Cranial Insertion: Oh, Humble Dagger

Cranial Insertion
Oh, Humble Dagger
or, Go Rust in a Quicksilver Fountain

By Eli Shiffrin, Tom Fowler, and Ted Dickinson

I'll bet Juliet never thought a dagger's ability to stab could sometimes be removed only if she had a little humility!

With that cryptic sentence in mind (and with apologies to Shakespeare) we now not-so-humbly present you with this week's Cranial Insertion. Straight from the [email][email protected][/email] mailbag, we've got layers, Tarmogoyfs, two different kinds of quicksilver, and no Stuffy Doll!

The Bard really wanted
some flavor text here.

Q: Humility is in play and someone plays Quicksilver Dagger. Quicksilver Dagger changes text of the card it enchants by giving it an additional ability so I think it should apply in layer 3 and Humility in layer 5 so Humility would remove the ability. However, if they're both applied in #5, thanks to timestamps, Quicksilver's ability is in effect. Which is it?

A: First off, here's Rule 418.5a, a fairly lengthy rule that covers the order of layers, and 418.5c, which covers dependency.

418.5a The values of an object’s characteristics are determined by starting with the actual object, then applying continuous effects in a series of layers in the following order: (1) copy effects (see rule 503, “Copying Objects”); (2) control-changing effects; (3) text-changing effects; (4) type-, subtype-, and supertype-changing effects; (5) all other continuous effects, except those that change power and/or toughness; and (6) power- and/or toughness-changing effects.
Inside each layer from 1 through 5, apply effects from characteristic-defining abilities first, then all other effects in timestamp order. Inside layer 6, apply effects in a series of sublayers in the following order: (6a) effects from characteristic-setting abilities; (6b) all other effects not specifically applied in 6c, 6d, or 6e; (6c) changes from counters; (6d) effects from static abilities that modify power and/or toughness but don’t set power and/or toughness to a specific number or value; and (6e) effects that switch a creature’s power and toughness. Within each sublayer, apply effects in timestamp order. Note that dependency may alter the order in which effects are applied within a layer or sublayer. See also the rules for timestamp order and dependency (rules 418.5b–418.5g).

418.5c An effect is said to “depend on” another if (a) it’s applied in the same layer (and, if applicable, sublayer) as the other effect (see rule 418.5a); (b) applying the other would change the text or the existence of the first effect, what it applies to, or what it does to any of the things it applies to; and (c) neither effect is from a characteristic-defining ability. Otherwise, the effect is considered to be independent of the other effect.

Layer 3 is a fairly unusual one; there's not much that really applies there. Effects that change color or land words (like Mind Bend) apply here, as do effects that explicitly cause an object to gain text (like Volrath's Shapeshifter).

Granting an ability, or causing something to lose an ability , isn't changing its text. Therefore, the Dagger and the "lose all abilities" portion of Humility both apply in layer 5. There are no dependency issues, so whichever object most recently entered play "wins."

Q: Let's say you have a Quicksilver Fountain out with some flood counters on the various lands in play, some of which include nonbasic lands. Then another fellow in the game decides that it'd be clever to drop a Blood Moon. Let's say one of those lands with a flood counter is a City of Brass. So what's the City considered: an Island or a Mountain?

A: Both of these are effects that changes an object's subtype, so they both apply in the same layer. Since one isn't dependent on the other, we again apply them in timestamp order. The Blood Moon more recently took effect, so the City of Brass will be a City in name, but a Mountain in function.

Q: There are currently lands, creatures, and sorceries in both players' graveyards, so my Tarmogoyf is 3/4. What happens when it gets targeted by Sudden Death?

A: You will have one fairly lethargic, but living, Tarmogoyf.

State-based effects—those wonderful bits of rules that do things like cause you to lose the game, clean up Auras that are no longer attached to anything, and destroy creatures with lethal damage—also whisk away creatures with 0 toughness to the appropriate graveyard. However, SBEs aren't checked during the resolution of a spell or ability, but instead wait until after they've completely finished resolving and a player would gain priority again.

The last part of a spell's resolution is putting it into its owner's graveyard. Tarmogoyf is constantly rummaging around in people's graveyards trying to figure out how powerful it is (good thing it has eight fingers, otherwise it might have trouble with that). So by the time state-based effects are checked, the Sudden Death is already in its owner's graveyard and the Tarmogoyf has already gotten the go-ahead to pump itself up. The end result will be a 0/1 Tarmogoyf until the cleanup step, at which time it becomes a 4/5 again.

Q: Does Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth give the Swamp subtype to lands that already have it? Does Watery Grave become an Island Swamp Swamp?

A: Urborg, the Next Generation (as opposed to Urborg, the Original Series) doesn't grant the Swamp subtype to any land that already has it. Watery Grave will only be an Island Swamp.

Even if it did become an Island Swamp Swamp, that wouldn't functionally change anything. Karma and other things that count Swamps only count "number of lands with the Swamp subtype," not "number of Swamp subtypes appearing on lands."

Q: I have a creature enchanted by Unstable Mutation, and the counters are piling up. On what would be the creature's final upkeep, I respond to the Mutation's trigger with Simic Guildmage's blue ability, moving the Aura to another creature. Will the -1/-1 counter go on the Aura's new occupant, or the doomed-anyway creature? Or will it go nowhere, since its target is already dead for having a toughness of -2?

A: In Unstable Mutation's text, "that creature" refers to the "enchanted creature." This really means "the creature enchanted by Unstable Mutation when this ability resolves." We can determine this from the following rule:

413.2f If an effect requires information from the game (such as the number of creatures in play), the answer is determined only once, when the effect is applied. If the effect requires information from a specific object, including the source of the ability itself, the effect uses the current information of that object if it hasn’t changed zones; otherwise, the effect uses the last known information the object had before leaving the zone it was expected to be in. There are two exceptions. If an effect deals damage divided among some number of creatures or players, the amount and division were determined as the spell or ability was put into the stack; see rule 402.6. Also, static abilities can’t use last known information; see rule 412.5. If the ability text states that an object does something, it’s the object as it exists (or most recently existed) that does it, not the ability.

The effect needs information from the game (what Unstable Mutation is attached to), so the effect doesn't try to figure that out until it resolves.

As for the poor critter originally enchanted by the Unstable Mutation . . . as soon as the Guildmage's ability resolves, it becomes decidedly untough and state-based effects will put it into its owner's graveyard.

Q: I was reading the newest edition of Cranial Insertion, and came across a question about Lumithread Field. In it, you said that a creature can't take combat damage if it stops being a creature before the combat damage resolves.

Say I attack with a Flametongue Kavu, and my opponent blocks with an Opal Acrolith. After damage is stacked, he turns it back into an enchantment. What happens?

A: While we've already established a creature will not take combat damage assigned to it if it stops being a creature, we didn't talk about what happened the combat damage it put on the stack, which is . . . nothing! That damage is still dealt when the "combat damage object' on the stack resolves.

The Acrolith really does get the best of both worlds: it gets to deal combat damage without taking it!

Q: I play a Heartbeat of Spring. On my opponent's turn, immediately after he taps a land for mana, I Trickbind the Heartbeat's ability.

a) Is this target even legal? I know mana abilities cannot be targeted by Trickbind, and Heartbeat involves mana, but does it get around this little bit?

b)If the answer to a) is yes, and it would stop the first triggered ability of a mana being added, does it stop the rest? Once again, I know the card's text reads "activated abilities of that permanent can't be played this turn" so I'm assuming that Heartbeat's ability gets to trigger again.

A: There's no getting around it: Heartbeat of Spring is a mana ability. Rule 406.1 defines what's a mana ability:

406.1. A mana ability is either (a) an activated ability without a target that could put mana into a player’s mana pool when it resolves or (b) a triggered ability without a target that triggers from a mana ability and could produce additional mana. A mana ability can generate other effects at the same time it produces mana.

Heartbeat of Spring has the second kind of mana ability: it's a triggered ability (as it begins with "when," "whenever," or "at"), it has no target, it triggers from a mana ability ("a player taps land for mana"), and could produce additional mana. Therefore, it has all the traits of a mana ability, including not using the stack. Therefore, there's no time at which this triggered ability is on the stack when you would have priority to play Trickbind.

And as the person asking correctly surmised, there are no activated abilities on Heartbeat of Spring, so Trickbind's other clause wouldn't prevent it from triggering later in the turn even if it could be targeted.

Which it can't.

All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready
for my close-up...

Q: Let's say my opponent has one card left in his library and I activate my Thoughtpicker Witch. What happens? Is there any problem with "looking at the top two cards of target opponent's library" when there aren't two cards?

A: No problem at all, really. You perform as much of the effect as possible, looking at the top card of your opponent's library, then removing one of the cards you looked at from the game. I'll bet I know which one it is.

Q: Is there a list of abilities that stop Muraganda Petroglyphs from working on a creature? As far as I know, things like kicker would not appear on a card once it is in play or would the creature have to be completely rules-free in order to get the bonus?

A: Just exactly what is or isn't an ability has been a pretty frequent question since everyone first saw the Petroglyphs. Here are some sure signs that a creature has an ability:

1)It has any text in its text box that isn't flavor or reminder text. This includes text that might no longer be relevant once the creature is in play (such as kicker-related text, or Imperiosaur's restriction on how it can be played.

2)It has the "Land" type and a basic land subtype (Dryad Arbor, I'm looking in your direction). Basic land subtypes have an "unprinted" ability associated with them, but that's enough for the Petroglyphs to skip them over.

3)An effect says the creature "has" or "gains" (or the plural of those verbs) something. A creature with Loxodon Warhammer attached to it has an ability.

Q: If I use a Giant Fan to move a counter onto a Void Maw, can I make it a corpse counter? Does that counter do anything if I remove that Void Maw from the game with a sorcery?

A: Not only can you make it a corpse counter, you must make it a corpse counter. Void Maw's text does refer to a type of counter, and the fan's counter-changing ability isn't optional.

This won't mean much though, as counters don't follow permanents to different zones (phasing notwithstanding). So you won't be able to put a corpse counter on the Maw, remove it from the game, then use it to feed another Void Maw.

Q: I've got 2 Whitemane Lions in my hand and 4 white mana available on an otherwise empty board. I play a Whitemane Lion. Is this legal?

A: Yup! The Whitemane Lion spell has no targets, so there's no reason you couldn't.

(crickets chirping)

Q: I'm not done yet!

A: Oops.

Q: I play the second Lion, in response to the first Lion's bounce ability. Can my second Lion bounce the first, or did I do nothing more than add 2 to the storm count?

A: Both. When the second Lion comes into play, its "gating" ability will go on the stack. When that resolves, you choose a Lion to return to your hand. You can choose the first Lion in this case . . . but that doesn't remove its ability from the stack. So when that ability resolves, you'll have to return another creature you have in play to its owner's hand. Since you said the only other creature you controlled was the first Lion, that's what you'll return. Net result: you spent four mana and added two to your storm count with nothing to show for it. Good luck with that improved Wing Shards though!

In Magic, there is a higher power
than Judge Judy

Q: I have a Karmic Justice in play. I have four other enchantments and my opponent has none. Somebody plays Tranquility. Who chooses the order in which the enchantments are destroyed? I assume the active player chooses all of his in any order he wants, then the opposing player chooses all of his in any order he wants. If that assumption is true, can I destroy Karmic Justice last so I get all the triggers? And would Karmic Justice trigger off itself?

A: Each player physically puts enchantments he controls in the graveyard in the order of his choosing (beginning with the active player), but nobody chooses the order in which the enchantments are destroyed; they are all destroyed simultaneously by a single event.

That last phrase is the important part; no matter in what order the cards hit the graveyard, the game sees a single event of many enchantments being destroyed. Rule 410.10d shows why this is important:

410.10d Normally, objects that exist immediately after an event are checked to see if the event matched any trigger conditions. Continuous effects that exist at that time are used to determine what the trigger conditions are and what the objects involved in the event look like. However, some triggered abilities must be treated specially because the object with the ability may no longer be in play, may have moved to a hand or library, or may no longer be controlled by the appropriate player. The game has to “look back in time” to determine if these abilities trigger. Abilities that trigger specifically when an object leaves play, when an object is put into a hand or library, or when a player loses control of an object will trigger based on their existence, and the appearance of objects, prior to the event rather than afterward.

The game saw five of your enchantments that were in play, and are now in the graveyard. So the Karmic Justice triggers five times (yes, it even triggers for itself).

And now to sleep, perchance to dream... here's hoping those dreams are nostalgic and not devastating or insidious!


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