Ask Wizards - June, 2008

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Do you have a question about Magic: The Gathering or Wizards of the Coast? Send it, along with your name and location, to us via this email form. We'll post a new question and answer each day.

 June 30, 2008 – Magic Rules Corner  

Q: I was just wondering if the Spellwild Ouphe’s ability to reduce the cost of spells targeting it would work if it wasn’t in play. The situation I was wondering about would be if I wanted to play Primal Command targeting the Ouphe in my library as the creature to fetch.
–Travis, Grand Blanc, MI, USA

A: From the Magic Rules Corner:

By default, abilities of permanents apply only while the permanent is in play. There are exceptions (we’ll get to those), but they’re all pretty intuitive. Let’s start by taking a look at Spellwild Ouphe:

Got it? Let’s go to the rules.

Rule 402.8 in the Comprehensive Rules says that the abilities of an instant or sorcery usually function only while it’s on the stack, and the abilities of anything else usually function only while it’s in play. There are six exceptions:

  • Characteristic-defining abilities function everywhere, even outside the game. Characteristic-defining abilities are those, such as the changeling ability of Woodland Changeling or the color-setting ability of Pact of the Titan, that convey information about a card that would ordinarily be found elsewhere on the card, such as in the mana cost, type line, or power / toughness box. Spellwild Ouphe’s ability isn’t one of these.

  • An ability that states which zones it functions in functions only from those zones. For instance, Valor has an ability that reads, “As long as Valor is in your graveyard and you control a Plains, creatures you control have first strike.” That ability only works—brace yourself—while Valor is in your graveyard. Spellwild Ouphe’s ability doesn’t say what zone it functions in, so no help here.

  • An ability of an object that modifies what it costs to play functions on the stack. The affinity keyword, for example, is a static ability that modifies what the card it’s on costs to play. Spellwild Ouphe’s ability modifies what other spells cost to play; close, but no cigar.

  • An object’s ability that restricts or modifies how that object can be played functions in any zone from which it could be played. For example, the Future Sight card Even the Odds says, “Play Even the Odds only if you control fewer creatures than each opponent. If you want to play Even the Odds from your hand, that ability works in your hand. If you want to play Even the Odds from a graveyard using Sins of the Past or Memory Plunder, or from the removed-from-the-game zone due to Spelljack or Guile, or from any other zone you’re allowed to play it from for any reason, that ability functions in those zones, too.Spellwild Ouphe doesn’t have an ability like this.

  • An object’s ability that modifies how it comes into play functions as that object is coming into play. An easy one. Grief Tyrant comes into play with four -1/-1 counters on it, so the ability clearly works before Grief Tyrant enters play. Spellwild Ouphe doesn’t say anything like that.

  • An object’s activated ability that has a cost that can’t be paid while the object is in play functions from any zone in which its cost can be paid. Another easy one, seen most recently on Faerie Macabre. You can’t discard Faerie Macabre unless it’s in your hand, because that’s the only zone that cards are “discarded” from. Spellwild Ouphe doesn’t have an activated ability at all.

Spellwild Ouphe’s ability—like most abilities—falls outside these exceptions, and thus functions only while Spellwild Ouphe is in play. This is the same reason that you can Zombify Akroma, Angel of Wrath even though she has protection from black.

As a side note, Primal Command doesn’t target the creature card you search for. It has two modes that target a player, one mode that targets a noncreature permanent, and one mode—the one you’re asking about—that doesn’t have a target at all.

The Magic Rules Corner is a weekly feature dedicated to answering your rules questions. For more help with Magic rules, check out the rules page and the Rules Q&A Forum.


 June 27, 2008  

Q: What’s your favorite Ask Wizards?
–Steven, New York, USA

A: From Scott Johns, Editor in Chief of magicthegathering.com:

Steven, you’ve actually hit on a whole area of Ask Wizards that I’ve always wanted to share but never gotten around to yet. While there are several Ask Wizards questions and answers we’ve published that I could point to as favorites, the category we’ve never talked about is all the submissions we get that don’t make it, and that’s where you’ll find my favorite Ask Wizards of all time.

As anyone that’s seen the Ask Wizards box can tell you, the vast majority of questions we get aren’t remotely usable. “How many goblins will there be in the next two years and what’s the most powerful one?” for example. Also common are epic length game situation descriptions that always seem to end with something like “So anyway, my brother and I need to know who’s right about the winner and make sure to answer us in the next hour because after that it’s dinner and we have to put the game away.”

And, of course, we get plenty of stuff along the lines of this one.


why are you so stupid? are you blind? do you not realize the HUGE mistake you've made? I'm refering of course to the ridiculosly overpowered rakados. They have no drawback, no flaw, almost no weakness at all. I can see how that acursed jitte snuck by, I can even see affinity as a simple mistake. But you've taken it a step too far. not only are the rakados more powerful than any other guild, there only weakness, countermagic, has been downsized! leaving poor blue mages (like me) defenseless against an aggro-dominated standerd. Neither of dissinsions blue guilds have much of an awnser to a collossal flyer on the third turn that gives your dragon double strike. why do you hate blue? why do you make red overpowered? this is why i like vitage, its immune to your delusions that blue is somehow too powerful and needs to be the worst color for some reson.
–Tanner


But, every now and then, one will come along that we don’t end up using but that still puts a real smile on my face. I got the following email five years ago and it’s still my favorite Ask Wizards by a landslide even after all these years and thousands of emails since.


Dear Ask Wizards:

Can you cast Remove Soul on Soulless One?

You see, it has no soul.


That last line gets me every time.

Some honorable mentions while we’re on the subject:


Why do so many Kevins play Magic? Whenever i look at who sent in an email it's a Kevin.
–Kevin, Bedford, KY


Indeed!

And, lastly:


In a campaign I'm running one of the players is a kinetist psion and has used the expanded knowledge feat to learn teleport. Combined with limited scrying capabilities, etherealness, and fly he can get in and out of virtually any building. I don't want to just put up antipsionic fields everywhere because it wouldn't make sense and it would be petty but I don't know how I can really stop him from simply teleporting in and out when ever he wants. If he was a sorcerer it might be easier because he only gets so many 5th level spells but the PP system allows him to cast as many teleport spells as he could possibly need.
–Dante, Albany, CA


I admit, that does sound pretty bad.


 June 26, 2008  

Q: Alright, what is up with the Chinese?! The minisite for Eventide and the Wizards Play Network are both written in Chinese! Is anyone gonna fix that?
–Mike, Kingman, AZ, USA

A: From Scott Johns, Editor in Chief of magicthegathering.com:

Hi Mike,

You gave us quite the startle when we got this because you’d think that would be something the web team would have heard about! After some quick checking we were happy to see that everything was, in fact, in the correct languages.

So what’s up? Certain parts of the site are translated into multiple languages, and any pages that offer multiple languages have a set of language options to switch to, usually at the upper right of the page right below the Magic Online and Gatherer tabs. So, if you go to the Eventide minisite, you’ll see the options to switch to whatever your preferred language is from the whopping nine options available. The site keeps a cookie of which language you’ve selected on pages like this, so if you clicked one of these to see, for example, what the visual spoiler for Eventide looks like in Chinese, your cookie would be set to Chinese until you clicked back to the English option on that page, or on another page with multiple language options. (For anyone that hasn’t seen it yet, by the way, the Eventide logo looks particularly awesome in Chinese.)

It’s easy to not notice the issue once you leave the section you were on, because not all parts of the site are translated. So, on the Eventide minisite you’re seeing Chinese but then when you go to the magicthegathering.com front page you’re back to seeing English, since we don’t currently offer that page in Chinese.

If you ever have something like this happen (and in your case it sounds like it may have just been an accidental miss-click or something like that), another way to switch your language back is to use the entry page. When you visit our site for the first time from a given computer (or every time if you have cookies disabled), you get a splash page that lets you set your language. You can bring that page up on demand from magicthegathering.com by clicking the “Select new region” link on the upper right of the Regional News box. Once you set your language there, it will stick with you across the site unless you switch to something else.

Finally, you also mentioned the same issue on the Wizards Play Network page. Since that page doesn’t actually have Chinese, it sounds like you were actually seeing Japanese, which can look similar at first glance.


 June 25, 2008  

Q: Why is Revised considered the “third edition” when there were three core sets before it (Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited)? Am I missing something here?
–Dave, Spokane, WA, USA

A: From Kelly Digges, editor of magicthegathering.com:

You are missing something, but it’s a small thing, the kind of thing generally only editors need to know about. When Fourth Edition came out all those years ago, I was as confused as you are.

When you search in Gatherer for a card (such as Scathe Zombies or Sea Serpent) that appeared in all of the early core sets (or base sets), you’ll see a list of symbols next to the card’s name, symbols representing a progression many longtime players are familiar with:

Alpha
Beta
Unlimited
Revised
Fourth Edition
...etc.

However, those symbols don’t precisely reflect what’s going on. Alpha and Beta were two different printings of the same product, which was called... well, Magic: The Gathering. It’s funny to think about these days, when nearly every Magic product tells you its expansion title as well as the name of the game, but in those days, stores were simply selling Magic.

The unofficial name of that initial card set is Limited Edition, a title easily inferred from the official name of the next base set, Unlimited Edition. (As covered by Magic senior editor Del Laugel in a previous Ask Wizards, Alpha, Beta, and Limited Edition are not actually official product names, and thus not italicized; this is something we haven’t always gotten right on magicthegathering.com).

There are substantial differences between Limited Edition Alpha and Limited Edition Beta. The shape of the cards’ corners was changed (which is why you can’t use Alpha cards in tournament play without sleeves), two missing cards (Volcanic Island and Circle of Protection: Black) were added, and some erroneous mana costs, power/toughness switches, and mis-typeset mana symbols were corrected. Those differences mean that Alpha and Beta are separate card sets but are part of the same edition. Limited Edition is one edition made up of the Alpha and Beta card sets. (That disconnect between set and edition is, I believe, unique in the game’s history.) So the official progression goes like this:

Limited Edition
Unlimited Edition
Revised Edition
Fourth Edition
...etc.

...And doesn’t that just make a lot more sense?


 June 24, 2008  

Q: Magic seems to been in constant flux, at least since I started playing during Ravnica. And I don’t mean the cards, formats and mechanics. I mean the fundamental skeleton of magic, the way it works. Time Spiral block had changes to foils in boosters, Lorwyn had planeswalkers and a two-block year, and the recent announcement about Shards of Alara laid out other changes on the way. Is this what we can expect from the future? Will Magic always be shifting and morphing like this? Or are we part (or all) of the way to working towards a grand vision for how Magic should be, and once we get there things are stable for a while?
–Paul, Ballarat, Victoria, Australia

A: From Mark Rosewater, Magic head designer:

Paul,

The very nature of a trading card game is one of change, not just on the flow of individual cards but on the nature of the system itself. Why? Because it’s impossible for a game to stay static as its pieces keep shifting around. The mere act of making new cards forces the game into new places.

In addition, one of the advantages of a trading card game is that it has the ability to adapt to the needs of the audience. The audience that plays Magic today is not the same as the one who played fifteen years ago. This means that R&D has a responsibility to keep evolving the game to match the players’ needs.

What this means is that I don’t expect Magic to stop making changes. Yes, the level of those changes will ebb and flow, but they’re going to keep coming. It is the essence of what we do and one of our game’s greatest strengths.


 June 23, 2008 – Magic Rules Corner  

Q: I was wondering if I could name Faerie Rogue with Runed Halo and be protected from Bitterblossom tokens. We're not sure as they are not really cards as they are tokens, but how about tokens generated which are copies of a card, e.g. from Kiki-Jiki? Also, how about tokens that have the same name as one card? Kobolds of Kher Keep were the case we discussed.
–Ryan, Fort Wayne, IN, USA

A: From the Magic Rules Corner:

First things first: When Magic cards say "name a card," they mean exactly that. You can name any Magic card in existence... but tokens aren't cards. You can't name "Faerie Rogue," because there isn't a card with that name. You can, however, name Shapeshifter, which is a card that has the same name as the token produced by Crib Swap.

That brings us to your second question. For those tokens that do share a name with a card in print, does naming that card protect you from those tokens? Yes! Runed Halo gives you protection from each object with the chosen name, whether it's a card, a token, or a copy of a spell. It doesn't matter whether the object is in play, on the stack, or anywhere else.

So Runed Halo can protect you from tokens, but only tokens that share a name with a card in print. A spell or ability that creates a creature token sets both its name and its creature type. Sometimes it explicitly sets the token’s name: for example, Tolsimir Wolfblood creates a token with the name Voja and the creature type Wolf. Usually, though, it mentions just a creature type. If the spell or ability doesn’t specify the name of the creature token, its name is the same as its creature type(s). For example, Crib Swap creates a token with the name Shapeshifter and the creature type Shapeshifter.

Even so, names and creature types are separate characteristics. Naming a card whose name contains one or more creature types won’t give you protection from those creature types. Naming "Goblin Wizard" will give you protection only from cards whose name is Goblin Wizard, not from cards whose subtypes include Goblin and/or Wizard.

While we're on the subject of what you can and can't name, three quick points from the Shadowmoor FAQ entry for Runed Halo:

  • If you want to name a split card, you must name both halves of the card. You'll have protection from each half.
  • You can't choose [nothing] as a name. Face-down creatures have no name, so Runed Halo can't give you protection from them.
  • You may choose either one of a flip card's names. You'll have protection only from the appropriate version. For example, if you choose Nighteyes the Desecrator, you won't have protection from Nezumi Graverobber.

The Magic Rules Corner is a weekly feature dedicated to answering your rules questions. For more help with Magic rules, check out the rules page and the Rules Q&A Forum.


 June 20, 2008  

Q: Is the Orb ever coming back? I think I remember it being around for Torment and you could search for words and see how many times it appears in the set.
–Brandon, Omaha, NE, USA

A: From Kelly Digges, editor of magicthegathering.com:

Actually, Brandon, there have been lots of Orbs of Insight since Torment, usually featured on the minisite for their appropriate set. I don't have the full list, but there's been an Orb of Insight for at least Saviors of Kamigawa, Unhinged, Onslaught, Scourge, Fifth Dawn, Ravnica, Guildpact, Dissension, Coldsnap, Time Spiral, Planar Chaos, and, most recently, Shadowmoor.

Of course, trawling the Orbs of Insight for sets that have already been released is... let's say... less than exciting. I know what you're really wondering. Should you expect to see an Orb of Insight for future sets? That's a good question, and I'm glad you asked (as my dad used to say when he was stalling for time). You'll notice that the Orb of Insight generally shows up in the feature article slot one week before the official preview weeks begin. If you're hoping for upcoming Orbs, that's the best place and time to look.

P.S. While we're on the subject, Eventide previews start Monday, June 30 here on magicthegathering.com!


 June 19, 2008  

Q: Mikokoro, Center of the Sea has fantastically done art, but what does it actually depict? It kind of looks like a crashed spaceship.
–Craig, Stirling, Scotland, UK

A: From Monty Ashley, Magic Web Team:

Good question! Let's start by reminding everyone what the card looks like.

And here's the art description:

Location: Out in the sea
Action: Show an island off the coast of Kamigawa that consists of a single immense boulder encrusted with crystal or diamonds that juts out from the sea. The boulder is strung with shimenawa, huge ropes that designate a sacred site in Shinto. Perhaps the clouds have parted and a sunbeam hits the boulder from above, accentuating its holiness and power.
Focus: Naiyashima, the sacred island of diamond
Mood: Gaze on it, but no mortal may touch it.

So what you've got here is a massive rock, set in the exact center of the sea. Note that it isn't an island so much as "a giant rock". We only mention that so you won't tap it expected blue mana.


 
 June 18, 2008  

Q: Is there an artwork of Kaldra fully mounted? Also, do you have a render of this token? That would just be great. Thanks!
–Clemens, Vienna, Austria

A: From Monty Ashley, Magic Web Team:

Well, sort of. First, let's take a look at the three pieces of Kaldra equipment. On the left, the regular cards; on the right, the alternate art that appeared on the Prerelease Card:

Sword of Kaldra

Sword of Kaldra alternate art by Donato Giancola
Shield of Kaldra

Shield of Kaldra alternate art by Donato Giancola
Helm of Kaldra

Helm of Kaldra alternate art by Donato Giancola

The important thing is that the ability on Helm of Kaldra doesn't summon the actual Kaldra. Instead, an avatar of Kaldra is brought forth. So there's no picture of the fully corporeal Kaldra. However, art was commissioned for the Kaldra token for Magic Online, wielding all of its equipment. And here it is!

Kaldra!
Kaldra token art by Donato Giancola

 June 17, 2008  

Q: What is the significance of the mana symbols at the top of each day's Ask Wizards?
–Rob, Columbus, OH, USA

A: From Monty Ashley, Magic Web Team:

There isn't really any significance right now. When we started using the boxes in April 2002, the symbols cycled in White ManaBlue ManaBlack ManaRed ManaGreen Mana order, and for the most part they've continued to do that.

There was a period where we tried to use the mana symbols as a sort of category marker, with blue being "rules questions" and red being "questions about R&D", and that sort of thing. That didn't last very long, and we experimented with random mana symbols, but we eventually settled back into the familar rhythm of White ManaBlue ManaBlack ManaRed ManaGreen Mana, with some random symbols sprinkled in when we forget to change the symbol for the next day's question. We've actually kept the "blue means rules question" rule, though, since we've tried to sync things up so Monday's Rules Corner always gets the blue mana symbol.

We use the "Ask Wizards" box a lot around the site. When you see a poll or a sidebar in an article, it's usually in one of these boxes, except without the mana symbol. When Mark Rosewater wrote IM Legend, in which he trades Instant Messages with the five colors of Magic, we were excited because it meant we finally had a chance to use the boxes in a place where the mana symbol not only meant something but was essential to the article itself!


 June 16, 2008 – Magic Rules Corner  

Q: In a recent Shadowmoor draft game, I had an Inkfathom Witch + other creatures. My opponent had a Mistmeadow Witch; after I declared attackers, he activated Mistmeadow Witch's effect targeting my Inkfathom Witch. Naturally, I activated Inkfathom Witch in response before it was whisked away. Since no blockers have yet been declared, do all my guys now become 4/1s (and what would happen if they were later blocked?), or does the ability simply wait until after blockers are declared as some people argued?
–Ryan, Fort Wayne, IN, USA

A: From the Magic Rules Corner:

Neither, actually. If you use Inkfathom Witch's activated ability any time before blockers are declared, nothing will happen, because "unblocked creature" doesn't just mean "a creature that isn't currently being blocked." Let's take a look at the entry in the Shadowmoor FAQ:

An "unblocked creature" is a creature that attacked and wasn't blocked. Creatures aren't "blocked" or "unblocked" until the declare blockers step, so playing this ability before then (or after combat ends) will have no effect.

This is because of rule 309.2f in the Comprehensive Rules:

An attacking creature with one or more creatures declared as blockers for it becomes a blocked creature; one with no blockers becomes an unblocked creature. This remains unchanged until the creature is removed from combat or the combat phase ends, whichever comes first. (Some effects can change whether a creature is blocked or unblocked.)

What sort of effects can change whether a creature is blocked or unblocked, you might ask? The parenthetical is referring to effects such as those of Flash Foliage and Curtain of Light, which cause attacking creatures to become blocked, as well as more involved effects such as that of Balduvian Warlord.

In the situation you describe, there's no chance for your Inkfathom Witch to make any of your creatures become 4/1. The ability goes on the stack, and when it resolves, it applies to every creature it can (which is none, because blockers haven't been declared yet) and does nothing. (And if you think about it, this distinction does an important job; it wouldn't make sense if you could activate Inkfathom Witch before attacking.)

Rule 309.2f also matters for the ninjutsu ability from Betrayers of Kamigawa, which similarly cares which creatures are unblocked.

Note that creatures remain "unblocked" until the end of the combat phase, which means that you can use Inkfathom Witch's ability to make all unblocked creatures 4/1 even after combat damage is put on the stack and/or resolves. You might do this, for instance, if you want to make an opponent's creatures become 4/1 but don't want to take 4 damage from each of them. (Why might you want to do that? Well, just for instance, because any of them with -1/-1 counters on them will immediately die... but the layering of static abilities is a topic for another Monday.)

The Magic Rules Corner is a weekly feature dedicated to answering your rules questions. For more help with Magic rules, check out the rules page and the Rules Q&A Forum.


 June 13, 2008  

Q: Does R&D encourage players designing more allied-color than enemy-color decks? Obviously I would have guessed that your stance towards this issue was balanced, but the 'dual lands' of the recent expansions show that allied-color decks have an easier time getting their mana bases stable than enemy color decks do. Are there any plans on completing the Invasion dual land / Cameo, Planeshift Lairs, Odyssey filter and/or Onslaught fetchland cycles with their enemy-color counterparts or equivalents in the near future?
–Peter, Germany

A: From Brian Schneider, Research & Development:

R&D generally encourages players to play anything they'd find fun to play. One-color, two-color, whatever works. Occasionally we get bored with this 'fun' strategy and that's how we ended up with Mercadian Masques. After playing with Masques for a bit, we inevitably became bored with boredom and decided to design something players might actually like—Invasion. What's all this have to do with your question? Not much, but I'll get to that—relax. Anyway, historically there's been a design bias towards promoting allied colors because of the color wheel—showing what colors work well together helps players understand and appreciate the flavor and story behind the cards. Some colors are friends, some aren't. Invasion block asked the question 'Can't we all be friends?' And it was fun for everyone. We could play all five colors—or any three or four. And it was great. But fun can't last forever as we'd all get bored with that, so we've gone away from the land of off-colored mana fixers and have moved onto other interesting things. What we in R&D learned from this is that increasing the friendliness of the colors, as far as play experience is concerned, is a good thing. Accordingly, it seems likely that we'll do something with enemy-colored stuff in the future... particularly with lands. But I can't really say when."

(This question and answer originally ran on March 27, 2003. For more on this topic, see today's Devin Low's article.)


 June 12, 2008  

Q: Why aren't the results (and at least top 8 deck lists) of the regionals posted on magicthegathering.com?
–Neil, Edmonton, AB, Canada

A: From Greg Collins, Magic Web Team:

Hi Neil,

They are now! I'd like to say that we've had intern Bill Stark tied to his desk since Monday morning cold-calling tournament organizers like Shelley "The Machine" Levene for their Top 8 lists and feverishly typing them in as his fingers start to bleed, but our treatment of interns is actually much more in line with the Geneva Convention.

We don't post these as soon as we get them for a two key reasons. First, it takes some time to get the lists submitted from the various tournament organizers around North America (and the world, as we're posting decklists from Great Britain and Japan this year). We also need a little time to double-check finish order, verify card counts, and create the pages.

Secondly, we give magicthegathering.com columnist Mike Flores the first stab at a metagame analysis, and we don't want to scoop him by showing decks early. But since his column went up today, now the decklists are there for your enjoyment and edification.

Expect to see more Regionals decklists posted in the next few days as we contact North American TOs who haven't submitted their lists yet. Decklists from Japan and Great Britain will continue to be posted as their national qualifier seasons continue for the next few weeks.


 June 11, 2008  

Q: The answer to this may cost me a bet...does "Tournament Legal" mean "Standard Legal"?
–Jimmy, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

A: From Monty Ashley, Magic Web Team:

Not necessarily. All the phrase "tournament-legal" means is that a card is considered "real" for the purposes of playing in tournaments. For example, a proxy is not tournament-legal, and neither is the square-cornered, gold-bordered Collector's Edition.

This doesn't mean that any newly printed tournament-legal card is legal in the current Standard format. It just means that if a card is already legal in a Constructed format, the new printing will also be legal to play. For a card to automatically become legal in Standard, it has to be in a new core set or expansion set.


 June 10, 2008  

Q: I have been appointed in my gaming club to follow this up closely. And although I have been able to find a lot of information of what has been discussed at GTS, I am still missing any offical statement from you guys. Sign ups for the Wizards Play Network should have started on May 1, 2008, and more detailed information about the network would be available mid-May. Any updates for us out there?
–Jay, Omaha, NE, USA

A: From Andy Heckt, Outreach Manager, Organized Play:

The Wizards Play Network has launched sign-ups at www.wizards.com/wpn.

We will be announcing the first installment of requirements for members to meet to obtain various content offerings and prize support after June 18th. This information will be posted to www.wizards.com/wpn on or about that date.

The Wizards Play Network is still in development throughout 2008 and we will be making content and information available as elements of the network come available.


 June 9, 2008 – Magic Rules Corner  

Q: I have a question about Fiery Justice. I played in a tournament against a friend and I was at 4 life but winning. He had no cards in hand and no creatures on the board but he drew a Fiery Justice in his turn and played it. He told me to lose 5 life, and I lost. In the second game he did the same but someone passed and said the two effects come together. So my question is easy: Do the two effects of Fiery Justice happen each separately or at the same time?
–Robin, Aalst, Belgium

A: From the Magic Rules Corner:

As it happens, Robin, your question isn't as easy as you think. The two effects of Fiery Justice don't quite happen at the same time; they happen one after the other in the order listed. That means that, yes, your life total will drop below 1 during the resolution of Fiery Justice. However, there's no point during the resolution of the spell when your life total is checked to see if you're dead. A Fiery Justice aimed at you won't kill you (unless some effect increases its damage or keeps you from gaining life).

The reason for this is that state-based effects are checked only when a player would receive priority. One of the state-based effects—the very first one, in fact, rule 420.5a in the Comprehensive Rules—states that a player with 0 or less life loses the game. That means that this will happen whenever a player would receive priority. So when exactly is that?

As most phases and steps begin*, the active player receives priority. He or she then either plays a spell or ability or passes priority. When all players pass priority in succession, the top item on the stack resolves or, if the stack is empty, the game proceeds to the next phase, step, or turn.

What all that means is that priority is passed back and forth almost constantly during a game of Magic, and every time a player would receive priority, state-based effects are checked. However, no player receives priority during the resolution of a spell or ability. Nothing can happen during the resolution of a spell or ability except for the events listed in that spell or ability and any replacement effects that modify them.

When Fiery Justice resolves targeting you and you're at 4 life, you'll take 5 damage, dropping your life total to -1, then gain 5 life, returning your life total to 4. Then the spell will finish resolving, and state-based effects will be checked. The rules will see you at a healthy 4 life, and the active player (probably the one who played Fiery Justice) will receive priority.

There's a related rules question involving Tarmogoyf and Tarfire.

If a Tarmogoyf is in play and all graveyards are empty, it's a 0/1. If a player plays Tarfire targeting the Tarmogoyf, the Tarmogoyf will take 2 damage, then the Tarfire will be put into its owner's graveyard as it finishes resolving. Tarfire has two types, tribal and instant, so by the time state-based effects are checked, Tarmogoyf is a 2/3 with 2 damage on it, and it survives. It doesn't matter that Tarmogoyf was a 0/1 with 2 damage on it during the resolution of Tarfire.


* No player receives priority during the untap step, and no player receives priority during the cleanup step unless a triggered ability is waiting to be put on the stack or the conditions for a state-based effect exist. If either of those is true, the active player receives priority and can play spells or abilities. When both players pass on an empty stack, a new cleanup step begins.


For reference, here's the complete list of state-based effects listed under rule 420.5 in the Comprehensive Rules:

  • 420.5a A player with 0 or less life loses the game.
  • 420.5b A creature with toughness 0 or less is put into its owner's graveyard. Regeneration can't replace this event.
  • 420.5c A creature with lethal damage, but greater than 0 toughness, is destroyed. Lethal damage is an amount of damage greater than or equal to a creature's toughness. Regeneration can replace this event.
  • 420.5d An Aura attached to an illegal object or player, or not attached to an object or player, is put into its owner's graveyard.
  • 420.5e If two or more legendary permanents with the same name are in play, all are put into their owners' graveyards. This is called the "legend rule." If only one of those permanents is legendary, this rule doesn't apply.
  • 420.5f A token in a zone other than the in-play zone ceases to exist.
  • 420.5g A player who attempted to draw a card from an empty library since the last time state-based effects were checked loses the game.
  • 420.5h A player with ten or more poison counters loses the game.
  • 420.5i If two or more permanents have the supertype world, all except the one that has been a permanent with the world supertype in play for the shortest amount of time are put into their owners' graveyards. In the event of a tie for the shortest amount of time, all are put into their owners' graveyards. This is called the "world rule."
  • 420.5j If a copy of a spell is in a zone other than the stack, it ceases to exist. If a copy of a card is in any zone other than the stack or the in-play zone, it ceases to exist.
  • 420.5k An Equipment or Fortification attached to an illegal permanent becomes unattached from that permanent. It remains in play.
  • 420.5m A permanent that's neither an Aura, an Equipment, nor a Fortification, but is attached to another permanent, becomes unattached from that permanent. It remains in play.
  • 420.5n If a permanent has both a +1/+1 counter and a -1/-1 counter on it, N +1/+1 and N -1/-1 counters are removed from it, where N is the smaller of the number of +1/+1 and -1/-1 counters on it.
  • 420.5p A planeswalker with loyalty 0 is put into its owner's graveyard.
  • 420.5q If two or more planeswalkers that share a planeswalker type are in play, all are put into their owners' graveyards.

The Magic Rules Corner is a weekly feature dedicated to answering your rules questions. For more help with Magic rules, check out the rules page and the Rules Q&A Forum.


 June 6, 2008  

Q: I've noticed that as cool as some theme weeks are, some authors simply don't follow them. Ever. Here's looking to you, Mike Flores, for never even trying to accommodate a theme week. While I understand that theme weeks are hard on columns that are aim at certain aspects of the game, it'd be nice to see you just once go along with it (probably stretch your creativity as well!).
–Chris, San Diego, CA, USA

A: From Kelly Digges, editor of magicthegathering.com:

That's not really a question, Chris, but I understand the question underlying it: "Why do some authors write on-theme more often than others?"

The short answer is "Because I tell some of them to be on-theme more often than others." Mike Flores, for instance, hasn't written for a theme week in a while because I haven't told him to, not because he's been shirking.

There are a lot of factors that go into whether I assign a given author to write on-theme for a given week. Some of those factors vary from theme to theme, as some themes fit some columns better than others. Some factors, however, hold constant from week to week.

The internal writers are always on-theme.

Mark Rosewater, Doug Beyer, and Devin Low are our R&D columnists, representing Design, Creative, and Development (respectively) on the site. Part of the reason we pick the themes we do is because they'll be able to write insightful, informative articles illuminating some aspect of each theme week as it relates to their respective areas of expertise.

Each day of a theme week, we have at least one article on-theme (with a few exceptions due to crossed wires and unexpected issues). Having the R&D columnists always on-theme greatly reduces the pressure on the writers opposite them (the weekly feature article, Ben Bleiweiss, and Brian David-Marshall) to write on-theme.

Theme weeks make writing easier for some and harder for others.

For some writers, approaching a blank slate every week is daunting. As Mark Rosewater is fond of saying, restrictions breed creativity, and sitting down knowing that you need to write an article about, say, Onslaught or -1/-1 counters frequently results in articles that never would have been written otherwise. In the case of more intensive theme weeks such as "What If?" Week and Evil Twin Week, sometimes it results in articles that never could have been written otherwise, as the theme frees an author to play around with concepts that wouldn't ordinarily be a good fit. So for some of our writers, theme weeks are a great boon, freeing them from option paralysis and writer's block for fully half their articles.

Other writers, however, find theme weeks constraining. If you have nothing to say about Treefolk or hybrid cards—or if there's something else on your mind you really want to write about—sitting down to write a theme week article can become a tremendous chore. That's not a recipe for good articles or happy writers. Writers of this type are much happier applying their own formula to the challenge of writing a weekly article than being told what to write about half the time.

Neither of these writer types is better or worse than the other. They're just two different ways of approaching the challenge of writing an article every week, and I try to be mindful of the individual temperaments of our writers as I assign some writers to write on-theme and not others.

Some columns are more flexible than others.

Some of our columns have a broader charter than others. Doug Beyer's Taste the Magic column, for instance, can tackle basically any topic with basically any article structure. Partly that's because Doug, like Matt Cavotta before him, is a damn good writer (turns out that's kind of his job), but partly it's because the column has a very broad mission that can accommodate anything from an interactive Book of Kith and Kin to meditations on the role of magic in storytelling to a flavorful take on the utterly mechanical Sealed Deck Week.

Other columns offer much less leeway. If Ben Bleiweiss doesn't build a budget deck and play it, or offer tools and tips for doing such, he's not really Building on a Budget. If I make Mike Flores write about a theme instead of looking at the metagame of a format right after a major tournament like Pro Tour–Hollywood or right before a major set of tournaments like Regionals, then he's not really fulfilling the desire that sends people to his column in the first place. That means that for Mike to be on-theme, it has to be a theme that's interesting for him to write about on a week when there are no major tournaments to report on or prepare for. That said, when everything lines up right, Mike does write theme week articles, and he's been on-theme as recently as hybrid week.


 June 5, 2008  

Q: I play Magic mostly online, and I am anxious to start playing with Shadowmoor cards. However, I can't seem to find when the set will be released. Is that information posted anywhere on the site? Thanks!
–Dominique, Tokyo, Japan

A: From Worth Wollpert, Magic Online brand manager:

I'm pleased to be able to report that Shadowmoor will be available in the Magic Online store on June 9, and release events will run from Friday June 13th through Monday June 30th.


 June 4, 2008  

Q: When you have an infinite combo in Standard, do you consider it a triumph or a defeat?
–Tom, Appleton, WI, USA

A: From Devin Low, Magic head developer:

Infinite combos can be a lot of fun in Standard when they are at the right power level and the right frequency of appearance. When infinite combos appear at those levels, developers consider the result a development triumph. But when an infinite combo becomes so powerful and unstoppable in Standard that it completely takes over the Standard format, it can end up hurting the fun of the format enough that it becomes a development defeat. The question comes down to how powerful, how easy, and how pervasive the infinite combo is. Though they are not quite "infinite" combos, Tolarian Academy decks and Yawgmoth's Bargain decks each became sufficiently powerful, easy, and pervasive in the Standard of the day for me to consider them defeats. It is a credit to the many hard-working Magic developers in the department that we haven't had combo decks at out-of-control Tolarian Academy power levels in Standard for many years now.

We are much more willing to allow a variety of lethal combo decks to thrive in Extended, Legacy, and Vintage, since powerful combo decks are a lot of the definition of those formats. That means players get a choice. People who love to play with and against lots of powerful infinite combo decks can focus on Extended, Legacy, and Vintage. Players who want to play with fewer infinite combo decks around can focus on Standard, Block Constructed, and Draft.


 June 3, 2008  

Q: When you have an infinite combo in Standard, do you consider it a triumph or a defeat?
–Tom, Appleton, WI, USA

A: From Mark Rosewater, Magic head designer:

Tom,

That’s a different question based on whether you ask design or development. As Head of Design, I’ll answer for the former. What makes Magic such an intriguing game is its modular design, the fact that each player can find new and different connections to explore. The fact that there exist compelling "Holy Grails" such as an infinite combo definitely enhances the game. Well, from a design standpoint at least. As long as the combo isn’t blatantly obvious and too simple to pull off, I’d put it in the triumph camp.


 June 2, 2008 – Magic Rules Corner  

Q: How does Painter's Servant affect cards that have been removed from the game, and those outside the game (e.g. my sideboard)? For example, I have a Chrome Mox with Chimney Imp imprinted on it. If I play the servant naming blue, can I tap my Mox for blue as well as black? Or, say I have a Servant naming white. Can I Glittering Wish for a Killer Bees from my sideboard?
–Daniel, Oxford, England

A: From the Magic Rules Corner:

Painter's Servant (like Mycosynth Lattice before it) has the unusual property of altering the colors of "cards that aren't in play, spells, and permanents," which is... well, everything everywhere, right?

Close, but not quite. Let's look at the Shadowmoor FAQ entry for this little artifact artiste:

* This ability affects every card in every game zone, all tokens in play, and all spell copies on the stack, regardless of who controls or owns them.

"Every card in every game zone," you say? Well, what exactly does that include? Comprehensive Rules, take it away:

217.1. A zone is a place where objects can be during a game. There are normally six zones: library, hand, graveyard, in play, stack, and removed from the game. Some older cards also use the ante and phased-out zones.


"Removed from the game" is a zone, which means that a Painter's Servant in play will paint your imprinted Chimney Imp blue (in addition to being black). This, in turn, means that your Chrome Mox will be able to tap for Blue Mana or Black Mana.

Now let's take a look at Glittering Wish:

Like the other Wishes, it retrieves "a card you own from outside the game." But that wasn't on the list of zones. What, exactly, is "outside the game?"

217.1e An object is outside the game if it's in the removed-from-the-game zone, or if it isn't in any of the game's zones. All other objects are inside the game. Outside the game is not a zone.

In casual play, this means that you can either retrieve something that's been removed from the game or go through your trade binders and card boxes looking for the card you want. In sanctioned play, it's restricted to cards in either the removed-from-the-game zone or in your sideboard.

The important point here is that "outside the game," while it includes a zone, isn't a zone itself. The cards in your trade binder or your sideboard are not in a game zone and aren't actually part of the game. This means that a Painter's Servant (or a Mycosynth Lattice) can change Glittering Wish's ability to get a card from the removed-from-the-game zone, but can't affect cards in your sideboard or anywhere else that's outside the game.

As a side note, Glittering Wish can get a Transguild Courier in your sideboard or trade binder, because the characteristic-defining ability that says that Transguild Courier is all colors functions in all zones and outside the game. This is a recent rules change.

The Magic Rules Corner is a weekly feature dedicated to answering your rules questions. For more help with Magic rules, check out the rules page and the Rules Q&A Forum.


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