Published on 10/10/2011

The Kessig Trepanation Blade Massacre

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 Information in this article may be out of date due to subsequent Oracle and/or rules changes.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

AAAAH! Oh, it's you, what a relief. Welcome to another issue of Cranial Insertion. I'm sorry for being a bit on edge, but the release of Innistrad has made me quite nervous. I'm not a big fan of horror stories, and I am hoping that Wizards of the Coast will follow up the sequential horrors of Rise of the Eldrazi, Scars of Mirrodin, and Innistrad with a block theme that focuses on kittens and unicorns. Nevertheless, the top-down designs of Innistrad are a blast to play with, and I had a lot of fun at the prerelease, except in that one game in which my opponent systematically mutilated my library with a Trepanation Blade. That was about as amusing as being hacked up with a chainsaw. On the other hand, I produced a couple of explosive blowouts with my bomb, Bloodline Keeper. I guess I am as much Timmy as I am Melvin.

Of course, apart from fun the cards in Innistrad also produce lots of rules questions, and we are here to answer them. Please help distract our zombified mail-sorting chimp from his hunger for brrraaaiiinnnsss! by emailing your questions to or tweeting them to @CranialTweet. As always, we'll email or tweet back an answer, and your question might appear in a future issue.

Q: My opponent controls an Invisible Stalker and managed to get two Trepanation Blades onto it. What happens when the Stalker attacks?

A: Ouch! Each Blade's ability triggers and resolves independently, so you'll mill cards from your library until you hit a land, the Stalker gets bigger, and then you do it again and the Stalker gets even bigger. Unless you're lucky enough to have big land pockets in your library, the Stalker will cut huge chunks out of your life total in very short order.

Q: My Abattoir Ghoul is getting blocked by a Voiceless Spirit, so they trade in combat. Does the Ghoul's ability trigger and gain me 1 life?

A: Yup! The Ghoul's ability is a "dies" trigger, which triggers based on the game state right before the Spirit died. At that point in time, the Ghoul was still alive, or rather undead, so its ability is able to trigger. In slightly less technical terms, creatures that die at the same time see each other dying.

Q: If I hit my opponent with Bump in the Night and then cast a Furyborn Hellkite, does the Hellkite get +1/+1 counters from bloodthirst?

A: Nope, sorry. Bloodthirsty creatures care about your opponent being dealt damage, which Bump in the Night didn't do. It made your opponent lose life, but it did so without dealing damage to him. While damage to a player usually causes that player to lose life, straight up life loss is not the same as damage, and bloodthirsty creatures are really picky about that difference.

Q: If Grimoire of the Dead brings back Mikaeus, the Lunarch and Morkrut Banshee, does Mikaeus die from being 0/0 quickly enough to enable the Banshee's morbid ability?

A: No, it won't. Grimoire of the Dead puts Mikaeus and the Banshee onto the battlefield at the same time, and the Banshee checks right at that moment whether any creatures have died. Since no creatures have died yet, the ability doesn't trigger at all. The fact that Mikaeus dies shortly thereafter doesn't matter to the Banshee.

Q: Let's say I have an Unbreathing Horde and five other Zombie cards in my graveyard, and my opponent has four creature cards in his graveyard. I control no creatures, but I control a Grimoire of the Dead that has three study counters on it. If I pop the Grimoire to get a bunch of Zombies, how many +1/+1 counters does the Horde get?

A: It'll get six counters. The counters come from a replacement effect that changes how Unbreathing Horde enters the battlefield, which must be applied before Unbreathing Horde enters the battlefield. At that time, you control no Zombies, so the Horde only gets counters for the six Zombie cards that in your graveyard at that time, including the Horde itself.

Q: If I give Black Sun's Zenith flashback with Snapcaster Mage, am I allowed to cast it with an X that's greater than 0?

A: Sure! The rule that forces X to be 0 when a spell with X in its mana cost is cast for an alternative cost only applies if there is no X in the alternative cost. Since the flashback cost is the same as the mana cost, it includes X, so you can choose any X you can afford to pay for.

Q: Awesome! So, after I flashback Black Sun's Zenith, where does it go when it's done resolving?

A: Straight into exile! Casting a spell with flashback sets up a replacement effect that sends the card into exile if it tries to leave the stack for any other zone. This replacement effect kicks in when the Zenith tries to shuffle itself into its owner's library, so the Zenith gets exiled instead. Also note that you don't shuffle your library in this case:

701.16d If an effect would cause a player to shuffle one or more specific objects into a library, and a replacement or prevention effect causes all such objects to be moved to another zone instead, that library isn't shuffled.

Dis member or dat member?
I think I'll take off all de members!
Q: So, I've heard that a Force of Will that has flashback due to Snapcaster Mage can't be flashed back for its alternative cost, but Dismember can be flashed back for and 4 life. Is that true? If so, why?

A: Yes, that's true. Snapcaster Mage sets the flashback cost equal to the mana cost, and Force of Will's mana cost is . This alternative cost can't be combined with Force of Will's alternative cost, and there's only one way to pay the cost of . Dismember's mana cost, on the other hand, is , and there are three different ways to pay this mana cost: , and 2 life, or and 4 life.

Q: Can I flashback Ancestral Vision for free with Snapcaster Mage?

A: Nope. Snapcaster Mage is good, but not that good. Ancestral Vision's mana cost is "this space intentionally left blank," which represents an unpayable cost, and that's what the flashback cost becomes. Since the flashback cost is unpayable, giving Ancestral Vision flashback with Snapcaster Mage is pointless.

Q: My opponent attacks me with Skinshifter and I block it with Grave Titan. Now, my opponent turns it into a Bird. What happens?

A: Nothing out of the ordinary happens, and your Grave Titan eats your opponent's Skinshifter for lunch. The set of blockers is only checked for legality right when it's declared. After that point, any effects that would have kept a creature from blocking the attacker do nothing. In order to make it go through unblocked, your opponent would have had to turn his Skinshifter into a Bird before you blocked it.

Q: Let's say I control a Tombstone Stairwell and an Endless Ranks of the Dead on an otherwise empty battlefield, and I have six creature cards in my graveyard. Can I stack my upkeep triggers so that I get three zombie tokens from the Endless Ranks of the Dead?

A: Sure, that works. The triggered ability of Endless Ranks of the Dead only counts on resolution how many Zombies you control at that time. If you let Tombstone Stairwell's ability resolve first, you'll control six fresh Zombies then.

Q: What happens if I use Prey Upon to make my Walking Corpse fight my opponent's Elite Inquisitor?

A: That's not going to be a fair fight. The damage is dealt by the creatures themselves, and your opponent's Inquisitor has protection from your Corpse, so the damage that the Corpse would deal is prevented while the Inquisitor beats the Corpse to death.

Q: If I control Essence of the Wild and Awakening Zone, what kinds of tokens will Awakening Zone produce?

A: It'll produce lots of Essences of the Wild that can't be sacrificed for mana. The instruction 'it has "Sacrifice this creature: Add to your mana pool."' sets the copiable characteristics for the token as it's being created, and those characteristics are completely overwritten by the Essence's ability.

Q: Does Essence of the Wild prevent me from flashing in an Ambush Viper?

A: Not at all! The spell you're casting is still Ambush Viper, which still has flash. When it resolves, it enters the battlefield as a copy of Essence of the Wild, so it loses flash then, but by then you're way past casting it, and the game is way past caring about whether it has flash.

When you gonna break?
Watching every move you make
And everything you do
Evil eyes'll be on you
Q: How does Evil Twin interact with Essence of the Wild?

A: That depends. If it's your Essence of the Wild, the interaction is pretty boring. Either you apply the Essence's replacement effect first, so you get just an Essence, or you apply the Twin's effect first and then the Essence's effect, and you get just an Essence again.

However, if you're Evil Twinning your opponent's Essence of the Wild, things get a lot more... interesting. The Essence's replacement effect isn't applicable in this case, so only Evil Twin's replacement effect applies. What you're getting is a copy of Essence of the Wild that's truly evil. It has the Essence of the Wild ability that makes all your future creatures enter the battlefield as copies of it. However, its copiable values include the twin effect that allows it to kill off creatures named Essence of the Wild. This means that you have an evil twin of Essence of the Wild that makes more evil twins of Essence of the Wild, and each and every one of them has the ability to kill off your opponent's Essences of the Wild. (Cue evil laughter!)

Q: How does Necrotic Ooze interact with Mirror-Mad Phantasm?

A: They interact very poorly or very well, depending on what you're trying to accomplish. The first instance of "Mirror-Mad Phantasm" in the ability's text refers to the object the text is on, so that name is replaced with Necrotic Ooze when the Ooze gets the ability. The second instance of the name doesn't refer to the object itself, so it doesn't get replaced. This means that you shuffle Necrotic Ooze into your library, and then you reveal cards from the top of your library until you hit a card named Mirror-Mad Phantasm. If you don't have an actual Mirror-Mad Phantasm in your library, you'll mill your entire library away, which would be useful if you're trying to win the game with Laboratory Maniac.

Q: I control a Mentor of the Meek and cast Mikaeus, the Lunarch with X set to 9001. Can I pay to draw a card?

A: Nope. Mikaeus doesn't enter the battlefield and then gain the counters. It simply enters the battlefield with 9001 counters already on it, and since its power is OVER NINE THOUSAND, the Mentor's ability doesn't trigger.

Q: What happens if I keep using Tree of Redemption's ability in combination with Cradle of Vitality?

A: In a nutshell, you'll gain a lot of life. Since the Tree's ability sets your life total according to its current final toughness — including all toughness boosts and counters — but sets its base toughness before boosts and counters to your life total, you'll get some pretty wonky results with +1/+1 counters.

Let's go through a concrete example and say you're at 10 life while the Tree is at its initial 0/13. Activating the Tree sets your life to 13 and the Tree's toughness to 10. Since you gained 3 life, the Cradle's ability triggers, so you can put three +1/+1 counters on the Tree, which is now a 3/13. Activating it again sets your life total to 13, so no change, but it sets the Tree's base toughness to 13, so the Tree is now 3/16. With the next activation, you gain 3 life, so you can put three more counters on the Tree. As long as nothing else changes your life total or the Tree's toughness, you'll gain life equal to the number of +1/+1 counters with each pair of Tree activations, which in turn allows you to put more +1/+1 counters on the Tree, and so on until your opponent gets sick of this and Doom Blades your Tree.

Q: What happens if I control two Heartless Summonings and I cast a Clone Shell? Do I get to imprint a creature and put it onto the battlefield right away, or does Clone Shell simply die?

A: You actually get to imprint a creature and put it onto the battlefield. First, Clone Shell enters the battlefield, which triggers its enter-the-battlefield ability. Then, state-based actions are checked and Clone Shell meets its untimely demise, which triggers its death trigger. Finally, both abilities want to go on the stack, and you choose their order because they want to go on the stack at the same time and you control both of them. If you arrange the triggers so that the enter-the-battlefield ability resolves first, you get the desired outcome.

Q: I'm playing a Commander game with my Thraximundar deck, and I control Rooftop Storm. Can I cast Thraximundar from the command zone for free regardless of how often I already cast it from the command zone?

A: No. Rooftop Storm only waives the mana cost that's printed in the top-right corner of the card. You're still on the hook for additional costs, even if they include a mana payment, so you still have to pay the commander tax of for each time you previously cast Thraximundar from the command zone.

And that's all the time we have for today. Before I go, I'd like to mention that this Saturday I'll be in Columbus, Ohio to judge at the Ohio venue of The 2011's State and Provincial Championships. If you're in the neighborhood, come by to play the brand-new Standard format and, if you'd like, say hello to me.

Until next time, may the monsters under your bed be cute and cuddly.

- 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.


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