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Clause 207.2c of the comprehensive rules point out that "channel" is an ability word (among many others), in that it marks a particular family of behaviors but has no rules meaning (and the word "channel" does not even appear anywhere else in the document).

If I didn't know any better, for rules purposes I would thus read (for example) Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire with the "Channel —" omitted, and would mistakenly think that it specifies an activated ability on the land which has the dual cost of some mana and discarding the card. (But I would be confused because the rules specify that a card can only be discarded from the hand.) Of course, in actual fact I'm supposed to be able to do this (pay the mana and discard the card) from my hand and only my hand.

On the other hand, (for example) Nezumi Bone-Reader has an activated ability which costs some mana and requires sacrificing a creature. Based on the previous example, it seems like I could do this from the battlefield, or my hand. But of course, the ability cannot be activated unless the card is on the battlefield.

How do the rules implement how Eiganjo is (and channel effects in general are) actually played? Are both examples of activated abilities (even from the hand)? What separates these two examples?


My first guess that it's the presence of the Discard keyword in the list of costs, but the section "Discard" (701.8) in the comprehensive rules is very short and does not address this.

My second guess is that activated abilities (in the form "[Cost]: [Effect.]") are presumed to be activatable for any card in "any zone" at all, and there is a rule (I haven't found) which implies that activated abilities on e.g. creatures can only be activated when they are on the battlefield. But this is getting complicated quickly because I'm obviously not supposed to be able to activate most abilities from exile, or my library for that matter.

In a similar vein, where do the rules actually prohibit activating creature abilities from my hand? (That doesn't seem to happen in the "602. Activating Activated Abilities" section.) Thanks for all of your help.

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    No mistake in thinking anything about channel. All channel abilities are activated abilities.
    – Andrew
    Commented May 3 at 14:57

2 Answers 2

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The rule you're missing is 113.6:

113.6 Abilities of an instant or sorcery spell usually function only while that object is on the stack. Abilities of all other objects usually function only while that object is on the battlefield

[...]

113.6b An ability that states which zones it functions in functions only from those zones

[...]

113.6j An object’s activated ability that has a cost that can’t be paid while the object is on the battlefield functions from any zone in which its cost can be paid.

with then as you note the definition of "discard" in 701:

701.8a To discard a card, move it from its owner’s hand to that player’s graveyard.

Rule references from the 2024-04-10 Comprehensive Rules.

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If I didn't know any better, for rules purposes I would thus read (for example) Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire with the "Channel —" omitted, and would mistakenly think that it specifies an activated ability on the land which has the dual cost of some mana and discarding the card.

You are reading it correctly.

There are two issues to disentangle here. First:

But I would be confused because the rules specify that a card can only be discarded from the hand.

Eiganjo's ability is an activated ability. The card lists a cost on the left-hand side of :, and an effect on the right-hand side. Per 113.3b, that makes it an activated ability.

There is nothing about the definition of an activated ability that requires the source to be a permanent. By default, activated abilities function from the battlefield; but the ability text can override that by specifying either a cost (113.6j) or effect (113.6m) that logically requires it to be in a different zone; or by explicitly saying so (113.6b).

There are many cards, for example, that have an activated ability that allows for returning it from the graveyard to your hand, or to the battlefield. For a more extreme example, consider Lightning Storm: an instant with an activated ability that functions while it's on the stack. (This actually used to be the normal finisher for Ad Nauseam decks in Modern.)

But paying mana and sacrificing a creature are both costs that can be paid regardless of what zone Nezumi Bone-Reader is in; and the effect "target player discards a card" could take place regardless what zone Nezumi Bone-Reader is in. Therefore, Nezumi Bone-Reader's ability only works from the battlefield.

Second:

"channel" is an ability word (among many others), in that it marks a particular family of behaviors but has no rules meaning (and the word "channel" does not even appear anywhere else in the document).

This is correct. More generally, anything written in italics on the card can be ignored. Such text does not change how the card works. It exists either to help you understand the card (like reminder text) or to get you more invested in the idea behind the card (like flavour text). Ability words are in between: when you see Channel you're meant to think of the card as representing a spirit in the Kamigawa realm which can gather its energy for a special effect, rather than simply manifesting itself; and you're also meant to be prepared to read an activated ability that functions from hand and has a mana cost and a "discard this card" cost.

Gatecrash featured a similar ability word Bloodrush. It describes activated abilities with the same cost, but only appearing on creatures which are red and/or green, and specifically giving a power and toughness boost to an attacking creature, equal to power and toughness of the creature that the card would otherwise represent. (Interpretation of the flavour is at your discretion.) Because it's so narrowly defined, this probably could have been written as an actual keyword ability, but it wasn't.

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  • "There is nothing about the definition of an activated ability, that requires the source to be a permanent." The comma before "that requires the source to be a permanent" makes it a nonrestrictive clause, which means that you're saying that the source of an activated ability must be a permanent. Commented May 17 at 23:47
  • The comma was meant as an informal convenience, as I'd expect most speakers to pause there naturally. I don't think your interpretation makes any sense at all. But I've removed it anyway, Enjoy. Commented May 18 at 1:42

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