Cranial Insertion: Undying Questions

Cranial Insertion
Undying Questions
or, Decreasing Confusion

By Eli Shiffrin, Brian Paskoff, and Carsten Haese

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New cards always bring new confusion!
Greetings and welcome to a new issue of Cranial Insertion! Dark Ascension is finally here, and as its cards mingle with existing cards, it brings increasing confusion, a persistent wave of questions about undying, and many other questions about unprecedented and weird interactions. We're here to decrease your confusion, so if you have questions you'd like us to answer, please send them to [email][/email] or tweet to @CranialTweet. You'll receive a direct answer from one of our writers, and your question might appear in a future episode.

Q: Last week you explained that a Fork of a flashed back Increasing Confusion won't have the doubled effect, but I thought that a copy of a kicked Rite of Replication is still kicked. What's the difference?

A: The difference is that Rite of Replication and Increasing Confusion ask the game different questions about themselves. Rite asks whether it was kicked, which means whether its controller chose to pay the kicker cost when it was cast. When a spell is copied, choices that were made when it was cast are copied, and that's why the copy of a kicked Rite is also considered kicked. Increasing Confusion doesn't ask about choices that were made when it was cast, though. It asks whether it was cast from the graveyard, and the Fork copy wasn't cast at all.

Q: If I blink an Unholy Fiend with Venser, the Sojourner's ability, does it come back as Unholy Fiend or as Cloistered Youth?

A: It'll come back as a harmless little girl. Double-faced cards always enter the battlefield sunny-side-up unless explicitly stated otherwise.

Q: Does my Mikaeus, the Unhallowed make my Loyal Cathar essentially immortal?

A: Yup! If he dies as a Loyal Cathar, he comes back transformed as a Zombie at the end of the turn, and if he dies as a Zombie, he "undies" right away and comes back sunny-side-up as Loyal Cathar with a +1/+1 counter. As long as he doesn't get a +1/+1 counter as a Zombie before dying, he'll always come back.

Q: If I have Mikaeus, the Unhallowed in play, can I repeatedly sacrifice a Fume Spitter and put the -1/-1 counter on itself in order to create a bazillion Beasts with Fresh Meat?

A: No, that play doesn't work with only one Fume Spitter. The Fume Spitter can target itself, but if you sacrifice it to pay for its ability, the ability is countered on resolution because its target has disappeared. The Fume Spitter simply comes back with a +1/+1 counter, and it's not getting a -1/-1 counter to cancel it out.

You can pull off this play with two Fume Spitters, though: Simply sacrifice one to put a -1/-1 counter on the other, then vice versa, and repeat that a bazillion times.

Q: Suppose I control my opponent with Mindslaver and he has a Nevermore in his hand that I want to neutralize. Can I cast it and name a preview card from a future set?

A: Nope! When you're instructed to name a card, you have to name a card that's legal in the format you're playing. Time-travel is strictly forbidden!

Q: Can I cast a Thought Gorger and end my turn with Sundial of the Infinite before I have to discard my hand? If so, does it still get the +1/+1 counters for each card in my hand?

A: No, that doesn't work. The entire "put counters on me and discard your hand" is one ability, and you can't do anything during its resolution. You could end the turn in response to that ability, but then none of it happens and Thought Gorger won't get any counters.

Q: That's a bummer. What about evoke, then? Can I evoke a Shriekmaw, have it terrorize a creature to death, and then end the turn to keep the Shriekmaw?

A: Sure, that works. The terror ability and the "sacrifice me" ability are two separate abilities, and you can put them on the stack in any order you like. You can let the terror ability resolve and then respond to the "sacrifice me" ability by ending the turn with the Sundial.

Sundial of Infinite Questions
Q: I've been using Sundial of the Infinite in the cleanup step to keep my Thawing Glaciers from bouncing back to my hand, but my friends say that I can't do that because there's no priority during the cleanup step. Who's right?

A: Your friends are a little bit right, but your play actually works. Players usually don't get priority in the cleanup step, but there are exceptions. One such exception is when a triggered ability has triggered in the cleanup step. In this case, the triggered ability is put on the stack and players get priority to respond to it. Here's the rules quote to show to your friends:

514.3. Normally, no player receives priority during the cleanup step, so no spells can be cast and no abilities can be activated. However, this rule is subject to the following exception:

514.3a At this point, the game checks to see if any state-based actions would be performed and/or any triggered abilities are waiting to be put onto the stack (including those that trigger "at the beginning of the next cleanup step"). If so, those state-based actions are performed, then those triggered abilities are put on the stack, then the active player gets priority. Players may cast spells and activate abilities. Once the stack is empty and all players pass in succession, another cleanup step begins.

Q: When does Faith's Shield check my life total? Do I have to choose a target if my life total is 5 or less?

A: Faith's Shield is always a spell with exactly one target, regardless of what your life total is when you cast it, so you have to choose a target in any case. When Faith's Shield resolves, it checks your life total at that time, and it has the corresponding effect. If the target becomes illegal Faith's Shield is countered on resolution, even if you have 5 or less life, so pointing it at your Phantasmal Image is probably a bad idea.

Q: Does Phyrexian Metamorph trigger Puresteel Paladin's ability if it enters the battlefield copying an equipment? If yes, does this answer change if there's a Torpor Orb on the battlefield?

A: Yes, the ability triggers. You apply the replacement effect as Phyrexian Metamorph enters the battlefield, and then you check for triggered abilities. By the time the Paladin looks at what entered the battlefield, it sees an equipment, which makes it really happy. Torpor Orb doesn't change the answer, since the thing that's entering the battlefield is not a creature despite having been a creature spell on the stack.

Q: I cast Bogardan Hellkite and my opponent responds with Hallow targeting the Hellkite spell. Does the Hellkite deal damage with its enter-the-battlefield ability or is that damage prevented?

A: Oddly enough, the damage will be prevented, and your opponent will even gain some life. While an object that moves from one zone to another normally becomes a new object without any memory of its prior existence, there are some exceptions to give an object some continuity across the zone change. One such exception is that prevention effects that applied to a permanent spell will continue to apply to the permanent that the spell becomes on resolution.

Q: Can I sacrifice my Silverchase Fox without an enchantment to target?

A: Nope, sorry. In order to activate the ability in the first place, you need to select a target for the ability. If no target is available, you can't activate the ability, so you can't pay its cost.

Q: So, here's the situation. I control two Memnites, an Etched Champion, and an unanimated Inkmoth Nexus is chilling with my other lands. My opponent Doom Blades a Memnite, which resolves, then he casts Doom Blade on my Etched Champion which has lost metalcraft. Does activating Inkmoth Nexus in response keep my Etched Champion nice, shiny, and alive?

A: Sure, that works. As soon as Inkmoth Nexus becomes an artifact, your Champion's metalcraft ability kicks in again and it has protection from all colors again. This means that Doom Blade's target has suddenly become illegal, so it'll be countered when it tries to resolve.

Q: My opponent casts Scavenging Ooze and activates the exile ability right away hoping to get a +1/+1 counter on it and gain life. Can I respond to that and kill it with Punishing Fire?

A: Sure! Scavenging Ooze's ability is a regular activated ability that uses the stack, and can be responded to. Until the ability resolves, the Ooze's toughness is still 2, so Punishing Fire nips that in the bud if it's allowed to resolve. However, note that your opponent can respond to your response, so if he has the mana available, he could just activate the ability again in response to Punishing Fire. He wouldn't even need a second creature card to target, since the card he targeted with the first activation is still there.

Q: How do cards work in Two-Headed Giant that hit "each player", "each opponent", or "each other player"? Does a team count as a player, or is a team made up of multiple players?

A: A team is made up of multiple players. In a Two-Headed Giant game, there are four players, so an "all players" effect hits those four players. Each player has two opponents, so Breath of Malfegor hits those two players. Syphon Mind would hit the three players that aren't you, which means that it will also force your teammate to discard a card.

Q: Can I sacrifice multiple creatures of mine at the same time to untap Grimgrin, Corpse-Born once? If so, does he get a +1/+1 counter for each creature I sacrifice?

A: Well, you can't exactly sacrifice them at the same time, but you can feed them to Grimgrin one after the other. The subsequent activations won't untap Grimgrin since he's already untapped then, but he'll still get more counters because the counter is not contingent on Grimgrin actually becoming untapped.

Q: Am I allowed to play Lightning Coils in my Grimgrin, Corpse-Born commander deck, or is it forbidden because the tokens it creates are red?

A: You're allowed to have that card in your deck. Color identity looks at mana symbols on the card and at the color indicator if the card has one. It doesn't care about color words, so the word "red" on the card doesn't make it illegal in your non-red deck.

Q: Can I put Elbrus, the Binding Blade in a Kemba, Kha Regent Commander deck?

A: Unfortunately not. While Elbrus is a colorless card in your library, the color identity rules that tell you what you can put in your deck look at both faces of the card. Elbrus' color identity is therefore black, so Kemba is a mean kitty and won't play with it.

Q: I'm thinking about building a commander with Skullbriar, the Walking Grave as my commander, but I'm wondering what exactly happens if Skullbriar gets a -1/-1 counter on the first time it enters the battlefield? Am I unable to cast it again since it will die as soon as it enters the battlefield, or does the counter vanish when Skullbriar gets 0 toughness?

A: Getting a -1/-1 counter is pretty bad news for Skullbriar. You could cast it again, but as soon as it resolves, it'll be a feeble 0/0 and it'll die before you get priority to do anything to save it. The counter stays because the "I keep all counters" ability makes no exception for -1/-1 counters or for Skullbriar having 0 toughness. To get out of this mess, you'd need a static boost such as Bad Moon or a way to let Skullbriar enter the battlefield with +1/+1 counters.

Q: Let's say I've tucked my opponent's commander into his library, for example with Condemn. Can I permanently get rid of it now by exiling it with Praetor's Grasp and not casting it?

A: No, you can't do that. For one, it's really mean and your playgroup will hate you for trying this. Also, there's this rule that specifically prevents your evil plan:

903.13. If a card is put into the exile zone face down from anywhere, and a player is allowed to look at that card in exile, the player must immediately do so. If it’s a commander owned by another player, the player that looked at it turns it face up and puts it into the command zone.

And that's all the time I have for now. Please come back next time when Brian delivers another fresh batch of rules mysteries!

- Carsten Haese


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