Top 7 Most Misunderstood Mechanics in Magic: The Gathering Standard Format
Magic the Gathering is not a simple game. While the complexity of obscure situations may appeal to some more experienced, it can frustrate and deter new players.
I have compiled a list of what I feel are the top 7 most frequently misunderstood mechanics currently in Standard. These are based upon what I get asked about most or see more often. They are in no specific order after the first three, and I would be very keen to see what you think deserved an explanation, but is not present. Leave comments on what trips/tripped you up when you are/were starting out!
Not every mechanic or rule in Magic is intuitive, though Wizards did their best to clean things up when they made combat damage no longer use the stack. Cards like Jilt or Yavimaya Elder were so sweet back then.
This article is split into two parts, where this first one addresses the main misunderstandings I have noticed when playing Standard. Part 2 is relevant for eternal formats like Commander primarily, but is in the domain of Modern also.
This article also contains a PRIZE SECTION(!) in which you have the chance of winning a free card for answering a confusing dilemma involving bountiful amounts of damage and a Wild Ricochet. This section is found at the end of the article. The answer and prize winners will be included in the follow up article.
I know a lot of players talk about the big bad wolf of confusing mechanics being ‘Banding’, but seeing as no one plays those cards, it never really comes up. The most commonly misunderstood mechanic by my experience, is regeneration…
Um Lotleth Troll, you seem to have something in your teeth…
I’ve seen people try to regenerate from the graveyard (“reanimating”) and others try to ‘regenerate‘ a creature that they have just sacrificed. Regeneration does not work this way!
Paying the cost to regenerate essentially blankets the creature in a regeneration ‘shield‘. This shield is used to prevent the creature from dying the next time it would do so from lethal combat damage or a ‘destroy‘ effect (be it a Supreme Verdict or the claw of a pesky Sedge Scorpion).
When this shield gets used, the creature becomes tapped, removed from combat, has all damage removed from it and does not die. Becoming tapped is the least known quirk of regeneration. Bear in mind that tapped creatures can still regenerate, as becoming tapped is not part of the cost, but the effect.
Knowledge of this allows you to remove a regenerating creature as a possible blocker by forcing it to regenerate before you attack. It is also why Servant of Tymaret is actually quite a decent blocker (as it keeps triggering inspired every-time it regenerates).
If you are having trouble with a regenerating creature, then apply the following:
- You can exile them – Gild – Exile removes from the game, it doesn’t destroy.
- Force them to sacrifice – Devour Flesh – This is act of putting a creature in it’s owners graveyard, and is not actually being destroyed. Also a common way to get round hexproof, as most sacrifice effects target the player rather than the creature.
- Reduce their toughness to 0 or less – Bile Blight – As a state based action, a creature with 0 or less toughness cannot be allowed to remain on the battlefield! This is not being destroyed, it’s just the rules.
None of these methods destroy, and so you cannot regenerate through them.
2. Protection from…
Circles of protection were some of Whites most powerful tools way back during ‘colour magic’.
Another contender for most misunderstood mechanic. Protection can come in all shapes and forms:
- Protection from a colour (Master of Waves)
- Protection from a converted mana cost (Mistmeadow Skulk)
- Protection from creatures (Commander Eesha)
- Protection from a player (True-Name Nemesis)
- Protection from EVERYTHING (Progenitus)
There are many more variants, though the most commonly tangled with is protection from a colour.
I overheard a game in which a player cast Ephara’s Warden and immediately tried to tap Stormbreath Dragon. Sadly, Ephara does not bless her creatures with haste, so no activating her ability on the turn she came in.
The dragon has a power greater than 3, and so is not a valid target (this is not the same as protection). And finally, the dragon has protection from white!
This means it cannot be:
Blocked by anything white,
Targeted by anything white,
Dealt damage by anything white,
or Enchanted… by anything white.
Swing and a miss there with the Ephara play! I put it down to the confusion that arises when a creature has ‘Protection from’ and is not from a core set in which the ability is explained (E.g Knight of Infamy).
Key points to note: Having protection from white does not save your creatures from a Supreme Verdict, as it is not doing any of the things listed above. The Verdict simply destroys all creatures.
However, having protection from Red will save your creatures from Anger of the Gods. This is because they cannot be damaged by anything Red, regardless of it not targeting them.
I saw a player in a Modern competition allow his opponent to equip Snapcaster Mage with Sword of War and Peace. He had Lightning Helixs and Path to Exiles for days, but wanted to sweep him away with an Anger of the Gods instead.
Having protection from Red saved Snapcaster from being dealt damage by the Angry Gods, and he beat down for the win over the next few turns.
3. Blowing a Fuse with Split Cards
This may be my Turn, but Izzet just me or has everyone Burned the ‘izzet’ joke to death?
Cards such as Turn // Burn are the spiritual reprinting of Split-cards (like Fire // Ice), but with a bonus. I love these. The versatility of having options available early and late make these interesting and powerful cards. I have seen a couple of questions being raised that require addressing…
- In relation to Turn // Burn– Casting one half is a mono-coloured spell, but when you fuse them, it becomes a multicoloured spell with the exact same casting cost as a Thoughtflare.
Although Turn happens before Burn, it is still a red/blue spell initially and you cannot target Master of Waves or Fiendslayer Paladin with it. However, if you have two in hand then you can always cast Turn and then a separate Burn to kill the previously mentioned.
- When not on the stack, Turn//Burn counts as having a mana cost of 2, and a mana cost of 3. Cards like Counterbalance would see Turn//Burn as a ‘yes‘ for having a converted mana cost of 2, and a ‘yes‘ for having a converted mana cost of 3, but not 5. However, cards like Pain Seer add the two halves, adding to a total of 5 life lost.
Jeez, even I’m a bit confused now. A further example to illustrate matters is: Mistmeadow Skulk can be Burn’d, but not Turn’d nor Turn&Burn’d. This is because a fused Turn/Burn has a converted mana cost of 5 when it’s on the stack.
- Cost reduction from Goblin Electromancer would only reduce a fused Turn/Burn by 1, as it is only one spell.
- Fuse cards resolve from left to right.
This last point is also important when playing the Command cycle (made famous by Cryptic Command). Cards resolve from left to right, like a book.
4. Bestow – Didn’t you just get here?
“Grandmother, what big teeth you have got!” – “All the better to eat with!”
I drew a Lash of the Whip and held on to it with trembling hands. When he announced his combat phase, I killed the Flitterstep and hoped to live till the next turn.
Then he attacked with Spiteful Returned. I had thought that it would not be able to attack since it had not been a creature since the beginning of his turn.
I apologise if this is obvious to you, I just thought it felt initially un-intuitive. It all stems down to the rules of Summoning Sickness…
A creature (be it an Artifact creature, ‘manland’, Gideon Jura or Enchantment creature) cannot attack or use ‘tap’ activated abilities unless they were under your control since the beginning of your turn.
Seeing as the Spiteful Returned had been around for a couple of turns already, he had no problem joining the fight!
It becomes pretty obvious when you consider that Mutavault is never a creature at the start of the turn, but does not stop it attacking control players repeatedly.
Bear in mind that the same rules apply to all ‘manlands’, meaning that they cannot attack the turn the are put on to the battlefield.
5. X Spells Marks the Spot
Comedic genius Guybrush Threepwood strikes again.
I’ll keep this short and sweet. Spells with ‘X’ in them are considered in the following ways when calculating their converted mana cost;
- On the stack, X is equal to how much mana was poured into it. Thus a Sphinx’s Revelation for 5 cards, has a converted mana cost of 8.
- Off the stack, X is considered to be ‘0’, and so Sphinx’s Revelation would be considered to have a converted mana cost of 3. This also means that once Mistcutter Hydra is on the battlefield, it has a converted mana cost of ‘1’ – have at ’em Abrupt Decay!
6. Token Issue
- Tokens you create that enter the battlefield under your opponents control (Forbidden Orchard, Hunted Dragon) are not owned by you.
They are owned by your opponents, not you. Tapping that Homeward Path will make them stare at you glumly till you try to untap it murmuring a “Takesies backsies?”.
- The majority of tokens have no converted mana cost, though have a colour stipulated. These facts come from the source that made them. I.e Elspeth, Sun’s Champion puts white Soldier tokens into play, but does not cast them, and so they have no cost.
Having no mana cost is why the transformed cards from Innistrad block (Huntmaster of the Fells) also have a converted mana cost of ‘0’.
- Tokens that are copies of real homegrown creatures have the same converted mana cost as their copy. People get used to thinking of tokens as having no converted mana cost, and run awry when trying to Ratchet Bomb some Pack Rats for ‘0’. I.e It would need to be for ‘2’.
7. Ghor-Clan’t Be Countered
“You know what the chain of command is? It’s the chain I go get and beat you with ’til ya understand who’s in ruttin’ command here!”
The most played and cost effective bloodrusher is Ghor-Clan Rampager. Bloodrushing is an activated ability, and cannot be countered by your conventional means. This is due to it not being a spell, therefore it cannot be countered by something that reads “Counter target spell”. This allows it to push through Dissolve and Syncopate with immunity in Standard. For other formats though, Voidslime, Stifle and Trickbind can get the job done.
Note that it is a targeted ability though, and so Ghor-Clan Rampager cannot be used on a creature with protection from Red or Green.
If burn spells are your removal of choice and you are up against a Gruul deck, be sure to try and kill their creatures before combat, as Bloodrush only works on attacking creatures.
The Stack Puzzle – Win a Prize!
The Ents will not be happy…
It’s competition time! Below you is the conundrum in question, with details on how to answer it and what you can win below!
“Here’s a confusing little situation that came up in a game of Commander I was playing in. The players present were Mandeep, Leo, Myself and Jon. Mandeep had ramped like a complete demon through a combination of Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary, Sol Ring, Gaea’s Cradle, Wort, the Raidmother and a million clash winning Recross the Paths. Seriously, those paths were a mess after all that criss crossing.
We are all at 40 life, and Mandeep is up to 27 mana on turn five.
Here’s what went down:
- He casts Comet Storm for 21 damage, with two extra targets (I.e 21 damage at everyone not him).
- He tries to conspire the spell with Wort, but has it Trickbind‘d by Leo. This is a card that Leo has an un-natural devotion too.
- Jon then excitedly casts Wild Ricochet, to redirect Comet Storm at everyone not Jon and add his own Comet Storm to the stack.
- Mandeep then flashes us Fork and says “So everyone’s dead.”
As it happens, we were meant to be leaving imminently to go see The Raid 2, so no-one argued. We laughed at the groups timely genocide and moved on with our lives.
But is this really what happened?
For starters, Mandeep did not declare what his Fork would be copying. To be clear, the stack consists of:
- Mandeep’s Comet Storm targeting Leo, Ru & Jon
- Jon’s Wild Ricochet (With the intention of redirecting 1. to target Leo, Ru & Mandeep, and copying 1. targeting Leo, Ru & Mandeep)
- Mandeep’s Fork (intending to copy either 1. or 2.)
How to win
What I am looking for is a clear explanation of who wins in this exchange, including the total amount of damage taken by each player.
Post your answers in the comments below (or the facebook comments) as soon as possible! Of the correct answers, three winners will be chosen by 12pm Saturday the 26th of April.
What you win
It’s no Black Lotus, but it is a free bit of fun!
What are your Most Misunderstood Mechanics in Standard?
So that was my Top 7 Most Misunderstood Mechanics in Standard, do you agree or disagree? What is your Top 7 Most Misunderstood Mechanics in Standard?
Look out for “Un-intuitive Interactions in Eternal formats” coming soon. It won’t just contain more mind boggling situations, but it’ll include the winners too.
Till next time nerds!
*** Update ***
I am happy to say that the winners for this little competition are:
1st. Martin McGowan
2nd. Michael Brand
3rd. Keiron Harman
Thank you and well done to everyone taking part!