Published on 10/07/2013

Up in the Air

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 Information in this article may be out of date due to subsequent Oracle and/or rules changes.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

Private pilots operate a bit differently.

On the back of a dragon, 30,000 feet above the fields of Theros:

Ladies and gentlemen, and naiads and nymphs and gorgons and satyrs and minotaurs and Returned and gods, we're beginning our descent now, so please ensure your permanents are returned to an upright and untapped position, and all your carry-on cards are safely bestowed in the overhead bins or under the seat in front of you. At this time all magical devices must be powered off until we've landed. Should you need reading material, a complimentary copy of this week's issue of Cranial Insertion is in the seat pocket in front of you. So make yourself comfortable, please refrain from becoming monstrous until we've pulled up to the gate, and enjoy this fine selection of questions and answers.

And as always, if you've got questions, please send them to us by using the handy "Email Us" button, by sending an email to , or by tweeting at @CranialTweet. Be sure to ask about the benefits of our frequent-asker program!

Q: I don't have any creatures, but my opponent has a bunch. Can I cast a Detention Sphere, target one of his creatures, and then in response to the Sphere's trigger use Mirrorweave to make his other creatures copies of it and exile them all?

A: Yup! Detention Sphere doesn't look at the name of its target, or the names of other permanents, until its ability is resolving, so any name changes that happen between triggering and resolving (and copy effects do include changing the name, unless they say otherwise) will be taken into account and you'll get to exile ALL the things!

Q: So, what if one of my opponent's creatures is a Mishra's Factory that was animated? Can I get that too?

A: You can. Detention Sphere requires that the specific permanent it targets be nonland. It doesn't care whether the other permanents that have the same name are lands or not, and will exile them indiscriminately. So as long as you didn't make everything be a copy of the Factory (since that would also make everything a land, and counter the Sphere's ability due to its target becoming illegal), you can nab the Factory along with everything else.

Q: What if my opponent has a creature with 2 +1/+1 counters and Ordeal of Nylea on it? On my turn, can I cast Portent of Betrayal, take the creature, and attack with it to get two lands?

A: Well, you can cast Portent of Betrayal, you can take the creature, and you can attack with it... but your opponent will get the lands. By default, when a card instructs a player to do something, the player who does that thing is its controller. So your opponent will put a third counter on the creature (which you control), then he'll sacrifice the Ordeal, then he'll get to search his library for some lands.

An ability for every occasion. Just don't try to carry it
through the x-ray.
Q: If I use Portent of Betrayal on my opponent's Flamespeaker Adept, will it be a 2/3, or a 4/3 with first strike?

A: It'll be a very adept first-striking 4/3. When a spell or ability is resolving, you follow all of its instructions in the order they're printed on the card. So first you gain control of the Adept, then you untap it, then it gains haste, then you scry. And since the Adept was under your control when you got to that last bit, its ability will see you scrying and will trigger.

Q: I cast Time to Feed targeting my opponent's Nemesis of Mortals and my Sedge Scorpion. In response he casts Gods Willing to give the Nemesis protection from green. Does my Scorpion die?

A: Your Scorpion will live to fight another day. Time to Feed resolves, because it still has one legal target. But it can't do anything to the illegal target (the Nemesis) or make the illegal target do anything, including fighting. And since it takes two to fight, no fight happens and no damage is dealt.

Q: I've got a Thraximundar Commander deck, and Thrax is hanging out in the command zone. Will Rooftop Storm let me cast him for free?

A: The answer depends on whether you've cast Thraximundar previously that game. The "commander tax", which applies to each additional time you cast your commander from the command zone, isn't part of the mana cost — which is only the symbols in the upper right corner of the card — it's an additional cost. And Rooftop Storm only gets you out of the mana cost; any additional costs still have to be paid normally, meaning you may have to sink some mana into Thrax in order to send him on another world tour.

Q: My opponent is attacking me with a Rumbling Baloth, and I block with Wall of Frost. Then my opponent casts a fused Turn // Burn on my Wall. Will his Baloth get to untap normally?

A: It will have to wait a turn before it goes rumbling again. Wall of Frost's ability triggered as soon as it was declared blocking, and once triggered, the ability exists on the stack independently of what happens to the Wall. So even though Wall of Frost lost all its abilities and died shortly afterward, its already-triggered ability will resolve and keep the Baloth tapped down during its controller's next untap step.

Q: I have an Artisan of Forms that's a copy of Nemesis of Mortals, and I activate its monstrosity ability. Later, I target it with a spell again, and choose to have it copy an Ember Swallower. Since it got a new instance of monstrosity that hasn't been used, can I activate that?

A: That would be monstrous... if it worked. But being monstrous isn't tied to any specific ability or instance of an ability on a creature; it's just something that becomes true about the creature once a monstrosity ability resolves, and stays true even if the creature's characteristics change later. So your Ember-Swallowing-Artisan is already monstrous, and you won't be able to make it monstrous again with its new ability.

Q: If I Spell Crumple my opponent's commander, can he choose to send it to the command zone instead of the bottom of his library?

A: His hopes will, unfortunately, be as crumpled as his spell. When applying replacement effects (some of which are easy to identify because they use the word "instead"), normally the affected player, or the controller or owner of the affected game object, decides the order in which to apply competing replacement effects. But there's an important caveat here: self-replacement effects, in which a spell or ability replaces some or all of its own effect, always get applied first. And Spell Crumple has a self-replacement effect (it replaces part of its own effect — changing the normal way that countering a spell would work), it always applies first and your opponent's commander will go straight to the bottom of his library and nowhere else.

Q: If I control a Horizon Chimera and a Drogskol Reaver, what happens when I draw a card?

A: Well, the game spins for a bit, in a loop of you gaining life and drawing cards and gaining life and drawing cards... and then sooner or later you draw from an empty library and lose the game, unless you have a way to break up that loop before it gets that far. And since both of the abilities involved are mandatory, you can't just choose not to draw or gain life; you'd need to actually have a way to get rid of one or both of them to stop the loop.

We're going to be encountering some weather...
Q: My opponent cast Murder targeting one of my creatures, and in response I used Gods Willing to give it protection from black. If I also control Guile, would I get to exile and cast the Murder for free since my Gods Willing countered it?

A: Not quite. Guile only triggers when a spell or ability you control would counter a spell. But Murder isn't going to be countered by Gods Willing; it's going to be countered by the rules of the game, since its only target is now illegal. So Guile won't trigger, and you won't get to Murder anything for free.

Q: I control Melek, Izzet Paragon and cast Steam Augury. Will I have to show my opponent the sixth card in my library before he chooses which pile to give me?

A: This augurs well for you, because you won't reveal that card until later in the resolution of Steam Augury. When you reveal the top five cards of your library and arrange them into piles, they don't actually move to any other zone, and the top card of your library hasn't changed yet. It's only when you're finishing up Steam Augury's effect and put one pile into your hand and the other in your graveyard that the top card of your library finally changes and has to be revealed for Melek.

Q: If I just want a 2/2 flyer, can I cast Swan Song and have it counter itself?

A: That would be quite the pretty paradox! If Swan Song counters itself, then none of its effects happen, including getting a Bird token. But countering the target is one of its effects, so if it counters itself its effect of countering itself won't happen, and...

Well, that would just get silly. Fortunately, the rules stop this sort of thing by saying flat-out (in rule 114.4, to be specific) that a spell or ability on the stack can never be legally targeted by itself, so casting a Swan Song targeting itself isn't allowed in the first place.

Q: But I've heard that you can use Redirect to counter a counterspell. If you can't make the counterspell target itself, how would that work?

A: There's a neat trick here. Suppose you cast a spell, and your opponent targets it with, say, Dissolve (since that's the shiny new counterspell in Standard). You can respond with Redirect, targeting Dissolve. You can't make Dissolve target itself, but you can make it target any other spell on the stack... and while Redirect is resolving, it's still a spell and still on the stack. So you can make Dissolve target Redirect. Then Redirect finishes resolving, leaves the stack and goes to the graveyard, and when Dissolve starts to resolve it finds that its target is now illegal and gets countered by the game rules.

Q: If I cast one of the Theros "Ordeal" enchantments on a creature that already has 3 +1/+1 counters (say, because it became monstrous earlier), do I sacrifice it immediately?

A: You'll have to endure the ordeal of waiting just a bit. The sacrifice clause on the Ordeals is part of the triggered ability that happens when the enchanted creature attacks. So you'll need to attack with the creature in order to sacrifice the Ordeal (and in the process you'll get another +1/+1 counter on the creature!).

Q: Can Gods Willing for protection from blue stop my opponent from proliferating -1/-1 counters on one of my creatures with Thrummingbird's ability?

A: The gods are willing, but the rules are not. Protection stops only a limited set of things (damage, attaching things like Auras and Equipment, blocking and targeting), and not anything else. And proliferate doesn't do any of those things; specifically, it doesn't target, because nothing in the rules definition of proliferate uses the word "target". So protection won't stop the proliferation of a plethora of counters on your poor little pet creature.

Q: How does Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur interact with something like Reliquary Tower? If I have Jin and my opponent has the Tower, does he still have to discard down to zero?

A: Jin-Gitaxias doesn't set your opponent's maximum hand size to zero; it just says "whatever number the maximum is, reduce it by seven". And that number, courtesy of Reliquary Tower, is... well, there isn't a maximum number. And though these effects do get applied in timestamp order, the result is the same regardless of which way around they go: your opponent will not be subject to any maximum (either the maximum gets turned off entirely before Jin reduces it, or Jin reduces it and then it gets turned off, so the end result is no maximum applying either way).

Q: I activate the second ability on Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, choosing green. In response my opponent casts Murder on my Arbor Colossus. Do I end up getting 3 fewer green mana than I would have?

A: Nope, because this isn't a legal play. Activated mana abilities (those are activated abilities which can produce mana, don't target anything, and aren't loyalty abilities of planeswalkers) don't use the stack, so no player can respond to them. So by the time your opponent could Murder your Colossus, you'll already have a bunch of tasty green mana to devote to some other purpose.

Q: Can I fuse Far // Away and have the "Far" half target Blood Baron of Vizkopa?

A: A fused spell is always only a single spell, not two "half spells", and it has the characteristics of both parts of the split card it came from. So on the stack, a fused Far // Away is a blue and black spell, and because of that it can never target the Baron.

Q: If I cast Animate Dead targeting an Erebos, God of the Dead in my graveyard, and don't have enough devotion for him to be a creature, what happens?

A: Erebos briefly enters the battlefield, but Animate Dead never attaches to him. When state-based actions are checked, Animate Dead discovers that it's an Aura that isn't attached to anything, and is put into the graveyard. Then Animate Dead's delayed trigger goes on the stack, and will make you sacrifice Erebos.

And with that, this week's issue has landed. As always, we thank you for choosing to fly CI, and we hope to see you again on our return flight scheduled for this time next week.

- 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.

The last sentence of your answer to the Spell Crumple question makes it sound as if self-replacement effects always preclude the application of subsequent replacement effects when that is not the case. If we look at Dissipate, for example, the event as modified by the self-replacement effect can still be further modified by the commander replacement effect. The reason it goes to the bottom is not simply because the self-replacement effect is applied first, but also because it modifies the event in such a way as to render the subsequent commander replacement effect inapplicable.

Last edited on 2013-10-09 13:18:52 by Corkryn
#1 • Date: 2013-10-09 • Time: 08:52:06 •

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