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The future Sentinels in X-Men Days Of Future Past are clearly shown adapting to powers thrown at them by copying them. Isn't that what Rogue's DNA would allow for, not Mystique's? Mystique can just change appearance, not copy powers ... right? So why would study of her mutant genes allow for the abilities of the future Sentinels?

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Mystique can just change appearance, not copy powers ... right?

As far as has been shown, yes, that is correct. At least, mostly.

So why would study of her mutant genes allow for the abilities of the future Sentinels?

There were two massive improvements shown:

  1. The seeming ability to change power sets (more on this in a bit)
  2. The ability to change their appearance, materials, mass.

The second ability is pretty evidently derived from Mystique's abilities. The power set change ups aren't definitively being copied or added on the fly. Remember, by this point, the Sentinels have been hunting mutants for a very long time. It is entirely conceivable (and even likely) that Trask Industries has been adding to the Sentinel's capabilities and weapon sets over time - giving them the necessary abilities to handle the mutants they come up against.

But without Mystique's abilities giving the Sentinels the abilities to reshape themselves, they wouldn't be able to stand up to the mutants as well.

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We can't forget that Trask was legitimately a genius. Mystique's DNA was instrumental in allowing the Sentinels to adapt, but he certainly didn't just copy and paste that one trick and call it done. Odds are he saw something within the function of Mystique's ability that jogged his imagination, and then his own genius (and that of other researchers after his death) allowed them to go from "changing appearance" to "changing ability."

Think of it like the old story of Newton watching the apple fall from the tree: what he witnessed (i.e. an object falling due to gravity) simply gave him the spark to eventually describe the patterns of not only gravity, but inertia and a number of other laws governing the motion of objects in general.

Mystique's ability gave Trask a mechanism for rapid physical change. The nature of those changes, and the abilities available to the Sentinels from then on, was no doubt the result of further study and decades of refinement.

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What if the sentinels came up against someone like Sebastion Shaw? – user16416 Dec 3 '14 at 4:26
@user16416 It's inconclusive, but the Sentinels seem capable of taking out every mutant in the DOFP world, without exception. It's easy enough to imagine that they could lock him up in a forcefield, or develop a counter-power to drain him of energy, or use poison gas, or kill him telepathically, etc. There seem to be no mutants who are immune or can overpower the Sentinels indefinitely. – Nerrolken Dec 3 '14 at 17:18
wouldn't he absorb their powers? He absorbed the energy from a nuclear reactor. – user16416 Dec 16 '14 at 8:14
Sebastian Shaw doesn't absorb powers, he absorbs energy. If they tried to kill him with fire, it wouldn't work, but poison gas ought to. We see Magneto kill him slowly, so they could do that. There's no sign that he's immune to deadly telepathy. Shaw is a tricky mutant, but he's by no means immortal. – Nerrolken Dec 16 '14 at 17:27
I've never heard of a sentinel using telepathy – user16416 Dec 17 '14 at 6:13

We'll actually Rogue absorbs life force, which in mutants, is essentially their powers, Mystique's shapeshifting powers allow her shift her entire atomic and molecular being, in other words, she can shift her body to adapt to anything, which is what Trask wanted her DNA for, to give the Sentinels the ability to adapt to any mutant power, not copy because that's not what they did. Notice when they fought Iceman, Bishop, Blink and Collossus, they adapted to their powers and learned how to overcome them, they didn't copy their because what good would come from copying their powers and I'm sure the Sentinels were learning machines as well and Mystique's shapeshifting powers allowed them to physically "learn" to adapt, as that is essentially what Mystique does

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