Published on 12/24/2012

'Twas the night before Christmas...

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 Information in this article may be out of date due to subsequent Oracle and/or rules changes.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

...when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a Mouse, because "Mouse" isn't a creature type. But rules questions are always stirring, and answers make great gifts. So let's celebrate the holidays by giving some answers in yet another issue of Cranial Insertion!

And remember that if you've got rules questions, you can send them to us by using the handy "Email Us" button, by sending an email to , or by tweeting at @CranialTweet, all of which will get you answers and possibly even get your question featured in a future article.

Q: My opponent's Arcbound Ravager just died, and it had three +1/+1 counters on it. He'd like to use modular to put those counters on his Vault Skirge, but since it's Christmas, can I pay 2 life and have him give the gift of those counters to my Spellskite instead?

A: While it's certainly appropriate to be doing such charitable things during the holiday season, this trick doesn't require any Christmas magic — the modular ability of Arcbound Ravager targets, and Spellskite can change that target to itself on any day of the year.

Q: So, once I've got some counters on my Spellskite, if my opponent tries to proliferate with Tezzeret's Gambit, can I use Spellskite again to make him give me even more counters?

A: While giving is good, being too greedy isn't so good. Proliferate doesn't target anything (you simply choose what to put counters on, without targeting), which means Spellskite doesn't see anything to point at itself. Which is a good thing, since by now your opponent probably has some ideas about what he'd like to give you...

Q: I recently heard something about a Legacy deck using Vision Charm with Phyrexian Dreadnought. Is that a real combo?

A: It most certainly is. When the Dreadnought enters the battlefield, its ability triggers and goes onto the stack. Then you can respond with Vision Charm (the "target artifact phases out" mode) to phase it out; when the Dreadnought's trigger resolves, you can choose not to sacrifice 12 power worth of creatures, and that's all there is to it. Since the Dreadnought is phased out, you won't have to — and won't be able to — sacrifice it. Then during your next untap step, it'll come back from wherever phased-out creatures go (which actually isn't a zone change, so its ability won't trigger again). I like to think of it as off gathering some nice presents to give to your opponent when it comes thundering down his chimney.

Q: Speaking of weird cards people play with Phyrexian Dreadnought, what on earth does Illusionary Mask actually do? And why do the Dreadnought decks play it?

A: Ah, good old Illusionary Mask. So, the easiest way to think of it is as a very, very early rough draft of the morph mechanic. You pay some mana, you get to cast a creature face-down, and then instead of having a cost to turn it face-up on demand, there's an effect set up that will turn it face-up when certain things (becoming tapped, assigning damage, dealing damage or being dealt damage) would happen to it.

The neat thing with Phyrexian Dreadnought is that the creature you cast enters the battlefield face-down. Which means (at that point) it has no abilities, so no trigger that makes you sacrifice stuff. And then when you attack with it the next turn, it'll tear off its mask and go for a jolly 12/12 trampling sleigh ride all over your opponent's face.

Q: What about Vision Charm's second mode? If I Charm on my opponent's upkeep and decide I want Mountains to be Forests, will he be able to get red mana if he plays a Mountain later in the turn?

A: He will; an effect like Vision Charm will lock in the set of things it changes when it resolves; after that it won't change what it affects, and so any Mountains that enter the battlefield later in the turn will still be Mountains.

Magmaw likes this card.
Q: Our holiday gift exchange opened up a Teferi's Puzzle Box. Will that kill my Psychosis Crawler?

A: Nope! Although your hand is briefly empty during the resolution of the Puzzle Box trigger, that's not a time when the game checks state-based actions (which are what kill creatures that have zero toughness or lethal damage). By the time of the next state-based action check, you'll have cards in hand again and your creepy crawler can go on living.

Q: If I use Duplicant in a Commander game to exile my opponent's commander, what happens if he sends it to the command zone? What happens if he casts it from there?

A: Your Duplicant will just always be a 2/4 Shapeshifter. Duplicant's ability only does something useful if A) the card is actually in the exile zone, and B) that card is a creature card. Your opponent's commander is a creature card, but it's not in the exile zone, so Duplicant doesn't see an "exiled card" to do anything with.

Q: If I have both Omniscience and Future Sight, can I cast the top card of my library for free?

A: Omniscience is awesome. But there are limits even to being all-knowing; specifically, it only lets you cast cards that are in your hand without paying their mana cost, and doesn't say anything about cards in other zones. And even though you're allowed to cast the top card of your library, that's not the same as it being in your hand, so Omniscience won't do anything for it.

Q: If Skullbriar, the Walking Grave is my commander and it gets turned face-down (say, by Ixidron), and then it dies, can I still send it to the command zone? Will it keep its counters?

A: "Commander-ness" is a attribute belonging to that particular piece of cardboard, no matter what happens to it during a game. So even face-down it's still your commander. But while it's face-down it doesn't have any abilities, including the one that says it gets to keep counters when it moves. So Skullbriar can go to the command zone, but won't keep any counters.

Q: Does Druid's Deliverance only protect me, or will it also save my creatures?

A: Druid's Deliverance has a slightly different wording than, say, Safe Passage or Fog; it only says it prevents damage to you, so that's all it does. Your creatures will have to fend for themselves (but thanks to populate, at least they have another buddy to hang out with).

Q: How does Sylvan Library interact with dredge? Do I still have to pay life or put cards back if I dredge for the extra draws?

A: If you use Sylvan Library's ability, then all of the ability happens, even if you replace one or both of the extra draws with dredging. But the second part of the ability only looks at cards you've actually drawn, not at any draws that got replaced. Which means (assuming no other draw effects involved), the possibilities are:

If you actually drew three total cards, or if you replaced one draw (so you only actually drew two cards), then you have to pick two of those cards, and for each one pay 4 life or put it back.

If you only actually drew one card (say, because you replaced two of the draws), then for that card you have to pay 4 life or put it back.

If you didn't actually draw any cards (because you replaced all three draws), then you don't have to pay any life and don't have to put anything back.

Q: If I use Vraska the Unseen's +1 ability, and my opponent attacks her with a Knight of Glory, can she kill it?

A: Yup! Protection from black only stops four things: being dealt damage by a black source, being targeted by black spells or abilities from black sources, being blocked by black creatures, and having black permanents (like Auras) attached. Vraska's ability doesn't try to do any of those things, so protection from black won't stop her from slipping in, unseen, and killing that Knight of Glory.

Q: My opponent attacked me with a Geist of Saint Traft, and I blocked with a Thragtusk. Then he says "before damage I'll use Rogue's Passage to make Geist be unblocked". Does that work?

A: Unfortunately for poor Traft, it doesn't. Things that affect whether a creature can be blocked (like flying, or shadow, or being unblockable) only do something useful if they're in place before blockers are declared. Making something unblockable afterward won't undo any already-declared blocks (since once a legal block is declared, its legality doesn't get checked again at any later time), meaning the Geist stays blocked and will die a horrible death (again).

Do not taunt.
Q: I'm really confused by Goblin Electromancer. What sorts of things can it actually reduce?

A: Pretty much anything that's a cost to cast a spell. To see why, though, we have to look at how a spell gets cast. This is a multi-step process, and one of the steps is to determine the cost of the spell. That happens after you've made basically all the relevant choices for the spell, including a value for X, whether to pay optional additional costs like kicker or buyback, and so on. To determine what you'll actually pay to cast, start with the base cost (which will be the mana cost of the spell most of the time, or an alternative cost from an ability like flashback or miracle). If there's an X, plug in the correct value for that. Then add in any additional costs. Then apply cost-reducing effects. Finally, check for anything that cares about the total cost (that would be our old friend Trinisphere) and apply that.

The result is that Goblin Electromancer can shave off what you have to pay for an X, or to kick a spell, or to buy it back, or save you on a multi-target Fireball, or counteract a Lodestone Golem's "tax" on non-artifact spells... it's really the gift that keeps on giving.

Q: In a Two-Headed Giant game, if I attack with only my Sublime Archangel while my teammate attacks with a bunch of creatures, do I still get exalted bonuses?

A: In order to "attack alone", a creature has to be the one and only creature which was declared as an attacker at the beginning of the declare attackers step. So if any other creatures are attacking — even if they're controlled by someone else — exalted won't trigger, and you won't get quite as sublime a beatdown.

Q: If I cast Corpse Dance with buyback, with only one creature card in my graveyard, and my opponent responds by using Deathrite Shaman to exile that creature, does Corpse Dance still come back to my hand?

A: It does! Unlike many reanimation spells, Corpse Dance doesn't use the word "target"; that means it doesn't actually have any targets, and so there's no way to "fizzle" it by removing creatures from the graveyard. When it resolves, it just does as much as it can; if there's a creature in the graveyard, Corpse Dance will bring it back. If there isn't any creature, it skips over that part of its effect, and all that's left is applying buyback's effect of returning Corpse Dance to your hand, ready to festively dance again once you do have a creature in the yard.

Q: Can Alchemist's Refuge get around Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir's ability and let me cast things during my opponent's turn?

A: Nope. A card that actually has flash wouldn't help against Teferi, so being able to act as if all your cards have flash won't help either.

For bonus points: in Magic, any time one effect (or rule) says something can happen, and another says that thing can't happen, the "can't" will win (though the literal word "can't" doesn't have to appear in the text of the second effect; it just generally needs to be prohibiting something).

Q: I have Necrologia in my graveyard, and I control Toshiro Umezawa. If one of my opponent's creatures dies, but it's not my end step, can I use Toshiro to cast Necrologia?

A: Not quite. An effect that specifically instructs you to cast a card at an unusual time (like during the resolution of another spell or ability) can get around the timing rules that are built into the game, like when you're allowed to cast sorceries. But they can't get around restrictions that are created by the card itself (and once again we have a "can" versus "can't" situation, too!). So Toshiro will only let you cast Necrologia if his ability triggers in your end step.

Q: My opponent has a Tarmogoyf, and there are three card types in graveyards, so it's a 3/4. Can Sorceress Queen make it be 0/2, or will layers make it still be 3/4?

A: Sorceress Queen can shrink that Tarmogoyf down to size! Tarmogoyf has a characteristic-defining ability, which always gets applied first when determining power/toughness. Any other effects that do something to the power/toughness — like set to specific values — will "overwrite" that.

Q: What are these "holiday cards" I've been hearing about? How do I get one, and can I play with it?

A: Every year for the past few years, Wizards of the Coast has issued a special "Happy Holidays" card; if you look at the cards pictured alongside this article you'll see a few examples. They're primarily given as gifts to employees or to people who are involved in making/promoting the game. And because they're all printed with silver borders (just like cards from Unglued and Unhinged), they aren't legal for any tournament format.

I hear something stirring in my chimney, so I'm going to wrap this up and make sure that's Santa and not a massive Phyrexian killbeast. But be sure to tune in next week when Moko will have a very special Cranial Insertion. Until then, a happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

- James Bennett

About the Author:
James Bennett is a Level 3 judge based out of Lawrence, Kansas. He pops up at events around Kansas City and all over the midwest, and has a car he can talk to.


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