Cranial Insertion: The Calm Before the Chaos

Cranial Insertion
The Calm Before the Chaos

by Eli Shiffrin, Tom Fowler, and Ted Dickinson

Planar Chaos is looming. WotC has already started showing preview cards on, and our Rumor Mill here is as lively as ever. We still have plenty of other sets to talk about, though, even if we really can’t talk about Planar Chaos yet (well, we can talk about the card with that name, not the set). The first weekend of January also marked the beginning of the Extended PTQ season, the first individual constructed Qualifier season in over a year. We’ll cover some questions from that format today, as well as others.

As always, you can send us your questions to [email][email protected][/email]. One of us (maybe more, if we Sarnath each other) will give you an answer, and we’ll probably use the question in a future edition of CI. That way, when you read this column, huddled around your monitor with your friends, you can point at your question and proudly proclaim, “That one was mine!” (Note: we are not responsible if your friends call you a n00b and give you a wedgie for not knowing the answer to the question you sent.)

[Author’s note: As I write this, text quoted in QUOTE blocks is currently not displaying properly in articles. This is being worked on, and if you can see text in QUOTE blocks, it’s been fixed. I’m going to provide the relevant rule numbers being cited so that you can look them up yourselves if you can’t see the quoted text. You can find the CompRules and other DCI documents by going here. ]

Let’s get to the questions!

Source of many Extended questions . . .
Q: Does Counterbalance trigger if my opponent uses Isochron Scepter?

A: Presuming he chooses to play the spell while the Scepter’s ability is resolving, yes. The important thing to remember is that Isochron Scepter tells you to play the spell. Playing a spell will trigger Counterbalance. Things which simply put spell copies onto the stack, like Mirari, will not trigger Counterbalance.

Q: My opponent played Orim’s Chant with kicker while I have a Counterbalance in play. What is the converted mana cost of the Chant?

A: It’s still 1. While effects can change what you pay to play the spell, its mana cost (and thus, its converted mana cost) doesn’t change. So, if your opponent kicked Orim’s Chant while there were four copies of Gloom in play, the Chant would cost him 12WW, but its CMC would still be 1, and Counterbalance would still get rid of it if you had a 1 CMC card on top of your library.

Q: Speaking of 1 CMC spells on top of my library, can I put Sensei’s Divining Top on top of my library (for Counterbalance purposes) if I don’t see a 1-cc card in my top three?

A: Yes, this works. Counterbalance triggers when your opponent plays the spell. At that point, the stack looks like this:

Counterbalance trigger (which knows the CMC of the original spell is 1)
Spell with CMC 1

So you use Top in response to look at your top three cards. Now the stack looks like this:

Top’s ability
Counterbalance trigger (which knows the CMC of the original spell is 1)
Spell with CMC 1

Ack, nothing that costs 1 is in your top three cards! Luckily for you, Top has a second ability, which you can now use. The Counterbalance trigger and the original spell are still on the stack. At this point, you use Top to draw a card and put itself on top of your library, making the stack look like this:

Top’s “draw a card” ability
Counterbalance trigger (which knows the CMC of the original spell is 1)
Spell with CMC 1

You draw a card and Top winds up on top of your library. At this point, Counterbalance resolves. You choose to flip over the top card, and lo and behold, it has a CMC of 1. You may now pretend to be shocked at this stroke of good fortune as your opponent’s spell is countered.

Q: Can Counterbalance stop the storm copies of spells like Mind’s Desire?

A: No. Revealing a card that has a converted mana cost of 6 will counter the original Mind’s Desire spell. However, by that point, the storm trigger has already gone onto the stack. When it resolves, it will make [n] copies of Mind’s Desire and put them directly onto the stack. Since the copies are not being played, Counterbalance will stand on the sidelines, sip a martini, and watch them go by.

If you must choose, choose wisely.
Q: Can I name Genesis with Pithing Needle?

A: Yes.

. . .

Q: I mean, will that stop the ability?

A: No, it won’t. Genesis has a triggered ability which triggers at the beginning of your upkeep. When that trigger resolves, you may pay 2G to return a creature card to your hand. There’s nothing in there for Pithing Needle to stop.

Q: So why did you tell me I could name it!?

A: Because you can. It’s perfectly legal for you to name Genesis with Pithing Needle. Just because the Needle won’t actually do anything doesn’t matter: you’re making a legal choice. If all you ask is, “Can I name with Pithing Needle?” a judge should only be telling you, “Yes.” Anything more is giving you playing advice, and judges aren’t allowed to do that. If what you really want to know is, “If I name with Pithing Needle, will that shut off the ability?” then that’s what you should ask. There are a lot of very capable judges out there, but none of us are mind readers. Make sure you’re asking the question to which you really want to know the answer. And judges, make sure you’re answering the question that was asked, not the question you think the player meant to ask, nor the question you would know to ask.

Q: Can I flashback Firebolt, and in response, remove the Firebolt and another card in my graveyard from the game to pay for Grim Lavamancer’s ability?

A: No. When you flashback Firebolt, it moves from your graveyard to the stack. If you want to play Grim Lavamancer’s ability at this point, you’ll still need to have at least two cards still in your graveyard.

Q: My opponent has Leyline of the Void in play. If I Hull Breach it, is the Hull Breach removed from the game?

A: No. Hull Breach destroys the Leyline while it is resolving, and thus, still on the stack. Once the Leyline has been destroyed, its ability no longer applies. When Hull Breach has finished resolving, it will go to the graveyard as normal, since nothing is trying to put it in another zone instead.

Flashback: owning other replacement
effects since 2001.
Q: I know flashback beats Remand. Does it also beat Memory Lapse?

A: Yes. Flashback conquers all! Bow before its might! See its amazing feats of derring-do! The reason is that flashback has a replacement effect which will move the card to the RFG zone if it would leave the stack. The card leaves the stack for Remand, which tries to return it to your hand. Flashback sees this, smacks Remand around, takes its lunch money, and removes the card from the game. Memory Lapse wants to put the countered spell card atop your library instead of the graveyard. Flashback sees this, kicks Memory Lapse in the shins, gives it a wedgie, and removes the card from the game. In short, flashback always wins.

Q: I’m controlling my opponent’s turn with Mindslaver. During his turn, I play Fact or Fiction. Can I decide that he splits the piles five and zero?

A: Absolutely. You’re in control of his turn, so you’ll make all game-related decisions he would make. As CR 507.3 tells us . . .

507.3. The controller of another player’s turn makes all choices and decisions that player is allowed to make or is told to make during that turn by the rules or by any objects. This includes choices and decisions about what to play, and choices and decisions called for by spells and abilities.

You’re making all choices and decisions called for by Fact or Fiction, so you can definitely choose the most beneficial split for yourself.

Q: It’s my third turn of the game. If I have an Aether Vial with two counters on it, can I put Serra Avenger into play?

A: Yes. Serra Avenger has a static ability that says you can’t play her during your first three turns of the game. However, the angel’s ability does not stop you from somehow putting her into play during those turns. If you can find a way to get Serra Avenger into play, without actually playing the spell, during your first three turns, that’s perfectly legal.

Q: What if I somehow find a way to play Serra Avenger during my opponent’s first three turns of the game? Is that legal?

It is. Serra Avenger’s ability says that you can’t play it during your first three turns of the game. It makes no mention of your opponent’s opening three turns. If you have a way to play it during that time, then you’re definitely allowed to do so.

Q: There are six face-down creatures in play (three under my control, three under my opponent's control) due to my Ixidron, which is the only other creature in play. I swing with my team, and he blocks Ixidron and 2 of my face-down guys. Then I Cytoshape my unblocked face-down creature into Ixidron. How big is it? How much damage does my opponent take?

A: It’s a 2/2, and, barring some kind of pump effect, your opponent will be taking 2 damage. The reason it’s a 2/2 is, even with Cytopshape applied, the creature is still face-down. The rules for face-down creatures modify the results of copy effects, as we can see in CR 503.2 and 503.3:

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 . . . 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.

. . .

503.3. The copy’s copiable values become the copied information, as modified by the copy’s status. Objects that copy the object will use the new copiable values.
Example: A face-down Grinning Demon (a creature with morph) becomes a copy of a face-up Branchsnap Lorian (a 4/1 green creature with trample and morph {G}). The Demon’s characteristics become the characteristics of Branchsnap Lorian. However, since the creature is face down, it remains a 2/2 colorless creature with no name, types, or abilities, and no mana cost. It can be turned face up for {G}. If it’s turned face up, it will have the characteristics of Branchsnap Lorian.

The example for 503.3 illustrates the scenario clearly. No matter the P/T of the creature it’s copying, your face-down creature is a 2/2.

Q: If I were to take possession of a Dark Confidant with Debtor's Knell, would I still get to “draw a card” the turn it comes in to play?

A: Nope. Dark Confidant’s ability triggers at the beginning of your upkeep step. This is the point when the game progresses from the untap step to upkeep. Debtor’s Knell triggers then, also, and when that trigger resolves, you will be the proud owner of a shiny, new Dark Confidant. However, the beginning of upkeep has already passed, and Dark Confidant was not in play when that happened. No extra card for you.

Stuffy Doll stretching out
Q: I have Bottled Cloister and my opponent has The Rack. Am I doomed to take 3 damage a turn?

A: Doomed, doomed I say! Taking 3 per turn is your fate. Here’s why: at the beginning of your upkeep, both you and your opponent control triggered abilities. Since you’re the active player, your trigger goes onto the stack first, then your opponent’s trigger follows it (this is informally called the “APNAP” rule, for active player, non-active player). The stack then resolves top down: The Rack will count the number of cards in your hand (0, because of Bottled Cloister) and deal you 3 damage. Then Bottled Cloister will give you the cards in your hand back and draw you a card.

Q: I have a suspended Greater Gargadon with 2 time counters on it. I also have two random 1/1 creatures in play. My opponent targets both with an Electrolyze. Can I sacrifice them to the Gargadon’s ability in response? Will that fizzle the Electrolyze?

A: Yes, you may sacrifice them in response to the Electrolyze. Greater Gargadon’s activated ability can be played as long as it’s suspended and as long as you have priority. Sacrificing your 1/1 creatures will remove the last 2 time counters from the Gargadon, triggering suspend. “Fizzle” is an archaic term, but that’s basically what happens: your opponent’s Electrolyze has no valid targets when it tries to resolve, so it is countered upon resolution. Your opponent will not draw a card, and you'll end up with a 9/7 in play. Seems fair . . . at least for you.

Q: In a multiplayer game, one player played Hunted Dragon and gave the three tokens to one of his opponents. When the owner of Hunted Dragon dies, do those tokens leave the game with him?

A: They do. With multiplayer support in the rules now, we can use CR 600.4a:

600.4a. When a player leaves the game, all objects (see rule 200.8) owned by that player leave the game, all spells and abilities controlled by that player on the stack cease to exist, and any change-of-control effects which give that player control of any objects end. Then, if there are any objects still controlled by that player, those objects leave the game. (Any objects leaving the game this way that aren’t owned by the player leaving the game are placed in the removed-from-the-game zone.) This is not a state-based effect. It happens as soon as the player leaves the game. A player leaving the game doesn’t affect combat damage on the stack.

Keep in mind, this is the official rule. If your playgroup is a casual one, it can use this rule or use a different one that the group prefers.

That’s all the time we have for this week. This weekend is the Planar Chaos prerelease, so you can definitely expect to see some questions relating to Magic’s newest set in this column next week.

-Tom Fowler


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