Activated Abilities and The Stack

  • #1
    There's quite a bit of debate and confusion in my playgroup about activated abilities and resolution. I've been going with the consensus, but I definitely want an expert opinion as this detail has a major impact on the outcome of many of our games. I apologize if this is face-palmingly simple, but...

    What happens very often is that a player will use an activated ability of a creature or an artifact, and then another player will target one or the other in the following manner:

    Player A taps to activate Knight of the Reliquary, and in response to her ability going on the stack, Player B will cast Go for the Throat, targeting the Knight.

    Some players insist that the Knight's ability will still resolve, despite the targeted removal having resolved first. It seems to me and a few others that, after the abilities resolve in order, the Knight's ability couldn't possibly resolve since the creature casting the ability is now dead, but players in my group are split on this.

    Some insist that only something like Sudden Death will prevent the Kinght from triggering, but I think they're confusing stack rules with response rules. It's granted that you can't RESPOND with anything (that's not a mana ability) after Sudden Death has been cast, and that Split Second also prevents the activated ability from resolving... but would a normal kill/destroy spell without Split Second also prevent the activated ability from resolving?

    This has also come up in non-creature instances. For example, a player attempts to tap and draw a card with Sensei's Divining Top, and another player casts Naturalize in response. Unless the player had some means of untapping the artifact (Voltaic Key, for example) and tapping it again, wouldn't the artifact be destroyed before its ability could resolve since Naturalize resolved first, thus preventing its draw ability (thus sending top to the graveyard)? Or does the Top's draw ability happen anyway despite having been targeted for a destroy spell (even though that spell doesn't have Split Second), as is the popular consensus in my playgroup?

    So confused, any insight on this would be greatly appreciated.
  • #2
    Quote from Riley
    There's quite a bit of debate and confusion in my playgroup about activated abilities and resolution. I've been going with the consensus, but I definitely want an expert opinion as this detail has a major impact on the outcome of many of our games. I apologize if this is face-palmingly simple, but...

    What happens very often is that a player will use an activated ability of a creature or an artifact, and then another player will target one or the other in the following manner:

    Player A taps to activate Knight of the Reliquary, and in response to her ability going on the stack, Player B will cast Go for the Throat, targeting the Knight.

    Some players insist that the Knight's ability will still resolve, despite the targeted removal having resolved first. It seems to me and a few others that, after the abilities resolve in order, the Knight's ability couldn't possibly resolve since the creature casting the ability is now dead, but players in my group are split on this.

    Some insist that only something like Sudden Death will prevent the Kinght from triggering, but I think they're confusing stack rules with response rules. It's granted that you can't RESPOND with anything (that's not a mana ability) after Sudden Death has been cast, and that Split Second also prevents the activated ability from resolving... but would a normal kill/destroy spell without Split Second also prevent the activated ability from resolving?

    This has also come up in non-creature instances. For example, a player attempts to tap and draw a card with Sensei's Divining Top, and another player casts Naturalize in response. Unless the player had some means of untapping the artifact (Voltaic Key, for example) and tapping it again, wouldn't the artifact be destroyed before its ability could resolve since Naturalize resolved first, thus preventing its draw ability? Or does the Top's draw ability happen anyway despite having been targeted for a destroy spell (even though that spell doesn't have Split Second), as is the popular consensus in my playgroup?

    So confused, any insight on this would be greatly appreciated.


    Neither Sudden Death nor anything else you might want to do to the source of an ability will stop that ability from resolving:
    112.7a Once activated or triggered, an ability exists on the stack independently of its source. Destruction or removal of the source after that time won't affect the ability. Note that some abilities cause a source to do something (for example, "Prodigal Sorcerer deals 1 damage to target creature or player") rather than the ability doing anything directly. In these cases, any activated or triggered ability that references information about the source because the effect needs to be divided checks that information when the ability is put onto the stack. Otherwise, it will check that information when it resolves. In both instances, if the source is no longer in the zone it's expected to be in at that time, its last known information is used. The source can still perform the action even though it no longer exists.

    The only way to stop an ability from resolving after it has been activated is to remove the ability from the stack, e.g. with Stifle or Time Stop.

    The common analogy is that of a soldier throwing a grenade at you. Shooting the soldier after he has thrown the grenade won't prevent the grenade from killing you.
    Last edited by CarstenHaese: 2/25/2011 2:55:24 PM
    Level 2 Magic Judge

    Please use card tags when you're asking a question about specific cards: [c]Serra Angel[/c] -> Serra Angel.
  • #3
    Removing the source of the ability does not stop the ability. Only something like Stifle or Trickbind can stop the ability once it's been activated.

    Specific questions:
    Killing Knight of the Reliquary with Go for the Throat in response to the ability: Ability will still resolve.
    Killing KotR with Sudden Death in response to the ability: Ability will still resolve. Split second only stops new things from being cast or activated, it doesn't stop old things.
    Killing KotR with Sudden Death at some other point, like at end of turn: the Knight's controller will be unable to respond to the spell due to Split Second, and so it will die without being able to be activated in response.
    Naturalizing a Sensei's Divining Top in response to the tap ability: The ability will still resolve (seeing a theme here?) and will do as much as it can. In other words, the controller of the Top will draw a card, and then the ability will try to put Top on top, but won't be able to (neither will it be able to hop on Pop, but that's a different matter entirely), so then the ability is done resolving.
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  • #4
    Quote from CarstenHaese
    The common analogy is that of a soldier throwing a grenade at you. Shooting the soldier after he has thrown the grenade won't prevent the grenade from killing you.


    Ahaha! I'll remember that. Thanks for the clarification.
  • #5
    once an ability is activated or triggered, it goes on the stack. once it's on the stack, it exists independent of its source. if that ability targets and the targets all become illegal, the ability is countered. if the ability has an intervening if clause like valakut, the molten pinnacle, and that if clause isn't met, the ability is countered. stifle or trickbind can also counter the ability.
    removing the source of the ability NEVER has an effect on whether or not the ability on the stack resolves.
    Quote from ClockworkSwordfish »
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    Like I said, I can only go by my own experience, which is now 18 years. Kind of disheartening when you think you know something and you find out that you're a notch below a low grade moron.

  • #6
    Quote from Riley

    Some insist that only something like Sudden Death will prevent the Kinght from triggering,
    The core question has been very adequately answered. I wanted to also address this particular line, since it seems there might be some implied confusion about Split Second. Split Second does not stop triggered abilities from triggering; it only prevents the casting of spells and the activation of activated, non-mana abilities.
    Last edited by KamikazeArchon: 2/25/2011 2:54:32 PM
  • #7
    Quote from Summon_Legend
    once an ability is activated or triggered, it goes on the stack. once it's on the stack, it exists independent of its source. if that ability targets and the targets all become illegal, the ability is countered. if the ability has an intervening if clause like valakut, the molten pinnacle, and that if clause isn't met, the ability is countered. stifle or trickbind can also counter the ability.
    removing the source of the ability NEVER has an effect on whether or not the ability on the stack resolves.


    Just to nit-pick: If the intervening-if condition of an ability isn't met upon resolution, the ability is not countered--it just doesn't do anything.
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