Published on 11/04/2013

A Commanding Presence

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 Information in this article may be out of date due to subsequent Oracle and/or rules changes.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

You will respect it.
Yes, we've reached that time of year, at least in a couple countries, when we're commanded to change our clocks for the end of daylight saving time. And this past week was Halloween, when we are commanded to dress up, party, and give treats to kids who come by our doors. And... oh, yeah, the Commander 2013 decks are on the shelves. Which I guess means we're all commanded to tune in for a fresh and exciting episode of Cranial Insertion, where — by your command — we'll be answering another week's worth of rules questions!

And as always, if you've got questions, we suggest but do not command that you send them to us by using the handy "Email Us" button, by sending an email to , or by tweeting at @CranialTweet, where they might be called upon to make a command performance in a future article.

Q: So, how can I kill a True-Name Nemesis?

A: Oh boy. "Protection from X", in Magic up to this point, has meant: prevent all damage that would be dealt by an X, can't have an X attached, can't be blocked by an X, and can't be targeted by an X. What "X" is can vary, and sometimes the rules have to define carefully what it means; for example, Progenitus' "protection from everything" essentially means prevent all damage to Progenitus, Progenitus can't have anything attached to it, can't be blocked by anything and can't be targeted by anything.

True-Name Nemesis introduces the new variant of protection from a player, which basically adds "by a source controlled by that player" to the normal definition. So this means prevent all damage to it from sources controlled by that player, can't have anything controlled by that player attached to it, can't be blocked by anything controlled by that player and can't be targeted by anything controlled by that player.

But while that restricts what you can do to deal with a True-Name Nemesis, you can still kill it. Non-targeted, non-damage-based destruction will work, for example, so a Wrath of God, or an Engineered Plague naming Merfolk could take it out. You can also use something like Humility or Sudden Spoiling to remove the protection ability and then kill it.

Just keep in mind that after you explode a True-Name Nemesis (if you manage it), nothing will get the smell of fish guts out of your card table.

Q: OK, but what if I have some instant-speed way to kill it in response to the player-choosing trigger? I can do that, right? Or could I counter it when my opponent announces me as the target?

A: Not quite. The choice of player isn't a triggered ability, and isn't a targeting choice made while True-Name Nemesis is being cast. It's a replacement effect which modifies how True-Name Nemesis enters the battlefield. Which means the choice isn't announced in advance, doesn't use the stack and can't be responded to; you can counter True-Name Nemesis while it's a spell on the stack, but you have to do that before you know which player will be chosen. And if you let it resolve and enter the battlefield, you won't get a chance to do anything to it until after the choice has been made and its protection is in place.

Q: How about an effect like Redirect? If my opponent casts some removal spell on one of my creatures, could I Redirect to his True-Name Nemesis?

A: You can! Redirect's only target is the spell, so nothing you control is ever targeting the Nemesis in this case. Afterward, though, be sure to thank your opponent for helpfully dispatching the Nemesis; it's also polite to offer to help clean up the fish guts.

Q: What if I've activated the +1 ability of Vraska the Unseen, and then True-Name Nemesis attacks and deals damage to her?

A: That works, too. The delayed triggered ability created by Vraska doesn't do any of the things protection stops, so the Nemesis will quickly become unseen (though again, sadly, not unsmelled).

Q: I have Oloro, Ageless Ascetic as my commander. Do I gain 4 life every upkeep when he's in the command zone?

A: Part of the ascetic lifestyle is making do with less, and Oloro is no exception. Unless the ability says otherwise, or only makes sense if it works from some other zone, an ability of a permanent only works while it's on the battlefield. Oloro's third triggered ability says it works from the command zone, so it works from there (and nowhere else). His first ability doesn't say anything special, so it only works on the battlefield. Similarly, his second ability only works on the battlefield, so you won't get to pay to drain your opponents and draw a card when he's in the command zone.

Q: Say I have Oloro on the battlefield, then. In my upkeep I gain 2 life; can I pay to have each of my opponents lose 2 life and draw me 2 cards?

A: Again: ascetic! When a resolving spell or ability offers you the option to pay and get some effect, you only get to make the payment once unless you're told otherwise. Oloro doesn't tell you otherwise (it doesn't say, for example, "you may pay any amount of mana" and draw that many cards while your opponents lose that much life), so you can pay only exactly , each opponent will lose only exactly 1 life, and you'll draw only exactly 1 card.

A cross between a commander and a deer?
Q: I heard Opal Palace would be banned in non-Commander formats since it doesn't do anything. Is that true?

A: Both parts of this are untrue! First of all, Opal Palace does do something in non-Commander formats: its first ability will produce a single colorless mana, and activating its second ability is perfectly legal. The ability will resolve normally, but will have no effect (since in other formats you don't have a commander for it to check the color identity of). And "does nothing" isn't a reason why cards get banned. So Opal Palace will be legal for play in Legacy and Vintage tournaments (the only sanctioned Constructed formats in which the Commander-exclusive cards are legal), should you really really want to play it in one. For the same reason, you could play a Command Tower (which is even more useless) or a Fractured Powerstone in those formats.

Q: Since the Theros Gods are always creatures off the battlefield, could I use Animate Dead on Erebos, God of the Dead when my devotion to black is less than 5?

A: Erebos in your graveyard will be a legal target for Animate Dead, but as soon as he moves to the battlefield his devotion ability is going to kick in; if he's not a creature on the battlefield, Animate Dead's not going to be very happy about attaching to him, meaning Animate Dead will end up in the graveyard and Erebos will follow it back there shortly afterward. This happens even though Animate Dead says "that creature's controller sacrifices it", because rules-wise that means "the thing, which I'm expecting is a creature", not "that thing, only if it happens to be a creature".

Q: My opponent has a Slippery Bogle enchanted with Rancor and Hyena Umbra. I know that if I set off Engineered Explosives with 1 counter the Bogle will survive, but what about the Rancor?

A: When the Explosives go BOOM, Hyena Umbra's totem armor ability will courageously step in prevent the Bogle from getting destroyed (since all of the destruction happens simultaneously, meaning the Umbra's around for long enough to do this), but that's all it will do. It doesn't save anything except the enchanted creature, so Rancor will be destroyed (but of course Rancor's trigger will probably pop it right back into your opponent's hand soon after).

Q: Would the same thing happen if instead I cast Mutilate with enough Swamps to destroy the Bogle?

A: No, because being put into the graveyard due to zero toughness isn't destruction. And totem armor only stops destruction, so in that case the Bogle, the Umbra and the Rancor would all wind up in the graveyard (though, again, Rancor would trigger and probably go back to hand afterward).

Q: Can Martial Glory trigger two different creatures' heroic abilities? Say, a Phalanx Leader and an Akroan Crusader?

A: Yup! You cast a spell targeting each of those creatures, so each one's ability will trigger and do its thing. You'll even get to put them on the stack in the order of your choice, so that you can have Crusader make you a token in time to get a counter from Phalanx Leader.

Q: What if I target the Phalanx Leader with each "half" of Martial Glory? Would I get 2 counters on all my creatures?

A: Nope. The heroic ability just does a simple yes/no check on whether the spell targeted the Leader, not a count of how many times the spell targeted them. So in that case you'd get only one trigger.

Q: If I control Zedruu the Greathearted and Mirror Entity, can I activate Mirror Entity with X=0, respond with Zedruu to give it away and have my opponent's creatures all become 0/0?

A: Well, all of that's OK except for the last bit. The "you" in Mirror Entity's ability gets locked in at the time of activation, and at that point "you" meant, well, you. So your creatures will all become 0/0, but that Mirror Entity will be the gift that keeps on giving. Giving you a headache, that is, since it'll be under your opponent's control, and will survive to swing right back at you, probably with a very large army by its side.

Q: If Grapeshot is exiled by Eye of the Storm, will its storm ability trigger when it gets copied?

A: It will. Copies of spells get created directly on the stack without being cast, so they wouldn't normally cause storm to trigger. But Eye of the Storm doesn't make copies of spells; it instructs you to copy the cards and cast the copies, so any abilities they have that trigger on casting will trigger, and you'll get to storm ALL the storms!

Q: I have Polukranos, World Eater and Bow of Nylea. Can I attack with Polukranos, and before my opponent blocks make Polukranos monstrous, using the deathtouch-while-attacking and his monstrous trigger to clear a path for my other attackers?

A: That's a monstrously deadly touch. Polukranos' monstrosity ability can be activated any time you could cast an instant, which includes during combat between the declaration of attackers and the declaration of blockers. And since Polukranos is attacking at that point, he'll have deathtouch and the damage from his becomes-monstrous trigger will wipe out all the creatures it touches before they can be declared blocking.

A truly cryptic command...
Q: I have a Restoration Angel enchanted with Splinter Twin. Can I use Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker to copy it, then use the copy's Splinter Twin ability to copy the copy?

A: Not quite. When you copy something, you copy only what's printed on the card, as modified by other copy effects. So the copy of Restoration Angel won't have the ability granted by the Splinter Twin that's enchanting the original. But that's OK, because you can still go infinite by just having the new Angel "blink" Kiki, then do it all over again until you have enough Angels to put your opponent in need of a miracle.

Q: Can I respond to Underworld Cerberus' last ability, say by exiling it with a Scavenging Ooze or a Deathrite Shaman?

A: You can, because it's just a plain old triggered ability that goes on the stack and can be responded to (and since the Cerberus isn't on the battlefield anymore, targeting cards in the graveyard is legal again). But that won't prevent the Cerberus' ability from returning all the dead critters to their owners' hands; that ability is already on the stack by the time you can get rid of the Cerberus, and will still resolve even though the Cerberus is now gone (the ability will just fail to exile the Cerberus, then return all the creatures).

Q: If I cast Turn targeting Stormbreath Dragon to get rid of its protection from white, and then chain it to a rock, what happens at the end of the turn when Turn's effect wears off?

A: Nothing at all! Stormbreath Dragon got all its abilities back as soon as it left the battlefield, but A) those abilities don't do anything off the battlefield, and B) Chained to the Rocks isn't enchanting or targeting the Dragon at that point anyway (the only thing it enchants is the rock — a Mountain — you've chained something to).

Q: I got really lucky and had two Gemstone Caverns in my opening hand. Assuming I reveal both, when does the legend rule kick in, and can I get mana from them before it does?

A: The legend rule, like all state-based actions, will get checked the next time a player would get priority. In this case, that'll be at the start of the upkeep step of the first turn of the game. But since it happens when someone would get priority, that means you don't actually get priority (and so can't activate one of them) beforehand. If you want two mana on your first turn, you'd need to reveal only one of them, then tap it for mana before you play the second one (and choose to keep the second one when the legend rule kicks in).

Q: If I use Restoration Angel on my Master of Waves, will the original set of tokens die?

A: Nope! Remember, state-based actions (and the check for zero toughness is also one of those) happen when a player would get priority. Once Restoration Angel's ability starts resolving, no player gets priority until it's completely done resolving, by which point the Master is back on the battlefield and pumping the tokens back into positive toughness.

Q: Can Sigarda, Host of Herons save me from paying upkeep due to an opponent with The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale or Magus of the Tabernacle?

A: No, and no, and for two reasons. First, both the Tabernacle and its Magus counterpart give a triggered ability to each creature, rather than triggering themselves. So the ability asking you to pay for your creature is an ability of that creature, and that means it's an ability you control. Second, the current official wording of the two cards is actually slightly different; Tabernacle was originally printed saying to destroy a creature that isn't paid for, and its official text preserves that, so it's not even trying to cause a sacrifice. The Magus, though, was originally printed in a more modern era where sacrificing is the standard way to handle this, so it actually does cause sacrifices, just in an indirect way that Sigarda can't stop.

Q: I control Cloudfin Raptor and cast Thassa, God of the Sea, but my devotion to blue is less than 5. Will I get an evolve counter? Can I respond by flashing in something else to bring up my devotion?

A: Evolve has what's called an "intervening if"; this means that if the trigger condition isn't true at the time it would trigger, then it doesn't trigger at all. And if it does trigger, but the condition is no longer true when it would resolve, it does nothing. And Thassa (and the other Gods) don't enter and then stop being creatures; they just either are or aren't creatures on the battlefield. If your devotion to blue isn't enough, she won't ever be on the battlefield and a creature at the same time, meaning evolve won't see her as a creature and won't trigger in the first place.

Q: At the start of my turn I control Zedruu the Greathearted and Thought Lash. Can I put Thought Lash's cumulative upkeep trigger on the stack, then give it to my opponent with Zedruu in response and choose not to pay the upkeep cost?

A: You can do this, and it's awfully greathearted of you, but not in the way you probably want. Thought Lash's current wording is carefully written to avoid shenanigans with Zedruu: it reads "When a player doesn't pay Thought Lash's cumulative upkeep, that player exiles all cards from his or her library." Since you're the player who didn't pay, you'll be exiling everything from your library, and probably losing the game as soon as you move into your draw step.

Having fulfilled this week's command, I'll call that a wrap on this week's issue. But be sure to check back next week for another issue of Cranial Insertion, where we'll answer more questions and help increase your command of the rules!

- James Bennett

About the Author:
James Bennett is a Level 3 judge based out of Lawrence, Kansas. He pops up at events around Kansas City and all over the midwest, and has a car he can talk to.


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