Frequently Asked Rules Questions

1. Can I pay one cost for two effects?
This question usually comes up when somebody wants to sacrifice one creature for two different things, or wants to discard cards to one effect and also use them to activate some other ability. The short answer is “no.” If you have Ember Hauler and Goblin Grenade, you’re going to have to make a choice. If you sacrifice the goblin to cast the grenade, it’s too late to sacrifice it to activate the Hauler’s ability, and vice-versa. If you have 3 cards in hand and Liliana of the Veil is telling you to discard one, you can’t just say, “Oh I’ll discard this one plus this one to Zombie Infestation since I was gonna discard it anyway.” You have to choose one or the other. You can’t use a single dollar to buy a candy bar from this machine and a soda from that machine at the same time.

2. If my opponent attacks, is it too late to tap a creature to stop it from attacking?
This is actually a complicated question! Short answer: “It depends.” Usually, the answer is that it’s not too late. Players commonly rush into combat by simply turning creatures sideways to indicate they’re ready to declare attackers. In reality, there is a whole step of combat before you declare attackers, called the “Beginning of combat step.” You always get a chance to do stuff at that point before your opponent can declare attackers. Experienced players learn to offer that chance by saying something like “Combat?” or “Declare attackers?” before actually doing anything. That way the opponent has to act right then without knowing which creatures, if any, will be attacking. If the opponent says “Ok” or something similar, indicating they don’t want to do anything, THEN it’s too late to tap an attacking creature to stop it from attacking.

3. When my opponent casts a planeswalker, can I Bolt it before they can use it? Can I respond to a loyalty ability by damaging the planeswalker before they add the counters?
Whenever anything resolves, the active player (player whose turn it is right now) gets priority. If the stack is empty, that player can put anything they want on the stack before you get a chance to respond. When that player just cast a planeswalker, that next action is usually activating a loyalty ability. It’s important to know that the adding or removing of counters for loyalty abilities is a COST, and doesn’t wait until the ability would resolve. As soon as they say “+1 Liliana of the Veil,” the counter is added and the ability goes on the stack. You still get a chance to respond to that ability, but the ability will resolve even if you remove Liliana somehow, and the counter has already been added before you get a chance to cast a damage spell, which may change your decision of whether you really want to cast that damage spell in the first place.

4. Does a planeswalker count as a player? Will things that trigger from damage to a player trigger from damage to a planeswalker?
Even though the players in a game are referred to as “Planeswalkers” by the marketing division of Wizards of the Coast, planeswalker cards in the game are definitely not players. The only similarity that planeswalkers have to players is that you can attack them during combat. Combat damage that is dealt to a planeswalker will not trigger any of the Swords that look for damage to a player. Similarly, noncombat damage that is redirected to a planeswalker is not damaging a player and won’t cause Bloodthirst to “turn on.”

5. How does trample work against protection? What about with deathtouch?
When you assign combat damage, you must always assign “lethal damage” to the first creature in the blocking order before assigning any damage to the next creature or the defending player (in the case of trample). The term “Lethal damage” sometimes causes confusion because it has a specific Magic: The Gathering definition that may not be the common sense definition. “When checking for assigned lethal damage, take into account damage already marked on the creature and damage from other creatures that‘s being assigned during the same combat damage step, but not any abilities or effects that might change the amount of damage that‘s actually dealt.” This means that a 2/2 creature with protection from green that is blocking a 7/7 green creature with trample only has to have 2 damage assigned to it, and the other 5 can go right to the player. You ignore the fact that 2 damage will be prevented due to protection, because you’ve already met the “lethal damage” requirement. With deathtouch, nothing is different except that 1 damage is enough to be called “lethal damage” as far as the game is concerned. Even if that 1 damage will be prevented or redirected, the game sees 1 damage from a creature with deathtouch being assigned and says, “Yep, that’s lethal. Carry on.”

6. Can I do something after blockers but before damage? What about between first strike and regular damage?
A lot of players have confusion about what happened when they removed “damage on the stack.” This doesn’t mean you can’t do anything after blocks are declared. It only means you can’t do anything between the time you assign damage when the combat damage step begins and the time that damage is actually dealt. After blockers are declared, you still have the whole rest of the declare blockers step to take actions. This could mean destroying a blocking creature so the attacker doesn’t die (note that the attacker was already blocked and won’t deal damage during combat unless it has trample), or pumping a creature that wasn’t blocked now that you know it will hit the player. “First strike damage” is a bit of a confusing misnomer, since when a creature with first strike is in combat, a second identical combat damage step is created. After damage is assigned and dealt during the first combat damage step, each player can take actions during the remainder of that step (just like the blockers step) before you move to the second combat damage step, where creatures without first strike or with double strike will deal their damage… if they’re still alive.

7. Do tokens go to the graveyard? Will they count for things that look for stuff to “die”?
Yup! Tokens do indeed “die” and will trigger any abilities that care about that, and will be counted for things that care about stuff that “died” earlier (like Morbid). Even though physically putting a token into the graveyard is silly because it will cease to exist just a moment later, it’s important to know they went there and to account for that accordingly.

8. When you copy something, what is the converted mana cost (CMC) of the copy? Is that the same for tokens?
When you copy something, you copy EVERYTHING printed on the thing you copied (everything being all the text of a card, including power/toughness, mana cost (which determines color), name, type, rules text/abilities, etc.). What you DON’T copy is any continuous effects that are applying to that object, like “this becomes a creature” or “this gets +2/+2 until end of turn”, nor any counters on that object. While most tokens have no mana cost, because the effect that created them doesn’t specify one, some tokens are copies of cards that have a mana cost. For this reason, token copies will have the mana cost of the original object they copied (e.g., Mimic Vat, Rite of Replication, Cackling Counterpart, etc.). If you copy a Primeval Titan with Phantasmal Image, it will be a green Primeval Titan with CMC 6 (plus it’s an illusion and will be sacrificed if it’s targeted).

9. When I turn a land, artifact or planeswalker into a creature, does it count as a creature entering the battlefield? If I animate a manland or Gideon on the turn I cast it, does it have summoning sickness? Wouldn’t it always have summoning sickness since it hasn’t been a creature since my turn started? If my manland dies, does the land stay on the battlefield?
For something to “enter the battlefield,” it has to go from “not on the battlefield” to “on the battlefield.” Adding a creature type to something that is already on the battlefield is NOT a zone change, and won’t trigger any abilities that look for creatures entering the battlefield.

The “summoning sickness” rule says you can’t attack with a creature or activate any of its abilities with the tap or untap symbol unless you’ve controlled that ‘permanent’ continuously since the beginning of your most recent turn. Notice that it only matters that you’ve controlled the permanent that long, and it doesn’t matter how long that permanent has been a creature. So you can’t cast Gideon Jura, make him a creature, then attack the same turn. As soon as he becomes a creature, the “summoning sickness” rule applies to him. Similarly, you can’t play Inkmoth Nexus, animate it, then tap it for mana the same turm. You can only tap it for mana if you don’t make it a creature first, since the rule only matters while it’s a creature.

When a land becomes a creature, it is still a single permanent. It just means it can die to anything that would kill a creature AND anything that would destroy a land. If it is destroyed in either way, that permanent will go to the graveyard. It’s not possible for “only the creature” to die.

10. Will protection from a color save my creature from a “destroy all creatures” spell of that color? Why is it different for spells that do damage?
Protection prevents 4 things, easily remembered by the DEBT acronym. Something with protection can’t be Damaged, Enchanted/Equipped, Blocked or Targeted by anything that has the characteristic it has protection from (usually a color, but not always). So a creature with protection from black CAN have counters placed on it by Black Sun’s Zenith, because it isn’t being targeted or damaged by that spell. A creature with protection from white CAN be destroyed by Day of Judgment, for the same reason. However, a spell like Blasphemous Act would not deal damage to a creature with protection from red, because while it isn’t targeting, it IS trying to deal damage, and that is something protection prevents.

11. Can I cast an aura on my opponent’s creature with Hexproof/Shroud or protection?
Auras are pretty unique, in that they’re the ONLY permanent spells that target while on the stack. When you cast an aura, you treat it like a spell that says “Attach this to target [whatever follows the word “Enchant” in the aura’s first ability].” That target must be legal, so you can’t target an opponent’s Dungrove Elder or something with protection from blue with Claustrophobia. Note, however, that the targeting part is only relevant when you cast the aura. If the aura is entering the battlefield some other way, it is NOT targeting, and can be attached to anything that is legal for that aura to enchant. This gets around Hexproof and Shroud, but you still can’t have a Claustrophobia attached to a creature holding Sword of Body and Mind; “Enchant/Equip” is something that protection prevents even when nothing is targeting.

12. If I have a creature that pumps my other creatures and it dies during combat, how long will the other creatures still get the boost?
Creatures with static abilities like “(Somethings) you control get +1/+1” only function as long as that creature is on the battlefield. The continuous effect will stop applying the instant that creature changes zones. Keep that in mind in case someone casts Black Sun’s Zenith for 2 while you control Mayor of Avabruck and 2 other 2/2 humans (who are 3/3 while the Mayor is around). First the Mayor will die for being a 0/0, then as soon as he dies, the other humans that were just 1/1 become 0/0 and die right afterwards. Similarly, if the Mayor is blocked by a 2/2 with first strike, he will die before your other 2 humans get to deal damage in the second damage step, where they will just be 2/2s again. But remember that besides first/double strike, all combat damage is dealt at once; if the Mayor and your Humans attack, and only the Mayor is blocked by something that will kill it, the Humans deal their 6 damage at the same time the Mayor is dealt damage, so they don’t lose the boost until after the Mayor is dead and the damage has already been dealt.

13. If I cast a Clone-style creature copying something and my opponent kills what I want to copy in response, what happens?
This is another question where the answer is “It depends on what actually happened.” It’s pretty commonplace to see players who will just drop a Phantasmal Image on the table and say “Image copying Sun Titan.” This is a perfectly acceptable tournament shortcut, but it gives your opponent extra information before they need to have it. If they’re fine with you copying the Sun Titan, they can simply let the Image resolve and you must copy the Titan. If they respond to you casting the Image by killing the Titan, then you are no longer held to your choice (especially since it wouldn’t be a legal choice anymore). When the Image resolves, you can choose any other creature to copy (if there are any).

The other way this can go is: You cast Phantasmal Image. Your opponent says, “Copying?” and it’s now too late for your opponent to respond to your choice. By asking a question about choices not normally made until resolution, that player is assumed to be allowing the spell to resolve. Similarly, if you just say “Cast Image. Does it resolve?” and they say “Yes,” your choice can be safely made and the opponent can’t do anything until after that copy is on the battlefield.

14. If my opponent taps his creature for something, can I respond by tapping it first? Will it stop the ability if I kill the creature in response?
The “catch-all” answer to questions like this is “Abilities on the stack exist independent of their source.” When a player has priority and announces an ability, they get to choose targets, if any, and pay the cost (often involving tapping something) before the opponent can respond. Tapping a creature that just tapped to activate an ability won’t do anything worthwhile… that ability is already on the stack. Killing the creature won’t stop that ability either, since it’s already been activated (think of it like a grenade… you can shoot the thrower, but the grenade is still going to land and blow up its target). On the flip side, if someone wants to tap your creature before you use its ability, you can generally just respond to the ability that would tap it by activating the creature’s ability first (assuming it doesn’t have summoning sickness).

15. If my opponent casts a spell or activates an ability that requires him to sacrifice something, can I respond by killing/destroying what he was going to sacrifice so he can’t cast it?
When a player has priority and announces a spell or ability, they get to choose targets, if any, and pay the costs before the opponent can respond. By the time you get that opportunity, all the costs have been paid. You can’t destroy the creature or artifact that was sacrificed “as an additional cost” to cast the spell, and you can’t destroy or remove counters from a permanent that sacrificed itself to activate its ability. That spell or ability is already on the stack, and will resolve unless you do something to specifically counter it.

16. What happens if there are multiple triggers at the same time? What order do they happen?
When multiple abilities trigger at the same time (usually at the beginning of the upkeep, or sometimes when multiple creatures die at the same time), they go on the stack in what we call “APNAP” order. That stands for Active Player, Non-Active Player. When it’s your turn, you’re the Active Player. This means the Non-Active Player’s triggers will always go on top of the stack and resolve first.

Let’s say it’s your upkeep, and you have 2 triggers and your opponent has 2 triggers. First, you put your 2 triggers on the stack in whatever order you want. Then, the opponent does the same. The opponent’s triggers will resolve first, then yours will resolve.

You and your opponent each have a Mimic Vat, and a creature dies. If it’s your turn, your opponent will have the first choice to put that creature on the Vat. If they don’t, then you get a chance. If they do, you’re out of luck. If it’s your opponent’s turn, the roles are reversed, and you get the first choice.

17. Do blocking creatures tap? Can I tap a creature to activate an ability after blocking and have it still deal damage? If I tap or kill an opponent’s creature after blocking, will my damage go through?
Creatures only become tapped when paying costs that require you to tap them, when an effect instructs you to tap them (e.g., regeneration, “tap target creature”), or when they attack. Blocking doesn’t cause creatures to tap, and being tapped after blocks are declared doesn’t stop a creature from dealing damage (otherwise how would attacking creatures ever deal damage without having vigilance?).

As soon as blocks are declared, those blocks are locked in. Nothing will cause a blocked creature to be unblocked (except a couple quirky cards that say so explicitly). Tapping, killing or bouncing a blocker will not cause the attacker to deal damage to the defending player or planeswalker, unless the attacker has trample. Since declaring blockers is a turn-based action that doesn’t use the stack, you can’t wait for your opponent to declare blockers and then “respond” by killing/tapping one of them. You’d have to kill/tap it during the declare attackers step, BEFORE blockers are declared if you don’t want that creature blocking anything… and then they can make choices about how to block from there.

18. If my spell’s target goes away, does my spell still do the other stuff it says to do? Can I choose a new target? What happens when a spell is countered?
A spell that has targets must have legal targets at two times: When you cast it, and when it resolves. If you can’t choose all legal targets when you cast it, you simply can’t cast it at all.

When a spell would resolve, it only needs to have at least one legal target remaining to resolve. The targets are locked in when you cast the spell. If all your targets leave the battlefield or become illegal somehow (perhaps by gaining Hexproof or protection), your spell is simply going to be countered by game rules. You can’t just switch the target because your original target is no longer legal. Nothing can cause a spell’s target(s) to change after it’s put on the stack except an effect that specifically tells you to change the target(s).

When a spell is countered (either by game rules or by a spell/ability), instead of doing anything, it simply goes to its owner’s graveyard, and none of its effects happen. Some spells try to do something impossible to a LEGAL target… this is not the same has having an illegal target, so it will still do as much as possible.

For example, if you cast Beast Within targeting a Phantasmal Dragon, it will get sacrificed to its triggered ability first, then Beast Within will be countered because its only target is gone… it won’t create a beast token. However, if you target an indestructible creature, that target is legal. Even though the part of the spell that says “Destroy target permanent” won’t do anything, the spell is still resolving and that creature’s controller gets a beast token.

19. When something adds swamps or forests to my mana pool, do I get to use them every turn? Do I search my deck and put them on the battlefield or what?
There’s a vitally important distinction between “lands” and “mana.” Lands are permanents that generally tap to add mana to your mana pool. Your lands are not your mana pool. Your mana pool is an invisible thing that holds mana that you’ve produced during the current step or phase. If you don’t use it before going to the next step or phase, it gets wasted, because your mana pool gets emptied.

Tapping Llanowar Elves does the exact same thing as tapping a Forest: You’re adding one “green mana” to your mana pool, not one “forest.” If you tap it and start searching your library for a land card, you’re going to get yourself into trouble. 🙂

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