be in that situation, if only because it depends on aspects of the situation which we may not be familiar with. And would it really be professional of us to tell another judge whether or not they did the right thing (especially when we may not know the "What" or "Why" behind the ruling)?

While we will happily explain any policies to you, as well as provide a quote from any DCI document to show where something may be covered, it would be really unfair to comment on a ruling issued at a tournament. Or even ask us how we might rule in a given situation; that might set up people to expect the wrong thing when they actually do encounter it or a similar situation. And setting you up to expect the wrong thing would do our readers a grave disservice.
I'm not a judge so I don't meddle with these topics anyway. Tom and Eli will be happy to answer your tournament-related questions if you send them to [email][email protected][/email], but please keep the above in mind.


For purposes of classifying cards, the most important piece of information on a card's type line is the type. A card's type tells you many things regarding how to deal with that card.

Q: Does Wrath of God destroy artifact creatures?

A: A card with both "artifact" and "creature" in its type line has two types: artifact and creature. Wrath of God looks for any permanent that has the type "creature" and destroys those. It isn't interested in the fact that some cards had other types, too.

Q: My Marit Lage token is a "Legendary Creature Token - Avatar". Does that mean that token is also a type?

A: "Token" isn't a type. To the rules, a token is a permanent that's not represented physically by a card. You can use anything you want for representing these permanents, as far as the rules are concerned. Marit Lage and other similar promo tokens are printed especially to fulfill this purpose. They are printed with a layout very much like ordinary cards, because that's a way of communicating everything you need to know about the token in a way the player is already familiar too. But there are important differences between cards and tokens: for example, you can't put these tokens into your deck. So some solutions was required to make sure to two would be easily distinguishable, and the solution R&D ended up using was to put the word "token" there in the type line. The appearance of that word is about as relevant to the rules as the printed text for Rock Hydra explaining that the +1/+1 counters are heads.

Q: Is it possible for a card to have no type at all?

A: While the rules continuum wouldn't explode if a typeless card came into existence, it wouldn't be very useful to have around. Without a type, none of the rules that describe how to play a card apply to such a card, so you wouldn't be able to play it from your hand. This makes it unlikely for such a card to be printed. But then again, they did print Evermind.

A way to create a typeless permanent with existing cards is given in the Darksteel FAQ: With March of the Machines (which gives all artifact the type "creature") in play, activate Neurok Transmuter's second ability (which removes the type "artifact" from an artifact creature), targeting a permanent whose only printed type is artifact. March of the Machines needs to know if a permanent is an artifact or not before it can be applied, and because Neurok Transmuter can change that, the Transmuter's effect must be applied first. The Transmuter removes the test subject's only type, and the March of the Machines doesn't do anything. (Note that the Transmuter's effect doesn't care about the affected permanent's types: those are only checked when you play the ability and when it resolves. So the Transmuter doesn't depend on the March.)

The principles that apply normally are also the ones that apply to typeless permanent: It wouldn't be destroyed by Wrath of God because it's not a creature; it couldn't be targeted by Naturalize because it's neither an artifact nor an enchantment; but it would be destroyed by Plague Boiler because it's a nonland (that is, it doesn't have the type "land").

If an effect assigns a new type to a card, the card's previous types are removed. That how such effects normally work, but a slight variation in the wording will cause the effect to work differently: if the text mentions that even one type is kept through the transformation, all previous types are kept. Effects that make something into an artifact creature also work this way. Examples are the first ability of Neurok Transmuter, Living Terrain and Gruul War Plow.


Currently, there are four supertypes: basic, legendary, snow and world. Cards can refer to supertypes, so the significance of having a supertype depends for a large part on the cards you're playing with. Each supertype also has some rules baggage attached:
  • Basic affects deck construction rules. For basic lands, you're not limited to four cards with the same name.
  • If two legendary permanents with the same name are in play, they all die because they can't agree who the real legend is.
  • Any mana produced by a card with the supertype snow can be used to pay :snow:.
  • World appears only on old enchantments and only in their Oracle text. There can be only one permanent with the supertype "world" in play; if there are more, only the newcomer gets to stay and the others are eaten by state-based effects.
If an effect changes a card's supertype, it does just that: It won't remove other supertypes, and changing a supertype doesn't affect type or vice versa.

Q: Can a Silkwing Scout get me a Hallowed Fountain?

A: In order to be a basic land, a card must have the type "land" and the supertype "basic". Hallowed Fountain doesn't have that supertype, so it's off limits for the Scout.

Q: Balduvian Frostwaker specifies that the target snow land becomes a creature and that "It's still a land." But is it also still snow?

A: Yes, the only change to the land's type and supertype is the addition of the type "creature". Changing the type doesn't affect the supertype, and in this case it doesn't delete other types due to the "It's still a land" clause.


Each word after the dash on the type line represents a subtype. A subtype is always a single word (possibly hyphenated), so Urza's Power Plant has two subtypes: "Urza's" and "Power-Plant".

As with types, changing a subtype will overwrite previous subtypes, unless the effect specifies that the new subtype comes in addition to the previous subtypes.

Supertypes are independent of the rest of the type line, but types and supertypes are very much connected. Each subtype is tied to a type. This way, subtypes are used to further classify things within a type. Because of this structure, it's possible to refer to subtypes tied to creatures as creature types, subtypes tied to lands as land types, and so on. A special case is that instants and sorceries share some subtypes. A subtype shared by the two is called a spell type. The only one currently in existence is Arcane.

If a card's type disappears, any subtypes tied to that type disappear along with it: If all Knights are creatures, then not being a creature implies not being a Knight. On the other hand, gaining or losing a subtype doesn't affect a card's type.

Q: Can a Gempalm Incinerator's cycling trigger target Foothill Guide?

A: Gempalm Incinerator doesn't have to be in play in order to be a Goblin. A Goblin in a graveyard is still not allowed to target a creature with protection from Goblins.

Of the land types, five serve a special role and are called basic land types. These are Plains, Island, Swamp, Mountain and Forest. Any land with this land type has the ability to tap for mana of the appropriate color. Also, if a land gains a basic land type, it loses not only its previous land types, but also all its printed abilities. Note that the word basic as it appears here is unrelated to the supertype "basic".

Besides those five basic land types, the only subtypes with rules baggage are Aura and Equipment. A permanent without either of these two subtypes can't be attached to another permanent, because state-based effects will gently unattach them.

Q: I control several Mountains and Islands and a Hallowed Fountain when Global Ruin resolves. What's the best I can do to save my lands?

A: The procedure is to go through the five basic land types, then pick a land with that land type for each of them. It only matters that the land has the required basic land type (a question of subtype); it doesn't have to be a basic land (a question of supertype). You'll end up with the following choices: For Plains, pick your Fountain. For Island and Mountain, pick the corresponding basic land. For Swamp and Forest, you don't have anything to pick.

Q: What effect does Blood Moon have on snow lands?

A: That depends very much on the snow land. If we’re talking about Snow-Covered Forest, Snow-Covered Island, Snow-Covered Mountain, Snow-Covered Plains, or Snow-Covered Swamp, then Blood Moon has no effect. These lands are basic lands, since they have the supertype "basic". Other snow lands, like Mouth of Ronom, Scrying Sheets, and the Arctic Flats cycle, will be turned into Mountains by Blood Moon. They will lose their special abilities, but their supertypes don't change: they're still snow, and still not basic.

Some cards need you to choose a subtype of some kind. They'll tell you what kind they need (usually a creature type or a land type). You can't choose arbitrary words, but you'll have to pick an existing subtype of the right kind. You can find lists of the valid options in the Comprehensive Rules glossary, under Creature Type or whichever list you're interested in.

Q: Can I make Saproling tokens with Volrath's Laboratory? What about Elf Cleric tokens, Locus tokens, or Child tokens?

  • There isn't any printed creature with the subtype Saproling, but there are lots of cards that produce token creatures with that subtype, so it is a legal choice.
  • Elf Cleric is not a subtype. It's two subtypes, and you were only allowed to choose one.
  • Locus is a subtype, but it's a land type and not a creature type. You can't make Locus creature tokens.
  • Child appears on some Unhinged cards. Though there are not legal for tournament play, they're in the Oracle, so you can choose subtypes that exist only in Un-sets.

-Thijs van Ommen, The Netherlands


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