Published on 10/24/2005

Bring Out Your Dead

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 Information in this article may be out of date due to subsequent Oracle and/or rules changes.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

With the state championships just behind us, we thought this would be a perfect week to discuss state-based effects on Cranial Insertion.

Well, that wasn't really the reasoning behind this decision... But this article will focus on section "420. State-based effects" of the CompRules anyway.

The state-based effects (often affectionately called SBE's) are a list of twelve rules. Each of these rules lists a condition (for example: a creature has lethal damage) and something that should happen if this condition is encountered (destroy the creature). The SBE's are checked periodically by the game without either player controlling this process. Basically, every time either player gets the chance to play a spell, activate an ability or take some other action, the state-based effects are checked first. If you want a bigger picture of where state-based effects fall in the timing rules, you can read Cranial Insertion: All About Priority.

One thing that is important to remember is that the state-based effects are defined by the rules, not the cards. If some text on a card looks like a state-based effect, you can be sure it must be something else. For example, a state-triggered ability. (That one's particularly confusing. Many people use one term to refer to the other, when in fact the two have little to do with each other.)

In the rest of the article, I'll cover some questions on each of the twelve state-based effects. The details of how these things work will be explained in the answers as we go along.

420.5a A player with 0 or less life loses the game.

Q: I had my opponent down to three life when I Mindslavered him. While his turn was under my control, he drew Lightning Helix, which I made him play on himself. The damage happens before the life gain, so that would win me the game, right?

A: No, your opponent would actually survive. During the Helix's resolution, your opponent briefly goes down to 0 life, but then goes back up to three before the spell is done resolving. State-based effects aren't checked during the spell's resolution, so they never notice that your opponent was ever at 0 or less life.

Oh, I can't take him like that.
It's against regulations.
420.5b A creature with toughness 0 or less is put into its owner's graveyard. Regeneration can't replace this event.

420.5c A creature with lethal damage, but greater than 0 toughness, is destroyed. Lethal damage is an amount of damage greater than or equal to a creature's toughness. Regeneration can replace this event.

Q: I shoot my opponent's Myojin of Cleansing Fire (a 4/6 indestructible creature) first with Ribbons of Night for 4 damage, then with Last Gasp to give it -3/-3. Does that kill it?

A: The result of all this black magic would be a 1/3 indestructible Myojin with 4 damage on it. State-based effect b doesn't do anything to it, because its toughness is still greater than 0. Carting off this victim would be the job of SBE c. But c can't take it, either. It can't be destroyed, so c can't do anything to it. The indestructibility keeps the Myojin around as a 1/3 with 4 damage, and the SBEs will see that their cause is hopeless and return control of the game to you. Two Last Gasps (making one of them the Second-Last Gasp) would allow b to make short work of it, because it gets around the in by moving the creature to the graveyard manually, without going through all the paperwork involved in "destroy"-ing it.

Q: My 5/5 Golgari Grave-Troll received 4 damage in combat earlier this turn. Now my opponent plays Rain of Embers. Can I regenerate the Troll?

A: No. Strangely enough, the Troll can't survive that last point of damage without outside help. If you want to use the Troll's own regeneration ability, you need to remove a +1/+1 counter from it, making it a 4/4 with 4 damage on it. It's an activated ability, so it uses the stack. After you're done paying the cost for it, state-based effects show up and haul the Troll back to the graveyard from whence it came. The ability that would place a life-saving regeneration shield around the Troll is still sitting on the stack at that point.

Q: I have a Hammerfist Giant with four damage on it in play, but it's being kept alive by Crown of Convergence. I know (due to Sensei's Divining Top) that the second card in my library is also a Red creature, so it should be safe to activate my Charmed Pendant now. But I'm confused by the following rule:
From the CompRules:
217.2e Some effects tell a player to play with the top card of his or her library revealed. If the top card of the player's library changes while a spell or ability is being played, the new top card won't be revealed until the spell or ability becomes played (see rule 409.1i).

Can you hang around a couple of
minutes? He won't be long.
So does the Giant survive or not?

A: There is a window of time where the Crown doesn't give anything a bonus because the top card isn't revealed and the Crown doesn't know who should get the bonus. This window of time falls entirely within the process of playing the Pendant's ability, and SBEs aren't checked there. The first time they will check on your Giant's health is after you're done playing the Pendant's ability, because you would receive priority again at that point.

Q: The same setup as above, but instead of the Giant I have an Endangered Armodon and a Civic Wayfinder, and the top two cards of my library are Green creatures.

A: Your urban Druid would go from being 3/3 back to being 2/2 for a short while. State-based effects aren't checked, but the Armodon's ability doesn't function like the SBE's. Triggered abilities (note the "When" in the Armodon's Oracle text) are always alert, and the brief presence of a creature with toughness 2 is enough to render the Armodon extinct.

420.5d An Aura attached to an illegal permanent or not attached to a permanent is put into its owner's graveyard.

Q: I have enchanted my opponent's critter with Shimmering Wings. Is there a way to kill the creature with Needle Storm while getting the Wings back in my hand?

A: No, there is no way to do that. The Wings need to be on the creature when Needle Storm resolves, otherwise the creature won't be hit by the Storm. SBEs are checked right after the spell resolves: they will see a creature with lethal damage and destroy it. The SBE's take their job seriously, so they will repeat their inspection of the game state until they've established that everything is in order. On their second round, they find that Shimmering Wings is sitting in play, attached to some creature that's no longer there, so off it goes. The SBE's will complete a third round, and only then as they find everything in order will you get the chance to play any spells or abilities. By now, it's too late to use Shimmering Wings' ability to return it to your hand.

420.5e If two or more legendary permanents with the same name are in play, all are put into their owners' graveyards. This is called the "legend rule." If only one of those permanents is legendary, this rule doesn't apply.

Q: My opponent controls a Boros Swiftblade, I have Night of Souls' Betrayal in play and a second in my hand. If I play the legendary enchantment, will it kill my opponent's creature?

A: The state-based effects are all resolved simultaneously. When the second Night hits play, two things will be wrong with the game state: there is a 0/0 creature in play, and there are two legendary permanents with the same name in play. The three offenders are shipped to the graveyard simultaneously.

420.5f A token in a zone other than the in-play zone ceases to exist.

Q: Tokens can't exist anywere but in play, right? So if someone shoots the Spirit token from a Transluminant with Trophy Hunter, will it get a counter?

A: Tokens can exist outside of play - as long as this state-based effect doesn't notice them there. Right after Trophy Hunter's ping ability resolves, SBE's find the Spirit token with more damage than it can handle and destroy it, which causes it to go to the graveyard (barring regeneration or indestructibility). On the second round, the token in the graveyard goes poof. But it did go to the graveyard before going poof, so the Hunter's second ability triggers and goes on the stack, and then you will be allowed to play stuff again.

420.5g A player who was required to draw more cards than were in his or her library since the last time state-based effects were checked loses the game.

I've got to go to the Robinsons'.
They've lost nine today.
Q: If neither player has any cards left in their libraries and my opponent activates Lore Broker, what is the outcome of the game?

A: The game would be a draw. If multiple SBE's have something to fix about the game state during a single round of checks, then all those fixes will be performed simultaneously. That is what happens here; you and your opponent get noticed by this particular SBE and you lose the game simultaneously, ending the game in a draw.

Q: I control Platinum Angel and Bloodfire Colossus and both me and my opponent are at low enough life to be killed by a blast from the Colossus blowing up. If I activate the Colossus, would the game also be a draw?

A: In this scenario, you are the winner. On the first round of SBE checks, three things are found to be wrong: you and your opponent are both at 0 or less life, and Platinum Angel has lethal damage on it. Simultaneously, the game tries to make both players lose the game. In your case, that doesn't work because the Angel prohibits you from losing the game. Your opponent isn't so lucky. At the same time, the Angel is destroyed. After all these things have happened, the game is over and you have won. If the game hadn't ended right there, SBE's would have gotten to the second round and finished you off as well.

420.5h A player with ten or more poison counters loses the game.

Q: I attack my opponent with Crypt Cobra and he doesn't block it. The Snake's ability goes on the stack, and before it resolves to give my opponent his tenth poison counter, the Cobra is destroyed. There are no more cards in play that tell a player with ten poison counters to lose the game, so my opponent argues that he will survive. Is he right?

A: No, your opponent in wrong. In the current Oracle text, the line "A player with ten or more poison counters loses the game" is just reminder text. Reminder text has no effect on the game; it just reminds players of some relevant rule. This piece of reminder text reminds you of rule 420.5h, which will cause your opponent to lose regardless of where the Crypt Cobra is at the moment.

You'll be stone dead in a moment.
420.5i If two or more permanents have the supertype world, all except the one that has been a permanent with the world supertype in play for the shortest amount of time are put into their owners' graveyards. In the event of a tie for the shortest amount of time, all are put into their owners' graveyards. This is called the "world rule."

Q: If I Copy Enchantment a Forsaken Wastes, do both enchantments die?

A: No, only the original enchantment dies as a state-based effect. The world rule works in the exact opposite way from the pre-Kamigawa legend rule: the new world permanent gets to stay, while the old one is removed. The world rule wasn't changed when the legend rule was updated with Champions of Kamigawa, so it still works the way old-school players are used to.

420.5j A copy of a spell in a zone other than the stack ceases to exist. A copy of a card in any zone other than the stack or the in-play zone ceases to exist.

Q: I play a spell and Twincast it. My opponent Remands the copy made by Twincast. If I have the mana, can I replay the copy of the spell from my hand again?

A: No, SBE's will be checked right before you receive priority to play the spell copy again. They will find the spell copy out of its natural habitat, the stack, and escort it to nothingness.

I'm not dead!
420.5k An Equipment attached to an illegal permanent becomes unattached from that permanent but remains in play.

Q: If my Pristine Angel is tapped, can I equip it with Pariah's Shield and have the Equipment stay there even when the Angel untaps?

A: While the Angel remains tapped, the equipment will stick on it. However, as soon as you untap the Angel, it will have protection again. Protection means four things: the permanent with protection can't be Damaged, can't be Enchanted or equipped, can't be Blocked by creatures, and can't be Targeted by anything with the protected-from quality (You can use the acronym DEBT to help you remember these four things). The only targeting done by the equip ability is while that ability is on the stack. The Angel isn't being targeted anymore once the Equipment is attached to it. But as you can see, since protection also doesn't allow the Angel to be equipped, this can't legally be the case for an untapped Angel. The Shield will "fall off" as a state-based effect. An interesting note: if the Angel untaps during your untap step, the Equipment won't fall off until your upkeep step (but still before you get the chance to play anything), because SBEs aren't checked during the untap step.

420.5m A non-Aura, non-Equipment permanent attached to another permanent becomes unattached from that permanent but remains in play.

Q: Hey, I don't remember this one. Is it new?

A: As a matter of fact, it is. It was added with the October 1 rules update. I'm not sure what it's there for. It certainly doesn't have anything to do with *cough*Licids*cough*.

And that's twelve. As always, you can send your questions to . You'll receive a quick answer from Eli, Tom, me, or any combination of us, and the question will appear on the site some time later.

-Thijs van Ommen, The Netherlands

About the Author:
Even though I'm not a judge, my interest in the rules of the game is the main reason for me to play. You'll usually find me answering questions in the rulings forum. I'm mostly a casual player: the only tournaments I visit are prereleases.


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