Commander: Leaving the Game

Although Commander is sometimes played as 1v1 format, it’s most commonly played with 3 or more players, each of which wants to defeat the others in a free-for-all-style fashion. Alliances can be forged and stunning betrayals unleashed as everyone vies to win…or at least cause that guy you don’t like to lose!

But what actually happens when one player loses the game? Let’s say that Ajani, Elspeth, and Xenagos are all playing against each other, but Ajani and Elspeth team up to bring Xenagos down to 0 life.

Well, the short answer is basically this: everyone else keeps playing, but the game lets Xenagos pick up all the cards he owns and take them with him. This way, Xenagos can go play with some other people right away.

More specifically, four things happen when Xenagos loses the game. First, Xenagos takes all cards he owns with him as he leaves, even if they’re currently being controlled by other players. Second, he gives back anything that he’s taken control of. Third, anything that Xeagos controls that’s still on the stack ceases to exist. Finally, after that’s done, if Xenagos happens to still control anything, those cards are exiled forever.

Let’s break each of those pieces down a little further, with examples.

The first step is pretty simple: Xenagos piles up all the cards he owns and takes them out of the game with him. (Remember, you “own” a card if you started the game with it in your library or as your Commander.) This includes cards that are currently on the stack waiting to resolve — maybe Elspeth only decided to finish Xenagos off when he cast a huge Clan Defiance at Ajani? This rule also encompasses anything that Xenagos owns that another player currently happens to control (like if Ajani currently controls Xenagos’s Contested War Zone).

In the second step, the game terminates any effects that give Xenagos control of another player’s cards. For example, suppose Xenagos cast Act of Treason to take control of Ajani’s Avatar token for a turn. If Xenagos leaves the game, that control-changing effect ends right away, so Ajani gets his token back.

In the third step, the game gets rid of anything of Xenagos’s that’s still on the stack. Xenagos took all his cards with him in the first step, but he might have left a few things that aren’t represented by cards hanging around. This includes activated abilities, triggered abilities, and copies of spells. (Grapeshot, anyone?) Xenagos isn’t in the game anymore, so it doesn’t make sense to have these resolve.

Finally, if Xenagos still controls anything, those cards are exiled. This is pretty rare, but one way it could happen is if Xenagos somehow cast Bribery and stole a copy of Ajani’s friend Brimaz. Bribery doesn’t actually create a control-changing effect; Xenagos is simply set as Brimaz’s controller when he puts Brimaz onto the battlefield. It doesn’t really make sense to just give Brimaz back to Ajani for free, so Brimaz just gets exiled instead. Poor kitty king.

And that’s leaving the game in a nutshell! These rules apply whenever a player loses the game for any reason, as well as when that player decides to concede. Good luck, and hopefully these rules won’t ever apply to you!

Today’s Commander Rules Tip Written by Paul Baranay

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Commander Week: Casting Commanders

Hello friends, and welcome to Commander Week!

As we look towards Journey into Nyx, I thought it would be fun to spend a while talking about one of the most popular casual formats, Commander!

One of the central features of Commander is, of course, the commanders themselves. When constructing a Commander deck, you pick one legendary creature to be your deck’s “commander” or “general.” You then pick 99 additional cards (including lands) to form the rest of your deck. Each of those cards has to fall within your commander’s color identity, which includes the colors of the mana symbols in that creature’s mana cost, as well as any mana symbols that occur in its text box or color indicator. (So, for example, Memnarch‘s color identity is blue.) Colorless cards are also okay. Additionally, Commander is a singleton format — so, with the exception of basic lands, you can’t have more than one copy of a card in your deck, which makes for some interesting deckbuilding decisions!

When you start the game, the 99 cards in your deck become your library for this format. You then set your commander itself aside, in a special zone called the command zone. This zone functions similarly to the exile zone — anything in the command zone isn’t on the battlefield, for example — except that it’s even harder to get things out of the command zone than out of exile! Only effects that specifically refer to the command zone can affect cards in the command zone.

However, the rules of the Commander format itself allow you to cast your commander from the command zone at any point you could cast that card. This means that you cast most commanders like regular creatures — during one of your main phases, when the stack is empty. But you can cast a commander with flash (like Venser, Shaper Savant) at any time you could cast an instant, or use a card that changes when you can cast creatures, like Prophet of Kruphix, to enable you to do the same thing.

If your commander would die, or be put into the graveyard for any reason, don’t worry! You can simply choose to move it back to the command zone. The same goes for if your commander is exiled (such as to Swords to Plowshares). These effects replace the destination of your commander entirely, so they never touch the graveyard or exile at all.

Once your commander has gone back to the command zone, you can cast it again! However, constantly casting your commander from the command zone can be a very cumbersome challenge (try saying that five times fast). Every time you cast your commander from the command zone beyond the first, your commander’s cost is increased by {2}. As an example, say my commander is Borborygmos Enraged. This friendly cyclops costs {4}{R}{R}{G}{G} the first time I cast him from the command zone, then {6}{R}{R}{G}{G} the second time, and then {8}{R}{R}{G}{G}, and so on. This is frequently called the “commander tax.”

The commander tax is considered part of the total cost of your commander, so the tax can be reduced by anything that reduces spell costs. Suppose that I have a bunch of effects that, in total, reduce the cost of green creatures I cast by {5}. I’ve cast Borborygmos from the command zone once already. To cast him a second time would normally cost a total of {6}{R}{R}{G}{G} as I explained above. However, the {5} mana reduction turns this into just {1}{R}{R}{G}{G} — eliminating the entire comnmander tax, as well as some of Borborygmos’ usual cost in generic mana.

Let’s say that, after I cast Borborygmos, my opponent Unsummons him. Even though Borborygmos is leaving the battlefield, I can’t put him in the command zone — I can only do that when he’s moving specifically to exile or the graveyard. However, I can can cast him from my hand! Even better, the commander tax only applies when I’m casting my commander from the command zone, so I can cast Borborygmos for just his regular cost of {4}{R}{R}{G}{G} (which could then be reduced by other effects).

As a final note, one card in the game, Derevi, Empyrial Tactician, has an ability that lets you put Derevi directly from the command zone onto the battlefield. Since this is an ability, not a spell, its not subject to the commander tax — you can use it over and over for the same cost of {1}{G}{W}{U}. That’s pretty powerful!

Today’s Commander Rules Tip Written by Paul Baranay

Posted in Casting / playing a spell or ability, Multiplayer | Comments Off

Killing Gray Merchant in response to the ETB ability.

Hi everyone, it’s Friday! Let’s talk about a card that you’ve probably seen a lot of at your local FNM (whether it be standard or draft): Gray Merchant of Asphodel. The question of the day is: what happens to the Gray Merchant’s ability if the Merchant leaves the battlefield before it resolves?

Hopefully, by now you’ve figured out that once an ability is on the stack, it exists independent of the source that made it. That means that killing the Merchant won’t do anything to remove the trigger that’s already on the stack. However, removing the Merchant isn’t the worst thing in the world. The opponent’s devotion to black only matters at one point, and that’s when the Merchant’s triggered ability resolves. That means that you can remove the Merchant with its enter the battlefield trigger on the stack, and when the ability resolves, since the Merchant is no longer on the battlefield, it will not contribute to the opponent’s devotion to black, and you’ll be drained for two less than you would have been otherwise.

Hopefully you remember this trick the next time your opponent plays a Gray Merchant while you’re at a low life total. I hope everyone enjoyed this tip and has a great weekend!

Today’s Rules Tip written by Nathan Long

Posted in Characteristics, Resolving spells and abilities, Triggered Abilities | Tagged | Comments Off

Responding to evolve by killing the creature that just entered.

Evolve has been a popular topic for this blog in the last year, and once again, we’re going to discuss evolve. Today’s topic is how evolve works with removal.

Let’s say that I control an Experiment One with no counters, and I cast a very scary Deadly Recluse. You know that the Recluse is the true threat here, not the Experiment One, so after it enters the battlefield, you Doom Blade my Recluse as soon as you can. But what does that do to the evolve trigger that’s on the stack? The creature isn’t around anymore, so does the One get the counter?

The answer is yes, it does. This is an example of “last known information.” Since the Recluse is not on the battlefield when the evolve trigger goes to resolve, the game uses the last known power and toughness of the Recluse to determine if the One should get a counter. Since the Recluse was a 1/2 when it was last on the battlefield, that’s the power and toughness we use, so the One will get a counter.

As a bonus tip, what happens if we kill the Recluse with a Bile Blight instead? In that case, when we look at the last known power and toughness of the Recluse, we get the answer -2/-1. Since neither the last known power or toughness of the Recluse is greater than the One’s current power and toughness, evolve won’t do anything and the One will not get a counter.

And hopefully, we’ve fully covered evolve now. I mean, I’m sure I’ll be typing up another topic on evolve next month, but it’s nice to dream, right?

Today’s Rules Tip written by Nathan Long

Posted in Characteristics, Resolving spells and abilities, Triggered Abilities | Tagged , , | Comments Off

Springleaf Drum and summoning sickness.

Making its proud return to standard is Springleaf Drum. While most known for enabling the popular Robots deck in Modern, it was reprinted as a way to help trigger your inspired abilities. And if you’ve seen the popular Modern deck known as “Robots” being played, you’ll notice that the player will tap a just-cast creature to activate their Drum. But why does that work? Doesn’t “summoning sickness” prevent that?

“Summoning sickness” does a very specific set of things: it prevents the creature from attacking, and it prevents the creature from activating abilities with the tap or untap symbol until the creature has started your turn under your control. As long as the ability does not use the tap or untap symbol, the ability can be used right away. And, of course, only creatures are affected by “summoning sickness,” so the Drum can activate its ability immediately.

While the Drum’s ability does use the tap symbol, that’s referring only to the Drum itself, not to the creature that it taps as well. So you can tap a freshly cast creature to activate the Drum’s ability. This probably explains the power of the card in Modern, and why it’s a strong consideration for a place in an inspired deck as a quick way to “turn on” your inspired creatures.

Today’s Rules Tip written by Nathan Long

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Treat each other with respect, in accordance with the MTR.

Today’s topic feels like one of those “duh” topics, but sometimes it needs to be repeated for people just as a reminder. Today, we’re going to discuss treating everyone with respect.

Oftentimes, an event like Friday Night Magic or Magic prerelease is a player’s first chance to step away from playing at their kitchen table with their friends and stepping into an environment with people they don’t know. We want that player to have fun at that tournament and feel welcome; we don’t want them to be belittled or offended by what others are saying or doing. If a player walks into a hostile environment where people are constantly being put down and slurs are being thrown around, they may not feel very comfortable and it may actually scare them away from going to the local store and tournaments in the future.

If you’re just playing with your friends at home, you know what’s acceptable among them and where to draw the line. But once you’re in a public space, with unfamiliar people and/or just random strangers, cut back on some of that talk. You don’t know this person. No one likes to feel uncomfortable, so try to focus your efforts on welcoming people into your community, rather than trying to potentially offend these people. Show people some respect when they’re at the tournament, and they’ll be more likely to have a good time and come back in the future.

Finally, I’d like to call attention to a blog maintained by Level 3 Judge Tasha Jamison, called Allied Strategies. I only talked about this briefly, but Tasha goes into a lot more detail about how we can accept people into our communities and treat people better in general.

Today’s Tournament Tip written by Nathan Long

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Drown in Sorrow vs. Mutavault.

Hi everyone, and welcome back to another week filled with rules knowledge. I’m bursting with it this week, so I’m hoping to share some of that info with you this week. Today, we’re going to be talking about how Drown in Sorrow interacts with Mutavault.

Maybe you’ve seen this play at a local FNM. The monoblack untaps his four Swamps and Mutavault for the turn. He casts Drown in Sorrow to sweep away his opponent’s defenders, animated his Mutavault, and attacks. But wait: doesn’t Drown in Sorrow’s effect last until the end of the turn? Why doesn’t it affect Mutavault?

The answer is simple. Drown in Sorrow only affects creatures on the battlefield when the Sorrow resolves. It won’t affect a creature that enters the battlefield after it resolves (or, in the case of Mutavault, becomes a creature after the spell has resolved). The ‘until end of turn’ phrase is there to give a duration for the effect to end for the creatures that survived the Drown. It doesn’t mean it will affect creatures that entered the battlefield after it resolves. So keep this in mind next time you have a few Mutavaults sitting around on your side of the battlefield.

Today’s Rules Tip written by Nathan Long

Posted in Characteristics, Continuous Effects, Resolving spells and abilities | Tagged , | Comments Off

Acolyte’s Reward and changing Devotion.

With the upcoming Pro Tour Qualifier season being Theros block sealed, let’s take a look at one of the newer uncommons that is sure to swing many a combat phase in its controller’s favor: Acolyte’s Reward. This card features Born of the Gods’s expansion of the devotion mechanic to spells as well as creatures. As with many spells that modify the results of damage, Acolyte’s Reward has a lot of moving parts, which matter at different times: announcement of the spell, resolution of the spell, and the damage event itself.

Announcement: This is when you will choose the targets of Acolyte’s Reward. The first target (presumably your own creature) will have damage prevented from being dealt to it, and the second target will be the recipient of damage from Acolyte’s Reward. The value of X, and the source of the initial damage, aren’t determined at this point.

Resolution: This is the first, and only, time when your amount of devotion is checked. For example, if your devotion decreases in between announcement and resolution (such as if your opponent plays a removal spell on one of your creatures in response), the value of X, and the amount of damage prevented, will decrease accordingly. This is also the only time when targets are checked. If the first target is illegal, no damage will be prevented. If the second target is illegal, damage can still be prevented, but the second target won’t be dealt any amount of damage by Acolyte’s Reward. Gaining shroud or hexproof later in the turn won’t stop Acolyte’s Reward from affecting these targets.

Damage event: The next amount of damage from any source (up to X) that would be dealt to the first target will be prevented, and Acolyte’s Reward will then immediately deal that amount of damage to the second target. It doesn’t matter what your devotion is at this time, since the value of X was already locked in on resolution.

Today’s Rules Tip written by Jen Wong

Posted in Prevention and Replacement Effects, Resolving spells and abilities | Tagged | Comments Off

Their Bile Blight vs. your Pack Rat – Killing your own creature can be good for you.

Born of the Gods introduces Bile Blight, a powerful new removal spell that looks tailor-made for the Mono-Black Devotion deck. In particular, it has utility in wiping the board clear of everyone’s favorite scourge of the Return to Ravnica draft format: Pack Rat! Because a token copy of a creature has the same name as that creature, one Bile Blight will wipe out every Pack Rat on the field, as long as all of them are 3/3 or smaller.

If you don’t want this to happen to you, there’s a way you can save some of your Rats: Figure out which one of your Rats is the target of Bile Blight, and kill it off with some other means (e.g., Ultimate Price or even Devour Flesh targeting yourself) before the spell resolves. When Bile Blight goes to resolve, it’ll find that its target is no longer on the battlefield where it’s expected to be, and the entire spell will be countered for lack of a legal target. None of the spell’s effects will happen, so no Rats will receive -3/-3, and the rest of your swarm will live to annoy your opponent another turn.

Today’s Rules Tip written by Jen Wong

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Courser of Kruphix and Sphinx’s Revelation.

More Coursers, more questions! This time we’ll be looking at one of the most popular draw spells in the current Standard format, Sphinx’s Revelation. As we saw on Monday, Courser has you play with the top card of your library revealed, which is good for you… but can also be good for your opponent, as they’ll get to see which cards you’re drawing next.

So how does checking the top card of your library work with a draw spell? Whenever a player is instructed to draw more than one card at a time, the game breaks that down into a series of separate actions: so “Draw 3 cards” becomes “Draw a card, draw a card, draw a card.” Because you’re drawing each card separately, that means the top card of your library will change in between each card draw. Whether you actually draw the cards one at a time, or physically perform some other action like counting them face-down on the table, the end result is that you’ll have to reveal each card you draw to your opponent. Don’t let your opponent’s revelations dissuade you from calling upon the power of the Sphinx, though — at least you still got to draw a ton of cards.

Today’s Rules Tip written by Jen Wong

Posted in Continuous Effects, Resolving spells and abilities, Static Abilities | Tagged , | Comments Off