Lou, the Charging Troll, was picking the last remnants of something he had recently smashed (could have been a Dryad, could have been a Jackal Pup; memory wasn’t Lou’s strong suit) from between his teeth. Above, the Arena crowd roared as something smashed something else for a change. Resting was okay, but Lou didn’t really need much rest, he just needed to smash things. Strangely enough, sometimes he felt better after he got completely smashed himself. There he’d be, laying in the dust and gore of the Arena floor, an arm hideously twisted, an eyeball dangling from the socket, stuff that was supposed to be inside hanging outside, when a pleasant feeling – not quite as pleasant as smashing, but what could be? – would wash over him and he’d be as good as new. The Planeswalker told him it was called degeneration or something (Lou wasn’t good with details, either).
So there Lou was, wedging a grimy fingernail up behind his front teeth to try to wrench free that last morsel of Elf flesh (Kavu, maybe?), when the call came. Normally, the call meant heading back up into the Arena and smashing something or getting smashed (sometimes both). It wasn’t difficult work, really, and there was always plenty to eat (there was that unfortunate incident with the Zombie on that really hot day, though…). Today, however, it was different. The call wasn’t to the Arena. It was to the Planeswalker’s box.
Lou had never been over to the box before. Some of the other creatures had talked about getting enchanted before, whatever that was. Maybe it was his turn to get enchanted. Both of Lou’s brain cells engaged, and he wondered if being enchanted meant getting more to eat.
He emerged from the pit expecting the hot sun, but instead it was cloudy, that kind of cloudy that hangs low to the ground. Then the smell hit him. He quickly looked around for Zombies, but didn’t see any. At the far end of the Arena, he saw a gang of goblins milling around, looking for stuff to break. Fortunately the Arena walls were high, and the goblins couldn’t really get at anything, unless they wanted to break the already-broken Spined thingy (Merfolk, maybe?) laying in the sand.
He still didn’t understand why he had been called to the box. It seemed simple that he could just go over and smash goblins to his heart’s content. And Lou knew from simple. Disinterested in trying to figure out anything, Lou wandered toward the box. As he arrived, there was a resounding thoink followed by a ploop and splutch from behind him. He turned around to see that the goblin swarm had grown bigger – not bigger like there were more of them; just bigger. There were many goblins (Lou could count: one, two, many…), all of them as big as Lou, beginning to wander this way. Behind them, driving them along, were a pair of the ugliest goblins he had ever seen, even uglier because they had these stupid (it goes without saying what Lou knew from stupid) crowns on their head. Everyone knew not to wear hats in the Arena.
The Planeswalker shouted for Lou to hurry on over. He didn’t really know what to say ("When’s dinner?" seemed a little obvious and a little out of place at the same time) to the Planeswalker, so he just waited for her to speak. Lou then realized that the Planeswalker had never really talked to him; she had just pointed out stuff for him to smash (for which he was grateful). It seemed as though all that was coming to an end; the Planeswalker was addressing him directly.
"Nice to see you, Lou," she said. "Everything okay?"
Lou could only grunt a response. (Actually, as Charging Trolls go, Lou was quite eloquent… but that’s another story.) The goblins wandered closer, now and then stopping to inspect bits of Mammoth or Hydra that were sticking out of the ground.
"Listen, Lou, I need a favor," the Planeswalker whispered without preamble. It’s not going to be pleasant."
"Sure, no problem," said Lou, while finally digging that whatever-it-was meat out from between tooth and gum, "Stuff smashed, that’s my thing."
"Actually, Lou, I won’t be asking you to kill anything today. That’s the unpleasant part. You see, there’s a whole swarm of Goblins coming this way. Even with you here, there’s enough of them to come over the walls and irritate me. We can’t have that happening."
Lou stopped listening after "…unpleasant part." He knew she was saying something that he should be listening to, but he had trouble following. And she kept talking.
"…Which is why you must be sacrificed."
Which was about the time that Lou started paying attention again. "Sacrificed? You mean, like there’s one of me and a bunch of them ("a bunch" was another word for "many") and I smash and regenify and smash and regenify again?"
"Not quite, Lou. Look, time is short, and we’ll need to do this quickly." She looked up to see that she still had a moment or two before the goblins arrived, so she continued.
"See the darkness hanging around? We’re trying something new today; it’s called Pestilence. Unfortunately, I used up most of my resources (the Planeswalker, for all her niceness, wasn’t about to launch off into a discussion of the colors of Magic with Lou – or any other Charging Troll for that matter) just getting you here. I’ll need to take you and turn you into enough stuff to kill all the goblins with. Do you understand?"
Lou didn’t understand at all, so he said "Glorp!" rather loudly.
The Planeswalker took that as a no. "Okay, Lou, you’ve served me well, so I’m going to be brutally honest with you. I have to kill you to kill the goblins. Do you understand now?"
Lou finally got it. "Sure! No problem, like I said before! I’ll get killed and then I’ll regenerize and we’ll all be happy, and I’ll be picking goblin liver out of my canines before you know it." Anatomy, especially teeth – or at least their names – was something that Lou knew better than most (though he didn’t really wonder about oddity of Trolls having dog teeth).
The Planeswalker was just about out of time (not to mention patience; talking with a Troll was nearly more difficult than fighting with one). "No, Lou, I’m very sorry. This is a one-time thing. And I must do it now. It’s been so terribly nice working with you.* Good day." With that, she stood and raised her arms. Lou’s world started to go black. It was the last thing he would know.**
In the Arena, things began to change. Lou was gone; where he once stood, chatting amiably with the Planewalker, there grew an inky cloud that swirled and then engulfed the Planeswalker. Suddenly, a coating of black, crawling ichor covered everything on the Arena floor; some of it even spilled into the Planeswalkers’ boxes. The goblins had seen this before, and they were sore afraid. One coating of this and they were done for.
Miraculously (although the goblins didn’t actually say "miraculously" or even think it; they were quite as thick-skulled as Lou), they didn’t die. They looked at their goo-covered hides and roared in laughter. They were now far too large and powerful to be killed by something so small and gooey. Then another wave of creeping death crawled across the Arena, and the goblins howled with laughter again as their Kings were consumed by the living stain. Howls of glee turned to howls of terror as the goblins began to shrink.
The Planeswalker was not quite done. She raised her arms once again, and where Lou had stood moments before stood a tall, powerful Knight, his blackness drinking what light was left on this side of the Arena. "Yes," the Planeswalker said loudly enough only for her foe to hear, "We’re trying something quite new today."
This story was born from numerous questions about sacrifice. Too many times have I heard players say, "sacrifice is faster than anything." This is simply wrong. Sacrifice is no faster than anything else; it’s when sacrifices tend to be played that gives this misperception. When sacrifice is a cost (like in the above story using Culling the Weak), it is paid as the last step in Announcement (Comp Rulebook, section 409). There is no opportunity yet for the opponent (or the player paying the cost, for that matter) to respond. Only when Announcement is complete may the player add new things to the stack or pass priority. That means you can’t Incinerate your opponent’s goblin in response to his announcing Goblin Grenade or Strip Mine his last Forest as he pays for a spell.
Sacrifice defined is simply a permanent’s owner moving it from the in-play zone to his graveyard. Regeneration cannot replace a sacrifice. Other abilities (like that of the Serra Avatar) can affect the eventual destination of the permanent nothing can stop it.
When sacrifice is an effect (like Diabolic Edict: "Target player sacrifices a creature"), it cannot be responded to, either. The spell that will eventually generate the effect (in this case, the Edict) can be responded to once it’s been completely announced, but on resolution the sacrifice takes place (and again, it’s unable to be replaced by regeneration).
The side illustration here is one about State-Based Effects, the interaction of Continuous Effects and activating the abilities of a permanent. The normally 1/1 goblins are now 3/3 because of the two Goblin Kings. Then we activate Pestilence. One cannot "Pestilence for two"; one can only "Pestilence for one" twice. They go on the stack and resolve separately. The first to resolve does 1 damage to everything. The active player gets priority and we check for SBEs. The Goblins shrug it off. No one adds anything to the stack, so we resolve the next one. A second point of damage hits everything. Once again the active player gets priority and we check SBEs. The 2/2 Kings die because they have lethal damage. Then we check again (Comp Rulebook, section 420: "All applicable effects resolve as a single event, then the check is repeated"). Now we have a bunch of 1/1 goblins with two damage. SBE dumps them into the graveyard. The board is clear, but the Planeswalker still has BB in her pool, so she brings out her new friend, the Black Knight. Pestilence will continue to remain in play.
No action is faster than another; even when there were Instants and Interrupts, this was the case. Restrictions on when things may be played (such as Sorceries only being allowed in the Main Phase and if the Stack is empty) may create the illusion that there are (or were) different speeds. You heard it here: There are no speeds in Magic whatsoever
And that’s my Final Judgement.
Sheldon K. Menery
*Given her manners, this Planeswalker is obviously British.
**Obligatory moment for the players in my Four Kingdoms RPG Saga "Talloaks!": ‘Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.’