Published on 07/24/2017

Hour of Relaxation

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 Information in this article may be out of date due to subsequent Oracle and/or rules changes.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

Yeah, we're gonna be so cool
Twisting by the pool
Greetings, and welcome back to another issue of Cranial Insertion! Summer is here with a vengeance, and my yard is starting to look like the deserts of Amonkhet. This is a good time to seek refuge by a swimming pool or maybe in an air-conditioned room, relax, and answer some Magic rules questions.

If you have questions you want us to answer, please email them to or tweet short questions to @CranialTweet. As always, one of our writers will reply to you, and your question might appear in a future issue alongside an awful pun or obscure pop culture reference.

Now, let's grab a chilled beverage and dive into this week's refreshing selection of rules questions!

Q: Let's say I can't lose the game thanks to Gideon of the Trials and his emblem. If my life total is -2, is my Death's Shadow 13/13 or 15/15?

A: Until recently, the answer would have been 15/15, but the rules governing this interaction have changed with the Hour of Devastation rules update. Now, Death's Shadow's ability treats a negative life total as if it were 0, so it won't get any bigger than 13/13.

Q: If I cast Hunted Horror off of Yahenni's Expertise, do the Centaur tokens die right away?

A: Nope. The -3/-3 effect from Yahenni's Expertise only affects creatures that are on the battlefield at the moment Yahenni's Expertise starts to resolve. Several things have to happen before the Centaur tokens come into existence: You cast Hunted Horror, which means you put it on the stack. When there are no responses, Hunted Horror resolves, and its enter the battlefield ability goes on the stack. When there are no responses to that, the ETB ability resolves and the tokens are created, way too late for the -3/-3 effect to bother them.

Q: I control Hardened Scales and I use Savage Summoning to flash in a Hangarback Walker with X=1. How many counters do I put on the Walker?

A: You'll put three counters on it. Hangarback Walker, Hardened Scales, and Savage Summoning each create replacement effects, and a replacement effect can only apply once to a given event. The event is "Hangarback Walker is entering the battlefield." Regardless of the order in which you apply the replacement effects, Hangarback Walker will get one counter from its own ability, one counter from the Summoning, and one counter from the Scales, for a total of three counters. The Scales will only apply once, not twice, because it can only apply to the event of the Walker entering the battlefield once.

Q: Can I use Hex Parasite for X=0 to destroy a creature without any counters with Horobi, Death's Wail?

A: Sure. Hex Parasite's ability can target a creature regardless of whether there are any counters on it, and there's no reason why you can't choose X=0. Once you target the creature with Hex Parasite's ability, Horobi's ability kicks in and destroys the creature, and Hex Parasite's ability is countered on resolution.

Q: My opponent controls a Chalice of the Void with two counters. I want to destroy it with By Force for X=2 so that the Chalice doesn't counter it, but the Chalice is the only artifact on the battlefield. Can I do that?

A: No, that's not legal. If you choose X=2, By Force needs two separate targets. You can't target the same thing twice. The only legal way to cast By Force in this situation is for X=1, but then the Chalice will counter it.

Q: If I reveal Bramblewood Paragon and Joraga Warcaller with Genesis Wave, does Joraga Warcaller get a counter from Bramblewood Paragon?

A: Nope. Bramblewood Paragon creates a replacement effect, but only while it's on the battlefield. In other words, it already has to be on the battlefield for its ability to do anything. Genesis Wave puts both Bramblewood Paragon and Joraga Warcaller onto the battlefield at the same time, so the Paragon's replacement effect isn't in place to affect the Warcaller.

Q: If I return Dread Wanderer to the battlefield with its activated ability, does it enter the battlefield tapped?

A: Yes. Dread Wanderer's ability applies regardless of why or from where it's entering the battlefield.

I solemnly swear that I am up to no good
Q: Does Solemnity make Wall of Roots really awesome?

A: Not really. Solemnity turns Wall of Roots into a 0/5 defender that can't produce mana, which isn't all that awesome. The problem is that Solemnity turns the cost for Wall of Roots' ability into an impossible action. While an impossible action in the effect of a spell or ability is simply ignored, an impossible action in a cost means that you can't pay the cost, which means that you can't activate the ability.

Q: If Hangarback Walker takes lethal damage from a creature with infect, does it still make Thopter tokens?

A: It does! After combat damage has been dealt, state-based actions are checked, and the game sees two conditions for state-based actions that need to be addressed: There are a bunch of counters on Hangarback Walker that need to cancel each other out, and Hangarback Walker has toughness 0 or less. The resulting actions are taken at the same time, so Hangarback Walker goes directly from being on the battlefield with some number of +1/+1 counters (and also a number of -1/-1 counters) to being in the graveyard without counters, without an intermediate game state in between. When the dies ability looks back in time to what the Walker looked like before the event that triggered it, it sees the Walker with its +1/+1 counters, so it makes that many Thopters.

Q: I target my opponent with Fateful Showdown and I have enough cards in my hand to deal lethal damage to her and also to deck myself. What happens?

A: The game is a draw. While it's true that your opponent's life total goes to 0 or less before you deck yourself and draw from an empty library, neither of this matters until the game checks state-based actions after Fateful Showdown has completely finished. As in the previous question, all applicable state-based actions happen at the same time, so both you and your opponent lose the game at the same time, which means that the game is a draw.

Q: Can I deal arbitrary amounts of damage with Unearth, Dualcaster Mage, and Goblin Bombardment?

A: Yes, that works, given the right starting conditions, and assuming that your opponent doesn't interfere with your evil plan. You need to have Goblin Bombardment on the battlefield, Dualcaster Mage and Unearth in your hand, a random creature card with converted mana cost 3 or less in your graveyard, and enough mana to cast Unearth and Dualcaster Mage.

You start off by casting Unearth targeting the random creature card. Then, you cast Dualcaster Mage in response to this Unearth. Dualcaster Mage enters the battlefield, so you put its enter-the-battlefield ability on the stack, targeting the original Unearth. Make a mental note of this game state, because you'll see it again in a bit.

Before you let the ETB ability resolve, you respond by sacrificing Dualcaster Mage to Goblin Bombardment for 1 damage. Let that resolve, and then let Dualcaster Mage's ability resolve, which works because the ability on the stack is independent from its source. The ability now makes a copy of Unearth, and you change its target to the Dualcaster Mage that just arrived in the graveyard.

The copy of Unearth resolves and puts Dualcaster Mage back on the battlefield, so you put its enter-the-battlefield ability on the stack targeting the original Unearth. You have now returned to the game state I pointed out above, except that you've dealt a bit of damage along the way. Lather, rinse, repeat as needed.

Q: My opponent controls Walking Ballista with four counters, and she removes all four counters at once to activate its damage ability four times in a row. She announced that she's holding priority, so all four activations are on the stack and Walking Ballista is dead by the time she passes priority to me. Can I still respond with Samite Ministration to prevent the damage even though the Ballista is dead now?

A: Yes. When Samite Ministration resolves, it asks you to choose a source of damage, which offers a broad range of options. Often, the source of damage is a permanent, but it doesn't have to be. You can also choose any object that is referred to by an object on the stack. Walking Ballista's ability is an object on the stack, and it refers to the Walking Ballista as it existed on the battlefield, so you can choose that as the source whose damage gets prevented.

Q: Is Voltaic Brawler's second ability an activated ability or a triggered ability?

A: It's a triggered ability, despite the fact that you have to pay a cost to get its effect. Activated abilities are written in the form "[cost] : [effect]", while triggered abilities use the words "when," "whenever," or "at." Voltaic Brawler's ability triggers once each time it attacks, and when the ability resolves, you can pay either or nothing. You can't pay multiple times for a single attack to get a bigger bonus.

Q: My opponent has a 1/1 creature with seven +1/+1 counters on it, and I enchant it with Darksteel Mutation. Is it a 0/1 or 7/8 now?

A: I'm afraid it's an indestructible 7/8, which might not be a lot easier to deal with than what it was before. Darksteel Mutation sets the creature's base power and toughness to 0/1, which means that any power/toughness modifying effects such as from counters still get applied on top of that.

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick...
Q: Can I use Nimble Obstructionist to counter the lose-the-game trigger from Glorious End?

A: Only if you want to help your opponent by countering their lose-the-game trigger. If you're talking about a Glorious End that you cast yourself, Nimble Obstructionist can't help you. Since you cast Glorious End, you control Glorious End, so you control the delayed trigger that gets created by it, and Nimble Obstructionist can only counter an ability that you don't control.

Q: Can my opponent still kill me with the Mikaeus, the Unhallowed/Triskelion combo if I control Gisela, Blade of Goldnight?

A: No, Gisela ends up saving your life in that situation. The combo is based on dealing 1 damage to you many times over, but each time that happens, Gisela steps in and prevents half that damage, rounded up. Half of 1 damage, rounded up, is 1 damage, so Gisela prevents all the damage each time, so none of it gets through to you regardless of how often your opponent repeats the combo.

Q: If I use Door to Nothingness to eliminate a player from a multiplayer game, does Glissa, the Traitor's ability trigger for that player's creatures?

A: No, it doesn't work that way. When a player leaves the game, the creatures he or she controlled don't die. The creatures that the player owns simply leave the game along with the player, and creatures that are owned by other players get exiled or return to other controllers depending on how the departing player came to control them. Under no circumstances do any of those creatures go to the graveyard, so Glissa's ability doesn't trigger at all.

Q: How does making a copy of Torment of Scarabs with Mirage Mirror work?

A: Not well at all. Unlike "enchantment clones" such as Copy Enchantment which can enter the battlefield as a copy, which allows you to choose something to attach it to when you copy an Aura, Mirage Mirror becomes a copy while it's already on the battlefield. Nothing about that process allows you to attach Mirage Mirror to a player, so after the ability has resolved, the game sees an unattached Aura on the battlefield and puts it into the graveyard.

Q: My opponent attacks with a creature with deathtouch and I block it with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. Before damage, I tap Jace which causes him to transform. Does Jace, Telepath Unbound die?

A: No. Unlike most double-faced cards which simply transform, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy doesn't transform. He gets exiled, and then comes back onto the battlefield transformed. At the moment Jace leaves the battlefield, he stops blocking the attacker. He comes back as a new object that isn't blocking the attacker. The attacker is still blocked, but no creature is blocking it, so its combat damage isn't getting dealt anywhere since it doesn't have trample.

And that's it for this week. Thanks for reading, and please come back next week for another edition of Cranial Insertion.

- 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.

What if I don\'t have another creature to sacrifice to Goblin Bombardment? Would it be possible to sacrifice Dualcaster Mage (on the battlefield) to Goblin Bombardment\'s ability, bring it back with Unearth (from my hand) and then start the loop?
#1 • Date: 2017-07-24 • Time: 05:13:22 •
If you use the Unearth in your hand to bring back Dualcaster Mage, that means the Unearth will already be fully resolved and in the graveyard when it's time to choose a target for the Mage's ability. That ability can only target a spell that's still on the stack.
#2 • Date: 2017-07-24 • Time: 12:28:26 •

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