Amonkhet is just around the corner, and it’s giving us Embalm, Exert, and Aftermath. Embalm makes a zombie, which kinda feels like the opposite of what traditional Embalming is, but as keywords go, it’s not the worst.

Magic, in its 23-year history, has had...I don’t know...a thousand keywords? Most of them are ok, some are great, and some just don’t work.

Presenting the top 6 worst keywords in Magic’s history:

For this list, I’m taking a look at fails in flavour, language, and concept. As long as it appears on a tournament-legal Magic card, it’s fair game.



The words themselves are fine, but I’m getting a bit sick of Voke. Convoke, Evoke, Provoke. They just need Revoke and Invoke to complete that cycle. They’re all solid names, and I’m not looking forward to confusing most of them.


Dethrone shares a criticism with one of my favourite cards from Conspiracy 2: Regicide. Regicide kills a creature. Any creature (restricted by colour). The term “Regicide” means specifically to kill a king (though I imagine a queen would probably count). Not a giant rat monster or a really mean cloud. Dethrone doesn’t trigger off a player who’s identified as a monarch (which we do now with the Monarch card), or even someone that controls one of the many artifact Thrones in Magic.

It’s a fine name, but a flavour fail.

Those were the honourable mentions. Let’s get on with the list of unreasonable hatred of words used in games:


My first thought when I heard Buyback was that Magic had officially run out of ideas. This was back in 1997, so I’m obviously wrong, but I can’t find myself liking this one. Sure, it does what it says on the side of the tin, but they couldn’t come up with something slightly more evocative for a magical duel between near-infinite beings? It’s a notch above Yo-Yo.



Magic doesn’t often give new keywords to slightly-tweaked abilities, and after this, I’m glad.

Megamorph. This is why we don’t let five-year-olds name things.

I know how cards are made. Somebody put the worst keyword placeholder they could think of in there because it’ll definitely force someone to come up with something...anything...better.

Except nope. We’re stuck with Megamorph. It’s like Morph, but mega. What makes it mega? A +1/+1 counter. You know, like adding the strength and ability of a single human. That’s what makes it mega.


Given the combined lexicon of English-language nerds at WotC, it’s inconceivable that they couldn’t top Split Second. English has too many words when compared to other languages, mainly because we have lots of words that mean slightly similar things.

But yeah. Split Second. Why not? It doesn’t translate well to other languages, it’s not a colloquialism that everybody has heard, and it sounds stupid.

Since Split Second was their attempt at “fixing” interrupts, why not just call it Interrupt? It’s not like they’re using that word for anything else. If you’re really concerned about confusing people, we could call it Megainterrupt.


This is one of the abilities from Future Sight. Currently it only appears on a single Magic card, but it’s fair game. What does Aura Swap do? Well, without looking it up, it swaps a goddamn Aura.

You know what ability exists in Magic that’s a bit similar to Aura Swap? Ninjitsu. Not “Creature Swap”. Nin-dick-kicking-jitsu. You see Ninjitsu on a card and you gotta read the reminder text. And then you know. By reading.

Aura Swap sounds like a Harry Potter spell, but at least they would have the foresight to run it through Google Translate or something so it sounds better in Latin. (Sphaera Permuto in case you were wondering, which I guess sounds less like moving Auras around, and more like a well-spent Saturday afternoon.)


What’s different about Living Weapons? Well, there’s a germ on it. THAT’S NOT SPECIAL YOU GUYS! Somebody forgot to clean the Sword of Omens or whatever, and now something evolved and is wielding it. It’s disgusting, it shows that nobody is cleaning the equipment adequately, and it’s a stupid name.

It’s not the weapon that’s living. I’m going to start calling the dirty dishes “Living Crockery”, see where that gets me.


This one is not that bad, I’ll admit, but it infuriates me nonetheless. Improvise allows a player to tap Artifacts to pay for spells. That’s it.

The reason I hate this keyword is that the greatest thing about Magic is that it’s so stupid! You see wizards duelling in films or books, and they’re firing energy rays at each other, or turning into monsters and fighting with claws. In Magic, you don’t have that kind of direct power.

In Magic you fight with what you have in your hand. This might not be the best solution overall. I’d like to see a movie where a wizard sets a cat on fire and throws it at a ghost. I want to see lava bursting from the ground, then a quick boat trip, then maybe a dragon or something. I want to see a robot stuffed with helicopters thrown at a rhino.

Magic is all about improvising. That’s what it’s always been about. Taking that concept, and reducing it to a boring ability is a slap in the face of everyone that has cast Jump on a Knight and then Hurricane’d that sumbitch out of existence, or crammed a guy inside a helicopter, stuffed that helicopter inside a bus, parked that bus inside a train, drove that train inside a larger train, and then ran that train over a wizard’s face for the win.

That ends our look into the wonderful world of terrible keywords. Did we forget something? Do you disagree? Please contact us and let us know, and perhaps we'll include that in another vaguely mean-spirited article in the future!


by Ian Taylor