Welcome, readers, to the third annual No Mercy rules challenge. Each year, I collect the hardest rules questions I can find into the most merciless article I can write. If you can answer even one or two of these questions confidently, rest easy knowing that you should be able to answer anything that comes up in a real tournament.
But that brings up an interesting point. What value is there in this? Are we really worried about someone breaking the Legacy metagame with the Sakashima the Impostor/Master of the Hunt deck? The answer is that there is essentially no practical value to be found here. Unlike the other questions found on this site, “No Mercy” questions test your knowledge not of the fundamentals, but of the exceptions, and it’s hard for me to consider rules knowledge of this level, impressive as it may be, a skill that judges should concern themselves with. Why write this article, then? One word: Fun. Because if you try to take judging too seriously, you’re just asking to burn out. So take this article as an annual reminder to have some fun judging, too. Don’t think of judging, improving, or even learning the rules as an onerous chore, because it doesn’t have to be. In the words of too many illustrious judges before me to count, If it’s not fun, you’re doing it wrong!
- 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, precise wordings, and subtle interactions, 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 correct answer which can be determined from the Comprehensive Rules alone.
- Due to their increased complexity and reduced penetration, questions concerning any multiplayer or casual variant (except two-headed giant) will not be eligible.
- Each person may submit any number of entries. It’s possible I may not be able to use every question submitted to me. If you have favorites, I will take your preferences into account when making those decisions. Otherwise, I’ll just pick for you.
- Submissions must be submitted (preferably by Facebook or JudgeApps message) by December 6th.
- Submissions may be edited for content. This may be done to make two similar submissions more distinct or to make a submission more straightforward and easier to parse.
- Each year, I will promote one question as the best, based on the criteria of originality, creativity, and difficulty. Really excellent questions may be considered even if they break one or more of these rules as long as they stay within the proper spirit.
A: No. Chromatic Sphere’s activated ability adds mana to your mana pool, has no targets, and isn’t a loyalty ability. Therefore, it’s a mana ability [CR 605.1a]. This being the case, it doesn’t use the stack and can’t be responded to; it simply resolves immediately without either player first getting priority to activate abilities [CR 605.3b].
Note: The activated ability on the similar card Chromatic Star is also a mana ability, so it also cannot be targeted by Spellskite’s activated ability. The triggered ability that draws a card, though is a normal triggered ability with no special treatment, so it can indeed be the target of Spellskite’s ability, which has no stipulations on what type of spell or ability it can target.
Q: Amy and Alice start their turn in a 2HG game. Amy controls a Wall of Shards with 2 age counters on it. She adds a third and wants to pay the cumulative upkeep. Can she have Nicole gain 1 life and Natalie gain 2? If each of her opponents controls an Archangel of Thune, how many counters will this cause to be put on each of Nicole and Natalie’s creatures?
A: Wall of Shards’ cumulative upkeep involves the choice of an opponent. The choice for each age counter is made individually, then the whole cost is paid at once [CR 702.23a]. This means that the result of paying Wall of Shards’ cumulative upkeep cost is for Nicole to gain 1 life and Natalie to gain 2 life, so each of their Archangel of Thunes will trigger once. Although the players share a life total, gaining life happens to each player individually, so Nicole’s gaining life will not cause Natalie’s angel to trigger a second time and vice versa [CR 810.9].
A: The first step in Living Death’s resolution is to exile all creature cards from graveyards. At this point, Immortal Coil will trigger because Amy has no cards in her graveyard [CR 603.8]. Although sacrificing Grizzly Bears will put a creature card there before this trigger is even put on the stack, it still will go on the stack and resolve [CR 603.3]. Because Immortal Coil has a state trigger, there will only be one instance of this triggered ability on the stack [CR 603.8]. Amy can Stifle this ability and be safe because the game state will not match the trigger condition of Immortal Coil’s ability again once the first instance of this ability is countered, so it won’t trigger again.
A: Clone first becomes a copy of Forerunner of Slaughter in layer 1 [CR 613.1a]. Then, in layer 5, both Purelace and the Clone’s acquired devoid ability want to set Clone’s color [CR 613.1e]. Devoid is a CDA, so it applies before Purelace, which isn’t [CR 702.113a, 613.2]. Clone starts as blue, then becomes black/red, then colorless before finally ending up white.
Note: You may be wondering why Purelace’s color-changing effect, which started on the Clone spell on the stack, will still be acting on the Clone creature on the battlefield. After all, when something changes zones, it becomes a new object with no memory of its previous existance [CR 400.7]. Effects that change the characteristics of a permanent spell on the stack are specifically called out as an exception to this rule; such effects will continue to apply to the permanents those spells become [CR 400.7a]. For examples of the other exceptions to this rule, check out the detailed article here.
A: Thought Reflection replaces the “draw a card” part of Sindbad’s ability with drawing 2 cards, but the Sindbad’s effect wants to perform an additional action on the card that was drawn. There is a special rule to cover cases like this which states that if a card draw is replaced in an effect that wants to perform an action on the drawn card, that action is not performed [CR 120.6c]. Accordingly, Amy will draw both cards, but won’t have to reveal either, nor will she have to discard the one that’s not a land.
Q: In a 2-Headed Giant game, Amy has a Grizzly Bears, but then Nicole steals it with Persuasion. After this, Nicole’s teammate Natalie plays a Mind Control on Grizzly Bears. Finally, Amy’s teammate Alice plays a Steal Enchantment on the Persuasion. Who controls each permanent?
A: There are 3 control-changing effects here which all apply in layer 2 [CR 613.3b]. Applying Steal Enchantment before applying Persuasion changes which player Persuasion gives control of Grizzly Bears to, so Persuasion is dependent upon Steal Enchantment and waits until after Steal Enchantment has applied to take effect [CR 613.7a, 613.7b]. The first effect to apply is therefore Mind Control which has the next-earliest timestamp [CR 613.6]. Then Steal Enchantment assigns control of Persuasion to Alice. Finally, Persuasion applies and assigns control of Grizzly Bears to Alice also.
Q: Amy controls a Grizzly Bears and a Volrath’s Shapeshifter and has no cards in her graveyard. She then activates Millstone targeting herself. The top card of her library is another Volrath’s Shapeshifter, and the other card that’s milled is a Clone. What happens?
A: Millstone puts both cards into her graveyard at the same time, which means Amy can pick the order [CR 404.3]. If she puts Clone on top, then Volrath’s Shapeshifter will have its full text, including the text that makes its p/t 0/0 [CR 612.5]. Because it’s already on the battlefield, the Volrath’s Shapeshifter won’t have a chance to copy a creature with Clone’s ability [CR 614.1]. Even if she could copy another creature, that wouldn’t help because copy effects are applied in an earlier layer than text-changing effects, so the p/t would be 0/0 regardless [CR 613.1a, 613.1c]. This being the case, Amy probably wants to put the Volrath’s Shapeshifter on top. Volrath’s Shapeshifter will gain the full text of Volrath’s Shapeshifter, but with a second instance of the “2: Discard a card.” ability. Volrath’s Shapeshifter will gain that text again as the new version of its “As long as the top card of your graveyard is a creature” ability applies. It will end up with two, not three instances of the “2: Discard a card” ability because this ability is part of the text-changing process, which means Volrath’s Shapeshifter will have the first extra instance of that ability in time for the second “has the full text” ability to overwrite it when it applies.
Note: As noted above, text-changing effects apply after copy effects, which can lead to some weird things when Volrath’s Shapeshifter has a copying card on top of the graveyard. For example, if Amy later mills a Shapesharer and has Volrath’s Shapeshifter activate the Shapesharer ability to make itself a copy of her Grizzly Bears, the copy effect will make it a copy of Grizzly Bears in layer 1 before Volrath’s Shapeshifter’s text-changing effect will reset its characteristics to Shapesharer’s in layer 3.
A: Animate Dead is indeed able to target Progenitus in the graveyard even though the latter has protection from everything because that ability does not function off the battlefield [CR 112.6]. After Animate Dead enters the battlefield, its triggered ability triggers, and then those instructions are followed in order [CR 608.2c]. First Animate Dead’s enchant ability changes to ‘enchant creature put onto the battlefield with Animate Dead.’ Then Progenitus is returned to the battlefield. At this point, the next instruction is to attach Animate Dead to Progenitus, but this is illegal to do because now that it’s on the battlefield, Progenitus’ protection ability is active [CR 702.16c, 303.4j].
After the triggered ability from Animate Dead has finished resolving, the game will check for state-based actions and see that Animate Dead is an Aura that isn’t enchanting anything, so Animate Dead will be put into its owner’s graveyard [CR 704.5n]. This in turn causes the Animate Dead’s leaves the battlefield ability to trigger which instructs Amy to sacrifice Progenitus. This isn’t one of the things that protection can stop, so it happens. Progenitus’ ‘shuffle into your library effect’ replaces it going to Amy’s graveyard with shuffling it into her library.
Note: Because Animate Dead is not attached to Progenitus, there’s no point at which Progenitus is getting -1/-0. This means that, for instance, Amy could activate Mossbridge Troll tapping only Progenitus in response to the ability that makes her sacrifice it.
Q: Amy attacks with Archangel of Tithes and two Grizzly Bears. Nicole wants to block Archangel of Tithes with her Birds of Paradise and each Grizzly Bears with one of her two Blood Vassals. She intends to sacrifice one Blood Vassal and tap Birds of Paradise to generate the mana needed to pay for Archangel of Tithes’ ability. Can she do that? If she does, will she take combat damage?
A: The process of declaring blockers is detailed in CR 509.1. It specifies that “An attacking creature with one or more creatures declared as blockers for it becomes a blocked creature; one with no creatures declared as blockers for it becomes an unblocked creature” [CR 509.1h]. Like casting a spell, declaring blockers is comprised of a number of steps that all have to be followed all the way to the end. If the process isn’t completed, a valid block has not happened [CR 509.1]. This being the case, Archangel of Tithes and one of the Grizzly Bears are considered to be blocked, but the other (the one Nicole tried to block with the Blood Vassal that was sacrificed) is not. Nicole takes 2 damage.
Q: Amy casts Tidewalker while she controls a Mountain and a Volcanic Island. Her opponent controls a Blood Moon. Amy has in hand a Magical Hack. Taking for granted that she has a U floating to cast that spell, what choices of target and land types does Amy have that will increase the number of counters her Tidewalker will enter with? Which choice(s) will result in the most counters?
A: The first possibility is to use Magical Hack to turn her (basic) Mountain into an Island. This works because the basic supertype is independent of any of the land’s card types, so it will remain and keep the land from being affected by Blood Moon [CR 205.4b]. Tidewalker will get one counter.
A second solution would be to change the text of Blood Moon from Mountain to Island. This will make Volcanic Island into an Island so that it will be counted by Tidewalker’s ability, again getting one counter.
The best Amy can do is to change Island to Mountain on Tidewalker. The text-changing effect generated by Magical Hack changed Tidewalker’s characteristics on the stack, so it is taken into account when determining how Tidewalker’s enters the battlefield replacement effect applies [CR 614.12]. Amy controls 2 Mountains, so Tidewalker gets two counters.
A: First, Soul Sculptor’s ability takes effect, making Gliding Licid into an abilityless enchantment. Then, Gliding Licid’s ability resolves and makes the Licid into an Aura with enchant creature. To figure out what Gliding Licid’s characteristics are, let’s parse all continuous effects into their appropriate layers:
Layer 4: Gliding Licid becomes an enchantment, Gliding Licid becomes an enchantment – Aura
Layer 6: Soul Sculptor gains flying, Gliding Licid loses all abilities, Gliding Licid loses its activated ability, Gliding Licid gains enchant creature
There are no dependencies in layer 4, so we apply these in timestamp order. Gliding Licid is an enchantment – Aura. In layer 6, applying Soul Sculptor’s “Gliding Licid loses all abilities” before Gliding Licid’s “enchanted creature has flying” makes the latter effect not exist, so Soul Sculptor’s effect applies first [CR 613.7b]. Applying that effect before the “Gliding Licid gains enchant creature” effect does not change whether that effect exists (“Gliding Licid gains enchant creature” exists because of the resolution of Gliding Licid’s activated ability. Removing the activated ability after it starts to apply does nothing).
Since there are no more dependencies to address, the remaining effects in layer 6 are applied in timestamp order. Gliding Licid is an enchantment – Aura with enchant creature and no other abilities. Because it’s legal to attach it to Soul Sculptor, that instruction is performed as usual. Soul Sculptor does not have flying because the Gliding Licid’s ability that would have given it was stripped away before it could apply.
Note: If a player plays a creature spell, Soul Sculptor’s effect will end, causing Gliding Licid to regain the ability that gives Soul Sculptor flying. Gliding Licid will still be an enchantment thanks to its own effect making it an enchantment – Aura.
Note: Gliding Licid’s controller can pay U to end the effect making Gliding Licid an Aura since the paying U is not an ability of Gliding Licid that can be taken away but rather a special action its controller is enabled to take by the resolution of Gliding Licid’s activated ability [CR 115.2c]. If this happens, the effects making Gliding Licid an Aura and causing it to lose its first ability will cease (although Soul Sculptor’s effect making Gliding Licid lose all abilities will still be active). The next time state-based actions are performed, the game will see Gliding Licid is a non-Aura permanent attached to something, so it will become unattached [CR 704.5q].
A: Interestingly, the answer depends on what format they’re playing. The Spy Kit’s name-granting ability gives Cloudseeder the name “of each nonlegendary creature card in the Oracle card reference that’s legal in the format of the game it’s in” [CR 612.6]. So if Cloud Sprite is legal in the format they’re playing, Cloudseeder will have that name too and be killed also, but if not, Cloudseeder is safe.
Note: This question could be made orders of magnitude better if there were a way for it to come up in constructed, but at the moment, it can’t. If Conspiracy cards were legal in Modern, Kher Keep would fit the bill with its ability to make Kobolds of Kher Keep tokens. Unfortunately, the best we can do is house ban Cloud Sprite from our EDH tables and push for Wizards to ban this card (or another card in a similar situation) from Legacy (or maybe print a card that makes Goblin Recruiter tokens).
Q: Amy casts Mask of the Mimic targeting a Clone that’s copying a 2/2 Illusion token (for instance, from Summoner’s Bane). Can she search for an Illusion // Reality from her library? If so, what happens?
A: It’s legal to cast Mask of the Mimic targeting Clone because it’s a nontoken creature. The token Clone copied is named ‘Illusion,’ so Clone’s name is considered to be ‘Illusion’ too [CR 110.5c, 706.2]. While in Amy’s library, Illusion//Reality has two sets of characteristics, and if an instruction needs to make a positive comparison, like asking if it has the same name as something, it asks both halves and gives a yes answer if either half answered yes [CR 708.6a]. All of this means that searching for Illusion//Reality is completely legal in this case. Unfortunately, what isn’t legal is putting an instant on the battlefield [CR 304.4]. Amy will be unable to comply with this instruction from Mask of the Mimic, so Illusion//Reality will stay in Amy’s library and be shuffled back in.
Q: Amy controls Sylvan Library, and Nicole controls two Chains of Mephistopheles. Amy begins her turn empty handed, then draws for her turn, then discards the card she drew. After that, she calls for a judge and says, “Judge, I want to make sure I’m resolving this correctly. What do I have to do?” Good question! What does she have to do?
A: Sylvan Library first instructs Amy to draw 2 cards. These card draws are handled one at a time [CR 120.2]. For the first card draw, each Chains of Mephistopheles sees Amy drawing a card that’s not the first card she drew in her draw step and wants to replace this event with something else. Amy can choose what order they apply, but since they both do the same thing, this choice makes no difference [CR 616.1]. Whichever she chooses, the card draw will be modified to Amy discarding a card, then drawing a card. The second Chains of Mephistopheles sees her drawing a card here and modifies this event to Amy discarding a card, then drawing. Amy can’t discard, so she mills. The final result is that the first draw from Sylvan Library is modified into Amy discarding a card and milling. The second card draw will be modified by whatever Chains effect Amy chooses to apply first into her milling, since again, she can’t discard.
After this, it’s time to finish resolving the Sylvan Library trigger. Amy will be instructed to choose 2 cards in her hand that she drew this turn, but being empty-handed, this will not be possible, so there will be no cards chosen this way. Amy only pays life “for each card chosen this way,” so she won’t have to pay any.
Note: Drawing with Sylvan is optional, so if Amy didn’t want to discard a card and mill 2 here, she doesn’t have to. Since she discarded a card here, though, it’s unambiguous that she has chosen to use the Sylvan Library’s card draws, so she’s stuck doing the rest of the instructions, as modified by the applicable replacement effects (such as Chains of Mephistopheles here).
Note: Replacement effects only apply to each event once, even if they are still applicable after applying the first time or become applicable again after other replacement effects have applied [CR 614.5]. This means that if Amy had several cards in hand, she would only have to discard 2 per extra draw. The Chains would not keep replacing the draw with [discard, then draw] until she ran out of cards to discard.
Q: Amy uses Word of Seizing to steal Nicole’s Elixir of Immortality, then activates it. Nicole controls a Psychogenic Probe and Amy has no cards in her graveyard. Both players are at 2 life. What happens?
A: After Amy gains 5 life, Elixir of Immortality’s ability will instruct her to shuffle it and her graveyard into their owners’ libraries. Even though she has no cards in her graveyard, this instruction means “shuffle all the cards from your graveyard into your library,” which Amy can do, so she does so, causing Psychogenic Probe to trigger [CR 400.11, 701.18d].
Amy can also follow the instruction to shuffle Elixir of Immortality into its owner’s library, so she does this too. This does not cause Psychogenic Probe to trigger, because its trigger condition is “whenever a spell or ability causes a player to shuffle his or her library,” which does not include the case here in which Amy is shuffling another player’s library.
After this, Elixir of Immortality’s ability is done resolving and Psychogenic Probe’s ability is put onto the stack. When this ability resolves, Amy will fall from 7 to 5 life.
Note: This question is my choice for the best this year, though I feel I owe an explanation for why. It certainly doesn’t have anywhere near the complexity of the previous year’s winner nor the technical difficulty of the one before that. This question is a true egg of Columbus, so simple once you know the trick, yet the trick is so subtle that it’s rarely spotted. I would be willing to believe that any judge on earth might get this question wrong, even those considered to have the deepest and broadest rules knowledge in the program. As often as we judges stress the need to “read the friendly card,” how often do we take that advice? Even with the additional clue of me linking the M11 version of Elixir of Immortality with printed text that clearly conflicted with what the card did in this question, did you look up the Oracle text to confirm which player did the shuffling? Did you carefully read the text on Psychogenic Probe to confirm whether it applied to the player whose library was being shuffled or the player doing the shuffling? I like this question so much precisely because the complexity comes from an unexpected place. It doesn’t need you to know a specific rule or have an in-depth understanding of how some complicated process works. You just need to know exactly what both cards do.