Published on 02/11/2013

For ever and ever

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 Information in this article may be out of date due to subsequent Oracle and/or rules changes.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

Of course, "gift" is a wonderfully flexible term
Welcome, lost soul. Cast off your troubles, and your coin purse, and relax in the soothing warmth of Orzhova. Here, all your questions will be answered (though of course we do not guarantee satisfaction with any specific answer), so long as the price is right, and we can relieve you of all your burdens. And we do mean all your burdens. Credit can be generously extended as needed, of course, and we are more than prepared to negotiate... shall we say, a long-term repayment schedule should your situation require one.

So step in, and let us see what we can do for you.

And for all you other seekers in search of answers, please remember that you can reach us at any time by using the "Email us" button, by emailing through the factor who handles our dealings on your plane ( ), or by tweeting @CranialTweet. Just please do be sure to review the contract carefully in advance, as submission of a question indicates agreement to its terms, and to such modifications as we may find necessary, in perpetuity.

Now, shall we begin?

Q: When exactly does extort happen? Do I need to pay for it before I see whether my opponent will counter the spell, or can I wait?

A: Of course it goes without saying that we of the Syndicate believe prompt payment is the best sort of payment. But extort is a triggered ability, which will go onto the stack as soon as you've finished the process of casting a spell (which is to say, putting the spell on the stack, choosing its targets, paying its costs, etc.). Which means it will be on the stack above the spell and resolve first, at which point you must make your choice and either pay, or not. This also means that your opponent can counter your spell in response to the trigger, or can wait and see what you'll do before countering the spell, since the spell will still be on the stack at that point.

Q: If my opponent counters my spell, do I still get to extort?

A: But of course. Any ability, once it has triggered or been activated, has its own independent existence, and so countering the spell that triggered extort will not prevent the trigger from resolving.

Q: When my extort trigger resolves, can I pay as much mana as I like?

A: Eagerness to pay is commendable, but as always there are certain rules and forms to be observed. And, alas, a single extort trigger offers you only a single opportunity to pay. Should you wish further extortion, though, we do have a wonderful line of thrulls you may be interested in, each of which happily provides its own independent trigger.

Q: What about multiplayer or Two-Headed-Giant games? Will I get a bunch of life that way?

A: Extort says that "each opponent" loses 1 life, and you gain life equal to the life lost that way. If you happen to have, say, three opponents in a multiplayer game, each of them will lose 1 life, and you will gain a total of 3. And in Two-Headed Giant, the opposing team will lose 2 life (1 per player, since each of them is your opponent) and you will gain 2 life (added to your team's share life total). Your teammate will not lose any life, of course, because being a friend of Orzhova has its benefits.

Q: Can I extort from a copy of a spell created by Reverberate? What about the copies from cipher?

A: Copies of spells are not cast — they simply spring into existence on the stack, like the prayers of debtors — and so they do not trigger any ability which looks for casting. Cipher, however, is unusual in that it copies the encoded card, and then has you cast that copy. So although we do not recommend associating with the Dimir (secrets were made to be kept, or at least kept in exchange for a reasonable consideration) their latest little innovation does open up a number of extortionate opportunities.

When you achieve everlasting success, do
remember to thank all the little people who helped you
on the way

Q: What about flashback? Can I extort from that?

A: You can extort with any spell you actually cast. And flashback does indeed have you cast the spell (from an unusual place, but it is always good to get that last bit of service out of a trusty spell), so extort will trigger.

Q: If I'm trying to cast a spell with flashback, can my opponent use Beckon Apparition to exile it and stop me?

A: Typically not. The first step of casting a spell is to move it from where it is to the stack. So by the time your opponent knows you're flashing a spell back, it will be too late to target it in the graveyard. If the spell with flashback is a sorcery, your opponent can exile it at a time when you're unable to cast sorceries, of course, but if it's an instant you could simply cast the spell in response.

Q: If my opponent responds to Beckon Apparition by removing the card from his graveyard somehow, do I still get a token?

A: As in so many other cases, here it is helpful to read the fine print. If Beckon Apparition's target becomes illegal, it will be countered and none of its effects will happen, just the same as with a counterspell, so you will not get a token.

Q: Will Blind Obedience stop Geist of Saint Traft's Angel token from attacking me?

A: The Angel enters the battlefield tapped anyway, since Geist's effect specifies that it's "tapped and attacking". So Blind Obedience makes no difference here. For security against Geists and Angels, we recommend our more specialized security services, priced for the discerning customer.

Q: Do Vizkopa Guildmage and Exquisite Blood form a combo?

A: Yes, and exquisitely so. After activating Vizkopa Guildmage's second ability, you merely need to either gain life or cause your opponent to lose life. If you gain life, Vizkopa Guildmage will trigger, causing your opponent to lose life, which triggers Exquisite Blood causing you to gain life, which triggers Vizkopa Guildmage... and so on until your opponent has neither blood nor life left to give. Similarly, if your opponent loses life first, Exquisite Blood will trigger, then Vizkopa Guildmage, then Exquisite Blood again, and again the loop continues until your unfortunate opponent has expired.

Q: If I activate Vizkopa Guildmage's second ability multiple times in a turn, will it make my opponents lose even more life?

A: With great riches come great rewards; if you can pay to activate the Guildmage multiple times, then each time you gain life you will also have multiple triggers causing your opponents to lose life. If, for example, you've activated the Guildmage twice and you then gain 3 life, your opponents will lose 6. If you'd activated the Guildmage three times, your opponents would lose a total of 9 life each, and so on.

Q: Does High Priest of Penance have to survive the damage in order to destroy something?

A: Not at all! Expendability is what servants are for, after all. And the High Priest's ability will trigger any time it's dealt damage, even if that damage destroys it; since the ability, once triggered, is independent of the High Priest's own fate, your opponent may suddenly want to repent of his desire to kill your creatures.

Q: If I cast Immortal Servitude with X=2, can I return Primordial Hydra from my graveyard? Will it have two counters?

A: Your Hydra will return, but its servitude will be distressingly brief. Although a value for X has been chosen for Immortal Servitude, no choice has been made — and no choice can be made — for the Hydra, meaning it will return to the battlefield with no counters, and most likely die immediately as a 0/0.

The gift that keeps on giving
Q: Can I sacrifice one Cartel Aristocrat to another? If I have three of them and sacrifice one, do the other two both get protection?

A: "Another" simply means "not this one". So you are free to sacrifice one Aristocrat to save another. But this will only grant protection to the Aristocrat whose ability was activated; when a card refers to itself by name, it means "this card", and does not include other things of the same name in its effect. So to save two Aristocrats, you would need to sacrifice two creatures. Noblesse oblige, but everything has its price.

Q: Will Crypt Ghast trigger if I tap a Godless Shrine for mana? What if I tap an Orzhov Guildgate?

A: A "Swamp" is any permanent which is a land and has the subtype "Swamp" on its type line (or which has been made a Swamp by some other effect, such as Contaminated Ground). Godless Shrine is a Swamp (and a Plains) thanks to its type line, so it will trigger Crypt Ghast, and will do so regardless of which color you tap the Shrine for. Orzhov Guildgate, however, is merely a Gate, and not any other types, so the Ghast will cryptically ignore it.

Q: My opponent has three cards in hand. I cast Vizkopa Confessor, and choose to pay 3 life for its enters-the-battlefield ability. Can my opponent then respond by casting a spell he doesn't want to lose?

A: Your opponent will be confessing all his secrets in this case. The choice of whether to pay life, and how much to pay, isn't made until the Confessor's ability is resolving, at which point it is too late to respond. If he wishes to get use from his spells, he'll need to respond while the ability is still on the stack, which is before he finds out whether you'll pay life or how much.

Q: If Alms Beast is blocked by a 7/7, does the 7/7's controller gain 7 life, or 6?

A: Creatures in combat display no mercy, a quality we find endearing. So they always deal damage equal to their power, even if that results in some rather messy overkill, and the controller of the 7/7 will gain a full 7 life from the exchange.

Q: If I take control of my opponent's Obzedat, Ghost Council somehow, and Cloudshift it, will it always return to me after exiling itself?

A: You will learn to show a bit more respect for our beloved Obzedat. Although Cloudshift returns it to the battlefield under your control, if you allow its own ability to exile it at your end step it will return to its rightful place across the table from you — that ability specifies it will return under its owner's control, and ownership is an unchanging thing.

Q: Can I play Blind Obedience in a Commander deck if my commander is white but not black?

A: We of the Syndicate like to extend our services to anyone able to pay for them. And luckily, only mana symbols in a card's mana cost or rules text are considered for color identity, not mana symbols in reminder text. So Blind Obedience's color identity is simply white, not white and black.

Q: I heard there were some big changes to tournament policy on triggers. Is there any place I can find out more about that?

A: While the policy for handling missed triggers in Competitive and Professional-enforcement tournaments is a bit briefer than our typical contracts, we're rather fond of it, and recommend Level 5 judge Toby Elliott's articles — one aimed at players, one at judges and one in-depth commentary — to anyone seeking information.

At this point, I'm afraid you've reached the limit of answers permitted in one article. But fret not — Cranial Insertion will return again next week with further questions and answers. And, if you'll kindly view your contract under an appropriately-powered microscope, I believe you'll find that you also will be here next week. You wouldn't want to default on your clearly-listed obligations, after all.

- 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.

Nicely done, sir. I liked the way you spoke from an Orzhov point of view.
#1 • Date: 2013-02-11 • Time: 00:23:30 •
Agreeing with Demonzbane on this one, thought it hit just the right balance between tone and clarity.

An interesting read, as always :)
#2 • Date: 2013-02-12 • Time: 09:10:37 •

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