Cranial Insertion: And Then There Was Urchin

Cranial Insertion
And Then There Was Urchin
By Eli Shiffrin, Tom Fowler, and Diane Colley

When Magic makes a math allusion,
A Creature - Geek Angel gets
its first instance of flying.
The time has come, the Urchin said, to talk of many things. Of Bombs and Lands and Counterspells, of Anagrams and Rings!

Welcome to Cranial Insertion. You probably don't recognize me, as this is my first time authoring Cranial Insertion, but it is unlikely to be my last, so let's get acquainted. My name is Diane Colley, though I'm more commonly known as Urchin. I'm a Level 2 Trainer from Oberlin, Ohio. I've been spotted across the online judging community as Urchin, and have judged at a handful of Pro-level events. I am also the primary proponent of making Urchin an official creature type.

So far Moko hasn't been interested in eating Urchins. I hope it stays that way.

That's enough of that. To the questions!

Q: If I have Vigor in play and use my Tahngarth, Talruum Hero targeting itself, how many +1/+1 counters does Tahngarth get?

A: The key things to know in this question is that Vigor's ability is a replacement effect, and that Tahngarth deals damage at two distinct times. When a verb is used in two separate places on a card, the actions are distinct. So, Tahngarth begins as a 4/4, and assaults himself with that oddly-shaped weapon of his. The 4 would-be damage is replaced by 4 +1/+1 counters, and he becomes an 8/8. He then flogs himself a second time, for another 8 damage, which is replaced by 8 more counters. When all is said and done, Tahngarth is a vigorous 16/16 man that even Leopold von Sacher-Masoch would appreciate.

Q: I've noticed a number of cards in Gatherer claim their legality for 2HG as "Legal". For example, if you check Black Lotus, it comes up as "Legal," not banned or restricted. Does this mean me and my teammate can play four Black Lotuses between us?

A: Nice try, but no. Two-Headed Giant is not a format in and of itself. You have to specify “2HG Vintage,” “2HG Draft,” or the like. Card legality is based on the banned and restricted lists for the specified format, and for Two-Headed Giant. Currently the only card banned in Two-Headed Giant is Erayo. If it weren't for that one card, you wouldn't see that distinction in Gatherer.

Don't even try to make her your EDH general. Seriously. You won't have any friends.

Q: With Bösium Strip and three instants on the top of my graveyard, can I only play the top one, or play all three as each becomes the top card?

A: You can play all three. This touches on a very subtle function of the card's template. Read the Oracle text of the card very literally and it becomes clearer. “Until end of turn” is the duration of the effect. The restriction on the effect is “If the top card of your library is an instant or sorcery card,” and the effect itself is “You may play that card.”

Analogously: Until you understand first-order logic, if you are reading this question, you will have a headache. That is to say, if, at any point during the time in which you do not understand first-order logic, you read this question, you're going to need aspirin.

I have terrible eyesight,
but I really think Grimoire Thief's
illustration is all kinds of dirty.
Q: I have a Grimoire Thief that has removed a Dragonstorm with its ability. If my opponent plays another Dragonstorm and allows the storm trigger to resolve, can I activate Grimoire Thief's ability to counter all the Dragonstorm copies, or will I only get the original spell?

A: You can counter them all. Activating Grimoire Thief will counter all spells named Dragonstorm on the stack. However, if you activate it before the storm trigger resolves, you're only going to counter the original, then the trigger will resolve, putting more copies on the stack. Let the storm trigger resolve and put the Dragonstorm copies on the stack, then blow them all out with the Grimoire Thief.

Q: Can I sacrifice Sower of Temptation before it comes-into-play ability resolves and permanently steal my opponent's creature?

A: No. Sower of Temptation is not Faceless Butcher. Sower of Temptation has only one ability. If it is not in play when that ability resolves, the effect will end before it begins and nothing will happen. Faceless Butcher, on the other hand, has two abilities. If you sacrifice it while the comes-into-play ability is on the stack, the leaves-play ability will trigger and resolve first, returning the creature you haven't yet removed from the game. You will then remove it from the game permanently, or at least until someone wishes hard enough..

Q: The Comprehensive Rules say that the team that plays first in a Two Headed Giant game skips its draws, but the Magic Floor Rules say that only one player skips. Who am I to believe?

A: The Comprehensive Rules are correct. The Floor Rules should be updated in March to match the Comprehensive Rules. This is not the discrepancy you're looking for. Move along. *Waves hand*

Q: Can I dredge with Maralen of the Mornsong in play instead of drawing?

A: No. Maralen does not replace draws, Maralen simply eliminates them. From the Morningtide FAQ:

“While Maralen is in play, replacement effects that instruct a player to do something instead of drawing a card won't work.”

If Maralen said “If a player would draw a card, that player draws no cards instead” then you could chose to replace your draw with either Maralen's replacement effect or Dredge. However, Maralen doesn't say that.

Q: If I find an Incinerate with Maralen and kill her, will I still get my card for the turn?

A: No.

Quote from 304.1 »
First, the active player draws a card. This game action doesn't use the stack. Then any abilities that trigger at the beginning of the draw step and any other abilities that have triggered go on the stack. Then the active player gets priority and players may play spells and abilities.

That pretty much says it. If you're to the point that Maralen's triggered ability even goes on the stack, you've passed the point of drawing.

Q: If I pay extra colorless mana for my Engineered Explosives, will it protect them from my opponent's Counterbalance, or will he be able to counter it in either case if he flips a land?

A: Yes, that will work. The converted mana cost of a spell on the stack is the total number of mana listed in the upper-right-hand corner of the card in question. The only exception to this is a spell with X in the mana cost. While an X spell is on the stack, X is counted as however much you paid when tabulating converted mana cost. In every other zone, X in a mana cost counts as zero when tabulating converted mana cost.

Quote from 203.3b »
When calculating the converted mana cost of an object with an {X} in its mana cost, X is treated as 0 while the object is not on the stack, and X is treated as the number chosen for it while the object is on the stack.

On the topic of converted mana costs and Counterbalance, the converted mana cost of a face-down spell is 0.

Quote from 203.3a »
The converted mana cost of an object with no mana cost is 0.

Kicker, buyback, flashback, and other alternate or additional costs do not count towards the mana cost or converted mana cost of a spell on the stack.

Quote from 203.4 »
Any additional cost listed in an object's rules text or imposed by an effect isn't part of the mana cost.

The converted mana cost of a spell on the stack may look nothing like what you paid to put it there.

Q: My opponent played Pacifism on one of my creatures, but I removed the Pacifism from the game with an Oblivion Ring. He Disenchanted my Oblivion Ring. Who gets to decide where the Pacifism goes?

A: First off: stop playing white. It sucks.

Your opponent will get to choose a target for the Pacifism when it comes into play. This is a change from how it used to work. Now, when an Aura is being put into play from a zone other than the hand, the player who will control the Aura when it is in play chooses where it goes. Expect to see this change to rule 212.4j of the Comprehensive Rules after the Morningtide update.

The game actually looks forward in time to determine who chooses targets for the Aura. The space-time continuum is broken. We're all doomed.

Q: You judges at Cranial Insertion are SO COOL. All I want to do with my life is be like you. Where can I find a level 3 in my area to test for level 1 so I can be just like my FAVORITE people in the entire universe? I love you guys. (Question rephrased for clarity.)

A: Thank you, we love us too. The Judge Center has a feature that allows you to search for just such a person. In the People section, under the Select tab, you can filter your results at the bottom of the page to only people with Trainer status. Not only can judges of level greater than or equal to 3 certify Level 1s, but Level 2s with Trainer status can as well.

That Throng Thr Throng
Throng Throng.
Q: With Knowledge Exploitation, a player found a Notorious Thong, and wanted to play it for the prowl cost which he could actually afford rather than for free. Can he do that?

A: No. When Knowledge Exploitation says, “Play it without paying its mana cost,” it is allowing you to do something exactly as it tells you to do it. You could not play the card if it were not for Knowledge Exploitation, so you cannot play the card in the normal fashion. Nice try, though.

Q: Is there any way I can sneak things around so Mutavault gets a counter from Oona's Blackguard? What about gaining life from Orchard Warden?

A: No and no. When you animate Mutavault, it is not coming into play, so it will not receive a counter from Oona's Blackguard nor trigger comes-into-play triggers like Orchard Warden. To activate Mutavault, it must be in play, therefore there is no way you can have it be a creature when you bring it into play.

Q: My Yixlid Jailor will stop my opponent from playing cards from his graveyard with flashback, correct? Will my Pithing Needle work on them as well?

A: Yixlid Jailor will indeed stop flashback. Flashback represents two static abilities. The relevant one functions from the graveyard. That is the one that allows you to play the spell for its flashback cost. With this static ability wiped by the Jailor, you cannot play the card for its flashback cost.

Pithing Needle, however, will not stop spell cards in graveyards from being played for their flashback costs. Flashback is not an activated ability; it is a static ability that sets up an alternate cost.

Quote from 502.22a »
Flashback appears on some instants and sorceries. It represents two static abilities: one functions while the card is in a player's graveyard and the other functions while the card is on the stack. "Flashback [cost]" means "You may play this card from your graveyard by paying [cost] rather than paying its mana cost" and "If the flashback cost was paid, remove this card from the game instead of putting it anywhere else any time it would leave the stack." Playing a spell using its flashback ability follows the rules for paying alternative costs in rules 409.1b and 409.1f-h.

Bonus Material: Pithing is the practice of inserting a needle into the spinal column of an organism to paralyze it, often with the intention of vivisection. Vivisection was once widely practiced in secondary schools, but has now been abolished by hippies.

Q: I have a Lightning Storm on the stack. I discard some number of lands and then my opponent decides to discard a land. Can I play Trickbind targeting the Lightning Storm's ability, countering my opponents discard? After this, what happens if I cast Reiterate targeting the Lightning Storm? Do I get the same amount of counters on the copy, and/or can I add any to the copy?

A: You can Trickbind the Lightning Storm's ability, but this will not “counter” your opponent's discard. Discarding a card is a cost of the ability, so it is done when the ability is played, before the ability can be countered. If you Reiterate the Lightning Storm, it will have no counters, but any player may play its ability to add some.

Quote from 503.2 »
Other effects (including type-changing and text-changing effects), status, and counters are not copied.

Just to reiterate, Reiterate won't reiterate iterations of the ability.

Q: I have Timber Protector in play, and some other treefolk. My opponent activates Pyrohemia 6 times. I know the Timber Protector dies, but what about my other treefolk?

A: Everything with lethal damage on it will die. Timber Protector makes treefolk indestructible, but does not prevent damage to them. It allows treefolk to sit in play with lethal damage on them, but once it is gone and the treefolk are no longer indestructable, lethal damage will take them out.

Burn, baby, burn.

Q: I came up with this little combo, and I'm not sure if it works or not. First, I play Confusion in the Ranks, then Summoner's Egg, imprinting Phage the Untouchable. Assuming my opponent controls a creature, we swap that creature for my Summoner's Egg. Could I then Shatter the Summoner's Egg and kill them with Phage?

A: First off, I like your definition of “little combo.” It does indeed work the way you want it to. When you Shatter the Summoner's Egg, the Egg's leaves-play ability triggers. Since your opponent was the one who controlled the Egg when the leaves-play ability triggered, he controls that ability. Since he controls that ability, Phage the Unplayable will be put into play under his control, and he will die from her triggered ability unless something else gets in the way.

Pulling this off would be quite impressive. I think you should call the deck, “Scrambled Egg Combo with Phage.”

Moko likes getting questions. Keep him fed so he doesn't eat me. Feed Moko a question at [email][email protected][/email].

That's all I've got for you, dear readers. Lessons of the day: play less white, build more combos, and don't exploit notorious thongs. It will only come to bite you in the end.

- Diane Colley
Oberlin, Ohio


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