Published on 12/02/2013

Don't let me impose

or, A faithful devotee

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 Information in this article may be out of date due to subsequent Oracle and/or rules changes.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

"Turkey" still isn't a creature type.
This past week was Thanksgiving in the US, a time when we gather to stuff ourselves full of delicious food, see our loved ones, and give thanks for the things most important to us. Moko, for example, is thankful for bananas and basic Mountains. And all of us at Cranial Insertion are thankful that Moko didn't come over to our houses for Thanksgiving (I don't need to buy another new vacuum cleaner), and for another cornucopia of rules questions to answer in this week's issue!

And remember as always that if you've got questions, we'll be thankful if you send them to us by using the handy "Email Us" button, by sending an email to , or by tweeting at @CranialTweet.

Q: My opponent has an Imposing Sovereign, and my devotion to blue is 4. If I cast Thassa, God of the Sea, does she enter tapped?

A: Nope! This seems to confuse a lot of folks, so we'll go step by step through it.

In any zone other than the battlefield, Thassa is always a creature. So on the stack (which is the zone she'll enter the battlefield from), Thassa is a creature spell. But she's a weird sort of creature spell: she has an ability that can cause her, once on the battlefield, not to be a creature. And that's where things get tricky.

Imposing Sovereign's ability creates a replacement effect, which modifies how certain permanents (creature permanents) enter the battlefield. Replacement effects, as you'll recall if you read CI regularly, apply before the event they're replacing happens. So if Imposing Sovereign's effect is going to apply, it will apply before Thassa is on the battlefield.

This means that, before Thassa enters, we need to figure out whether she's going to be a creature for Imposing Sovereign to apply to. The rules tell us (specifically, rule 614.12 tells us) what types of abilities and effects to consider when we're figuring that out, and that's a pretty short list, but it does let us look at Thassa's own ability. But at the time we're asking what her ability would do, your devotion to blue is only 4 — it won't hit 5 until after she's on the battlefield, and we're doing this before she enters.

Which means her ability answers back "devotion to blue is only 4, I wouldn't be a creature in this situation", and Imposing Sovereign's effect doesn't apply. So Thassa enters the battlefield untapped, and then as soon as she's on the battlefield your devotion is 5 and immediately she's a (still untapped) creature.

Q: I activated the monstrosity ability of Polukranos, World Eater, with X=4. Since the trigger when it becomes monstrous says I can choose "any number" of targets, can I choose no targets if I'm afraid my opponent will pump his creatures and eat my big monster?

A: While it's true that Polukranos instructs you to choose "any number", and zero is a number, you'll need to choose at least one target in this case. Polukranos' triggered ability requires you to divide the damage among the targets, and choosing no targets would mean dividing by zero and blowing up the universe. So the rules which define how to handle an "any number" choice require that, when you have a nonzero amount of stuff to divide, you also must (if possible) have a nonzero number of things to divide it among. Which means you'll need t o pick at least one target.

Q: So, suppose I also have Dismiss into Dream. Can I activate Polukranos with X=0 and target all of my opponent's creatures to make him sacrifice them all?

A: This also comes down to the rules trying to prevent silly shenanigans, but the other way around: Magic, outside of silver-bordered land, deals only in whole numbers, so it'd be a problem if you were allowed to divide X of something among more than X targets (since you could end up assigning fractional amounts). So in order to divide something, like damage, among multiple targets, you must be able to assign at least 1 of that thing per target. If you can't, you have to come up with some other set of targets and a division among them that will work. Effectively, this means you can never end up choosing more than X different targets for Polukranos' trigger, and when X=0, you'll be stuck with zero targets.

Q: If I animate my Mutavault, can my opponent use Ultimate Price to kill it?

A: While Mutavault is many things, monocolored isn't one of them. A monocolored card has exactly one color. But Mutavault, like most lands, is colorless, meaning it has exactly zero colors, and can't be made to pay the ultimate price.

Daxos by Design
Q: OK, so if I have a Pack Rat and two token copies of it, can I activate Mutavault in response to Anger of the Gods to save them?

A: Your Pack Rat and his token buddies will live ever so slightly longer than they would have otherwise, but not by much. Immediately after Anger of the Gods finishes resolving, the game will check state-based actions and see Mutavault as a 2/2 with 3 damage marked on it, and the Pack Rat and tokens as 4/4s with 3 damage marked on them (remember they count all Rats, and Mutavault is a Rat when animated, along with every other creature type). So at this point only Mutavault gets killed by the damage (and, per Anger of the Gods' replacement effect, will be exiled).

But immediately after that will be another state-based action check, and now Pack Rat and friends are 3/3s with 3 damage apiece, so they will give out a great SQUEAK as they head off into exile, too.

Q: My opponent controls exactly two Brothers Yamazaki. If I cast Humility, will he lose one of them?

A: Yup! The ability that protects two Brothers from the legend rule is... well, an ability, so it gets removed by Humility. And without that, the legend rule promptly kicks in, and one of the Brothers will end up in the graveyard.

Q: If I have a Hyena Umbra (or any other totem-armor Aura) on my only creature, and I get targeted by Devour Flesh, does the Umbra save my creature?

A: Totem armor only steps in if the creature is going to be destroyed, which only means when lethal damage is dealt or when an effect specifically uses the word "destroy". Since Devour Flesh doesn't do either of those things, it's not causing destruction and totem armor won't save the creature.

Q: If I have Gaddock Teeg, can I bestow a Celestial Archon?

A: Yup! At the time you check whether you have permission to cast the Archon, it's a creature spell, since you haven't yet made the choice of whether to bestow or not. And by the time you make that choice and it becomes a non-creature Aura spell, you're past the only time when Gaddock Teeg's ability would check and try to prohibit you casting it.

Q: What about casting Heliod, God of the Sun when my devotion to white is too low to make him a creature?

A: This will also work. Remember that most abilities only function on the battlefield; on the stack (and in every other zone), Heliod's ability doesn't do anything, and so he's always a creature spell as you're casting him, and again Gaddock Teeg won't see anything to interfere with.

Q: I cast a Giant Growth targeting my Centaur Battlemaster. Can my opponent stop me from getting counters by using Spellskite to change the target of my Giant Growth?

A: He can have his Spellskite become the target of Giant Growth, but that won't stop your Battlemaster from getting counters. Heroic abilities just care that their trigger event happened, and you most certainly did cast a spell targeting the Battlemaster, even if the target later ended up changed to something else. So its ability triggers, and won't care what happens to the spell afterward.

Q: I have a Commander deck with Purphoros, God of the Forge as its commander. Once I've had 11 other creatures enter the battlefield with Purphoros out, will I win because my opponents have all been dealt 22 damage by my commander?

A: Not quite. The commander damage rule only applies to combat damage, meaning just damage dealt by attacking with your commander. Since damage from abilities isn't combat damage, you'll need to either have some more creatures enter (to run all your opponents down to zero life), or start attacking with Purphoros.

Q: Can I use Orzhov Charm to bring back a Soldier of the Pantheon from my graveyard?

A: Yup! Most abilities — including protection — only function on the battlefield, so in the graveyard the Soldier is a perfectly legal target for a multicolored spell.

Q: I've heard different answers about whether Master of Cruelties' ability works when I put him into play attacking with Kaalia of the Vast. Does it trigger, or not?

A: Assuming it isn't blocked, it does trigger. Master of Cruelties' ability doesn't check anything until the declare blockers step. At that point, it asks two things: "Am I attacking?" and "Am I unblocked?" If the answer to both questions is yes, his ability triggers and puts your opponent at 1 life. At which point, if Kaalia also wasn't blocked, your opponent may be in for a cruel end.

Paradise has the best feasts
Q: My opponent doesn't have any Thopters other than a Thopter Assembly. If I cast Reins of Power at the beginning of his upkeep, will the Assembly still get bounced?

A: The "you" in the ability (and the player who gets the tokens if it bounces) will be the controller of the ability, which is the player who controlled Thopter Assembly when the ability triggered. And when it triggered, your opponent still controlled it — by the time you can cast a spell in his upkeep, any beginning-of-upkeep triggers are already on the stack. So unless you happen to give him a Thopter with Reins of Power, the Thopter Assembly will still return to his hand, and he'll get the five tokens.

Q: My opponent has Chains of Mephistopheles. What happens if I cast Brainstorm?

A: Probably not what you wanted! First, Brainstorm wants you to draw three cards. Each of those draws is replaced by Chains — if you have a card in hand, discard it and then draw. If not, put the top card of your library into your graveyard and don't draw. Once you've done that three times, you'll put two cards from your hand on top of your library (if you don't have at least two cards left in hand at this point, put all the cards in your hand back). So in the very best case, you'll end up reducing your hand by two cards, and in the worst case you'll end up with no hand at all!

Q: I just made my Sealock Monster monstrous, and targeted one of my opponent's Forests with the trigger. What does his Forest tap for now?

A: The Forest now has two basic land types — Forest and Island — which means it now has two abilities. One ability taps to produce and the other taps to produce . So it can produce either of those colors but not both at the same time (since activating one of the abilities will tap the Forest, meaning he's not able to pay the cost to activate the other one).

Q: In a Commander game, someone cast Mystic Barrier, and then someone else used Stifle to counter the direction-choosing trigger when it entered the battlefield. Does this mean nobody can attack until its controller gets an upkeep and makes the choice?

A: While it's true that there's no chosen direction for Mystic Barrier's second ability, that doesn't actually prevent attacking. When one of a pair of linked abilities refers to a choice made by the other ability, and no choice has been made, the part of the ability that relies on knowing the choice just doesn't do anything. So until Mystic Barrier's controller gets an upkeep and chooses a direction, there will be no barrier to any player attacking whoever they want.

Q: If I block my opponent's Firedrinker Satyr with a Desecration Demon, how much damage will be dealt to my opponent?

A: Assuming the Demon doesn't have any counters on it to pump its power, your opponent will be on the receiving end of 6 damage. Creatures in combat don't show mercy or pull their punches against something with low toughness; they always deal damage equal to their power, even when (as in this case) it's massive overkill. So the Demon deals a full 6 damage to the Satyr, and then the Satyr triggers and deals 6 damage to its controller.

Q: If I cast Traumatize targeting my opponent, and then copy it with Meletis Charlatan, how many cards will my opponent end up milling?

A: It will depend on how many cards your opponent had in his library beforehand, but it will come out to roughly three-quarters of them. Suppose, for example, that he has 40 cards in his library: first, the copy created by the Charlatan will resolve, taking half of them (that's 20). Then the original Traumatize will resolve and take half of what's left (there are 20 cards left, so this will be 10 cards). All together, that will be 30 out of the 40 cards he had. Just note that when there's an odd number of cards to start with, you do need to round (down, per Traumatize's text) the number, so it may not come out to exactly three-quarters.

Q: I cast Smallpox when my opponent has no creatures. But it turned out he had a Loxodon Smiter in his hand and he discarded it, and he says that since triggered abilities can't happen until after Smallpox finishes resolving, he won't have to sacrifice it. Is he right?

A: Well, he's right that triggers wait to go on the stack until after the current spell/ability finishes resolving. But Loxodon Smiter doesn't have a triggered ability — those use the words "When", "Whenever", or "At", none of which appear in Smiter's text. Rather, it's a static ability which creates a replacement effect, and replacement effects don't wait for anything, they just turn one game event into another. So he'll put the Smiter onto the battlefield during the resolution of Smallpox, and then he'll sacrifice it (since the instruction to sacrifice comes after the instruction to discard, and you follow instructions on a card in order).

Q: So, Evermind doesn't have a mana cost, which means its mana cost can't be paid. But if I have something like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben out, can I cast it since now it has a mana cost of ?

A: Nope! To cast a spell, you pay the mana cost plus any additional costs (and minus any cost reductions). But be ever mindful that effects which impose additional costs or reduce a cost won't change the actual mana cost of the card, they just change what you're supposed to pay to satisfy the card's costs. So with Thalia, Evermind would effectively cost (unpayable nonexistent cost) + , and you're still unable to pay that.

Q: If I activate Scion of the Ur-Dragon's ability while Rest in Peace is out, does the ability just fizzle because I didn't put a Dragon in my graveyard?

A: The ability actually still works! The "if you do" bit is just checking that you made the choice to try and put a Dragon card from your library into your graveyard, not whether any meddling replacement effects got in the way of the card actually winding up there. So depending on the card you choose, your opponent may be in for some ur-trouble!

Q: If my opponent destroys Oloro, Ageless Ascetic in response to its life-gain trigger in my upkeep, can I still pay to draw a card since abilities resolve even when the source is destroyed?

A: It depends on which trigger he's responding to. If you've gained the life and the pay-to-draw trigger is on the stack, then you'll still get to pay and draw a card. But if he's responding while the "gain 2 life" ability is on the stack, you'll just get the life. In that case, Oloro won't be on the battlefield when you gain the life, and so its other ability won't trigger from the life gain.

That's all for this week, thankfully, but be sure to check back next Monday for another delicious issue of Cranial Insertion!

- 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.

@Thopter Assembly + Reins of Power: Will that work? I thought Assembly\'s ability was a case of intervening if, meaning that since I no longer control any Thopter at all at the resolution of the ability, it fizzles?

Sorry if I\'m wrong :)
#1 • Date: 2013-12-02 • Time: 03:17:02 •
You're right that there's an intervening if, but the condition for Thopter Assembly's trigger is "if you control no Thopters other than Thopter Assembly", not "if you control Thopter Assembly and no other Thopters". It's subtle, but it makes for a big difference. If you don't control any Thopters at all then you definitely meet the condition as it's written, and the ability will resolve.
#2 • Date: 2013-12-04 • Time: 09:07:27 •

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