Published on 11/05/2018

Always Have a Fallback Plan

Cranial Translation
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The plan for dealing with evil twins?
No, I haven't seen anybody with a goatee yet.
Or anyone at all, come to think of it.
Hello, and welcome to another edition of Cranial Insertion! I have to admit, I'm a little out of sorts. I walked in the door this morning to find a note telling me to execute Cranial Insertion's fallback plan, but infuriatingly, whoever left the note never bothered to mention exactly which fallback plan they were talking about.

It can't be the zombie invasion fallback because there isn't a ravening horde of undead wiping out everything in their path at our doorstep. It can't be the plan to sell the staff fridge to the government as a biological weapon because Nate just cleared it just the other week by donating the contents to the local haunted house as their main attraction. And it can't be the plan to replace Moko with a singing animatronic bear because I heard some kids' restaurant is using that schtick already.

So what plan are they talking about?! And why is nobody else around, anyway? Everyone's usually in by now. I guess I'm doing this all on my own this week. As always, if you'd like to send us any rules questions, you can always do so by dropping us a line via email at , or on Twitter @CranialTweet. You'll get an answer and potentially see your question appear in a future article.

Q: Does Ashes of the Abhorrent stop jump-start?

A: Yes it does. Jump-start works by allowing you to cast the card it's on from your graveyard, but Ashes of the Abhorrent shuts down that kind of nonsense, forbidding players from casting spells from their graveyard, among other things.

Q: How does Geist of Saint Traft and Silent Arbiter work together?

A: Quite well. Silent Arbiter prevents players from declaring more than one creature as an attacker, and Geist of Saint Traft is only one creature, so you can attack with it alone. The Geist's ability will then create an Angel token to bring along to the fight, but the Arbiter doesn't care because you never tried to declare the Angel as an attacker—it just showed up already attacking.

Then, when the time comes for your opponent to declare blockers, your opponent is probably going to have to choose between blocking your Geist or blocking the Angel—Silent Arbiter says that only one creature can block, so so unless that creature's something like Avatar of Hope, only one of your creatures will get blocked.

Q: When does a player lose the game? Immediately upon reaching 0 or less life? Does the stack have to be empty?

A: Not quite immediately, but they definitely don't have to wait for the stack to empty either. If a player has 0 life, they will lose as soon as the game performs what's known as state-based actions.

In basic terms, any time the game gets into a state where something is somewhere it's not supposed to be any more, state-based actions are how the game corrects the situation and makes sure everything looks like it's supposed to and gets where it's supposed to go. For example, if your creature has damage on it greater than its toughness, state-based actions are what sends it off to the graveyard. If an Aura is on the battlefield without enchanting anything, state-based actions will clean that up too. And they're also what's responsible for making sure that players with 0 life lose the game.

State-based actions aren't checked during the resolution of spells and abilities, but they do get checked almost immediately afterwards, before any more spells or abilities can resolve and before any player has a chance to do anything. So if you Fireball your opponent in the face for lethal, your Fireball will finish resolving and go to the graveyard, and then will your opponent lose the game.

Q: If the first card turned over for Narset, Enlightened Master's ability is Enlightened Tutor, can I use it right away to put an artifact on top of library so my next card of the four is the card I searched for?

A: Definitely not. All the cards for Narset, Enlightened Master's ability are exiled at the same time, so by the time you have a chance to cast any of them, there's nothing you can do to change which cards get exiled because they've all already been exiled. If you want to alter the top few cards of your library to make sure you exile specific cards, you need to do so before Narset's ability starts to resolve at all.

The plan to blackmail MaRo into printing a third Un-set?
But we did that already...
Q: If you cast an Expansion on something, cast Expansion on the first Expansion, then counter the original spell leaving the stack as just two Expansions, does this draw the game?

A: No, it won't. While you can keep looping and copying Expansion as many (finite) times as you want, eventually you're going to have to stop, which you can do by deciding not to choose new targets for the copy you create. This leaves your copy with an illegal target (the spell that you countered earlier), so you don't get another copy of Expansion, and the loop breaks.

Q: Can you suspend an Ancestral Vision you got from your opponent with Gonti, Lord of Luxury?

A: Afraid not. Suspend only works while the card it's on is in your hand. Even though you have Gonti's permission to cast the Vision Gonti exiled, it's still not in your hand, so suspend won't work. And you can't cast it normally because you can't pay its nonexistent mana cost, so all in all it's a pretty useless gift Gonti's gotten for you.

Q: If I cast Gruesome Menagerie and only have one creature with 2CMC in my graveyard, can I choose not to return it?

A: Gruesome Menagerie says to choose a creature card with the appropriate mana cost, and it doesn't give you the option of refusing, so you must do so if possible. The only way to get out of it is to not have a creature card to return.

Q: If I Tormod's Crypt to get rid of a Creeping Chill with the trigger on the stack do I still lose life?

A: No, you won't. If Creeping Chill is no longer in the graveyard when its ability resolves, your opponent won't be able to exile it themselves, and therefore you won't take any damage.

Note, however, that you have to decide whether or not to use your Crypt before you know for certain whether or not your opponent is going to use the Chill's ability—they only have to make that choice as the ability's resolving, and if you wait until then it'll be too late to do anything.

Q: If I play Chance for Glory on an opponents turn would I get both a normal turn and an extra turn?

A: Unless you have some sort of trick up your sleeve you're only getting the one turn. If you play Chance for Glory during an opponent's turn, the extra turn it creates will be inserted into the turn order before your normal turn, not after, and Chance for Glory's delayed trigger will cause you to lose the game during that extra turn's end step. So you're probably not going to get two turns in a row.

Q: If I use Lazav, the Multifarious's ability to make him a Wall of Blood, use the ability to boost him, then change him to Blighted Agent, will he retain the boost?

A: He will indeed. Making Lazav, the Multifarious into a copy of some other creature card doesn't cause the effect from the already-resolved Wall of Blood ability to stop existing, it just changes the what Lazav looks like before that effect gets to work. The +1/+1 effect will continue to exist and boost Lazav until it expires in the cleanup step of the current turn, no matter what you copy.

Q: Do I get to draw cards for counters that go on Fathom Mage thanks to Master Biomancer?

A: You do indeed. When something refers to counters being "put" on something, that includes both counters being put on something that's already on the battlefield and something that's having counters put onto it as part of it entering the battlefield. As such, Fathom Mage will trigger for any counters it gets from Master Biomancer.

Q: ...So, does that mean Corpsejack Menace will double the counters on Skullbriar, the Walking Grave if Skullbriar already has some counters on it and is cast from the graveyard?

A: No. Skullbriar, the Walking Grave is a special case, because the counters on it aren't being put onto it as it's entering the battlefield; rather, it already has counters on it in the graveyard and it's bringing those counters with it as it changes zones.

As such, Corpsejack Menace won't see any counters being placed, so it won't apply to Skullbriar.

Q: If my indestructable creature is blocked by a first striker with more power than my creature's toughness, does my creature still deal regular damage?

A: It does indeed. A creature with indestructible basically continues on its merry way, ignoring any damage marked on it completely. It'll deal damage in combat just the same as if it didn't have any damage on it at all.

The plan to become a Pokemon Professor?
But I haven't kept up with the series after Generation IV.
Q: How does Crackling Drake interact with cards that are exiled face-down?

A: It basically doesn't. Cards that are exiled face-down effectively have no characteristics while face-down, so they can't contribute to the Drake's power, no matter what they would be if they were face-up.

Q: Is a creature considered to be an "attacking creature" during the end of combat step?

A: Once a creature attacks (or blocks), it will remain an attacking (or blocking) creature for the rest of the combat phase unless something specifically removes it from combat. The end of combat step is part of the combat phase, so attacking creatures will still be considered attacking creatures during it.

Q: Does Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker becoming a Dragon cause Lathliss, Dragon Queen's ability to trigger?

A: No, it doesn't. While Sarkhan is becoming a Dragon, he isn't entering the battlefield—he was already on the battlefield. Lathliss only cares about Dragons entering the battlefield, not puny humans already on the battlefield putting on a dragon costume, no matter how much time and mana they put into their cosplay outfit.

Q: If I Twincast my opponent's Nexus of Fate, do I still shuffle my library even though the copy ceases to exist?

A: You do indeed. Your Nexus copy may be about to cease to exist almost as soon as it arrives in your library, but the game doesn't particularly care about that—it needs you to shuffle it in, so shuffle it in you must.

(Of course, for the sake of your cards I wouldn't recommend actually trying to literally shuffle the die or coin or ham sandwich you're using to physically represent the copy, if any, into your library—shuffling your library and getting rid of the physical representation is good enough. No reason to risk getting mustard on your cards, even if they are sleeved.)

Q: My friend is saying my Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle can't damage planeswalkers because it's the old printing that specifies player or creature. Is that true?

A: Not by a long shot. As far as the normal rules of the game are concerned, it never makes a difference which specific version of a card you're using. One Valakut is the same as any other, and all of them act as Valakut's Oracle text in Wizards' Gatherer database describes. That means they can indeed still hit planeswalkers, even if the physical piece of cardboard you happen to be using at the moment doesn't say so.

When playing with older cards, it's always useful to check those cards' Oracle wording to make sure you're working with the correct text for those cards.

Q: When does Transcendence's "you lose the game" ability happen?

A: Transcendence's lose-the-game ability is what's known as a state-trigger. That means that as soon as the game state matches the condition it lists—so as soon as you have 20 or more life—that ability triggers, and will be put onto the stack once the currently-resolving spell or ability, if any, is finished. There it will sit just like any other trigger, waiting to resolve, and once it does, you'll have lost the game.

...Well, or you could counter the ability before it resolves with Stifle or the like, but that's not going to help you very much because as soon as the ability has left the stack, if the game state still matches Transcendence's trigger condition, it will trigger again. And if you get rid of that one, it'll trigger again, and again and again and again until either you run out of ways to stop it or you manage to lose enough life to no longer trigger it.

Q: What's the ruling with takebacks and mana? If you're casting a spell and realize you can't actually do that, you have to back up, but do the lands stay tapped and the mana stay in your pool?

A: Generally not. While what exactly happens when something illegal has occurred and the game needs to be backed up depends on what environment you're playing in and the exact situation, it's usually not going to involve any lands that were tapped in order to cast the spell staying tapped, nor mana staying floating in the mana pool.

In a tournament setting, call for a judge and they can apply the fix that's appropriate for the situation at hand. If that fix involves lands staying tapped, they'll tell you why.

Q: I know I can ask a judge for the oracle text of a card. If I don't remember the specific card, can I ask a judge for the text of all cards with a certain characteristic? If I don't remember the name of the card that combos with Vizier of Remedies, can I ask a judge for the oracle text of all cards that are green elves with "tap: add one green"?

A: No. While you can request the Oracle text of any specific card you can uniquely identify (usually by name), you're not allowed to use a judge as a makeshift search engine to figure out what cards you might need to care about if you don't already know them.

Note, however, that what you need to be able to do is uniquely identify the card you're looking for, not remember its specific name, so if you know enough about the card that you could find it in a Gatherer search you probably know enough about it to uniquely identify it to a Judge. "The elf that taps for mana that you can put -1/-1 counters on to untap", for example, is sufficient to uniquely identify Devoted Druid.

Seriously, where is everybody? It's been almost an hour since I got here and...wait.


- 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.


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