Fourth Edition FAQ and General Rulings Summary

Posted in Feature on August 17, 2009

By Adam Conus, Tom Wylie, Jim Lin, and Rich Redman

This list of questions and answers is intended to clarify the Magic: The Gathering—Fourth Edition rules. These questions and answers are not meant to supersede or substitute for the rules. If any answer below actually modifies or corrects the old published rules, the text will make that clear. This FAQ: is periodically updated; to obtain the latest edition, see the information at the end of this FAQ: Read The Duelist for the latest information on errata and rules updates.

[...]

TIMING

Q: What's the difference between an instant and an interrupt?

A: Interrupts resolve as soon as they are successfully cast. Instants, on the other hand, must wait for both players to respond with any other instants. Once everyone has finished playing instants, the instants resolve one at a time in last-in, first-out order. Each effect resolves completely before going on to the next effect, except that no damage is actually dealt until all of the effects have finished resolving. Also, if a creature's toughness is lowered, play¬ers don't check to see if lethal damage has been dealt to the crea¬ture until the batch has finished resolving. Also, instants cannot cancel or counter other effects.

For example, if I cast Lightning Bolt (an instant) on your Scryb Sprites (1/1), the Sprites will take 3 damage. If you respond by casting Giant Growth on the Sprites (+3/+3 until end of turn), the Giant Growth resolves first, then the Sprites takes 3 damage from the Lightning Bolt, so the creature survives and is equivalent to a 4/4 creature with 3 damage until the end of the turn. If the Giant Growth were cast first, then the Lightning Bolt, the overall effect would be the same. Because the damage from the Lightning Bolt is delayed until the end of the batch, the Scryb Sprites will get the +3/+3 before the damage is applied, and the Sprites there¬fore will survive the damage.

Interrupts can stop spells and other events from happening altogether. If you had cast Blue Elemental Blast (an interrupt) in response to my Lightning Bolt instead of responding with Giant Growth, the Blue Elemental Blast would have stopped my Lightning Bolt from ever happening, and the Sprites would have stayed blissfully ignorant of the whole affair. Note that I would still have the option of playing an interrupt while your interrupt was being cast. If, for example, I countered your Blue Elemental Blast with a Red Elemental Blast, my Lightning Bolt would sneak through.

A note on spells that are countered: Countered spells go to the graveyard, and any costs such as mana are still spent. The card does not go back into your hand, nor does the mana remain in your mana pool.

Q: Which fast effects are interrupts?

A: Tapping a land for mana is always considered an interrupt. All other fast effects are played as instants unless a particular card says otherwise.

Q: What if I destroy a creature in response to the use of its ability? Instants resolve in reverse order so that would stop the effect, wouldn't it?

A: No. Destroying the card that is the source of an effect never counters the effect, even if the destruction is an interrupt. If you tap a Rod of Ruin to do a point of damage to me and I respond by destroying the Rod with Shatter, the damage is still dealt to me. In the same way, if you tap a Prodigal Sorcerer to do a point of damage to me and I respond by destroying it with Red Elemental Blast, the damage is still dealt. (If I were to cast Red Elemental Blast first, however, you couldn't respond by tapping the Prodigal Sorcerer to do a point of damage; an interrupt takes effect immediately unless another interrupt is used.)

Q: Let's say I cast a spell that does 5 damage to every creature and each player. My opponent has 4 life, three small creatures, three lands available, and a Soul Net. The Soul Net is an arti¬fact that will give 1 life every time a creature dies (he pays 1 mana for each creature). Is he defeated or not?

A: No. Only check for player death after clearing the mana pool and dealing with mana burn: at the end of a phase, the beginning of an attack, and the end of an attack. In this example, the oppo¬nent can use the Soul Net right after the creatures die to gain 3 life and therefore remain in the game with 2 life.

Q: Okay, now let's say we are both low on life: my opponent is at 2 life and I'm at 3. I cast Lightning Bolt at him. He responds by casting Lightning Bolt at me. Who wins?

A: Nobody. Both Lightning Bolts resolve, both players are below zero life, and the game is a draw.

Q: But he has fewer life points than I do. Doesn't that count for anything?

A: No. All that matters is whether a player's life total is below 1, not how far below 1 it is. This game is a draw.

[...]

CREATURE ABILITIES

[...]

Q: Mammoths are 3/3, with trample. If I use them to defend against a 1/1 Goblin, does the extra damage carry over to the Goblin's controller?

A: No. Only attacking creatures can deal trample damage.

Q: Okay, now they're attacking. If they're blocked by two 1/1 Goblins, I get to assign the damage, right?

A: Yes, unless there is a banding creature among the Goblins.

Q: Okay, forget about banding for a minute. Can I choose to damage only one of the Goblins, miss the other one, and let the other 2 points carry over to my opponent?

A: Yes. You could assign the damage the same way with a non-tram¬pling creature, although the extra damage would not carry over.

Q: Suppose one of the Goblins has been given banding for the turn. Then what?

A: The only difference is that the defending player would get to distribute the damage however he or she wanted. If the defending player chose to lose only one of his or her Goblins, 2 points of trample damage would still carry over.

Q: If there are several blockers, does only one of them need to have the banding ability for this effect to occur?

A: That's right. And the damage can be allocated to any of the blocking creatures in any way the defender wants.

Q: If the trample damage is reduced to zero, either by protec¬tion from a color or by a creature's special ability (like Uncle Istvan's), what happens?

A: If the damage is reduced to zero, there is no damage to carry over. The trample is negated.

Q: What happens if you can't assign the trample damage to the blocker, such as a creature with Gaseous Form?

A: The damage would then carry on through to the defending player.

Q: What's up with the Prodigal Sorcerer?

A: The Sorcerer has a peculiar little fast effect that seems innocu¬ous enough. There are other cards with similar effects, but the Prodigal Sorcerer is more common than most of them. Read through these answers even if you don't have a Prodigal Sorcerer because all of the answers about his abilities and timing apply to other, similar cards.

Let's have a look at him: "[tap]: Prodigal Sorcerer deals 1 damage to target creature or player." This, like almost every creature special ability, is a fast effect, and can be played like an instant. See the timing rules above for more clarification.

By the way, some call him ... Tim.

Q: Tim is blocking. Before damage is dealt, I decide to use his special ability. Now what happens?

A: The block still happens, and Tim does his point of damage from his ability. But Tim is now tapped, so he deals no damage during the damage-dealing step to the creature he blocked. He will still take damage from his attacker unless that creature was killed before damage dealing.

[...]

SPECIFIC CARDS

Q: I attack with a band of two creatures, one of which is enchanted with Gaseous Form. If my opponent blocks, can I assign the damage from the blockers to the creature with the Gaseous Form enchantment?

A: No. The creature with Gaseous Form on it is incapable of receiving damage, regardless of who is assigning the damage.

Q: Will casting a Mana Short counter my opponent's spell before it goes off?

A: No. Mana Short is an instant, and instants are not capable of countering anything. If your opponent casts a Fireball at you, and you respond with a Mana Short, the Mana Short goes off first, but then Fireball goes off as well. Maria used to cast the Fireball is exempt from the Mana Short's effect because the mana is spent as soon as the Fireball is announced.

[...]

Q: May I use my Throne of Bone, Iron Star, et al. to get 1 life from a spell that was countered?

A: No. A spell that is countered is not considered successfully cast.

Q: Weakness: If I play Weakness (an enchantment which gives target creature -2/-1) on Drudge Skeletons (1/1, regenerating), it will die. What if it's regenerated?

A: Regeneration preserves a creature's enchantments, even the ones you don't want. Once Drudge Skeletons returns, Weakness will kill it again. The cycle repeats until you can no longer afford to regenerate the Skeletons or until you just give up.

Q: Siren's Call forces other creatures to attack. I'm supposed to play it during my opponent's turn before he or she attacks. When I do that, what happens?

A: You force him or her to attack but not right away. You've only made sure that your opponent will have to attack some time dur¬ing this turn and that the creatures you've affected will participate if they can. Your opponent can play as many effects as desired during the main phase before the attack is finally launched.

[...]
[...]

GENERAL RULINGS SUMMARY

The rules of Magic: The Gathering have undergone a series of changes since they were first released, due in part to their original incompleteness. The complexity of card interactions forced rul¬ings to be made by interpreting the cards; several of these rulings are now general enough to affect many cards or situations, and the most important of these rulings appear below.

LAND

Playing a land is not a fast effect, so it cannot be done in response to anything nor can it be responded to. If a land has a special ability that does not require an activation cost at all, then that ability is always "on," even when the land is tapped.

DAMAGE PREVENTION

A single damage-prevention step occurs after resolving any single spell or effect that destroys or buries one or more permanents (except in the case of "at end of turn" effects, which are discussed under "Rules about Phases," and triggered effects, which are dis¬cussed under "Triggered Effects"); all permanents destroyed or buried by that spell or effect are processed in that single damage-prevention step. A single damage-prevention step also occurs after resolving a batch of spells and/or effects in which any creature or player is damaged or in which any creature's toughness is lowered to the point where it takes lethal damage. Finally, a single dam¬age-prevention step occurs after resolving a damage-dealing step in combat (either damage dealing from first strike or normal dam¬age dealing) in which any creature or player is damaged. A crea¬ture has taken "lethal damage" whenever it has taken damage equal to or greater than its current toughness (including having its current toughness reduced to zero or less).

THE GRAVEYARD AND GOING TO THE GRAVEYARD

A permanent is "on the way to the graveyard" only during a dam¬age-prevention step and only if it has taken lethal damage or is being sent to the graveyard due to a "destroy" or "bury" spell or effect. Cards sent to the graveyard are always put on the top of the graveyard. If multiple cards go to the graveyard at the same time, the owner of the cards chooses the order in which they are put in the graveyard. Token creatures sent to the graveyard are momentarily placed in the graveyard before being removed from the game; hence, token creatures sent to the graveyard generate effects that are triggered by creatures being put in the graveyard.

You cannot reorder cards in the graveyard unless a spell or effect specifically allows or instructs you to do so.

CARDS THAT ARE OUT OF PLAY

Unless specifically stated, spells and effects do not interact with cards that are not in play. For example, a spell that says "destroy all islands" only affects islands in play.

Cards that are not in play have no memory of whether they were ever in play nor of anything that may have happened to them while they were in play (including the effects of interrupt spells).

RULES ABOUT PHASES

The "active player" is the player whose turn it is. Except during the untap and heal creatures phases, when the active player says, "I'm done with the current phase," the non-active player can declare fast effects in response to this announcement. Responding to such an announcement cancels the ending of the current phase and thus gives the active player additional opportunities to take actions during that phase.

Certain effects or required actions can only be used or must be used during a particular phase (for example, paying upkeep costs during the upkeep phase or drawing a card during the draw phase). Any such effect or required action that does not have an activation cost can only be used once during that phase. Play all such effects and required actions as instants. Such effects and required actions can be played in any order provided that all such required actions are played or the source of such actions is removed before the phase ends. You must always pay the entire upkeep cost on a permanent or none of it.

If a permanent has an upkeep cost, you may not use any ability of that permanent that requires an activation cost until you have paid the upkeep cost of that permanent.

Untap costs are an exception to the once-per-phase rule; untap costs can be paid multiple times during the upkeep phase. You must always pay the entire untap cost of a permanent or none of it. Effects that last "until end of turn" end during the heal crea¬tures phase. Effects that happen "at end of turn" are processed at the end of the end phase. The active player chooses the order in which "at end of turn" effects are processed. Only one damage prevention step occurs for all "at end of turn" effects.

ACTIVATION COSTS

In general, abilities of permanents that do not include [tap] in the activation cost can be used, even when the permanent is tapped; however, this rule does not apply to non-creature artifacts.

Abilities that do not include [tap] in the activation cost can be pow¬ered any number of times as a single activation; however, each time an ability is powered as part of a single activation, each pow¬ering must have the same target(s), if any. For example, by paying four red mana and two mana of any color, Brothers of Fire can be powered two times as a single activation creating a single effect that deals two damage to a target creature, or Brothers of Fire can be powered two times as separate activations creating two separate effects, each of which deals one damage to a target creature (which may be the same or different creatures).

Effects that make an activation cost more expensive only apply once per activation. For example, if an effect made black enchant¬ments require an additional three mana to use, powering Pestilence four times as a single activation would cost four black mana plus three mana of any color, whereas powering Pestilence four times as separate activations would cost four black mana plus twelve mana of any color.

PLAYING SPELLS OR USING ABILITIES

If a spell or ability has no target, you can still play it, even if it will have no effect. If a spell or ability requires a target, you can only play it if there is a legal target and only if there are the correct num¬ber of legal targets. One exception to these rules is that spells or abilities that prevent or redirect damage or regenerate creatures can only be played during a damage prevention step when a player or creature has taken damage, or when a creature is on the way to the graveyard, respectively. This is because those spells or abilities target the damage, not the target receiving the damage.

The legal targets of a spell or ability are specified in the text of the spell or ability immediately following the word "target." For exam¬ple, an ability that says "tap target creature" can be played on a creature regardless of whether that creature is currently tapped or untapped. An ability that says "tap target untapped creature" can only be played on a creature that is currently untapped.

[...]

TRIGGERED EFFECTS

Triggered effects are effects that only happen or can only be used when a certain event occurs—for example, when a creature is placed in the graveyard. Only one damage prevention step occurs for all triggered effects that are triggered by the resolution of any single spell or effect.

RESOLVING SPELLS AND EFFECTS

When you resolve a spell or effect, try to complete as much of the effect as possible, except where one part of the effect is a prerequi¬site for another. For example, consider an effect that says "Tap tar¬get creature. Effect deals 1 damage to that creature." Even if the target creature is already tapped when this effect resolves, the effect will still deal I damage to that creature. By contrast, consider an effect that says "Tap target creature to have effect deal 1 damage to that creature." If the target creature is already tapped when this effect resolves, the second part of the effect is ignored because the first part of the effect is a prerequisite for the second. Note, howev¬er, that some spells or effects that appear to have a prerequisite may not actually have one. The first part of a spell or effect some¬times requires sacrificing a permanent, paying life, or removing counters from a card. These are costs that must be paid when the spell or effect is played (and thus are still paid even if the spell or effect is countered or fizzles), rather than prerequisite effects.

Except in the case of certain enchantments, after a spell or effect resolves, you do not constantly recheck to see if the target of that spell or effect remains valid; the effect continues to work even if the target becomes illegal after the spell or effect resolves. For example, words like "target creature" do not mean that the target has to remain a creature for the effect to continue working. A good way to think of this is as if the first instance of "target crea¬ture" in an effect actually said "target creature which is a token or a card" and all later references to that creature actually said "that token or card." This rule does not apply to Enchant _____ cards (Enchant Creature, Enchant Land, etc.), which continuously recheck to see if their target is legal and are buried if their target becomes illegal.

The characteristics of the source of an effect (for example, color, power, and toughness, controller, etc.) are determined when the spell or effect is announced. These characteristics can only be modified by interrupts that target the spell or effect. (These char¬acteristics cannot be modified by interrupts that target the source of an effect, so after an effect using the ability of a permanent has been announced, interrupts that affect that permanent do not modify the effect.) All other characteristics are determined when a spell or effect resolves. A spell or effect containing the phrase "when [permanent] is placed in the graveyard" lock in which player is the controller of [permanent] when [permanent] is on the way to the graveyard, so anything affecting "[permanent]'s controller" would affect its current controller and not necessarily its owner.

A spell that will not become a permanent goes to the graveyard once it has been resolved or countered; it does not go to the graveyard when played.

Effects that are triggered by an event that occurs during the reso¬lution of a spell or effect do not occur in the middle of resolution; rather, they occur immediately after the spell or effect resolves completely. For example, if Balance is cast while a Dingus Egg is in play, Balance must completely resolve before damage is dealt for loss of land.

Spells and effects that affect both players at the same time always resolve their effect on the active player first. A player can never lose the game during the resolution of a spell or effect, however, so if all players lose the game (other than as a result of being reduced to or below zero life) during the resolution of a single spell or effect, the game is a draw.

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