614.12. Some replacement effects modify how a permanent enters the battlefield. (See rules 614.1c-d.) Such effects may come from the permanent itself if they affect only that permanent (as opposed to a general subset of permanents that includes it). They may also come from other sources. To determine which replacement effects apply and how they apply, check the characteristics of the permanent as it would exist on the battlefield, taking into account replacement effects that have already modified how it enters the battlefield (see rule 616.1), continuous effects from the permanent's own static abilities that would apply to it once it's on the battlefield, and continuous effects that already exist and would apply to the permanent.
This rule may be responsible for more confusion among experienced judges than any other rule. (Several times while writing this article, I realized I was completely wrong about something and had to rewrite a section.) The concept this rule is trying to convey is actually quite elegant, and it does an amazing job at handling enters-the-battlefield replacement effects in an intuitive way. The actual wording of the rule however is lacking some important details. Let's dig down and try to figure out what this rule is trying to accomplish and how to properly formalize it.
First, some background. Why is this rule necessary in the first place?
By default, replacement effects are applied to objects as they exist right before the event that's being replaced. This is pretty obvious from a technical standpoint; the game has to know what an event is going to be before it can perform that event. But players tend to find this behavior unintuitive for enters-the-battlefield replacement effects, likely because we think of the battlefield as being the primary zone in which objects exist. If I play Diregraf Ghoul while I control Humility, we feel like it should enter the battlefield untapped, since it has no abilities once it's there. But if we applied replacement effects solely in advance of the ETB event, Diregraf Ghoul would enter tapped.
614.12 allows this to actually work that way. The game looks ahead to see what the permanent would look like on the battlefield, sees that it would have no abilities, and then applies that knowledge to determine how it enters. This is only for replacement effects that apply to a permanent entering the battlefield. If my Progenitus dies or gets milled while I control Yixlid Jailer, it still gets shuffled into my library, because we don't look ahead to see how it would look in the graveyard, we just look at it in its previous zone. In other words, the battlefield always takes precedence over other zones when it comes to replacement effects.
There's also a second reason 614.12 needs to exist, which is that tokens being created never existed in any previous zone. Tokens with ETB replacement effects can only work if we consider those effects to work in the zone they're being created in.
Alright, now let's go through this rule section by section.
(Quick note: This article talks about a lot of different cards, so you'll probably find it easier to follow along if you have the Autocard Anywhere extension installed.)
Some replacement effects modify how a permanent enters the battlefield. (See rules 614.1c-d.)
This is just telling us what this rule is about. Later phrases in the rule refer back to these types of effects. It's slightly incorrect though, since 614.12 is also supposed to cover effects like that of Corpsejack Menace in the case where a creature is entering with a +1/+1 counter. As worded this wouldn't work, since Corpsejack Menace doesn't modify the "enter the battlefield" event, it just modifies the "gets counters" event, which is only a part of "entering the battlefield". (And the definitions it refers to in 614.1c and 614.1d don't include Corpsejack Menace's effect.) In order for this to cover what it's intended to cover it needs to say something more like this:
Some replacement effects modify how a permanent enters the battlefield or an event contained within that event. (See rules 614.1a, 614.1c-d, and 616.1f.)
Ok, moving on.
Such effects may come from the permanent itself if they affect only that permanent (as opposed to a general subset of permanents that includes it). They may also come from other sources.
This section is trying to tell us which replacement effects on an object are allowed to apply to it entering the battlefield. Diregraf Ghoul's ability applies only to itself, so it's allowed to do that. Orb of Dreams applies to all permanents, so it won't make itself enter tapped. Wait a second, there's a problem here though- what about something like Thief of Blood or Gorger Wurm? Those replacement effects clearly affect other permanents, but they're supposed to work while the object is entering the battlefield. It seems the rule should say something a bit more like the following:
Such effects may come from abilities of the permanent itself if and only if they explicitly apply to that permanent (as opposed to a general subset of permanents that includes it).
Ok, this is pretty straightforward. If the effect talks about "this card" then it can apply to itself as it enters, but otherwise it can't. Next section:
To determine which replacement effects apply and how they apply, check the characteristics of the permanent as it would exist on the battlefield, taking into account replacement effects that have already modified how it enters the battlefield, continuous effects from the permanent's own static abilities that would apply to it once it's on the battlefield, and continuous effects that already exist and would apply to the permanent.
This is the "lookahead" referred to earlier. An immediate problem jumps out at us- it says we want to consider how the permanent "would exist on the battlefield", but never completes the hypothetical. Consider how it would exist on the battlefield... if what? This is the cause of most of the ambiguity in this rule. It doesn't actually explain what game state we're considering in the lookahead. It lists three examples of things we're supposed to take into account, but that list is not exhaustive and doesn't explain how to take those into account in the undefined game state we're supposed to be interpreting them within.
There's also a second problem, namely "given a hypothetical game state, how do I convert that into a set of legal replacement effect applications in the real game state?" This is also left unspecified.
First, let me give a simple and not-entirely-accurate description of what this is supposed to mean. Then we'll go into more detail.
Simple version: When we want to know what replacement effects will apply to something entering the battlefield, pretend that that's already happened (ignoring any replacement effects you haven't applied yet), and look at what would apply to the permanent on the battlefield after it entered.
Here's an example. You cast Sculpting Steel. When it resolves, you first look to see how it would look on the battlefield if it just resolved right now, without applying its replacement effect. It would be... just a Sculpting Steel, with its ability. Since it would have that ability if it resolved right now, that ability applies to it entering the battlefield, so you pick something to copy, let's say Forgotten Sentinel. Now you again look at what Sculpting Steel will look like once it resolves, taking into account the copy effect we already applied, but not anything else. On the battlefield it would be a regular untapped Forgotten Sentinel. So you apply that effect and then check again. Now, after it resolves, it'll be a tapped Forgotten Sentinel. Its effect has already beed applied, so there are no more replacement effects to apply. It enters tapped.
Now what happens if you also control Humility? Humility doesn't affect artifacts, so the first part is the same; you can choose Forgotten Sentinel to copy. But then when you look to see how Sculpting Sentinel would exist on the battlefield after it resolves, you see that it will have no abilities. Since will have no abilities once it's on the battlefield, its effect doesn't apply. It enters as an untapped 1/1.
The "look at how it will exist once it's resolved" description is good enough in many situations, but it's not accurate in others. Two examples:
Ok, so how does this actually work? What's the technically-correct answer? Well, it's not specified anywhere in the rules, but we can reverse-engineer it by looking at various Official rulings. Here's what is, as far as I can tell, the simplest interpretation that fits all the official rulings from Wizards:
Imagine there's a game zone we're going to call the staging zone. When we want to know how something is going to enter the battlefield, we pretend a duplicate of it is in the staging zone, look at what replacement effects would apply if that duplicate were entering the battlefield, and then apply those to the actual object that's entering the battlefield. (If several permanents are entering at the same time, they each get their own staging zone.) In this visualization, the staging zone functions much like the regular battlefield, but with a few differences:
Now that we have an imaginary duplicate of the object in the staging zone, we need to figure out what replacement effects are applicable to the real object and how they apply. Any replacement effects that would apply to the real object entering the battlefield if it had the controller and characteristics of the duplicate can apply to the real object entering the battlefield. This includes any replacement effects that the duplicate creates in the staging zone that would apply to only itself (like "this creature enters the battlefield tapped"). Any self-references coming from an applicable replacement effect of the duplicate that are checking something about itself apply to the duplicate in the staging zone, while any references to a general set of objects only refers to objects in the appropriate real zone. (For example, put "put a +1/+1 counter on this object for each creature you control" only checks the number of creatures on the battlefield.)
Of course this is miles away from what 614.12 actually says; there's no way to derive this from what's written in the rulebook. Here's an attempt at a fixed 614.12 that describes the process in a technical way:
Some replacement effects modify how a permanent enters the battlefield or an event contained within that event. To determine which replacement effects apply and how they apply, envision a duplicate of the permanent that exists on the battlefield in the state that it would be in if it were to enter the battlefield with only the replacement effects that have already modified the event applied to the duplicate's characteristics, but not to anything else (treating any called-for actions involving objects as being legal, but not actually having happened to those other objects). Any parts of continuous effects that attempt to use the characteristics, status, existence, or other qualities of one or more objects on the battlefield to determine how the effect applies or what it applies to do not see the duplicate unless that part of the effect explicitly refers to the object that's entering the battlefield (as opposed to a general subset of objects that includes it). Effects applied to the duplicate object use a separate set of layers as described in section 613, such that the existence of the duplicate doesn't change whether or how continuous effects are applied to other objects. Any replacement effects that would apply to the real object entering the battlefield if it had the controller and characteristics of the duplicate can apply to the real object entering the battlefield, even if the real object in its previous zone does not match the qualities that those replacement effects are looking for. This includes any replacement effects that the duplicate would generate on the battlefield if and only if they explicitly apply to that permanent (as opposed to a general subset of objects that includes it). Any self-references in an applicable replacement effect of the duplicate that are checking one or more of its qualities refer to the qualities of the duplicate not the real object in the zone it's in prior to entering the battlefield, while any references to a general set of objects only refers to objects in the appropriate real zone. If multiple objects are entering the battlefield simultaneously, this process is carried out for them each independently, and they're not able to "see" each other on the battlefield.
That formalization needs to be quite complicated in order to cover all the corner cases (if it were actually in the CR it would likely be broken up into several subrules), so let's take look at some examples in order to better understand how this works.
How does Diregraf Ghoul enter the battlefield, in a technical sense?
Whew. I bet you didn't think there was that much that goes into resolving a Diregraf Ghoul. Most of the time, we can skip through this all and jump to the obvious conclusion. In more complicated cases though, trying to jump to the end is likely to lead to mistakes. A step-by-step understanding is necessary in order to perform this correctly in all cases.
Now let's look at what happens if I also control Humility.
Ah, one of the few cases where adding in a Humility actually makes things simpler.
Moving on! I control Renata, Called to the Hunt and Opalescence, and I cast Humility. Does it enter with a +1/+1 counter?
One more. I control Conspiracy naming "Sponge" and Xenograft naming "Zombie", which has the more recent timestamp. (The result is that all my creatures on the battlefield are Zombie Sponges and all my creature cards in other zones are just Sponges.) I also control Metallic Mimic naming "Zombie". I then reanimate Unbreathing Horde. How many +1/+1 counters does it enter with?
Let's see if we can get this one correct without going through the steps explicitly. Since Unbreathing Horde will be a Zombie once it's on the battlefield (which we see by imagining it's in the staging zone), it's going to get a counter from Metallic Mimic. However at the time we're applying replacement effects (right before the event that moves it to the battlefield), there's only one Zombie on the battlefield (the Mimic) and there are no Zombie cards in the graveyard. (Because it's an Unbreathing Sponge in the graveyard, not an Unbreathing Horde.) It ends up entering with 2 counters in total; it doesn't count itself in either zone.
Now it's your turn. Work through some practice questions and see if you can arrive at the correct answer for the correct reason. Take your time with them; it's better to be thorough than to try to guess quickly. Once you get familiar with the process, you'll be able to reliably answer these questions in just a few seconds.
You control Ashes of the Fallen naming "Warrior" and Bramblewood Paragon. You reanimate a Bear Cub. Does it enter with a +1/+1 counter?
No. In the staging zone it would not be a Warrior, so Bramblewood Paragon's effect doesn't apply to it.
You control Renata, Called to the Hunt and cast Corpsejack Menace. How many counters does it enter with?
One. Corpsejack Menace's effect doesn't specifically mention itself with a phrase like "Corpsejack Menace" or "this creature", so it doesn't get to apply to itself as it enters.
You control Yixlid Jailer and reanimate Diregraf Ghoul. Does it enter tapped?
Yes. We look to see how its duplicate would look in the staging zone, and it would have its ability. That replacement effect can therefore apply to it entering the battlefield.
You cast Gorger Wurm, and want to devour Conclave Mentor. How many +1/+1 counters does it enter with?
Two. You first apply Gorger Wurm's replacement effect, and the upcoming event is now "Gorger Wurm enters the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter and you simultaneously sacrifice Conclave Mentor". That hasn't actually happened yet though, so we continue to see if there are any other replacement effects that would modify that event, and there is one.
The lookahead to see how it would exist on the battlefield doesn't actually matter for this scenario, since nothing relevant about it would be different on the battlefield.
You control an Ambush Commander and Essence of the Wild. You play a Forest. Will it be a copy of the Essence of the Wild?
Yes. Before it enters, we look to see what its duplicate would look like in the staging zone, and it would be a 1/1 creature, so Essence of the Wild's replacement effect can apply to it. (It'll only be an Essence of the Wild, it won't be a land anymore.)
You control Humility and cast Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle. What does it look like once it's on the battlefield?
As a 1/1 creature with no abilities and no counters. Just like with Diregraf Ghoul, since it would have no abilities in the staging zone, its replacement effect doesn't apply.
You control Conspiracy naming "Dragon" and use Aether Vial to put Dragon's Disciple onto the battlefield. Can you reveal it to itself as it enters?
Yes. It's still in your hand as replacement effects are being applied, and it's a Dragon.
You control Winding Constrictor and cast Grist, the Hunger Tide. Does it enter with an additional loyalty counter?
No. We look to see how it would exist in the staging zone, where it would not be a creature. Winding Constrictor doesn't apply to it.
You control Xenograft naming "Sponge" and cast Kilnmouth Dragon. Can you reveal a Sponge from your hand as it enters?
Yes. The lookahead not only considers the duplicate's existence in the staging zone in order to determine which replacement effects apply, but also how they apply. It'll be a Sponge in the staging zone, so a Sponge in hand would share a type with it.
You control Renata, Called to the Hunt and Doubling Season. You cast Fractured Identity targeting your opponent's Opalescence. What happens?
You create two Opalescences, neither of which get any counters. First, we apply Doubling Season, since that applies to the "create" event. (616.1f, 701.6b) Now the event is to create two Opalescence tokens, which are each considered on their own staging zone. They don't see each other and can't turn each other into creatures in the staging zone, so Renata's effect doesn't apply to them.
You reanimate Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle and in response your opponent flashes in Containment Priest. What happens?
It gets exiled. First we look ahead to see how Arixmethes would look in the staging zone. It would be a creature, so both its effect and Containment Priest's effects apply to it. As the controller of the affected object, you get to pick which one to apply. Even if you choose to apply Arixmethes's effect first, the next time you perform the lookahead we don't see that it'll have counters, so it will be a creature and Containment Priest's effect will apply to it.
You control Solemnity and Mycosynth Lattice. You cast Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded. What happens?
"Can't" effects are subject to the same rules as replacement effects (614.17), so the game sees that it would be an artifact on the battlefield and therefore can't enter with counters.
You control Renata, Called to the Hunt, Starfield of Nyx, and 2 other enchantments. You cast your 5th enchantment. Does it enter with a counter?
No. When we consider the enchantment to be in the staging zone, Starfield of Nyx's ability is counting the number of enchantments on the battlefield, and there are only 4 there.
You control Renata, Called to the Hunt and cast Mowu, Loyal Companion. How many counters does it enter with?
Two. Mowu's effect applies only to itself, so it can apply to itself entering the battlefield.
You control Humility and Xenograft naming "Human". You reanimate Dearly Departed. Does it enter with a counter?
Yes. We look at how a duplicate of it would exist in the staging zone, where it will be a Human with no abilities. Then we look to see whether any replacement effects that existed before the event occurs apply to "a human with no abilities entering the battlefield", and Dearly Departed's ability does.
On the plane of Jund, you cast Greenwheel Liberator and sacrifice another creature to it. How many +1/+1 counters does it enter with?
Five. The lookahead only considers how Greenwheel Liberator would look in the staging zone, not whether any other events have happened. At the time the game is applying replacement effects to determine how Greenwheel Liberator enters the battlefield, a permanent has not left the battlefield.
You cast Song of the Dryads targeting your opponent's Mycosynth Lattice. They also control Manglehorn. Does Song of the Dryads enter tapped or untapped?
Tapped. When we consider Song of the Dryads in the staging zone, we consider effects that would apply to it from the battlefield (like that of Mycosynth Lattice), but we don't consider its effects as applying to the battlefield, so it's still an artifact in the staging zone and is affected by Manglehorn.
You control Opalescence, Rhythm of the Wild enchanted by Arachnoform, and Life and Limb. You cast Blood Sun. Will it enter the battlefield with your choice of haste or a +1/+1 counter?
Yes. While performing the lookahead, Opalescence's and Rhythm of the Wild's effects can apply to Blood Sun in the staging zone, but Blood Sun's effect cannot apply to Rhythm of the Wild on the battlefield.
You control Winding Constrictor and an animated Mutavault. You cast Altered Ego for X=1, choosing to copy Mutavault. How many counters does it enter with?
One. After applying Altered Ego's effect, the upcoming event is "Put a Mutavault onto the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter." Winding Constrictor doesn't apply to lands getting counters.
You control Master Biomancer. You cast Elvish Archdruid. How many counters does it enter with?
Only two. We look to see how the duplicate of Elvish Archdruid would exist in the staging zone, but its effects can't affect the battlefield. Master Biomancer's power is still 2 in this lookahead.
You control Melira, Sylvok Outcast, which you target with Cauldron Haze. After that resolves, it dies. Does it end up with a -1/-1 counter?
Yes. Melira's effect applies to all creatures, so it doesn't apply to itself entering the battlefield. (Melira's effect is a "can't" effect rather than a replacement effect, but it follows the same rules per 614.17d.)
You control Blood Moon. Your opponent controls Land Equilibrium and no lands. You cast Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle. What does it look like once it's on the battlefield and do you have to sacrifice a land?
A tapped Legendary Land - Mountain with 5 slumber counters and no abilities other than to tap for red. You do not have a sacrifice a land.
When it first begins entering the battlefield, before applying any replacement effects, we look at how it would exist in the staging zone and see that it would be a creature with its ability to enter tapped with counters, so we apply that. After doing so, we look again at its duplicate in the staging zone, but don't consider that it has counters. Since it's not a land, Land Equilibrium's replacement effect doesn't apply to it.
You cast Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle while controlling Winding Constrictor. Does it enter with an extra counter?
Yes. First we look ahead to see how a duplicate of Arixmethes would look in the staging zone. It would be a creature with no counters, so only its replacement effect applies. The event that's about to happen is now "Arixmethes enters with 5 slumber counters". We then look ahead again but don't consider the counters, so Winding Constrictor applies to that event.
You control Grafdigger's Cage. Can you reanimate Clone copying an animated Mutavault?
No. Grafdigger's Cage talks about creature cards in the graveyard, so it doesn't matter what it will look like on the battlefield. (If it were Worms of the Earth instead of Grafdigger's Cage, that cares about how the permanent looks on the battlefield.)
You cast Ashaya, Soul of the Wild. Your opponent controls Root Maze. Does it enter tapped or untapped?
Tapped. We do consider Ashaya's ability in the staging zone, so it's a land there. (The "has to apply explicitly to itself" is only for replacement effect, not other continuous effects.)
You control Conclave Mentor enchanted by your own Minimus Containment. (You've made some questionable decisions this game.) You cast Shimatsu the Bloodcloaked and choose to sacrifice Minimus Containment. How many counters does it enter with?
One. After applying its replacement effect, the upcoming event is "Shimatsu enters the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter and Minimus Containment is simultaneously sacrificed". There aren't any other effects to apply to this event at this time, so it happens. Only after the event has happened does Conclave Mentor's ability exist.
You control 2 Doubling Seasons and Winding Constrictor. You cast Grand Master of Flowers. How many loyalty counters does it enter with?
12. We don't consider its loyalty counters in the lookahead, so Winding Constrictor doesn't apply to it.
You control Bramblewood Paragon. You cast Adaptive Automaton, choosing "Warrior". Does it enter with a counter?
Yes. Choices can be taken into account in the staging zone, so it's a Warrior there.
The top card of your graveyard is Volrath's Shapeshifter and the next card down is Melira's Keepers. You control Renata, Called to the Hunt and reanimate Volrath's Shapeshifter. Does it get a +1/+1 counter?
Yes. We don't consider Volrath's Shapeshifter itself to be in the staging zone, we consider a duplicate of it to be there. The duplicate of Volrath's Shapeshifter sees that the top card of the graveyard is Volrath's Shapeshifter, so it just gains its own text and doesn't have any ability to prevent itself from getting a counter.
In timestamp order, you control a Conversion that's had its text changed to "All Mountains are Swamps" a Conversion that reads "All Swamps are Mountains", Kormus Bell, and Renata, Called to the Hunt. You play a Swamp. Does it get a +1/+1 counter?
The crux of this question is whether objects in the staging zone can, via dependencies, affect the order that continuous effects are applied to the game. I wasn't able to find an Official answer from Wizards with regards to their intention here, but based on related precedents I think it's pretty safe to assume that their answer would be something like "you reevaluate the layers as they apply to the object that's entering, but not as they apply to other objects". The section on interpretation #6 above includes a more technical description of how this would need to work. The end result is that the duplicate Swamp in the staging zone is a creature, so Renata can apply to it, even though it would not be a creature if the layers were applied to it in the order they were being applied to the game before it entered.
You control Renata. Your opponent casts Bear Cub. You respond with Gather Specimens. Does the Bear Cub enter with a +1/+1 counter?
Yes. After applying Gather Specimens's effect, it's in the staging zone under your control. Renata therefore applies to it.
You control Sage of Fables and Xenograft naming "Wizard" that's enchanted by your own Song of the Dryads. You cast Shimatsu the Bloodcloaked and choose to sacrifice Song of the Dryads. How many counters does it enter with? (Since this article isn't about layers, I'll just tell you that Xenograft + Song of the Dryads results in nothing being a Wizard while it's enchanted.)
You control 2 Doubling Seasons and Ashaya, Soul of the Wild. Your opponent controls Root Maze. You cast Grand Master of Flowers. Does it enter tapped or untapped?
Untapped. It's not a creature in the staging zone since it doesn't have any counters there, so Ashaya doesn't turn it into a land. Root Maze therefore doesn't apply to it.
You control Vesuva (not copying anything), Dimir Guildgate, Living Plane, Blood Sun, and an untapped Archelos, Lagoon Mystic. You cast Clone, choosing to have it copy Vesuva and then copy Dimir Guildgate. Does it enter tapped or untapped?
This can't happen as described. After you choose to have it copy Vesuva, we look at how its duplicate would look in the staging zone. It would be a 1/1 creature land with no abilities, so there are no more replacement effects to apply to that event. It just enters as an untapped Vesuva with no abilities. (You can apply Archelos's replacement effect anywhere in there, but it doesn't matter since it would enter untapped anyway.)
You control Opalescence and Rhythm of the Wild. You cast Humility. Will it enter the battlefield with your choice of haste or a +1/+1 counter?
No. Its own effect applies to itself in the staging zone, and it loses riot.
If you managed to get through all of those examples, congratulations! ETB replacement effects are a very complicated part of the game, but hopefully this helps clear them up a bit. If you're still confused about anything, that means I probably explained it poorly; let me know what you're stuck on and and I'll see if I can clear things up. And if you think I missed anything important in my definition or examples, please tell me and I'll amend the article if necessary.
Thank you to Federico Abella, Florian Horn, Guillaume Vanel, James Do Hung Lee, Nathan Long, Tobias Vyseri, and Steven Zwanger for feedback and proofreading. Any errors are my own.