Published on 10/29/2012

A Matter of Life and Death

or, Endings Are Just Beginnings

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 Information in this article may be out of date due to subsequent Oracle and/or rules changes.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

Knock, knock!
- Who's there?
Ook! Moko here, your beloved mail-sorting zombie chimp! As you might have guessed from the fact that your guest writer for today is a zombie monkey who is neither fully dead nor quite alive, it is time for our Golgari article. The Golgari Swarm embodies the cycle of life and death, so when Eli, Carsten, and James asked me whether I'd like to write this issue, I immediately said yes. Well, almost immediately. A bribe of extra banana brain custard may have been involved. Also, I actually consider myself Gruul, but that guild won't get its turn until Gatecrash, so I'm an honorary Golgari for this week.

If you'd like to help us flesh out future articles, please send your rules questions to me at or tweet them to @CranialTweet.

Now, let's see what the Golgari Swarm has in store for us!

Q: My opponent controls a horrible Knight of Glory. Can I kill it with Golgari Charm's first mode?

A: Sure! Protection only stops damage, enchanting, equipping, blocking, and targeting. "All creatures" is not "target creature," and "get -1/-1" is not "damage," so Golgari Charm doesn't do anything that protection from black cares about.

Q: If my opponent detains my Lotleth Troll, can I still use its abilities to regenerate it and put counters on it?

A: I'm afraid not. Both of those abilities are activated abilities, which detain shuts down. You can tell that they are activated abilities because they are written in the form "[cost] : [effect]." In other words, a detained Lotleth Troll ith worth a lot leth!

Q: So, I control a Boneyard Wurm that is currently an impressive 10/10. If I sacrifice it to Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord's life loss ability, do my opponents lose 10 or 11 life?

A: They'll lose 10 life. The Wurm in the graveyard counts itself, so its power is 11, but that doesn't matter. Jarad looks at the power of the creature that was sacrificed, so it has to look at the last-known information of the Wurm as it existed on the battlefield, not the current information of the card as it exists in the graveyard. The power of the sacrificed creature was 10, so that's how much life your opponents lose.

Q: Does Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord get a boost from dead tokens?

A: Not even for a moment. While dead tokens do end up in the graveyard before they cease to exist, they are never cards, and Jarad only gets a boost from creature cards in your graveyard.

Q: I just used Deathrite Shaman's second ability on my opponent. Can he kill it with Avenging Arrow now?

A: Nope! Avenging Arrow can only destroy a creature that dealt damage. Damage to players often causes them to lose life, but loss of life is not the same as damage. Deathrite Shaman caused your opponent to lose life, but it didn't deal damage to your opponent.

Q: If my opponent names Deathrite Shaman with Pithing Needle, can I still use its first ability?

A: Sadly, no. Pithing Needle against Deathrite Shaman is SUPER EFFECTIVE! An activated ability is a mana ability if it could put mana into a player's mana pool, it's not a targeted ability, and it's not a loyalty ability. Deathrite Shaman's ability fails the second condition, so it doesn't qualify for Pithing Needle's exception.

Alas, poor Yorick!
Q: How does Deathrite Shaman's second ability work in Two-Headed Giant?

A: It works really well! In Two-Headed Giant, you have two opponents, and each of them loses 2 life. Each life loss is applied to their shared life total, so your opposing team's shared life total is reduced by 4.

Q: So does that mean that my team gains 4 life if I use the third ability?

A: Nope. The third ability only instructs you to gain 2 life, and your teammate is not you, so your team's life total only goes up by 2.

Q: If my opponent flashes back Think Twice from his graveyard, can I respond with Deathrite Shaman's ability and exile Think Twice?

A: No, that doesn't work. Part of casting Think Twice for its flashback cost is to move it from the graveyard to the stack. By the time you get to respond, it's no longer in the graveyard, so it's not a legal target for the Shaman's ability.

Q: My opponent controls a Primordial Hydra with two +1/+1 counters on it. Can I kill it with Abrupt Decay?

A: Yup! The X in Primordial Hydra's mana cost is 0 while it's on the battlefield, so its converted mana cost on the battlefield is 2 regardless of how many counters are on it.

Q: How does Corpsejack Menace interact with Primordial Hydra?

A: First off, when the Hydra enters the battlefield, it comes in with twice as many counters as you paid for. That's because of this rule:

121.6. If a spell or ability refers to a counter being "placed" on a permanent, it means putting a counter on that permanent while it's on the battlefield, or that permanent entering the battlefield with a counter on it as the result of an effect (see rule 614.1c).

When the upkeep ability resolves, something really weird happens. To double the number of counters on the Hydra, you have to place as many counters as there are already on it. Corpsejack Menace doubles how many counters you're placing, so you're adding twice as many counters as there are on it. In other words, you're tripling the number of counters on the Hydra. You could say that this interaction is quite... counter-intuitive!

Q: If I control two Corpsejack Menaces and I scavenge a Drudge Beetle onto a creature I control, does it get 6 or 8 counters?

A: It gets 8! When the scavenge ability resolves, each Corpsejack Menace wants to modify how many counters it places. You choose one to apply, which doubles the number to 4, and then the other one doubles the number to 8.

Q: I control two Pack Rats and my opponent deals 1 damage to one and 2 damage to the other with Flames of the Firebrand. He says they both die. Is that true?

A: Yes, that's true. After Flames of the Firebrand has resolved, the game checks state-based actions and sees that the Rat with 2 damage marked on it has lethal damage, so it's destroyed. The other Rat is now so lonely and depressed that it immediately shrinks to 1/1, so the 1 damage that is still marked on it is now lethal, too, and the Rat is destroyed by a second round of state-based actions.

Q: I control a Pack Rat and activate its ability to make a copy of it. My opponent destroys it in response with Ultimate Price. Do I still get a Pack Rat token?

A: You sure do! The ability on the stack is independent from its source, so it still resolves. When it does, it looks at the Rat's last-known information to find out what it looked like. It looked like a Pack Rat, so you get a token copy of a Pack Rat.

When they asked me if I liked
scavenger hunts, I didn't think they
meant it so literally.
Q: If I cast Grisly Salvage with fewer than five cards left in my library, do I lose the game?

A: Not right away. You do as much as possible, so you reveal all remaining cards of your library and maybe put a creature or land card from those into your hand. Then you put the rest into your graveyard. None of this involved drawing from an empty library, so you don't lose the game yet. However, you will lose in your next draw step if you don't manage to win the game first or somehow get some cards back into your library.

Q: I control Grave Betrayal and my opponent controls an animated Azorius Keyrune. What happens if I destroy the animated Keyrune?

A: Well, a creature you don't control died, so Grave Betrayal's ability triggers. Its resolution creates a delayed triggered ability to return "it," i.e. the thing that triggered the ability, to the battlefield under your control with a +1/+1 counter on it. Since this delayed trigger refers to a particular object, it doesn't matter that the card is no longer a creature card when the trigger resolves. The trigger resolves and does as much as possible, so you get an unanimated Azorius Keyrune with a +1/+1 counter on it that does nothing for the moment. The Keyrune is also black, but it's sadly not a Zombie. When you animate the Keyrune, its animation effect overwrites the "is black" and "is Zombie" effects, but the +1/+1 counter will kick in, so you'll then have a 3/3 blue white Bird on your side. Disgusting!

Q: If I search for only one creature card with Jarad's Orders, can I choose to put it into the graveyard?

A: No. You follow the instructions on Jarad's Orders in the order they're printed, and "put one into your hand" comes first, so you have to put the card into your hand.

Q: I control Vraska the Unseen and use her +1 ability to deter my opponent from attacking her. My opponent is an arrogant Azorius and still attacks her with an Invisible Stalker, thinking that it'll be safe from Vraska's effect. Is it?

A: Not at all! Invisible Stalker has hexproof, but that only protects it from spells and abilities that try to target it. "Destroy that creature" is not a targeted effect, so it goes right through the hexproofing and kills the Stalker dead.

Q: My opponent is down to 5 life, so the next attack by my Deadbridge Goliath will kill him. He tries to save himself by summoning a Thrill-Kill Assassin without unleashing it so that it can block. Can I scavenge a Drudge Beetle onto it to make it unable to block?

A: Sure, that works. The scavenge ability can target any creature, not just creatures you control, so it's perfectly legal to target your opponent's Thrill-Kill Assassin. The unleash ability can't tell the difference between a +1/+1 counter from unleash and a +1/+1 counter from scavenge, so the Assassin is suddenly unable to block and powerless to prevent your opponent's demise.

Q: If I cast Sever the Bloodline on my opponent's Archon of the Triumvirate, do I get to exile all his Archons of the Triumvirate from his graveyard, hand, and library?

A: No, it doesn't work like that. Sever the Bloodline only exiles creatures, which only exist on the battlefield. It doesn't tell you to search your opponent's library, graveyard, or hand like Surgical Extraction does.

Q: How does the attack requirement from Rotted Ones, Lay Siege work? Do the Zombies have an ability that prevents them from getting a bonus from Muraganda Petroglyphs?

A: The resolution of the scheme's ability simply creates a continuous effect with indefinite duration that establishes the attacking requirement. The Zombies aren't given an ability, so they'll get a bonus from the Petroglyphs.

Speaking of rotted ones laying siege, a new episode of The Walking Dead is on TV now. Gotta go! I hope the zombies finally defeat those pesky humans! Ook!

- Moko

About the Author:
Moko was born in Tanzania, and died in a tragic accident involving a catapult while being transported from Eli Shiffrin to Thijs van Ommen between the first two Cranial Insertion articles. Subsequently zombified, he helps sort their mail and occasionally answers questions. His pastimes include bananas and brains. Mmm brains.

Long Live Volgari!

nice interactions :)

I have an additional question about the keyrune brought back with grave betrayal:

1° - the artifact brought into play is black, but it hasn\'t the subtype zombie, since it has not the type Creature. Is it correct?
Not having a type of the right kind = you can\'t become just a zombie, u have to become a creature zombie.

2° - pretending that activating keyrune is \"in addition to its type\".
Would the keyrune be ALSO a zombie now? Or the \"zombie in addition\" get canceled when the effect resolve since it\'s unable to gain the creature-subtype, since it is naturally only an artifact.
Or will it try to make my bird a zombie, as soon as it gain the type creature?

#1 • Date: 2012-10-29 • Time: 08:13:57 •
1: That's correct, the "is a Zombie" effect does nothing because the Keyrune is not a creature when the effect is applied.

2: No, it wouldn't. The "is a Zombie" effect and the "is also a creature" effect are applied in timestamp order. By the time the object becomes a creature, the other effect has already tried and failed to make it a Zombie.
#2 • Date: 2012-10-29 • Time: 15:54:05 •

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