As pointed out recently in a comment on another question, Monstrosity is actually a keyword action, not a keyword ability. This seems strange, especially as it is the only keyword action that is not a verb.

Every card that uses monstrosity has it in the same format: An activated ability with a mana cost; where the only effect of the ability is the monstrosity.

Given this, it seems like it would make a lot more sense to have made monstrosity a keyword ability that has both a cost and modifier built into the definition; similar to the way Awaken, Suspend, and Reinforce work... instead of: 5RR: Monstrosity 3, use Monstrosity 3 - 5RR..

The language just seems more natural, due to the fact that "monstrosity" isn't a verb. Is it known if there had been plans to have monstrosity be used in ways other than an activated ability? Having it as an action makes sense if there were other ways of it occurring, such as through a triggered ability (Whenever [this creature] attacks with at least 3 other creatures, Monstrosity 2), etc.

Looking for either a word from Wizards on why this choice was made; or something about the mechanic that I missed as to why it needs to be an action instead of an ability.

6 Answers 6


Because... they can

It sounds dumb. But instead of asking why Monstrosity is a keyword action, ask instead why various keyword activated abilities aren't keyword actions, and it starts to become clear that all of them have some caveat that makes them less ideal as actions, and Monstrosity has none of those caveats.

Equip, Unearth, Level Up, Scavenge
These abilities can only be activated at sorcery speed. If they were written as activated keyword actions, that restriction would have to be written into each ability, making them wordier (and creating the possibility that they could exist at instant speed, which was not the intent.)

Cycling, Transmute, Reinforce, Ninjutsu
These abilities all have an additional cost of discarding the card from your hand. (Except for Ninjutsu, where the additional cost is "Reveal this card from your hand, Return an unblocked attacking creature you control to its owner’s hand") Again, if this was an activated ability then that would have to be written into the text of every card, and that would imply that the discard cost was not an intrinsic part of the ability, which is inaccurate.

Embalm, Eternalize
These two fit in both of the above categories. They're sorcery speed only, and they have an additional cost (in this case, exiling from the graveyard).

Forecast is a bit weird because it has a totally variable activation effect. I'm not sure why they chose to write the additional cost into the abilities rather than keeping it as reminder text, but it too has a timing restriction so even with the written out cost it still wants to be a keyword ability rather than an action.

(I probably would have templated Forecast as "Forecast {cost} / Whenever you forecast {cardname}, {do thing}" the way extra cycling riders work, but I suspect that that ends up being wordier when you add in reminder text)

I'm not going to even get into morph. Its weird, and it's actually a static ability, not an activated one.

Monstrosity (and it's sequel, Adapt) have none of these problems. There are no additional costs to the ability, it can be cast at instant speed, and there are no other riders or restrictions as to when the ability can be activated. So they can make it a keyword action if they want to.

There are benefits to making it a keyword action if they can.

It makes it possible to make triggered Monstrosity effects in the future if they want. It slightly reduces the amount of reminder text needed (from "{cost}: If this creature.." to "If this creature..."). It means the actual text of the card looks like the activated ability that it is.

That last item is probably the most significant. A keyword ability with a cost provides no information as to how it works - it could be an activated ability, a triggered ability, or even (in the case of morph) a static ability. By writing Monstrosity as an activated ability with a keyword action it provides that much more instant information about how it works for the player encountering it for the first time.


It is a lot easier to print a card like Nemesis of Mortals if Monstrosity is a keyword action rather than a keyword ability. For reference, its Monstrosity ability says this:

{7}{G}{G}: Monstrosity 5. This ability costs {1} less to activate for each creature card in your graveyard.

Keyword abilities almost never have those kinds of riders that aren't built in to the definition of the ability.

In addition, Monstrosity as an ability would have two different parameters: the number of counters to add and the cost. That is very rare in keyword abilities and the complexity that would introduce probably factors strongly into this design choice.

Among other keyword abilities with two parameters, Awaken and Suspend are not effects that can be expressed as keyword actions, and Reinforce is specifically an action that involves discarding the card, which would be lost if it was a keyword action.

  • 4
    Ghostfire Blade shows that Nemesis of Mortals would be totally possible, if slightly wordier (which is admittedly a significant concern considering how much text it already has). I think the two parameter problem is the primary reason. Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 18:49
  • 1
    In regards to your second point, I gave the example of Awaken in my post; which has the same two parameters. That's where I got the format to use in my example with the dash.
    – GendoIkari
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 19:12
  • Reinforce and Suspend also have this.
    – GendoIkari
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 20:00
  • 1
    That's what I get for making a strong assertion without completely verifying it. I missed the mention of Awaken in the question and I forgot about the others.
    – murgatroid99
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 20:31
  • Aeon Chronicler is an example of a suspend ability (suspend has a second parameter) with an additional rider. "Suspend X—{X}{3}{U}. X can’t be 0."
    – Zags
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 22:19

I believe it comes down to the level of control the player has over the effect. Just about every keyword ability* is an either an alternate cost, replacement effect, or triggered ability, passive effect, or else applies to the card when it is not a permanent. These are all things players either do with the card when it's not a permanent, or else have no direct control over. However, Monstrous is part of the creature permanent (not the card/spell as it's being cast) and is done only when the creature is on the battlefield.

Since players are meant to have control of their creature becoming monstrous, it should mimic other things that players have control over, such as Regenerate or Scry.

It's wording is a bit clunky (it makes sense 'to scry' or 'to regenerate', but not 'to monstrosity'), but this could have just been a shortcoming of English that there is no single very meaning 'to make monstrous'.

*Level up is the only keyword ability I could find that is activated when the card is a permanent. I assume this was done to save space on the card.

  • 2
    There are multiple keyword abilities that represent activated abilities on permanents: Equip, Outlast, Crew, and Level Up as mentioned in the answer.
    – murgatroid99
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 16:56

There are 135 Keyword Abilities.

Of all those only two are activated abilities of creature cards that function on the battlefield.

Level Up - part of a weird highly non-standard card template.

Outlast - post-dates Monstrosity, requires an empty stack in the main phase.

Every other keyword ability for creatures is static, triggered, or functions in a zone other than the battlefield. So the weight of data suggests that R&D is quite biased towards templating things that function as an ordinary creature's activated ability as activated abilities for whatever reasons they have that don't seem to be stated in any blog posts (simply familiarity for players?). (e.g., why was a keyword ability 'Ping 1 - {T}' never created for Pyromancers back when they first went keyword-happy post 6th-ed?)

Players have been conditioned to think 'Monstrosity 5 - {5}{G}{G}' would be far more likely to mean something like 'As you cast this card you may pay an additional .. and it enters ..' or 'When this creature deals combat damage if it is not monstrous you may pay ...' than to be an 'ordinary' activated ability.

Outlast really seems like the oddball (noting that Adapt post-dates both and returned to being a keyword action, not a keyword ability).


Brevity, and lack of a better word (Probably)

I searched quite a bit for an official answer, but I can't find one. That said, I came up with an answer and then noticed that Arcanist Lupus already alluded to this very briefly. If you look at the cards with Monstrosity, they are extremely verbose cards that are approaching the maximum number of lines that could exist in the text box for the font size that was used. For the reminder text of Keyword Abilities that are activated abilities (such as Equip or Cycling) the cost is repeated in the reminder text to remind players that the ability is in fact an activated ability. Some examples of cards at the time that interacted with activated abilities were Pithing Needle and Oppressive Rays, so reminding players that the ability was activated was likely considered extremely important.

As far as the name being a noun, the billing of Theros was around the concept of heroes and monsters, and as heroes corresponded to Heroic, they wanted the monster mechanic to be a single word with a base of "monster" for symmetry. I don't believe there is a real single word that means "to become monstrous," but one was invented on the card Monstrify. My guess is that they didn't like that because it is a fictional, silly-sounding word and because it was already a name of an existing card which is unrelated to the Keyword Action.


I don't remember hearing anything about this mechanic specifically, but Mark Rosewater defines keyword and ability word in DtW #81 (Theros pt 2).

If you take the ability word off the card, it just works. The ability word doesn’t do anything to make the card work, it’s just a way to group it thematically.

But a keyword is something in which it needs to be on the card. Now, you can’t reference ability words, but you can reference keywords. So for example, if I wanted things to reference this ability, I needed it to be a keyword and not an ability word because ability words can’t be referenced.

There are quite a few cards which check to see if a creature is monstrous. Therefore, in order to check if a card is monstrous, monstrosity must be a keyword, not an ability word!

  • 2
    I think you misunderstood my question; I was not asking why it's not an ability word; but rather why it is a keyword action rather than a keyword ability. (Keyword ability being a distinct thing from ability word).
    – GendoIkari
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 19:46
  • 2
    In addition, checking whether a creature is monstrous doesn't actually reference the keyword. It references a named effect created by the keyword. They could write "this creature becomes monstrous" in a Landfall ability and those checks would see it.
    – murgatroid99
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 22:52

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .