In a nutshell:
- Linked abilities are sets of abilities that refer to a single object or choice that are essentially two parts of the same ability (this is not technically true, but it is a useful analogy). Example: Isochron Scepter has two abilities that both refer to a card. One exiles it and the other allows you to copy it. Though they are separate abilities when printed on the card, they logically go together. These abilities are linked.
- Because they are considered together, each half of a pair of linked abilities generally won’t do much of anything by itself. If a card somehow gains only one of the abilities, it will usually be worthless without the other.
- If one half of a set of linked abilities is copied while it’s on the stack, the copy is also linked to its partner ability on the original object.
- One ability can be linked to multiple other abilities. Example: Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver‘s first and third loyalty abilities are linked to its second. You can put any creature exiled with Ashiok onto the battlefield, no matter which of the other two abilities exiled it.
- If an object refers to itself by name in an ability, it means “this object,” even if its name is actually something different and even if there are other objects with that name on the battlefield.
There are many types of linked abilities:
- If an object has an activated or triggered ability printed on it that instructs a player to exile one or more cards and an ability printed on it that refers either to “the exiled cards” or to cards “exiled with [this object],” these abilities are linked. Example: Panoptic Mirror, Duplicant, Oblivion Ring
- If an object has an ability printed on it that generates a replacement effect which causes one or more cards to be exiled and an ability printed on it that refers either to “the exiled cards” or to cards “exiled with [this object],” these abilities are linked. Example: Shared Fate, Void Maw
- If an object has an activated or triggered ability printed on it that puts one or more objects onto the battlefield and an ability printed on it that refers to objects “put onto the battlefield with [this object],” those abilities are linked. Example: Diabolic Servitude, Tombstone Stairwell
- If an object has an ability printed on it that causes a player to “choose a [value]” or “name a card” and an ability printed on it that refers to “the chosen [value],” “the last chosen [value],” or “the named card,” those abilities are linked. Example: Meddling Mage, Shapeshifter, True-Name Nemesis
- If an object has an ability printed on it that causes a player to choose from between two or more words that otherwise have no rules meaning and an ability printed on it that refers to a choice involving one or more of those words, those abilities are linked. Example: Archangel of Strife, Tyrant’s Choice (Tyrant’s Choice has a spell ability that is linked to itself).
- If an object has an ability printed on it that causes a player to pay a cost as it enters the battlefield and an ability printed on it that refers to the cost paid “as [this object] entered the battlefield,” these abilities are linked. Example: Phyrexian Processor, Wood Elemental
- If an object has both a static ability and one or more triggered abilities printed on it in the same paragraph, each of those triggered abilities is linked to the static ability. Example: Keranos, Rowen
- If an object has a kicker ability printed on it and an ability printed on it that refers to whether that object was kicked, those abilities are linked. The second refers only to whether the intent to pay the kicker cost listed in the first was declared as the object was cast as a spell. If a kicker ability lists multiple costs, it will have multiple abilities linked to it. Example: Apex Hawks, Stormscape Battlemage
- If an object has an ability printed on it that causes a player to pay a variable additional cost as it’s cast and an ability printed on it that refers to the cost paid “as [this object] was cast,” these abilities are linked.
- The two abilities represented by the champion keyword are linked abilities. Example: Changeling Titan, Supreme Exemplar
- Abilities preceded by an anchor word are linked to the ability that allows a player to choose that anchor word. Example: The Khans of Tarkir sieges
Q: Amy exiles a Grizzly Bears with Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver‘s +2 ability. Later, Nicole Banishing Light‘s the Ashiok. On her next turn, Amy destroys Banishing Light and gets Ashiok back. Can she activate Ashiok’s -X ability for X=2 to put the bear onto the battlefield?
A: No. Because Ashiok’s second ability is linked to its other abilities, you can only return a creature that was exiled with one of the abilities that are linked to it. When Ashiok changed zones, it became a new object with no memory of its prior existence. That means that its second ability now is not linked to the ability that exiled the bear because it was on a different object.
Note: It’s legal to activate the -X ability even if there are no creatures to put into play with it.
A: No. That ability is linked to Bane Alley Broker’s first ability and can only return cards that were exiled with an ability linked to it. Quicksilver Elemental has a copy of that ability, but the game knows it isn’t the same ability that exiled Nicole’s cards, so nothing will happen if it’s activated.
Q: Nicole controls a True-Name Nemesis with protection from Amy and a Grizzly Bears. Amy casts a Mirrorweave on her Sewer Nemesis, for which Nicole is the chosen player. With Mirrorweave on the stack, both players have 2 cards in their graveyards. What happens?
A: Mirrorweave turns everything into a Sewer Nemesis. Grizzly Bears never had a player chosen for it, so the game can’t assign it a power and toughness. It’s put into its owner’s graveyard for being a 0/0. True-Name Nemesis doesn’t fare any better. Even though it does have a player that was named as it entered the battlefield, that doesn’t help. There was no player chosen with the ability that it now has that’s linked to its p/t-setting ability. True-Name Nemesis is also put into its owner’s graveyard.
Q: Amy controls Opalescence and a Monastery Siege, for which the chosen mode is “Dragons.” She uses Cytoshape to make it a copy of her opponent’s Frontier Siege, for which the chosen mode is “Khans.” What abilities does it now have?
A: Anchor words are linked to the ability that chose them. Amy’s siege will have the “as this enters the battlefield, choose Khans or Dragons” ability of Frontier Siege. However, since it didn’t have that ability as it entered the battlefield, it won’t have a choice made for it, so it won’t have either of the Frontier Siege modes that are linked to it. Dragons was chosen for Monastery Siege as it entered the battlefield, but being a copy of Frontier Siege, it no longer has the abilities that are linked to that.
A: Duplicant’s abilities are linked. Because it’s the same ability, the copied imprint ability is also linked to Duplicant’s property-setting one. Duplicant‘s Oracle text makes it clear that it uses the information from the last creature card imprinted on it rather than somehow attempting to combine the values.