Eternal Questions

Two weekends ago, I was one of the head judges for Eternal Extravaganza 2, a two-day event showcasing Magic’s non-rotating formats: Legacy, Modern, and Vintage. On Saturday, I was head judge for the Legacy event, which gave me an opportunity to experiment with a new team structure for the judge staff. On Sunday, I served as a floor judge for the “flex” team, which assisted both the Modern tournament (run by Brogan King) and Vintage event (helmed by Tom Davis).

Across the two days, I encountered a number of interesting rules questions, either through appeals or simply taking calls. While most posts on this blog have focused on soft skills or leadership aspects of judging, knowing the rules and making correct rulings on card interactions are absolutely essential skills as well. As such, it seems appropriate to spend some time focusing on the rules as well.

With that said, let’s get right to it! The answer to each question is hidden, so this is a great opportunity to test your knowledge.

  1. Let’s start with a popular combo that’s so powerful it was banned out of Modern. Amiba controls Dark Depths and Thespian’s Stage. How can he go about getting a 20/20 Marit Lage token?
    Click for the Answer!

    (1) First, Amiba activates Thespian’s Stage targeting Dark Depths.
    (2) If the ability resolves, he’ll end up with two copies of a legendary permanent, so he needs to put one in the graveyard due to the legend rule; he should choose to bin the original Dark Depths. This happens before anyone gets priority.
    (3) Because the Thespian’s Stage is (a copy of) Dark Depths with no ice counters on it, its last ability has triggered and is now put on the stack.
    (4) When that ability resolves, if Amiba successfully sacrifices the Stage-Depths, he’ll get a Marit Lage.

  2. Suppose Naga controls a Wasteland. At what point(s) can Naga interfere with the Stage-Depths combo?
    Click for the Answer!

    In response to (1), or between (3) and (4). Like any ability with a target, Thespian’s Stage’s ability will be countered if its target becomes illegal, so blowing up the original Dark Depths in response to it being copied (step 1) is a fine solution. Alternatively, Dark Depths’ last trigger only makes a Marit Lage if you actually sacrifice that land as part of resolving the ability (step 4). Destroying the Stage-Depths with this trigger on the stack will prevent Amiba from getting a Marit Lage. This will also result in Amiba losing his original Dark Depths (since Amiba will already have binned it due to the legend rule), and is probably a better line of play.

  3. What happens if Naga Stifle‘s Dark Depths‘ last ability?
    Click for the Answer!

    Sad times for Naga. Dark Depths’ last ability is a state trigger — it triggers based on a particular game state (in this case, Dark Depths having no ice counters on it). As such, Dark Depths will trigger repeatedly, as long as the game state matches the trigger condition and there isn’t already an instance of the trigger on the stack. Stifling the trigger will simply cause it to trigger again immediately afterwards.

  4. OK, enough about Dark Depths. One of the strangest calls I received all weekend was about Mana Maze. Mana Maze is on the battlefield, and Amumu has just cast Ponder. Can he cast the Lotus Petal in his hand? If so, can he then cast another Lotus Petal? What about a second Ponder (after a Lotus Petal)?
    Click for the Answer!

    Much like morph creatures don’t share a name with any other morph creatures (because they have no name at all), colorless spells don’t share a color with anything — even with other colorless spells. Mana Maze will never prevent you from casting a colorless spell, even if a colorless spell was the spell most recently cast this turn. Moreover, since colorless spells don’t share a color with anything, casting Lotus Petal will effectively “reset” Mana Maze; so it’s perfectly legal to cast Lotus Petal and then Ponder, even while you’re trapped in the Maze.

  5. Time for a Modern question! Annie controls Flagstones of Trokair, but Nautilus has invoked the power of the Blood Moon. What happens if Annie plays a second Flagstones?
    Click for the Answer!

    First, we need to figure out what the original Flagstones looks like under the Blood Moon. Blood Moon turns nonbasic lands into Mountains, which means that it removes all of the affected lands’ abilities, as well as any other land subtypes they might have had. However, the Moon doesn’t change the names of any of the lands, nor does it remove the legendary supertype. Accordingly, once Annie plays the second Flagstones, she now controls two legendary permanents with the same name, and she’ll have to bin one of them. Regardless of her choice, she won’t get the benefit of the Flagstones’ second ability: because the Flagstones didn’t have that ability when it left the battlefield, the ability didn’t trigger at all.

  6. Akali controls Energy Field and Rest in Peace. If Nunu casts Abrupt Decay on Rest in Peace, will Akali have to sacrifice Energy Field?
    Click for the Answer!

    Unfortunately for Nunu, Akali’s Energy Field will stick around. When resolving a spell or ability, we follow its instructions in order. The final step of a spell’s resolution, which you can think of like an invisible piece of text printed as the last line on the spell, is putting the spell into the graveyard. So first we follow Abrupt Decay’s instruction to destroy Rest in Peace (and put it in the graveyard). Before actually carrying out this instruction, we check to see if there are any applicable replacement effects that could affect this event — and, hey, there’s this card called Rest in Peace, which says we should put anything going to the graveyard into exile instead. So Rest in Peace, oddly enough, actually exiles itself. Then we run out of text to follow on Abrupt Decay, so we put Abrupt Decay in the graveyard; since Rest in Peace is no longer on the battlefield, Abrupt Decay is simply in the graveyard, not exiled. Since nothing was ever actually put into Akali’s graveyard, Energy Field will stick around for at least a little while longer.

  7. Anivia controls both Sylvan Library and Chains of Mephistopheles. Before drawing her card for turn, her hand is empty. Anivia chooses to use Sylvan Library’s ability. What happens?
    Click for the Answer!

    First, Anivia draws her usual card for the turn, which is unaffected by the Chains. Then she chooses to draw two cards from the Library. We process each of these draws one at a time. The first draw is replaced by Anivia being forced to discard a card, then draw a card (so she still has just one card). The second draw is, again, replaced by Anivia discarding her remaining card and drawing one new card. Finally, Anivia needs to deal with the Library’s stern policy about borrowing books — er, drawing cards. Because Anivia chose to draw cards from the Library, the rest of its ability applies: Anivia must either pay 4 life to keep her one remaining card, or put it back on top of her library.

    The real answer to this question, of course, is don’t choose to draw cards with Sylvan Library when there’s a Chains in play!

  8. Ahri has Cyclonic Rift in her graveyard. She casts Past in Flames, so Cyclonic Rift now has flashback. Can she overload the flashed-back Rift? How much would that cost?
    Click for the Answer!

    Unfortunately, Ahri can’t do this, not for any amount of mana in the game. Flashback and overload are both alternative costs for casting a spell, and you can only apply one such alternative cost to a single spell. Since the flashback ability is what’s giving Ahri permission to cast Cyclonic Rift from the graveyard in the first place, that’s the only alternative cost she’s allowed to pay.

  9. Ahri has switched to playing Vintage! She still has Cyclonic Rift in her graveyard, but this time she uses Yawgmoth’s Will instead of Past in Flames. Can she overload the Rift?
    Click for the Answer!

    Unlike Past in Flames, Yawmogth’s Will doesn’t give any abilities to cards; it simply changes the rules of the game to let you play cards from your graveyard. Playing spells in this way is not an alternative cost, so it’s perfectly legal to pay Cyclonic Rift’s overload cost in this situation. (More realistically, this scenario can come up with Force of Will; Yawg’s Will lets you cast Force of Will by paying its “pitch” cost of exiling a blue card from your hand and paying 1 life. Note that the exiled card still has to come from your hand, not your graveyard.)

  10. Alistar is playing against Nidalee. Alistar is on the play, and decides to mulligan to six cards. Nidalee reveals that her opening hand has Serum Powder; she uses the Powder to draw a new seven. What happens next? Does Nidalee know whether or not Alistar is keeping his hand of six cards before she decides whether to mulligan to six cards herself?
    Click for the Answer!

    Nidalee has to immediately decide whether she’s keeping her seven (or use another Powder, if she drew one), before knowing whether or not Alistar is keeping his six. Although players generally treat mulligan decisions as alternating between each player, this is an oversimplification. In actual fact, each player declares whether he or she is taking a mulligan (in turn order), and then all players who have chosen to mulligan do so at the same time. Choosing to use Serum Powder lets you temporarily postpone your mulligan decision, but does not replace it.

  11. Amumu controls Mummy Unlife Phyrexian Unlife, and is at 1 life. Nami, the active player, attacks him with four copies of Lord of Atlantis. What happens?
    Click for the Answer!

    Amumu survives. All combat damage is dealt simultaneously; at the time damage would be dealt, Amumu has more than 0 life, so Phyrexian Unlife doesn’t apply. Amumu takes 20 damage, none of it infectious, and goes to -19.

  12. Amumu is at -5 life and 0 poison, and still controls Phyrexian Unlife. Nami attacks him with four Lord of Atlantis…again. Before combat damage occurs, Amumu casts Angel’s Grace. Does Amumu survive?
    Click for the Answer!

    Yes…sort of. The Lords of Atlantis attempt to deal 20 damage to Amumu, but Phryexian Unlife ultimately causes that damage to turn into poison counters. Angel’s Grace Worship effect doesn’t apply to this damage, since the damage isn’t affecting Amumu’s life total at all. Amumu receives 20 poison counters, but Angel’s Grace prevents him from losing…until the cleanup step, when its effect wears off. Amumu promptly loses when state-based actions are performed.

  13. Finally, a fun question I hope you never need to know the answer to: Azir controls a very large Golgari Grave-Troll, but Nocturne is hiding in the brush — I mean, Nocturne controls Elephant Grass. Azir controls both Deathrite Shaman (with a land in the graveyard) and Lion’s Eye Diamond. Can Azir use Deathrite Shaman or Lion’s Eye Diamond to pay for Elephant Grass, so the Grave-Troll can attack?
    Click for the Answer!

    As you might be able to guess from the fact that I’m even asking this question: no, Azir can’t use Deathrite Shaman or LED to pay for Elephant Grass. In the declare attackers step, the first thing that happens, before any player has priority to activate any abilities, Azir has the option to declare Golgari Grave-Troll as an attacker. If he does so, the game politely reminds Azir that he needs to pay {2} for the privilege of attacking, and generously gives Azir an opportunity to activate mana abilities to pay this cost. Although Lion’s Eye Diamond has a mana ability, its ability has a special restriction: Azir can only activate it any time he could cast an instant. However, no player has priority right now — the game in the middle of processing the turn-based action of declaring attackers, which doesn’t even use the stack. Conversely, Deathrite Shaman’s first ability isn’t a mana ability at all, since it requires a target. Consequently, Azir can’t produce enough mana to find Nocturne in the grass, and Azir’s attack is reversed for being illegally declared. Although Azir could certainly activate Lion’s Eye Diamond or Deathrite Shaman during his beginning of combat step, this mana would empty from his pool as soon as he left that step, so it wouldn’t be around to pay Elephant Grass’ cost in the declare attackers step.

That’s it for this week! How many of these questions did you get right?

I hope you enjoyed this change of pace from previous weeks. I haven’t decided on next week’s blog topic yet, so if there’s something you’d particularly like me to write about, let me know in the comments!

9 thoughts on “Eternal Questions

  1. Any idea on why LED has that weird “only any time you could cast an instant” restriction? That’s a card that I thought I would never have to look at the oracle for rulings, but it seems the oracle made it more complicated than the printed version!

    1. The “activate this ability only any time you could cast an instant” rider was added to preserve LED’s original functionality.

      At the time LED was printed, you were required to activate mana abilities before casting a spell. This meant that you could never use mana from LED to cast a spell from your hand.

      Nowadays, the process of casting a spell also gives you permission to cast mana abilities (at a specific point in that process). This was changed with Sixth Edition, since “announce a spell, then pay mana” was a natural and common way of playing the game anyway.

      For a while, the rules change introduced a loophole where you could basically use LED like a slightly-worse Black Lotus, since you could announce a spell (and move to it to the stack) and then crack some LED’s to pay for it. The rider was then added to enforce the LED’s old, intended play pattern.

  2. Yay, I got them all.

    I was super thrown off by question 11, since a player whose name started with N was active player and a player whose name started with A was the non-active player, but the mummy joke was too good to pass up 🙂

  3. I really like Eternal questions like these because not all of us have the ability to judge Comp. Rel.+ Eternal events so we don’t run into these kinds of questions or situations. Shout out to Riot for providing another source of player names.

  4. The last question could actually come up in EDH if someone wanted to use their Deathrite Shaman and you controlled a Ghostly Prison. It’s not completely a corner case 😉

  5. I love when players activate Sylvan Library with Chains out. It’s easily my favorite interaction in Legacy.

  6. I missed two of them. I didn’t know if Flagstones would try to trigger while on the battlefield (in which case Blood Moon would say “no”) or once it hit the graveyard (in which case it would work well). Hopefully I’ll remember this if it comes up. Later, I forgot that mana abilities aren’t allowed to target things.

    Also, in numbers 11 and 12, wouldn’t only 20 damage be assigned, as Lord of Atlantis only buffs other Merfolk creatures?

    1. Combat math is hard. Thanks!

      As for Blood Moon — “when this creature dies” and other leaves-the-battlefield abilities always look at how things existed before the event that caused things to be put in the graveyard, not afterwards. This is a nice example because it demonstrates that this rule applies equally to noncreature permanents.

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