Saturday School #41

Posted in Feature on August 30, 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 am trying to get back into Magic after a few years of being out of it. A friend told me that putting a land between every two cards before you start playing is now illegal and can get you banned from tournaments, which made me ask him if setting your cards up so you won't draw four of the same card in a row is illegal too and he said yes, and explained that doing those things makes the game less random (Isn't magic supposed to be a strategy game?). My question is how can you set up your deck so that every game you don't end up with a hand like 6 Swamps and a Force of Nature?
--Eric Cook

A: The tournament rules require you to randomize your deck before you play. “Randomizing” means that you shouldn’t be able to know the location in your deck of any card or card type. Preparing your deck in advance like you say is called “stacking” and is not allowed in tournaments. You must thoroughly shuffle your deck before each game. There should be no point to stacking the deck. If you're shuffling thoroughly enough, the initial order will make no perceptible difference anyway.

Magic is a strategy game, but there is a random factor involved.

The best advice I have to avoid “bad hands” is to play with enough lands, which usually means greater than 33%. (Most tournament decks average 24 lands out of 60 cards, which is 40%.) If you have cards which require a lot of mana of one type, you should play with enough lands to support them. In the case of Force of Nature, you're talking about a deliberate disadvantage on the card: only heavily green decks are supposed to be able to use it.

Q: I have two Chlorophants in play without threshold and at the beginning of my upkeep I put two +1/+1 counters on one Chlorophant (and none on the other) since they read "put a counter on Chlorophant at the beginning of your upkeep" and it doesn't specify that the ability has to effect only itself. I tried this in a game and my opponent said I couldn't do it and I said I could, so who is right?

A: It can only affect itself. Whenever a card refers to its own name in the text, it means “this card;” it doesn’t affect other cards, even if they have the same name. This is rule 202.2 in the Comprehensive Rulebook.

Q: I have Sunweb in play and my opponent attacks me with a creature that is a 1/1. When I declare blockers I am unable to block him, however this will give him the opportunity to pump up his 1/1. Is there a way I could have declared the Sunweb as a blocker at the declaration stage, so that if he doesn't pump it up high enough it wouldn't be able to block, but it would at least be able to if he does?

A: No, this doesn’t work. You only have one chance to declare blockers, and if the creature is too small at that time, Sunweb will not be able to block it. It doesn't matter what happens to the creature's power later.

Q: My opponent attacks me with a 2/3 Abyssal Specter. I declare my 1/1 Sage Owl as a blocker. My opponent then taps his Crossbow Infantry and does one point of damage to my Sage Owl and kills it. Is the Specter considered blocked or does it now do damage to me?

A: The Specter is still considered blocked, so it won't deal any damage at all. Once a creature has been blocked by another creature, it remains blocked even if the creature that blocks it goes away, unless a game rule or effect removes the creature from combat. See the definition of “blocked creature” in the Glossary of the Comprehensive Rulebook for more information.

Q: Which of these scenarios are true regarding Llanowar Behemoth:
A) Tapping a creature to use its ability (Orcish Spy, Elvish Piper) gives Llanowar Behemoth +1/+1;
B) Tapping a creature to attack gives Llanowar Behemoth +1/+1.

A: Neither are true. Getting the counter is not a side effect that happens whenever you tap a creature, you need to specifically tap the creature to pay the cost of the Behemoth’s ability.

Every activated ability has its own cost, and each cost must be paid separately. When you pay red mana for one ability, you won't activate every other ability that requires red mana. In the same way, when you tap a creature for one ability, you won't activate every other ability that requires tapping creatures.

Q: If I play Execute and there are only red creatures in play would I still draw the card?

A: You can’t play a targeted spell without a legal target. You’re not allowed to play Execute unless there is a white creature to target.

Eighth Edition Questions

Q: How do Murderous Betrayal and Transcendence interact? Let frame it. I have Transcendence in play and a Murderous Betrayal in play. If I then activate the Murderous Betrayal, do I lose life, or is “pay half your life” akin to Blessed Wind where your life total becomes half what it was. If I’m at 18, then am forced to pay half my life I lose 9, Transcendence would force me to gain 18 life, causing me to lose the game. If instead the “paying life” sets my life total to half what it was, then Transcendence won’t kill me.

A: Paying half your life means that you subtract half your life from your current total. The game sees this as a life loss, and triggers Transcendence. By the way, your comment about Blessed Wind is wrong: when an effect says "your life total becomes" a number, it effectively makes you "lose" or "gain" the appropriate amount of life. That can trigger Transcendence too.

Q: Can Mind Bend be used to modify the land type "Islands or Swamps" on Roots of Life? Would it matter if the Roots of Life was put into play in a previous round and the land type had already been chosen?

A: Mind Bend can be used to modify the text of Roots of Life, however, this doesn’t work as you want it to. Mind Bend only affects the actual text on the card; it doesn’t change any choice already made (you choose the land type as Roots of Life comes into play), so the Roots will still affect the same land type as before, even if it doesn’t have that land type “written” on the card anymore.

To do what you want, you can't use Mind Bend, because it can only affect permanents: you'll need Magical Hack or Crystal Spray, which can affect spells. Play Roots of Life, and change its text while it's still a spell. When the spell resolves, it comes into play with the altered text, and you can make the choice accordingly.

Q: Suppose I control a Shifting Sky (set to blue); will I be able to destroy a White Knight when I play Nekrataal?
-- Zeki

A: That would work. Nekrataal’s ability triggers when it comes into play, and in play, it is a blue creature. You’re allowed to choose White Knight as a target, and it will be destroyed when the ability resolves.

Q: How will Sphere of Grace affect Underworld Dreams/Megrim? Will it deal 1 damage when your opponent casts concentrate, as for megrim will it deal 2 when you cast mind rot on them?

A: They won’t take any damage from either. Underworlds Dreams triggers separately for each card drawn, and Megrim triggers separately for each card discarded. The Sphere’s replacement effect will apply to each of the triggered abilities when they resolve, and all the damage will end up being prevented.

General / Older Cards Question

Q: Can I play with Korean cards in a tournament in the United States? What responsibilities do I have to make sure my opponent knows what my cards do? Any?

A: You can play with any Magic card in any language in any tournament. All cards are played using the text from the Oracle (found at, which should be available at the tournament. Like in any tournament, you should know what your cards do and how they work, and provide this information to your opponent on request. You’re not allowed to provide false information or otherwise abuse the fact that your opponent can’t read the text on your cards. If necessary, the tournament judge(s) will provide English versions of the card text.

Q: Juxtapose: probably an old question, but I don’t have any creatures, and my opponent plays a Worldgorger Dragon, then I play Juxtapose on my turn. Do I get his Dragon and he gets nothing?
--Dirk Tilley, Marysville, WA

A: No, you don’t. With an exchange, you must always give something away to get something back, if you don’t have anything to give, the effect fails, and your opponent keeps his Dragon.

Q: I have an Engineered Plague in play set to Beast, and my opponent has an Aluren in play. He plays Cavern Harpy. Does the Harpy die from being a 1/0, can it gate itself, or can it gate another creature, then pay 1 life to go back to it's owner's hand? With the second two, are you able to put the Plague on the stack for this to work? I believe that since it comes into play as a 1/0, it dies before you can respond and gate itself, so it won't work with the Wirewood Savage and Soul Warden my opponent controls. My opponent says that he can put the Plague on the stack, so that he gains 1 life and draws a card, then gates the Harpy, all before it gets the negative effect of the Plague. What is correct?
--Harlan Broughton, Putnam, Connecticut

A: The Harpy comes into play as a 1/0 creature and dies immediately. Engineered Plague has a static ability that is always on – it doesn’t use the stack; it always modifies the power and toughness of the creature. However, the Harpy did come into play, so anything that triggers on a creature or a Beast coming into play will still trigger. He’ll draw a card from Wirewood Savage, and he’ll gain life from Soul Warden, even though the Harpy itself is dead. The gating effect also triggered, so he must return a black or blue creature to his hand if he has one. (Since the Harpy has died, he doesn't have the option of returning that.)

Q: How do you use Laccolith Titan's ability?

A: Usually, when a creature gets blocked, it deals damage to the creature(s) blocking it. Laccolith Titan's ability, on the other hand, lets it deal damage to any creature, even one that's not in combat.

So, to use the Titan's ability, just attack with it. If your opponent doesn't block, he'll take 6 damage as normal. If he does block, then you choose a target creature, and when the Titan's ability resolves, you have a choice: either deal 6 damage to the target creature, or distribute 6 damage among the blockers as normal. Note that you must always choose a target if possible, and then you choose whether or not to use the ability.

Q: If I have an Oath of Druids in play, but my opponent doesn't have any creatures, can I use a Vitality Charm to put a creature token under his control?

A: No, you can’t. Cards that put tokens into play only give you (the controller of the spell) tokens unless they specifically say otherwise.

Q: My opponent was at two life and had a Strip Mine in play. It was my turn and I drew a Barbarian Ring. I try to activate the ability and in response he strips it. But if he decided to strip it before I used the ability then in response I could activate it. So basically if that happened would there be any way to use the Ring with out it being stripped or would we just be in a lock where no one could do anything?
--Tyler Bishop

A: You would always win here. On your turn, after playing a land, you get priority, and you can sacrifice the Ring. You sacrifice the land as a cost, so your opponent won’t have the chance to respond with Strip Mine. If you give priority to your opponent, and he tries to Strip your land, you can just sacrifice it in response, so you will always be able to kill your opponent with Barbarian Ring.

Q: I have a Deranged Hermit and a bunch of Squirrels in play. I play Vesuvan Doppelganger, and copy the Hermit, netting four more Squirrels. In my next upkeep, I switch the Doppelganger to a Squirrel before I pay echo. How much echo do I have to pay?

A: You don’t have to pay anything. Echo is a triggered ability, and since the Hermit-ganger had echo at the beginning of the upkeep, the ability triggered. When it resolves, it checks the mana cost of the permanent, and at that time, it’s zero, since tokens don’t have a mana cost and the Doppelganger is a copy of the token. Note that you can still sacrifice it, if you want! You can always refuse to pay mana, even when it's zero mana.

Q: My friend has a Decree of Silence on the board and I play a Dawn Elemental. He wants to counter with a Mana Leak and save his Decree for later but I say that he can’t because the Decree already countered it. Who is right?

A: Neither of you are exactly right. Decree of Silence has a triggered ability that triggers when the Dawn Elemental is played, and goes on the stack. When that ability resolves, it will attempt to counter the Dawn Elemental; and then, regardless of whether that succeeded, it will put a depletion counter on itself.

So yes, your opponent can respond with Mana Leak to counter the Dawn Elemental. Unfortunately, it's a waste of time, because it won't reduce the number of counters the Decree gets. Only Stifle can stop the triggered ability from making another depletion counter.

Q: I was wondering what happens if I have a Rancor enchanting one of my creatures and then I play Decree of Annihilation. Since it does not remove enchantments from the game, is the Rancor removed from the game with the creature, in my graveyard, or back in my hand?

A: You get the Rancor back. The Decree first removes all artifacts, creatures, lands, graveyards, and hands from the game. After it has finished resolving, the game checks for state-based effects, and the since the Rancor doesn’t enchant anything anymore, it goes to the graveyard. This triggers its ability, and it’s returned to your hand.

Q: I have Primitive Etchings in play. At the beginning of my turn I draw a card and it is a creature, the ability says I can draw another card, but if its a creature again do I get to draw another card, and so on?
--Manuel Acevedo Alcazar

A: The effect doesn’t continue. Only the first card drawn in the turn is revealed, the second card you draw is not revealed, and since it’s not revealed “this way,” you don’t get to draw for it, even if it is a creature.

Q: My opponent has four land in play, and a Mystic Enforcer and another land in hand. He taps his four mana, lays the land, and tries to play Mystic Enforcer. Is there anytime before he plays the Mystic Enforcer that I can knock it out of his hand with Funeral Charm?
--Eric Caffrey, Lakewood, Ohio

A: No, there isn’t. Your opponent has priority when he plays the land, and gets priority afterwards, and can then play the Enforcer before you do anything. You can play your Charm in your opponent’s upkeep or draw step, but then he has the option of discarding the land.

Q: If I play a Ghastly Demise when I have three cards in my graveyard, can it kill a creature with toughness 4? Does the ability resolve after the card itself is put into the graveyard, or does it count the cards before it goes into the graveyard?

A: You can play Ghastly Demise on any nonblack creature, and when the Demise resolves, it checks if the target has toughness less than or equal to the number of cards in your graveyard. The Demise itself doesn’t go to the graveyard until the spell has finished resolving, so it doesn’t count for this purpose. In your situation, the targeted creature would survive, since its toughness is greater than the number of cards in your graveyard.

Q: My opponent plays a Tendrils of Agony after two other spells have been played. Can you tell me what steps I can take to make sure I don't lose any life? How can I counter the spell and the storm?

A: You would either need three cards that can counter spells (such as Counterspell, Mana Leak, Memory Lapse) or one card that counters spells, and one that can counter triggered abilities (Stifle). You can counter the storm ability with Stifle, so that there won’t be any copies, and then counter the original Tendrils with Counterspell. If you don’t have a Stifle, there will be three spells on the stack—the original and the two copies—and you need to counter these separately with three Counterspells.

Q: Say I put a Pacifism on my opponent's Quicksilver Dragon. Then, my opponent pays the cost for the ability to redirect the enchantment to one of my own creatures. Is this possible? I don't agree with my opponent because Pacifism doesn't state "target creature," and Quicksilver Dragon's ability says, "If target spell...".

A: Your opponent can do this, provided it’s done when the Pacifism is played. The one thing in the game that can target without saying “target” is a local enchantment spell (saying Enchant Creature, Enchant Land, etc.). All local enchantments target when they are played, and a Pacifism played on Quicksilver Dragon can be redirected to a new target. Once the Pacifism has resolved, however, it stops targeting, and can no longer be redirected.

Q: Is this a legal play? I have Wild Mongrel and nine mana available. I discard Arrogant Wurm and remove it from game via madness. I don't pass priority yet and then play Upheaval. So Upheaval resolves first then I play the Arrogant Wurm.

A: This doesn’t work. Upheaval is a sorcery spell, and can only be played when the stack is empty. When you remove the Wurm with madness, a triggered ability goes on the stack, which will later let you play the Wurm. Upheaval can’t be played at this time because there is something on the stack. When the triggered ability resolves, you may play the Wurm until you pass priority. The stack is empty. If you play the Wurm at this time, you can’t play Upheaval, and if you play Upheaval first, you need to pass to have it resolve, and then the Wurm goes to the graveyard.

Q: I was playing in a local tournament when the following situation arose. My opponent played Lightning Bolt on me, and then in response he played Fork, targeting the Bolt. In response to the Fork, I played Force of Will (although any counter would do), targeting the Lightning Bolt. My intention was that the Bolt would be countered and then the Fork would fizzle. Is this true?

A: This is true. Fork has only one target (Lightning Bolt), and when Fork resolves, it has no legal target, Fork is countered by the game rules (“Fizzled” is no longer an official term – the official term is that the spell is “countered on resolution because no targets are legal.”)

Q: Two of my friends and I played a three-way battle. One played Callous Oppressor and asked the other player to pick a creature type, since he knew I was using a tribal deck. Here's my question: Does each opponent get to choose a creature type or just one?

A: Just one. As the Oppressor comes into play, its controller decides which person will choose the creature type.

Q: A friend has been claiming that when Carrionette is in the graveyard, he may activate the cost multiple times to target multiple creatures. Also he claims that it doesn't have a color, therefore creatures with abilities to protect themselves from black such as Jareth or Iridescent Angel. I just want a verification that this is true.
--Bryan Campbell

A: He can activate it multiple times, targeting multiple creatures. The Carrionette is only removed on resolution, and it’s not a requirement for the target to be removed that Carrionette is removed as well. On the other hand, cards in the graveyard do have colors, so he can’t target creatures with protection from black, and you can protect targeted creatures by giving them protection.

Q: My opponent plays a spell, and I Memory Lapse it. Then I Brain Freeze him. Now, I say that I get to put two additional copies of the spell on the stack for storm, one for his spell, and one for my Lapse. He says that because I countered his spell with Lapse that his spell was never played, therefore not counting as a played spell and not allowing me to put another copy of Brain Freeze on the stack. I disagree. Who is right?

A: You are right. Both the spell and Memory Lapse are played, and count for storm – storm does not treat countered spells any different from other spells. The spell was played, even if it had no effect.

Q: If I counter an opponent's spell with Arcane Denial, can I then play Plagiarize on that opponent before he draws the cards in the next upkeep?
--Aaron Betts

A: That works, but not as well as you’d like. Plagiarize “steals” the cards the opponent would draw from the moment it resolves until the end of the turn. Arcane Denial has a delayed triggered ability that triggers at the beginning of the next upkeep, and you can play Plagiarize in response to that ability to make your opponent skip his draws and draw cards yourself instead. The downside is that your opponent doesn’t choose how many cards he will draw from the Denial until the delayed triggered ability resolves, so if he chooses to draw no cards, you don’t get any cards from Plagiarize.

Thanks to Laurie Cheers for feedback and proofreading.

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