Players and judges, I’m proud to present to you the questions posed at the Fort Wayne area judges’ first annual No Mercy rules challenge. This is a collection of the dumbest, hardest, counterintuitivest rules questions we could come up with. So prepare yourself for the worst of the worst. If you can answer even a few of these, consider your rules knowledge well above average.
- We are looking for interesting, stimulating, and difficult questions, answerable only by detailed knowledge of the CR. On the other hand, the difficulty should come from needing knowledge of obscure rules or precise wordings, not gratuitous complexity. To this end, each question may reference only three cards. Basic lands, creatures with no abilities, and creatures whose only ability is a single evergreen keyword are not counted towards this limit (Reference CR 702.2 through 702.20 for a list of evergreen keywords).
- The question must have a single correct answer which can be determined from the Comprehensive Rules alone.
- Due to their general irrelevance in a competitive context, questions concerning any multiplayer or casual variant (except two-headed giant) will not be eligible.
- Each person may submit any number of entries. Due to time constraints, it’s possible we may not be able to get through all the submissions. If you have favorites, I will take your preferences into account when making those decisions. Otherwise, I’ll just pick for you.
- Submissions may be presented in person at the Ft. Wayne area judge meeting on December 9th. If you will be unable to attend, please submit them to me (preferably by facebook or judgeapps message) by December 7th.
- The “best rules question” will be determined by me based on the criteria of originality, creativity, and difficulty. Anyone wishing to join the judging committee may do so by putting up a judge foil of their own. Doing so empowers you to decide on your own criteria to judge a winner.
Before we begin, I’d like to say a few words about corner-case interactions like these. Many judges are against the entire concept, considering them at best a waste of time and at worst a license to memorize rulings rather than generate them. These concerns are not ill-founded. I can tell you as a player, it was (and still is) one of my biggest pet peeves to overhear a group of judges talking amongst themselves about what would happen if some ridiculously unlikely parlay were to occur only to see these same judges punt a basic call later on. It’s one of the reasons I delayed becoming a judge as long as I did. Why, then, did I devote a whole meeting to it?
For eleven months out of the year, I have focused the Fort Wayne area judge meetings on practical topics, including several presentations that were comprised entirely of real-life judge calls and several more made up of calls I anticipated as new sets were released. For one meeting out of the year, I think it’s OK to be not so serious. Like it or not, these wacky, counterintuitive scenarios are a lot of fun to a lot of judges, including me. And I’m fine with spending one meeting a year on something a little lighter, because if you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong. Just as long as all of you are OK with me, upon hearing the latest question involving Panglacial Wurm, Chromatic Sphere, and Chains of Mephistopheles, coming back with a hearty “Ho, ho, ho! Save it for December!”
Q: How big is a traditional Magic card?
A: Traditional Magic cards measure approximately 2.5″ x 3.5″ [CR 108.2]. This is in contrast with nontraditional Magic cards, which are bigger (like the oversize EDH generals included in the Commander products or the schemes from Archenemy).
A: Illusionary Mask’s Oracle text instructs Amy to cast the chosen creature face down. Because Huntmaster of the Fells is a double-faced card, it cannot be cast face down, so if Amy chooses it, she will not be able to carry out this part of the instruction [CR 711.4]. It’s not legal to pick Dryad Arbor at all because its nonexistant mana cost couldn’t be paid with 2RG [CR 17.6].
Note: Thanks to Michael Snodgrass for this question.
A: Yes. The process of casting a split card involves an extra step compared to casting a normal spell: deciding which half is being cast. This choice is made before the spell is put onto the stack [CR 708.2a]. Fuse adds a third option to this choice. Rather than casting one half or the other, fuse allows the caster to choose both halves [CR 708.2b]. The spell is still considered one spell; its total cost is defined by game rules to be equal to the sum of both halves’ mana costs [CR 702.101c]. After the total cost is determined, Fist of Suns proposes an alternate cost that may be paid instead. Amy may elect to pay WUBRG rather than the mana cost of her fused split spell.
Q: Amy controls a Darksteel Garrison that’s fortifying one of her nonbasic lands. She casts Bludgeon Brawl, then uses her garrison’s new equip ability targeting her Grizzly Bears. When is the soonest time Nicole can use Wasteland to destroy Amy’s nonbasic land?
A: Because Bludgeon Brawl doesn’t specify that the permanents it affects keep their original subtypes, they are overwritten [CR 205.1a]. This means that Darksteel Garrison ceases to be a Fortification the moment Bludgeon Brawl is in play. It will become unattached the next time state-based actions are performed [CR 704.5p]. In this case, that’s right before Amy has the chance to activate its equip ability. Nicole can respond to that equip with Wasteland to destroy Amy’s land.
A: Flickerform exiles the creature and all the auras attached to it, including itself and the Eidolon. After it is exiled, Hopeful Eidolon is no longer attached to Eager Cadet, so it stops being an aura [CR 701.3d, 702.102a]. At end of turn, Flickerform’s ability will attempt to return Eager Cadet and all cards that were attached to it to the battlefield. The Eager Cadet and Flickerform return just fine. The Flickerform’s ability still affects the Eidolon even though it isn’t an aura anymore [CR 603.7c]. The Eidolon can’t return attached to the cadet, so it returns unattached instead [CR 303.4h].
Q: Nicole controls both the lifelink and deathtouch Wurms from Wurmcoil Engine‘s ability, and 18 1/1 Worms from casting Worm Harvest. Amy plays a Detention Sphere and targets the deathtouch Wurm with its ability. Which of Nicole’s permanents will be exiled?
A: A token has a name, even if the effect that created it doesn’t give it one (the way Dark Depths and Tolsimir Wolfblood do). In this case, the token’s name is equal to its creature type [CR 110.5c]. Therefore, both wurmcoil tokens will be exiled, because they are both named “Wurm.” Strangely, Worm Harvest, unlike the majority of Magic cards with similar effects, makes “Worm” tokens, not “Wurm” tokens. That counts as a different name, so they’re all safe from this Detention Sphere.
A: No. Essence of the Wild and Clone both have replacement effects that want to modify how Clone enters the battlefield. Amy, as the affected player, may apply them in whatever order she wishes, but neither order will result in Clone entering as a copy of Fusion Elemental. If she applies Clone first, that ability will set Clone’s copiable values to those of Fusion Elemental. Then Essence of the Wild will set them to its own copiable values. If she applies Essence of the Wild first, that will set Clone’s copiable values to Essence’s. This will overwrite Clone’s ability, so it will no longer apply.
A: No. The game checks what a permanent entering the battlefield will look like once it’s there when determining what replacement effects will be applicable to that event; when it does this, continuous effects from sources other than the thing entering the battlefield are not taken into account [CR 613.12]. This means that Bramblewood Paragon won’t see a Warrior entering the battlefield, even though immediately before and immediately after it does, the bear will be one.
Note: Thanks to Daniel Kitachewsky and James Do Hung Lee for this question.
Q: Amy casts Show and Tell while she controls Imposing Sovereign. She chooses to put in a Gorger Wurm and devour her sovereign. If her opponent puts in a Grizzly Bears, will it enter the battlefield tapped or untapped?
A: The event starts out as [Amy puts Gorger Wurm onto the battlefield, Nicole puts Grizzly Bears onto the battlefield]. We have two replacement effects here that want to modify this event: Gorger Wurm’s devour and Imposing Sovereign’s “enters tapped” ability. Because they affect different objects, the game can apply these both at the same time. This will change the event to [Amy puts Gorger Wurm onto the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter on it and sacrifices Imposing Sovereign, Nicole puts Grizzly Bears onto the battlefield tapped].
Note: Thanks to Daniel Kitachewsky and James Do Hung Lee for this question.
A: None. Akroma’s Vengence will resolve, putting Compost, Pack Rat, and Pack Rat token into their owners’ graveyards simultaneously. After this event, the game will check to see if any triggered abilities should have triggered. In general, the game looks at the game state immediately after an event to determine what triggered abilities are applicable [CR 603.6d]. At this point, Compost is no longer on the battlefield, so its triggered ability does not trigger.
Note: Leaves-the-battlefield triggers (such as those on Reveillark or Black Cat) have a special exception in the rules. The game “looks back in time” to immediately before the event to check for them because otherwise, they couldn’t function [CR 603.6c]. Compost, however, like other triggered abilities that trigger when a card is put into a certain zone “from anywhere,” is never treated as a leaves-the-battlefield trigger [CR 603.3c].
Note: The Pack Rat token could never cause Compost to trigger because Compost looks for a “card” to be placed into an opponent’s graveyard.
Q: Amy controls a Tarmogoyf and a Muraganda Petroglyphs. She casts a Quicksilver Gargantuan and has it copy Tarmogoyf. What is the Gargantuan’s power and toughness if the only card in a graveyard is a Grizzly Bears?
A: Quicksilver Gargantuan’s ability stipulates that the Gargantuan retains its original power and toughness. Because of this, Tarmogoyf’s characteristic-defining ability that sets its power and toughness isn’t copied [CR 706.9d]. The ability Quicksilver Gargantuan has that makes it come in as a copy of Tarmogoyf is overwritten as part of the copying process [CR 706.3]. This leaves the Gargantuan with no abilities, so Muraganda Petroglyphs will apply to it, increasing its final p/t to 9/9.
Q: Amy is enchanted with a Paradox Haze. During her first upkeep, after the haze’s trigger has resolved, she activates the forecast ability of a Govern the Guildless in her hand. Can she activate the same forecast ability during her second upkeep? If not, what stops her?
A: It’s only legal to activate an object’s forecast ability once per turn. In this case, Amy can’t activate it during her second upkeep because if a player activates a forecast ability, that player “plays with that card revealed in his or her hand until it leaves the player’s hand or until a step or phase that isn’t an upkeep step begins, whichever comes first” [CR 702.56b].
Note: If Amy somehow took another upkeep step after starting a step the wasn’t an upkeep, the Govern the Guildless would no longer be revealed, but it would still be the same object, so its ability couldn’t be activated again. If Amy wanted to activate the ability of a different Govern the Guildless in this second upkeep, she would need to verify that it was a different one, perhaps by showing the first one also or calling a judge to verify.
Q: Amy controls Gatstaf Shepherd. During her upkeep no spells were cast last turn, so she puts its triggered ability onto the stack. She then casts Mirrorweave targeting Ravager of the Fells in response. What happens?
A: Mirrorweave resolves and makes the shepherd (and everything else) into a copy of Ravager of the Fells. Then the shepherd’s ability will resolve and cause the shepherd/ravager to transform. Gatstaf Shepherd has a back face, so it transforms just fine [CR 711.1]. Although the ability says to transform “Gatstaf Shepherd,” the effect tracks that permanent and applies to it even though its name is now “Ravager of the Fells” [CR 706.11]. The Mirrorweave’s copy effect is still affecting the card because it still is the same permanent [CR 711.7]. Because the copy effect is still applying to it, the shepherd/ravager’s name is Ravager of the Fells both before and after it transforms. Since its name didn’t change, the trigger condition of its “when this permanent transforms into Ravager of the Fells” ability is not met, so this ability does not trigger [CR 701.25d].
Note: Thanks to Cris Plyler for this question.
Q: Amy casts Withdraw targeting two of Nicole’s creatures. The first target is a token copy of Simian Spirit Guide and the second target is a Grizzly Bears. Can Nicole exile the spirit guide token to generate the 1 to keep her Grizzly Bears from being returned?
A: No. A token that’s left the battlefield can’t move to another zone [CR 110.5g]. Because of this, it’s not possible to pay the “Exile Simian Spirit Guide” cost to generate the mana.
Note: Thanks to Ethan Greenberger for this question.
Note: In the past, the rules allowed such a token to attempt to change zones, except that nothing would happen. Without the line cited precluding such attempts, this scenario formed an infinite mana combo whereby the “Exile Simian Spirit Guide” cost was repeatedly “paid,” even though the token was unable to move from the hand. This prompted a change in the CR.
Q: Amy controls two Swamps, a Chromatic Sphere, and a (sigh) Chains of Mephistopheles. Her hand is two copies of Wren’s Run Vanquisher. Can she cast one? Does it matter what the top card of her library is?
A: The total cost Amy will pay to cast Wren’s Run Vanquisher is [1G, reveal an elf card from your hand]. Amy may pay this cost in any order [CR 601.2g]. Unfortunately, she must activate mana abilities before paying any part of this cost [CR 601.2f]. The only way for her to get green mana is to activate Chromatic Sphere before she begins to pay the cost. Chains of Mephistopheles will force her to discard her only elf in hand as part of that ability’s effect. Suppose the top card of her library is an elf card. Even then, Amy will not be able to pay the cost because if a card is drawn while casting a spell, it’s drawn face-down and considered to have no characteristics until the process of casting that spell is completed [CR 401.5].
Note: Thanks to Adam Friedman for this question.
Note: It’s legal for Amy to attempt this, even knowing that the act of casting the spell will fail. If she does, the casting of Wren’s Run Vanquisher is undone [CR 717.1]. Any payments already made are canceled, and any mana abilities that were activated may normally be reversed. The activation of Chromatic Sphere may not be undone, however, because it caused cards to move from a library to a different zone [CR 717.1].
Note: It’s possible for Amy to cast Wren’s Run Vanquisher if her top card is an elf and she activates Chromatic Sphere before she starts the casting process. The card she draws would then be drawn normally. After that ability resolved, Amy would get priority again, and, with G floating in her mana pool, she could cast the WRV.
A: To figure out what happens, we parse all the continuous effects into their own layers. We have:
Type – Heliod’s “not a creature” ability, Turn’s “becomes a Weird” effect
Color – Turn’s “becomes red” effect
Abilities – Heliod’s “your other creatures have vigilance” ability, Turn’s “loses all abilities” effect
p/t – Turn’s “becomes 0/1” effect
Having done this, we now apply each one in order. Heliod stops being a creature, and loses all its creature types. Turn tries to make Heliod a Weird, but can’t because it isn’t a creature anymore [CR 205.3d]. Then Heliod becomes red. There is a dependency in layer 6 because applying Turn’s “loses all abilities” before Heliod’s “your creatures get vigilance” changes whether that ability exists [CR 613.7a]. Therefore, Turn will apply first, making Heliod lose all its abilities. Losing its “not a creature” ability doesn’t do anything perceptible because it already applied, but notably, Heliod is no longer indestructible, is now unable to give all your other creatures vigilance, and cannot be used to put a creature token into play. Finally, Turn’s “becomes 0/1” tries to apply, but doesn’t do anything because Heliod isn’t a creature anymore [CR 208.3].
A: It’s a 1/1. Duplicant has a non-CDA ability that sets its power and toughness. This is applied in layer 7b, at which point Skullbriar’s p/t is still 1/1 because power and toughness changes from counters are not applied until layer 7d [CR 613.3b, 613.3d].
Note: Phyrexian Ingester has a p/t buffing effect that applies in layer 7c [CR 613.3c]. Skullbriar will likewise give Phyrexian Ingester only +1/+1 regardless of how many counters are on it.
Thanks to Cris Plyler and Minh-Duc Vu for this question
Q: Nicole casts Volcanic Offering at the end of Amy’s turn. Amy controls two Tropical Islands and two Grizzly Bears. Can Nicole choose targets in such a way that she will only lose one of each? Can Amy make it so that Nicole loses everything?
A: If a spell wants two players to each make a choice while the spell is being cast, the spell’s controller makes a choice first, then the other player [CR 601.3b]. This is an exception to the familiar APNAP rule that usually decides which player names a choice first when they are instructed to do so at the same time. Because Amy chooses targets after Nicole, she can save one bear and one Tropical Island by choosing for her targets the same permanents Nicole targeted. This is allowed because Volcanic Offering uses the word “target” multiple times, so it is legal to pick the same object multiple times for different instances of the word [CR 601.2c].
Note: This rule only applies to when a spell is being cast. When a spell is resolving, the active player makes decisions first, then the non-active players in turn order [CR 101.4].
A: Amy gets to choose! When Makeshift Mannequin resolves, its effect creates an event in the game: [Bloodied Ghost enters the battlefield with a mannequin counter on it]. Both of Doubling Season and Bloodied Ghost have replacement effects that want to modify this event. Amy, the controller of the affected object gets to decide what order they apply [CR 616.1]. Say she applies Bloodied Ghost first. In that case, the event becomes [Bloodied Ghost enters the battlefield with a mannequin counter and a -1/-1 counter on it]. Then Doubling Season applies, increasing this to two mannequin counters and two -1/-1 counters.
Suppose that Amy chooses to apply Doubling Season first, though. In that case, the event is modified to [Bloodied Ghost enters the battlefield with two mannequin counters on it]. After this, Bloodied Ghost can apply to modify this event to [Bloodied Ghost enters the battlefield with two mannequin counters and a -1/-1 counter on it]. Because Doubling Season already applied to this event once, it can’t apply again [CR 614.5].
Note: It’s tempting to think that Doubling Season should be able to apply again in the latter situation because a different effect is putting the counter on. This is not the case, however. The replacement effect from Bloodied Ghost does not put the -1/-1 counter on it. Rather, the Bloodied Ghost’s replacement effect modifies the effect of the resolving Makeshift Mannequin to include putting a -1/-1 counter on the ghost. Because the same effect from Makeshift Mannequin is what put the mannequin counter on Bloodied Ghost, and Doubling Season already applied to that, Doubling Season cannot apply again.
A: Six. Hardened Scales interacts with this event, but Doubling Season does not. Hardened Scales applies because the counters are being “placed” on Hooded Hydra [CR 121.6]. Doubling Season does not apply because it reads “If an effect would place one or more counters on a permanent you control, it places twice that many of those counters on that permanent instead.” As was pointed out in the previous question, replacement effects like “enters the battlefield with counters” or “as … is turned face up” do not add the counters themselves. Rather, they modify the event that makes the Hooded Hydra enter the battlefield or turn face up. When Hooded Hydra is cast, the counters are put on because they are added to the effect of the resolution of the Hooded Hydra spell. When Hooded Hydra is unmorphed, the counters are put on because they are added to the special action of Hooded Hydra being turned face up. This fits the CR definition of an event (something that happens in the game [CR 700.1]), but not an effect (something that happens in the game as a result of a spell or ability [CR 609.1]), since unmorphing a creature is a special action, not a spell. Because this does not qualify as an effect, Doubling Season does not apply to it.
Note: Congratulations to Max Schroeder for posing this question, which was judged the best by our esteemed panel of experts (me), winning him a judge foil Doubling Season. Thanks also to Carsten Haese for very patiently explaining this one to me.
Note: In the same way, a Gemstone Mine entering the battlefield as a result of a land play with Doubling Season out will get three mining counters, but a Gemstone Mine being put onto the battlefield with a Sakura-Tribe Scout with Doubling Season out will get six.
Note: If Hooded Hydra were cast, say, for X=5, Doubling Season would apply because the counters are being put on Hooded Hydra by an effect. Hardened Scales will apply also. Amy would have the choice of which effect is applied first, and will end up with either 11 or 12 counters depending on her choice [CR 616.1].
Note: This is the correct ruling as of December 9, 2014. Be aware, though, especially if you’re reading this much after that date, that rulings can change. I hope this one does, just because it’s so technical and counterintuitive (and not just because I gave the “obvious” answer rather than this correct one when I did this question in a judge meeting a few months ago). UPDATE: This has been changed with the Ixalan CR update. The correct answer is now the one that makes sense. Reference the Ixalan New Set Digest for more details.