Cranial Insertion: Layer Cake

Cranial Insertion
Layer Cake

By Eli Shiffrin, Tom Fowler, and Ted Dickinson

Judges and players alike saw the new Penalty Guidelines released earlier this week. Since they have not been officially adopted for use yet, we’re going to pay more attention to them later. What we’re paying attention to today is something that is officially confusing for many players: the layers of continuous effects. Thijs has tackled this very topic a couple times, but it's been a while, and the layering system perplexes a plethora of players, so we're revisiting it here today.

The CI mailbox is getting used more regularly, and that’s a good thing. Keep your questions coming in at [email][email protected][/email]. We use most of the questions we get in the column, and you’ll be able to brag to your friends that your question was selected to be immortalized online. (Note: we are not responsible or any friends you lose in this manner.)

Let’s dive into the layering madness. We’ll explain things in more detail below, with citations from the Comp Rules, but I want to put this at the beginning so that it’s easy to refer back to later. Continuous effects are applied in a series of layers, and those consist of:

Layer 1: Copy effects
Layer 2: Control effects
Layer 3: Text-changing effects
Layer 4: Type-changing effects
Layer 5: Anything else that is not power and/or toughness
Layer 6: Power and toughness
Sublayer 6a: Characteristic-setting abilities
Sublayer 6b: Anything that does not apply in 6c, 6d, or 6e
Sublayer 6c: Effects from counters
Sublayer 6d: Effects from static abilities that modify, but do not set, P/T
Sublayer 6e: P/T-switching effects.

If you want to know something about an object – What color is it? Who controls it? What is its power and toughness? – then you go through the progression of layers until you arrive at the answer.

Copy effects are first on the list. They can be easy when you’re just copying a Durkwood Boars, but what about a Durkwood Boars that’s been (in order) turned face-down, had its color changed to Black, enchanted with Unholy Strength, equipped with Sword of Fire and Ice, and prevented from untapping by some effect?

This is what the rules tell us about copy effects:

503.2. When copying an object, the copy acquires the copiable values of the original object’s characteristics (name, mana cost, color, type, supertype, subtype, expansion symbol, rules text, power, and toughness) and, for an object on the stack, choices made when playing it (mode, targets, the value of X, whether a kicker cost was paid, how it will affect multiple targets, and so on). The “copiable values” are the values that are printed on the object, as modified by other copy effects, “comes into play as” abilities, and abilities that caused the object to be face down. Other effects (including type-changing and text-changing effects), status, and counters are not copied.

Does it copy bad puns, too?
Q: So if Clone copies a Werebear, it can be Smothered?

A: Yes. Mana cost is a copiable value. While Clone’s printed mana cost is 3U, it will acquire the bear’s mana cost of 1G when it copies it. Since that’s less than 3, you can legally put a pillow over the Clone’s bear-like face.

Q: What if Clone copies my animated Phyrexian Totem?

A: Then Clone is a noncreature artifact with a mana cost of 3 mana that taps for B. Type-changing effects are not copied, so the fact that your Totem is currently a creature doesn’t matter. Clone copies the base characteristics of the object, meaning it’s an un-animated Totem. It does copy the Totem’s ability to make itself into a creature, of course, so you will be able to animate your Clone-Totem.

Q: If Clone copies Darksteel Colossus, does it get shuffled back into my library when it would go to my graveyard?

A: It does. Leaves-play triggers like the Colossus’ force the game to “look back in time” to just before the event occurred. At that time, Clone was a copy of Darksteel Colossus and had the reshuffle ability, so it will get shuffled back into your library instead of going to the graveyard.

Ignoring dependency for the moment (worry not, we’ll come back to that), you apply competing effects in the same layer in timestamp order. Essentially, this means that the more recent (or most recent, if more than two are involved) effect is applied last, and thus “wins out” over the other effect.

Q: I enchanted my opponent’s creature with Control Magic. Then he used Vedalken Shackles to try and take it back. Does this work?

A: It does. The creature starts out under his control, since he played it. Then we have competing control effects in layer 2. Control Magic was played, then the ability of Vedalken Shackles. As the more recent effect, Vedalken Shackles is the one that gets applied. Your opponent gets his creature back, but the Control Magic is still attached to it.

Q: So what happens if I destroy his Shackles?

A: Then the only layer 2 effect is that of Control Magic. You would control the creature again.

Q: And if he destroys my Control Magic?

A: Then we have only the layer 2 effect of Vedalken Shackles, which is redundant, since it’s his creature to begin with.

What happens when one effect will apply in two different layers? The Comp Rules tell us:

418.5b If an effect should be applied in different layers, the parts of the effect each apply in their appropriate layers. If an effect starts to apply in one layer, it will continue to be applied to the same set of objects in each other applicable layer, even if the ability generating the effect is removed during this process.

Let’s look at Threaten. It has two different effects that we care about under the layer system: (1) gain control of target creature, and (2) it gains haste. The control change is applied in layer 2. Gaining haste doesn’t fall under any of the specific layers, so it goes into layer 5.

Q: So, what does “even if the ability generating this effect is removed during this process” mean?

A: The Comp Rules cite an example that appears to be from a card that doesn’t exist, so we’ll use a real one: March of the Machines. It does two things: turns all noncreature artifacts into artifact creatures, and sets the P/T to be equal to their converted mana costs. The first is a type-changing (layer 4) effect, and the second sets P/T, so it gets applied in 6b. March of the Machines’ ability continues to affect the now-artifact creatures by setting their P/T, even though they are no longer noncreature artifacts.

Why does everyone hate me?
Q: How does Humility work?

A: Humility gets a lot of press as this unknowable card that has a lot of puzzling and confusing interactions. And when you mix it with a bunch of other cards, it can, but any jumble of four or more cards can leave many people scratching their heads. With Humility’s latest Oracle update, and the layering system we currently have, Humility by itself is really easy to figure out.

It does two things: remove all abilities from all creatures (layer 5) and set all creatures’ P/T to 1/1 (layer 6b).

Q: Wait . . . that’s it?

Yup. This is not the 800-pound gorilla you’re looking for.

Q: So what happens when a Flametongue Kavu comes into play with Humility out?

A: The same thing that happens when any other vanilla 1/1 comes into play: not much. FTK will not have the “deal 4 damage” ability, since Humility will have already removed it.

Q: But doesn’t it have to come into play first?

A: When a permanent is about to come into play, we do three things to see exactly what happens:

1. Apply replacement effects
2. Apply continuous effects
3. Check for triggered abilities

When FTK would come into play, we do those three things in order. There are no replacement effects, so we skip to #2. Here, we have two continuous effects: FTK will lose its abilities and be a 1/1 creature. There is no point when it’s in play that it will not be affected by these, so it enters play as a vanilla 1/1. This leaves us no triggers to check for.

Q: What about a Meddling Mage played while Humility is in play?

A: This is a little different. When we apply replacement effects, the Mage has one. "As ~ comes into play . . . " are replacement effects. This happens before Humility can affect the Mage, so you'll name a card. Then in step 2, we apply continuous effects. Humility removes the Meddling Mage's abilities (including the one that prevents the named card from being played) and makes it a 1/1.

Bonus: You named a card. Should Humility leave play, the Meddling Mage's ability that prevents that card from being played will return.

It’s about time we got to dependency. If you remember from earlier, I mentioned that competing effects in the same layer were applied in timestamp order unless dependency was involved. Just what is dependency, you ask?

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) and (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. Otherwise, the effect is considered to be independent of the other effect.

Blood is the rose of mysterious union
A popular dependency issue that’s come up since the release of Planar Chaos is the interaction of Blood Moon and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth.

Q: How is this an issue of dependency? Wouldn’t they just be applied in timestamp order?

A: Not in this case. Keep in mind the test for dependency: if applying A first would change or remove what B does, then B is dependent on A and gets applied second. Applying Urborg first does nothing to Blood Moon’s effect. However, applying Blood Moon first will greatly change what Urborg does. Thus, Urborg is dependent upon Blood Moon and will be applied second. So we apply Blood Moon first, turning all nonbasic lands into Mountains. This includes Urborg, which has its rather saucy ability replaced with the “:symtap:: Add red mana to your mana pool” ability that is intrinsic to basic Mountains. Because Blood Moon’s effect nullified Urborg’s ability completely, it doesn’t get applied at all.

We’ve covered that one already, so let’s talk about one you might not have heard of.

Q: I have Conspiracy in play, with "monkey" as the chosen creature type. What happens when I animate my Foriysian Totem? Is is a giant or a monkey?

A: This is a dependency issue in layer 4. Applying Conspiracy first doesn't affect the Totem's ability. But applying the Totem first changes what Conspiracy can apply to, so Conspiracy is dependent on the Totem. In this case, the Totem becomes a Giant, and then Conspiracy applies to it, since it's a creature. The result is that you have monkey with two heads. And who doesn't want a two-headed monkey?

At its heart, Magic is a game about creatures. Many Constructed and Limited games come down to getting into the red zone with your creatures, and having better ones than your opponent. The layering system enforces this idea, with as many sublayers dedicated to figuring out the power and toughness of creatures as there are for layers covering everything else.

Many situations involving a creature’s power and toughness are easy. Moldervine Cloak on your Troll Ascetic takes him from 3/2 to 6/5. Giant Growthing him later raises that to 9/8. It’s when there are different things all affecting power and toughness that even the creatures themselves have to stop and scratch their heads.

Q: I have a Durkwood Baloth in play. If I give it +4/+4 with Might of Old Krosa, and my opponent responds with Ovinize, what’s the result?

A: Let’s go through the P/T sublayers.

6a: Characteristic-setting abilities
6b: Anything not applying in 6c, 6d, or 6e
6c: Effects from counters
6d: Effects from static abilities which modify, but do not set, power and/or toughness
6e: P/T switching effects

Here’s what we have, starting with the base of 5/5:

6a: Nothing; still a 5/5.
6b: Here, we have two competing effects: the +4/+4 from Might of Old Krosa, and the 0/1 P/T-setting from Ovinize. Because neither is dependent on the other, they’ll be applied in timestamp order.
6c: Nothing.
6d: Nothing.
6e: Nothing.

Your opponent responded with Ovinize, meaning it resolves before your Might of Old Krosa. Applying the effects in timestamp order takes the Baloth from a 5/5 to a 0/1, then it gets the Krosan boost to end up at 4/5.

Bonus: If your opponent had let your Might resolve and then played his Ovinize, the timestamp order would have favored him. Might would resolve, making a Baloth a hefty 9/9. But the call of the sheep would then be too powerful for it, and it would end up as a puny 0/1 (with no abilities).

Q: What’s a characteristic-setting ability?

A: Maro has one. Nightmare has one. Crimson Kobolds have one. Here’s how the Comp Rules define them:

405.2. Some objects have intrinsic static abilities which state that the object “has” one or more characteristic values; “is” one or more particular types, supertypes, subtypes, or colors; or that one or more of its characteristics “is” or “are” a particular value. These abilities are characteristic-setting abilities. Abilities of an object that affect the characteristics of another object are not characteristic-setting abilities; neither are abilities that an object grants to itself. See rule 201, “Characteristics,” and rule 418.5a.

At least it's not the wrong image
and a green border. . . .
Q: I have six Swamps and a Nightmare in play. I enchant it with Moldervine Cloak. Once that resolves, my opponent targets Nightmare with the ability of Serendib Sorcerer, saying it ends up as a 0/2. Is he right?

A: To figure that out, we’ll go through the layers again.

6a: Nightmare’s CSA makes it a 6/6.
6b: Serendib Sorcerer makes it a 0/2. (Remember that anything that sets P/T can’t go in 6d.)
6c: Nothing; still 0/2.
6d: Moldervine Cloak makes Nightmare a 3/5.
6e: Nothing; Houston, we have a 3/5.

It would appear that your opponent is incorrect.

Q: All right, smart guy. Maro is in play, with four Forests, and two +1/+1 counters on it. It gets hit with an Ovinize. Then it gets targeted by the pesky Merfolk Thaumaturgist. Then it gets a Cranial Plating attached to it (with five artifacts under my control). What’s the result of this mess?

A: There’s a lot going on here, but we can work it all out easily by going through the P/T layers.

6a: Maro is a 4/4 because its CSA tells us so.
6b: Ovinize makes it a 0/1.
6c. The pair of +1/+1 counters makes it a 2/3.
6d: Cranial Plating gives Maro +5/+0, making it a 7/3.
6e: Switcheroo! The Merfolk’s alchemy, potions, and . . . other thaumaturgic stuff makes Maro a 3/7.

Yay, something for every sublayer!

Q: Hey, you forgot one from earlier. What if you do copy a Durkwood Boars that’s been (in order) turned face-down, had its color changed to Black, enchanted with Unholy Strength, equipped with Sword of Fire and Ice, and prevented from untapping by some effect?

A: Yes, I did neglect to answer that question that I raised. This seems like a perfect time to see how well you’ve been paying attention. Pick the correct answer from the following:

A. It’s a 4/4 Black creature. The enchantment and equipment bonuses don’t get applied.
B. It’s an 8/7 Black creature. The enchantment and equipment bonuses are copied since they affect power and toughness.
C. It’s a face-down 2/2 with no name, type, color, mana cost, and abilities. Clone is copying a face-down creature, and that’s what a face-down creature is.
D. It’s a face-up 2/2 with no name, type color, mana cost, and abilities. Clone can’t come into play face-down.
E. It’s a face-up 2/2 Black creature with no name, type, mana cost, and abilities. Clone is face up, and the color change to Black is copiable.
F. It’s a face-up 6/5 creature with no name, type, color, mana cost, and abilities. The enchantment and equipment bonuses are copied since they affect power and toughness.
G. It’s a face-up 6/5 Black creature with no name, type, mana cost, and abilities. The enchantment and equipment bonuses are copied since they affect power and toughness.

And the answer is:

D. You have a face-up 2/2 colorless creature with no name, no type, and no mana cost. The values for face-down permanents are copiable, and that’s where the 2/2 and the lack of name come and mana cost come from. The copy card (let’s say it’s good old Clone) comes into play face-up, so it will be face-up and still copy values from a face-down permanent. Clone can't come into play face down since nothing is telling it to - it won't turn face down just because what it's copying is face down. None of the bonuses from the enchantment, color change, and equipment are copiable, and neither is the status of tapped.

That brings us to the end of the tasty layer cake. Hopefully, you’ll know better how to go through the layering system and work through any problems you encounter. If you still need help, drop us a line at [email][email protected][/email].

Next week: do the Rakdos cultists eat devil’s food cake?

-Tom Fowler


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