Cranial Insertion: When All You Have is a Hammer

Cranial Insertion
When All You Have Is a Hammer
or, Everything Looks Like a Mountain

By Eli Shiffrin, Brian Paskoff, and Carsten Haese

[This article is available in Italian here.]
[This article is available in Spanish here.]

Plays Whack-a-Myr.
A wise man once said "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Okay, no wise man actually said that. It's just a weird saying that grew out of pretty much nowhere. "When all you have is a zombie monkey, everything looks like brains." Hmm. Not quite as elegant. "When all you have is the Comprehensive Rules, everything looks like Humility." Also doesn't work. Perhaps this phrase is not as malleable as I expected...

Anyway, I've brought you a nifty batch of questions for this week! Read on to find out some useful answers. Still got questions? Send them to [email][email protected][/email] for an answer and a shot at fame and glory!

"When all you have is questions, everything looks like..." well... I'm not even sure. On with the questions!

Q: Does Suq'Ata Firewalker actually just have protection from red?

A: The way to figure that out is to go to – or click the card tag link on the Firewalker – and see what it says! The "Oracle" wording on the Gatherer database is the official wording and the only wording that matters. No previous printings or "close enough" wordings count.

As for our firewalking friend, it does not have protection from red. Pyroclasm will still kill it, and Raging Goblin will still be able to block it.

Q: Wait, why does Necrotic Ooze die when it gets big from a Phyrexian Devourer in your graveyard? That's a triggered ability!

A: That goes back to Oracle text: originally, printed on the card, there was just one triggered ability to sac it. But now, sacrificing it is also part of the activated ability if the activated ability results in it being too large. And that's why Oracle text is sometimes very, very important: when there is actually a functional difference from the original wording!

Q: My opponent casts Lightning Bolt on one of my Golems while I have Precursor Golem out. Will Canceling the Bolt save all of my Golems?

A: Nope! Once the Bolt is cast, Precursor Golem's ability will trigger before anyone can do anything, and if the Bolt is countered, that trigger will use Lightning Bolt's last known information to create copies of it. Canceling the Bolt will save one of your Golems, at least.

Q: What happens when you enchant a Krosan Vorine with Lure?

A: Then you have a creature that can't be blocked by more than one creature, but must be blocked by every creature if able. The former is a restriction – all restrictions must be obeyed. The latter is a bunch of requirements – as many requirements as possible must be met without violating any restrictions or game rules. Since only one requirement there can possibly be met, one creature must block Krosan Vorine; the other creatures are free to block another creature or nothing at all.

Q: If I Mindslaver my opponent, what happens if I use his Misty Rainforest? Can I fail to find a land even if he has one? How is this different from Duress?

A: The difference is that fetchlands use the magic word "search," while Duress says "choose" – and the rules for searching are more defined than choosing. While searching for anything more specific than "N cards," you're always allowed to fail to find. The alternative would be to reveal the entire deck to prove that finding is impossible – ew.

When all you have is a vacuum cleaner...?
Q: If you used Rings of Brighthearth to copy Rust Tick's ability, could you keep two artifacts tapped down?

A: Sure, that works! The source of the copied Rust Tick ability is the same as the source of the original ability, so as long as that one Rust Tick stays tapped, the artifact targeted by its original ability and the artifact targeted by the copy will both remain tapped.

Q: Does Circle of Protection: Artifacts make a nonartifact 2/2 with a +2/+2 Equipment only deal 2 damage to me?

A: Nope, the Equipment isn't dealing any damage – it just raises the creature's power, and then all of the damage comes from that creature. While English language might let you say that the Equipment is the "cause" of the additional damage, the "source" is clearly defined by the game.

Q: Can I give a deathtouch creature infect with Tainted Strike to stop it from touching my creature to death?

A: You can try, but then that creature will touch your creature to death in all sorts of wrong places. Damage dealt by a source with infect is still damage; what changes is the result of damage. And damage dealt by a source with deathtouch summons the state-based action that will cart that creature off to the graveyard, regardless of the result of that damage.

Q: When does the Mimic Vat token go away? Is the "next end step" my opponent's turn?

A: It goes away at the beginning of the next end step that happens – there's no sneakiness going on here. If you activate Mimic Vat on your turn before your end step, then your end step will be the next one to happen; if you activate it on your opponent's turn before his end step, then his end step will be the next one to happen. And if you activate it during your opponent's end step, it's past the beginning of his end step, so your end step will be the next one!

Q: Can I sacrifice Molten-Tail Masticore to Ashnod's Altar to generate two mana for its damage ability and then exile it for that ability?

A: Surprisingly enough, this works! Do you remember the awesome mnemonic for the steps of casting a spell that I've mentioned a few times? If you've worked an event with me, I've probably drilled it into your head, anyway:

All Crazy Teenagers Have Tried Magic Pills

Which in turn stands for:

Announce Choose Target How Total Mana Pay

The relevant bits for this question are "Mana" and "Pay" – in the Mana step, you activate mana abilities, but you don't pay costs yet till the Pay step. You don't even choose what objects you'll use to pay the costs, so it's fine to sacrifice the Masticore in the Mana step and then exile it in the Pay step! Just don't ask me how this makes sense from a flavor perspective.

Q: If I stuff a Necropede into my Throne of Geth, can it drop a -1/-1 counter on a counter-free creature in time to proliferate that up to two counters?

A: That works. Upon activating the Throne's ability, that ability goes on the stack during the Announce step. Then when you sacrifice Necropede during the Pay step, its ability triggers, and will end up on top of the activated ability once the ability's done being activated. Since proliferate doesn't target, the choice of what to en-counter is made as the ability resolves, at which point Necropede's trigger will have put a -1/-1 counter on some hapless creatures.

Q: I control Throne of Geth and Voltaic Key – can I sac the Key or Throne to the Throne, then untap it and sac the other to proliferate twice?

A: You can proliferate twice, but not by activating the Throne first. Sacrificing as a cost to activate an ability happens immediately, and no one can respond to it, so as soon as you sacrifice one of those artifacts, it's gone and can't be used for further shenanigans.

In order to get your two proliferates, you'll have to activate Voltaic Key targeting the Throne – sure, the Throne isn't tapped yet, but the Key doesn't say it has to target a tapped artifact! Before the Key activation resolves, tap the Throne and sacrifice the Key to proliferate. Then the Throne untaps, and you can sacrifice it to proliferate again.

Q: My opponent has Volition Reins on my Tel-Jilad Fallen. Can I use Liquimetal Coating to make it fall off?

A: Artifact Auras don't naturally exist in Magic, but you can certainly make them with Liquimetal Coating! And since it's an Aura that is also an artifact attached to a creature with protection from artifacts, state-based actions will chuck it into the bin.

Q: My Nissa's Chosen dies – my opponent can't put it under his Mimic Vat, can he?

A: He can't. Nissa's Chosen has a replacement effect (note the "if-would-instead" construction), so it never actually goes to the graveyard and Mimic Vat doesn't trigger at all.

When all you have is rust, everything
looks kinda brown and flakey. Ew.
Q: Similar to your question last week, I control Rusted Relic, a random artifact, and Origin Spellbomb, but this time my opponent Arrests my Relic. Will popping the spellbomb shrug off the Arrest?

A: The legality of targets is only checked at two specific points, but the legality of an Aura being attached is checked every single time state-based actions are ever checked, which is a heck of a lot of the time! SBAs are checked a few times in between activating your Spellbomb and resolving its abilities, and at the first of those times, Arrest will find itself attached to a noncreature artifact and be put into its owner's graveyard.

Q: Quicksilver Gargantuan enters the battlefield copying Rusted Relic. Now what?

A: First, Quicksilver Gargantuan becomes a plain old copy of Rusted Relic – it doesn't copy the fact that it's a creature, and it doesn't have a power or toughness since it's not a creature. Then as you go down the layers, your Quicksilver-Rusted-Relic becomes a creature, and that ability sets its power and toughness to 5/5. It won't ever be 7/7, unfortunately.

Q: With Horde of Notions' ability, can I evoke the Elemental card I target?

A: Nope. Horde and evoke both establish alternate costs – "cast for free from your graveyard" or "cast for this evoke cost" – and alternate costs can't be mixed.

Q: A creature with infect hit me this turn, but will I still get to add a counter to my Luminarch Ascension?

A: You will! You took damage, but you didn't lose life, and all that matters is that you didn't lose any life during your opponent's turn.

Q: My opponent casts Memoricide and names Primeval Titan in the mirror match – if I Ricochet Trap it, does he have to remove his Titans?

A: Well, there are three problems here. For one, Memoricide lets you remove any number of the named cards – which includes zero. Two, you can always fail to find cards with a specific quality while searching a library, so he'd only be forced to exile cards from his hand and graveyard if Memoricide didn't say "any number."

The final problem is that he does not name Primeval Titan as he casts Memoricide. He names a card as Memoricide resolves. Normally, players can make an on-resolution choice as part of casting to speed things up, but if you do anything in between the casting and the resolving, he doesn't have to stick by his original choice. If this were instead Cranial Extraction without the "any number of cards" clause, he could just name Black Lotus as the spell resolves and remove nothing.

Q: Is it okay if I just use my sideboard cards for tokens?

A: Nope. Your sideboard must always be entirely separate from the cards involved in the game going on, and putting your sideboard on the battlefield face down isn't very separate.

Q: If my opponent says he casts Lightning Bolt targeting my planeswalker, can I say that it gets countered since a walker isn't a legal target?

A: Two things wrong here, too. For one, if you declare an illegal target, the spell isn't countered – it's illegally cast, and the player must rewind.

Second, it is acceptable at all levels of play, even at Worlds, to say "Bolt Jace." You can't deny your opponent the right to make this shortcut – it means "Target you with Lightning Bolt, as it resolves I'll redirect the damage to Jace."

Q: How does one become a judge, anyway?

A: Head over to! Find your nearest level 2 or higher judge and get in touch with him or her. You'll need to work a couple events with that judge and demonstrate that you've learned the Infraction Procedure Guide and Magic Tournament Rules, and then take the written exam.

While you're at that site, you can also take some practice exams and the Rules Advisor exam. Passing the RA exam isn't mandatory to becoming L1, but if you can't pass it, you're probably not going to do so well on the L1 exam.

If you're planning on being in Louisville, Kentucky next weekend, another way to become a judge is the Midwest Judge Conference. There will be plenty of testing opportunities there, so if you think you're ready for level 1, come on down to the conference and get certified.

Q: Are the Mirrodin Besieged promos given out at Game Day legal for Standard?

A: They aren't. Cards are only Standard-legal if they're in one of the Standard-legal expansions. The cards are, however, legal in Legacy, Vintage, and EDH, which accept any released promos in addition to cards from sets.

"When all you have are promo cards, everything looks warped." That kinda works, I suppose.

That's all the time for this week! Come back next time for Paskoff's article in which all you have is a Tarmogoyf. Maybe everything looks like a card type then.

Until next time, may you have more than a hammer!

- Eli Shiffrin
Tucson, Arizona


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