Published on 11/28/2005

Attack of the Doppelgangers

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 Information in this article may be out of date due to subsequent Oracle and/or rules changes.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

Today we'll look at copy effects and their rules. You can find those rules under number 503 of the CompRules. Be warned, for it is a long and perilous way down from 502, which contains the definitions of all keyword abilities! I hope to convince you that the rules themselves are easy as pie.

Copying Bread and Butter

When a card is copied, you look at all the characteristics of the original card, and give the copy those same characteristics. So, what are "characteristics"? Basically, each piece of information printed on a card that's relevant to the game is a characteristic of that card. To be precise, the characteristics are name, mana cost, color, type, supertype, subtype, expansion symbol, rules text, abilities, power, and toughness. The color isn't printed on the card: looking at the border's color doesn't tell you everything you need to know in the case of a gold card, and may even be incorrect as in the famous case of the Revised version of Serendib Efreet. Rather, a card's color is determined by looking at the colors in its mana cost. In the same way, a card's abilities are determined by reading its rules text.

Not all copy effects copy every characteristic, though. For example, Sakashima the Imposter doesn't copy the other guy's name.

Q: I use Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker to make a copy of Orcish Conscripts. My opponent wants to Disembowel it, but we can't agree on how much mana that would cost.

A: While most tokens (like the ones created by the Hunted cycle) have a mana cost of :0mana:, tokens that are created as copies of another creature get that creature's mana cost. The converted mana cost itself isn't directly copied, but you determine a card's converted mana cost by counting the amount of mana in its (un-converted) mana cost. In the Orc's case, X would need to be 1.

Don't people get tired of Clone?
Q: If I Clone a Golgari Grave-Troll, does it get a double dose of +1/+1 counters?

A: No, the counters that were on the original Troll aren't part of its characteristics, so they're not copied. Because the Clone will have the Troll's ability as it comes into play, it does get a new dose, based on the number of creature cards currently in your graveyard.

Q: I have a Clone of Grave-Shell Scarab in play. Can I sacrifice that creature to draw a card, then replace that draw to dredge the card back?

A: That technique will come in handy if you ever need to tell the difference between undead vermin and the indistinguishable clones of the same undead vermin. The Clone would stop copying the Scarab the moment it leaves play. While in the graveyard, it won't have the dredge ability anymore, so you can't get it back like you can with an actual Scarab.

You never saw this one coming...
unless you're alive.
Q: I attack my opponent with a Dimir Doppelganger that is copying a Carrion Howler. After he declares no blockers, I activate the Howler's ability three times, which will give it +2/-1 thrice. Then, in response, I use the Doppelganger's own ability, removing Orcish Paratroopers (yeah, it landed face-down) from my graveyard. Do I hit my opponent for 10?

A: Yes, you certainly do. When Carrion Howler refers to itself by its name, it really means "this object". Even if that object completely changes its appearance before the ability resolves, the ability will still know what object should receive +2/-1, resulting in a 10/1 Dimir Paratrooper landing on your opponent.

Don't people get tired of Clone?
Q: I control Homura, Human Ascendant, then make a Clone of it. The legend rule kills both of them, but then what?

A: Homura's ability reads: "When Homura is put into a graveyard from play, return it to play flipped." When the two Homura's are to go to the graveyard, the game state just before their transition is checked for triggered abilities. Both the real Homura and its Clone still have the ability to return to play flipped. The order in which you stack the triggers isn't usually relevant here. Once the Clone is in the graveyard, it's no longer a copy of Homura, but the ability that will return it to play is still on the stack. After both abilities are resolved, the real Homura will be in play flipped, and the Clone will also be in play flipped. As the Clone comes into play, you choose a new creature for it to copy. If you choose a regular creature without a flip half, then the fact that the Clone is flipped will have no effect on the game. It does matter if you clone a creature with a flip half, because the Clone will have the characteristics from the flip half.

Copying Lasagna

In the last section, we saw that copy effects only copy characteristics. But the characteristics of a card may be modified in all sorts of ways. What value of each characteristic will actually end up being copied? It turns out that many modifications end up being ignored. Copy effects only care about the so-called "copiable values" of characteristics. The copiable values are determined by looking at what's printed on the object (or in the case of tokens and face-down cards, by looking at the effect that created them) and by the results from other copy effects. With October's rules update, comes-into-play-as effects are also taken into consideration.

When a card is copied, the copiable values of the original are only checked once, as the copy is being made. If those values change later, the copy won't automatically change along with them.

Don't people get tired of Clone?
Q: I control an Orcish Captain with +2/+0 until end of turn. If I Clone it, will the copy also have +2/+0, and will that bonus wear off at end of turn?

A: The Clone won't have the bonus at all. The bonus is given by a continuous effect that isn't a copy effect, so it's not copied.

Q: If I really wanted to, could I respond to my Endless Swarm with Artificial Evolution to have it make Cows instead of Snakes?

A: No matter how badly you want a giant army of Cows, your Evolution will only apply to the original spell. The epic copies won't get the text-change effect, and will make Snakes as usual.

Don't people get tired of Clone?
Q: I Clone an Orcish Artillery, but the original Artillery is unfortunately blown to smithereens. Can I make a Clone of the Clone of the Artillery, and still have it be a copy of the original?

A: Yes, works perfectly. The second Clone's copy effect takes the first Clone's copy effect into consideration.

It's all her fault!
Q: If have my Duplicant copy an Orcish Cannoneers, and copy that using Vesuvan Doppelganger. What does the Doppelganger look like?

A: The Duplicant doesn't "copy" anything: that word never appears in its text box. It just determines its own characteristics using a run-of-the-mill continuous effect. The Doppelganger will ignore this effect and look at the Duplicant itself, seeing a color 2/4 Artifact Creature - Shapeshifter.

Q: What happens if I Clone a 5/2 Molten Sentry?

A: The Clone will come into play with the Molten Sentry's ability, which tells you to flip a coin for the Clone. If heads, you get another 5/2 hasted Sentry; if tails, you get a 2/5 defender one.

It's all her fault!
Q: What happens if my Vesuvan Doppelganger copies a 5/2 Molten Sentry?

A: Because the Doppelganger is already in play, its newly-acquired ability doesn't go off and you don't get to flip a new coin. The Doppelganger's effect can see the comes-into-play-as effect on the original Sentry and sets its own copiable values to it, making it a 5/2 haste version.

Copying Marshmellows

We've mostly been looking at copying permanents so far. The rules for copying spells are slightly different. When a spell is copied, any choices that were made for the original spell as it was put on the stack are copied, in addition to the characteristics of the spell. Such decisions are: choosing targets; choosing a value for :xmana: in the cost; choosing a mode for a "choose one"-spell; and choosing which additional/alternative costs to use, if any (like Convoke or Kicker).

The copy of a spell functions just like an actual spell: it can be countered and all that. However, unless the effect you're dealing with specifically tells you to "play" the copy, the spell isn't considered "played". This means that it doesn't trigger something like Mindmoil or the many other effects that care about something being played.

Orc, orc, orc,
you eat soup with a ....
Q: My opponent targets me with the discard two cards part of Consult the Necrosages. Can I Twincast it to make myself draw two cards first?

A: Twincast allows you to choose a new target for the copy if you want to, but you're not allowed to change the spell's mode. The copy's mode is the same as the mode of the original spell (discard two cards), and stays that way.

Orc, orc, orc,
you eat soup with a ....
Q: I play a spell, and my opponent tries to counter it with Induce Paranoia. I respond by playing Twincast on his spell, and make my copy target the original spell. Under what condition will my copy get the enhanced mill-effect?

A: Sorry, you'll have to settle for just countering his spell. The copy created by Twincast was never played, and no mana was ever paid for it. This fact is true even if :symb: was spent for the original spell. The copy will never cause your opponent to mill.

Copying Spaghetti

Some permanents tell you to choose or name something as they come into play. Such a choice is obviously not a characteristic of the permanent, so it isn't copied. This may lead to weirdness if a card like that came into play as one thing suddenly becomes a copy of another thing which required some different kind of choice to be made. An ability that requires a choice does its best to find a match with the choice that was actually made. If no choice was made or the things simply don't match, then the ability has to make do with "undefined" instead of a valid choice. This may sometimes keep the ability from working at all.

Q: My Dimir Doppelganger removes a Voice of All from a graveyard. What does the Doppelganger has protection from?

A: Because there is no chosen color, the Doppelganger would have protection from an undefined color. The ability can only give it protection from one of the five colors, and none of them satisfy, so the Doppelganger ends up with no protection at all.

It's all her fault!
Q: I have March of the Machines and Pithing Needle in play. I play Vesuvan Doppelganger and have it come into play as a copy of the Needle. I name Island. (I know that doesn't do anything, but bear with me.) On my next upkeep, I have the Doppelganger change shape to a Meddling Mage. Is that a combo?

A: Certainly. Meddling Mage's ability checks if a card was named for the object that's currently playing for Mage. A card was named, so the ability is happy and stops anyone from playing anymore Islands.

Copying Ratatouille

A bunch of questions didn't fit in any of the other categories, so they ended up down here. They aren't specifically covered by the rules for copy effects, but rather by some other rules.

You never saw this one coming...
unless you're alive.
Q: My Dimir Doppelganger has removed several different creature cards, and finally ends up removing Circu, Dimir Lobotomist. Does that mean that all the creature cards ever removed by the Doppelganger can't be played while the Doppelganger is playing Circu?

A: No, there's a special rule (217.7d) that prevents this. The rule basically says (among other things) that if the ability that removed the cards and the ability that cares about what cards were removed are not printed on the same object, then they don't interact. The cards removed by the Doppelganger with Circu's ability will be unplayable, but any other cards that were removed are unaffected.

Don't people get tired of Clone?
Q: I play Tooth and Nail do dump an Orcish Settlers and a Clone into play. Can the Clone clone the Settlers?

A: The two creatures are coming into play simultaneouly. Before Clone comes into play, you have to determine what it comes into play as. At that point, the Settlers aren't in play, so you can't choose them.

Q: My Orcish Veteran is enchanted by Followed Footsteps, but in response to the upkeep trigger, the Orc is hit by a fish and dies. Does the ability still produce a token when it resolves?

A: Yes. Using the rule of "last known information", the ability can find out what the Orc's copiable values were before its death. Using this information, the copy can be put into play.

Well, that should cover most of what you'll ever run into. If you happen to have a question about copy effects not answered here, or a question about any other situation, you can send it to for a detailed explanation!

-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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