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The Riki Rules – The Dark Knight Returns

Hello!

I stole that opening line from Paulo Vitor, just one of the many new faces that have come aboard here at ChannelFireball.com since I went on vacation last winter.

What have I been doing? Judging, of course. The original reason I went on vacation was because of a three week trip to GP Minneapolis and Worlds in Rome. It’s been pretty busy since then. Since then I have done all of the following:

I wandered around an Italian shopping mall with Brian Kibler and Josh Utter-Leyton looking for underwear.
I walked more during the following week’s vacation in Germany than I did during Worlds.
I Top 8ed two GPTs, including one win, and parlayed that into a not-Day 2 finish at GP Oakland, the first GP I played in since 2007.
I played in more PTQs than I judged.
I worked at SCG Indianapolis, which not only broke the attendance record, but also broke the judges when the Top 8 of the Standard tournament ended at 2:30am”¦ on the day of the Daylight Savings shift.
I came back to write for ChannelFireball.com.

Now this may sound suspiciously like one of those “one of these things is false” lists, but I assure you that they are all true. The underwear thing was due to the Italians losing my luggage, or possibly it was the Germans on my layover in Frankfurt. Whatever the reason, heading into the World Championships I faced the daunting prospect of having zero clean clothes. Apparently this is some kind of rite of passage for American judges in Europe. If you ever want to hear a good story, ask Adam Shaw to tell you the “pantalones story.” His tale definitely has a leg up on mine.

Following Worlds, I visited with newly promoted judges Ute Kronenberg and Claudian Nellessen (now Gertzen, of PT San Diego fame) in Germany. While there I visited Maastricht and Cologne, sightseeing DI buildings older than everything in the United States of America. We also had a “judge dinner” on Thanksgiving with 20 levels of judges. Yeah, the random gathering could have judged a small GP.

When I got home, everyone was abuzz about GP Oakland, and for me it seemed like the perfect event to sleeve them up mostly because I love Extended. After a false start with a GW Haterator deck, I found that Scapeshift was the stone blade for my play style. I just needed to stay alive and count to seven (lands). The deck got me those two GPT Top 8s and the byes. Needless to say, GP Oakland did not go well for me since I am clearly not Matt Nass. The funniest moment of the tournament was after I dropped, HJ John Carter made me do the walk of shame by calling me up to the stage.

The SCG Indy event was exhilarating–being a part of history usually is–but it was by far the most exhausting thing I have ever done. You see, I have this bad habit of flying in on the last possible flight in order to conserve my vacation days. For Indy, that meant landing at midnight on Friday. Due to the three time zones I crossed, I wasn’t very tired, and didn’t get to sleep until 3am. It was up at 6am to help with setup, and like I mentioned, the Top 8 staff was there until the wee hours of the morning, which became the wee-er hours of the morning due to Daylight Savings. When I got back to the hotel, my attempt at sleep was thwarted when I clogged the toilet. I went to the front desk where the woman told me that she couldn’t find the plunger. THE plunger, as in this freaking hotel only had one. Ugh.

Between all of these adventures, I haven’t judged a PTQ back home since just before leaving for Rome. And that brings you up to speed on my Magical life, except for the story of Canadian Christmas, which I will save for another time. And now, obv, I’m back on ChannelFireball to do some writing. Without further adieu, let’s get to the business.

Back to the Brew

For the past few weeks, Jon Loucks has been battling with a nice Scapeshift Zoo brew. In his first article, “Nayashifting Into *Top 8*,” Jon outlined several sweet combos involving Vesuva, the clone land. Jon outlined a few plays where he could Scapeshift for Vesuva and:

Sejiri Steppe– gives two creatures protection, allowing them to side-steppe blockers, or gives one creature protection from two colors worth of blockers.

Flagstones of Trokair– to go for the throat with a full Flagstones package to legend kill themselves and get another full package of Plains and maximize the landfall kill.

Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle– just like normal Scapeshift decks, Jon’s deck had the option to go for the insta-kill with the Valakut package. With seven lands to sacrifice, Jon would fetch Vesuva as a copy of a Mountain. With eight lands to sacrifice, Vesuva would become the second Valakut for the 36-point Hadouken.

except none of these combos work with Scapeshift. Disappointed, Jon had to shift the focus of his deck to a slightly more aggressive tilt, taking out some of the cuter combo elements. LSV explained in this editorial note:

“(Editor’s Note: To clarify, Scapeshift and Vesuva don’t interact quite as favorably as it may appear. For Vesuva to count as a Valakut, Mountain, or even Sejiri Steppe, the land you want to copy has to be in play before the Scapeshift, since Vesuva evaluates the board before it enters play, and therefore cannot copy another land that you are getting via Scapeshift. Note that you also cannot copy a land you sacrificed to Scapeshift.)”

It’s not surprising that Jon didn’t see the problem. Heck, none of his opponents caught the problem either as Jon cast his lethal Scapeshifts against them. The judges? We can’t really judge them. There’s no evidence that any judges were in a position to witness these copy shenanigans. In the quarterfinals, the only match that would be played under the watchful eye of a judge, Jon did not go for any of the Scapeshift/ Vesuva packages.

Vesuva is basically your run-of-the-mill Clone for lands. There are a few things to note about copy effects. First, they don’t target. The ability does not have the word “target.” That one was free.
Second, the ability does not use the stack. This is far more counter-intuitive. The game has reached the point where everyone expects everything to go on the stack. Just last week, I put a delicious pho on the stack and then ate it.

At least for Vesuva we are dealing with a land, which conveniently also does not use the stack when you play it. That means that when you play a Vesuva, you just choose what you are going to copy instantane–err–split secondly? If your opponent controls a Dark Depths and a Vampire Hexmage, you can play your Vesuva and copy the Marit Lage penitentiary without them getting the opportunity to free their dark lord of the tentacles.

Casting Scapeshift offers a new wrinkle to things, namely that the lands you search for enter the battlefield simultaneously. This is why the card’s namesake deck works at all. Valakut and the Six Mountains (my new fantasy band name) warp in all at once and each Mountain sees the other five and triggers Valakut (which obviously sees all of these Mountains). So why don’t any of Jon’s Vesuva tricks work? Doesn’t it see the other lands it is entering the battlefield with?

Go back a few paragraphs. Remember the bit about the copy effect not using the stack? That’s because of the way the ability is worded: “You may have Vesuva enter the battlefield tapped as a copy of any land on the battlefield.” (Note the elegance of the updated Oracle text.) What’s missing here is a “when,” “whenever,” or “at,” the three key phrases for identifying triggered abilities. Triggers, like on Valakut, take into account simultaneous zone changes. Another notable example of this from Shards Limited was Hissing Iguanar. If a Wrath of God cleared a board with an Iguanar, it would deal damage for all of the creatures dying to the mass destruction spell (if the controller of the Iguanar were to remember).

Vesusa’s ability is a replacement effect that modifies how it enters the battlefield. This is the same as other Clone effects, and other “enters the battlefield tapped effects,” which is probably how the wording was slimmed down. In short, both of these types of effects modify the event of the object entering the battlefield. Thus, a Valakut entering the battlefield is never not tapped (yay for double negatives). Using similar logic, a Vesuva entering the battlefield as a copy of Sejiri Steppe is never not Sejiri Steppe. That’s why a Vesuva/ Sejiri Steppe will trigger the protection ability. This wouldn’t work if Vesuva copy effect was a triggered ability, because by the time that ability resolved it would be too late to trigger any ETB abilities.

Now we finally come to the heart of the problem with Scapeshift. Vesuva’s copy effect evaluates the battlefield just before the land would enter in order for it to find something to copy. Hopefully you can see why this doesn’t exactly work well with things entering the battlefield simultaneously.

In a wacky twist, you also cannot Vesuva any of the lands sacrificed to Scapeshift. This makes sense because you sacrifice the lands then search your library in sequence. By the time you search and find Vesuva, the sacrificed lands are long gone and in the graveyard. The people who misunderstand this interaction probably think that it has something to do with State-Based Actions, which do not check during the resolution of a spell or ability. But it’s got nothing to do with SBAs so don’t fret.

Until next time, keep durdling around

Riki Hayashi

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