Published on 07/10/2017

Counting the Hours

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 Information in this article may be out of date due to subsequent Oracle and/or rules changes.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

There is no running.
There is no hiding.
There is only Bolas.
Hello and welcome to...YOUR DOOM! And also another exciting edition of Cranial Insertion, but mostly YOUR DOOM! Turns out the guy who hangs around the intersection down the street wearing a "The End Is Nigh!" sandwich board and holding a "Repent!" sign was right after all. Though I don't think he was right about the kind of apocalypse we're facing—I'm betting Nicol Bolas doesn't care one whit about our repentance or lack thereof.

I wasn't even going to bother writing an article this week—after all, you only have this one short week to play the cards after the prerelease before Hour of Devastation truly arrives, and like us you'll probably be too busy falling to your knees, tearing locusts out of your hair, getting murdered, and having your corpse turned into a horrific undead mockery of your former existence to play much Magic. But there's comfort in routine, and I suppose we all could use a little of that to take our minds off of our inevitable gruesome demises until Nicol Bolas gets around to wiping us personally out of existence.

As always, you can send us your Magic rules questions via email at , or via Twitter @CranialTweet. Depending on when you send them I can't guarantee that we'll be able to read them before we're all dead, but if we do and we're not too busy writhing in agony we'll send you an answer. I'd tell you your question could appear in a future article, too, but that's going to be a hard trick to manage when the world's going to end this Friday.

But enough about that. Onwards!

Q: I know +1/+1 counters and -1/-1 counters cancel out, so does that mean if I use The Scorpion God to put a -1/-1 counter on my opponent's Simic Initiate, I won't draw, since the counter was cancelled out?

A: No, you'll still draw a card. Each time a creature dies, The Scorpion God's ability determines whether or not it should trigger by looking back at what the creature looked like on the battlefield to see if it had a -1/-1 counter on it.

Creatures dying for having 0 toughness and +1/+1 and -1/-1 counters annihilating each other are both state-based actions, so after your counter was put on Simic Initiate, there were two applicable SBAs the game needed to perform. Both actions were processed simultaneously, so the Initiate went from being on the battlefield with counters on it to being in the graveyard with no counters in sight

This means that when The Scorpion God's ability comes calling to see if it should trigger, it'll see that the Initiate did indeed have a counter on it before it left the battlefield, and trigger accordingly.

Q: Will Skullcrack stop Oketra's Last Mercy from resetting my opponent's life total?

A: Indeed it will—when a player's life total is set to a number, they gain (or lose) the appropriate amount to reach that number. Skullcrack will stop your opponent from gaining life, so her life total won't increase at all.

Q: ...How about Saving Grace? Skullcrack stops Saving Grace from preventing damage too, doesn't it?

A: Sadly for Skullcrack, Saving Grace doesn't prevent damage, so Skullcrack can't stop it. Saving Grace works by causing things to deal their damage to something other than what they were originally going to deal it to, which isn't the same thing.

It's probably important to note here that while Skullcrack doesn't help much against Saving Grace in particular, there are other superficially similar cards that Skullcrack will stop, because they do things ever so slightly differently than Saving Grace does. For example, Deflecting Palm also appears to "redirect" damage, but it does in a different manner than Saving Grace, by preventing the original damage and then dealing some of its own to match the amount it prevented—Skullcrack works there because it stops the prevention part, which then means Deflecting Palm won't deal damage of its own, because it didn't prevent any.

Q: What happens if Saving Grace leaves the battlefield the turn it comes out? What about if the creature it enchants leaves?

A: The Grace disappearing won't mean a lot—the creature it used to be enchanting loses the +0/+3 bonus, but not a lot else. The damage-redirection effect set up by the Grace's enters-the-battlefield ability doesn't say it cares about whether or not the Grace sticks around, so it doesn't. If the Grace is gone, it'll continue redirecting damage to whichever creature the Grace was attached to immediately before it left.

If the creature it enchants leaves, that's a different story. Now, there's no longer an "enchanted creature" for the Grace's effect to redirect damage to, and redirecting damage to something that doesn't exist doesn't work—the redirection simply fails, and the damage is dealt where it was originally supposed to be dealt without issue.

Q: How does Neheb, the Eternal's ability work with cards like Relentless Assault that give me more main phases?

A: Quite well, assuming you've managed to bring down your opponent's life total at some point.

The first main phase on your turn is your "precombat main phase", and all other main phases—including any extra ones granted by effects like Relentless Assault—are "postcombat main phases". Neheb, the Eternal doesn't say anything about caring whether or not you've already gone through a postcombat main phase this turn, so it's going to trigger at the beginning of every single one of them, and give you mana each time.

No home, no heart, no hope.
Q: Solemnity says counters can't be "put" on things. Does this also affect cards that enter the battlefield with counters?

A: Indeed it does; when something refers to counters being "put" on something, it means both putting counters on something that's already on the battlefield or putting them on it as it enters the battlefield.

Q: ...So Thing in the Ice would enter without any ice counters. Would it transform immediately, then?

A: No, you'll need to cast an instant or sorcery spell first. Just having no counters isn't enough to make Thing in the Ice transform, because the number of counters it has is only ever checked when its triggered ability is resolving, and only at that time will it transform.

Q: ...So if things enter without counters, how does Solemnity work with things that have Vanishing?

A: Very well indeed, as long as they enter the battlefield after Solemnity itself.

Vanishing forces you to sacrifice the permanent it's on when "the last time counter is removed", meaning when that permanent goes from having one or more time counters on it to having none. But Solemnity means it would never have any time counters to begin with, and you can never remove "the last time counter" if there aren't any to remove in the first place. So you'll never have to sacrifice your permanent.

Q: ...So Force Bubble plus Solemnity prevents all damage to you forever?

A: Technically it's not "preventing" the damage (so like with Saving Grace, Skullcrack doesn't stop it), but yes. Force Bubble instructs you to replace all damage that would be dealt to you with putting counters on the Bubble instead. Thanks to Solemnity, it's not possible for you to actually place those counters, but the Bubble doesn't care whether or not it's possible for you to carry out the instructions it's affecting.

Q: How does Solemnity interact with tribute cards like Fanatic of Xenagos? Can my opponent still pay tribute even though the counters won't be placed?

A: No, they cannot—your opponent cannot pay tribute as long as Solemnity's on the battlefield.

Like Force Bubble, Tribute uses a replacement effect, replacing "this enters the battlefield" with "this enters the battlefield and your opponent may put counters on it". But that "may" there is important—it means your opponent has a choice. Either they can choose to put counters on your creature, or they can choose not to do so, but because of Solemnity, putting counters on your creature is impossible. And when given the choice, players are not allowed to choose to perform impossible actions.

Since putting counters on your creature is impossible, your opponent is left with only one possible option: don't pay the tribute, and let your creature enter without counters. So that's what they have to do.

Q: If I use The Scarab God to eternalize a creature with a power and toughness of */* (like Crusader of Odric), will it be a 4/4, or does the ability that sets the creature's power and toughness overwrite that?

A: It'll be a 4/4. If an effect copies a card except for certain characteristics (like power and toughness), it ignores not just the values for those characteristics that are printed on the card directly, but it also ignores any characteristic-defining abilities the card has that would normally define those characteristics, so a Scarab-God-"eternalized" Crusader of Odric or Tarmogoyf would have no abilities at all!

Q: What happens if I cast Torment of Hailfire for X=0?

A: Nothing at all. Well, okay, if you want to be picky you wait for responses and then the spell resolves and goes to your graveyard, but it doesn't actually do anything while it's resolving.

Unlike other cards that tell you to do something, and then tell you to do that thing again some number of times, Torment of Hailfire tells you up front how many times you're supposed to carry out its instructions, before you do anything at all. If X is zero, you'll be told to follow the Torment's instructions exactly zero times...which is of course no times at all.

Q: My Obelisk Spider is blocked by a 1-toughness creature. Do I still get to drain my opponent?

A: You do not. Your opponent's creature will receive a lethal 1 damage in combat, and will die almost immediately. The Spider's "put-a-counter" ability will trigger, but when it resolves it won't be able to do anything, since the creature it wants to put a counter on isn't on the battlefield any more. And since the counter never gets put on the creature, the Spider's other ability won't trigger.

"Through the haze of destruction I saw the
glint of sun on golden horn, the sheen of glory
clad in scale, and I dropped my sword and wept
at the idiocy of resistance."
—Tekret, former dissenter, current Eternal
Q: Overwhelming Splendor. Just...Overwhelming Splendor. Huh?

A: At a very basic level, if you're enchanted by Overwhelming Splendor, the game behaves pretty much as though every creature on the battlefield that you control has a blank text box printed on it, and has the numbers 1 / 1 printed in the power/toughness box. Overwhelming Splendor will also wipe out any abilities granted by effects that predate you being cursed with it. And then things function normally from there—anything that modifies your creature's power or toughness will be applied over top of the Splendor's effect, and anything that grants them abilities at some later time functions normally.

There are only a few exceptions, for a creature's static abilities (ones that don't include a colon ( : ) or use "when", "whenever" or "at") that alter something's card types, supertypes or subtypes (Realmwright, Stormtide Leviathan's ability that makes things Islands) or change something's color(s) (Painter's Servant).* But in the vast majority of cases, that's how it works.

*And Volrath's Shapeshifter, because it's a terrible card that works terribly and I won't get into it here.

Q: ...So what happens with Clones or cards that enter with counters like Walking Ballista?

A: Those abilities apply as normal, because they're applied as the card enters the battlefield, before they come under the Splendor's sway. The choice of what you Clone may not mean much as long as the Splendor's still around, but you do still choose something to copy, but the number of +1/+1 counters on your Ballista will definitely be important, since those will apply over top of the Splendor's effect.

Q: ...And what does it do with non-creatures that have been animated somehow, like Hostile Desert or Heart of Kiran?

A: Once something becomes a creature, Overwhelming Splendor will start to apply to it, which will wipe out any abilities printed on it (with the exceptions noted above). But if the effect animating it grants it any abilities, those will all apply over top of the Splendor, since they're from a more recent effect.

Crewed vehicles will be 1/1s, since their printed power and toughness will get overwritten by the Splendor, but anything that gets animated some other way will have its power and toughness set by the effect animating it, which applies over top of the Splendor.

Keep in mind that your opponent cannot activate these non-mana non-loyalty abilities normally due to the second ability on the Splendor.

Q: I cast Hazoret's Undying Fury and exile an aftermath card like Appeal // Authority—can I use the Fury's effect to cast both Appeal, and then also Authority once it goes to the graveyard?

A: No, you can't. You only get one shot to cast the cards you exiled with Hazoret's Undying Fury, while it's resolving, and the Fury only has you cast them, not resolve them. Like any normal spell, those cards are placed onto the stack, and will only resolve after every player has a chance to respond.

By the time Appeal gets to your graveyard where Aftermath allows you to cast its Authority half, Hazoret's Undying Fury has long since finished resolving and gone to the graveyard itself—you're not going to get a free shot at casting Authority.

Q: So in a spell's cost is whatever you pay for it, what does it mean when there's two of them like on Hour of Eternity?

A: It means your initial assumption is slightly incorrect. An in a spell's mana cost isn't set by what you pay—instead, you decide what you want X to be, and then proceed from there. So when you cast a single-X spell like Blaze, you first decide what you want X to be (let's say you choose 5), then you calculate how much the spell will cost with an X of that value. = , so the resulting cost is + = . You pay , and you're done.

With a double-X spell, it's the same process. First, decide what you want X to be (let's say 1), then calculate the resulting cost. = , so + + = . So casting Hour of Eternity with an X of 1 costs ; casting it with an X of 2 would cost , casting it with an X of 3 would cost , and so on and so forth.

Q: When does Imminent Doom check the cost of my spells? What happens if I respond to the trigger with more spells—how much damage does it deal?

A: Imminent Doom never cares about how many counters it has on it when its trigger resolves—it only cares about the number of counters it has as you finish casting your spells. Any time you finish casting a spell, if that spell's converted mana cost matches the number of counters that are on Imminent Doom at that very moment, Imminent Doom triggers, and the amount of damage that trigger will deal is that same number.

To give an example, this means that with two counters on Imminent Doom, you can cast a two-mana spell (triggering the Doom), then respond to that trigger with another two-mana spell (triggering it again, because the Doom still has only two counters on it). The second trigger will resolve, deal 2 damage, and put a counter on the Doom. Then, the first trigger will resolve, also dealing 2 damage, and you'll put a second counter on the Doom. End result: 4 damage dealt, four counters on the Doom.

Q: If I want to use God-Pharaoh's Gift, can my opponent get rid of the creature I'm exiling to stop it from working?

A: You don't decide whether or not to use God-Pharaoh's Gift's ability—or what to exile with it—until the ability is in the process of resolving, at which point it's too late for anyone to interfere. By the time they know what you're exiling and have a chance to do things, the ability is already finished resolving, the card you chose is exiled, and you have your token.

If your opponent wants to interfere with your generous gifts, they need to do so in response to the trigger, before they know what you want to exile, or even whether or not you want to use the ability at all. Jumping the gun and revealing your plans early won't make them miss their chance, but they definitely can't try to wait you out and see what you do before deciding what they want to do themselves.

And that's all we have for this week...and, well, for ever, because I think I hear the wailing of a thousand-strong chorus of the dying approaching, so Nicol Bolas must be on his way to the Cranial Insertion offices. It was a pleasure knowing all of y—Moko, wait, what do you mean, I'm a planeswalker? Of course I'm a....



- Callum Milne

About the Author:
Callum Milne is a Level 2 judge from British Columbia, Canada. His home range is Vancouver Island, but he can be found in the wild throughout BC and also at GPs all along the west coast of North America.

In regards to the question about God-Pharaoh's Gift, it's worth pointing out that your opponent can't exile the creature in response because the ability doesn't require a target. If it did, then they could exile the target while the ability is on the stack, when they receive priority.
#1 • Date: 2017-07-11 • Time: 14:53:15 •

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