Saturday School #27

Posted in Feature on May 10, 2003

By Rune Horvik

Send your rules questions to level 4 judge Rune Horvik at He answers approximately 30 questions every week.

Can't find the answer to your question? Maybe he's already answered it! Try the Saturday School Searchable Rules Database.

Beginner Questions

Q: I have been looking through several pages for an answer to "Can the defending player tap my creatures I have assigned to attack to prevent them from attacking?" I am confused as some have stated that they can yet others say they cannot. I need to know one thing specifically. At what point do you tap your attacking creatures?

A: The combat phase has five steps:

  • Beginning of Combat Step
  • Declare Attackers Step
  • Declare Blockers Step
  • Combat Damage Step
  • End of Combat Step

You choose your attacking creatures and tap them at the very start of step 2. If your opponent want to tap your creatures to prevent them from attacking, he must do this in step 1, before you have chosen which creatures attack. Once your opponent lets you start declaring attackers, it's too late to tap them to stop them from attacking. The attacking creatures become tapped when the game determines that you have declared a legal set of attackers. Rule 308.2 in the Comprehensive Rulebook describes when attackers get tapped.

Note that you have to give your opponent the opportunity to do something to your creatures in step 1 before you choose attackers – you're not allowed to rush straight to step 2 to stop your opponent from tapping your creatures.


Q: According to last week's Saturday School poll, spells that affect creatures don't affect animated Nantuko Monastery. Which of the following can kill an animated Nantuko Monastery: Wrath of God, Starstorm, Smother, and Terminate?

A: The poll question was sort of a trick question. It asked about spells that affect creature cards, not spells that affect creatures. There is a difference, mainly a historical one - these cards used to be known as "summon cards". A card didn't count as a "summon card" just because it had turned into a creature.

So for example, Purgatory could never affect a land card, even if an effect made the land count as a creature. Although the term "summon card" was replaced with "creature card" four years ago, the rules still support the old behaviour.

Anyway, because none of the cards you mention need to target a creature card, they can affect any creature – even animated lands and tokens.

Q: I have no cards in hand and a Masticore in play. Can I untap and "shoot" stuff with the Masticore before I sacrifice it?

--Stijn Lamers

A: Yes, you can. At the beginning of the upkeep, the “discard or sacrifice” goes on the stack, and you can respond to the ability by activating ability that deals damage. Masticore isn't sacrificed until the triggered ability resolves, and you fail to discard a card. This rule used to be different years ago (back then, you couldn't use any abilities of a card until you had paid its upkeep cost, if it had one), but it works using the current rules.

Q: What happens if you play a spell that forces an opponent to discard a card from his hand at random, such as Hymn to Tourach, if you have Telepathy out?

--Daniel Hill

A: The opponent still has to discard at random, even if you both know which cards are there. You should use a random method, like rolling dice, to determine which card are discarded. Temporarily hiding all the card faces, shuffling the cards and picking any two cards also works.

You don't get to pick the cards to discard, even if you know which card is which.

Legions Questions

Q: I play a Waterspout Elemental with the kicker so all creatures return to their owners' hands. In response, my friend wants to morph a Skinthinner to kill the Waterspout Elemental before all creatures are returned. I say that there is no time in between the Elemental coming in play and all of the creatures returning, but my friend disagrees. Who is right?

--Zac Cornell, Columbia, MD

A: Your friend is right. The Elemental has a triggered ability (you can see this as it starts with “when”), and when the trigger condition is true (it comes into play), the ability goes on the stack. Both players are allowed to respond to this before the ability resolves and the effect happens. Your friend can turn Skinthinner at this time to kill the Elemental. This won't stop the effect on the stack from resolving, though, all the remaining creatures will still be returned to their owners' hands, and you skip your next turn.

Elvish Soultiller

Q: If I enchant my opponent's Elvish Soultiller with a Shade's Form and then Terminate it, can my opponent choose "Elf" when the Soultiller hits the graveyard and shuffle him into his library? Or do I get control of it and he gets nothing? Or do I get the Soultiller and he shuffles his other Elves? Or what?

--Ophir Nemtzov, Israel

A: It depends on whose turn it is. When multiple abilities trigger on at the same time, the active player (who has the turn) has to put his or her abilities on the stack first, then the non-active player puts his or her abilities on the stack.

If it's your turn, you put Shade's Form's “return to play” ability on the stack first, then your opponent put the “shuffle cards in” on the stack. The Soultiller would be shuffled in before you get to put it into play.

If it's your opponent's turn, you will get to return it to play under your control, and then your opponent can't shuffle it back into his library, since it's not in the graveyard.

Q: What happens if I sacrifice Goblin Turncoat to regenerate itself?

A: Not much. You sacrifice it to pay the cost of the ability. When the ability resolves, Goblin Turncoat isn't in play anymore, so the ability fails to put a regeneration shield on the card.

Q: I have a Celestial Gatekeeper and Sigil of the New Dawn in play. My opponent kills the Gatekeeper. As it goes to the graveyard, which of the two abilities will trigger first? Can I choose the order? And is there any chance that the Gatekeeper can return two Clerics/Birds into play and Sigil return the Gatekeeper to my hand?

A: Since you control both the abilities, you get to choose the order.

If you put the Gatekeeper's ability on the stack first, then the Sigil, you first get to return a creature (the Gatekeeper), then the Gatekeeper's ability tries to remove the Gatekeeper, but since it's not in the graveyard anymore, nothing happens to it. Then the targeted Birds and/or Clerics return to play. The Gatekeeper's effect does not require that the Gatekeeper itself is in the graveyard to return the creature, the effect just removes the card to prevent it from returning itself to play.

Q: Can I Threaten a Scion of Darkness, attack with it, then sacrifice it to something like a Nantuko Husk after damage is on the stack, all in order to use the Scion's ability to retrieve itself from my opponent's the graveyard giving me permanent control of it?

--Ibrahim Shum Toronto, Ontario Canada

A: This trick doesn't work. The Scion's ability will only trigger if it's in play when damage is dealt, so you don't want to sacrifice it before that. After damage is dealt, your first chance to sacrifice the Scion will be after its target has been chosen.

However, there is one way to do it. If you can persuade your opponent to block the Scion with something large enough to kill it, but small enough to let it trample over - e.g. a Krosan Tusker - then a state-based effect will kill the Scion straight after combat damage is dealt. And after that, you will put its ability on the stack and choose a target for it, so you will be able to choose the Scion.

This is all the result of rule 420.3, which says that before a player gets priority (i.e. before you have a chance to use Nantuko Husk) first all state-based effects will happen, and then all triggered abilities will be dealt with.

Q: I have a Kilnmouth Dragon with no counters on it. If I play Giant Growth on it, can I tap it to deal three damage to something?

A: No, you can't. The Dragon deals damage equal to the number of +1/+1 counters, and Giant Growth just gives a +3/+3 bonus without using counters. However, it would work if you put counters on it, using cards like Dragon Blood or Spike Feeder.

General / Older Cards Questions


Q: When you play Reminisce, does Reminisce shuffle into your library as well, like Elvish Soultiller?

A: No, it doesn't. Spells go to the graveyard as the last part of resolution, after their effects has been done. The graveyard is shuffled in, then the spell card goes to the graveyard.

Q: If I have Ceta Sanctuary and two Tidal Visionary in play during my upkeep, and I activate the Visionaries to make themselves red and green, what happens? My guess is nothing, since the Sanctuary didn't trigger and isn't on the stack, and it's too late. But if I have Ceta Sanctuary, a Tidal Visionary, and a Llanowar Elves in play, and I activate the Visionary to make itself red (while the Sanctuary ability is on the stack), what happens?

A: You are correct in your first assumption. The Sanctuary cards from Apocalypse need the trigger condition (indicated by “if…”) to be true when the upkeep starts to go on the stack. Ceta Sanctuary will not trigger if you do not control any green or red permanents at the beginning of your upkeep, and there is no opportunity for you to use the Visionaries before that.

As for the second question… You draw two cards, then discard one card.

The Sanctuary ability will trigger, and when it resolves it rechecks the game state to see what actually happens. Since you control both a red and green permanent when the ability from Ceta Sanctuary resolves, you draw two cards and discard one card.

Q: If my friend plays Cover of Darkness to give his Zombies fear, then I play Humility, would the Zombies lose fear?

A: Yes, they would. The effects apply in timestamp order, the order the permanents that generate them came into play. Since Humility is the last effect, it removes all abilities from the creatures, including the fear given by Cover of Darkness.

Q: If I have a Battlefield Scrounger in play with threshold, do I have to play the threshold ability or is it optional?

A: It's optional. When you have threshold, the Scrounger gets the ability. It's an activated ability, indicated by the colon between a cost and an effect, and you choose whether you want to activate it or not, you're not forced to use it if you don't want to.

Q: Is Vanishing a combo with Wormfang Manta?

--Julius Werner, Berlin, Germany

A: Yes, it is. Since returning to play after having been phased out doesn't trigger comes-into-play abilities, but leaves-play abilities trigger when it phases out, you can take as many turns in a row as you like, unless your opponent manages to destroy the Manta somehow to stop you from repeating the effect. The rules for Phasing are in the Comprehensive Rulebook, section 502.15.

Q: If I play Insidious Dreams and discard 2 cards, could I use Mirari's effect to add a copy to actually look for four cards without discarding two more cards?

A: Yes, you could. Mirari copies spells with all the costs paid for, and it remembers the value of X. You won't have to discard two more cards.

However, this doesn't quite do what you want. Here's what will happen: first, the copy resolves. You search for two cards, shuffle your library, and put them on top of it. Then the original spell resolves. You search for two cards, shuffle your library again, and then put the two new cards on top of it.

The effect of the original spell completely wipes out the effect of the copy. If you want to keep the first two cards, you'd have to let the copy resolve, then play an Instant that makes you draw cards.


Q: First, what happens if I have a 1/3 Aquamoeba and discard Strength of Isolation to its ability, playing it for its madness cost to enchant the Aquamoema? What happens first - the enchantment, so the Aquamoeba becomes 5/2; or the power switch, so the Aquamoeba becomes 4/3? How exactly does it work in terms of the stack? Second, if I have an Aquamoeba enchanted with Improvised Armor (a total of 3/8) and discard a card to make the Aquamoeba 8/3, what happens if at that point the Improvised Armor is destroyed? I believe the Aquamoeba becomes 3/1, but I'm not sure.

A: In the first case, you discard to pay the cost of the “switch” ability, and you must play the madness-discarded card before the switch resolves. Aquamoeba would first be 2/5, then the switch happens, ending up at 5/2.

In the second case, Aquamoeba ends up as 3/1. Aquamoeba constantly re-evaluates its power and toughness, and if you destroy the Armor, it uses different starting values for the switch. Without the armor, it's 1/3, switched to 3/1.

Q: Pearlspear Courier has targeted a creature in a previous turn. A couple turns later that creature gains protection from white. Does it still get +2/+2 and "does not tap to attack?"

--Ed Skiles

A: Yes, it does. The Courier only checks the validity of the target at two times – when you play the ability, and when the ability resolves. After that, it doesn't matter if the creature gains any form of protection, or even if it stops being a Soldier. As long as the Courier remains tapped, the creature gets the bonus.

Q: If there are no creatures in play, and I control a Pestilence and a Mishra's Factory, when do I have to activate the Factory to keep the Pestilence alive?

A: Any time before the triggered ability of Pestilence resolves. At the beginning of the end of turn step, if there are no creatures in play, the ability goes on the stack. The ability rechecks the trigger condition when it resolves (since the ability has an “if-clause”), and if the condition isn't true anymore (there is a creature in play), the ability is countered and does nothing.

Q: Will Nether Void counter Urza's Rage? Or Scragnoth?

A: No, it won't. Urza's Rage can't be countered by spells or abilities, and Nether Void has a triggered ability that tries to counter it. Scragnoth says that it can't be countered at all. The spells won't be countered even if you don't pay for the Void's ability them.

Q: One of my opponents keeps playing Shade's Form on my 2/2 creatures and then tries to use Swat to kill them. At this point I tap a swamp to increase my creature's power, thus nullifying his Swat. He says that I can't do that because he controls the card, however the card states that "Enchanted Creature has 'B: enchanted creature gets +1/+1 till end of turn'" Who understands it right?

--Nick Johnson, McKinney, TX

A: You've got it right. Shade's Form says that the enchanted creature gets the ability, and that means that the controller of the creature can activate it, not the controller of the enchantment. Only the controller of a permanent can activate its abilities unless it specifically says otherwise.

Q: If I have two Thought Devourers in play, my maximum hand size would be negative one. What would this cause?

--Mark Burkholder, Belmont MA

A: Nothing in particular. A negative hand size is treated as if the maximum hand size is zero, you only keep track of the actual number when you raise or lower the hand size.

Q: My opponent is attacking with five creatures and I play Vengeful Dreams on him with five cards in my hand. And he counters it. I could have removed five attacking creatures by discarding. Since he countered it, do I have to pay the additional cost of discarding? Or can I keep my cards, or do I have to discard a minimum of one card? Since the first part didn't resolve, I don't have to discard, right?

--Kevin Kaleel

A: Vengeful Dreams says that you discard the cards as an additional cost to play it. You pay all the costs when you put the spell on the stack, discarding all the cards at the same time. Then your opponent gets a chance to counter it. You don't get any costs back when the spell is countered.

Q: If Opalescence and Astral Slide are in play, Astral Slide can target itself, but its ability says return that creature to play at the end of the turn. If it's removed from the game it is no longer a creature, so does it return?

A: It returns. Rule 406.2 in the Comprehensive Rulebook says “A delayed ability that refers to a particular permanent still affects it even if the permanent changes characteristics.” The game knows which card is removed, and it returns the same card, even if it's not a creature anymore.

Minion of the Wastes

Q: If I have the enchantment Worship in play and am at eleven life and I play Minion of the Wastes, how much life can I play? My friends and I disagree: 10, 11, or infinite.

A: You can pay any amount up to 11 life. Worship can only affect damage: it ignores any other kind of life loss. Since Minion of the Wastes doesn't use the word damage, it's not dealing damage, and it won't interact with Worship at all.

If you pay 11 life to the Minion, you will lose the game from having zero life. You can't pay more life than you have.

Q: What happens with Diabolic Servitude if the creature it is "animating" is removed from the game (i.e. by Second Thoughts)?


A: If the animated creature is removed from game, Diabolic Servitude just stays in play without doing anything special.

Q: My opponent is at 20 life and I hit him with two Ebonblade Reapers. Does he die?

--Chris Jennings, England

A: No, he doesn't. Each Reaper has a separate triggered ability, and they resolve in order. First, the Reapers deal their combat damage, taking the opponent to 18, and their abilities trigger and go on the stack. The first Reaper causes your opponent to lose half his life, putting him at 9, then the second Reaper causes him to lose half of that, putting him at 4 life.

Q: My friend had the card Last Laugh in play, and I had Spike Soldier and Scryb Sprites. Using 6 mana I removed the 3 counters from the Spike to put them on the Sprites. I stacked the 3, not letting them resolve. My friend says that Last Laugh activates off the death of the 0/0 Spike before the Sprites got the 3 counters.

A: This is true. Doing it like this will cause your Sprite to end up dead from the Last Laugh damage before the counters are put on it. The counter is removed from the Spike when you activate the ability, and isn't put on the targeted creature until it resolves. The best way to move the counters is to move one, let it resolve, then move the others, that way the Sprite will survive.

Q: I have Spirit Cairn in play and four Plains. I pay to cycle Akroma's Blessing; can I pay the other 3 mana to put three 1/1 Spirit tokens into play? Or is this ability limited to only one Spirit per card cycled?

--Alan Hernandez, Mexico City

A: You can only pay once for each card cycled. Spirit Cairn's ability is triggered, and when the ability resolves, it asks if you want to pay . You are only asked once, you can't pay more.

Q: If my opponent has a Compost (or two) in play and I cast Duress or Cabal Therapy, does he/she draw the cards before Duress resolves? At what point does a card go to the graveyard in the spell resolution process?

--Tim, Minneapolis, MN

A: The card goes to the graveyard as the last part of resolution, after its effect has been carried out. Your opponent has to discard before he or she draws the card from Compost.

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