Cranial Insertion: Where the Judgely Things Are

Cranial Insertion
Where the Judgely Things Are
or, Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too
By Eli Shiffrin, Thijs van Ommen, and Jeff Vondruska

Welcome to our yet another episode of Cranial Insertion! It’s time for some weird interactions, questions on tournament rules, and oddball trivia! (Cue the "yay"s for oddball trivia.)

A quick note: We’re looking to set up [email=""][/email], which would only forward emails to all three of us and not be a real email account. If anyone can provide help for this, which would greatly enhance our ability to collect article questions, please drop us a PM or email.

Now, questions. And cake! See this lovely cake that Thijs sent me? It had some bird doo on it, but I wiped it off. There’s plenty of icing already. Moko’s still not eating it, so it’s mine now.


Breaking games since 2002.
Q: There are no creatures in play; I have twelve swamps and an island. I play a Faceless Butcher, then another one (which strangles the first one), and then a third one. At this point, the game gets into an infinite loop if neither player intervenes, with Butchers popping into and out of play. My question is: if I have a Stifle in my hand, do I have to play it to stop the loop? Is playing the Stifle or not considered an "optional action" for the purposes of CR 421 and CR 102.6?

A: Oh my. You bad, bad person. The rules he’s referring to are:

Quote from ”Comprehensive Rules 421.2” »
If the loop contains one or more optional actions and one player controls them all, that player chooses a number. The loop is treated as repeating that many times or until the other player intervenes, whichever comes first.

Quote from ”Comprehensive Rules 102.6” »
If the game somehow enters a “loop,” repeating a sequence of events with no way to stop, the game is a draw. Loops that contain an optional action don’t result in a draw.

The rules only care about what is within the loop. In this case, the only thing is the choice of what to remove. If there are any other creatures in play, the Butcher player must eventually choose one of them and stop the loop.

But this is a closed loop. Nothing in play will cause it to end, so it’s up to the players to decide when – and if – it stops with other cards or abilities interrupting the loop. You can force a draw this way, just like casting Death Cloud or Earthquake for 100. It’s slightly lame, but perfectly legal.

*** Fun bonus! If you have an Isochron Scepter (Wow, did I really need to autocard that?) with Stifle imprinted, you don’t even have to use that, since it, too, falls outside of the loop rules.


A: The tournament rules say that I have to answer questions my opponent asks. We both control a Question Elemental?, so I have to give an answer to his question, causing an endless loop of exchanging the Elemental.

Q: Would you like to see the text of our illustrious elemental friend? Why wouldn't you?

Quote from ”Card Text” »
Question Elemental? {2UU}
Creature – Elemental. 3/4.
Are you aware that when you say something that isn't a question, the player who first points out this fact gains control of Question Elemental?

Should we get to the question now? Do you have a piece of paper with you, since “say” does not include that which is written? For most questions, couldn’t you answer in the form of a question such as given in the rules text? Judges, would you really rule that the player isn’t “answering the question” by responding in this wise?

To phrase that another way, you are required to answer any question about public information, such as your life total, cards in deck, and what cards are in your graveyard, but you are not required to speak this answer in a semantic statement, especially when playing with Unhinged!


Dagnabbit, Moko stole my Question Elemental. He says that it’s tasty. But he left this question in its place:


Q: Let's say I'm attacking with an unblocked Kitsune Blademaster. With first strike damage on the stack (or resolved), can I Ninjitsu out Ninja of the Deep Hours and he will deal his regular damage, letting me draw a card?

A: This works just fine, further proving that Ninjas are sneaky. Once an opponent does not declare a blocker for an attacking creature, that creature is an “unblocked, attacking creature” until the end of combat. With the Blademaster’s first strike damage on the stack or after it resolves but before normal combat damage is put on the stack, you can have it rip off its disguise and pop, out comes the ninja! Since the Ninja is only in flavor the same creature as the Blademaster, but not by the rules, it says “Hey, I’m a creature without double strike that didn’t deal damage in the first strike combat damage step” and pulls out its sword to poke the opponent again.

* Bonus: You can eat your cake, too! Since the Ninja is still an unblocked attacking creature, you can use another Ninja to return it to your hand after it has dealt its damage. The new Ninja won’t deal damage, but this can save your Higure, the Still Wind if you expect that having him in play during your opponent’s next turn would be hazardous for his health.


Q: There is a Humility and an Opalescence in play, and someone Humbles the Humility, then plays a Phantom Nomad while Humble applies. When Humble wears off, is the Nomad a 1/1 or a 3/3?

A: The poor li'l Nomad will be a 1/1. Thijs mentioned the answer last week but didn’t use it for an example.

Quote from ”Thijs the Sane” »
Oh, and there's also counters that modify power and toughness. Those are applied in layer 6, after the characteristic-setting effects, but before the normal effects.

So for a brief time, the Nomad runs through the fields, dancing with his huge 2/2 body, frolicking in the sunlight. And then Humility kicks him in the butt and says “You! 1/1!” Then the Nomad cries and becomes small.

Humility used to work very differently, but it’s actually very easy and simple with the most recent wording. It has two continuous effects: One that vanillafies creatures, and one that shrinks them to 1/1. Each is applied in its own layer instead of both applying at once, as it did before.


Q: While playing at a recent tournament, I forgot to remove my sideboarded cards between rounds 2 and 3. My opponent said to go on playing anyway, but should I have called a judge to tell him?

A: Yes, you should have. Your opponent may not mind that your deck is full of sideboardy goodness, but if someone else noticed later and called a judge on you, you would have been in a much larger world of trouble. Failure to de-sideboard carries a game loss penalty at all rules-enforcement levels, but knowingly playing after noticing the fact constitutes cheating – and that makes judges very, very sad. It can possibly result in your disqualification from the tournament. It’s better to just face the music and take a game loss rather than bet on not having to face the firing squad later.


Q: I attack with a Troll Ascetic and my opponent blocks with a Nekrataal. I regenerate the troll, so does it still kill the Nekrataal?

A: Nope, everyone survives for another day. When the Troll regenerates, it has to go sit on the sidelines and eat tea and crumpets while it recovers from that lethal damage.

Quote from ”CompRules 419.6b” »
Regeneration is a destruction-replacement effect. The word “instead” doesn’t appear on the card but is implicit in the definition of regeneration. “Regenerate [permanent]” means “The next time [permanent] would be destroyed this turn, instead remove all damage from it, tap it, and (if it’s in combat) remove it from combat.” Abilities that trigger from damage being dealt still trigger even if the permanent regenerates.

It’s removed from combat as part of regenerating after the Nekrataal hits it in the first-strike damage step – before it goes on to assign damage in the normal combat damage step.

However, if it had assigned damage and was then hit by, say, Shock, with the damage on the stack, it would regenerate, be removed from combat, and still deal its damage.


Gerg made this lovely art of Moko!
Q: During a prerelease tournament, I accidentally wrote down that my opponent won 2 games, when he only won one and I won two. How do I get the judge to fix that?

A: Judges doing scorekeeping during a prerelease look much like Moko over there. Except they often smell worse and have more stripes. And eat fewer of the players’ brains. In other words, they’re rushed and busy, having fun and suffering delightfully.

Okay, that was tangential. Your question has been brought up a few times on the judges’ mailing list, and the answer is unanimous: it is up to the players to make sure that the match slip is correct before signing it. By signing, you confirm that the scores written down are the correct scores for the match.

If you report incorrect scores, those become the actual scores. It's not a good idea to change those, especially after the next round has started! The judges are charged to maintain the integrity of the event, and altering the previous round’s scores should only be done in extreme circumstances, such as when the judge goofed and entered the wrong results. There’s no way to tell for sure that you’re not asking to change the results because you don’t like your current match-up or because the other player later bribed you.

Make sure to double-check your match slip for accuracy before giving it to the poor frazzled judge. Asking them later to change it will most likely net you a warning, or harsher penalties, even if they do change the results at a low-level event such as a prerelease tournament.


Q: We cut the top 4 at a recent FNM, and the four players decided that they should split the 32-packs of prize evenly among them all. Isn’t that illegal?

A: Nope, perfectly fine! After such a cut, players are allowed to redistribute the prize pool any way they’d like, as long as this is done before the match starts and it does not affect the standings. For instance, they can not agree to split evenly on the condition that any players concede.

This situation comes up a lot when it’s down to the top two players, struggling for the top prize. In the game, one will often offer an even prize split on the condition that the other player concede. That is called “collusion” – it gets you an instant disqualification without prize, and a DCI investigation! Goodie! No, not really. The players may agree before the match starts to evenly split the prize, or even to split the prize so the loser is favored. Then a player may choose to drop from the tournament to be the “loser” and get the bigger prize, so that’s usually a bad idea.

You’ll see these deals a lot at pro-tour qualifiers, where one player will receive an invitation and travel award money, and both players receive cards. Often, one player will have no interest in traveling, so they may agree that one player receives the invitation and the other receives the money and the cards and drops from the tournament. Such a deal may ONLY include the offered prizes – you can’t offer extra money, cards, or monkeys. And if your tournament organizer is awarding monkeys as prizes, please contact me immediately. Moko is a little lonely. And hungry.

Jeff has a few cents to toss in on this subject, since he lives in an area with more events and travels more. Heed his words!

Quote from "Jeff the Not-So-Sane-as-Sir-Thijs" »
Emphasize that the top 4 can split but they have to play out their matches normally. It can not be done in exchange for concession, drop, or draw, and the only place you can do it for a drop is in a single-elim finals. I know you say this in the question, but you need to be extremely clear on that since it is a sticky point in the rules which carries a pretty large beatstick if you screw it up. For the sake of random trivia you could also mention that you can only do the finals prize split at 32k tournaments or lower. They don't let you split at a Nationals or GP or PT or Worlds or anything for publicity purposes.

It’s always best to seal these deals with a judge in front of you to make sure that no one can change them after the fact. If you’re not sure if what you want to offer is legal or legal at that time, doublecheck with a judge first rather than risk being banned from DCI events.


Hey, look folks, it’s a card rulings question again! I bet you were starting to miss them.

Q: I'm still sometimes confused by triggered abilities that depend on multiple conditions, and what part of what goes on the stack. For example, does Defense of the Heart's ability go on the stack if I don't have creatures so I can respond by putting creatures into play or animating my lands? When exactly is it sacrificed?

A: As we all know by now, a triggered ability is an ability that starts with “when”, “whenever”, or “at”. But lo, there is a subclass of triggered abilities! These have the dreaded “intervening if clause”. They follow the format [when/whenever/at] [trigger condition], if [condition], [do X]. The Comprehensive Rule 404.3 describes these if you’d like to read what I just said with more words.

An intervening if clause triggered ability checks the “if” part twice: when it would be put on the stack, and when it would resolve. If the “if” is false when it would go on the stack, it stays at home and eats cake instead. If the “if” is false when it would resolve, it leaves the stack and goes home to catch up on its cake-eating habits. So in your case, Defense of the Heart wouldn’t even go on the stack, so you couldn’t cause a creature to be in play later for it to resolve.

If your opponent had three creatures and then zapped one with Defense of the Heart’s ability on the stack, you could then respond by giving him another creature so the “if” would be true when it resolved, though!

As for the second question, when to sacrifice the Defense, look at the breakdown of how the ability is worded: [when/whenever/at] [trigger condition], if [condition], [do X]. The trigger condition is the beginning of your upkeep. The condition is the creature control. The sacrifice is therefore part of the effect, which doesn’t happen at all until the ability resolves, so if the ability isn’t added to the stack or doesn’t resolve due to a false “if” clause, you won’t have to sacrifice the Defense.


Q: What do we do if we’re in the middle of a game when time runs out? Who wins?

A: The clock wins, obviously. Tick tock. But in terms of who wins the match, it’s another matter altogether. Check out section 116 of the Magic Floor Rules for the full text. In short, you get five more turns to destroy your opponent, starting with the next turn after the current turn. So if it’s your turn when the judge calls time, your opponent gets a turn, then you, then him, then you, then he takes one final turn (unless one of you does the Time Warp – then that counts as one of the five turns). If no one has won, then the game is a draw. This can also result in matches being a draw, if no one has won more games than the other.

There is an exception, as described in section 117. If you’re playing any sort of single-elimination, where the winner goes on and the loser is out of the game, you can not have matches end in a draw. So if both players have won 0 or 1 game (as in, this is the first game and you’ve taken all 50 minutes to play it, or if it’s the third game with both of you having won one), you have to determine a winner for this game.

Start off by taking these five turns, as described above. If no one’s won yet, the player with the highest life total wins. Go go lifegain.dec! But if both players are tied, you have to keep playing until one player loses or gains life – then the player with the highest life wins.

“But Mister Eli, what if we both have 1 life and 4/5 Vigilant Platinum Angels and no cards in hand or library! Who wins then?”

That is when everyone in the room throws things at you. You have to start a new game, a brand new game after time has been called, and the first life change in that game causes a win for the match. This doesn’t seem to happen very often, for some reason.


Hey, this was our longest article yet! Go us! Thijs will be back next week to discuss some more random questions that you send us. On that subject, I’m proud to say that almost all of today’s questions were sent in by you readers, and we didn’t have to scout forums or make them up. Thanks a whole lot for helping us! Thanks to your generosity, Moko can now ride to the Netherlands on an exquisite Hyalopterous Lemure instead of catapult volley. He thanks you from the bottom of his rotting heart.

Until next time, eat some cake. I think I have eaten too much here.

-Eli Shiffrin, L1 DCI Judge, Tucson, AZ


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