Published on 06/05/2017

School's Almost Over

or, Time For a Final Exam!

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 Information in this article may be out of date due to subsequent Oracle and/or rules changes.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

Let's see how much you've learned.
Greetings and welcome to another episode of Cranial Insertion! It's June now, which means that schools are wrapping up the school year and it's time for students to take their final exams. When I asked Moko whether I should give our readers a final exam he was a bit disappointed after I explained to him that "final" does not refer to the kind of finality he was hoping for, but he's still all for finding out which of our readers are the smartest.

In case you have test anxiety, fear not. Our exams are always open-book, and the only grade you'll receive is how much fun you have testing your own knowledge.

If you have questions you'd like us to answer, please email them to or tweet short questions to @CranialTweet. One of our authors will send a response to you, and your question might appear in a future article. We're here all year, including during Summer break.

And with that, welcome to your final exam. You have as much time as you need. Good luck!

Q: Let's say you control Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons and your opponent controls two creatures that have -1/-1 counters on them. If you use Contagion Engine to give each of those two creatures two more -1/-1 counters, how many Snake tokens do you get?

A: The choices are...

A: 0
B: 1
C: 2
D: 4
E: Snakes... why'd it have to be Snakes?

The answer is...

Hapatra's ability triggers for each creature every time one or more -1/-1 counters are put on it. Each proliferation happens separately, so there are two different times at which two creatures get one -1/-1 counter each, for a total of four triggers.

Q: Suppose Arya attacks with Watchful Naga, uses Relentless Assault, and then attacks with Watchful Naga again. Can she exert Watchful Naga both times? If so, what happens?

A: The choices are...

A: No, once a creature has been exerted, it can't be exerted again.
B: Yes. She draws one card and Watchful Naga doesn't untap on her next turn.
C: Yes. She draws two cards and Watchful Naga doesn't untap on her next turn.
D: Yes. She draws two cards and Watchful Naga doesn't untap on her next two turns.
E: This question is exhausting.

The answer is...

There is nothing that prevents an exerted creature from being exerted again, so yes, this is perfectly legal. Each time Arya exerts Watchful Naga, its card draw ability triggers, so she draws two cards. However, both "doesn't untap" effects change the rules for the untap step of her next turn. The second effect doesn't do anything that the first isn't already doing, so Watchful Naga only misses the next untap step rather than the next two.

Q: Which of these can be Disallowed?

A: The choices are...

A: The decision to exert Watchful Naga
B: Drawing a card with Watchful Naga
C: The lose-the-game part of Glorious End
D: Anointed Procession's token-doubling ability
E: Moko's craving for brains

The answer is...
B and C.

Disallow can target any spell or ability on the stack, so this comes down to figuring out which of the choices actually use the stack. Choosing to exert a creature just happens as you declare attackers, so it doesn't use the stack. However, a triggered ability that triggers when you exert a creature uses the stack, so that can be targeted with Disallow.

Glorious End creates a delayed triggered ability that triggers at the beginning of the next end step. That uses the stack, so once it has triggered at the beginning of the next end step, it can be Disallowed.

Anointed Procession has a static ability that creates a replacement effect. It doesn't use the stack, so it can't be Disallowed.

Bring it on!
Q: Which of these can get rid of an animated Gideon of the Trials that has 3 loyalty counters on it?

A: The choices are...

A: Certain Death
B: Combust
C: Dismember
D: Final Reward
E: Petty theft

The answer is...
B, C, or D.
While literally stealing your opponent's Gideon would get rid of it in some sense, that's against the law. Please don't break the law, and always respect your opponent's property!

Indestructible only protects from destruction, which are effects and rules that use the word "destroy". The only example of such an effect on the above list is Certain Death, which is very inaccurately named in this case.

Combust deals 5 points of unpreventable damage to Gideon, so Gideon has lethal damage on him, which does nothing because he's indestructible, but the damage also removes his loyalty counters. Since he's now a planeswalker without any loyalty counters on him, state-based actions send him to the graveyard. This is not destruction, so being indestructible doesn't help.

Dismember lowers Gideon's toughness to -1, which is below 0, so state-based actions send him to the graveyard. This isn't destruction either, so being indestructible doesn't help. Finally, Final Reward just sends him to the exile zone, which isn't destruction either.

Q: Suppose you control Mana Echoes and five Goblins, and you resolve Krenko's Command. What's the maximum amount of mana you can produce with Mana Echoes?

A: The choices are...

A: 10
B: 12
C: 13
D: 14
E: What happened to 11?

The answer is...

Each Goblin that enters the battlefield triggers Mana Echoes' ability, and the abilities resolve after the Goblins have entered the battlefield. This means that you control a total of seven Goblins when each ability resolves, so each resolution adds 7 colorless mana to your mana pool (if you so choose), for a total maximum of 14.

Q: Amanita controls a Blood Hound that has no +1/+1 counters on it and is enchanted with Battle Mastery, and attacks with it. Nomi declares no blockers, but casts two Deflecting Palms and chooses the Blood Hound as the source for both. In total, how much damage gets dealt to whom?

A: The choices are...

A: 2 damage to Amanita, 1 damage to Nomi.
B: 2 damage to Amanita, 3 damage to Nomi.
C: 5 damage to Amanita, no damage to Nomi.
D: 3 damage to Amanita, no damage to Nomi.
E: Who cares? I'm too bummed that Sense8 has been canceled.

The answer is...

Let's take this step by step. First off, there will be two combat damage steps because the Blood Hound has double strike. In the first combat damage step, the Hound assigns 1 damage to Nomi. However, when this damage gets dealt, Deflecting Palm's effect steps in and prevents the damage. There are actually two such effects that want to prevent the damage, but only one can apply. Nomi chooses one, but it doesn't matter which one she chooses. The damage is prevented, and then Deflecting Palm deals 1 damage to the Hound's controller, Amanita. This triggers the Hound's ability, so it now has a +1/+1 counter on it.

In the second combat damage step, the Hound assigns 2 damage to Nomi. The second Deflecting Palm effect kicks in now and prevents that damage, so 2 more damage is dealt to Amanita, for a total of 3 damage, and Nomi didn't get dealt any damage at all.

Q: How much does it cost to cast a Lightning Bolt with Jeleva, Nephalia's Scourge's ability if your opponent controls Trinisphere, Thorn of Amethyst, and Grand Arbiter Augustin IV?

A: The choices are...

E: Depends on the order in which Trinisphere, Thorn of Amethyst, and Grand Arbiter Augustin IV entered the battlefield.

The answer is...

To calculate the total cost of a spell, you start with its mana cost or alternative cost, then you add additional costs and cost increases, subtract cost reductions, and finally you check Trinisphere's effect. In this case we start with the alternative cost of "free" from Jeleva's ability, and then we add the two cost increases, which takes us to . That's less than three mana, so Trinisphere makes the cost , and that's the total cost you have to pay.

Only slightly less magical
than the Hogwarts Express
Q: Hermione controls March of the Machines, Neurok Transmuter, and an uncrewed Aradara Express enchanted with Burning Anger. She activates the Burning Anger ability, and in response she activates Neurok Transmuter's second ability targeting Aradara Express. How much damage does Aradara Express deal?

A: The choices are...

A: 0
B: 5
C: 8
D: 13
E: Help, there's smoke coming out of my ears!

The answer is...

That's right, for all that effort, the only damage that Hermione has done is to our brains. Due to how the layers work, activating Neurok Transmuter's ability on Aradara Express will remove all card types from Aradara Express. You can try to puzzle this out yourself, or just look at the Rulings for Neurok Transmuter in Gatherer. At any rate, since Aradara Express isn't a creature, it doesn't have a power, even though there's a power/toughness box printed on the card. The ability granted by Burning Anger resolves, asks Aradara Express for its power, gets an undefined answer, reads it as 0, and deals no damage.

Q: You control Sylvan Library and you have a Golgari Grave-Troll and Life from the Loam in your graveyard. If you draw normally for your turn and then use Sylvan Library's ability to dredge the Troll and Life from the Loam, how much life do you have to pay to keep all three cards in your hand?

A: The choices are...

A: 0
B: 4
C: 8
D: 12
E: Dredge decks aren't really Magic, so I refuse to answer your question.

The answer is...

First off, even though you ended up not actually drawing any cards off of Sylvan Library's ability, you chose the "yes, I want to draw two cards" option, so you have to execute the "if you do" bit. This means that you have to choose two cards in your hand that you drew this turn. However, only the card you drew normally is a card you drew this turn; the other two cards were put into your hand by other means. Therefore, you only choose the card you drew for your turn, and for that one card you choose whether to put it back or pay 4 life. In order to keep it, you have to pay 4 life. You don't have to pay any life to keep the dredged cards in your hand.

Q: Which of these can you have in a Commander deck with a red/blue commander?

A: The choices are...

A: Mardu Runemark
B: Elbrus, the Binding Blade
C: Phyrexian Altar
D: Duergar Cave-Guard
E: Question Elemental?

The answer is...
A and C. Maybe E.

The Commander deck construction rules use the concept of color identity, which looks at the colors of mana symbols in the card's mana cost and rules text and colors defined by characteristic defining abilities and color indicators. Mardu Runemark is fine because color identity doesn't care about the color words in its rules text. Phyrexian Altar is also fine because it says "one mana of any color" in its rules text rather than ", , , , or ", which would not be fine.

Elbrus's back face is black due its black color indicator, and both faces count for deck construction, so that one's out. Duergar Cave-Guard is only red and has only a red mana symbol in its cost, but it has a red/white mana symbol in its rules text, so its color identity is red and white.

Question Elemental? may be allowed depending on how your playgroup feels about silver-bordered cards. It has the right color identity, but by default the Commander format only uses cards that are legal in Vintage, which silver-bordered cards are not.

And you've made it. Congratulations! If you got all 10 questions right, you may issue yourself a Certificate of Achievement of your own design!

Thanks for participating, and please come back next week when Nathan takes a look at Commander Anthology!

-Carsten Haese

About the Author:
Carsten Haese is a former Level 2 judge based in Toledo, OH. He is retired from active judging, but he still writes for Cranial Insertion and helps organize an annual charity Magic tournament that benefits the National MS Society.

Actually, who controls the Blood Hound is Amanita, so she's the one that decides whether or not to add the +1/+1 counter after the first combat step. Is that right?
#1 • Date: 2017-06-05 • Time: 07:20:54 •
Quote (Filars):
Actually, who controls the Blood Hound is Amanita, so she's the one that decides whether or not to add the +1/+1 counter after the first combat step. Is that right?

You are correct, the ability is optional, so Amanita could have chosen not to put the counter on. The question implies that Amanita chose to put the counter on. Maybe she intended to Fling the Blood Hound at Nomi after combat :)
#2 • Date: 2017-06-05 • Time: 07:38:34 •
Wait, wouldn't you only add 12 mana? You have 7 goblins, but you only add for each creature that shares a type, so the two newest ones wouldn't count themselves. They'd each see 6 creatures they share a type with
#3 • Date: 2017-06-24 • Time: 15:28:06 •
Quote (HollowPoint82):
Wait, wouldn't you only add 12 mana? You have 7 goblins, but you only add for each creature that shares a type, so the two newest ones wouldn't count themselves. They'd each see 6 creatures they share a type with

If the newly entered creature has a creature type, as they do here, it shares a type with itself, so it counts itself.

See also the rulings in Gatherer: "You do get to count the creature itself, you even get one mana if it is the only creature you have on the battlefield (assuming it has at least one creature type)."
#4 • Date: 2017-06-25 • Time: 18:13:35 •

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