FINAL JUDGEMENT: Making Sense of it All

The Lisa Rule:”If it makes sense when you picture the things on the cards physically, then it makes sense. If not, it’s stupid.” Sometimes Lisa and Magic don’t agree.

There are some rules and rulings that are long-standing Magic sacred cattle, and it doesn’t look like the herd will be thinned any time soon. Ask the Rules Team to explain, and they’ll recite the "that’s the way we want the game to work" mantra. Well, SOMEONE has to decide. Occasionally, there’s no perfect answer to why things should work one way or another – which is why we have a Rules Team in the first place. Additionally, there are some rules and rulings that I notice constantly trip up players, both new and experienced. I’ve taken a random sampling from folks in conversation (both in person and on the net), from the questions that loyal readers email to me and from the questions that nearly always get answered incorrectly on Judge tests. I’ll try to make sense of them for you, or at the very least give you the definitive answer. I won’t have the space to cover everything today; I’ll touch back on this subject from time to time (especially after more questions come in from the field).

One of the best barometers I have on the sensibility of the rules is Lisa, my wife. She’s been playing very casually since Alpha and quit for a while right around the time 6th Edition came out, but has recently picked up the game again. Those of you who know her understand that she isn’t shy about her opinion (without being the least bit strident, somehow). Her take is that "If it makes sense when you picture the things on the cards physically, then it makes sense. If not, it’s stupid." Today I’m going to share some of her opinions with you.

Easily the most popular response I got was regarding permanents that go to the graveyard simultaneously triggering off of the event that put them in the graveyard together. When Dingus Egg is in play and a player plays Obliterate, everyone with land will take damage. Why? It’s spelled out clearly in the rules:

Comprehensive Rules, section 410.10d: "Leaves-play triggers have to be treated specially because the permanent with the ability may no longer be in play after the event. The game has to ‘look back in time’ to resolve them. Each time an event removes one or more permanents from play, all the permanents that were in play just before the event (with continuous effects that existed at that time) are checked for any leaves-play triggers that match what just left play."

You’re probably asking "why?" again. It seems counterintuitive for something that’s already in the graveyard to trigger. I’ll remain firmly non-committal (and unemotional) about the nature of the rule; it’s one of those that where "that’s the way we want the game to work" is the way it is. It would be easy to argue either case (yes trigger/no trigger), but I’m just here to clarify. Lisa’s take: REALLY stupid.

The other one at the top of the list was dependency/timestamp. Although there are some arcane interactions with Opalescence and Humility (that could be an entire column in itself), you should be able to figure most of the rest of them out. Let’s go back to the rulebook again:

418.5b An effect is said to "depend on" another if applying the other would change the text or the existence of the first effect, what it applies to, or what it does to any of the things it applies to. Otherwise, the effect is considered to be independent of the first effect.

418.5c Whenever one effect depends on another, the independent one is applied first. If several dependent effects form a loop, or if none depends on another, they’re applied in "timestamp order."

Okay, what’s that mean? Timestamping is applying a signature to a card referencing when it came into play (more importantly what came in before it and after it). In most cases, apply continuous effects in the order that the permanent that generates them came into play. If you played Angelic Shield (Invasion: creatures you control get 0/+1) and then Primal Rage (Stronghold: creatures you control have trample), they get the 0/+1 first and then the trample. In most cases, it won’t matter.

Dependency, on the other hand, can be a little trickier. Most of the time we’re dealing with the "what it applies to" phrase. Let’s add Living Lands (all forests are 1/1 creatures that still count as lands) to the mix. Both Angelic Shield and Primal Rage depend on the Living Lands because the Living Lands changes what they affect (your lands in addition to your "normal" creatures). Living Lands is independent, so apply it first. Lands become 1/1 creatures. Then apply the dependent ones in timestamp order. Now your lands are 1/2 creatures with trample. Lisa’s take: Makes perfect sense. When I said "dependency," she said, "Huh?" – but when I asked her to resolve the situation listed above, she got it perfectly right.

While we’re talking about Continuous Effects, I’ll clarify something that I’ve seen give lots of people trouble, but I didn’t hear about it when I was taking this survey. Continuous Effects from permanents are different from those of spells and abilities. Back to the rulebook:

418.3b The set of permanents subject to continuous effects from a spell or ability is chosen either when the spell or ability is played (if it targets the permanents) or when it resolves (if it’s not targeted). After resolution, this set won’t change. Note that this differs from continuous effects from permanents.

That means if you play a spell that says, "all green creatures gain flying until end of turn," only the green creatures in play when the spell resolved get flying. If you play another green creature later in the turn, it doesn’t fly. Compare that to an enchantment that reads "Green creatures gain flying." Whenever a green creature is in play, it flies. Lisa’s take: Makes sense. Spells, even with durations, touch everything in play when they resolve. Continuous effects from permanents are always looking to touch stuff.

Back to timestamps, the situation where timestamps become most important is when Legends or Legendary permanents are around. When two or more Legends (everything applying to Legends applies to Legendary permanents, so I won’t continually repeat it) are in play, all except the one with the earliest timestamp are put into the graveyard. If they come into play simultaneously (like with, say, Living Death) or there’s somehow a tie for the earliest timestamp, they’re all put into the graveyard.

Timestamps can change. When a permanent leaves play and comes back in later (or changes zones at all), it gets a new timestamp. It has no memory of its "previous life." It is, in all ways, a new card. The exception to this is Phasing. When a permanent Phases In, it will not trigger any coming-into-play effects, and it remembers its history… but a permanent Phasing Out triggers "leaves play" abilities. This is not intuitive, but it is nonetheless a rule. The D’Angelo Rulings, section G.27, have loads of good information on Phasing In and Out. Lisa’s take (on the Phasing In thing): Dumbest rule ever (but she understands that otherwise many cards would be hideously broken).

I’ll hit one more before I wrap up. I was surprised to hear that many players are confused by the difference between playing a land and putting a land into play. Playing a land is a special action that you may take once per turn during one of your Main Phases and only if the Stack is empty. It’s not a spell and it may not be responded to. Spells and abilities may allow you to do this multiple times during your turn. Putting a land into play is the result of the resolution of a spell or ability. Lands you put into play due to spells and abilities don’t count against your one land per turn. See the Comprehensive Rules, section 214.9 for more info on lands. Lisa’s take: "I can’t believe people got that wrong."

The next time I do this, I’ll cover copy cards. They certainly merit a column all their own. I dread doing it, but it must be done (eventually, I swear!).

There are any number of rules and rulings that don’t seem to make sense, but most of them are well documented. That’s why players need to read the rulebook occasionally (and of course, pay attention to my column).

Lisa’s take: Read the damn column!

And that’s my Final Judgement. (Or Lisa’s, anyway – The Ferrett)

Sheldon K. Menery