I need to understand the rulings on this card, as it seems to form an infinite mill and draw combo all on its own!

I will explain:

The rule states:

If a player would draw a card except the first one he or she draws in his or her draw step each turn, that player discards a card instead. If the player discards a card this way, he or she draws a card. If the player doesn't discard a card this way, he or she puts the top card of his or her library into his or her graveyard.

Now my my thinking is that the text in bold and the text in italics sets off an infinite loop if a player draws a card other than their first.

The steps:

  1. Player A draws a second card on their turn
  2. COM triggers, Player A discards a card
  3. COMs second ruling makes Player A draw a card, again triggering COMs first ruling and so on to certain death...

Am I missing something with this card or is it actually as ridiculously broken as I am making out?

Card Link: Chains of Mephistopheles


On closer inspection, it appears it would only make the person discard their hand completely if they draw a second card at all... this is really confusing me.

My thinking on this is that Player A would have to discard a card instead of drawing it... then try and draw again and discard till his hand is gone then mill the top card. Is this how this card works?

  • 4
    Incidentally, the card text in the actual image of the card at the link you've provided is perfectly clear and doesn't even hint at any infinite loop potentials.
    – Wildcard
    Oct 7 '17 at 4:52
  • 3
    @Wildcard I agree with you. The wording of old versions of cards (before sixth edition or so) communicated the intent of the card's effects much more clearly, in my opinion. The new refactored Oracle wording just reads as so much Lawyerese. Oct 7 '17 at 18:05
  • The refactored wording is terrible. It presents discarding, drawing, and putting a card from the library in the graveyard as three separate effects. Taken literally, the final sentence says that every time a player doesn't discard a card, they have to put the top card in their library in their graveyard. Oct 7 '17 at 19:20
  • 1
    @Wildcard Wow... I didn't even think to check the wording on the actual card. It is quite small so i just glanced over it. Like you said, that wording is infinitely easier to understand... Oct 9 '17 at 6:19

Chains of Mephistopheles doesn't form an infinite draw combo.

The main principle is this: when an event happens, we check all available replacement effects, and then we apply each of them just once. When Chains of Mephistopheles replaces your draw with an instruction to discard & draw, that's not a new draw to which a replacement effect might be applied — it's just a modification to the original draw event, and Chains has already had its turn to change that event.

All of that happens specifically because Chains is a replacement effect, since it uses the language "If (thing would happen), (other thing happens) instead." If it was a triggered ability it would definitely go infinite.

Consider also that if this would lead to infinite draw, Anointed Procession would lead to infinite tokens, Winding Constrictor would lead to infinite counters, etc.

So what does it do? Chains of Mephistopheles is one of those very old cards that's complex enough it needs a flowchart to really understand. Magicjudge produced one here:

enter image description here

  • These are both great answers I don't know which one to accept! haha Oct 6 '17 at 8:51
  • 3
    @ThunderToes Leave it a day and see if an EVEN BETTER one comes along. :O Oct 6 '17 at 8:52
  • Considering the Diagram makes it ten times easier for me to understand I'm accepting this as the answer. The rules text on the other answer is just as helpful but I read flowcharts easier haha. Oct 6 '17 at 12:58
  • I think that the answer should include Boluc Papuccuoglu's comment that the confusion is due to the refactored wording. Much of the confusion is alleviated by simply looking at the original text, so that's a rather crucial element that shouldn't be left just as a comment. Oct 7 '17 at 19:24

Chains of Mephistopheles' ability is a replacement effect, which means it doesn't go into an infinite loop with itself.

Unlike triggered abilities, which trigger on some sort of event and then make something happen independently, replacement effects modify the way an existing event happens.

Each replacement effect can only modify an event once. With a single COM, a draw event becomes a discard and draw event, and that's it. This is explained within rule 614:

614.5. A replacement effect doesn’t invoke itself repeatedly; it gets only one opportunity to affect an event or any modified events that may replace it.

If you had two COMs, it would turn the draw event into a discard and draw event into a discard and discard and draw event. After that, each COM 's replacement effect has been invoked, and nothing more happens.

  • Ah so does the addition of "Each Turn" make the replacement effect only happen once per turn? I got confused with it being an enchantment that stays on the battlefield. I would've expected to see this as an instant spell Oct 6 '17 at 8:50
  • @ThunderToes Nah, it still happens other times in the turn -- parse that sentence as "If a player would draw a card except [the first one he or she draws in his or her draw step each turn]". There's no other way that really makes sense to parse it. It still applies to all draws except that first one. Oct 6 '17 at 8:53
  • 3
    @ThunderToes The "each turn" is just an allowance to make it clear that you get a "free" card (unaffected by COM) once each turn during the draw step.
    – Samthere
    Oct 6 '17 at 8:56
  • @doppelgreener thats what got me thinking it was a loop cus it forces him to draw a card!... I'm so glad Wizards have simplified their card rulings (somewhat) since then, this card was giving me a migraine... haha Oct 6 '17 at 8:58
  • (However, when playing the Commander format, the by-additional-rule (rather than by-card-effect) owner-may-send-commander-back-to-command-zone replacement effect is special: ​ It may apply more than once to the same event.) ​ ​ ​ ​
    – user13741
    Oct 6 '17 at 10:49

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