Published on 03/28/2016


Steel Thyself

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 Information in this article may be out of date due to subsequent Oracle and/or rules changes.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

Traditional gifts include steel and jewelery.
He11o, and welcome to another edition of Cranial Insertion! The atmosphere's rea11y positive in the office today—I'm told that's because it's an important birthday today, but every time I ask whose, everyone just gives me weird looks, and Moko throws bits of rotting monkey flesh at me.

Speaking of Moko, he's getting to try something new for once! He's been getting a bit tired of doing nothing but sorting a11 the mail, so when our normal proofreader turned up sick this week, we decided to give Moko a chance to fi11 in. Hopefu11y he does a good job, but I'm not entirely convinced he's going to be able to resist messing with us somehow.

If you'd like to try something new, try sending us a rules question! You can send them to us via email at , or via Twitter @CranialTweet. You'11 get an answer, and with any luck a spot for your question in an upcoming article. But for now, on with this week's co11ection!

Q: If I control Phyrexian Unlife, my life total can be negative, right? If so, how does that interact with Celestial Mantle and Death's Shadow?

A: It is indeed possible to have a negative life total, and it happens to players a11 the time—they just norma11y die from it immediately.

Most of the time, Magic uses only positive numbers and 0. The game can have values that are negative—such as a player's life total or a creature's power or toughness—and can perform calculations and comparisons using those values, but it's not possible for the game to do "negative amounts" of something. That means you can't deal a negative amount of damage, gain or lose a negative amount of life, draw a negative number of cards, and so on, and if something tries, it does 0 of that thing instead.

But there are a few things that the game can do with negative numbers.
  • It can set a player's life total to a negative number.
  • It can double a player's negative life total.
  • It can set a creature's power or toughness to a negative number.
  • It can modify a creature's power or toughness using a negative number.

The second and fourth points in that list should feel familiar, because that's where Celestial Mantle and Death's Shadow come in.

Celestial Mantle takes your life total, doubles it, and then sets your life total to the resulting value. Multiplying a negative number by 2 yields a bigger negative, so if your life total was, say, -10, that calculation would be (-10) * 2 = (-20). Your life total becomes -20.

Death's Shadow takes your life total and subtracts that amount from its own power and toughness. Subtracting a negative number from something is the same as adding a positive one, so again using a life total of -10, the resulting calculation would be 13 - (-10) = 13 + 10 = 23. Death's Shadow is a 23/23.

Q: If I Ghostway my field with Containment Priest in play, do they get exiled forever, or do they a11 come in at the same time in which case they a11 stay in play?

A: Containment Priest has a static replacement ability, and in order for an effect to replace an event, that effect must exist prior to that event happening—the game won't go back in time to replace something that has already happened.

Ghostway returns a11 of the creatures it exiled simultaneously, and immediately prior to that happening there isn't any Containment Priest around to mess things up. So a11 of your creatures are returned without issue—none of them wi11 be exiled by the Priest, because the Priest wi11 not have been around in time to do so.

Q: If I control Knowledge Pool and Nu11stone Gargoyle, may I counter the first noncreature spe11 if my opponent casts it and deny them the Knowledge Pool? And at the same time (not the same turn obviously) cast the first noncreature spe11 in a turn unimpeded?

A: Absolutely. You control both permanents, and their abilities trigger at the same time, so you get to choose the order in which those abilities are put onto the stack relative to each other, and you don't have to make the same choice every time.

So if your opponent happens to be the one casting the first noncreature spe11 of the turn, you can put the Gargoyle's ability on top so their spe11 is countered. And if you happen to be the one casting the first noncreature spe11, you can stack the Pool's ability on top so it goes safely into the Pool and doesn't get countered.

Handmade gifts are always welcome.
Q: Can Azorius Charm put a creature on top of a library while it's fighting another creature for something like Prey Upon?

A: Nope. "Attacking creatures" are only creatures that are attacking a player or planeswalker during the combat phase, and similarly, "blocking creatures" are only creatures that are acting as blockers during the combat phase. Spe11s and abilities that cause creatures to fight, like Prey Upon, have nothing at a11 to do with this—they're something completely different. As such, Azorius Charm can't touch those creatures.

Q: I have a Zada, Hedron Grinder and two Goblin tokens. If I cast Giant Growth on Zada and Fork it, do my tokens get pumped once each or twice each?

A: Just once. Zada, Hedron Grinder's ability triggers whenever "you cast a spe11 that targets only Zada...", and you only did that once, when you first cast Giant Growth. Casting Fork doesn't trigger the ability again (because Fork doesn't target Zada), and creating a copy of Giant Growth doesn't do it either (because you're not casting that copy at a11).

Q: How do Goblin Dark-Dwe11ers interact with Lightning Axe?

A: We11, you don't have to pay the . Congratulations? You're sti11 on the hook for everything else, though.

When you cast something "without paying its mana cost", the only thing you don't have pay is exactly that: the card's mana cost. And a card's mana cost is defined as always and only the symbols that appear in the top right-hand corner of the card.*

Lightning Axe's mana cost is , so that's the part that you don't have to pay. The "pay or discard a card" is what's known as an additional cost, and Goblin Dark-Dwe11ers doesn't get around additional costs, so if you want to cast the Axe you're going to need to cough up the mana. (Or card.)

*Future Sight Futureshifted cards notwithstanding.

Q: What happens if more than one Vengeful Pharaoh are in my graveyard and I get hit, but there's only one attacking creature?

A: A11 the Vengeful Pharaohs wi11 trigger at once, and since there's only one attacking creature available, a11 of those abilities wi11 have to target that one creature.

Then we start resolving things. The first Vengeful Pharaoh trigger wi11 resolve as normal—the creature is destroyed and the Pharaoh is put on top of your library. But when the second tries to resolve, it wi11 see that the creature it's targeting is no longer on the battlefield—it's an i11egal target.

Since the second Pharaoh's ability has only one target, and that target's i11egal, the ability is countered and none of its effects occur. The second Pharaoh (and any others there may be) stays where it is.

Q: In a multiplayer game, if a player has a Vengeful Pharaoh in their graveyard and takes lethal damage while there is more than one player remaining in the game, would Vengeful Pharaoh go off and destroy one of the attacking player's creatures?

A: Nope. The player is dealt lethal damage and the Pharaoh triggers, but the player loses and leaves the game before that trigger can be put onto the stack.

When a player leaves a multiplayer game, everything they own goes with them, and if anything tries to put an ability on the stack contro11ed by that player, it fails. So a moment after the player leaves, when the game tries to put Vengeful Pharaoh's trigger onto the stack, it sees that that player has left the game, and instead doesn't do anything.

Q: If Intet, the Dreamer phases out, say from Teferi's Veil, do the cards exiled by him remain exiled forever as they would if he were flickered? Or since he's the same Intet would I sti11 be able to cast his cards once he phases back in?

A: First off, Intet isn't a "he"; she's female.

But to answer your question, once Intet phases out, she's not considered to be on the battlefield any more—she hasn't left, exactly, but she's not there right now either. That means the "for as long as Intet remains on the battlefield" condition of her ability no longer applies, and you no longer have permission to cast the cards she exiled.

Q: I have Renegade Doppelganger in play and cast a Ca11ous Oppressor. The Renegade becomes a copy of the Oppressor - does my opponent choose a new creature type or wi11 the Renegade have the same creature type restrictions?

A: Neither! Your renegade becomes a copy of the Oppressor, but since it's not entering the battlefield your opponent doesn't choose any creature type for it, and you don't get the same choice as was made for the original Oppressor either, because that choice isn't something that can be copied. The end result is a Ca11ous-Oppressor-copy that doesn't have any chosen creature type at a11. And since there's no creature type chosen for it, you won't be able to use its ability.

When the game tries to refer to a choice that was never made in this way, whatever part of the ability refers to that choice doesn't do anything. In Ca11ous Oppressor's case, the part that refers to the choice is the targeting requirements of the ability, and since the targeting requirements don't do anything, the game can't determine whether or not any target you might try to select is legal. Basica11y, the game runs into a big blue screen saying "ERROR 404: Choice Not Found". And nothing happens.

Q: I activated Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord's second ability sacrificing Lord of Extinction who's big enough to ki11 a11 my opponents. Once the ability is on the stack one of my opponents responded to this by gaining control of Jarad and saying he now controls the ability which is sti11 on the stack waiting to resolve.

A: That's not true at a11. Your opponents are a11 dead.

The contro11er of an activated ability is the player who activated it. Gaining control of the source of an ability that has already been activated doesn't affect that ability in any way at a11, for the same reason that ki11ing or bouncing it doesn't—once activated, the ability is a completely separate, independent object.

Q: I want to play Kolaghan's Command targeting my Big Game Hunter in my graveyard with the first ability and myself with the second. Can I discard the creature I just returned to my hand and then cast it via madness?

A: Absolutely. When resolving a spe11, you fo11ow its instructions in the order printed on the card, so you're going to return your Big Game Hunter to your hand first. Then you need to discard a card, and hey, there's a Big Game Hunter in your hand you can discard and cast via madness! What luck!

Q: If I have four Ophiomancer and a Carrion Feeder on the field, would I have four potential sacrifices each turn as an instant to Carrion Feeder? I know I can't get multiple Snake tokens at once, but when the Ophiomancers a11 resolve, could I sac one snake, then the next Ophiomancer wi11 check for a snake and not find one, giving me another, sac that and continue until I have had a11 four give snakes for sacrificing each turn?

A: Absolutely. Ophiomancer checks whether or not you control any Snakes twice only: once at the time the ability wants to trigger, to determine if it triggers in the first place, and a second time once the ability is starting to resolve, to determine if it does anything. What happens in between those two checks doesn't matter at a11.

So at the beginning of your upkeep, a11 four Ophiomancers wi11 check to see if you control any Snakes to determine whether or not they should trigger. You control no snakes, so each of them triggers. Those triggers go onto the stack, and the first one resolves. You sti11 control no snakes, so you get a token.

Now there are sti11 three Ophiomancer triggers on the stack, and you control a snake, but you have the opportunity to respond before the next ability resolves, so you do so, sacrificing the Snake to your Feeder. You get a counter on your Feeder, and you're left with three Ophiomancer triggers on the stack and no Snakes. The next Ophiomancer trigger starts resolving, and you control no snakes, so you get a token! Rinse and repeat for the remaining two triggers.

I saw a movie about this once.
Q: Serene Master is equipped with a Leonin Scimitar and blocks a Darksteel Colossus. What happens?

A: When Serene Master's ability resolves, the game checks for the current power of both the Master (1) and the creature it's blocking (11), taking a11 relevant effects (such as the Scimitar's boost) into account. Based on this, continuous effects are created that say "Until end of turn, Darksteel Colossus's power is 1", and "Until end of turn, Serene Master's power is 11". These effects are applied, and you now get to re-evaluate what the Master and Colossus look like.

When applying effects that modify power and toughness, you always apply effects that set power and toughness to specific values before things that merely modify those values without setting them to specific values. So the Master's own ability changes its power to 11, making it an 11/2, and then Leonin Scimitar comes along and gives it +1/+1 for a total of 12/3. (The Colossus only has one effect applying to it—it becomes a 1/11.)

End result: 12/3 Master, 1/11 Colossus.

Q: If I have Sphere of Resistance out could I cast Restore Balance for or since it doesn't have a cost I would sti11 have cast it with suspend?

A: You'd sti11 have to suspend your Restore Balance—you wouldn't be able to cast it. The problem with casting Restore Balance norma11y is that the game asks you to pay its mana cost, and it doesn't have one—you can't pay a cost that doesn't exist, so you can't cast the spe11.

And while Sphere of Resistance adds an additional cost to your Balance, it doesn't change the fundamental problem that the game sti11 wants you to pay the mana cost, which sti11 doesn't exist, so you sti11 can't pay it, so you sti11 can't cast the spe11.

Q: If I give flashback to a card with suspend, can I suspend it?

A: Afraid not. You're only able to suspend cards from your hand—that's the only place suspend functions from. Cards in other zones can't be suspended, even if you have permission to cast them from whatever other zone they happen to be in at the moment.

Q: Can Loyal Retainers return a flip card like Nighteyes the Desecrator to play?

A: No, it can't. A flip card like Nezumi Graverobber/Nighteyes the Desecrator only has its flipped characteristics while it's on the battlefield and flipped. In any other zone, it only has its "normal" characteristics, which means that a Nezumi Graverobber in the graveyard isn't legendary, and therefore isn't a legal target for Loyal Retainers' ability.

Q: How does Riot Control's damage prevention work in Two-Headed Giant?

A: Not terribly we11, unfortunately, since it only prevents damage that would be dealt to you, and not damage that would be dealt to your teammate. The lifegain works, and the damage prevention works just as you would expect against damage coming at you from spe11s and abilities, but against combat damage...not so much.

The problem is that when an attacking creature assigns combat damage to the opposing team in Two-Headed Giant, its contro11er gets to decide which of the two opposing players it's dealing that damage to. This means that if you let a bunch of creatures go unblocked and cast Riot Control, expecting to prevent the damage, your opponents can simply have a11 their unblocked creatures deal their combat damage to your teammate rather than you. Your shared life total goes down, and Riot Control's effect didn't do a single thing about it, because you're not the one who was dealt the damage. Sucks to be you.

Q: When you declare that you're repeating an infinite loop some finite amount of times in a tournament setting, can you say that you're running the loop until some random occurrence comes true, rather than specifying the number of times you're running the loop?

A: Definitely not. In order to shortcut through a loop in a tournament setting, you need to be able to specify both what the game wi11 look like after you're done (for obvious reasons) and the finite number of times you wi11 be executing the loop in order to accomplish what you want.

Since the outcome you're looking for is random, there's no finite number you can pick that wi11 absolutely guarantee you get the outcome you want—no matter how high a number you pick, there's always some chance that you won't get what you want before you're done. So you can't shortcut to it.

Q: During a draft at FNM, a player opens up their pack and quickly wants to compare the monetary value of two cards they are debating between to draft. Are they a11owed to look at their phone and look up the monetary value before choosing, and then passing the pack?

A: At Regular-level events like FNM, Players aren't a11owed to use their phones (or any other electronics) to access information that contains substantial strategic advice or information about an opponent's deck, but card prices genera11y don't fa11 into that category, so this is norma11y fine.

However, the Head Judge and the Tournament Organizer have the ability to apply further restrictions on the use of electronics at the event, so if they decide to disa11ow price checks during a draft (say, because it causes delays), they can do that. Check with your local TO to see if they're okay with it.

Also note that this only applies at Regular-level events; at Competitive-level events or higher, players cannot use their phones during drafting (or deckbuilding) at a11. (With the sole exception of taking brief personal ca11s, with permission.)

Q: During FNM, I saw someone activating Joraga Auxiliary, and they supported 2 incorrectly, choosing to put one of those counters on the Auxiliary. I stopped the player and said "Nope, you can't do that. It says you have to put each counter on up to two OTHER creatures." I was a11owed to say that without ca11ing a judge over, right?

A: Not rea11y, no. While a rules correction like that doesn't constitute strategic advice, it's sti11 something you shouldn't be doing. As a spectator, your primary responsibility is to remain silent and passive during matches. If you believe you've observed a rules violation, you should be ca11ing a judge every time—the most you're a11owed to interfere with the match, even at FNM, is by asking the players to pause while you get the judge.

The reasons for this are fairly straightforward—spectators don't necessarily have a complete understanding of the rules or of tournament policy, so it's very possible for a spectator to be mistaken when they interfere. And if a spectator issues a "correction" that's actua11y a mistake, a ton of potential problems arise that could have been avoided by ca11ing for a judge instead.

And that's a11 we have for this week! Thanks for stopping by, and we'11 see you a11 again next week for another informative edition of Cranial Insertion!

- Ca11um Milne

About the Author:
Callum Milne is a Level 2 judge from British Columbia, Canada. His home range is Vancouver Island, but he can be found in the wild throughout BC and also at GPs all along the west coast of North America.

As for Riot Control in Two-Headed Giant, the damage prevention isn't entirely useless. For example, it could save planeswalkers from having damage redirected to them, or prevent the damage doubling from soon-to-be-released Goldnight Castigator - both only applying if controlled by the player casting Riot Control.

Something I wonder about, though, is that by default, damage will be dealt to the right-seated player. If that player happens to be the one casting Riot Control, and the opposing team doesn't specify the damage should be dealt to the other head instead in the slightest (possibly because they're unaware of the rule entirely), I presume there would be no damage dealt - is that correct?
#1 • Date: 2016-03-31 • Time: 14:24:01 •

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