Published on 03/18/2013

Things of Spring

or, This Article Contains No Snakes

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 Information in this article may be out of date due to subsequent Oracle and/or rules changes.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

It's that time again!
Welcome back! As Saint Patrick's day is just ending in the US as this article goes live, we'll celebrate a distinct lack of snakes. Which is somewhat unfortunate, as many snakes look downright nifty. As this is a rather low-key celebration, we're marking it by... not having questions about snakes. Hard-hitting journalism there, mind you.

If you have more questions, with or without snakes, toss them over to @CranialTweet on Twitter, or for more than 140 characters in your answer. We'll get you an answer, and your question may appear in an upcoming article!

For now, let's slither on to this week's roundup of conundrums.

Q: I'm at 3 life, and two 3/3 creatures are attacking me. If I block one with Vampire Nighthawk, do I survive?

A: You will! Life gained from lifelink is a result of combat damage, and happens at the same time as the life loss that happens as a result of the damage. You gain 2 life and lose 3 life at the same time, ending up at 2 life.

Q: If I cast Mutilate with five Swamps, then play a sixth Swamp and cast Desecration Demon, does it die?

A: It'll be alive and well. Since it affects the characteristics of objects, Mutilate only affects creatures that are on the battlefield as it resolves; creatures that come in later aren't affected. The value of X is also locked in, so any creatures that were 6/6 before Mutilate resolved will remain 1/1 after you play your sixth Swamp.

Q: I control an un-evolved Gyre Sage and cast Elvish Archdruid. Will my Sage get a counter?

A: It won't. Remember the grand ordering of entering the battlefield: Apply replacement effects, apply continuous effects, and then check for triggers. You apply the Archdruid's continuous effect, making Gyre Sage a 2/3 creature, and then compare 2/2 to 2/3. Since the Sage has passed elementary maths (but not algebra - he's too green for that), he can tell that neither 2 nor 3 is less than 2, and evolve does not trigger.

Time to wave sticks around!
Q: If I encode a spell onto an animated Dimir Keyrune, does it stay encoded when it stops being a creature?

A: Encoding only cares whether the encoded object remains on the battlefield, not whether it remains a creature. Your Keyrune will remain encoded for when it animates again.

Q: Does a Spreading Seas on Urza's Tower stop Urza's Mine and Urza's Power Plant from tapping for ?

A: It sure does - as we all learned from the Fukushima disaster, seas are supposed to spread into power plants, not towers, so everything is just ruined here. At least the priceless artwork was on the top floor of the tower, but the irreplaceable family heirlooms were on the first floor.

Even though Urza's Flooded Tower's name doesn't change, unlike what I just did there, the Urzatron lands look at the subtypes. Yes, "Urza's" is actually a subtype. One of the silliest of them all. Spreading Seas takes it away when making the Tower into an Island, though, and also takes away the Tower subtype, and so the other two lands can't see any lands that have the subtypes Urza's and Tower.

Q: One opponent has Sterling Grove and Privileged Position. Can I cast Sylvan Primordial and blow up other players' stuff, at least?

A: Your poor Primordial won't be able to do anything. If you can't choose all of the required legal targets for a trigger, the triggered ability is taken right off the stack. Unlike other Primordials that say "up to one target," the expectation for Sylvan Primordial is that players will always have something to target, and if they find that corner case where they don't, then they can indeed wreck the card.

Q: Will Bioshifting two +1/+1 counters onto Corpsejack Menace result in four counters?

A: To move counters is to remove that many counters and then place them where they're moving to. Oh, look, I said "place"! It wasn't an accident - that's exactly what you're doing, and Corpsejack Menace will be one happy fungus here.

Q: Can I play a Springleaf Drum, play a Memnite, and then tap that same Memnite to use the Drum right away?

A: The "summoning sickness" rule only stops three things: attacking, paying , and paying . Tapping a creature without having to pay a cost of isn't affected, so you can tap that Memnite.

Q: Is there any way to feed Vexing Devil to Altar's Reap after I see whether my opponent is going to pay 4 life?

A: Nope. Your opponent doesn't chose until the triggered ability is resolving, and at that point, no player has priority to do anything.

Q: If I have a way to gain infinite life, and my opponent has a way to deal infinite damage, and we can both start the loop to do our thing whenever we want, who wins that fight?

A: When loops fight, we all lose. But temporarily, the nonactive player "wins" that loop fight and has his or her loop perform more iterations. Restarting the loop without a meaningful change to the outcome isn't allowed - so the deals-damage player just has to wait for the next turn if it's his or her turn and wins then.

Q: I remember that you guys said that creatures don't have to pull their punches with regards to a 5/5 lifelink hitting a 3/3 blocker. But what if that 3/3 blocker is Boros Reckoner and I want my creature to pull its punches?

A: Wanting smaller creatures is unusual, but not a reason to change the rules of the game - your creature still assigns and then deals damage equal to its power, not any lesser amount.

Q: I cast Prime Speaker Zegana to legend-rule my opponent's. Do I get to draw cards from mine's trigger, too?

A: You do! It had to enter the battlefield in order for the legend rule to obliterate the two Zeganas. Since it entered, it's already triggered. As it resolves, it'll look back at your Zegana's last known power before it died, and you'll draw that many cards.

Q: Tragic Slip makes Prime Speaker Zegana's power negative before its draw trigger resolves. Does my opponent discard now?

A: Nope, drawing negative cards isn't something that can happen. Rather than logically figure out what the opposite would be, nothing happens: your opponent draws zero cards.

Q: My opponent gives Archon of Redemption -20/-20 in response to its enters-the-battlefield trigger. How sad am I about this?

A: That depends on how much you wanted your Archon. When you go to gain life, the game finds the creature gone, so it uses its last known information from immediately before it so rudely left. At that time, its power was -17. Since you can't gain -17 life, you gain 0 life, and your life total won't be a cause of extreme unhappiness.

The shame of Ireland.
Q: My opponent's Tree of Redemption just happens to suffer a Tragic Slip (a morbid one!) in response to its ability. Do I win?

A: We'll add trees to the list of things that make no sense to have a tragic slip. However, this dead tree has another issue: you can never exchange things that aren't there. Since it has no toughness, being dead, its toughness can't be exchanged with your life total, and nothing happens.

Q: Will double Undead Alchemists help me mill a lot and get lots of Zombies?

A: It won't help you mill more, but it'll help you find more friends to get the milling done. Undead Alchemist's first ability that causes milling is a replacement effect - you can tell by the "if... would... instead" construction. Once you apply one, the other can't apply anymore since there's no damage left to replace. However, the second ability is a triggered ability, denoted by the "when," and each instance of that will trigger independently and produce a Zombie for a milled creature.

Q: Do Auras target?

A: Auras target when they're cast; they're the only permanent spells that can ever have a target. But once they resolve, or are otherwise hanging out on the battlefield, or entering the battlefield without being cast, then they don't target.

Q: Vampire Nighthawk hit me for 2, and my opponent forgot to gain his 2 life. Do I have to remind him under the new trigger rules?

A: Attentive readers will remember a few questions ago where I noted that lifelink caused a result of damage. It's not a trigger, so the trigger policy can't apply to it. Ignoring your opponent's lifegain when you know it's happened is capital-C Cheating. Don't go there. :(

Q: My opponent tapped two Gates to pump his Gateway Shade at once. Can I respond to both abilities by shooting it with Cinder Elemental for 1?

A: Now we're moving into the murky land of shortcut policy. One point of this policy is: If a player casts two spells or activates two abilities, and it's not necessary to activate/cast one with the other on the stack (such as Reverberate being one of those), it is assumed that the player passed priority in between activations and resolved the first one before resolving the second one. That'll be the assumption here, and you can act after one ability has been activated (and the Gate is untapped to activate it again), or after both have been activated and one's resolved.

Q: A friend is loaning me cards for my deck. Can I mark the front of the sleeve with a little dot so I remember which ones are his?

A: As long as you can't tell the cards apart without looking at the front, that's fine. So use a Sharpie, not puffy paint, to mark the cards. These markings contain zero in-game information at all, much less the "minor" information that is allowed, so it'll be fine.

Q: I'm all done planning out my decklist for the PTQ this weekend. Can I just print it out ahead of time?

A: While I can't speak for every Head Judge ever, I would be delighted if all of my players turned in cleanly printed, easy to read, well-reviewed and counted decklists. Printing it up and checking ahead of time reduces the chances of illegal lists dramatically, and with proper time and a keyboard, you'll be less likely to get sloppy and write things like "Liliana" down as a card name. At worst, you can transfer this to the event-specific decklist rather than sorting your deck on site.

Now, if you do this in a Limited tournament...

Q: I'm borrowing a friend's deck for a PTQ. Can I bring some little notes on sideboarding in case I get tired and forget?

A: In between games, players may refer to "brief" notes, such as sideboarding reminders. Exactly what constitutes "brief" is up to the Head Judge, but if you keep it under one page at a reasonable font size, you should be safe. As always, check with your Head Judge before the event starts to verify that your notes are brief enough.

That's all for this week, but come back next week for our eighth anniversary, and the first anniversary of moving to our own site! I'm sure James will have something special cooked up. Probably a cake.

Until next time, enjoy the spring weather! (Unless you're in the southern hemisphere, in which case enjoy the fall weather!)

- Eli Shiffrin

About the Author:
Eli Shiffrin is currently in Lowell, Massachusetts and discovering how dense the east coast MTG community is. Legend has it that the Comprehensive Rules are inscribed on the folds of his brain.

RE: The Gateway Shade rule. Can you link to an official article or rule that says this? I have been ruling the opposite way based on the 2005 wizards article:

Specifically the following paragraph:
Ex 1: Player A taps 3 swamps and says "pump", pointing out at his Looming Shade. In response, player B plays Incinerate on the Shade. Even if A claims that he wanted to pass priority between each pump, he chose to use a shortcut (not making clear that he was passing priority), and then cannot come back on it. According to the second criteria of the intent test explained in Justus' article, it is obvious that you can't let A's creature survive since, because of his shortcut ("sloppy play"), he now knows that B is holding an Incinerate in hand.
#1 • Date: 2013-03-21 • Time: 09:19:22 •
With that article being eight years old, it contains references to many outdated assumptions, philosophies, and common practices. The following text is from Section 4.2 of the Magic Tournament Rules, "Tournament Shortcuts":
Whenever a player adds an object to the stack, he or she is assumed to be passing priority unless he or she explicitly announces that he or she intends to retain it. If he or she adds a group of objects to the stack without explicitly retaining priority and a player wishes to take an action at a point in the middle, the actions should be reversed up to that point.

This is the basis for the response given to the question about Gateway Shade.
#2 • Date: 2013-03-21 • Time: 09:47:09 •
Thank you. I was aware I was using an older source, so I appreciate the update. I'm borderline whether I like the ruling this way or not. It means that if a player makes what would otherwise be a misplay (pumping the shade without passing priority), the other player can't use it to their advantage because it is assumed they didn't make a misplay.
Meanwhile, the way my group has been doing it doesn't take that much extra time: "I pump my shade once and pass priority. No responses? I do it X times." I will be sure to follow what is laid out in the MTR now though.
#3 • Date: 2013-03-21 • Time: 10:27:56 •
not sure if it's appropriate to mention this technicality, but i'm thinking that "To move counters is to remove that many counters and then place them where they're moving to." is not quite accurate. if my opponent has (say) a Cloudfin Raptor with two +1/+1 counters, and a Tatterkite, and i try to Bioshift the counters onto Tatterkite, nothing happens. but with the definition written in the article, it sounds like i would remove the counters off the Cloudfin Raptor, (and then attempt to place them on Tatterkite, but fail, with the end result of stripping the poor Raptor of all its +1/+1 counters).

please correct me if i'm wrong about the definition in the article being not 100% accurate, though :-)
#4 • Date: 2013-03-21 • Time: 16:23:48 •
dragontiers, when have you ever seen a player pump his shade in response to itself because he genuinely thought it was the right play, rather than because he misspoke or he didn't know the precise technical wording to communicate the play he intended to make?

I have only rarely seen a player deviate from the shortcut to purposefully retain priority, and these circumstances usually involved some kind of storm combo deck. The vast majority of players are not technically precise and just want to say what the intended result of their block of actions is, without being rules-lawyered into something that it's obvious to both players no one would actually do. (Heck, some players don't even know you can respond to your own spell or ability.)
#5 • Date: 2013-03-21 • Time: 16:24:59 •
Silph, my understanding is that if the result is illegal, the entire ability fails to resolve. So if the counters cannot be placed on their target, they never leave the origin. But as I have not read the comprehensive rules in a while, I would appreciate the exact rule that defines that.
#6 • Date: 2013-03-21 • Time: 19:16:48 •
Regarding the Tree of Redemption question: When the Tree's ability resolves, why doesn't the ability use the last known information about the Tree and set the player life total to zero? Is there a specific rule that applies here? Does the "last known info" idea apply only in certain narrow cases?
#7 • Date: 2013-03-22 • Time: 16:38:17 •
@Silph: The "and then" in the language of the given answer is tripping you up. The glossary definition of Move is simply "To remove a counter from one object and put it on a different object". Moving a counter is done as one action, and if the thing you want to move to can't have counters placed on it, you can't take the action.

@sstoneb: The key part in this is that Tree of Redemption's ability isn't just using information about the Tree's toughness to change your life total, it's making an actual exchange. "Exchange" is one of those special vocabulary words (like "target" and friends) that means something very specific with respect to the rules. If an exchange can't be made completely, then nothing is exchanged. The toughness you were supposed to get in exchange for your life total doesn't exist at the time the exchange would be made.
#8 • Date: 2013-03-25 • Time: 14:28:04 •

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