Tap and untap are key mechanics in Magic: The Gathering. No game can be played without using them! This article explores how tap and untap work in MTG with examples, lists the best tap and untap cards, strategies to play against tap heavy decks, and answers common questions about tap and untap!
MTG Tap and Untap rules
What do the Magic rules say about tap and untap?
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To tap a permanent, turn it sideways from an upright position. Only untapped permenants can become tapped.Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules, 701.21 “Tap and Untap”.
To untap a permanent, rotate it back to the upright position from a sideways position. Only tapped permanents can be untapped.Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules, 701.21 “Tap and Untap”.
To tap a permanent is to turn it sideways. A tapped permanent will untap during your untap step at the start of your turn. Permanents can be tapped for various reasons, such as lands producing mana or creatures attacking.
Tap and untap are fundamental parts of Magic, so much so that they’ve explicitly been trademarked. These are the keyword actions that make this game what it is. No game of Magic can be played without tapping and untapping permanents.
Since the beginning of Magic, it has remained consistent that you can only tap untapped permanents and untap tapped ones. Without this rule, most of the game would be incoherent.
Obviously, tap and untap were introduced in Alpha. What’s less obvious, though, is that the symbol used to refer to tapping a permanent didn’t exist yet. Instead, the action was spelled out in full.
This wording was changed for the first core set, Revised, which introduced the first tap symbol. However, the sign was a letter T set inside a circle, which didn’t translate to the non-English versions of the game.
The tap symbol was reworked again for Fourth Edition into a white arrow in a black rectangle. Later, for Eighth Edition, the tap symbol was revised to the black arrow in the grey circle that we all know and love.
While Shadowmoor experimented with an untap symbol, this proved unpopular and challenging to distinguish from the standard tap symbol. Nowadays, you’ll still see ‘untap’ written rather than symbolized. Similarly, reprints of older cards now have the modern tap symbol.
MTG Tap and Untap Examples
You can’t tap a creature whenever you want. You can only tap a creature when you need to attack, activate its ability, or pay a specific cost.
The same rule applies to untapping creatures. You can only untap a creature during your untap step or when prompted to by a spell or ability.
Whether or not a creature is tapped affects the way it interacts with the rest of the battlefield. It isn’t an aesthetic change. Therefore, you can only tap or untap creatures or other permanents when the cards or the game rules tell you to do so.
Tapping and Summoning Sickness
Summoning sickness is a rule that prevents you tapping a creature unless you’ve controlled it since the start of your most recent turn. So, any creature that enters the battlefield can’t attack or activate a tap ability on its first turn.
While this isn’t a formal rule, the concept behind summoning sickness is. Nevertheless, summoning sickness only applies to creatures, not other permanents like lands or artifacts.
Also, summoning sickness doesn’t prevent a creature from blocking or using an ability that doesn’t need to tap. You can also tap creatures by using summoning sickness by using spells or abilities.
However, if a creature has haste, such as Hall Monitor, it isn’t affected by summoning sickness. As such, you can attack with a haste creature the turn it enters the battlefield, or you can activate its tap abilities if it has any.
Tap to Attack
The most exciting thing creatures can tap for is to attack. When you declare a creature as an attacker, you need to tap it. It isn’t the case that untapped creatures can never attack, but a creature is usually tapped if it is attacking.
For example, let’s I control Gloom Pangolin, a vanilla creature, and Iron Golem, which has vigilance. At the start of my combat phase, I declare both creatures as attackers. To do this, I must tap them.
So, Gloom Pangolin taps and attacks. However, Iron Golem has vigilance, so it doesn’t tap when attacking. This keyword is the exception, though, and if a creature doesn’t have it, it needs to tap to attack.
Most creatures must tap to attack because then they can’t block during the opponent’s combat phase. Only an untapped creature can block. This rule forces players to attack strategically instead of always going all-out.
As such, Iron Golem could block the next turn since it’s untapped. However, Gloom Pangolin had to tap to attack so it couldn’t block any attackers during my opponent’s upcoming turn.
Tap to Activate Abilities
You can also tap permanents to activate their abilities. So, for example, I can tap Katilda, Dawnhart Prime to put a +1/+1 counter on each creature I control. (Note for this ability that I still must pay a mana cost). Some tap abilities have tapping the creature as the only cost, like Prodigal Sorcerer.
Other abilities don’t require you to tap the permanent to activate them. Equipment works this way, so, for example, to equip Vorpal Sword to a creature, I don’t have to tap either of them.
Although it is possible to tap equipment, they don’t tap to equip, and tapping them doesn’t change what they do. Equipment like Heartseeker and Toralf’s Hammer will give the equipped creature a tap ability, though.
Tap to Add Mana
Permanents can also tap to add mana, which is called a mana ability. These abilities don’t go on the stack, and they can never be countered. Like attacking and activating other abilities, mana production is a vital part of the game.
Mana abilities are most commonly found on lands. For instance, I can tap a Mountain to add a red mana. When it’s tapped, I can’t activate this ability anymore until it becomes untapped.
Some lands can tap for multiple colours of mana. Furycalm Snarl can tap for a red mana or a white mana. In contrast, Boros Garrison can tap for both a red and white mana in single activation. Other lands, like Den of the Bugbear, can tap for mana and have additional abilities too.
Creatures and artifacts can also have mana abilities, and they’re activated the same way, by tapping. However, with creatures, you can’t activate their mana abilities the turn they enter the battlefield because of summoning sickness.
For example, I can tap Dawnhart Rejuvenator to add one mana of any color, except the turn that it entered the battlefield. Artifacts don’t have summoning sickness, so I could tap Meteorite for mana the turn it enters.
Tap because of a Spell or Ability
Certain spells or abilities can also tap permanents. In this case, the creature’s controller doesn’t get any benefit from the tapped permanent. Similarly, that permanent’s abilities won’t activate if it’s tapped this way and, if it’s a creature, it can’t attack either.
When Prodigal Sorcerer becomes tapped, its ability doesn’t automatically activate either. However, my opponent could tap it in response to my spell precisely to activate its ability. If it is going to be tapped regardless, they might as well.
Untap during the Untap Step
During the untap step at the start of each player’s turn, all tapped permanents that player controls will untap. These permanents will untap regardless of whatever tapped them.
This rule applies even if I tap all creatures simultaneously with cards such as Cryptic Command or Augusta, Dean of Order. Those creatures will untap during their respective controller’s untap step regardless.
Some cards, however, will prevent a permanent from untapping during their controller’s next untap step, such as Frost Lynx. During the untap step after the immediate next one, though, that permanent will untap.
Untap because of a Spell or Ability
I can also untap permanents using spells and abilities. Suppose I cast Bull’s Strength, targeting my tapped Ardenvale Tactician. In addition to giving Adrenvale Tactician +2/+2 and trample, my spell also untaps it.
With spells or abilities, you can untap permanents outside of your untap step. If I untap a permanent with a spell or ability, I could also tap it again that same turn, as well as blocking with it if it’s a creature.
Best MTG Tap and Untap Ability Cards
Stasis (Untap – Blue Enchantment)
Stasis is an infamously powerful enchantment that stops players from getting an untap step. So, that once a permanent becomes tapped, it stays tapped. If you can keep paying Stasis’ upkeep cost, it’s possible to outright deck an opponent by stalling the game until they run out of cards.
Sword of Feast and Famine (Untap – Artifact)
As well as giving your creature +2/+2 and protection from black and green, Sword of Feast and Famine also untaps all lands you control. It has the opponent discard a card whenever the equipped creature deals combat damage to them, too.
Teferi, Who Slows the Sunset (Tap/Untap – White/Blue Planeswalker)
Teferi, Who Slows the Sunset can tap or untap three permanents with his +1. His -2 allows you to dig for answers, while his -7 ultimate gives you an emblem to untap all your permanents and draw a card at the start of each other player’s turn.
Blood Tribute (Tap – Black Sorcery)
With Blood Tribute, you can slice an opponent’s life total in half. If you tap a vampire you control to kick this sorcery, you then gain that much life. In formats like Commander, this can instantly swing a game in your favour.
Goldspan Dragon (Tap – Red Creature)
Not only is Goldspan Dragon a massive creature with flying and haste, but whenever it attacks or becomes the target of a spell, you create a treasure token. Goldspan Dragon then lets you tap and sacrifice treasure tokens for two mana each, doubling their value.
Chord of Calling (Tap – Green Instant)
You pay X mana, then put a creature into play with mana value X, directly from your deck. What makes Chord of Calling so strong though, is that it has convoke, allowing you to tap creatures for extra mana. Doing so lets you get out gigantic creatures at incredible speed.
MTG Tap/Untap Decks
Because all decks tap and untap permanents, building a whole deck based on this keyword action isn’t viable. That would be like opening a restaurant where the theme is to eat the food with a knife and fork. Tap and untap are too fundamental to focus a competitive deck around.
Furthermore, tapping and untapping permanents don’t win the game on its own. While untapping permanents to get additional value out of them can be powerful, you still need good permanents to do this in the first place.
Instead, certain decks will run a tapping or untapping package inside them. White, for instance, excels at tapping other permanents, and red can tap lands. Untapping is primary in both blue and green.
While untapping is an offensive strategy, tapping permanents is defensive. It stalls your opponents and denies them resources. Tapping can be used to react to their plays.
How to play against Tap/Untap
If you are up against a deck that tries to tap your permanents, the best idea is to remove whatever card is doing that as soon as possible. The longer you can’t get value out of your cards, the longer your opponent can build up their field and outpace you.
Most cards that can repeatedly tap other permanents are white or blue, or they’re artifacts. If this is the case, side in the appropriate colour if you have it, or artifact destruction. If possible, you can counter these cards too or remove them with hand attacks.
Since most of these decks are necessarily control, attack where possible. It is viable to race these strategies because most of their resources are caught up in denying you yours. Therefore, spend anything you can spare on chipping away at their life total.
Planeswalkers are also a strong choice against tapping strategies. Unlike most other permanents, planeswalkers can still activate all their abilities if they’re tapped, and some can even win the game on their own.
Decks that focus on untapping their permanents are different, though. In this case, it is still best to remove the source of the untapping immediately. However, the threats you’ll face later on will likely be different.
Untapping lands allows players to tap them again for mana, while untapping creatures let them both attack and block in the same turn cycle. Your opponent is essentially getting twice the value for their cards. However, anything you destroy is also twice as valuable in this case.
A note about Tap and Untap MTG
In summary, tap and untap are keyword actions that rotate a card sideways and rotate it back to its standard position. Together, they form some of the most fundamental gameplay in Magic.
All decks will tap and untap as part of whatever playstyle they use. Not only do creatures tap to attack or activate abilities, but players also have to tap lands for mana to cast any spells at all.
Tapping and untapping can also be used strategically to deny your opponents their resources and get more value from your own. However, a deck using these strategies still requires other cards to take advantage of these resources and close out the game.
Regardless of whether you’re using them to play the game or exploit the game, tapping and untapping are here to stay!
More Magic: The Gathering Keywords Explained
- How to Build an MTG Deck
- How to Build a Commander Deck in MTG
- MTG Evergreen Keywords List
- MTG Counter
- MTG Counters (markers)
- MTG Deathtouch
- MTG Defender
- MTG Double Strike
- MTG Enchant
- MTG Equip
- MTG Fear
- MTG Fight
- MTG First Strike
- MTG Flash
- MTG Flying
- MTG Haste
- MTG Hexproof
- MTG Indestructible
- MTG Intimidate
- MTG Lifelink
- MTG Menace
- MTG Protection
- MTG Prowess
- MTG Reach
- MTG Regenerate
- MTG Sacrifice
- MTG Shroud
- MTG Trample
- MTG Vigilance
- MTG Ward