Published on 01/26/2009

In All Likelihood

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 Information in this article may be out of date due to subsequent Oracle and/or rules changes.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


Greetings once more! The Conflux Prerelease will be here this weekend, and with that will come a flood of new questions! I'm looking forward to meeting Nicol Bolas -- he's like the Chuck Norris of Magic.

Don't send Conflux questions just yet, though! We want to give you correct answers, and we need the cards to do that! While we're all waiting, you can send your questions to , and we'll run them through our new Robotic Rules Guru, then answer them ourselves because he's still buggy.

Anyway, let's have some questions.

Q: I'm trying to figure out if Caldera Hellion and persist is a combo or bombo. If I play the Hellion and devour a creature with persist that has no -1/-1 counters on it, does the persist trigger go on the stack before the Hellion's CIP ability, the other way around, or is it my choice because they happen at the same time?

A: No player receives priority between when creatures get eaten and when the Hellion comes into play, so all of the associated triggers go on the stack in the order of your choice. Depending on what you want to do, you could have your creature pop into a freshly incinerated battlefield or just let him die again.

Q: The only creature I control is a Sharding Sphinx, which my opponent steals using Sarkhan Vol. Can he play Bone Splinters, sacrificing the Sphinx and targeting it too?

A: He certainly can. He'll choose the spell's target before he goes to pay the spell's costs. The Bone Splinters will be countered on resolution because its target is in the graveyard, but I imagine your opponent is content with the outcome anyway.

Q: When playing a spell, first you declare it, and then you pay costs, right? So I can play an Infernal Tutor, and then pay for it with a Lion's Eye Diamond, making the Tutor hellbent?

A: You've got the steps of playing a spell correct. Unfortunately, the Oracle text of Lion's Eye Diamond includes the clause "Play this ability only any time you could play an instant." You can't play an instant in the middle of playing another spell, so you can't activate the Diamond at that time either.

Q: My opponent has a Story Circle set to blue. I activate my Prodigal Sorcerer targeting my opponent, and he activates his Story Circle in response to prevent the damage. If I Chaoslace my Sorcerer in response to the Story Circle activation, will the damage not be prevented because it's red now, or will it still be prevented because the source was chosen when the Circle was activated?

A: Your opponent doesn't choose a source until the Story Circle activation resolves. At that time, Mr. Tim is red, so he's not a legal choice. Your opponent still has to choose something that's blue, if possible. Keep that in mind, just in case what he chooses would deal damage to him later in the turn.

It's actually a Ninja wearing a
boar suit, not a Shapeshifter.

Q: If I discard a Sower of Temptation to some ability and then play Volrath's Shapeshifter, I'm pretty sure I get to take control of my opponent's creature. Will that opponent get the creature back if I discard something else to change Volrath's Shapeshifter?

A: When the Shapeshifter comes into play, it'll trigger any copied "When [this] comes into play" abilities, so you're correct that you'll get to snag a creature.

If you later discard a different creature card (or even a non-creature card), that won't change anything. The change of control is a one-shot effect that's created by the triggered ability. Once the ability resolves, the effect will continue even if the ability that created it ceases to exist. Also, the control-changing effect lasts "as long as [this] remains in play." The Sower of Volrath's Shapeshifting Temptation might change its name and put on a Durkwood Boar suit, but the game still knows it's the same permanent.

Q: I play Elspeth, Knight-Errant's ultimate ability. Then my opponent takes control of one of my creatures. Does that creature have indestructibility?

A: When Elspeth's ability resolves, she doesn't change their characteristics. That is, she doesn't give them "indestructible" (nor could she, since there is no such ability.) Instead, she changes the rules of the game, and the new rule is that if you control a creature (or artifact, enchantment, land), it's indestructible.

Because she's changing the rules, the set of permanents she affects isn't locked in when the ability resolves. It'll be continuously evaluated, and as soon as your opponent takes control of your creature, the effect from Elspeth's ability no longer applies to it. It can be destroyed as normal.

Q: Wait, so does that mean creatures I play after resolving that ability are indestructible too?

A: Yes, as well as the artifacts, enchantments, and lands.

Quote from 418.3b:
Continuous effects that don't modify characteristics or change the controller of objects modify the rules of the game, so they can affect objects that weren't affected when the continuous effect began.

It must be nice to be a planeswalker, when even the rules of Magic itself bend to your whim.

Q: Does Angelic Benediction's ability allow its controller to tap a creature at any point in the combat phase, or only during the declare attackers step?

A: Triggered abilities will trigger and go on the stack when their trigger event occurs. When you declare your attackers, if exactly one creature is declared as an attacking creature, your Benediction will trigger, and you'll have to use its ability right then or not at all. You can't save it for later.

Q: If I have a Painter's Servant naming black and I equip it with a Sword of Light and Shadow, will the equipment stay on, fall off, or not attach in the first place?

A: The Sword will attach to your creature just fine, because there's nothing to prevent that from happening. Once it's attached, though, we check state-based effects and see a black permanent equipping a creature with protection from black, so it gets unattached.

Q: Can I still cycle or landcycle cards with an empty library? I'm just one Lightning Rift away from winning the game.

A: You can play those abilities with an empty library, and either one will trigger the Rift just fine. If you use ordinary cycling, state-based effects will cause you to lose the game after you attempt to draw the card, but that won't happen until the cycling ability resolves. The Rift trigger hits the stack when you play the cycling ability, so if that's all you need to kill your opponent, that'll win it for you!

Q: Does Elkin Bottle let me play the removed card for free?

A: Unlike many similar effects, the Bottle doesn't specify that you may play it without paying its mana cost. Therefore, you'll have to pay its costs as you normally would. Don't keep your answers at the bottom of the Bottle.

Q: I activate Brion Stoutarm's ability, sacrificing a Calciderm. Then I copy the ability with Rings of Brighthearth. I know I'll deal 10 damage, but do I gain 5 life or 10?

A: You'll gain a total of 10. The copied ability causes Brion to deal the damage, so his lifelink ability will trigger.

Q: Scourglass says to play the ability only during my upkeep. Does that have a special interaction with upkeep triggered abilities? Do I have to play it before or after those?

A: There's no special interaction, just the usual ones. You can't play the ability before those abilities trigger, because you don't receive priority before then. You can, however, activate your Scourglass before those other abilities resolve, or you can let them resolve and then play it. The only restriction on playing the Scourglass's ability is that the game must be in your upkeep. You can still play it even when the stack's not empty.

Don't even ask about the health benefits.

Q: Can I kill myself with Necropotence with Lich's Mirror in play to draw my entire library?

A: Not your entire library. You can't pay life you don't have, so you'll only be able to draw cards equal to your life total. Also, the Mirror replaces losing the game with, among other things, drawing seven cards, and you don't want an empty library when that happens. Still, you'll get some number of cards in your hand at end of turn, before you discard down to seven, so maybe you can work with less than the whole library.

Q: Wait, discard down to seven? I discard at the end of my turn, don't I? And I get the cards at the end of my turn; shouldn't I keep them?

A: I'm afraid not. The cards are put into your hand at the end of your turn, then the game moves on to the cleanup step, where you'll discard down to seven cards. This whole undead thing is sounding like a worse deal all the time, isn't it?

Q: If my opponent activates Sensei's Divining Top, does he have to tell me whether or not he's rearranging the cards before he puts them back?

A: No. The order in which your opponent puts cards back on top of his library is private information. If you ask him for that information, he's not obligated to answer, and if he does, the answer doesn't have to be truthful.

Q: I play Relentless Rats with a Thrumming Stone in play. I get to flip the top four and put another Relentless Rats into play. Does that trigger the ripple again and let me chain through my whole deck?

A: Yeah, pretty much. You're not putting the new Rats into play, you're playing it as a spell, and that triggers its ripple ability. If you have a lot of Rats in your deck, the likely end result is a large number of very large rats in play under your control.

Q: If I use Minion Reflector to put a copy of Thorn-Thrash Viashino into play, does the token get the chance to devour the original Viashino? MTGO won't let me do that.

A: I guess MTGO just has something against that kind of cannibalism, because it's perfectly legal. The Reflector triggers after the original has come into play, so it's in play and available to be eaten by its progeny. Or maybe it's a Clone. No, not a clone. Reflection?

Q: If my opponent activates his Aladdin's Lamp, will that trigger my Psychogenic Probe?

A: Even though you're shuffling some cards that are in the library, the library itself didn't get shuffled, because it's not in a random order afterward. Your Probe won't trigger.

Quote from Glossary:
To shuffle a deck, library, or pile is to make the order of that deck, library, or pile random.

Q: In a Two-Headed Giant game, and I played Painful Memories on one of my opponents. He said I was the only one who could look at his hand, but I thought my teammate should be able to look too. What's the ruling?

A: Playing strictly by the rules, he's right. The spell lets you look at his hand, but nobody else.

As a practical matter, though, it's kind of pointless to stick to the strict ruling here. Teammates in a 2HG game are permitted to talk to one another freely, and there's nothing to stop you from telling your teammate exactly what's in your opponent's hand. If I were the judge in this situation, I'd allow your teammate to look.

Q: With combat damage on the stack, I play Quicken, then Goblin Game. Rule 200.8 says that combat damage is an object. Can I hide the combat damage?

A: No, I really don't think you can. How can you hide something that's intangible?

Besides these practical objections, the text of Goblin Game has dropped its references to "objects" in favor of the non-rules term "items." Since "item" isn't defined by the rules, we use its English definition, and combat damage doesn't qualify.

Thanks for reading, and keep those questions flowing! The Conflux awaits!

About the Author:
Brian Paskoff is a Level 2 judge based in Long Island, NY, and frequently judges in NY, NJ, and PA. You can often find him at Brothers Grim in Selden or Friendly Neighborhood Comics in West Islip. He runs a newsletter for Long Island Magic players called Islandhome, which can be signed up for by contacting him.


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