Cranial Insertion: The Tale of the Lemur(e)





Cranial Insertion
The Tale of the Lemur(e)
By Eli Shiffrin, Thijs van Ommen, and Jeff Vondruska


This Lemur goes bump in the night
Hello again, and welcome back to Cranial Insertion! Moko has just appeared in the sky, flying over the North Sea, which means it's time to answer some rules questions. Moko seems to be carried on the back of a Hyalopterous Lemure, of all things. Apparently, he really enjoys the company of this fellow undead. Though I'm not sure if Moko knows about the undead nature of the Lemure... For that matter, I doubt the Lemure knows about the undead nature of the Lemure! I'd better not mention it where they can hear...

While I'm Lost in Thought, Kiku, Night's Flower suddenly leaps up from her hiding place in the dunes. She immediately taps to have the Lemure deal an amount of damage to itself equal to its power. Which is 3, because it has already used its ability to gain flying earlier this turn. Something needs to be done, or Moko's new friend won't survive much longer!

Q: Can Hyalopterous Lemure's ability be used to save the creature from Kiku, Night's Flower's effect?

A: Kiku's ability is set to deal an amount of damage to the Lemure equal to the Lemure's power. However, the amount of damage to be dealt isn't locked in. It's only decided when the ability resolves. If the Lemure's power is reduced before that time, it will also deal a smaller amount of damage to itself. So we can easily save the creature by using its ability another time, making it 2/3 and giving it flying again.

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Q: So, how can I tell whether something is locked in when a spell or ability goes on the stack, or determined when the thing resolves?

A: Rule 409.1 describes everything that happens when a spell or ability is played. You can read everything in detail in the Comprehensive Rulebook. I'll just give a list of all the steps involved:

409.1a The spell or activated ability is announced and is put on top of the stack.
409.1b The mode is selected (for spells or abilities written "Choose one -"). If any choices have to be made regarding the cost to be paid, they are made now. (For example: the value of X mana in the cost, or if any additional/alternative costs will be used.)
409.1c Targets are chosen.
409.1d *snip*
409.1e If the spell or ability does different things to different targets, the player declares how each target will be affected. If something has to be divided or distributed (usually damage), the distribution is decided now.
409.1f The total cost (which may involve mana, but also any number of other things) is calculated and locked in. It still isn't paid yet.
409.1g The player can play mana abilities now if the cost includes mana.
409.1h The cost is paid.
409.1i The spell or ability is now officially "played".

Anything not listed here will happen as part of the spell or ability's resolution. Let's have a look at some examples:
  • Kiku, Night's Flower's ability doesn't use any of these steps to determine the amount of damage, which is why the Lemure could be saved in that last question.
  • Blaze deals X damage. The value of X also appears in the cost, so it has to be chosen as part of step 409.1b.
  • Fireball deals X damage to some number of targets. X is chosen in step 409.1b, the targets in step 409.1c, and the amount of damage for each individual target in step 409.1e. You can't change the damage distribution if your opponent responds to your Fireball by Giant Growthing the creature you most wanted to get rid of.
  • Auriok Bladewarden gets +X/+X depending on its power. Because the value of X is irrelevant to the cost of the ability, it isn't chosen in step 409.1b like with Blaze and Fireball. The Bladewarden's power is only checked when the ability resolves.
  • Fire Covenant also uses the value X. It doesn't appear as X mana in the mana cost, but paying X life is also part of the cost. Just like Fireball, the value of X will be decided when the spell is played.
  • Parch is played to deal 2 damage to a nonblue creature. In response, the creature somehow turns blue. Parch will still deal only 2 damage, because that's the mode that was selected in step 409.1b when the spell was played.

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So far, we've looked at spells and activated/triggered abilities only. Combat damage is a different case. It's always locked in when the damage assignment goes on the stack in the Combat Damage step. One of the questions I found in Moko's mailbag deals with this issue:

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Q: My opponent attacks me with a vanilla 2/2. I control a Frostling. Can I kill his 2/2?

A: Yes, you can do that. Here's how: In the Declare Blockers step, announce that your Frostling is blocking his 2/2. Then both of you will get priority to play spells and abilities. However, you don't want to play any. Assuming your opponent isn't playing any either, the game continues to the Combat Damage step. Your Frostling will assign 1 point of damage to the attacker, which will assign 2 points to the Frostling. This damage assignment goes on the stack, and again your opponent and you will receive priority. Anything played now will go on the stack on top of the combat damage assignment that's already there, so it will resolve before combat damage is dealt. This is when you want to use Frostling's ability to ping the 2/2. You put the ability on the stack and sacrifice Frostling to pay the cost. Assuming your opponent doesn't have anything to play, your ability will resolve for 1 damage, followed by another 1 combat damage, which is enough to kill the 2/2. The 2 points of damage that were assigned to your sacrificed Frostling have nowhere to go, so they don't get dealt.

The rules lesson in here is, of course, that combat damage will still be dealt if the creature that's supposed to deal the damage is no longer around. It only needs to be there when the damage is assigned, because the amount of combat damage to be dealt to each creature is locked in at that point. After that, it's free to go and get itself sacrificed.


Some sorceries don't obey the rules
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Q: I have a Spellweaver Helix with Breaking Wave and Living Death imprinted on it. I can play Breaking Wave at times that I couldn't normally play any sorceries by paying an additional 2 mana for it. Let's say I play another copy of Breaking Wave during my opponent's turn. Do I get to play the copy of Living Death created by the Helix?

A: Spellweaver Helix is trying to make you do something you aren't normally allowed to do: playing a sorcery on your opponent's turn. But it's actually making you do something worse: it tells you to play a spell during the resolution of its ability! Even if you're using two ordinary sorceries, the Helix lets you break the rules that determine when you're allowed to play spells. As always, if a card contradicts the rules, the card wins. You'll be able to play Living Death, even though it's your opponent's turn, the stack isn't empty, and you're in the middle of resolving an ability.

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And while we're on the subject of playing sorceries at unusual moments...

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Q: What is the interaction (if any) between Vedalken Orrery and Equipment? Does it allow me to move my Equipment around at any time I could play an instant?

A: Vedalken Orrery allows you to play nonland cards even when you could normally only play instants. However, playing the Equip ability from your Equipment isn't playing a card. The Orrery doesn't change when abilities can be played.

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Requirements, requirements...
Q: My opponent attacks me with Kashi-Tribe Reaver enchanted by Lure, so all my creatures have to block the Snake, if able. However, I control Silent Arbiter, which says that only one creature can block. Does that mean that all my creatures are unable to block the Snake, so that I don't have to block at all if I don't want to?

A: No, that's incorrect. Let's have a look at the rules regarding legal attacks and blocks. These rules are all about restrictions and requirements:
From the CompRules:
500.1. Some effects restrict declaring attackers or blockers in combat or require certain creatures to be declared as attackers or blockers. (See rule 308, "Declare Attackers Step," and rule 309, "Declare Blockers Step.") A restriction is an effect which says that a creature can't block (or attack) or that it can't block (or attack) unless some condition is met. A requirement is an effect which says that a creature must block (or attack) or that it must block (or attack) if some condition is met.
Silent Arbiter restricts blocking assignment that involves more than one blocker. Lure creates blocking requirements, one for each of your creatures, to block Kashi-Tribe Reaver. The blocking assignment you are trying to make (i.e. not blocking anything at all) is perfectly legal according to Silent Arbiter's restrictions, but it breaks all the requirements created by Lure.

There are only two conditions under which you may disobey a blocking requirement (from rule 500.4):
  1. If following the requirement would cause you to break a restriction.
  2. No such luck: following any one of the requirements would still be acceptable to the Arbiter. Following more than one would lead to problems, but this rule only looks at the requirements one at a time.
  3. If following the requirement wouldn't increase the total number of requirements that are being followed.
  4. There's a blocking requirement for each creature. Following one of these requirements by assigning a creature as a blocker doesn't affect any of the other requirements. The total number of requirements obeyed would increase by one. So this exception doesn't give us a way out, either.
Conclusion: not blocking at all isn't a legal blocking assignment in this situation. You can easily check that blocking with exactly one creature would be legal.

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Q: Can you explain how the timing of damage prevention is supposed to work in some more detail?

A: Sure! All spells and abilities that do damage prevention work in basically the same way. Let's look at Mending Hands as an example. When it resolves, it will cause the next 4 damage that would be dealt somewhere to be prevented. The word "next" is important: you can only prevent damage that is dealt after Mending Hands resolves! It should be obvious that it's impossible to "prevent" things that have already happened.

A common explanation you may've heard before is that the damage prevention effect sets up a "shield" that absorbs some damage that will be dealt to a creature or player in the future.

Fortunately, you don't have to be psychic to use damage prevention effectively. The way such spells are normally used is to wait until your opponent does something that will cause damage you wish to prevent. Then, in response, you play the damage prevention spell, which sets up a shield to stop the damage while the thing that will cause the damage (either a spell, an ability or combat damage) is still waiting on the stack. When this thing finally gets to resolve and deal its damage, the shield is in place and ready to prevent the damage from being dealt.

Note that this isn't the only way to use damage prevention. If for some reason you want to get Mending Hands out of your hand and into your graveyard, then you can simply play it, even though there isn't anything on the stack trying to deal damage. The Hands will still set up a shield, even though it probably won't be used to stop any damage.

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Q: My opponent attacked me with Kami of the Waning Moon. I let it through, because I didn't have any fliers. Then he showed me Ninja of the Deep Hours in his hand. He returned his Kami, but before he put his Ninja into play, he killed all my creatures with Hideous Laughter, while he didn't lose anything! Can he do that?

A: That's an evil trick, but yes, it works. Returning a creature to his hand was part of the cost for the Ninjutsu ability. He paid the cost, and put the ability on the stack. In response, he played Hideous Laughter. It went on the stack on top of the Ninjutsu ability, so it resolved first. Only after that did the Ninjutsu ability resolve and did the Ninja come into play. So there is a small window where neither the Kami or the Ninja is in play, and your opponent made use of that to play the Laughter without hurting his own creatures.

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Moko and his Lemure just left in a hurry: A bunch of poachers have apparently caught on to their scent. Which isn't that much of a surprise, I have to admit. Catching a Lemure would bring in a lot of money for the poachers, because sadly, the creatures are extinct in the Netherlands. Yes, they've all been dead for quite some time now... *sniff*

That's all for this week. Maybe Moko will stop by your house tonight, so make sure you have a question for him!

-Thijs van Ommen, The Netherlands

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