Cranial Insertion: Mountainwalk

Cranial Insertion
or, Greetings from Pittsburgh

By Eli Shiffrin, Brian Paskoff, and Carsten Haese

Cranial Translations
Deutsch Español Français Italiano 繁體中文

An approximation of the view
I enjoyed on the way to Pittsburgh
Welcome to another episode of Cranial Insertion! July is in the books, and it was a particularly exciting month for me. Every other weekend in July, I traveled to various Magic tournaments in Columbus, Cincinnati, and most recently Pittsburgh. I especially enjoyed the trip to Pittsburgh because I live in a rather flat area, so going into the mountains is a special treat for me that always reminds me of being on vacation. Consequently, I'm very happy that I'll be back in Pittsburgh in just under three weeks to judge at Grand Prix Pittsburgh, which promises to be a lot of fun. If you're in the Pittsburgh area during the last weekend of August, you should definitely come to the Grand Prix!

As a souvenir from my travels, I have brought a couple of questions from the tournament floor, which I'll present below mixed in with the usual selection of questions from our inbox. If you have questions for us, as always please email them to [email][email protected][/email] or tweet them to @CranialTweet.

Q: A friend of mine has developed an Illusion tribal deck, and included a Spellskite which he imagines will allow him to save his Illusions from dying due to being targeted by spells and abilities. Does that actually work the way my friend wants it to work?

A: No, it doesn't. As soon as a spell or ability is put on the stack that targets the Illusion, the Illusion's "I must die!" ability triggers and goes on the stack above that spell or ability. Changing the target to Spellskite doesn't remove the "I must die!" ability from the stack, so the Illusion will still die. Poor Illusion!

Q: I cast a kicked Into the Roil on my opponent's Ratchet Bomb, and he sacrifices it in response. Do I still draw a card?

A: Nope. Into the Roil only has one target, and your opponent made that target disappear by sacrificing it. A spell that has no legal targets when it resolves is countered by the rules of the game, and none of its effects happen, so you don't get to draw a card.

Q: If my opponent Act of Treasons my Skinshifter and I make it an 0/8 in response, can he then activate Skinshifter's ability so he can attack me for damage?

A: Nope! Your opponent gets a pretty plant to look at. The ability keeps track of how often it's been activated regardless of who activated it, so he can't activate the ability himself.

Q: I cast Iona, Shield of Emeria, and in response my opponent casts a Staggershock, exiling it to the reboundland. On his upkeep, can he use a Shrine of Burning Rage to kill Iona fast enough to allow him to use the rebounding Staggershock?

A: Yes, he can do that. The rebound ability goes on the stack and can be responded to. If he manages to burn Iona's face off in response to that ability, she won't be there to prevent him from casting the rebounding Staggershock.

Q: My opponent is attacking with two Prized Unicorns. One of them is wearing a Basilisk Collar, so I would prefer not to block it. Can I choose to have all my blockers block the non-deadly Unicorn?

A: Yes, that's legal. Each Unicorn creates one blocking requirement for each potential blocker, and you have to block in any way that fulfills as many of those requirements as possible. Unless you have something weird that can block multiple attackers, this means that for each blocker you choose one of the Unicorns to block with that blocker. Having all blockers jump in the way of the non-deadly Unicorn is just as legal as dividing the blockers evenly between the two Unicorns.

Q: If I use Flash to sneak Bladewing the Risen onto the battlefield and sacrifice it right away, can Bladewing return itself?

A: It sure can! Bladewing's ability triggers during Flash's resolution, but it won't be put onto the stack until after Flash is done. At that time, you choose a target for the ability, and Bladewing is a Dragon permanent card in your graveyard by then, so it can revive itself.

Q: Can I cast Decimate without an enchantment on the battlefield and just let it do as much as it can?

A: No, that's not legal. While a spell that was cast legally will still resolve and do as much as possible as long as at least one target is still legal on resolution, you need to choose the required number of targets in order to cast the spell in the first place. If you can't target an artifact, a creature, an enchantment, and a land, you can't cast Decimate at all.

I wouldn't kick that if I were you.
Q: If The Mimeoplasm copies a creature with kicker, such as Anavolver, can I kick it?

A: Nope. The Mimeoplasm isn't very good with kickers. You can only pay a kicker cost when you cast a spell that has a kicker cost. The spell you're casting is The Mimeoplasm, which doesn't have any kicker costs.

Q: What does Pendelhaven mean by "1/1 creature?" Does it mean a creature that has "1/1" printed in its power/toughness, or a creature whose current power and toughness is 1/1?

A: It means the latter: A creature that is 1/1 after considering all effects that affect it. For example, you can target a Runeclaw Bear that has a -1/-1 counter in it, but you can't target a Squadron Hawk that has a Sword of Feast and Famine attached to it.

Q: Does Progenitus work together with Concerted Effort?

A: It sure does. Protection from everything is a kind of protection, and Concerted Effort gives that kind of protection to all your creatures, so all your creatures gain protection from everything. You won't be completely invincible, but your opponent will be pretty annoyed unless he has something like Day of Judgment handy.

Q: Can I use Ant Queen to give Insect tokens to my opponent so I can cast Avatar of Might for cheap?

A: Nope. Ant Queen tells you to put the token onto the battlefield, and since it doesn't specify a controller, you're automatically its controller by default. You can't choose to put the token onto the battlefield under another player's control.

Q: If my opponent targets an artifact of mine with Hull Breach, can I Swerve Hull Breach to target an enchantment of his instead?

A: No, that doesn't work. The peculiar wording "Choose one --" signals that Hull Breach is a modal spell, and the mode is locked in when the spell is cast. Swerve can't change the mode, so you have to target an artifact.

Q: Is there an easy way to tell for sure if an ability is cumulative or not without having to check the rulebook?

A: Well, there's a way, but it's not really easy. The first step is to identify whether the ability is a triggered ability, an activated ability, or a static ability. A triggered ability starts with "When," "Whenever," or "At." For keyword abilities, you'll find those signal words in the reminder text. An activated ability is written as "[cost]:[effect]." Look for the colon. If an ability has none of the triggered-ability signal words or the activated-ability colon, it's a static ability.

Triggered abilities are almost always cumulative. That is because each instance of the ability triggers off of the same event, and each instance will resolve independently. This is why flanking is cumulative, for example. The exception is if the resolution of the first instance somehow renders the other resolutions moot, such as in the case of persist. Once the first trigger has returned the creature from the graveyard, the remaining triggers have nothing to do when they resolve.

Activated abilities are most likely redundant. If an object has multiple instances of the same activated ability, you have to choose which one you're activating, and activating one doesn't automatically activate the other.

Static abilities can go either way, but most of them are redundant. Many static abilities either change the rules of the game or are there for a particular rule to notice them: Flying, trample, double strike, lifelink, those are all abilities that fall into that category. The rule that the ability influences is either on or off, so such abilities are always redundant in multiples.

Some static abilities create replacement effects. Depending on what the replacement effect does, the effect can be redundant or cumulative. If a replacement effect replaces an event with a completely different event, such as totem armor, having a second instance of totem armor is not likely to matter. Bloodthirst, on the other hand, replaces the event "a creature enters the battlefield" with "a creature enters the battlefield with counters." Since the creature is still entering the battlefield, another instance of bloodthirst still has an event to apply to, which is why multiple instances of bloodthirst are cumulative.

And that's that in a nutshell the size of a coconut! As I said, there is no easy way to tell whether an ability is cumulative or not. Mostly, you just have to look at what the ability does and whether doing more of that does anything extra.

Don't pay attention to the
ink on the cardboard!
Q: What stops me from activating Goblin Grenadiers' ability before blockers are declared?

A: Mostly it's the fact that the ability is not an activated ability. You might see the tell-tale colon on the printed card, but the card is lying to you. The card's functionality is determined by its Oracle text, which has a triggered ability that triggers in the Declare Blockers step upon your opponent deciding not to block the Grenadiers.

Q: My opponent attacks me with a Cystbearer and I block it with Outrider En-Kor. Can I use the Outrider's ability to redirect the -1/-1 counters to another creature I control?

A: Sure, that works. The -1/-1 counters are the result of a source with infect dealing damage to a creature. The Outrider can redirect that damage, and the counters are placed wherever the damage ends up being dealt.

Q: If I have Gigantiform on a Spawnwrithe, does the Spawnwrithe spawn 8/8 Spawnwrithes or 2/2 Spawnwrithes?

A: The copies will be measly 2/2 Spawnwrithes. Copy effects only care about the values that are printed on the original, as modified by other copy effects. Gigantiform's effect is not a copy effect, so it won't be copied.

Q: In Two-Headed Giant, how can I tell when the word "you" refers to just me and when it refers to my team?

A: This one is easy: "You" means "you," always. It never means "your team." The only exception happens when the effect involves a resource you share with your teammate, which causes the effect to "bleed" from you to your teammate. The turn structure, winning and losing the game, life totals, and poison counters are things that happen to teams as a whole. Anything else happens to players individually.

Q: I cast Animate Dead targeting the Kitchen Finks in my graveyard, but I Stifle its enter-the-battlefield trigger, so now I have an Animate Dead that's attached to the Kitchen Finks in my graveyard. Later, my Reveillark dies. Can I return the Kitchen Finks?

A: That's an amusing idea, but it doesn't work. Animate Dead is attached to a creature card, not to a creature, so the effect "enchanted creature gets -1/-0" doesn't apply to anything. The Kitchen Finks in your graveyard are still 3/2, so they're too big for Reveillark's ability.

Q: So, here's the situation: My opponent attacked me with an animated Celestial Colonnade. I tried to Condemn it, which my opponent Spell Pierced with blue mana he got from tapping the attacking Colonnade. I assumed that tapping it removed the Colonnade from combat, so I decided not to chump-block it with my Squadron Hawk. Now my opponent says that the Colonnade still deals damage to me. Is he right? If so, can I go back and block the Colonnade?

A: Unfortunately, your opponent is right. Tapping or untapping an attacker does not remove it from combat and doesn't prevent its combat damage, so the Colonnade will still come and hit you like a ton of rocks. Since neither you nor your opponent violated the game rules, there isn't a reason to back the game up to your declaration of blockers. You simply made a bad decision based on an incorrect understanding of the game rules, and hopefully you learned from it for next time.

And that's all the time we have for now. Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you at the Grand Prix in Pittsburgh!

- Carsten Haese


Posts Quoted:
Clear All Quotes