Tolarian Academy – Time Keeps On Siftin


Hey folks! Welcome to another edition of “Tolarian Academy,” where every time you send in a rules question, I hear an electronic “Bing!” sound. Seriously, my iPhone is synced up to my ChannelFireball inbox and causes me to go “Whoa, e-mail! I hope it’s a rules question,” so brighten my day and send those questions to [email protected] Speaking of e-mail, I was figuring on some kind of low double-digit number of submissions for “Punts to Puzzles,” and I thought I would read them in a leisurely fashion while watching “How I Met Your Mother” or something.

It turns out it takes more than twenty minutes to read 114 emails. I was really excited to get that number of entries, and I hope you folks come out in force with more for today’s Urza’s Homework Assignment! Here’s last week’s Punts to Puzzles again, just so you can re-familiarize yourself with it before I show you my favorite answer:

Punts to Puzzles #1

You are at 1 life. Your opponent is at 5 life. You have Bitterblossom, a Tidehollow Sculler stealing a Volcanic Fallout, a Burrenton Forge-Tender, and a 1/1 black Faerie Rogue token in play along with a Plains, a Swamp, a Mutavault, and a Springjack Pasture. Your hand is Spectral Procession, Glorious Anthem, Plains, and Arcane Sanctum. Your opponent’s hand is empty. It is your upkeep, and Bitterblossom’s ability is on the stack.

How do you win?

I got a lot of different answers to this question, which was fun for me. The most obvious wrong answer is “You can’t!” Well, erm, you can. Moving on, the most popular wrong answer was “Activate Mutavault, sac it to Pasture gaining a life and floating W, let Bitterblossom resolve, draw a card, and then use the W to cast the Path to Exile (or, in the case of one remarkable e-mail, Strip Bare) you just ripped!” This is a cute solution, but the puzzle can actually be solved without the drawn card. I hope one day to live in a world where I always draw Path (or Strip Bare?) whenever I have W floating in my draw step, but that’s not how life works in this puzzle.

The second most popular wrong answer (which I deliberately seeded) was “Activate Mutavault, sac it to Pasture floating R, let Bitterblossom resolve, draw a card, and sac Burrenton Forge-Tender to prevent the mana burn” which is red. Right?” Sadly, no, not right – mana burn is just something the game does to you, and it doesn’t have a color, so not only is there no source, but even if there was, you couldn’t sac Forge-Tender to prevent it. Plus, mana burn is life loss, not damage. Finally, some people said the only way was to wait for Magic 2010 to come out and hope that the rumor about “no more mana burn!” was true. I’m glad you folks have a sense of humor.

Many of you produced the right answer. Many of you made your answers nice and readable. Many of you provided references to the Comprehensive Rules. Here is the answer that I think best mixes all three of those qualities, courtesy of John Jackson:

In this puzzles, there are two routes to victory. The first is to point out that you have a lethal amount of power on the board and hope that your opponent scoops. Assuming your opponent isn’t susceptible to Jedi mind tricks, you will just have to win the game. You must gain life before the Bitterblossom trigger resolves, and your only route to doing so is Springjack Pasture. Both goat production and the life gaining mana ability both require tapping it, so you have to sacrifice the only goat you have, Mutavault. Just activating the ‘vault and saccing it leaves you with a mana floating and postpones your demise until the end of your draw step, which is also bad, but the CR can save you!

CR 409.1 states, among other things, “Playing a spell or activated ability follows the steps listed below, in order.” The important thing is that announcing a spell or ability is the first step (409.1a), and that there is a window to play mana abilities (409.1g) before the payment actually happens (409.1h). In our scenario, this means the steps to victory procede thusly:

Step 1: Activate Mutavault
Step 2: Activate Mutavault
Step 2g: Tap Springjack Pasture, sacrificing Mutavault for 1 mana and 1 life.
Step 2h: Pay the mana for the ability; the source of the ability may be gone, but you still have to foot the bill.

This allows you to avoid dying to Bitterblossom’s triggered ability, letting you get to the precombat main phase still kicking. As you only have 4 power worth of creatures that can attack this turn, rectify the situation by playing Plains and then Glorious Anthem, which will give you enough juice to knock your opponent to -2.

Congratulations, John! Enjoy your store credit! Buy Springjack Pastures– they’re secret tech! All right, enough of that. Let’s get on to your questions!

Q: During one of our games, a player cast Grab the Reins with entwine. He targeted his opponent’s Jungle Weaver. The opponent responded with an Otherworldly Journey on the weaver. Would this also have countered the Grab the Reins?

A: Uh-oh! An entwined Grab the Reins has two targets! Let’s assume that the second target (the creature or player taking damage) is the player who controls the Jungle Weaver, just for simplicity’s sake. So, in response to the Grab the Reins, Otherworldly Journey sends our big ol’ spider pal to Sector Z, which means it can’t get Grabbed. Luckily, Grab the Reins has two targets, and one of them (the targeted player) is still legal, so the spell isn’t countered by game rules. Remember, on announcement of a spell or ability, all targets must be legal, but on resolution, at least one target must be legal. So, our would-be spider thief has to sacrifice another creature (if able) to deal damage to his opponent. Whoops!

Q: My opponent has 2 cards remaining in his library. I am at 5 life. If my opponent casts Cruel Ultimatum, who wins the game? I have heard that it is a draw, but Cruel Ultimatum does say “THEN loses 5 life”. Doesn’t this imply that there is some sort of order to the effects of Cruel Ultimatum?

A: There is, indeed, an order to the effects of Cruel Ultimatum, and as you might suspect, they happen in the printed order. However, losing the game (unless a card says a player wins or loses outright) is always the result of a state-based effect, which is secret rules code for “the game checking to make sure everything is legal.” State-based effects aren’t checked during the resolution of a spell, but they’re checked before anyone would get priority after a spell finishes resolving, and all state-based effects resolve simultaneously as a single event. (Rule 420.3) After Cruel Ultimatum resolves, the two state-based effects that resolve simultaneously in this case are “A player with 0 life or less loses the game” (420.5a) and “A player who attempted to draw a card from an empty library since the last time state-based effects were checked loses the game.” (420.5g) Since you’ve both lost simultaneously, we refer to Rule 102.4a, which says “If all the players remaining in a game lose simultaneously, the game is a draw.” So, the rumor is true: that’s a drawn game.

Q: I have cards that have a profuse amount of art on them, and their text is covered up. To what extent are cards with artistic modifications allowed to be used? There has to be some limit- if we can all just paint over our cards and claim they’re Cryptic Commands, then there’s a problem, isn’t there?

A: That would be a problem, yes. That joke about how the last mode of Cryptic Command is “Draw Cryptic Command” would be more of a truism than it already is. Luckily, the Universal Tournament Rules (which you can find at www.thedci.com) have this to say about artistic modifications in Section 28:

Cards used in a tournament may not have writing on their faces other than signatures or artistic modifications. Modifications may not obscure the artwork so as to make the card unrecognizable. If modifications to a card are deemed by the Head Judge to constitute outside notes or unsporting conduct, the player using such cards will be subject to the appropriate provisions of the DCI Penalty Guidelines.

Note that last part about “deemed by the Head Judge.” The UTR is vague enough that the Head Judge of whatever tournament you’re in can choose to allow or disallow pretty much any artistic modification, within reason. If Donato Giancola drew seagulls in the background of your Island, then you’re probably fine, but if the entirety of the art on your Path to Exile has been whited out and replaced with a picture of Napoleon, then that probably won’t go over well. Imagine you are someone who doesn’t speak the language printed on your cards. If you wouldn’t be able to recognize the card, then it won’t fly in a tournament. (That doesn’t mean that if you would be able to, it automatically will, so don’t try to stretch that point!)

Q: My opponent has Lightning Rift in play, and I have Spellstutter Sprite and Riptide Laboratory. My opponent cycles his Forgotten Cave and targets Spellstutter Sprite with Lightning Rift’s ability. Can I wait to see whether or not he pays for Lightning Rift before I decide whether or not to bounce my Sprite?

A: Sadly, you cannot. Lightning Rift’s mana payment is made on resolution, so if you wait for him to pay, then you’re letting him Shock your precious Faerie Wizard. If you return the Sprite before the Rift trigger resolves, he won’t have to pay the mana upon resolution.

Q: At the end of my turn, my opponent plays Summoner’s Pact and goes to get some creature. I don’t really care what it is, because I have a Mindslaver. If I sacrifice Mindslaver and target my opponent, do I have to pay for my opponent’s Pact during his upkeep, or can I just make my opponent lose?

A: Ah, Mindslaver, a card that has an entire section of the rules devoted to it. (507: Controlling Another Player’s Turn) Let’s check section 507.3, which says “The controller of another player’s turn makes all choices and decisions that player is allowed to make or is told to make during that turn by the rules or by any objects. This includes choices and decisions about what to play, and choices and decisions called for by spells or abilities.” Summoner’s Pact’s delayed triggered ability is telling your opponent to decide whether or not to pay 2GG. You, as the controller of your opponent’s turn, can decide not to pay. If you don’t pay for your opponent’s Pact here, he or she will lose the game. Mind control is nasty business.

[Technically, you don’t have the choice to pay the mana. What you do have is the choice to use mana abilities like tapping lands. You can choose not to tap lands for your opponent, but if they have the appropriate mana in their pool from something like Upwelling, you have to pay the mana for them. -Riki]

Q: Continuing the question above, let’s say my opponent responds to my Mindslaver activation by casting Meditate. What happens?

A: Meditate causes your opponent to skip his or her next turn. You might think that this invalidates your Mindslaver action since you were somehow referencing a turn that never occurred, but rule 507.1b has something else to say about that: “If a turn is skipped, any pending turn-controlling effects wait until the player who would be affected actually takes a turn.” So, you’ll control his or her next turn, no matter when that actually is. Also, the Pact will still trigger during his or her next upkeep, whenever that happens. Unless you’re feeling extra-nice, you’ll still win!

Q: I have a Timesifter in play as well as a Paradox Haze enchanting me. It’s my first upkeep. How do the extra turns generated by Timesifter work? Does the second one cancel the first one? Do they queue up? Tell me before my friends tear up all of my cards!

A: You’d never believe it, but this particular combo once caused all of my friends back home to scoop in frustration. The Timesifter was also destroyed in a tragic soda “accident.” Stories aside, you’ve got quite the situation here. For the sake of clarity, let’s assume this is happening during a game between me, Riki Hayashi, and Sean Catanese, and I control the annoying cards listed above. [I scoop. –Riki, in frustration]

During my first upkeep, Timesifter will trigger, and someone will be granted an extra turn after this one. During my second upkeep, Timesifter will trigger again, granting another extra turn. For the sake of argument, let’s say the first extra turn goes to Sean and the second extra turn goes to Riki. The rule that tells us who gets the next turn after mine is rule 300.6, which states that “if multiple players get extra turns during a single turn, the extra turns are added one at a time. The most recently created turn will be taken first.” So, Riki would take the next turn, and Sean’s extra turn would sit patiently in the queue and wait. During Riki’s upkeep, Timesifter will trigger, granting an extra turn. Let’s say I get that turn. Riki does stuff, and it becomes my turn again, since that is the most recently created extra turn. So, they do indeed queue up, but there’s one problem: Sean’s extra turn is still queued up and waiting. Not really a rules problem, but a clerical problem. During my upkeeps, Timesifter grants more turns – for the example, the first one to me and the second one to Sean. At the end of my second upkeep, Sean mercifully casts Naturalize on the Timesifter, so the shenanigans stop. However, the extra turns queue still looks like this: [Sean -> Me -> Sean]. If the player with the Timesifter and the Haze gets lots of turns, you’ll end up having to keep track of the extra turn queue on paper or something. Seems awful, right? [I actually played against a Timesifter in a six-player EDH game. It was awful. –Riki, still in frustration]

Q: I have a Golgari Grave-Troll in my graveyard and no other creatures in the graveyard. I cast Zombify on my Grave-Troll. When my Grave-Troll comes into play, how big is it?

A: You are probably screaming at your monitor right now. You are probably saying “Zero! Zero counters! It dies! It never gets to live! You are a fool, Eric Levine, for even printing this question!” I was like you once. I thought Golgari Grave-Troll would come back with no counters. Then I read rule 413.2f, which says “If an effect requires information from the game (such as the number of creatures in play), the answer is determined only once, when the effect is applied.” Golgari Grave-Troll’s ability is a replacement effect that changes how it comes into play, so we need to get the information about how many counters the Troll will get before it actually comes into play, meaning it is still in the graveyard. So, when the count is done, it sees one creature in the graveyard, and it comes into play off the Zombify with one counter on it.

We had a nice time with “Punts to Puzzles” last week, but let’s transition back to our other segment, “Urza’s Homework Assignment.” Remember, send your answers to [email protected] Feel free to ask questions of me by e-mail, and don’t discuss this one in the forums – I don’t want the question to be ruined for anyone who just happens to read the comments thread. This is a bit of a compound question, as it comes from a game I played recently (although it is obviously adapted), so be ready to answer a multi-part question!

Urza’s Homework Assignment #2

Jeff has an Essence Warden, a Grizzly Bears, and a Fugitive Wizard in his graveyard. He also has a Hissing Iguanar and two Eager Cadets in play. Leo has no creatures in play, but he has a Vesuvan Shapeshifter, a Phantom Monster, an Akroma, Angel of Wrath, and a Flying Men in his graveyard. During Jeff’s upkeep, he removes the last counter from Living End, and after a brief counterspell war, it resolves.

1. How many times does Jeff’s Hissing Iguanar trigger?

2. How many times does Jeff’s Essence Warden trigger?

3 What can Leo’s Vesuvan Shapeshifter copy as it comes into play?

Remember to back up your answers with references to the rules, and remember to be readable, entertaining, and above all, clear!

Will Jeff’s Essence Warden gain him any life? Will Leo take damage from Hissing Iguanar? Will Vesuvan Shapeshifter’s dream of becoming a Fugitive Wizard ever come true? Find out on next week’s episode of Tolarian Academy!

1 thought on “Tolarian Academy – Time Keeps On Siftin”

  1. I forgot to mention that I will, as usual, be choosing the best answer to print in my next article! The author of that submission will receive $5 store credit as before.

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