Published on 09/09/2013

Rules Labor's Lost


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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 Information in this article may be out of date due to subsequent Oracle and/or rules changes.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.

We've got burgers...
As I'm writing this, it's Labor Day weekend (in the US, and Labour Day in Canada), which is traditionally a time to get together, cook out and watch sports on TV. So in the spirit of the holiday, let's engage in a little grilling... with rules questions, in another issue of Cranial Insertion!

And as always, if you've got questions you'd like answered, you can send them to us by using the handy "Email Us" button, by sending an email to , or by tweeting at @CranialTweet.

Q: Before I declared attackers, my opponent cast Frost Breath targeting two of my creatures. In response, I cast Ranger's Guile to give one of them hexproof. What happens?

A: Fun things happen! First, Frost Breath resolves, because it does still have at least one legal target: the non-hexproof creature. It taps that creature, and that creature won't untap during your next untap step. Now, suppose you go ahead and attack with the one that gained hexproof (and that it doesn't have vigilance)... now it also won't untap during your next untap step!

The basic issue here is that we often treat "illegal target" as being identical to "can't be affected", but that's not true; it can still have an effect on the illegal target, it's just much more restricted in what it can do. Rule 608.2b tells us that when a resolving spell or ability has at least one illegal target, then (deep breath) "the part of the spell or ability's effect for which it is an illegal target can't perform any actions on that target, make another object or player perform any actions on that target, or make that target perform any actions." So Frost Breath can't tap the illegal target (that would be performing an action on it), but can say that creature won't untap during its controller's next untap step.

Q: So, I know that I can't bloodrush onto an attacking creature that has protection from creatures (say, due to Holy Mantle). But what about other abilities? Could I scavenge counters onto it? Could I hit it with Gempalm Incinerator's cycling trigger?

A: Normally, when something refers to "creatures", it means only creature permanents on the battlefield; to refer to creatures in some other zone it would say "creature cards". But protection makes a small exception to this, so that it can be a bit less wordy: protection from a card type, supertype or subtype will apply to permanents of that type on the battlefield, as well as to cards of that type in other zones.

So "protection from creatures" means protection from anything of the type "Creature", regardless of what zone it's in, which rules out bloodrushing, scavenging, targeted cycling abilities on creature cards, and any other ability which would do something that protection cares about.

Q: Suppose my opponent is attacking me and I've got a Nephalia Seakite in hand, but he's got a couple Forests untapped and I suspect a Plummet. Since he has to pass priority to me after declaring attackers, does that mean I can flash the Seakite and block before he gets another chance to cast spells?

A: Priority doesn't quite work that way. The declare attackers step will only end when all players have passed priority, in order, with the stack empty. And since you cast a spell (the Seakite), that didn't happen. So the game goes back to giving priority to the active player, and seeing if everybody will pass this time around. Except now he probably won't pass — he'll cast that Plummet and get rid of your Seakite before you can block with it.

Q: My opponent controls Olivia Voldaren, and I control a Banisher Priest which is exiling another Olivia he had earlier in the game. If I use Restoration Angel to "blink" the Priest, can I wait and see which Olivia he keeps before deciding what to exile with the returned Banisher Priest?

A: Not only can you wait, you have to! During the resolution of Restoration Angel's ability, Banisher Priest leaves the battlefield; the Olivia it was exiling returns immediately. Then Banisher Priest returns to the battlefield, its enters-the-battlefield ability triggers, and we're done with Restoration Angel's ability. Now we do some things in order: first apply state-based actions, then put any triggered abilities on the stack, then the active player gets priority. So your opponent has to decide which Olivia to keep (the legend rule is a state-based action) before you choose a target for Banisher Priest's ability (since you don't choose a target for a triggered ability until you put the ability on the stack). Which means you can target whichever Olivia he decided to keep.

Q: If I know I have an Entreat the Angels on top of my library, will drawing it from Quicken let me cast it for its miracle cost during my opponent's turn?

A: If it's the first card you draw in that turn, then Quicken is actually redundant. Any time a resolving spell or ability instructs you to cast a spell, you can cast that spell even if the normal timing rules of Magic wouldn't allow it (this is what enabled, for example, the infamous Bloodbraid Elf cascade into Blightning play of Jund decks in Standard a few years back). And if you think about it, this is how it has to work, since otherwise you'd never be able to cast a sorcery with miracle in your own draw step.

Just keep in mind that while you can ignore the game rules on timing, some spells have other restrictions (like "cast this only during combat, before blockers are declared") which still must be obeyed even if some other effect is instructing you to cast them.

Q: Can Lashwrithe be equipped to a creature with protection from black?

A: Sure! Although the creature token produced by the living weapon ability is black, Lashwrithe itself is colorless (the mana symbols in its equip cost don't change this, though they would affect whether you could include it in a Commander deck with a non-black commander), and protection from black won't prevent it being equipped.

Q: I just cast Maelstrom Wanderer, and my opponent responded with Trickbind targeting the cascade ability. Does that stop both cascades, or only one?

A: Maelstrom Wanderer has two instances of cascade, and each one is a separate ability which triggers separately. So Trickbind will only counter one instance, and the other instance will still resolve and let you cascade once. There's also no way to time the Trickbind so that its split-second ability will stop the other cascade, since the Trickbind will always leave the stack before the other cascade ability starts to resolve.

...and hot dogs...
Q: If I cast Garruk, Primal Hunter, then cast Indestructibility on him and activate his -3, does he live?

A: Unfortunately, Garruk will be hunting around in your graveyard after this play. Having indestructible only prevents a pretty narrow set of things: destruction by lethal damage, and destruction by effects that use the word "destroy". Anything else isn't destruction, and is fair game, like the state-based action which puts a planeswalker into its owner's graveyard when it has no more loyalty counters.

Q: In a Commander game, one of my opponents controls Platinum Angel. I cast Illicit Auction targeting it. What happens?

A: Well, Illicit Auction lets you bid more life than you have (since it's not a life payment) and winning means you get a Platinum Angel that will save you from dying even if you're at negative eleven billion life, meaning people will just keep bidding higher and higher. So we go around the table taking bids, and if nobody's won the auction then we go around the table taking bids, and if nobody's won the auction then we go around the table taking bids, and if nobody's won the auction then we go around the table taking bids, and...

Hey! It's a loop! Don't be fooled by the changing values of the bids — we end up in the same state ("nobody's won the auction, go around the table taking bids") over and over and over again. So we get into the rules for breaking a loop of optional actions: first the active player has to make a different choice to try to break the loop, then each other player in turn order.

The practical result of this is that the player who's furthest away from the active player, in turn order, can always "win" the auction since all other players will get forced out by the loop-breaking mechanism.

Q: If I've got a Garruk's Horde and the top card of my library is a Ghor-Clan Rampager. Can I bloodrush it from there?

A: While Garruk's Horde would happily let you cast the Rampager, that's the only thing it's giving you permission to do, and bloodrush is just an activated ability; it doesn't involve casting anything. And since part of the activation cost of bloodrush is discarding the card, and the only place you can discard from is your hand, you won't be able to activate the Rampager's bloodrush from the top of your library.

Q: With Varolz, the Scar-Striped in play and a Vastwood Hydra in my graveyard, how much can I pay to scavenge the Hydra, and how many counters do I get?

A: You'll be able to pay exactly — no more, no less — and get exactly zero counters from scavenging your Hydra. In any zone other than the stack, the in a card's mana cost is defined to be zero, and Vastwood Hydra itself is just a plain old 0/0 since none of its abilities work in the graveyard.

Q: My friend's got a deck full of Orzhov extort cards; would Leyline of Sanctity help me survive against that by countering extort?

A: I'm afraid you're going to get extorted no matter what here. Leyline of Sanctity gives you hexproof, which means your opponents can't target you with spells or abilities. But a spell or ability only targets if the actual word, "target", appears in its text or in the rules definition of its keywords. Extort doesn't use the word "target", so you having hexproof won't do anything to stop it.

Q: I cast a Vexing Devil, and my opponent responded to it with Hallow, choosing the Devil as the source. Then when the Devil enters and its ability triggers, he says he can choose to make me sacrifice it and have the damage be prevented. Does that work?

A: It does, but I can see why it would leave you a little bit vexed!

Normally, when a card moves from one game zone to another (say, from the stack to the battlefield, in this case), it forgets everything about its prior existence, and any effects which were watching it will lose track of it. But there are some important exceptions to that principle, and this is one of them: a damage-prevention effect that's applying to a spell can keep track of the permanent that spell turns into. Which means Hallow's damage prevention will apply to the damage Vexing Devil (the permanent on the battlefield) would deal, as well as to damage Vexing Devil might have dealt as a spell on the stack.

...but maybe stay away from the salad.
Q: My opponent's got a creature equipped with Sword of Feast and Famine. Can I use Naturalize to blow up the Sword, or does the protection stop that?

A: Sword of Feast and Famine grants protection from black and from green... to the creature it's equipping, but not to itself (an Equipment, even when attached to a creature, is still a separate permanent from that creature). So the Sword is a perfectly legal target for a Naturalize.

Q: I control a Primeval Bounty, and cast Primal Surge. I end up revealing 3 lands and 2 creatures. Do I also get 9 life and 2 3/3 Beast tokens?

A: You'll get 9 life (since three lands entered the battlefield under your control, triggering Primeval Bounty three times). But you won't get any Beast tokens — Primeval Bounty only triggers when you cast a creature spell — which means paying its mana cost, putting it onto the stack as a spell, etc. — not when other methods cause a creature to be put onto the battlefield (otherwise, it would infinitely re-trigger itself any time it made a token).

Q: I have Pendelhaven and I just cast Prime Speaker Zegana. Can I target her with Pendelhaven before she gets her counters, so that if she's my biggest creature I'll draw an extra card?

A: Zegana's first ability generates a replacement effect which modifies how she enters the battlefield; there's never a moment when she's on the battlefield but hasn't yet gotten her counters. So there will never be a moment when she's 1/1 for Pendelhaven to target her.

Q: When I cast Cabal Therapy, can I wait to see if my opponent will respond or counter it before naming a card? Or is that cheating?

A: You can and you should wait — any time a spell requires choices other than targets, modes, how to divide up an effect between targets or how to pay for it, that choice doesn't happen until the spell is resolving, so the normal thing to do is let any responses happen, and only then actually name a card. You can "jump the gun" and make your choice early if you really want to, but you'll only be held to that choice if your opponent doesn't respond to the spell.

Q: I target my opponent and one of his creatures with the +1 ability of Chandra, Pyromaster, but he controls a Kira, Great Glass-Spinner. Will Chandra still deal the 1 damage to him even though it can't damage his creature or make it unable to block?

A: Kira doesn't say to counter only the part that targets the creature; Kira counters the spell or ability, period, just the same as a counterspell. So all you'll get out of this is an additional loyalty counter on Chandra (since that's a cost of the ability, not part of its effect); the entire ability will be countered and have no effect.

Q: My opponent attacks me with a creature that's 4/4 due to being enchanted with Celestial Mantle, and I use Captain's Maneuver to redirect the 4 damage from me to him. Will his life total still double?

A: It will, though it will double from a point 4 less than it was. Redirecting damage doesn't change the source of the damage, so the creature is still dealing combat damage to a player; it deals its 4 damage to your opponent, he loses 4 life, and then Celestial Mantle triggers and doubles whatever his life total is at that point.

Q: If my opponent activates Mutavault, can I hit it with an Abrupt Decay since it's now a creature?

A: It is now a creature... but as the card says, it's also still a land. And it's not possible for something that's a land to also be nonland, so Mutavault can't be a legal target for Abrupt Decay.

Q: One of my friends has an infect deck, so I've been playing Glacial Chasm (since he's not attacking my life total anyway). But we're not so sure that works — does Glacial Chasm actually stop me getting poison counters, or does it not work since infect isn't normal damage?

A: Damage from a source with infect is still damage — it just has slightly different results than damage from other sources. So Glacial Chasm will still happily prevent that damage, and none of the results of it will happen, meaning no poison counters for you.

Q: If my opponent has an Angelic Arbiter, and I've already attacked this turn, what happens if I activate Horde of Notions targeting, say, an Air Servant in my graveyard?

A: You'll have two effects fighting with each other: one from Horde of Notions saying you can cast the Air Servant, and one from Angelic Arbiter saying you can't. And in Magic, "can't" always beats "can", so you won't be able to cast the Air Servant (and it is instructing you to cast — when cards say "play" in their text these days, they just mean "play it as a land if it's a land, or cast it if it's a spell").

Q: If Mossbridge Troll blocks Toxin Sliver, will it live?

A: Mossbridge Troll's ability will certainly try to regenerate it, but will fail since Toxin Sliver is saying it can't be regenerated. So it will end up as one very dead Troll.

That's all the grilling I can manage for this issue, but check back next week when Carsten will be back to serve up even more rules questions cooked to order.

- James Bennett

About the Author:
James Bennett is a Level 3 judge based out of Lawrence, Kansas. He pops up at events around Kansas City and all over the midwest, and has a car he can talk to.

About the Varolz, the Scar-Striped and Vastwood Hydra question, I think the scavenge cost should be , as it is the same as the mana cost. Of course, the ability wouldn\'t do anything useful no matter what is paid for X, but you should be able to pay any amount, just as you can pay any amount when Snapcaster Mage allows you to flashback a Fireball
#1 • Date: 2013-09-09 • Time: 06:33:59 •
@subbak "107.3f If a card in any zone other than the stack has an in its mana cost, the value of is treated as 0, even if the value of X is defined somewhere within its text." When you flashback a Fireball, you put it onto the stack, at which point you can choose a value for X. That's not the case with scavenging.
#2 • Date: 2013-09-09 • Time: 23:53:09 •
Okay, my bad. Makes sense.
#3 • Date: 2013-09-10 • Time: 01:22:35 •
Actually, that is the case for scavenge too. The hydra's mana cost is , so the scavenge cost becomes .
When you activate it, the ability is put onto the stack, then you choose a value for , so you can pay more than , even though you get nothing.
#4 • Date: 2013-09-10 • Time: 03:03:35 •
I agree that the scavenge cost is . But rule 107.3f applies (cf 2nd comment on this article) :
Quote (Rule 107.3f):
If a card in any zone other than the stack has an in its mana cost, the value of is treated as 0, even if the value of X is defined somewhere within its text.

You cannot choose the value of X while activating the scavenge ability, it is defined by this rule.
#5 • Date: 2013-09-10 • Time: 06:09:01 •
Scavenge is not a card in a zone other than the stack. It's an ability on the stack. That rule doesn't apply to it. You choose the value of X when you activate it.

Otherwise, Candelabra of Tawnos would be really bad :-P
#6 • Date: 2013-09-10 • Time: 09:49:56 •
4/15/2013 If the creature card you scavenge has in its mana cost, X is 0.

Straight from the Varolz Gatherer page. I\'m pretty sure they wouldn\'t put that in the page to confuse or mislead people.

The more important question here is this one:

Q: My opponent attacks me with a creature that\'s 4/4 due to being enchanted with Celestial Mantle, and I use Captain\'s Maneuver to redirect the 4 damage from me to him. Will his life total still double?

A: It will, though it will double from a point 4 less than it was. Redirecting damage doesn\'t change the source of the damage, so the creature is still dealing combat damage to a player; it deals its 4 damage to your opponent, he loses 4 life, and then Celestial Mantle triggers and doubles whatever his life total is at that point.

Couldn\'t you redirect the target to their creature instead of to the player instead? I\'m of the understanding that the word \"another\" here means another target than the first, first target being you. It is a 4/4, so it would kill itself that way also stopping the double life total effect.

(I understand that the question said that they redirected it to the opponent, but I just thought it would be nice to know if they could of targeted the creature and if that would of been more effective.)
#7 • Date: 2013-09-11 • Time: 09:27:24 •
You can choose an greater than zero. The Gatherer ruling probably says it's zero because choosing a different never accomplishes anything at all apart from wasting mana.

Yes, you can redirect the damage to their creature and kill it. Another target means you can't target the same creature or player twice with Captain's Maneuver. You can target the source of damage just fine.
#8 • Date: 2013-09-12 • Time: 04:40:39 •
Also, are you completely sure the answer to the first question is right? Frost Breath is sticking a continuous effect on the target; that looks like it's performing an action on it, even if it's not a one-shot effect. Would you also say that Unearthly Blizzard and Azorius Justiciar don't perform an action on their targets?
#9 • Date: 2013-09-12 • Time: 04:44:20 •
The reason the Gatherer ruling says X is is because the result of 107.3f (quoted earlier) combined with Varolz is that the scavenge cost of Vastwood Hydra gets set to .

The reason 107.3f doesn\'t break something like Flashback is because calculating a spell\'s cost is something you do after the card has already been moved to the stack. The reason it doesn\'t make Candelabra of Tawnos (mentioned earlier) completely stupid is because the activation cost of the ability has nothing to do with the mana cost of the card.
#10 • Date: 2013-09-12 • Time: 07:43:53 •
The total costs of a spell and an activated ability are calculated exactly in the same way, after they are put in the stack. If Snapcaster works with costs (it does), then so does Varolz.
#11 • Date: 2013-09-12 • Time: 12:19:46 •
The key difference between Snapcaster and Varolz is that Snapcaster works with spells that get moved to the stack when you cast them, but Varolz gives an activated ability that moves the card to exile. The Scavenge ability gets put on the stack when activated, but The Vastwood Hydra card is never on the stack during the activation process. Because of the quoted rule, X is set to 0.
Quote (Rule 107.3f):
If a card in any zone other than the stack has an in its mana cost, the value of is treated as 0, even if the value of X is defined somewhere within its text.
#12 • Date: 2013-09-12 • Time: 14:35:17 •

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