Saturday School #19

Posted in Feature on March 15, 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.

In our continuing attempt to make the rules of Magic clearer, we need to know how the players perceive the rules. Here is the Oracle text for four cards. Read them carefully, then answer the questions below. Please answer even if you are unsure... especially if you are unsure!

Target creature loses all abilities and becomes 0/1 until end of turn.

Crimson Kobolds
Creature - Kobold
Crimson Kobolds is red.

Alloy Golem
Artifact Creature - Golem
As Alloy Golem comes into play, choose a color.
Alloy Golem is the chosen color. (It's still an artifact.)

Possessed Centaur
Creature - Centaur Horror
Threshold -- Possessed Centaur gets +1/+1, is black, and has ", : Destroy target green creature." (You have threshold as long as seven or more cards are in your graveyard.)

Use your back button to return to this page after submitting each vote.


Thanks for your help. --Rune

Beginner Questions

Q: During your untap phase, if you forget to untap some cards, do they stay tapped until your next untap phase or do you get to untap them when you realize that you forgot to untap them?
--Petra Baxter and Ryan Scherg

A: Untapping your permanents is mandatory, you're not allowed to forget. If you have forgotten, you must untap the tapped cards when it is discovered.

Q: Can you attack yourself with your own creatures?

A: No, you can't. The game rules only allow you to attack other players (defined in Rule 308.5 in the Comprehensive Rulebook).

Meteor Crater

Q: Meteor Crater reads: ": Choose a color of a permanent you control. Add one mana of that color to your mana pool." Is colorless a color? Can I choose a artifact or say itself as that chosen permanent that I control?

A: Colorless is not a color. If you only have colorless permanents (like artifacts and lands), Meteor Crater won't produce any mana. Meteor Crater can only produce colored mana.

Q: If I take control of an opponent's creature, and it is destroyed, which graveyard does it go in?
--Scott Obernesser, Yorktown, Virginia

A: It goes to your opponent's graveyard. Cards can never be in other players' graveyards, cards will always go to their owner's graveyard (this also applies to cards going to a player's hand or library).

Q: I cast a Sterling Grove and the next turn a play anther enchantment spell, and my opponent responds with a Counterspell. My opponent can't counter the enchantment spell, can he?
--Manrique Romero

A: He can counter the enchantment spell. An effect can only affect things in play, unless it explicitly says otherwise. So when Sterling Grove mentions “enchantments,” it only means enchantments in play--not enchantment cards in graveyards, or enchantment spells on the stack.

Q: I had a Kamahl, Fist of Krosa out and my opponent targeted it with Chamber of Manipulation at the beginning of my turn. In response, I tapped five mana to us Kamahl's ability. He argued that this was not possible because he did it before my untap step. Is he right?

A: No, he isn't. The untap step is the very first step of the turn. Nobody can play spells or abilities before or during an untap step, so his first chance to steal Kamahl will be your upkeep.

Legions Questions

Hunter Sliver

Q: Is provoke cumulative? Will multiple Hunter Slivers allow me to force more than one creature to block each attacking Sliver?
--Brian D. Schenck

A: Provoke is cumulative – if a creature has provoke multiple times, like Slivers might, you can force several creatures to block them, one for each instance of provoke.

Q: I have a Hunter Sliver and a Toxin Sliver in play. My friend plays a 24/24 Multani, Maro-Sorcerer. I use my Toxin Sliver (with provoke) to force Multani to block it. My friend says that since Multani can't be the target of spells or abilities, the big man stays alive. I say that since the Toxin Sliver's ability isn't targeted (just any creature that takes damage from it), the big man goes down. But he says that by making him block, I'm making him the target of my attack, and therefore I'm "targeting" the big man. Who's right?

A: None of you are exactly right here. Provoke is a targeted ability (it even says in the reminder text on all cards with provoke), so it can't target anything that can't be the target of spells or abilities. Multani won't be forced to block, and if it doesn't block, it will stay alive. If your opponent chooses to block with Multani anyway, it will die to Toxin Sliver's ability, since that ability isn't targeted (it doesn't say “target”).

Q: I have one Graveborn Muse (the only Zombie I control) and one Words of Worship in play and am at 1 life. At the beginning of my upkeep, I tap one mana for the Words's ability. When the Muse's ability resolves, which comes first: the card draw, so that I get 5 life or the lose of life and I would die on my own Muse?
--A. Becker

A: The life gain and loss happens at in the order given, the draw is replaced with life gain so the ability actually says “gain 5 life and lose 1 life,” so you'd survive. The order here doesn't matter, though, the game doesn't check if your life total until you get priority again, after the Muse's ability has fully resolved. You can survive go under 1 life during the resolution of a spell or ability as long as you get up above zero when it has finished resolving.

Gempalm Polluter

Q: I run a Zombie deck with Library of Leng. Is it possible to cycle Gempalm Polluter to the top of my library and draw it again? If not, why?

A: You can't do this, because Library of Leng only puts cards discarded as part of an effect (the result of a spell or ability). It doesn't affect cards discarded as part of the cost to pay for a spell or ability, and discarding the Gempalm is part of the cost to pay for the cycling.

Q: In a previous article by Randy Buehler, “The Polluter and His Pals,” Randy talks about being able to cycle a Gempalm Polluter and then, using Unholy Grotto, put it back on top of his library before the cycling ability resolves so that he draws the same card as part of the cycling. I have tried to do this in a game and it met with some heavy opposition from my opponent, who suggests that the triggered ability (loss of life to opponent), the discard, and the draw parts of the cycling would all resolve together and therefore there is no opportunity to flip the Polluter on top of my library before I draw. Could you please explain how this works within the rules?
--Cameron McNamara, Victoria, Australia

A: In Magic, spells and abilities don't resolve immediately – there's a pause so that people can respond to them. For instance, suppose somebody casts Terror. He puts it onto the stack, chooses the target, and pays the cost. Then, you get a chance to respond with, say, Counterspell or Unsummon before the target gets destroyed.

Cycling is an ability, so it works exactly the same way. You announce the ability and pay the cost, and then you can respond to it with Unholy Grotto before it's time to draw a card.

Here are the details:

1) You activate the Polluter's cycling – pay and discard the Polluter. The Polluter is in your graveyard. Cycling's “draw a card” effect goes onto the stack, where it waits to resolve.

2) The Polluter's triggered ability goes onto the stack; both players get a chance to respond to it (I'll assume nobody does). Then it resolves, and your opponent loses some life.

3) Both players get a chance to respond to the “draw a card” effect from the Cycling. You activate Unholy Grotto, pay the cost, and choose the target – the Polluter you just discarded.

4) Both players get a chance to respond to the Grotto's ability (I'll assume nobody does). Then it resolves, and puts the Polluter on top of your library.

5) Both players get a chance to respond to the “draw a card” effect again (I'll assume nobody does). Then it resolves, and you draw the Polluter.

Q: Suppose I have a Willbender and a Skinthinner in play, face-up, when I morph a Weaver of Lies. I choose to turn both the Willbender and the Skinthinner face down. Can I then slide the face-down cards around on the playing surface in a shell-game-like fashion or otherwise manipulate the cards so as to attempt to prevent my opponent from knowing which card is which, or does 504.4 prevent this?

A: Rule 504.4 in the Comprehensive Rulebook says you must keep track of the different face down cards, including the order they were played in. Shuffling the cards around to confuse your opponent is not allowed.

Q: I played Cursed Totem, and my opponent played a morph creature face down. Next turn he flipped it up to reveal a Skirk Marauder and dealt me 2 damage. Can he do that?

A: Yes, he can. Cursed Totem only prevents you from playing activated abilities (written as cost: effect). Turning a card face up is a special action that lets you turn the creature when you have priority, it's part of the Morph effect. Skirk Marauder has a triggered ability that is automatically put on the stack when the card is turned face up. Neither are activated abilities, so they're not affected by Cursed Totem (read more about activated abilities in rule 403 and the glossary of the Comprehensive Rulebook).

Q: I'm a rather old-school player who is more used to the term 'fast effect' than I am to 'the stack,' so you'll have to bear with me. When I morph a creature, is the change instantaneous or does it go on the stack? Basically, is there any way to counter an ability (Skinthinner for instance) by killing it with a Fissure so that its ability doesn't resolve? This is a point of contention in my play group and anything you could do to shed light on the matter would be much appreciated. Thanks!
--Patto, Canada

A: Turning a card face up is a special action that is instantaneous, it doesn't use the stack. The triggered ability from Skinthinner, however, is a triggered ability that goes on the stack (it starts with “whenever”). The only way to counter a triggered ability is to make the target illegal (either by removing it, making it untargetable or giving it protection from the appropriate color. Removing the source of an ability doesn't remove the ability on the stack, destroying Skinthinner doesn't save the target from being destroyed by its ability.

Aaron Forsythe wrote an article about morph triggers here.

Q: I have Noxious Ghoul in my graveyard with another 3 Zombie creatures. If Balthor the Defiled is in play and I activate his ability, will non-Zombie creatures get -4/-4 or just -1/-1 due to the Noxious Ghoul coming into play? And what happens if I also have a 1/1 non-Zombie creature in my graveyard, will it die?
--Miguel Zurita, Mexico City

A: Non-Zombies will get -4/-4. Permanents coming into play see everything that comes into play at the same time as themselves for the purpose of determining what triggers. All four Zombies trigger Noxious Ghoul's ability, giving non-Zombies -1/-1 each, for a total of -4/-4. These modifiers applies to anything in play when the abilities resolve, including non-Zombies returned by Balthor.

Feral Throwback

Q: If I play a card with amplify, like Feral Throwback, and I have a hand full of Mistform creatures (Mistform Mutant, Mistform Stalker) can I pay their costs and turn them into Beasts?

A: No, you can't. Abilities on cards only work while the cards are in play unless they specifically say. The Mistforms' abilities can only be used when they are in play, not while they are in your hand.

General / Older Cards Questions

Q: What exactly constitutes a "mana ability?" I've read that abilities that add mana to your mana pool are mana abilities, and don't use the stack. I was under the impression that the ability of Llanowar Elves, Birds of Paradise, Priest of Titania, etc., are mana abilities, but while watching some tournament players once, they were allowing each other to respond to tapping Priests. I am now confused.
--David Ravell

A: Rule 406.1a defines a mana ability as “either (a) an activated ability that puts mana into a player's mana pool when it resolves or (b) a triggered ability that triggers from an activated mana ability and produces additional mana,” So yes, all the abilities you mention are mana abilities. The same goes for Wild Growth, Mirari's Wake, etc.

Mana abilities don't go on the stack, and resolve right away when they are played; they can't be responded to. The players you were watching were either playing it wrong, or this happened a long time ago when the rules were different. Under Fourth Edition rules (which haven't been used for about six years, long before Priest of Titania was printed), tapping mana was done as an “interrupt,” and it could be responded to by other interrupts. You may have misunderstood what happened, or the players may have done it wrong.

Q: If a City of Solitude is in play, how does it interact with cards like Black Vise, The Rack, or Ivory Tower? Do the Vise and Rack still damage opponents (or give life as in the case of Tower)? An opponent argued that the ability of the Vise would not work because the Vise was controlled by a player other than the active player. The counter argument was that 'Vise was triggered, not activated. Do the same rules apply for an enchantment like Spirit Link or Armadillo Cloak?
--George Galeota

A: City of Solitude doesn't affect triggered abilities, like it says in the reminder text in the Oracle, it only prevents a player from playing spells and activated abilities. All the cards you mention have triggered abilities (they start with “at”, “when” or “whenever”), and are unaffected by City of Solitude.

Q: I have a Preacher in play. I tap it to force my opponent to choose a creature in play to take control of. He chooses a creature then responds to that by tapping his Mother of Runes to give it protection from white. Does this work out in his favor? Or do I now have control of a creature with protection from white? Is the Preacher effect countered?

A: It works in your opponent's favor. Preacher's ability targets, and the target is always chosen when it is activated, even if your opponent makes the choice. The ability goes on the stack, and your opponent can respond by giving the targeted creature protection, so that Preacher's ability will be countered on resolution.

Q: Can I change one of the targets of Symbiosis with my Divert?
--Martin Jonak

A: No, you can't. Divert says specifically that you can only change targets of spells with a single target. Symbiosis has two targets.


Q: During a Shahrazad subgame, if someone were to play Traumatize, and then use Tormod's Crypt to remove that player's graveyard from the game, what happens to those cards in the main game?
--Michael Berry

A: The cards in the main game are unaffected. Spells and abilities in the subgame can only affect things in the subgame unless they specifically say (Wishes, Ring of Ma'ruf). When the subgame is over, all the cards from the subgame, even those removed from the game in the subgame, are shuffled back in the the main game library.

Q: Do you have to name targets when Cursed Scroll is activated? I ask only because the Oracle wording of the card is conditional; only if the card is picked does target creature or player take 2.

A: Targets for a spell or ability are always chosen when the spell or ability is played. All the other parts of Cursed Scroll are done on resolution, and if the right card is chosen, the target receives the damage. (Also note that any damage prevention shields or attempts to remove the target must be done before the ability resolves and the card is revealed. You aren't allowed to play anything during the resolution of the ability, you can't wait to see if the Scroll “hits” before you try to save the target.)

Q: In Saturday School #18, it stated that the phantom creatures, such as Phantom Centaur, have two separate effects: preventing damage and removing a counter. What if someone were to use a spell on a Phantom Centaur where the damage cannot be prevented, i.e. Urza's Rage? The Phantom Centaur would obviously lose a +1/+1 counter, but would it also die because it cannot prevent the damage?
--Joseph Feinberg, Los Angeles, CA

A: That is correct. The counter is removed every time damage would be dealt, even if the damage isn't prevented by the ability. Urza's Rage with kicker would kill a Phantom.

Q: I have a Warped Devotion in play and I play Upheaval. Would Warped Devotion's ability still activate or would it just be returned to my hand and no one would discard any cards?

A: It would still trigger, because all the permanents are returned at the same time, all permanents entering or leaving play see everything entering or leaving at the same time. Both players would have to discard as many card as they return to their hands.

Q: If I block a Thicket Basilisk with a Drudge Skeletons, will I have to regenerate twice? What if I blocked a Lowland Basilisk, which works a little differently?
--Rich Layne

A: In both cases, the Skeletons have to regenerate twice, first when they're dealt lethal damage (both the Basilisks kill the Skeletons with damage), then at the end of combat when the delayed triggered ability resolves. Regeneration doesn't prevent damage – it just removes damage after it's been dealt.

The difference appears when the blocking creature can't be damaged by the Basilisk, for example if it has protection from green. Lowland Basilisk must deal damage to the blocker for the ability to trigger, while Thicket Basilisk will trigger on blocking, it doesn't need to deal damage to kill the blocker.


Q: Can you explain how Contamination affects Hickory Woodlot and Phyrexian Tower?
--Charles Hanifin

A: Contamination makes a land produce one black mana, instead of the amount it would normally produce. This only affects mana production, not any other effect. For the Woodlot, you would tap it and remove a counter to add B to your mana pool. For the Tower, you would add B to your mana pool whether you sacrifice a creature or not.

Q: If Krosan Reclamation is in your graveyard and you pay its flashback cost, could you put it and another card (from your graveyard) back into your library?

A: No, you can't. The first part of playing a spell is putting the spell card on the stack. This is done before you choose targets, so you're not even allowed to choose Krosan Reclamation to be shuffled back into your library.

Q: I have in play four Land Tax, an Ivory Tower, a Zuran Orb, a Sacred Mesa, a Solitary Confinement, and four Plains. My opponent also has four lands. I'd optimally like to be able to Land Tax four times, then gain life off the Tower, satisfy the Confinement's discard, and finally make a token and sacrifice it to satisfy the Mesa. What of this is possible?

A: This is all possible, though it requires you to sacrifice a land to Zuran Orb at the end of your opponent's turn so that Land Tax can trigger in your upkeep (it only triggers if you have fewer lands than your opponent).

In your upkeep, you will have 3 lands, your opponent has 4, so each Land Tax triggers. All the other cards' abilities trigger at this time.

The optimal way to stack the triggered abilities would be Mesa, Confinement, Tower, Tax, Tax, Tax, Tax. The stack resolves in reverse order. The Land Taxes resolve first, letting you get 3 lands for each, for a total of 12 extra cards. Then you gain life from Ivory Tower, you discard to Solitary Confinement, you tap two mana to make a Pegasus token, which you sacrifice to Sacred Mesa.

Q: I have a Volrath's Shapeshifter in play and I discard Quirion Elves using the Shapshifter's ability. Since the Shapeshifter is already in play, what type of mana will it, as Quirion Elves, produce?

A: Unless you have “chosen a color” for Volrath's Shapeshifter before, it will only be able to tap for green mana. The color for Qurion Elves is chosen as it comes into play, but discarding it to the Shapeshifter doesn't make the Shapeshifter come into play, so you don't get to choose a color.


Thanks to Laurie Cheers for feedback and proofreading.

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