Rules Simplification Project – Part 2: Numbers and Symbols, Section A by Stelios Christos Kargotis

Rules Simplification Project – Part 1: Mana by Stelios Christos Kargotis

Rules Simplification Project – Part 2: Numbers and Symbols, Section A by Stelios Christos Kargotis


The idea behind this project is to provide people with a simplified version of tricky rules and different examples of cards that appear similar on the surface of things but actually behave differently. As always any project of this nature is there to supplement your study not replace it.



To divide or not?

Magic the Gathering does not use fractions of any kind, it only uses whole numbers or integers for the maths enthusiasts. If a spell or ability would generate a fraction the spell will tell you to round down or up.

e.g. If I cast Fireball targeting three 1/1 tokens and X=3, if on resolution only two 1/1 tokens remain, Fireball will resolve and do only 1 damage to each. It will not do 1.5 damage nor will it do 2 damage to one token and 1 damage to another.

Positive or Negative, what is it all about?

The majority of the time our beloved game deals in positive numbers. You can’t deal negative damage, gain negative life or choose a negative number, so on and so forth.

However it is possible for a game value, like a creature’s power and toughness to be less than zero.

stab wound mtg

e.g. If you control a Concordia Pegasus that is enchanted by Stab Wound then the creature’s power and toughness will be -1/1.

Using the above example if Concordia Pegasus would attack, it wouldn’t deal -1 damage, because the game doesn’t like that, the creature will deal 0 damage.

The rules state that if a calculation or comparison needs to use a negative value it does so.

e.g. If Andrew controls Shambleshark which is enchanted by Agoraphobia, when Cloudfin Raptor enters the battlefield the negative power of Shableshark is used to to make the comparison need for the evolve mechanic.

However watch out for the following sentence, “If a calculation that would determine the result of an effect yields a negative number 0 is used instead, except for the following:

1) Sets a players life total
2) Sets a creatures power or toughness to a specific value
3) Modifies a creature’s power and toughness.

So an example for each situation outlined above.

1) If a spell or an ability would say “add up the combined power of all your creatures in play, this is now your life total” and you had your 4/4 creature enchanted by Agoraphobia, your life total would be -1 not 0.

2) Andrew controls Ajani Goldmane with 6 loyalty counters, Platinum Angel and his life total is -5. If Andrew activates Ajani’s third ability he would create an Avatar that has a power and toughness of -5/-5 not 0/0.

3) Andrew controls Chameleon Colossus which is enchanted with two Agoraphobias giving it a power and toughness of -6/4 and he activates Chameleon Colossus’s ability. The result of the pump effect will be -6/-6 not 0/0. Leaving the Chameleon Colossus with a power and toughness of -12/-4.

And finally

Andrew controls Viridian Joiner whose power and toughness are 1/2 (T):Add to your mana pool an amount of (G) equal to Viridian Joiner’s power. If an effect would give Viridian Joiner -2/0 and Andrew tapped the creature for mana, he would add 0 green mana to his pool, not -1 green mana.

Choosing numbers

sphinx's revelationIf a spell, rule or an ability asks you to choose a number the only acceptable choices are 0 or a positive number

e.g. Angel of Serenity has an ETB ability, acceptable choices are zero 1, 2 and 3 creatures.

e.g. If you cast Life from the Loam you can choose 0, 1, 2 or 3 lands to return from your graveyard to your hand

However if a spell or an ability asks you to choose a number and that number refers to something that will be divided between players and/or objects, 0 is not an acceptable choice.

e.g. If you cast Bogardan Hellkite and it resolves, the enter the battlefield ability will ask you to divide 5 damage between any number of targets and/or players, (Legal choices are 1-5), if you choose 3 targets you must assign each target one damage minimum. You cannot assign 0 damage to one of the targets. You cannot have 0 targets to divide 5 damage to.

e.g. If you cast Blessings of Nature your choice of target creatures can be 1, 2, 3 and 4. If you choose 4 creatures then each will receive 1 +1/+1 counter each.

e.g. If you cast Arc Lightning you can choice 1, 2 or 3 players (the spell actually tells you what you can choose) and or creatures, however if you choose 3 players and or creatures you have to deal 1 damage to each. You cannot have 3 targets and deal 2 damage to one target, 1 damage to another target and 0 damage to the third target.

So what did I pick again?

Finally if anything needs to use a number that can’t be determined, either as a result or in a calculation, it uses 0 instead.

e.g. If Andrew controls Illusionary Mask and uses that ability to cast Primal Clay face down, it will be a 2/2 creature, however if Norbert casts Break Open on Andrew’s face down Primal Clay, when its turned up Primal Clay is a 0/0 creature, Andrew doesn’t get to choose a value as it has already entered the battlefield, so as the rule states the power and toughness value can’t be determined and are therefore 0.

X here, X there, X everywhere!

Bonfire of the Damned 178We have all seen spells or abilities which have the X symbol in them, however just because the symbol X appears on the card it doesn’t mean they all behave in the same way.

There are two distinct categories of X spells/abilities, they are:

1) Spells where you get to choose the X
2) Spells where you don’t get to choose the X

The Comp rules are a little more specific and state that if a spell/ability has a mana cost, alternative cost, additional cost and/or activation cost with an {X},[-X] or X and the value isn’t defined in the text, the controller of the spell or ability gets to choose and announces the value of X as part of casting the spell or ability.

Examples of spells where you get to choose the X are: Bonfire of the Damned, Slime Molding and Sphinx’s Revelation to name a few.

So if the X is defined in the text of the card or the ability then you don’t get to choose the X value.

Examples of spells or abilities where you don’t get to choose the value of X: Korozda Guildmage, Axebane Guardian and Wild Beastmaster.

Finally if X appears as part of a special action such as Suspend or Morph then the player controlling that object gets to choose the value of X.

e.g Suspending Aeon Chronicler for its suspend cost (note that X cannot be 0, the card adds that restriction, however if it didn’t have the restriction in place X could be 0)

e.g Turning up Bane of the Living face up for its morph cost which contains an X (X can be 0).

X spells and casting things for free

Engineered ExplosivesIf you cast a spell with X in its mana cost and you are allowed to pick the value of X without paying the mana cost or the alternative cost that includes X ,then the only legal choice is 0.

e.g. If Andrew casts Brilliant Ultimatum exiling Bonfire of the Damned, the only choice he can make for X is 0.

However cost reductions are not affected by this rule, even if the overall cost of the spell would be 0.

e.g. If Andrew controls four Helm of Awakening and casts Chalice of the Void where X=2 Andrew will not pay anything for Chalice of the Void. But this situation doesn’t force X to be 0.

The Value of X on the stack and other zones

If you have a spell or ability where you get to choose the value of X, when its placed on the stack the value of X is what you have chosen.

e.g if you cast Sphinx’s Revelation for X=4, then on the stack X will be 4.

If you have a spell or ability where you don’t get to choose the value of X, when it is placed on the stack the value of X will be defined for you (see the text of the spell), please note this value can change.

e.g. Andrew is playing Nigel and Andrew controls 5 1/1 creatures and Nigel controls 3 1/1 creatures. In his pre-combat main phase Andrew casts Chain Reaction, the value of X is 8. However if one of the creatures is destroyed or removed from the battlefield before Chain Reaction resolves then the value for X will be 7.

In any other zone the value of X will be 0, even if the value is defined on the card.

And finally just because we can

Epic ExperimentSometimes X appears in the text of a spell or ability but not in a mana cost, alternative cost or activation cost. If the value of X isn’t defined, the controller of the spell or ability gets to choose the value of X at the appropriate time.

e.g. If Andrew casts Harvest Pyre X is chosen when it is put on the stack.
e.g If Andrew casts Alliance of Arms the choice of X is made upon resolution.


So that’s the end of part 1, however due to this subject being lengthy I will be covering the rest in part 2. For now that is plenty to get your teeth sunk into. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me and don’t forget to tune in to the next episode of the RULES SIMPLIFICATION PROJECT.


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