Published on 12/11/2006

Splitting Faces

or, When Things Morph Faster Than In That Michael Jackson Video

Cranial Translation
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Note: This article is over two years old. Information in this article may be out of date due to subsequent Oracle and/or rules changes. Proceed with caution.

Time Spiral has brought with it a new ability that interferes with the stack (Split Second) while bringing an old ability with some fairly unusual interactions (Morph) to the attention of a new generation of Standard players.

There have been many questions about these two abilities floating about various Magic-related message boards and the mailbag. Today we'll be taking a look at working through some of the questions and misconceptions surrounding these abilities.

Skin is so overrated.
Q:So what can I do while a Split Second spell is on the stack?

A:A little bit, but not much.

Any spells or non-mana activated abilities are right out. By "non-mana activated abilities," we mean abilities that can't put mana into a player's mana pool, not activated abilities that don't have mana in their activation costs. The two activated abilities of Azorius Guildmage can't be played while a Split Second spell is on the stack, however the activated ability of Birds of Paradise can because it's a mana ability.

Three of the "special actions" described in the CompRules can also be taken:

408.1i Special actions don't use the stack. The special actions are playing a land (see rule 408.2d), turning a face-down creature face up (see rule 408.2h), ending continuous effects or stopping delayed triggered abilities (see rule 408.2i), ignoring continuous effects (see rule 408.2j), and removing a card with suspend in your hand from the game (see rule 408.2k).

Playing a land is obviously out; that requires the stack to be empty. Removing a card with suspend in your hand from the game is also illegal as you can only suspend a spell when you could otherwise play it; if you can't play any spells then you can't suspend any spells either.

However, you can turn a face-down creature face up (more on that later), and end a continuous effect (Enraging Licid), ignore one (Damping Engine), or stop a delayed triggered ability (Nafs Asp).

Q: So Split Second makes my Sudden Shock uncounterable, right?

A: It doesn't make the spell completely uncounterable, but it does make it difficult to deal with. Any method of countering the spell that involves playing a spell or non-mana activated ability won't work, however Split Second doesn't interfere with triggered abilities going onto the stack. So if you're playing that Sudden Shock with the hopes of it slipping past a Chalice of the Void with two counters on it, you're going to get a nasty surprise as that spell gets sucked into the Black Hole of Spells.

And, as usual, a targeted Split Second spell can be countered by the rules if all of its targets are illegal when it tries to resolve. (Horobi, I'm looking at you.)

Q: I play Orim's Chant immediately followed by a Sudden Shock. That means my opponent can't counter my Orim's Chant, right?

A: Not quite. One of the most common misconceptions about Split Second is that its "protection" somehow extends to other spells. Thanks to the workings of the stack, Split Second is strong but it's not that strong.

Before the Sixth Edition rules, spells and abilities resolved in a much different way than they do now. There was only a narrow window of opportunity after a spell was played to play a counterspell, and triggered abilities resolved pretty much immediately [The editors are doubtful of this claim, but the rules were ugly back then so we don't terribly care. –Ed.]. When a spell other than an interrupt (a no-longer-existent card type that countermagic had at the time) resolved, all other spells and abilities that still waiting resolved as well, with neither player able to take much additional action.

Sixth Edition changed all that. Objects on the stack now resolve one at a time, with the active player gaining priority after each resolution. Consequently, both players must yield priority consecutively to cause the next object on the stack to resolve.
It is this window of priority after the resolution of each spell that stops Split Second from "protecting" other spells: after the Sudden Shock resolves, it is no longer on the stack and its Split Second ability no longer affects play. Both players still gain priority at least one more time while the Orim's Chant is still on the stack. This is the opportunity your opponent has to play a counter on the Chant.

WotC has a metroid infestation.
Q: My opponent plays a Mindslaver with enough mana to activate it and Academy Ruins. I have a Krosan Grip in hand. Am I doomed?

A: That depends, in part, on how smart your opponent is.

First off, keep in mind that Krosan Grip and other spells that "destroy target artifact" can't target an artifact spell that's still on the stack; the artifact must be in play to be legally targetable. And as I said in the last answer, when a spell or ability resolves, the active player immediately regains priority.

Therefore, assuming your opponent is playing the Mindslaver during his turn (which is a safe assumption unless something like Vedalken Orrery is floating about), he will gain priority first once it's in play. If he then immediately plays the Mindslaver's activated ability, it will be in his graveyard before the next time you get priority. You'll never have priority while the Mindslaver is in play, so your Krosan Grip will be useless.

Where your opponent's intelligence comes into play is what happens if your opponent doesn't immediately play the Mindslaver's activated ability. If your opponent plays any other spell or ability and then yields priority to you without first activating the Mindslaver, you have your chance to play Krosan Grip. Thanks to Split Second, your opponent won't have the opportunity to respond by enslaving you and he'll just have to put it back in their library with the Academy Ruins and try again next turn.

(Thanks to the CI reader who sent in the above question. That's one of our longest answers yet.)

Q: How do Split Second spells interact with Eye of the Storm?

A: Very carefully.

No, seriously.

When a Split Second spell gets removed by Eye of the Storm, the order in which the spell copies are played becomes quite important. Once a copy of a Split Second spell is played, no other spells can be played until that copy resolves; since this can't happen during the resolution of Eye of the Storm's triggered ability, that means that putting a Split Second spell on the stack effectively ends the Eye's party and all those unplayed copies are arrested by the State(-based effects) Police for public intoxication and existing outside of the stack.

Usually this isn't much of a problem if only one Split Second spell has been removed; simply choose to play that copy last. However, once two Split Second spells get in on the eye, you have to make a choice, as at least one of those spell copies isn't going to get played.

That about does it for this installment of Cranial Insertion...

Q: Wait a second, you said you were going to talk more about turning face-down creatures face-up.

A: Who let the elephants in here? Stupid WBTP veterans keep making more work for me...

Anyway, turning a face-down creature face up is one of those special actions we talked about earlier. While you need priority to play it, it's not an activated ability, and it doesn't use the stack. So not only can it not be responded to, you can do it while a Split Second spell is on the stack.

Q: So that means I can pay to turn my Voidmage Apprentice face-up and counter a spell that has Split Second?

A: Absolutely. For you old-school Illusionary Mask fans, it also means you can turn your Phyrexian Dreadnought face-up to save them from an otherwise lethal Sudden Death.

And now, some more questions on Morph from the mailbag...

Q: I have a morphed Fathom Seer and my opponent attacks with Knight of the Holy Nimbus. I block with my morph, flanking triggers and resolves, my morph is a 1/1. Then we put damage on the stack, now I unmorph my Fathom Seer making it a 1/3, or is it a 0/2? Does the seer die?

A: When a face-down creature turns face-up, it's still considered the same object, just with new characteristics. Therefore, anything that was affecting the face-down creature will still affect the face-up creature (if still applicable).

When your Fathom Seer is face-up, its base power/toughness (1/3) is taken into account before other abilities that modify those numbers, like flanking. Therefore, the Seer will be a 0/2, and other effects aside will be killed by the Knight when combat damage comes around.

Q: If I have a Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir out and want to cast a morph creature face down does it have flash?

A: Even though you're playing the spell using morph, it's still a creature card and therefore has flash, so you can play the creature face-down anytime you could play an instant.

Q: What happens to a face-down creature that gets hit by Momentary Blink?
A: It blinks a...

Wait a second, this question (and answer for that matter) seem familiar... probably because they were in last week's CI. Eli's answer there is, of course, correct: the end result is that the creature winds up back in play face-up. However, there's one important point that some people were still fuzzy on after that article: namely whether the "when (creature name) is turned face up" ability that so many creatures with morph has would trigger in this case.

Such an ability wouldn't trigger because the morph creature isn't turned face-up while it's in play... in fact, it's not really "turned" face-up at all. Whenever a card is removed from the game, it's always removed from the game face-up unless the effect that's moving it says otherwise (see Bottled Cloister for an example of such an effect).

Whenever a permanent comes into play, it comes into play face-up by default unless some effect causes it to come into play face-down. (And because you're not playing the creature again, you're not getting the opportunity to pay to play it face-down, therefore, it will come back into play face-up.) Since the creature's status isn't changing from "face-down" to "face-up" while it's in play, the ability won't trigger.

That really does wrap up this installment of Cranial Insertion. (Keep quiet, elephants.) Dr. Tom will be here next week to further up your Rules IQ, and preview some of the interesting things we're planning in coming weeks. (Hint: Count how many Cranial Insertion articles have been published so far, and note the number we're approaching....)

Until next time!

-Ted Dickinson


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