Be an UPRISER – Special actions

In a nutshell

  • There are 7 special actions a player can take in Magic (Note that the first letter of each one spells out “UPRISER”):
    • Unmorphing, Unmanifesting, or megamorphing a face-down creature
    • Playing a land
    • Rolling the planar die
    • Ignoring an effect by paying a cost (Leonin Arbiter)
    • Suspending a card (Rift Bolt)
    • Ending a continuous effect or stopping a trigger by paying a cost (Dominating Licid, Quenchable Fire)
    • Revealing a conspiracy with hidden agenda
  • If you’ve never heard of the planar die or conspiracies, don’t fret. These are specific to casual-only formats and will not be on an L1 exam.
  • Special actions let you be an UPRISER, because they can be taken even when you’re being oppressed by effects that prohibit you from casting spells or activating abilities (split second, Ethersworn Canonist, etc.). In addition, special actions don’t use the stack; they just happen.
  • In general, special actions can be taken any time a player has priority. Certain special actions have additional restrictions:
    • Suspending a card can only be done at a time you could have cast that card from your hand.
    • Players can only play a land on their turn, in their main phase, if the stack is empty, and if they have a “land play” available.
    • A player can choose to roll the planar die only if it’s that player’s main phase and the stack is empty. In addition, that player must pay an amount of mana equal to the number of times he or she has taken this special action earlier in the turn.
  • By default, a player gets one “land play” each turn. Certain effects can increase the number of land plays a player has.
  • If a player takes a special action, that player gets priority afterwards.

Q: Amy is at 3 life. She plays Radiant Fountain in her first main phase. Can Nicole respond by Lightning Bolting Amy to kill her?

A: Kind of. There is a way to use bolt to kill Amy here, but it isn’t by casting it in response to playing Radiant Fountain. Playing a land is a special action, so it can’t be responded to. Let’s follow the actual process of what Nicole wants to do in detail:

  1. Amy plays Radiant Fountain. No one gets a chance to respond to this. Special actions don’t use the stack; they just happen. Radiant Fountain enters the battlefield.
  2. Because Amy took a special action, the game wants to give her priority. But before a player can get priority, the game has to check for any state-based actions. There are none. After this, the game checks for triggered abilities that need to go on the stack. Radiant Fountain’s trigger goes on the stack. Now, Amy gets priority.
  3. Amy passes priority.
  4. Nicole now has priority. A triggered ability that will make Amy gain life is on the stack. Nicole uses priority to cast Lightning Bolt.
  5. Nicole just cast a spell, so the game wants to give her priority. There are no state-based actions to perform nor any triggered abilities that need to go on the stack, so Nicole gets priority again.
  6. Nicole passes priority. The game now wants to give Amy priority. Again, no SBA’s or triggers, so it happens.
  7. Amy passes priority. The top object on the stack will now resolve since both players passed priority in a row without doing anything. Lightning Bolt deals 3 damage to Amy, reducing her life total to 0. Lightning Bolt is put into Nicole’s graveyard.
  8. The game wants to give priority to Amy, since she is the active player. Before it does, it checks for state-based actions. Amy is at 0 life, so she loses the game.
  9. If Amy had started this process at 4 life, she would go to 1, then she and Nicole would pass priority (in that order), then Radiant Fountain’s triggered ability would resolve, then Amy (the active player) would get priority. If both Amy and Nicole pass priority here, the game will progress to the beginning of combat step in the combat phase.

Note: In a real game, the players would condense the entire preceding 8-step process to a simple “bolt in response” from Nicole followed by Amy scooping her cards up.

Note: Because the act of suspending a card is distinct from casting a spell, it is perfectly legal to suspend Rift Bolt first and then cast Lightning Bolt.

Q: Amy casts Sudden Death targeting Nicole’s face-down creature. If the creature is a Willbender, can Nicole turn it face up to change the target?

A: Yes, this works. Unmorphing Willbender is a special action, which Sudden Death’s split second can’t stop. After that, Willbender has a triggered ability, which will go on the stack automatically. Split second won’t stop it either because it isn’t activating an ability (reference the example from an earlier lesson of Krosan Grip + Counterbalance).

Q: Amy activates a fetchland, then remembers that Nicole has a Leonin Arbiter. Of course, she wants to pay 2 to be able to search. Can she?

A: Paying the 2 to ignore Leonin Arbiter is a special action. It can be taken any time Amy has priority. Determining whether she does is the tricky part, though. From our discussion on that topic, recall that a player gets priority after adding anything to the stack, but by convention, is assumed to be passing unless they specifically say otherwise. If Amy has passed priority, Nicole simply needs to pass also to make the fetchland activation resolve (though if Nicole does something in response, Amy will get priority again and can pay at this time). If the fetchland is not yet in Amy’s graveyard, or if either Amy or Nicole have not yet recorded the “pay 1 life” part of the fetchland activation, Amy could argue that she is still in the process of activating the ability, and can declare that she will retain priority after the ability is activated.

Note: The above is true for competitive REL. It would take a very unusual set of circumstances for me to deny a player the search at regular REL.

Q: Amy pays 2 to bribe Nicole’s Leonin Arbiter. Can Nicole respond by using her Wasteland to destroy Amy’s Misty Rainforest?

A: No. Special actions, like buying off the arbiter here, do not use the stack, so they can’t be responded to.

Q: Amy controls Leonin Arbiter and activates a Ghost Quarter targeting one of Nicole’s lands. Can Amy cast an Aven Mindcensor after Nicole decides to pay 2 for Leonin Arbiter, but before she searches with Ghost Quarter?

A: Yes. To see exactly what happens, let’s go through the process in detail, paying attention to which players have priorty and when they act. First Amy activates Ghost Quarter and passes priority. If Nicole now passes priority, the top object on the stack (Ghost Quarter) will resolve because both players have passed priority in succession. Nicole doesn’t want that to happen, because she wouldn’t be able to search in that case. Therefore, Nicole takes the special action of paying 2 to ignore Leonin Arbiter’s effect. Because it’s a special action, it doesn’t use the stack, she just taps for 2 mana (presumably using mana abilities to generate this mana, which also doesn’t use the stack or necessitate priority passes), then pays. After taking this special action, Nicole gets priority afterwards. She now passes. Both players have passed priority with Ghost Quarter’s ability on top of the stack, but not in succession. Amy therefore gets priority now. She can use this chance to cast Aven Mindcensor. Assuming that neither player has anything further, Amy will pass priority after casting Aven Mindcensor, then Nicole will pass. Aven Mindcensor will resolve, then both players will have to pass priority again so that Ghost Quarter’s ability can resolve.

Q: Nicole has a Dominating Licid that’s enchanting Amy’s Grizzly Bears. Amy attacks with a 2/2, which Nicole blocks with the bears. Nicole wants to let the creatures trade and end the Licid’s “becomes an enchantment” effect so it will stick around. Can she?

A: Paying U to end the effect is a special game action, so Nicole will need priority to take it. If she activates it before combat damage is dealt, the licid will fall off Amy’s bear and control of the bear will revert back to Amy. Since it changed controllers, Grizzly Bear is removed from combat and will neither deal nor receive combat damage (more on this in our lesson on the combat phase). On the other hand, suppose she waits until after combat damage is dealt. Before she gets priority, the game will check for state based actions. Both creatures will be destroyed. On the next check of state based actions, Dominating Licid will be seen as an aura that’s not enchanting anything, and will be put into Nicole’s graveyard.

Q: Amy has an Oracle of Mul Daya and plays a land from the top of her library. Then she plays a Divination. Nicole Shocks the Oracle in response. Can Amy play another land that she drew with Divination?

A: No. The number of land plays that a player has available is checked each time a player plays a land. If the player doesn’t have any unused land plays, it’s not legal for that player to play a land. A player can’t designate that a particular land play is from a particular effect in order to save their “normal” land play for later.

Note: Under previous rules, there was a way for Amy to play the second land in this scenario. That loophole has since been closed.

Q: Nicole uses a Quicken to cast an Explore during Amy’s main phase. Can she now play a Forest from her hand?

A: No. Usually, when a card says you can do something, that makes it ok, even if the rules say you normally can’t. The CR makes a pretty clear exception for this case, though: “A player can’t play a land, for any reason, if it isn’t his or her turn. Ignore any part of an effect that instructs a player to do so” [CR 305.3].

Q: Nicole activates her Sakura-Tribe Scout during Amy’s end step. Can she put a Forest from her hand onto the battlefield?

A: Yes. “Putting a land onto the battlefield” is distinct from “playing a land”, so the rule cited above does not apply to this case.

Q: Amy casts a Jace, the Mind Sculptor. After it resolves, she plays a Plains and taps it for mana. She uses that mana to activate her Chromatic Sphere. She produces a blue mana and draws a card. After that, she uses Jace’s +2 ability. At what point(s) in this sequence could Nicole cast a Lightning Bolt to kill Jace?

A: None at all. Playing a land is a special action that doesn’t use the stack. After a player takes a special action, that player is the first to get priority. Tapping a Plains for white mana is a mana ability, and mana abilities don’t use the stack either. Chromatic Sphere has a mana ability, too. Nicole can respond to Amy activating Jace’s +2 ability, but because the +2 comes before the colon, it is a cost of activating the ability. This means that by the time Nicole gets priority to respond, this cost has been paid and the Jace is up to 5 loyalty.