Lesson 5 (Judge Classes)

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Casting Spells

(Comprehensive Rules Section 601)

Previously, the action of casting a spell, or casting a card as a spell, was referred to on cards as “playing” that spell or that card. Cards that were printed with that text have received errata in the Oracle card reference so they now refer to “casting” that spell or that card. Some effects still refer to “playing” a card. “Playing a card” means playing that card as a land or casting that card as a spell, whichever is appropriate.

To cast a spell is to take it from where it is (usually the hand), put it on the stack, and pay its costs, so that it will eventually resolve and have its effect. Casting a spell includes proposal of the spell, and determination and payment of costs. To cast a spell, a player follows the steps listed below, in order. If, at any point during the casting of a spell, a player is unable to comply with any of the steps listed below, the casting of the spell is illegal; the game returns to the moment before the casting of that spell was propose. Announcements and payments cannot be altered once they have been made. There are 8 steps required to cast a spell.


Announce

To propose the casting of a spell, a player first moves that card (or that copy of a card) from where it is to the stack. It becomes the topmost object on the stack. It has all the characteristics of the card (or the copy of a card) associated with it, and that player becomes its controller. The spell remains on the stack until it’s countered, it resolves, or an effect moves it elsewhere.

Choose Options

  • If the spell is modal, the player announces the mode choice
  • If the player wishes to splice any cards onto the spell, he or she reveals those cards in his or her hand.
  • If the spell has alternative or additional costs that will be paid as it’s being cast such as buyback or kicker costs, the player announces his or her intentions to pay any or all of those costs. A player can’t apply two alternative methods of casting or two alternative costs to a single spell.
  • If the spell has a variable cost that will be paid as it’s being cast, such as an {X} in its mana cost, the player announces the value of that variable. If the value of that variable is defined in the text of the spell by a choice that player would make later in the announcement or resolution of the spell, that player makes that choice at this time instead of that later time
  • If a cost that will be paid as the spell is being cast includes hybrid mana symbols, the player announces the non-hybrid equivalent cost he or she intends to pay
  • If a cost that will be paid as the spell is being cast includes Phyrexian mana symbols, the player announces whether he or she intends to pay 2 life or the corresponding colored mana cost for each of those symbols.

Previously made choices (such as choosing to cast a spell with flashback from a graveyard or choosing to cast a creature with morph face down) may restrict the player’s options when making these choices.


Targets

The player announces his or her choice of an appropriate player, object, or zone for each target the spell requires.

A spell may require some targets only if an alternative or additional cost (such as a buyback or kicker cost), or a particular mode, was chosen for it; otherwise, the spell is cast as though it did not require those targets.

If the spell has a variable number of targets, the player announces how many targets he or she will choose before he or she announces those targets. In some cases, the number of targets will be defined by the spell’s text. Once the number of targets the spell has is determined, that number doesn’t change, even if the information used to determine the number of targets does. The same target can’t be chosen multiple times for any one instance of the word “target” on the spell. However, if the spell uses the word “target” in multiple places, the same object, player, or zone can be chosen once for each instance of the word “target” (as long as it fits the targeting criteria).

If any effects say that an object or player must be chosen as a target, the player chooses targets so that he or she obeys the maximum possible number of such effects without violating any rules or effects that say that an object or player can’t be chosen as a target.

The chosen players, objects, and/or zones each become a target of that spell. Any abilities that trigger when those players, objects, and/or zones become the target of a spell trigger at this point; they’ll wait to be put on the stack until the spell has finished being cast.


Have to Distribute

If the spell requires the player to divide or distribute an effect (such as damage or counters) among one or more targets, the player announces the division. Each of these targets must receive at least one of whatever is being divided.

Legality

The game checks to see if the spell can legally be cast. If the proposed spell is illegal, the game returns to the moment before the casting of that spell was proposed.

Total Cost

The player determines the total cost of the spell. Usually this is just the mana cost. Some spells have additional or alternative costs. Some effects may increase or reduce the cost to pay, or may provide other alternative costs. Costs may include paying mana, tapping permanents, sacrificing permanents, discarding cards, and so on.

To establish the total cost:

  1. Begin with the mana cost of the spell
  2. Apply alternative costs
  3. Check for additional costs
  4. Apply cost increases
  5. Apply cost decreases
  6. Apply cost setting effects (Trinisphere)

The resulting total cost becomes “locked in.” If the total cost of the spell would change after this time, the cost remains the same instead.

  • Example: Alan begins to cast Altar’s Reap while he controls Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. The total cost becomes locked in at 2B. Even if Alan sacrifices Thalia to pay for Altar’s Reap before paying the spell’s mana cost, he will still be required to pay 2B because the total cost of the spell became locked in before Thalia left the battlefield.

Notes

An effect that says that you can pay {0} instead of paying a mana cost is considered to be an alternative cost.

If the mana component of the total cost is reduced to nothing by cost reduction effects, it is considered to be {0}. It can’t be reduced to less than {0}}.

Mana Abilities

If the total cost includes a mana payment, the player then has a chance to activate mana abilities. Mana abilities must be activated before costs are paid.

Pay Costs

The player pays the total cost in any order. Partial payments are not allowed. Unpayable costs can’t be paid.

Once the steps described previously are completed, effects that modify the characteristics of the spell as it’s cast are applied, then the spell becomes cast. Any abilities that trigger when a spell is cast or put onto the stack trigger at this time. If the spell’s controller had priority before casting it, he or she gets priority.

Some spells specify that one of their controller’s opponents does something the controller would normally do while it’s being cast, such as choose a mode or choose targets. In these cases, the opponent does so when the spell’s controller normally would do so. If there is more than one opponent who could make such a choice, the spell’s controller decides which of those opponents will make the choice. If the spell instructs its controller and another player to do something at the same time as the spell is being cast, the spell’s controller goes first, then the other player.

Casting a spell that alters costs won’t affect spells and abilities that are already on the stack.


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Activating Activated Abilities

(Comprehensive Rules Section 602)

Activated abilities have a cost and an effect. They are written as “[Cost]: [Effect.] [Activation instructions (if any).]”

The activation cost is everything before the colon (:). An ability’s activation cost must be paid by the player who is activating it.

Some text after the colon of an activated ability states instructions that must be followed while activating that ability. Such text may state which players can activate that ability, may restrict when a player can activate the ability, or may define some aspect of the activation cost. This text is not part of the ability’s effect. It functions at all times. If an activated ability has any activation instructions, they appear last, after the ability’s effect.

Previously, the action of using an activated ability was referred to on cards as “playing” that ability. Cards that were printed with that text have received errata in the Oracle card reference so they now refer to “activating” that ability. To activate an ability is to put it onto the stack and pay its costs, so that it will eventually resolve and have its effect. Only an object’s controller (or its owner, if it doesn’t have a controller) can activate its activated ability unless the object specifically says otherwise.

Activating an ability follows the steps listed below, in order. If, at any point during the activation of an ability, a player is unable to comply with any of those steps, the activation is illegal; the game returns to the moment before that ability started to be activated. Announcements and payments can’t be altered after they’ve been made.

  • The player announces that he or she is activating the ability. If an activated ability is being activated from a hidden zone, the card that has that ability is revealed.
  • That ability is created on the stack as an object that’s not a card. It becomes the topmost object on the stack. It has the text of the ability that created it, and no other characteristics. Its controller is the player who activated the ability.
  • The ability remains on the stack until it’s countered, it resolves, or an effect moves it elsewhere.

The remainder of the process for activating an ability is identical to the process for casting a spell listed above.

A creature’s activated ability with the tap symbol ({T}) or the untap symbol ({Q}) in its activation cost can’t be activated unless the creature has been under its controller’s control since the start of his or her most recent turn. Ignore this rule for creatures with haste.

If an activated ability has a restriction on its use (for example, “Activate this ability only once each turn”), the restriction continues to apply to that object even if its controller changes.

If an object acquires an activated ability with a restriction on its use from another object, that restriction applies only to that ability as acquired from that object. It doesn’t apply to other, identically worded abilities.

Activated abilities that read “Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery” mean the player must follow the timing rules for casting a sorcery spell, though the ability isn’t actually a sorcery. The player doesn’t actually need to have a sorcery card that he or she could cast.

Activated abilities that read “Activate this ability only any time you could cast an instant” mean the player must follow the timing rules for casting an instant spell, though the ability isn’t actually an instant. The player doesn’t actually need to have an instant card that he or she could cast.

Additional Resources

Do you really know how to cast spells? by Justin Turner

You Cast a Spell On Me by JudgeCast