Cranial Insertion: Take Your Turn



Cranial Insertion
Take Your Turn
or, It’s Only a Passing Phase

By Eli Shiffrin, Thijs van Ommen, and Jeff Vondruska
Edited by Goblinboy


Hey, what do you know? Another Cranial Insertion article! Normally we make Thijs write articles that go in depth on one topic, but I get to do it this time. The reason I’m writing a long in-depth article is to distract those merfolk while Moko (finally!) rescues Jeff from Atlantis. Moko has a taser for this job, since it appears that the Atlanteans have provided Jeff with an endless supply of Spirit Scout cookies. We will take back Jeff by force if necessary!

Anyway, back to the turn.




Q: What exactly is one turn? The time it takes each player to do everything?

A: Nope, that’s more than one turn. A turn is the series of steps and phases that one player goes through before passing priority and saying “Okay, I’m done, your turn.” The turn is broken into five phases: Beginning, Precombat Main, Combat, Postcombat Main, and End. These are further broken down into steps. Check the glossary on the right for a full list, and links to where I discuss each one in turn. So, let’s begin with the Beginning.





What in the name of Bob is on this card?
Beginning Phase: Untap Step

Boy, do we ever love to untap stuff! What would we do without it? Well, Stasis sure answered that one. Not a whole lot. The untap step is pretty simple. First, everything you control with Phasing in play phases out and everything that you controlled as it Phased out Phases in at the exact same time. Then you untap everything. If something says you can’t untap it, you don’t. Duh. If something says you may choose to not untap it, you have to choose before untapping anything. No one gets priority, and no one can do anything.

Q: My opponent forgot to untap his lands at the beginning of his turn. Do they stay tapped now in his main phase since he drew a card?

A: No. You can’t just “forget” to untap. Unless something is holding them down tapped, they will untap. In this case, we can simply correct the game state by untapping them all. Don’t do that again, opponent!




Q: When does Mesmeric Orb trigger after I untap everything during my untap step?

A: It triggers right away. But it won’t go on the stack until the Upkeep step. During the Untap step, nothing is put on the stack, and no player receives priority to do anything.




Beginning Phase: Upkeep Step

And now, your Mesmeric Orb can go on the stack. Along with anything else that triggers “at the beginning of your upkeep”. After all of these happy triggered abilities are put on the stack, you receive priority. You and your opponent must each pass in succession to move on to the Draw step.

Q: Hell’s Caretaker says “during your upkeep,” but I thought all “during” was changed to “at the beginning of your upkeep.” How does Hellboy work now?

A: Pretty much the same way he used to. The Oracle wording says that he just has an ordinary ability, but that ability has a restriction on when you can play it – during your upkeep. Only the abilities that used to be triggered abilities and started with “during your upkeep” were given errata to “at the beginning of your upkeep." “During your upkeep” is still a valid time slot.




Beginning Phase: Draw Step

First you draw a card. Yay! Then things that trigger on drawing a card and things that trigger “at the beginning of your draw step” go on the stack, priority gets passed around, yadda yadda. You know the drill.

Q: Please don’t kill me for asking about Chains of Mephistopheles. But if I use Reach through Mists during my opponent’s draw step, will I get a card without going through the Chains?

A: For the record, Chains of Mephistopheles is a surefire way to make a judge hate you. Luckily, your question is easy.

Quote from Oracle »
If a player would draw a card except the first one he or she draws in a draw step…


Since the card you draw with Reach through Mists as the first card in *a* draw step – not necessarily yours! – Chains ignores it.

If you have some time and you feel like hurting your brain, read more about Chains of Mephistopheles here.




Precombat Main Phase

Here comes the meat of your turn. The main phase has no steps; it just is. During one of your two main phases is (normally) the only time you can play Lands, Sorceries, Enchantments, Artifacts, and Creatures. Nothing special to say here. Pass priority around again and you move on to Combatworld.

Q: Does Fatespinner make me skip the precombat main phase, or the postcombat main phase?

A: Yes.

That is, the two are collectively called “main phase.” The very first one is the precombat, all others are postcombat, and they’re all main. Note that Fatespinner says to skip *each* instance of the chosen step/phase, so they’ll all be skipped.





Moko loves you.
Combat Phase: Beginning of Combat Step

Have you ever done much of anything during the beginning of combat? I didn’t think so. Most people don’t realize that this step is here, and they do all of their cheesy combat tricks (tapping potential attackers, stealing potential attackers, and so on so forth, you evil people you) at the end of the main phase due to ignorance. But no more! Now, learn to love the beginning of combat step!

So yeah, anything that triggers “at the beginning of combat” goes on the stack, pass priority again (if you remember that this poor, sad and lonely step exists), and move on to the brutal assault.

Q: If I have no creatures, can I cast Gorilla War Cry at some point just to draw a card next turn?

A: You actually have three chances cast stuff in this situation, though only two for the War Cry. Here’s your first – the beginning of combat step. Next, you’ll get a chance in your declare attackers step, and finally you'll have your end of combat step - you can't cast the War Cry here, but you can cast other things. These three will always happen regardless of the number of attackers unless you’re forced to skip your combat phase altogether. Read on to see what I’m talking about!




Combat Phase: Declare Attackers Step

Now things start to get interesting. In this step, the game talks to you. I imagine that its voice sounds a lot like Alfred the butler when it’s in a good mood, and the Red Queen in that horrific Resident Evil movie when you screw up. First it says “With whom will you be attacking today, sir?” You can either choose not to attack (wuss) or suggest a plan of assault. If you select some of your poor hapless creatures to attack, you tap them and then the game runs a check to see if your plan is okay. If anything is wrong, it switches into Red Queen mode. “How exactly is your Goblin Cohort attacking? Tell me!” “I see a Ghostly Prison with your opponent. Will you pay the price?!” If you can’t make it happy, any pay any costs required, your plan is rejected. The game loops back to the original question of "who’s attacking?" If you tapped anything as attackers, they untap.

Once you’ve set forth a group of attackers and paid any costs for them, they become attacking creatures. Woohoo! Now, and only now, do things trigger. And then that whole priority thing, and then your opponent gets a turn to play the game.

Q: Can I use Curtain of Light now so my opponent can’t Ninja in Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni?

A: While his creature is, in the strict English sense, unblocked, the game does not know that yet. As far as the game is concerned, the creature is attacking and is neither blocked nor unblocked. Yet. Read on!




Combat Phase: Declare Blockers Step

I could try to waste space by repeating the computer-game thing from above, but let’s cut to the chase. Same thing as declaring attackers, your opponent declares blockers. Unlike attackers, he doesn’t tap his creatures to block, as I’m sure most of you already know. (The following sentence was entered to prevent nitpickers from nitpicking. But I’m sure they’ll find something in this article to nitpick. Do your worst.) However, if you did not declare attackers, this step does not happen. Nor does the combat damage step. Go straight to End of Combat, do not pass MaRo, do not collect 200 mana.

After your opponent successfully assigns a group of blockers, his blockers become blocking creatures, and your attacking creatures also become blocked or unblocked creatures. Then you eat a big bowl of Priority-Os, and then move on to the pain. Do note that you get the first spoonful of Os, even though your opponent just did his declaring thing.

Q: Can I respond to my opponent’s declaring blockers by Shocking one of the creatures he wants to block with?

A: Ah, an important point to bring up: declaring attackers and blockers does not use the stack. If you want to interfere with one or the other, you must do so in the preceding phase. Your opponent can’t rush past you and declare blockers without giving you a chance to nuke one of his creatures, but you can’t wait for him to choose blockers and then blow one up to let your guy though unblocked. Feel free to blast his blocker, but your attacker is still blocked.




Combat Phase: Combat Damage Step

We’ll start off this step with yet another game action that does not use the stack: assigning combat damage! First the attacking player divides his creatures’ combat damage among the blockers and the defending player, and then the defending player divides his creatures’ combat damage to the creatures they block. This assignment does not take into account anything that will later redirect, prevent, amplify, or canoodle this damage. Canoodle is not defined in the CompRules. It is a pity.

With combat damage on the stack, we do the priority warp again, and then it resolves. Bam! Pow! Kaboom! Pain everywhere, yay. And now, once a-freaking-gain, PRIORITY! Then we move on, nothing to see here, ignore the dead creatures behind the curtain.

Q: Since combat damage goes on the stack, can I Stifle or Counterspell it?

A: I wish. That’d be funny. But alas, no, you can not. Combat damage on the stack is neither a spell nor an ability, so it can not be countered.




Combat Phase: Combat Damage Step Take 2

Whoa, whoa, whoa – another combat damage step? See, there’s a catch to the combat damage step: there can be two of them. If anything has first strike or double strike when the combat phase starts, only creatures with first strike and double strike get to join in the fun. But that’s okay, because there’s another combat damage step just for the creatures that didn’t get a chance to cause some misery. And those creatures with double strike, they get to double the misery. This works exactly like above. Oodles of priority.

Q: If I somehow made a creature with first strike lose first strike, would it deal damage again?

A: Nope, like I said, only creatures that didn’t get to deal damage the first time deal damage this time. And creatures with double strike because they’re spoiled like that.




Q: After first strike damage is dealt, can I give an opponent's creature Hundred-Talon Strike so it won't deal damage in the normal combat damage step?

A: That won't work, either. Remember, all single-strike creatures that didn't deal first strike damage deal their damage here, not "all creatures without first strike." Your opponent's creature will have first strike, but it won't mean anything at all in particular.




Combat Phase: End of Combat Step

Another boring step. Bore. “At end of combat” triggers go on the stack, that whole priority thing happens, and we move out of the happy red zone. (I am so incredibly sick of typing “priority.”)

Q: Okay, so now my Ink-Eyes has stolen a creature from my opponent’s graveyard. But he has a flipped Kuon, Ogre Ascendant in play. Can I ninja in a Mistblade Shinobi so I can sacrifice it on my next upkeep instead of Ink-Eyes or my stolen fattie?

A: You can indeed pull off your litle trick. The status of “attacking”, “blocking”, “blocked”, or “unblocked” sticks around until the end of combat step ends, which is when the combat phase ends. Note that your Shinobi will come into play attacking... even though it’s a little late for him to do anything.




Postcombat Main Phase

You might as well scroll up some and read what I said about the precombat main phase. This is exactly the same. Play a Land if you didn’t in the first main phase, Sorceries, Enchantments, Creatures, Artifacts, whee. And then you pass the good ol’ Priorität to move on.

Q: What does Relentless Assault do if I play it during my combat phase with a Vedalken Orrery? The Oracle text says “After this main phase...” but it’s not a main phase.

A: Say hey, guess what? It does nothing! Nothing exciting anyway, you'll just get to untap your creatures outside of the venerable untap step. With the current wording, it’ll only give the extra combat and main phases if it’s played during a main phase – and it’ll give those extra phases to the active player, not necessarily to you.

Fun fact! Without this errata, you could use Relentless Assault during the end of turn step to create an attack and main phase... without a new end phase. Scroll down a little for an idea of the chaos this could cause.





o/~ It’s the end,
My beautiful turn, the end o/~
End Phase: End of Turn Step

This step is almost boring, but it’s where a whole lot of problems turn up. It starts off with “at end of turn” triggers going on the stack. No, it does not start with discarding down to 7. No, creatures do not have damage removed yet. No, creating an “at end of turn” trigger at this point will not make the end of turn step restart just to make the trigger trigger.

After all those triggers are done with, ass-pay iority-pray!

Q: Can I activate a Genju of the Spires during my opponent’s end of turn step so it’ll be a creature on my turn? The Genju changes back at end of turn, right?

A: Nope! The land turns into a creature until end of turn, and that means something completely different from “at end of turn”. Keep reading for a more detailed answer.




End Phase: Cleanup Step

Here’s where all of that other stuff happens that you thought happened in the end of turn step. First, you discard down to your max hand size if your hand is too big. (Ur hnd ken nevr b 2 big.” –Moko) Then damage is removed from creatures and “until end of turn” stuff wears off (like that Genju up there in the last question) and “this turn” effects stop. You know the absolute best part of this step?

NO ONE RECEIVES PRIORITY OMG YAY!

Oh wait. If any state-based effects are applied or triggers are triggered during that discard, damage removal, and effect ending, then you get to play the priorité game again. Blah. But after that… TURN’S OVER!

Q: If I have a 2/2 Grizzly Bears that’s been Shocked, and I Giant Growthed it in response to the Shock, will it die to the damage when the Giant Growth wears off?

A: It will survive. “Until end of turn” wears off at the same time that damage is removed, so it’ll go from a 5/5 with 2 damage to a 2/2 with 0 damage without stopping in between.




Wow, that was long. To sum it up, the untap step is clearly the best step of the entire turn. Because there is no priority. Ever. BWAHAHA.

Ahem. Moko reports that Jeff has been successfully extracted, although he’s a little different now. Time to make my escape from this watery popsicle stand! Stay tuned for next week where Thijs answers some questions of Legendary proportions.

Until next time, have fun dissecting things.

-Eli Shiffrin, L1 DCI Judge, Tucson, AZ

Eli is not a doctor, nor does he play one on TV. MTGSalvation, Cranial Insertion, Wizards of the Coast, the DCI, and Eli himself can not be held accountable if you decide to actually dissect something based on Eli’s advice. Blame the fluffy bunny. Disclaimer void where prohibited by emu.

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