Abzan Battle Priest text says: "Every creature you control with a +1/+1 counter on it gets lifelink". It is expressively written as "a" +1/+1 counter.

As some other white creature with Outcast ability (and some other cards too) Priest grants some special ability to creatures with +1+1 counters on it. But I think the text should be edited: In my opinion, it may be read as the creature has to have only ONE counter on it, while it could actually have more than one.

I believe a phrasing like this one: "...with at least one counter +1/+1 on it..." should be better. This is true also with reference to the many other cards that present this same ambiguity: that is, they report the word "a" instead of "at least" on the text.
What do you think about it?

  • 8
    If a friend asked you whether you had a dollar they could borrow, but you had three dollars on you, would it ever occur to you to answer "no, I don't"? It wouldn't to me. (Well, maybe to be playfully spiteful, or if I didn't want to lend it to him, but that's a different issue.)
    – Arthur
    Nov 30 '19 at 11:24
  • 1
    @Arthur While we might phrase a question like that colloquially, what it actually means is "Do you have one dollar bill I can borrow?", which is explicitly using a unit of count. I tried to explain why that's a relevant semantic difference in MtG in my answer. Nov 30 '19 at 14:40
  • @Arthur On the other hand, if someone told you that December had 30 days, you would point out that they are mistaken.
    – GendoIkari
    Nov 30 '19 at 17:04
  • 1
    @GendoIkari Which is why I didn't post just that one statement as an answer. It's not a perfect parallel. That being said, I would probably be that someone who claims that there are 30 days in December, only to become pedantic and defensive (all in good spirits, of course) the moment someone tried to correct me. I am very fun at parties.
    – Arthur
    Nov 30 '19 at 17:12
  • 3
    This type of wording is pervasive in MTG. A green creature could also be white. A green creature could also be an artifact. A creature with a +1/+1 counter could also have a +0/+1 counter. A creature with a +1/+1 counter could also have another +1/+1 counter. Elaborating in the fashion you suggest would require changing over 50% of the cards, making the text longer and therefore smaller and harder to read. The change you suggest would be highly detrimental to game play.
    – ikegami
    Nov 30 '19 at 20:42

The phrasing is technically correct, but can be hard to understand when isolated.

As already stated by Hackworth's answer, much like a computer program, the ability is asking "Is there a +1/+1 counter on the card?", which is true whenever there is at least one +1/+1 counter on it.

I have to agree with the ambiguity of it at least in part, though. There are other cards that aren't ambiguous:

  • Some cards, such as Haazda Marshal (as well as all cards with the Battalion ability word), use the phrasing "Whenever Haazda Marshal and at least two other creatures attack, [...]"
  • Some cards, such as Biovisionary, use the phrasing "[...] if you control four or more creatures named Biovisionary, [...]"

The difference that's used for the decision appears to be whether an ability is asking for an entity's existance, or for a count. The same argument used to defend the actual phrasing on Abzan Battle Priest can be made for the phrase "Every creature you control with one +1/+1 counter on it [...]", but I believe no such card exists in MtG because those phrasings will either be utilizing "exactly", or "one or more".

In other words, using a instead of one is a relevant semantic difference here. This difference is clear from all cards using more specific phrasings, but is assumed to be understood without giving explicit hints for cards such as the one in the question, making it harder to understand without access or knowledge of the other cards.


The wording is correct. If the ability meant to say 'exactly one +1/+1 counter', it would say so.

I agree that the word "a" can be ambiguous. After all, there are two instances of it on Abzan Battle Priest alone. "Put a +1/+1 counter on this creature." means exactly one counter, while "Each creature you control with a +1/+1 counter on it has lifelink." means one or more.

However, the difference is that the former is about adding a counter, which would be nonsensical if you could choose one or more (i.e. arbitrary many), while if the latter meant to say "exactly one", it would say so explicitely: "exactly X"

  • All I want to say with this is that, since the ability is a good one, it could be seen as it could work only if there is only one counter on creatures, in order to get lifelink. In that case, the controller should be advised not to put more counters on the creature. But all your answers - and gatherer rulings too - just make the whole situation clear. The discussion could be ended up here - AT LEAST, by my opinion...Now, do I have "A" opinion"...or more than one?? And what about yourself? Dec 2 '19 at 10:11
  • @ManoFromBerlin Life link is not a "good" ability. A 1/1 or 2/2 with life link isn't going to do much vs a 3/3. It's a "win more" effect and relatively low power. See the utility difference between Healing Salve and Giant Growth.
    – Nelson
    Jan 10 '20 at 8:08
  • Okay, what you say is true. But I'm referring to the fact that Abzan Battle Priest is able to assign lifelink to ALL your creatures that have AT LEAST a + 1 / + 1 counter on them. THIS seems good to me; not just lifelink ability, which is actually a questionable ability in itself, and I agree with this finding,just like you Nelson. Jan 10 '20 at 10:34
  • @ManoFromBerlin Since this card itself doesn't give the +1/+1 counters, next time pay attention to how many creates you have that actually HAS said counter. You'll realize it is much rarer than you though, and the life link doesn't keep it alive.
    – Nelson
    Mar 23 '20 at 16:05

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