Cranial Insertion: Unusual Suspects

Cranial Insertion
Unusual Suspects

By Ted Dickinson, Eli Shiffrin, and Tom Fowler

As a plainclothes detective for the CompRules Police Department, I always get the strange cases: boats with priority shipments colliding in midstream, guys on horses changing allegiance in the middle of a combat zone.

Today it was a hijacked transport. There was a witness, but her recollection of the incident was fuzzy. She didn't get a good look at the perpetrator's face... all she could make out was that the card was a rule-breaker.

The guys down at the precinct had already rounded up some known rule-breakers for a lineup. There was a motley crew assembled by the time I arrived: a huge pile of rats, some dragon-like thing, a device that looked like a mad Vedalken scientist's version of a dragonrider's helmet, and a guy covered in moss and fur wielding a very large sword.

Every single one of them knew how to exploit the Golden Rule to their advantage:

103.1. Whenever a card’s text directly contradicts these rules, the card takes precedence. The card overrides only the rule that applies to that specific situation. The only exception is that a player can concede the game at any time (see rule 102.3a).

This was going to be a long day.

I called for the throng of Relentless Rats to step forward. Before I could even ask them to read the prepared statement, the witness was already asking questions.

Q: What are they in for?

A: Roaming around in gangs of more than four. It's the only card other than basic land that isn't subject to that limit on deck construction.

Q: Why couldn't they just make it a “basic creature?” That would have the same effect, right?

A: Not exactly. The rule that allows more than four of a basic land in a deck is 100.2:

100.2. In constructed play, each player needs his or her own deck of at least sixty cards, small items to represent any tokens and counters, and some way to clearly track life totals. A constructed deck can have any number of basic land cards and no more than four of any card with a particular English name other than basic land cards.

The rule only addresses basic land cards, not any card that might happen to have the basic supertype. Should Wizards decide to extend the use of Basic to cards other than lands, a few minor wording changes would allow the desired effect.

After chittering something out that didn't sound anything like a request for keys, it was obvious these weren't the rats we were looking for.

Next in line was a shiny dragon otherwise known as Gilded Drake.

Q: What law did it break?

A: Spells and abilities that involve targets are countered when they try to resolve if all of their targets are illegal (for example, if they've left the zone they're expected to be in). This is rule 413.2a:

413.2a If the spell or ability specifies targets, it checks whether the targets are still legal. A target that’s removed from play, or from the zone designated by the spell or ability, is illegal. A target may also become illegal if its characteristics changed since the spell or ability was played or if an effect changed the text of the spell. The spell or ability is countered if all its targets, for every instance of the word “target,” are now illegal. If the spell or ability is not countered, it will resolve normally, affecting only the targets that are still legal. If a target is illegal, the spell or ability can’t perform any actions on it or make the target perform any actions. If the spell or ability needs to know information about one or more targets that are now illegal, it will use the illegal targets’ current or last known information.

This is colloquially referred to as “fizzling.”

Gilded Drake's ability is unique in that it is targeted, but can't fizzle.

Q: Aren't there plenty of other cards that can't be countered, like Urza's Rage and Last Word?

A: Those cards can't be countered by spells or abilities. Since rule 413.2a isn't a spell or ability, a targeted spell like Last Word can still be countered if its target is illegal.

Q: Why does Gilded Drake need to break this rule?

A: To guarantee that the player who played Gilded Drake doesn't control it after its ability resolves. Without this clause, if the creature targeted by Gilded Drake's triggered ability somehow became an illegal target, then the entire triggered ability would be countered, leaving Gilded Drake in play without any exchange of control. This was a virtually impossible situation under the Fifth Edition rules that were available when Gilded Drake was printed; players couldn't play spells or abilities in response to a triggered ability, so the target becoming illegal between the playing of the ability and its resolution wasn't a consideration. However, the Sixth Edition rules vastly increased the number of possible situations in which the target could become illegal; to preserve the original intent of the card, the clause was added to ensure the Gilded Drake either changes hands or goes to the graveyard.

The Gilded Drake may have looked brilliant, but its tongue obviously couldn't speak any human language. And its hands weren't well-adapted for driving a truck anyway, so it was out as a suspect.

Next up was a rather silly-looking Vedalken wearing a ridiculously large Mindslaver helmet.

Q: What's the law got to say about Mindslaver?

A: Mindslaver doesn't just break the rule that players get to make their own choices; an entire section of new rules had to be added just to make sure it works correctly.

507. Controlling Another Player’s Turn

507.1. One card (Mindslaver) allows a player’s turn to be controlled by another player. This effect applies to the next turn that the affected player actually takes. The entire turn is controlled; the effect doesn’t end until the beginning of the next turn.

507.1a Multiple turn-controlling effects that affect the same player overwrite each other. The last one to be created is the one that works.

507.1b If a turn is skipped, any pending turn-controlling effects wait until the player who would be affected actually takes a turn.

507.1c Only the control of the turn changes. All objects are controlled by their normal controllers.

507.2. If information about an object would be visible to the player whose turn is controlled, it’s visible to both that player and the controller of the turn.
Example: The controller of a player’s turn can see that player’s hand and the identity of any face-down creatures he or she controls.

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.
Example: The controller of the turn decides which spells to play and what those spells target, and makes any required decisions when those spells resolve.
Example: The controller of the turn decides which of the player’s creatures attack, and how those creatures assign their combat damage.
Example: The controller of the turn decides which card the player chooses from outside the game with one of the Judgment™ Wishes. The player can’t choose a card of the wrong type.

507.3a The controller of another player’s turn can use only that player’s resources (cards, mana, and so on) to pay costs for that player.
Example: If the controller of the turn decides that the player will play a spell with an additional cost of discarding cards, the cards are discarded from the player’s hand.

507.3b The controller of another player’s turn can’t make that player concede. A player may concede the game at any time, even if his or her turn is controlled by another player. See rule 102.3a.

507.3c The controller of another player’s turn can’t make choices or decisions for that player that aren’t called for by the rules or by any objects. The controller also can’t make any choices or decisions for the player that would be called for by the tournament rules.
Example: The player whose turn it is still chooses whether he or she leaves to visit the restroom, trades a card to someone else, takes an intentional draw, or calls a judge about an error or infraction.

507.3d A player who controls another player’s turn also continues to make his or her own choices and decisions.

507.4. A player doesn’t lose life due to mana burn while another player controls his or her turn. (Unused mana in players’ mana pools is still lost when a phase ends. See rule 300.3.)

Q: So what can't I do if I'm controlling another player's turn?

A: You can't make the other player “forget” to do something they're required to do. Any non-optional actions like triggered abilities still have to go on the stack; you can't make your opponent forget to draw a card during their draw step.

You also can't force them to concede or make choices unrelated to the rules, spells, or abilities.

You can't look at anything your opponent owns or controls that they wouldn't normally be able to look at. You can't look at your opponent's sideboard unless you have them play a spell or ability that would allow you to do so, such as Death Wish or Research // Development.

Most of the other things you can't do are pretty clearly laid out in Section 507.

This guy's master clearly was nowhere to be seen, so asking him to say anything would have been futile.

The last suspect was Kamahl himself, clutching a sword.

Q: What's this guy's record?
A: He had to do a short stint a year ago for messing with Rule 300.3, which causes mana burn.

300.3. When a phase ends (but not a step), any unused mana left in a player’s mana pool is lost. That player loses 1 life for each one mana lost this way. This is called mana burn. Mana burn is loss of life, not damage, so it can’t be prevented or altered by effects that affect damage. This game action doesn’t use the stack. (See rule 406, “Mana Abilities.”)

Q: Does this mean I can use mana from cards like Braid of Fire during my main phase?

A: Not only can you use it during your main phase, you can use it during your main phase on your next turn. None of that mana is leaving your mana pool until you use it.

Q: What happens if Upwelling leaves play?

A: Then you'd better hope you can spend all that mana before the end of the current phase. Upwelling doesn't somehow modify the mana as it's create; it can only protect players while it's in play.

Kamahl spoke with a bit of a stutter. The witness was clearly stumped... none of these cards were the suspect we were looking for.

The investigation came to a close when all but Kamahl were killed one night at a dock. He eluded our grasp with the assistance of his Japanese advisor. One day we might catch up with him...

And so ends my first article as the third wheel of Cranial Insertion. While I am not currently a DCI judge, I was one under Fifth Edition rules (and believe me, judging back then was quite difficult given such arcane dealings as interrupt windows and the between-turns phase).
I am a DCI tournament coordinator with signficant experience running small local tournaments where I frequently get stuck as head judge, and those of you who visit the Rules Forum with any frequency will have undoubtedly seen me answering questions at every opportunity.

I would like to thank Thijs, the previous holder of this position, for providing consistently excellent articles, and Eli and Tom for offering me the chance to fill his shoes.


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