FINAL JUDGEMENT: The State-Based Effects

Want to make a casual Magic player go "Huh?". Just say "State-based effect". You might as well have aliens crawling out of your belly. But I’m here, Sigourney Weaver-like, to banish that all away. State-based effects (SBEs) are a special set of rules that are applied whenever a player is going to receive priority, prior…

Want to make a casual Magic player go "Huh?". Just say "State-based effect". You might as well have aliens crawling out of your belly. But I’m here, Sigourney Weaver-like, to banish that all away.

State-based effects (SBEs) are a special set of rules that are applied whenever a player is going to receive priority, prior to placing triggered abilities on the stack. That means just before a player wants to do something, SBEs are checked. If any exist, they resolve, then are checked again. No one receives priority until all SBEs are resolved.

SBEs are also checked during the Cleanup Step. Having one or more existing SBEs at this time is the only way a player may get priority during Cleanup. Remember that the active player gets priority between resolution of abilities on the stack and the next, so SBEs are checked between resolutions as well.

Okay, you’re looking at me as if my torso were starting to bulge. Just wait a second before shouting "Game over, man! Out of quarters!". In simplest terms, it just means that the game wants to do its own stuff before letting the players do theirs.

There are 8 SBEs:

1. A Player with Zero or Less Life Loses the Game.
This one is pretty simple. It only applies when SBEs are checked, though. If a player falls to 0 life and then gains life before SBEs check, that player survives. For example, if a spell said, "You lose 4 life then gain 5 life", and you were at three, you’d end up at four – not dead. This is important because it makes interesting "first player to twitch" scenarios. If you and your opponent are both at one life and are both holding Lightning Bolts, the player that plays first loses. It plays out like this, assuming your opponent is the first one to go (after reading this article, you’ll be too smart to do so yourself):
* Opponent’s Bolt goes on the Stack;
* Your Bolt goes on the Stack;
* Both players pass;
* Your Bolt does 3 damage to him, taking him to -2;
* After your Bolt resolves, the active player will get Priority; just before he does, SBEs are checked.
* A player is at 0 or less life, so he loses.
* His Bolt never resolves.

A bit off the subject, I’ll clear a misconception here. If damage is being dealt simultaneously, such as with Earthquake, there’s no Activate Player/Not Active Player (APNAP) rule. If the damage would take both players to 0 or less, then the game is a draw.

2. A Creature with Toughness of Zero or Less Is Put Into its Owner’s Graveyard and it Cannot Regenerate.
No more silly Drudge Skeleton tricks. Damage will not take a creature’s toughness to 0. Its toughness is still whatever is written on the card and modified by external effects. And no, your Maro won’t die when you play Wheel of Fortune, because SBEs aren’t checked until after you’ve drawn new cards. They don’t check in the middle of resolution.

3. A Creature With Lethal Damage (see Rule K.10.4 for those of you scoring at home) (which does not also have zero or less toughness) Is Destroyed. Regeneration can replace this event.
Multiple creatures with lethal damage are put into the graveyard at the same time. The player owning those cards chooses the order. If your opponent has stolen your Ashen Ghoul and Earthquake is played, you can choose to put your Ghoul under all the creature cards you still controlled.

4. A Local Enchantment That Enchants an Illegal or Non-Existent Permanent Is Put Into Its Owner’s Graveyard.
The best example of an illegal permanent would be one with Protection from the color of the enchantment. It’s perfectly legal to put Animate Dead on a White Knight in your graveyard. As soon as the Knight comes into play, however, he’ll see he’s wearing a Black enchantment, scream "Ick!" and the enchantment (and then the Knight) will go away. An Enchantment does not target what it enchants, so if you somehow get a Fire Whip onto your Deadly Insect, it won’t fall off.

It’s important to understand the order in which things go to the graveyard. The Enchantment won’t go until after the permanent it enchants goes (until then, it doesn’t realize that the permanent is non-existent). If your 2/3 Hurloon Minotaur has Flight on it, then gets Terrorized, the Minotaur will go to the graveyard, and the Flight will momentarily sit there enchanting nothing. When SBEs are checked (before a player gets Priority), the Flight will then realize it’s time to head for the exits. That means the Flight will be on top of the Minotaur in the graveyard. If a bunch of Enchanted creatures go to the graveyard at the same time, all the creatures (in the order their owner chooses) will be underneath all the enchantments.

5. Duplicate Legends Are Put Into Their Owner’s Graveyard.
The most recent legend is put in the graveyard. If duplicate legends enter play at the same time, they do a Cage/Travolta John Woo thing and both go to the graveyard. If a shapechanger like Vesuvian Doppleganger changes to a legend, it considers itself them most recent regardless of when the Doppleganger came into play relative to the legend it targets.

6. A Token in a Zone Other Than "In Play" Ceases to Exist.
Phase it out, return it to your hand, send it to the graveyard, make it leave play any way, it goes "poof" (audibly, if you listen hard enough). Tokens going to a different zone will trigger zone change abilities (so you can still activate your Soul Net, for example).

7. A Player Who Was Unable To Draw a Card Due to Their Library Being Empty Loses the Game.
It’s splitting hairs, but the player doesn’t lose from being unable to draw a card until SBEs are checked. Library is empty, you’re forced to draw a card. Card draw effect resolves. Then you lose. Of course, there’s no way to do anything between the resolution of the effect and you losing. Again, just like with damage, if this would happen to both players (via Prosperity, for example), the game is a draw.

8. If More Than One Enchant World is in Play, All or All-But-One are Put Into Their Owner’s Graveyard.
Enchant Worlds are like upside down legends. The earliest one(s) in play are put into the graveyard. Like legends, however, if they all come into play simultaneously, they’re all put into their owner’s graveyards.

Don’t confuse SBEs with triggered abilities that watch for some game state (like Emperor Crocodile or Lurking Jackal). SBEs are specific rules for specific situations that are checked before a player would receive priority (plus in the Cleanup Step).

Rest assured there will be no cheesy sequels to this article with Paul Reiser, characters named "Newt" or prison planets.

And that’s my Final Judgement.
Sheldon Menery