Cranial Insertion: The Return of Pamplemouse



Cranial Insertion
The Return of Pamplemouse
or, A new Writer for a new Year

By Eli Shiffrin, Brian Paskoff, and Carsten Haese



I told you not to put Chandra in charge
of the fireworks!
Hello and welcome to 2010. It's a new year, a new decade, and the Cranial Insertion team has a new writer! I am Carsten Haese, a Level 0 judge from Toledo, Ohio, but you're more likely to have seen me answer rules questions here on MTGS and elsewhere on the Internet than judging events. A little over a year ago, Aaron won by a narrow margin when he and I went head to head in a vote to determine who would become The Next Cranial Inserter, and who would become Moko's dinner. Fortunately for me, Moko decided in a rare moment of magnanimity not to eat me and had some leftover turkey instead. Now that Aaron has decided to step down, I'm happy to take over his position and share my Magic rules knowledge with you. Please join me in wishing Aaron all the best in his future endeavors.

I hope you'll enjoy reading my articles as much as I enjoy writing them. Of course, we the CI team couldn't write these articles without a steady stream of questions, so please continue to send your questions to [email][email protected][/email].




Q: In an EDH game with several players left, I am at 6 life and one of my opponents is at 2 life. He casts Death Grasp for 6 to kill me, and I respond with Twincast to hit him with a copy of his own Death Grasp. Does this kill my opponent or will the life gain from his original spell save him?

A: That was a cunning and very effective play! Your copy resolves first, bringing you to 12 life and your opponent to -4 life. After your copy resolves, state-based actions are checked and your opponent loses the game. All cards he owns are yanked out of the game right away, including the Death Grasp that would have saved his life.




Q: I'm having difficulty explaining to my play group why it's possible to cast a sorcery with Djinn of Wishes' ability during an opponent's turn. Can you help?

A: I'll try. Like any other game, the game of Magic has a set of rules that describe which actions are allowed at what times. If you're not allowed to do something, you can't do it. This is the basic principle that keeps you from discarding a card just because you think it'll look better in your graveyard, adjusting your life total to 100 because you don't want to lose the game, or casting a sorcery during an opponent's turn. There is no rule that forbids you from casting a sorcery during your opponent's turn. The only reason you normally can't do it is because nothing is giving you permission to do it.

During resolution of the Djinn's ability, something extraordinary happens: The Djinn is giving you unequivocal permission to play the card you revealed. This is a one-shot effect that's giving you the one-time option to play the card right now, during its resolution. At that time, the rules wouldn't even allow you to cast an instant, but that doesn't matter. The Djinn is giving you a permission that goes beyond the standard permissions given by the rules, and that's why you can cast a sorcery with the Djinn's ability even when it's not your turn.

Q: Sweet! So, will the Djinn allow me to play a land during my opponent's turn?

A: No, the Djinn is not that powerful. In fact, nothing is that powerful. Unlike sorceries and other non-instant spells, there are actual restrictions attached to the action of playing a land. The rules insist that you mustn't ever play a land during your opponent's turn, and that you mustn't ever play a land when you've used up all the land drops for the turn. Restrictions override permissions, so the Djinn can try to allow you to play the land until the cows come home, but it can't override the rule that forbids you from playing a land during your opponent's turn.

Q: Got it, restrictions override permissions. But what about retracing a Flame Jab during my opponent's turn? The card says that I may cast it from my graveyard, so it's giving me permission to cast it, isn't it?

A: No. It is true that both the Djinn's activated ability and Flame Jab's retrace ability use the phrase "you may cast/play ...," but their similarity is superficial and deceptive. Flame Jab's retrace ability does not create a one-shot effect like the Djinn's ability, so it's not allowing you to cast the card right now. Retrace is a static ability that creates a continuous effect that allows you to cast the card from an unusual zone for an additional cost. You still need permission to cast it at whatever moment you decide to cast it. Unless you have something like Vedalken Orrery giving you an extraordinary permission, you'll have to stick to the standard permission granted by the rules.





"All your creature are belong to us!"
Q: I control two Roil Elementals and play a land. Can I target the same creature with both "gain control" effects? If so, will I retain control of that creature until both Roil Elementals die?

A: Yes and yes. Each ability creates a continuous change-of-control effect that lasts as long as you control the Roil Elemental that created the effect. The second effect starts out as being redundant, but it gets created nevertheless. When one effect ends, the second effect sticks around as a backup and you maintain control of the stolen creature.




Q: I cast Sower of Temptation and use it to tempt my opponent's Bog Wraith to come over to my side of the battlefield. My opponent is unhappy about this and enchants my Sower with Nettlevine Blight. When Nettlevine Blight forces me to sacrifice my Sower, can I attach the Blight to the the Bog Wraith before it returns to my opponent?

A: I like the way you think, but unfortunately that doesn't work. As soon as your Sower leaves the battlefield, the change of control effect ends immediately, in mid-resolution of Nettlevine Blight's ability. At the moment you are instructed to attach Nettlevine Blight to something you control, the Bog Wraith has already ceased to be something you control.




Q: If I imprint Burst Lightning on my Isochron Scepter, can I kick it for free?

A: You can kick it, but it'll cost you 4 to do so. Isochron Scepter only waives the mana cost, which is the cost printed in the top-right corner of the card. You are still responsible for any additional costs, even if they include mana. Think of Isochron Scepter's ability as winning an "all-inclusive" cruise: The meals are paid for, but if you want to gamble in the on-board casino, you'll have to pony up your own dough.




Q: I control a Chalice of the Void with no counters on it. My opponent casts Engineered Explosives for 1 to destroy my Chalice. Can he really do that?

A: Yes, he can, as long he has a source of actual colorless mana. He chooses X=1 and pays the cost of one generic mana with one colorless mana. Your Chalice won't counter his Explosives because it looks at the chosen value of X and sees a spell with a converted mana cost of 1. The Explosives' sunburst ability counts how many colors of mana were spent to cast it, and there are zero colors in 1, so the Explosives enter the battlefield with zero counters.




Q: I just cast a Predator Dragon and give it a Sprouting Thrinax to devour. Can I also feed it the Saproling tokens that are sprouted by the Thrinax?

A: No, the Dragon can only devour creatures that are already on the battlefield as it enters the battlefield. The Saproling tokens are created by a triggered ability that can't even go on the stack, let alone resolve, until after the Dragon has entered the battlefield. When the Saprolings finally enter the battlefield, it's too late for them to be devoured by the Dragon.




Q: I control two Oona's Blackguards. Are each of my unblocked Rogues with +1/+1 counters on them now Mind Rots waiting to happen?

A: They sure are! Oona's Blackguard has a triggered ability, and each instance of this ability triggers and resolves independently when a creature with a +1/+1 counter connects.




Q: My opponent is attacking with a Hearthfire Hobgoblin enchanted with Scourge of the Nobilis. I control a Mad Auntie and a 1/1 Goblin token that's a 2/2 thanks to the Auntie. I block with the Goblin token and tap Auntie to regenerate the token. Is that enough to save it even though the Hobgoblin has double strike? How much life does my opponent gain?

A: Yes, that's enough to save your Goblin. In the first combat damage step, the Hobgoblin deals lethal damage to your token. State-based actions attempt to destroy the token, but the regeneration effect intervenes and instead taps the Goblin, removes the damage from it, and removes it from combat. In the second combat damage step, the Hobgoblin is still blocked, but its blocker has disappeared in a puff of smoke, so the Hobgoblin doesn't deal any damage. Instead, it angrily screams at the puff of smoke, "Hey, where did you go?!? Come back and fight, you coward!" Since the Hobgoblin dealt 4 damage in the first combat damage step, your opponent gained 4 life.

Q: What happens in that situation if the opponent responds to the regeneration with Fire at Will targeting the token for all 3 damage?

A: In that case, the Goblin will be very dead even before the first combat damage step begins. There is angry screaming as above, but no damage is dealt at all in this case, so your opponent gains no life.




Q: I've always wondered about rule 104.3f which states that if a player would win and lose simultaneously, he or she loses. How can such a situation actually happen?

A: It actually can't. Not anymore, anyway. Rule 104.3f now only exists as just-in-case future-proofing.

Until recently, it was possible to construct one very unlikely corner case involving Zap: We're in the single-elimination portion of a DCI-sanctioned tournament, so the match can't end in a draw. Round time has expired, the match is tied, and both players are at the same life total of 1 life. The previous version the "sudden death" tournament rule stated that the match continues until there is a life total change, at which point the player with the higher life total wins the game as a state-based action. (It didn't actually spell out that this is a state-based action, but that's how it was treated.) If player A has no cards left in his library and resolves Zap targeting player B, the subsequent state-based action check will simultaneously cause player B to lose, player A to lose, and player A to win. Rule 104.3f tells us to reconcile the latter two actions by player A losing the game. I don't know if this situation ever did happen, but it was theoretically possible that it could happen.

The new version of the Magic Tournament Rules that went into effect on January 1st 2010 eliminated this corner case by changing the sudden death rule to a state-based action that causes the player(s) with the lower life total to lose the game. Since this change, the only effects that can cause a player to flat-out win the game come from spells and abilities which use the stack, so they can never coincide with an effect that causes that same player to lose the game. This change demoted rule 104.3f from "most likely useless" to "definitely useless." Poor rule 104.3f.






Ringing in the new year in style.
Q: My opponent has Kormus Bell on the battlefield and 8 Swamps that are creatures thanks to his Kormus Bell. I have an Equipoise and no creatures on the battlefield. Will this completely lock my opponent out of the game?

A: Only half of the time, but it'll still suck to be him. During your upkeep, all his animated Swamps phase out, so he won't be able to use them for mana during your turn. However, they'll phase back in during the untap step of his own turn. Phasing in is different from entering the battlefield, so the Swamp creatures that just phased in won't be affected by summoning sickness and your opponent can still use them for mana.




Q: I have a City of Traitors on the battlefield and play a Boros Garrison. Will the citizens betray me and vanish into the oblivion of my graveyard or be caught by the members of my Garrison and safely detained in my hand?

A: Fortunately for you, Boros Garrison works really well with City of Traitors. Both the City's sacrifice-me ability and the Garrison's bounce-a-land ability trigger at the same time when you play Boros Garrison. Since you control both triggers, you get to put them on the stack in any order you like, so you can bounce the City of Traitors to avoid sacrificing it.




Q: I'm building an EDH deck around Jhoira of the Ghitu and I'm wondering how the suspend mechanic interacts with additional costs like entwine or kicker. Can I pay the additional cost, do I get the additional effect for free, or not at all?

A: The answer here is eerily similar to the one about Isochron Scepter above. Both the Scepter's ability and suspend's cast-me ability let you cast a spell without paying its mana cost. The only difference is that the Scepter lets you cast a copy of a card, whereas suspend lets you cast an actual card, but that difference doesn't change the answer. The effect only waives the mana cost. Any mandatory additional costs must be paid, and optional additional costs may be paid. You can entwine/kick the spell when it comes out of suspension, but you'll have to pay the corresponding cost.




Q: Can I use a Body Double that's copying a Glen Elendra Archmage as an infinite Negate-engine?

A: No. When Body Double returns from the dead thanks to the persist ability it had copied from the Archmage, it comes back with a -1/-1 counter. Unless you somehow manage to get rid of that counter, your engine will sputter and stall after just one cycle.




Q: If I Momentary Blink a Marit Lage token, is that token a goner? I seem to remember that at some point in time there was an argument that tokens would indeed return to the battlefield. Can you clarify this for me?

A: Immediately after the release of Time Spiral, Momentary Blink indeed did return a token to the battlefield. However, with the release of Planar Chaos, Wizards introduced a new rule stating that a token's trip out of the battlefield is a one-way street. Instead of returning to the battlefield, the token must remain in the exile zone, and it will cease to exist when state-based actions are checked.




Q: My opponent controls a Skeletal Vampire and sacrifices a bat to regenerate the Vampire. Does he get two more bats as though the Vampire had just entered the battlefield?

A: No, Skeletal Vampire's enters-the-battlefield ability does not trigger again. Regeneration does not bring a creature back after it has been destroyed. Rather, it creates a replacement effect that completely replaces the creature's destruction with a different event, so the Vampire stays on the battlefield the whole time.




Q: How does the pay-or-lose ability of the Pacts work? Can I respond to this ability? Let's say I have all the pieces of my game ending combo together and I'll be able to combo off and win the game in my next upkeep, but I had to swat a pesky spell my opponent threw at me during his turn with a Pact of Negation. Can I still win?

A: Yes, you can. The Pact sets up a regular delayed triggered ability that uses the stack and can be responded to. If you manage to win the game before you allow the pay-or-lose ability to resolve, the game ends and the Pact's ability will never resolve.




That concludes my inaugural edition of Cranial Insertion. On behalf of Moko and the CI team, I wish you a happy and successful year ahead, and I hope you'll be back next week when Eli dishes out more rulesy goodness.

- Carsten Haese

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