Cranial Insertion: For Great Justice

For Great Justice
By Eli Shiffrin, Brian Paskoff, and Aaron Stevenson

Greetings! I'm Aaron Stevenson, a level 2 judge from Roanoke, Virginia; and thanks to your votes, I'm the one who's cutting short Brian Paskoff's tenure as "the new guy." I'm really excited about being a member of the Cranial Insertion team, as it represents a great opportunity for me to grow, as both a Magic judge and a writer.

It also presents an opportunity for me to contribute to the Magic community in a way that's well suited to me. Ever since my brother taught me how to play this game a decade ago, I've been answering people's rules questions, from the small group I first played with to a whole bunch of people in the southeast US. It's a lot of fun, and now I get to answer your questions too! Send them to [email][email protected][/email]!

Q: My opponent has played a Pyroclasm when I have a board full of 2/2 Wolf tokens. Can I play Shining Shoal for a large amount and prevent 1 damage to a bunch of my creatures, or do I have to prevent 2 damage at a time?

A: Those creepy-looking fish are going to save your wolves' bacon. The damage from Pyroclasm is dealt all at once, and you get to decide which damage is prevented. If you want to prevent 1 damage from being dealt to X wolves, you can do that, and I heartily recommend it. Slightly singed wolves are less delicious than wolf bacon but infinitely more useful.

Q: If I have two Virulent Slivers, do all my slivers have poisonous 2, or do they only have poisonous 1?

A: They have poisonous 1, but they have it twice! Each ability will trigger on dealing combat damage, so it has the same end result as poisonous 2, but your opponent will need a bunch more Stifles to stop the flowing poison.

Q: I was playing in a PTQ the other day, and the only creature in play was my opponent's Deft Duelist. I played a Blister Beetle intending to kill it, but my opponent reminded me the Duelist has shroud and can't be targeted. Do I take my Beetle back, since I made an illegal play?

A: I would not permit you to take back your Beetle. There was nothing illegal about playing the spell. Putting the Beetle's ability on the stack with Deft Duelist as the target was illegal and must be taken back, then a legal target must be chosen, which in this case is your Beetle. That makes your playing the Beetle a pretty bad move, but it was legal, and judges will generally rewind only to the point where an illegal action first occurred.

Q: I notice that some of my cards say creatures "gain" abilities, and others say they "have" abilities. Is there a difference between the two words?

A: Not really. It's a matter of templating, where "gain" usually indicates an effect that's temporary, while "have" is preferred for effects with no duration. As far as the rules go, there's no difference between the terms.

He has a small carbon footprint
until you set him on fire.
Q: Say I have a Painter's Servant in play, naming Green. Can I play Natural Order, sacrificing Painter's Servant, and get a naturally non-green creature?

A: Sorry, I can't give you the green light on that one. You'll sacrifice Painter's Servant as a cost of playing Natural Order, which means it's not around making things green when the spell resolves. You can't get a card that isn't otherwise green.

Q: Suppose I'm playing a game where I have two cards in my hand, and they're both Ninja of the Deep Hours. What happens if I try to ninjutsu one into play, and my opponent responds by making me discard a card at random? Does it matter which one gets picked, or can I just ninjutsu the one that doesn't get discarded?

A: It definitely matters which Ninja card gets ninja'd. Only one card is the source of the ninjutsu ability waiting on the stack, and you can tell which one, because it's revealed until the ability resolves.

Quote from "502.43b" »
The card with ninjutsu remains revealed from the time the ability is announced until the ability leaves the stack.

If the revealed card is the one selected at random, it's no longer in your hand when the ability resolves, so it can't be put into play. Otherwise, it resolves just fine. Of course, the common practice of spreading out the cards in your hand and having your opponent pick one doesn't work very well when one of the cards is revealed. You'll want to use some other form of random selection, like a coin or a die.

Q: Both Nightsky Mimic and Deathbringer Liege indicate that when I "play" a white spell, black spell, or spell that is both black and white, fun things happen. My friend likes to use counterspells like Cancel. It is my opinion that even if my black/white spell like Unmake does not resolve because it has been countered, it was still played, so I can still use Nightsky Mimic or Deathbringer Liege's ability. My friend insists that because the spell was countered, I don't get to use those abilities. Which of us is right?

A: You are. If you've put the spell on the stack and performed the holy ritual of 409.1, the spell is played, regardless of what happens to it later. If your friend has been playing for a while, he might be remembering the term "successfully cast" printed on some older cards. This meant, in the rules of yore, a spell that was played and not countered during the interrupt window. "Successfully cast," like the interrupt window, went the way of the dodo several years ago.

Quote from "409.1i" »
Once the steps described in 409.1a-h are completed, the spell or ability becomes played. Any abilities that trigger on a spell or ability being played or put onto the stack trigger at this time.

"All robots will now have their
patriotism circuits activated."
Q: I play Soul's Fire, targeting my Myr Enforcer and my opponent. My opponent has 4 Islands and responds by activating his Vedalken Shackles to steal the Enforcer. Does Soul's Fire resolve and hit my opponent? The creature is still in play, but it is not under the control of the player who cast Soul's Fire. Does that counter Soul's Fire?

A: The chained-up Enforcer is no longer a legal target for your Soul's Fire, which requires that you control the targeted creature. That doesn't counter Soul's Fire, because it still has at least one legal target: your opponent. It can't make the illegal target do anything, though, so nothing much will happen when Soul's Fire resolves.

Quote from "413.2a" »
If a target is illegal, the spell or ability can't perform any actions on it or make the target perform any actions.

Q: If I control Guile and I play Plaxmanta to counter my opponent's Blind with Anger, does that trigger Guile's ability?

A: The Blind with Anger is countered, but it isn't countered by a spell or ability you control -- it's countered by the game rules, which say that a spell with only illegal targets is countered when it would resolve. Your Plaxmanta's ability made the target illegal, but it didn't counter the spell itself, so Guile's effect doesn't apply. (Also, Guile's ability is a replacement effect, not a trigger, as little as it matters for this question.)

Q: If I have a Guile in play and I successfully counter an opponent's spell, but I choose not to play that removed-from-game spell, what happens to the guy's card itself? Does it stay removed from the game, or does it land in his graveyard?

A: In general, if nothing instructs you to do something, you don't do anything. Guile doesn't tell you what to do with the card if you don't play it, so it stays where it is, in the RFG zone.

Q: If I play Spellstutter Sprite to counter my opponent's Ancestral Vision, what happens if he kills the Sprite in response and I don't control any other Faeries?

A: Your opponent won't be having the vision he was hoping for, that's for sure. When the Sprite's ability resolves, you control no Faeries, so you'll counter the targeted spell only if its converted mana cost is zero or less. Because Ancestral Vision has no mana cost, its CMC is zero. That meets the targeting restriction, so the spell is countered when the ability resolves.

That's Faeries for you: even when you don't have any, they still accomplish something.

Q: What if instead I'm using Spellstutter Sprite to counter Ponder, and after my opponent kills it in response, I activate my Mutavault so that I control a Faerie. Does that work?

A: Your opponent won't be pondering, either. You'll get priority to activate Mutavault between your Sprite's destruction and the resolution of its ability. The target of that ability is checked for legality when you play the ability and when it resolves. The fact that the target is illegal for a short time in between doesn't matter.

"I meant what I said, and I said what I meant.
A banshee is faithful, one hundred percent."
Q: When Midnight Banshee says to put a -1/-1 counter on each nonblack creature, does that mean only on the creatures for the player holding Midnight Banshee, or every single creature out there in play?

A: Every nonblack creature will get a counter, whether it's yours, your opponent's, or your teammate's. If the Banshee meant to put counters on each nonblack creature you control, it would say so.

Q: My opponent played a Mycoloth and asked me if I had a response. When I said no, he pinged me for one with his Vithian Stinger before devouring it. Can he do that?

A: No! By asking about your possible response, he's passing priority to you. If you do nothing, you've passed priority back and the top object on the stack resolves. Now that big fungus is coming into play, and your opponent doesn't get priority again until after he's fed it.

Q: My opponent and I are both at 1 life. On my opponents turn, he attacks me with a 10/10 Thorn-Thrash Viashino, but I block with a Saproling token. The next turn I hit my opponent for lethal damage and the win. While we are both shuffling up for game two, another player watching the game says to my opponent, "Hey, you realize you could have won that game if you had just paid the one green mana to give Thorn-Thrash Viashino trample, right?" Is it legal for bystanders to give advice to players like this while they are currently in a match but between games?

A: Legal for spectators to give advice? No, no, and let-me-think-about-it, NO! UTR 14 is very clear about this:

Quote from "UTR 14" »
Spectators are expected to remain silent during matches and are not permitted to communicate with players in any way while matches are in progress.

Even if you're between games, there's still a match going on, and advice of any kind is forbidden because it has the potential to benefit the recipient. By pointing out his friend's mistake, the spectator has assisted him in handling that situation later in the same match. After all, there's a non-trivial chance of the same situation occurring in game two or three. The time to have that conversation is after the match is concluded, and no earlier.

Q: My opponent is at 6 life, and I attack him with a 5/5 with a Quietus Spike attached - does this kill him?

A: Yes, it will. First the 5/5 deals five damage to your opponent, and then Quietus Spike's trigger goes on the stack and (presumably) resolves, making them lose half their current life total, rounded up. Half of 1 is 0.5, which rounds up to 1... so they've gone from 6 to 1 to 0 in a short period of time.

Q: Does Humility make Darksteel Colossus destructible or not? I keep hearing that indestructible isn't an ability.

A: This is always a popular question, as it pokes really hard at some Magic terminology. While it is true that "indestructible" is not an ability, "CARDNAME is indestructible" is an ability. Under Humility, the Colossus will lose that ability, and since nothing is making it indestructible, it won't be indestructible anymore. But no matter how Humble it's feeling, a Krosan Cloudscraper with a Shield of the Oversoul will be quite destruction-proof.

Q: How do changelings work with the Tribal Wars format?

A: On MTGO, changeling applies during deck construction, and creatures with changeling (but not noncreature tribal cards) will help meet your shares-a-type quota. If you're playing with a group of friends in real life, though, you need to agree on the answer to this before you begin – should noncreature tribals count? Should changelings count at all, since that defeats the "my tribe is awesome" purpose of Tribal Wars?

Q: With Root Maze in play, can I get my Watery Grave into play untapped?

A: You're out of luck on this one. Watery Grave's replacement effect puts it into play tapped if you don't pay 2 life; it doesn't put it into play untapped if you do. Paying that life makes Watery Grave's own effect not tap it, but it won't do anything at all about Root Maze's effect calling for the tap.

Q: My opponent flashes back a Conflagrate, discarding a boatload of cards. I want to counter it with Spell Burst, but I'm not sure how much I'd have to pay.

A: Twice the boatload, plus 1U. On the stack, X is whatever value was chosen for X, even if no mana was actually paid for it.

Q: I have a Windbrisk Heights out with another Windbrisk Heights underneath it. I attacked with three creatures this turn. Can I play the second Windbrisk Heights?

A: It depends. The ability of Windbrisk Heights lets you ignore the normal timing restrictions on playing the hidden-away card, so you can play a land during the resolution of that ability, even if that's during combat or when the stack's not empty.

There are, however, some additional restrictions on playing a land. You can't play a land if you've played one already this turn, or if it's not your turn. Windbrisk Heights and its friends don't override those restrictions, so you won't be able to play the land under those circumstances.

Q: What happens if I crack my Courier's Capsule with a Skill Borrower in play? Does my opponent get to see the cards I draw?

A: Yes. The cards are drawn one at a time, and as soon as there's a different card on the top of your library, it's revealed. The only exception is if the top card of your library changes during the process of playing a spell or ability. In that case, you'll wait until you've finished playing the spell or ability before revealing the top card.

Q: I was wondering about the new holiday card, Evil Presents. The creature it puts into play attacks its controller, but can that player block it? Or could another player block it if he really wanted to?

A: You really don't like your opponent, do you? Well, if you insist on playing a silver-bordered card strictly by the rules, the answer is no to both. You can't declare blockers at all unless you're the defending player, and only an opponent of the active player can be a defending player. Even if you are the defending player, you can't block a creature that isn't attacking you or a planeswalker you control.

Quote from "The Rules" »
306.2 [...] As the combat phase starts, the active player chooses one of his or her opponents. The chosen opponent is the defending player. [...]
309.1 As the declare blockers step begins, the defending player declares blockers.
309.2a For each of the [blocking] creatures, the defending player chooses one creature for it to block that's attacking him, her, or a planeswalker he or she controls.

I'm planning to give my opponent a big box of wolverines that tear into his flesh. His soft, utterly defenseless flesh. It's the true meaning of Christmas.

That's all I have for now, so until next time, keep the questions coming, and have a Merry Christmas if you celebrate!

- Aaron Stevenson


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