Published on 02/23/2009

Games Afoot

or, Referring to the Subtitle Is Meta

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 Information in this article may be out of date due to subsequent Oracle and/or rules changes.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

I never metamorphose
I didn't like.

It's Monday, and you know what that means: time for your weekly hurricane of puns! And rules advice, yeah, that, too. But we know you really come for the puns.

I wonder how many of you want to skin me alive for the more horrible puns I've made, including the one to the right. I have no regrets! (Editor's Note: Since it's actually already the flavor text of Anthroplasm, I think you're off the hook, Eli.) Unfortunately, puns tend to translate poorly, which will make life difficult for our translator. Yes, Cranial Insertion is now regularly published in Spanish at Jueces y Tokens; when the translation is up, one of our editors will add a link at the top of the column (usually Wednesday morning or Tuesday evening, depending on your time zone). If you're interested in translating CI into your native language, please contact us!

We have a delicious pile of rules questions for you today, prepared by our chef extraordinaire Moko and braised with mint and brains. Got ingredients for our next article or just need help resolving a rules issue? Send off an email to and we'll get you the answer!

It occurs to me that I tend to write this column while hungry and that does lead to an assault of culinary references peppered throughout the article. But with no further ado, let's catch up with our overflowing mailbox!

Q: What's the most common question at big events?

A: "What's the most common question at big events?" is, by far, the most common question at big events. At the uncommon events where judges pick up match results slips, that's actually more frequently asked – "Can you take my slip?"

Rules issues are fairly rare at GPs and PTs, but the real cause for judge calls is simple: miscommunication. Players assume that their opponents know exactly what they mean, and then get into snafus of mythic proportions. Basically, a judge needs to land on the table, listen to the sides, and determine how to resolve the confusion. It's not pretty, and someone's always going to be unhappy.

So remember, talk with your opponent and be as clear as possible so it's not you that's unhappy.

Q: I attack with a 10/10 Dauntless Dourbark and I control another Treefolk. My opponent blocks with his only creature, a Daunting Defender. Undaunted, my Dourbark tramples over the Cleric, but my question is how much damage do I have to assign to the Defender?

A: Trample only cares about actual toughness, and not anything that will prevent damage later; our dour friend will smack the Defender-without-defender for at least 3 damage, but the other 7 can be assigned to the defending player.

Q: If you use Aggravated Assault to attack with Exalted Dragon multiple times in the same turn, do you have to sacrifice a land each time, or only once for the first time?

A: Your Exalted-but-not-that-exalted Dragon has a cost to attack. Such costs have to be paid any time you try to declare it as an attacker – it's not a "do it once and get the effect for the turn" deal like Dark Maze or Fight or Flight.

Q: How does Paradox Haze work in Two-Headed Giant? Do both of us get two upkeeps, or just me?

A: All steps, phases, and turns are taken as a team; you will not stick one head through time while the other sits back and sips coffee. If "you" get an extra upkeep, the entire team can do stuff then.

The rules team once considered an effect
like this to be simpler than Clone.
Q: How does Mirror-Sigil Sergeant interact with Volrath's Shapeshifter? Do the copies change shape as well or no?

A: Volrath's Textshifter doesn't actually have a copy effect, so other copy effects don't care about what it looks like - all of the copies will be plain, ordinary Volrath's Shapeshifters. That said, the copies will have the text-snatching ability, and they'll all look the same: text of the top card in your yard plus the discard ability.

Q: How does a Reflecting Pool work with an Exotic Orchard, both with and without a land controlled by an opponent?

A: If your opponent controls no lands, Exotic Orchard doesn't bear any fruit, and won't give any color options to Reflecting Pool. That was easy.

If your opponent controls a land, Exotic Orchard can produce any color that land can produce, and thus so can Reflecting Pool. Note that while Reflecting Pool does let you produce colorless mana, Exotic Orchard does not - if your opponent controls only lands that produce colorless mana and you control only the Orchard and the Pool, you can't make any mana at all.

Q: If my Charnelhoard Wurm is blocked by three 2/2 creatures, can I assign all 6 damage to one of them so 4 hits my opponent?

A: Ten years ago, you could. However, then Sixth Edition rules wurmed their way along and undermined your plans! With the modern trample rules, trample only affects how damage is assigned, not how damage is dealt; and you must assign lethal damage to each blocking creature before you can assign any to the defending player. So you'll have to assign 2 damage to each blocking 2/2 creature before you can assign any to the player (and unfortunately there isn't any damage leftover to assign to him).

Q: Can I Banefire my opponent through his Runed Halo since Banefire can't be countered?

A: Whether Banefire can or can't be countered doesn't come into it - you can't even play it targeting a player with protection from Banefire! Sarkhan will have to aim his freakish dragon arms at something else.

Q: Volcanic Fallout killed my Wizened Cenn; will my Knight of Meadowgrain die now, or not since damage was already dealt and it survived?

A: It's going to fall over and die. Damage sticks around until the cleanup step, so as soon as the Cenn leaves play, the Knight finds itself as a 2/2 with 2 damage on it, and state-based effects club it over the head and drag it unconscious to the graveyard.

Q: What happens if through a series of shenanigans I make a planeswalker into a creature and then that planeswalker is attacked?

A: Well, for starters, it can block the creature attacking it. Which is fantastically pointless.

The planeswalker takes damage, which results in that many loyalty counters being removed since it's a planeswalker. Since it's also a creature, this also results in that many damage being placed on it. Either the lack of loyalty or the lethal damage can make your planeswalker hate you and run away swearing bloody vengeance.

Q: I control Propaganda and my opponent controls a Goblin Assault. Does he have to pay and attack or can he choose not to?

A: You are not Goebbels; your Propaganda-fu is weak. If a cost to attack or block is involved, that creature can't be made to attack or block since its controller may choose not to pay the cost, rending the requirement impossible.

Q: My opponent plays a Pernicious Deed and then activates it for 2. I tell him that he has to pass priority before he can activate it so I get a chance to Krosan Grip it before he can set it off. Who's right?

A: He's right indeed, assuming it's his turn - after a spell resolves, the active player gets priority back, so if it's his turn, he'll get priority and can play abilities before you can do anything about it. He does have to pass priority for the spell to resolve, but you can't Grip a spell.

Q: If Dracoplasm devours a 3/3 creature and then dies, can Reveillark bring it back?

A: Once Dracoplasm leaves play, it will have no memory of its prior existence and won't know what creatures it ate. With the asterisks undefined, it'll be 0/0 and Reveillark will bring it back.

It's like a piñata full
of rules questions!
Q: Can I play Worldheart Phoenix from my graveyard any time, or only when I can play a creature?

A: Worldheart Phoenix's ability changes from where you may play it and the cost for which you may play it, but it doesn't change any other rules for playing a creature spell. It has to be your turn with an empty stack during a main phase.

Q: In Order of Operations, you mentioned a scenario with Corrosive Mentor, Aphotic Wisps, and Cerulean Wisps played in that order. If you switch the order of the Wisps, does it change the outcome?

A: It sure does! In the original situation, the Mentor depends on the Aphotic Wisps, and the Cerulean Wisps is independent. With two independent effects, apply them in timestamp order: Saffi is black, then the Mentor depends on Cerulean Wisps, and Saffi is blue.

If you switch the order of the Wisps, you're in the same boat: earliest timestamp first. Saffi is blue, and the Mentor still depends on Aphotic Wisps, so Saffi is black and the Mentor gives it wither.

Q: I imprint my opponent's EDH general on Duplicant. If he plays it, what happens to my Duplicant?

A: Once the imprinted creature leaves the RFG zone, Duplicant forgets all about it; its brain apparently comes from a goldfish. With no creature imprinted any longer, its static ability's condition isn't met and it'll just be what's printed on the card: boring.

Q: I heard that the legend rule works differently in Elder Dragon Highlander. How so?

A: Since EDH isn't sanctioned, this may vary from group to group, but the "official" rule on the EDH homepage is that the legend rule doesn't apply to generals, but it does to any legendary creature with the same name. So if you Clone your general, Clone is put into the graveyard, but the general lives.

Q: I play Shard Convergence at an FNM draft, and I accidentally get a Forest to go with my other basic lands. What do we do now?

A: You call a judge. Don't try to fix things like this yourself.

Now, for the judges in the audience, let's look at what you should do. If player A is the Shard Convergence player, and he catches the mistake himself before he puts the lands in his hand, it's all good - he's not done searching and finding, so he's just correcting himself. He doesn't actually need to call a judge in this case.

If B notices and calls a judge after A's done finding but before he's put them in his hand, then A's committed a Game Rules Violation: he found something he's not allowed to find. Just put it back on the deck for shuffling.

If either player notices after A has put them in his hand... we have a very screwy situation. Assuming that there is no cheating afoot - that B didn't notice and decide to wait to call a judge later and assuming that A made an honest mistake and assuming that A really did make a mistake and B isn't making up a story - then A is guilty of Drawing Extra Cards. At a PTQ, that's a Game Loss. At FNM, just shuffle the Forest into A's library.

Do note that there are dozens of nuances in this situation that can radically change the outcome, even without considering the possibility of cheating. It's an excellent discussion topic!

Q: Me and my opponent's game has reached the time limit in the round. My opponent plays a Time Stretch on the first of our five extra turns, then copies it. My opponent claims that we now play four of his turns, then one of mine, then his, then mine, then his again, since all of the Time Stretch turns count as part of his "first turn" when he created them. Is this right?

A: It's not right. His timely play grants him four extra turns, but the "five extra turns after time" rule counts turns actually taken – it doesn't generate them. So if your opponent takes five extra turns, you don't get any, and the match is over.

For another example to illustrate this, if your opponent had done this on turn three instead of turn one, he'd get turns four and five... and then the two turns generated by the Time Stretch wouldn't ever happen. If he did this on turn five, he wouldn't get anything at all for his prodigious amount of mana. Sometimes there's not enough time. :(

Q: What's the official draft format? ALA-ALA-CON, or ALA-CON-CON?

A: Prerelease and Launch Party events used ALA-CON-CON to expose players to the new product, but premier events will use ALA-ALA-CON. For other events, like random drafts or FNM, either is acceptable; you could even draft ALA-ALA-CON-CON or ALA-CON-EVE or some wacky mix.

Q: What do we do with the land card in drafts? Pass them around like all the other cards?

A: Listen to the person running the draft – hopefully he or she will make a token announcement telling you what to do. At premier events, the lands aren't drafted; they're taken out tossed on the table or put aside, and you only make 14 picks.

It's time to wrap up this article and get ready for the exciting release of Conflux on MTGO, which will surely come with a slew of "but that's how it works on MTGO!" situations. And much cursing of the obviously biased shuffler. Curse you, shuffler, I shall have my revenge!

Until next time, serve your revenge at room temperature with a nice shiraz and a mild salad dressing.

- Eli Shiffrin
Tucson, Arizona

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.


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