Cranial Insertion: Agents of KAOS

Cranial Insertion
Agents of KAOS
or, Getting Smart About the New Set

by Eli Shiffrin, Tom Fowler, and Ted Dickinson

Color pie shenanigans have taken the Magic world by storm as Planar Chaos hit stores Friday. A bunch of Planar Chaos drafts and Release events are in the books. Along the way, a lot of questions have been asked about the cards in the new set. That’s what we’re here to deal with today. Almost all of the questions in this article came from a Planar Chaos Prerelease or Release event.

As always, you can cause your own chaos by sending us questions to [email][email protected][/email]. We’ve been getting a lot more questions recently, so either this column is catching on, or spambots need to know about Vesuvan Shapeshifter, too! When you email us, we will answer your question, and we’ll probably use it in an upcoming edition of CI. Then, when you and your friends are huddled around the monitor, awaiting the knowledge in this column with bated breath, you can point at your question and proudly proclaim it to be yours. (Note: we are not responsible for any friends you lose doing this.)

On with the show!

Fortune favors the heady.
Q: How does Fortune Thief work in 2-Headed Giant?

A: Hey, that’s not a Planar Chaos card! However, 2HG events are popular at Prereleases, and this question came up at ours [And ours. -ed]. Fortune Thief stops damage from taking your life total below 1, but the crux of the issue is this: does it protect your team, or just you?

And the answer is that while it only protects you, damage dealt to your teammate affects your life total, so it’ll end up protecting you even though he took the damage. Each player is dealt damage individually, but the resulting life loss happens to the team’s total, not to either one player.

How does Evil Eye of Urborg work in 2HG?

A: It glares at your opponents and puts curses on them. And it probably attacks, too. The Evil Eye is not so evil in this case, though, since it doesn’t stop your teammate from attacking. “Non-Eye creatures you control” still refers only to you, and not to your team.

Q: How does Wild Pair work with Primal Plasma?

A: Primal Plasma makes you choose its power and toughness (either 1/6, 3/3, or 2/2) as it comes into play. As soon as it actually comes into play, its power and toughness will be whatever values you chose. Wild Pair triggers when the creature comes into play. By that point, the total power and toughness of the creature is a known value, and you’ll search for something with a combined P/T of 7, 6, or 4, depending on the choice you made initially.

Q: What about Wild Pair and a creature that comes into play with +1/+1 counters? Or Gaea’s Anthem?

A: When a permanent comes into play, we do three things, in order:

(1) Apply replacement effects
(2) Apply continuous effects
(3) Check for triggered abilities

Step 1 covers a creature that comes into play with +1/+1 counters. Step 2 covers the effect of Gaea’s Anthem. Step 3 is where Wild Pair examines the creature to see what its power and toughness are. So a 0/0 creature that comes into play with 3 +1/+1 counters will report a total P/T of 6. The same creature coming into play while its controller also has a Gaea’s Anthem will be a 4/4 and thus report a total P/T of 8.

Q: If a Vanishing creature gets turned face-down, what happens to the time counters?

A: They stay on the creature, even though they don’t mean anything as long as the creature remains face-down. When a creature is face-down, it doesn’t have any abilities, so it doesn’t have vanishing any longer. This means you won’t remove a time counter at the beginning of your upkeep, nor will you have to sacrifice the creature at the beginning of your upkeep if it has no vanishing counters. Should the creature revert to being face-up, it will have vanishing again, so the time counters will become relevant.

Q: Can I play Fury Charm, choosing to remove 2 time counters from something that only has 1 left?

A: Yes. The effect will do as much as it can – in this case, removing the one remaining counter. It’s similar to playing Mind Rot on your opponent when he has only one card in hand. He can’t discard two cards when he only has one, so Mind Rot does as much as it can and makes him discard that one card. Fury Charm removing time counters operates on the same principle.

Q: My opponent targeted my Urborg Syphon-Mage with Phthisis. In response, I discarded a Brain Gorgers to the Mage, then responded again and used a Whitemane Lion to “rescue” the Mage. What happens? Would it be possible for me to “rescue” the Gorgers?

A: Let’s look at the stack.

Whitemane Lion
Madness trigger for Brain Gorgers
Urborg Syphon-Mage ability

Let’s presume that neither player has anything else to add to the stack. We now resolve it top-down. Whitemane Lion comes into play, and when it does, you choose a creature to return to your hand. (Note that the Gorgers are not in play yet, so you’ll have to choose from among the creatures you have in play.) Then the madness trigger for Brain Gorgers resolves. When this happens, you can pay 1B to play the Brain Gorgers (you can also choose not to play the Gorgers, in which case the card goes to your graveyard). Presuming you play the Gorgers, they have a triggered ability which now goes on top of the stack. The stack now looks like this:

Brain Gorgers’ ability
Urborg Syphon-Mage ability

When Brain Gorgers’ ability resolves, either play can choose to sacrifice a creature. The active player (your opponent, since Phthisis is a sorcery) chooses first. If either of you sends a creature packing, the Gorgers are countered; otherwise, they come into play. Now the ability of the absent Urborg Syphon-Mage resolves. Your opponent loses 2 life and you gain 2 life. Finally, Phthisis tries to resolve and sees that its target is no longer in play. It will be countered upon resolution.

What happens if a Defiant Vanguard blocks a creature, then gets bounced before the end of combat? Is the blocked creature still destroyed?

A: Yes. When the Vanguard blocks, it sets up a delayed triggered ability. At the end of combat step, that delayed triggered ability will go onto the stack and attempt to destroy the Vanguard and the creature it blocked. If only one of them is in play, then it will be destroyed, because the ability will do as much as it can.

Bonus: The same is true if the Vanguard is destroyed by lethal damage as a result of the block. Its ability triggers when it blocks, and that ability (and the delayed triggered ability that results from it) are independent of the source.

Where did that Hellion go? Aiiieeee!
Q: Can I use my Volcano Hellion to kill my opponent’s Norin the Wary?

Norin is too wary even for this. In fact, Norin is such a coward that his ability triggers whenever any player plays a spell. So while your Volcano Hellion is still on the stack, Norin high-tails it to the safety of the RFG zone. The Hellion then comes into play, and you deal with its triggered ability. At the end of the turn, Norin will slink back into play, shriek in fright at the large Hellion, and hope to be able to hide again soon.

Q: Can Volcano Hellion do 0 damage?

Yes. Zero would fall under “an amount of damage of your choice. This normally won’t accomplish much, and will probably leave you with a steep echo cost, but it’s a legal play.

Q: My opponent has attacked, and I flashed a Whitemane Lion into play. Can he unmorph Shaper Parasite and kill my Lion before I can declare it as a blocker?

A: Yes. If you want the Lion to block, you have to play it during your opponent’s declare attackers step. After attackers are sent crashing into the red zone, both players get priority to play spells and abilities. You play the Lion when you get priority and it resolves, putting its triggered ability onto the stack. Now your opponent, as the active player, has priority. He can use it to turn his Shaper Parasite face-up and give your Lion +2/-2. The result is that the Lion is dead, you have to return a creature to your hand, and then (barring anything else being played) the game can proceed to the declare blockers step.

Q: What happens when both Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Blood Moon are in play?

A: This is an interesting interaction. Both are layer 4 effects (type-changing). Normally, when two effects are being applied in the same layer, we use timestamp order to sort it out. The exception is when one effect is dependent on the other. The test for dependency is this: if applying A would change or negate what B does, then B is dependent on A and gets applied second. Applying Urborg first doesn’t do anything to Blood Moon’s ability. However, applying Blood Moon first greatly changes Urborg’s ability. Ergo, Urborg is dependent on Blood Moon, and will get applied second.

So, we apply Blood Moon’s effects. All nonbasic lands are Mountains and the only ability they have is the inherent “:symtap:: Add red mana to your mana pool” mana ability of Mountains. Note that Urborg is a nonbasic land and will be affected by Blood Moon. This means that, when we try to apply Urborg’s effect, it isn’t there any longer: Blood Moon has removed it.

The result is that all nonbasic lands, including Urborg, will be Mountains, and the only lands which can tap for black mana are basic Swamps.

Q: I have Cavalry Master and Knight of the Holy Nimbus in play. I attack with the Knight and my opponent blocks with his Blood Knight. Does the “double flanking” destroy the Blood Knight, or does its protection from White save it?

A: Protection covers four things, commonly abbreviated DEBT for ease of remembrance. A creature with protection from ~foo~ cannot be:


by ~foo~ sources. Blood Knight has protection from White. That doesn’t help against flanking, however, which is not a targeted ability. When the Blood Knight blocks the Knight of the Holy Nimbus, the Nimbus’ two instances of flanking will trigger. When they resolve, the Blood Knight will have gotten -1/-1 twice, which will banish it to its owner’s graveyard when state-based effects are checked. (Note that this isn’t a destruction effect; creatures with 0 toughness simply go to the graveyard and can’t regenerate.)

Q: My opponent has removed the last time counter from his Chronozoa. If I Ovinize it, does it still get sacrificed? If it does, will he still get the two tokens?

A: The Chronozoa in sheep’s clothing is still going to be sacrificed, yes. When the last time counter is removed, the “sacrifice me” ability of Vanishing triggers. You can respond to that by playing Ovinize. The creature will no longer have Vanishing, but the ability has already triggered, so it will still be sacrificed. No tokens will be made, since the Chronozoa did not have that ability when it went to the graveyard. It died as a 0/1 with no abilities, so nothing special happens when it goes to the ‘yard.

When is a wurm not a wurm?
Q: Suppose I have a copy of Life and Limb in play. And suppose that, as my opponent attacks with his Autochthon Wurm (or other implausibly large monster), I cast Standardize, naming Saproling. Does his Wurm become a 1/1? Now suppose I have a (face up) Thelonite Hermit out in the above scenario. Does this mean I finally have to learn how the rules for layers work, or is there some nice easy way to work out what happens?

A: Learning how the layers work is always a good idea, even if it’s one of the more challenging facets of the rules. So let’s work thru them here and see what happens.

To determine an object’s characteristics, we apply continuous effects in a series of layers. They are:

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

We start with a Wurm that is White and Green and is a 9/14. In layer 4, we have two competing effects: Life and Limb and Standardize both want to muck with some types. Because applying Standardize first will change what Life and Limb can affect, Life and Limb is dependent on Standardize. We apply Standardize first, and the Wurm becomes a Saproling. Now we can apply Life and Limb, which makes the erstwhile Wurm into a Forest land as well. So its type is “Creature Land – Saproling Forest.” Life and Limb also applies in layer 6b (it sets power and toughness), so the Creature Formerly Known as Autochthon Wurm is now a 1/1.

What if we add Thelonite Hermit to the mix? None of the above changes. The Hermit has a static ability that modifies P/T without setting it, so that applies in layer 6d. All Saprolings get +1/+1. The former Wurm is now a 2/2 green Saproling that is also a Forest. Talk about an extreme makeover. . . .

Q: I’ve heard that Momentary Blink no longer returns tokens to play. Is that correct?

A: It is. Momentary Blink used to return tokens to play because the state-based effect that causes tokens to cease to exist can’t check during the resolution of the spell. The problem was always with the token’s characteristics. The characteristics of a token are defined by the spell or ability that created it. When it would Blink back into play, there was no spell or ability setting its characteristics. The tokens remained what they were before, but it was more of a “just because” fix than something that was supported in the rules.

Now, the whole counterintuitive issue of tokens coming back into play has been dealt with. Check this out, from the brand-new February edition of the Comp Rules:

216.4 A token that has left play can’t come back into play. If such a token would return to play, it remains in its current zone instead. It ceases to exist the next time state-based effects are checked.

Now, the token cannot come back into play from Momentary Blink. It will remain in the RFG zone, where state-based effects will find it loitering and hall it off to the Cease to Exist Jail.

Q: Two players in my flight were going to draw their match, so they rolled a die to see who won. How random is that?

A: So random that we call it “cheating.”

UTR 25, which deals with conceding games and matches, tells us the following:

The following actions are prohibited:
-- Offering or accepting a bribe or prize split in exchange for the win, loss, concession, drop, or draw of a match
-- Attempting to determine the winner of a game or match by a random method, such as a coin flip or die roll

Players who engage in these actions will be subject to the appropriate provisions of the DCI Penalty Guidelines.

So what are “the appropriate provisions of the DCI Penalty Guidelines?” Funny you should ask. . . .

161. Cheating—Bribery

A player attempts to bribe an opponent into conceding, drawing, or changing the results of a match, or two players attempt to determine the outcome of a game or match using a random method such as a coin flip or die roll. Refer to section 25 of the Universal Tournament Rules for a more detailed description of what constitutes bribery.

(A) A player in a Swiss round offers his opponent $100 to concede the match.
(B) Two players roll a die to determine the winner of a match.
(C) A player offers his opponent a card in exchange for a draw.

Example B shows us that randomly determining the outcome of a match is bribery, and since that falls under the cheating umbrella, it will get you a swift exit from the event. So don’t do it.

Bonus: If you see two players doing this, it is your obligation as a player to report it to a judge. Judges are tasked with, among other things, protecting the integrity of the event. Sometimes, we need the help of the players to make that happen.

That's all for this edition of CI. Next time: can Agent Maxwell SmartEli overcome the forces of KAOS?

-Tom Fowler


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