Cranial Insertion: Denoument



Cranial Insertion
Denouement
By Eli Shiffrin, Brian Paskoff, and Aaron Stevenson


"Where did the year go?"
"OM NOM NOM *urp*"
2009 is almost in the books, and if we actually kept an detailed account of your questions and our answers, I'm sure we'd be looking at some kind of record. We don't actually have a bookkeeper here at Cranial Insertion; we had one once, but with a zombie monkey already hanging around he was rather redundant.

Have you made a New Year's resolution? I can suggest one: to send us your questions, to [email][email protected][/email]! You'll help us meet our quotas and possibly break records while we enlighten your friends and foes alike.

In addition to my usual pile of questions and answers, I've also got an announcement to make, but I'm not going to put it up here; you'll have to read through the whole heap of knowledge before you get to that! So what are you waiting for? Get to reading!




Q: I've been attacking with Ruinous Minotaur for a few turns, and one more swing ought to finish the game, but I'm out of lands. Can I attack one final time?

A: Sure! You'll attack, the Minotaur's ability will trigger, and since you can't sacrifice another land, you don't. There's nothing special that happens just because you can't make the sacrifice.




Q: I cast a Life Burst with two more in my graveyard. How many times would Cradle of Vitality trigger?

A: Twice. Life Burst has you gain 4 life, then it has you gain some variable amount of life. If that second amount was nonzero, you gained life twice during the spell's resolution, so the Cradle triggers twice.




Q: My opponent animated a Plains with his Genju of the Fields so he could block with it. What happens if I Eradicate that creature?

A: Your opponent frowns as you search his graveyard, hand, and library for all cards named "Plains" and exile them. Most such effects will exclude basic lands, but since Eradicate hits only creatures, the restriction wasn't built in. If your opponent was playing mono-white, he also turns red with anger.




Q: My opponent controls an Oracle of Mul Daya and casts a Brainstorm. Do I get to see each card he draws?

A: You sure do. Drawing multiple cards gets special handling, and never happens all at once. Instead each card is drawn one at a time. After each card is drawn, there's a new card on top of your opponent's library, and his Oracle will reveal it before that one gets drawn.

Q: What about the cards that get put back? Do I get to see each of those as they go back one at a time?

A: No, because they don't go back one at a time. Brainstorm tells you to put two cards on top; that's a single action -- one that doesn't get the same special treatment as drawing cards -- so those cards just go at the same time. You'll see the one that ends up on top, obviously, but not the other.





Kringus demands Christmas mana!
Q: I control Celestial Dawn. Can I cast Firespout, spending my white mana as though it were green and/or red?

A: You can cast the spell that way, but it does you no good. Firespout checks what colors of mana were spent to play it, and white mana spent "as though" it were another color is still white mana. The Firespout won't have any effect, unless you get some genuinely red and/or green mana from somewhere.




Q: I rolled C on Cliffside Market so I have to pick two targets that share a type. Can I trade away a Boggart Shenanigans and get a Goblin Warchief in its place?

A: No. Those are both Goblins, but the Cliffside Market Exchange deals in permanents that share a card type. That card has gotten some minor errata to make that point clear.




Q: I got Elspeth up to 7 loyalty counters when she got thrown in the Oblivion Ring. How many will she have if I spring her out of there?

A: She'll have 4 loyalty counters. Counters don't stick around when a card moves from one zone to another, and when a planeswalker enters the battlefield, she gets a number of loyalty counters equal to her printed loyalty.




Q: Can I cast Haakon, Stromgald Scourge for free off of Aluren?

A: Indeed you can! Aluren gives buffs to certain spells, and doesn't say anything about where the spells are cast from. They can be cast from whatever zone they're otherwise castable from, and for Haakon, that's the graveyard. I'm sure that this combo can't possibly be broken in any way.




Q: Can I sacrifice Yosei, the Morning Star to trigger his ability and tap down my opponent?

A: Well, sure, as long as there's something enabling you to sacrifice him. It's a fine plan, but you need something that instructs you to sacrifice a creature, or an ability that has a sacrifice in the cost. You can't sacrifice a creature you control just because you want to.




Q: I had a Cage of Hands on my opponent's Hearth Kami. He sacrificed the Hearth Kami, and when I wanted to pay to return the Cage to my hand, he said I couldn't. Why is that?

A: It's because the Cage is gone by the time you get a chance to return it. The Kami is sacrificed as part of its activation, and before anybody gets priority, the game looks around, sees an Aura that's not attached to anything, and chucks it in the graveyard as a state-based action. While you can still respond to the activated ability, you can't respond to the cost being paid, and that's the part that makes your Cage go away.




Q: What happens if I evoke a Mulldrifter with a Portcullis on the battlefield?

A: The exact result depends on who controls the Portcullis, but the likely result is the same. If that's not your Portcullis, its ability goes on the stack on top of the Mulldrifter's "sacrifice me!" trigger. They resolve in reverse order, so the Mulldrifter is exiled, and it's not available when its sacrifice is demanded. If that is your Portcullis, you can order the triggers whichever way you like, and since you probably prefer an exiled Mulldrifter over a dead one, you'll probably do it the same way. You can get a dead Mulldrifter if you really prefer one.

Oh, and you'll also draw two cards when that trigger resolves. Those are probably important to you as well.




Q: It's early in my matchup against a Reanimator deck, and I cast a Thoughtseize. My opponent's hand consists of two basic lands and Iona, Shield of Emeria. Obviously I don't want that bomb in his graveyard where it's ready for revival. Can I choose not to choose it?

A: That's a choice you can't make. Thoughtseize instructs you to choose a nonland card. That's mandatory: if one's available, you must choose it, even though it puts you in a bad position. It's adding insult to injury... to be immediately followed by much greater injury.




Q: I'm staring down a Time Bomb that's almost big enough to kill me. Can my Vampire Hexmage do anything effective against it?

A: Well, the most you can really do is force your opponent to use the Bomb now, when it will almost kills you. When you use the Hexmage's ability, your opponent can respond by setting off the Bomb. On the other hand, if you wait until he activates the Bomb, you can't use the Hexmage in response; the Bomb was already sacrificed and is no longer there to be targeted!




Q: I use my shiny new Garruk Wildspeaker to make a few 3/3 Beast tokens, and follow up with Beast Attack to make a couple of 4/4 beasts. If I cast Echoing Courage, do I end up with a few 5/5 beasts and a couple of 6/6 beasts?

A: That's exactly what you'll get. By default, a token's name is the same as its creature type. The Beasts under your control look all differenty, but the names are all the same, so the Echoing Courage that gets one of them gets all of them.




Q: I heard that Nix can be used to counter a copy of a spell. How does that work?

A: It usually works because the copy isn't cast. Most effects that make copies pop them into existence right on the stack, and you never get a chance to pay anything, nor do you cast them. There are a few things (like Isochron Scepter, for example) that create a copy and then let you cast it. These will generally give you a pass on paying the mana cost, so it's still most likely that no mana is paid. The exception is if there's some kind of additional cost to cast that spell, such as from a Thorn of Amethyst or the kicker cost of Orim's Chant.




Q: In combat this turn my opponent lost three of his creatures. My Toshiro Umezawa triggers, and I target a Ravenous Trap. Can I cast it for free?

A: Yes! Mr. Umezawa (who's rather perturbed about being less famous than his weapon) directs you to cast the spell, and leaves you to figure out how to pay for it. Most times you'll just pay the mana cost, but if there's an applicable alternate cost you can use that instead.




Q: Can my opponent's Cemetery Reaper exile my Weatherseed Treefolk to stop it from coming back to my hand?

A: Yes. The Treefolk has an ordinary triggered ability, and your opponent can activate the Reaper in response. And the Treefolk goes back to your hand only if it's still in the graveyard when its ability resolves. Like Mama says, there's no going home again after you've turned into a Zombie.




Q: I'm playing a Dredge deck and I activate Bazaar of Baghdad. There's only one card with dredge in my graveyard. Can I dredge that card and see if I dredge into another card with dredge, or do I have to decide what I'm dredging ahead of time?

A: You make the decision of whether to dredge or draw at the time you'd actually draw the card. As we've learned, drawing cards is kinda special, and happens one card at a time, so you can do exactly what you want. Dredge that first card back into your hand, and if you bin another, you can dredge that back with the second draw.





The end is nigh...
Q: Recently I was playing Two-Headed Giant with some friends, and one of my opponents attacked with a Vampire Nighthawk. After it hit us, he went to put a counter on his Bloodchief Ascension, but I stopped him, saying that both me and my partner had each lost only 1 life that turn, since our individual life total was only half of our total. Was I correct, or should the Ascension have gotten its counter?

A: You got that one wrong, but don't let it haunt you very much; the life totals of Two-Headed Giants are a tricky business, even for those who specialize in Two-Headed Medicine. An unblocked creature assigns and deals damage to a single player. Damage dealt to a player causes the player to lose that much life. And when a Two-Headed player loses life, it comes out of the team's shared life total. So in your case, the Vampire did in fact deal 2 damage to a single player. Oddly, individual life totals don't factor into the determination of whether a player lost 2 life this turn.




Q: I've got a Duplicant that's exiled a Supreme Exemplar, and I swing with my monster 10/10 Duplicant for lethal damage at the Supreme Exemplar's owner. Does the death of the Supreme Exemplar's owner affect the Duplicant's imprint? Can I still use the 10/10 to squash my other rivals afterwords or does it revert back to a puny 2/4?

A: I don't know that I'd call a 2/4 "puny," but whatever standard you use, that's what the Duplicant will be. Upon finding himself slain, your opponent will leave the game and take his cards with him. Now when your Duplicant checks the exile zone for the exiled card, there isn't one, so it'll use its own vital statistics again.




And with that, this year of wizards dueling over planes of magical energy comes to a close. It's a bittersweet moment, as this marks not only the final Cranial Insertion of 2009, but also the last Cranial Insertion that I will write. Although I've enjoyed pondering your questions and doling out my applied knowledge, Real Life has brought up some things that require my time and effort, so I'll shortly be handing the keyboard over to a genetically-enhanced grapefruit whom some of you may remember.

Before joining the CI team I'd been looking for a creative outlet where I could do some writing on a topic that intersted me, and I'm very grateful that I got the opportunity to talk about Magic for as long as I did. It was a great experience, and I'm glad that somebody else now gets the same opportunity that I did.

Thanks to everybody who put up with my puns, my obscure pop culture references, and my irrational love of wolf bacon. I'll see you around in 2010!

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