Magic is a complicated game. Some interactions are counter-intuitive and require a thorough understanding of the rules to parse. And especially in the current Standard, there are creatures and planeswalkers with easily-forgotten static abilities or extra lines of text that are usually irrelevant…until they are.
Many of these could be classified as “read the card,” but I’ve seen experienced players, even at the top tables, miss them far too often. Others are downright weird. And the last six all involve Core Set 2020 cards, so they may give some inspiration to the brewers among you.
1. Dragons planeswalkers don’t need loyalty to live
If you activate Sarkhan’s +1 and turn your planeswalkers into 4/4 Dragons, then until end of turn, they are no longer planeswalkers. They retain their loyalty or static abilities, but they are treated as creatures otherwise. This means that they don’t lose loyalty counters when they take damage, and they don’t die as a result of falling to 0 loyalty.
So if you control a 2-loyalty Domri, Anarch of Bolas, then you can turn him into a Dragon, have him or Sarkhan fight another creature and subsequently attack with a 5/4 Domri Dragon. He’ll die due to having zero loyalty as soon as Sarkhan’s effect wears off, but this final attack may be enough to carry you over the finish line.
2. Gideon works differently
While you can always kill a 4/4 Sarkhan with two Shocks, this won’t work on a 4/4 Gideon.
During his controller’s turn, all damage dealt to Gideon is prevented. So he just shrugs off burn spells as if nothing happened. I once tried to be clever by Lightning Striking my opponent’s 3-loyalty Gideon during their upkeep so that if they had Spell Pierce, they would have to tap mana during their turn. This may have worked on any other planeswalker, but not on Gideon.
By the way, did you know that you can use Dauntless Bodyguard to protect Gideon from a destruction spell like Bedevil, even if he’s not a creature at the time? This works because the words “the chosen creature” don’t require the chosen object to be a creature at the time you activate the ability.
However, this wouldn’t work against Lightning Strike because indestructible doesn’t prevent damage—if that Lightning Strike is cast during your opponent’s turn, three loyalty counts will be removed.
And a final weird thing about Gideon: the first ability of Ajani, Strength of the Pride will count Gideon twice: once as a creature, once as a planeswalker.
3. You can take your own creature hostage
Usually, you’ll use Hostage Taker to steal an opponent’s creature. But Hostage Taker can exile any creature, even your own. For example, if you take your own Elite Guardmage hostage, then you are protected from a sweeper—once Hostage Taker dies, Elite Guardmage will return to the battlefield, so you’ll always be able to attack for two the turn after.
Alternatively, if you aren’t worried about Kaya’s Wrath, then you can just cast the Elite Guardmage to get another use out of its enters-the-battlefield trigger right away.
But the ability to exile your own creatures is a double-edged sword. After all, Hostage Taker’s ability is mandatory. Suppose you cast Hostage Taker while you control a bunch of Human tokens and your opponent’s only nonland permanent is a lone Fanatical Firebrand. If your opponent then sacrifices Fanatical Firebrand while Hostage Taker is on the stack, you’ll be forced to target one of your own tokens once Hostage Taker enters the battlefield.
As a final note: Don’t forget that Hostage Taker can exile artifacts. Artifacts don’t see a lot of play in Standard, but stealing cards like The Immortal Sun, Treasure Map, or even Bolas’s Citadel is an easy path to victory.
4. You can target your own Army token with Enter the God-Eternals
If you created a Zombie Army token with another amass spell earlier, you can target your own token with Enter the God-Eternals and it’ll live. You may have a 2/2 token with 4 damage marked on it as Enter the God-Eternals is resolving, but since state-based effects aren’t checked until a spell has finished resolving, it can survive as a 6/6 token with 4 damage marked on it.
Another weird thing that can happen with Enter the God-Eternals is that the creature is no longer there when the spell resolves. This could come up when you target your opponent’s Fanatical Firebrand, for example. In that case, no damage is dealt so you won’t gain any life, but amass 4 still happens because the player is still a legal target.
As a final note: You can’t mill your opponent when you’re dealing 4 damage to Shalai, Voice of Plenty. This could be very relevant if your Teferi, Hero of Dominaria tucked, say, Hydroid Krasis against Bant Ramp and you were hoping to mill it. Shalai prevents that.
5. Teferi stops Finale of Promise
Cards like Finale of Promise or abilities like Dreadhorde Arcanist’s attack trigger want to put spells on the stack while they are resolving. However, the stack isn’t empty because a spell is still resolving, which means that you wouldn’t be able to cast a sorcery at that time, and thus Teferi’s passive kicks in. You won’t be able to cast those spells.
Likewise, Teferi stops the Goblin Chainwhirler + Status // Statue combo and does not allow you to respond to your own Light up the Stage. (That last situation typically comes up when you control Experimental Frenzy and you spot an instant lurking right under Light up the Stage).
6. Gruul Spellbreaker one-shots Chandra
During your turn, Gruul Spellbreaker gives you hexproof. So when Chandra loses one or more loyalty counters (most likely because she was attacked by Gruul Spellbreaker) she is forced to deal damage to a planeswalker. If Chandra is the only planeswalker on the battlefield, then she is the only legal target, and therefore she will ping herself to death.
Another popular card that reads “target opponent” is Baffling End. So if you control Gruul Spellbreaker, do not sacrifice Thrashing Brontodon to kill Baffling End on your turn—you won’t receive the 3/3 Dinosaur. (If you wonder why you would want to trade a 3/4 for a 3/3 in the first place: this could be reasonable if you’ve attacked with Thrashing Brontodon and need a blocker.)
Finally, don’t try to set up Teferi, Time Raveler plus Thought Erasure during your opponent’s draw step when they control Gruul Spellbreaker. You’ll look foolish. Just cast the discard spell on your turn.
7. Narset still beats The Immortal Sun
When your opponent controls The Immortal Sun, you can’t activate loyalty abilities anymore, so it’s easy to shortcut into the idea that planeswalkers are blanks. Well, they still have their static and triggered abilities, which notably means that Narset will stop the card draw trigger from The Immortal Sun. Don’t make the mistake of drawing a card you weren’t supposed to.
8. Trostani can’t be stolen
Trostani also invalidates Mass Manipulation in that all creatures will eventually switch back, no matter who controls Trostani. However, there are still two ways to exploit Mass Manipulation when facing Trostani:
- Planeswalkers are not switched back to their owners, so you can steal those with impunity.
- Using Teferi, Time Raveler, you can gain control of creatures at the end of your opponent’s turn after their Trostani trigger has resolved. They’ll get them back eventually, but this gives you a turn to attack with them.
9. Don’t forget your declare attacker step
MTG Arena automatically skips past your own declare attackers step unless you entered Full Control mode, so it’s easy to forget that there are times where you’d want to do something before blockers.
One example is after a Legion’s Landing transformation. If you control Law-Rune Enforcer, then the land can give you the mana to tap a potential blocker. Another possibility is that Adanto, the First Fort creates a token as your tenth permanent so that Skymarcher Aspirant gains flying before blockers. Finally, if you gave Law-Rune Enforcer vigilance with Gideon Blackblade, then the declare attacker step is where you want to tap a potential blocker.
These situations are relatively rare, so I’m fine with MTG Arena auto-skipping this step and requiring us to enter Full Control when we want to do something unusual. But what still puzzles me is why there is a forced stop in our own beginning of combat step instead, as the likelihood that you’d want to cast something in that step is astronomically low. One of the things I’ll never understand, I guess.
10. Don’t forget about Nullhide Ferox
Nullhide Ferox is mostly a 6/6 hexproof creature, but it has far more text than that. First and foremost, don’t select Nullhide Ferox with Thought Erasure if you can help it. Likewise, before slamming Nicol Bolas, the Ravager or Basilica Bell-Haunt against Gruul Midrange, at least consider the risks involved.
But sometimes you don’t have a choice. If you cast Thought Erasure on turn two and see that your opponent is only holding Nullhide Ferox and lands, you’re forced to discard it. Rough beats.
11. Feather can return a spell cast by Dreadhorde Arcanist
Suppose you control both creatures, attack with Dreadhorde Arcanist, and cast Defiant Strike from your graveyard. Then there are two replacement effects that will change where Defiant Strike would go as it resolves: one from Dreadhorde Arcanist and one from Feather. As the controller of these effects, you may choose to apply Feather’s replacement effect first. In that case, Feather’s delayed triggered ability will return that card to your hand.
So, yes, these two cards work together quite nicely, and it’s a powerful interaction.
12. Tomik shuts down Nissa
If you control Tomik, then your opponent’s Nissa can still be activated, but no land can be targeted for her +1 ability. So Tomik is one of the better answers to the planeswalker who has been dubbed “the Queen of Standard.”
In addition, Tomik shuts down Crucible of Worlds and prevents an opposing Tamiyo or Molderhulk from return a land. Weirdly, however, Living Twister can still return lands because its second ability doesn’t target.
13. Nissa can make a 6/6
Nissa’s +1 can only target noncreature lands, so normally you can only make an army of 3/3s. Unless counters are placed on a Mobilized District, that is. If you activate the land after it has gained +1/+1 counters, you end up with a 6/6 that can bash through any mid-sized blockers your opponent might have.
14. Tamiyo protects you from discard or sacrifice
Here is another public service announcement about a planeswalker static ability that easy to forget about: Tamiyo protects its controller from Angrath’s Rampage, Basilica Bell-Haunt, and Thought Erasure.
15. Lotus Field and Blood Sun is a good match
Alright, now let’s get to some interactions involving Core Set 2020 cards. One of my favorites is that Blood Sun takes away all of Lotus Field’s abilities except for the last one. So Lotus Field doesn’t enter the battlefield tapped, doesn’t force you to sacrifice any lands, but can be tapped for three mana right away.
It’s hard to tell how competitive a deck based around this interaction will be, but when you have Elvish Reclaimer and Bond of Flourishing to find parts of the combo and Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner to untap the land, along with Voracious Hydra and Cavalier of Flame as mana sinks, there’s plenty of potential for a spicy brew.
16. Knight of the Ebon Legion sees your own life payments
When I first read Knight of the Ebon Legion, I thought it would grow at the end of my turn if it saw me deal 4 or more damage to my opponent. Then I read it again, and I learned that it also looked at my own life total. And then I realized that life payments also count. And finally, I grasped that it doesn’t even matter whether Knight of the Ebon Legion was on the battlefield when a player lost life.
Plenty of possibilities, but right now I’m dreaming of curving Knight of the Ebon Legion into Adanto Vanguard and immediately paying 4 life. This would have my one-drop grow into a 2/3 with upside at the end of my second turn. That is an appealing proposition for any aggro deck. Follow up with Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord or Icon of Ancestry, and I can see the contours of a competitive and powerful tribal deck. PV outlined what such a deck might look like here.
17. Field of the Dead and Scapeshift is a combo
To quote the release notes: “If multiple lands enter the battlefield simultaneously, possibly including Field of the Dead itself, all of those lands are counted. For example, if you sacrifice eight lands while resolving Scapeshift and search your library for five different basic land cards, two Field of the Dead cards, and one other land card with a different name, you’ll create 16 Zombie tokens.”
18. Grafdigger’s Cage doesn’t stop everything
Gradigger’s Cage is now a sideboard option in Standard. It stops the creature part of Command the Dreadhorde, neuters Experimental Frenzy and Finale of Promise, and prevents Rekindling Phoenix or Arclight Phoenix from returning. That’s all quite important.
But it’s just as good to know what it doesn’t stop:
- Grafdigger’s Cage doesn’t prevent planeswalkers from returning with Command the Dreadhorde.
- Grafdigger’s Cage doesn’t prevent players from playing lands off the top with Experimental Frenzy because they aren’t cast.
- Grafdigger’s Cage does nothing against Light up the Stage because those cards are cast from exile.
- Grafdigger’s Cage still doesn’t stop Living End. (Yes, this has nothing to do with Standard, but it bears repeating.)
19. Aether Gust can prevent Shifting Ceratops from resolving
Standard contains many spells that can’t be countered. Relevant examples are Shifting Ceratops, Carnage Tyrant, Chandra, Awakened Inferno, and Niv-Mizzet, Parun. However, they can still be targeted by Aether Gust while they’re on the stack. Even Shifting Ceratops, because protection only counts when it’s on the battlefield.
Since putting a spell back into a library is not the same as countering, the effect will go through—the spell will be removed from the stack and thus will not resolve.
20. A pro-white creature is still destroyed by Kaya’s Wrath
This will be obvious to longtime players, but given that protection hasn’t been in Standard for quite a while, I might as well finish this article by clearing up the age-old rules question that has lingered since the days of Black Knight and Wrath of God.
Protection does not do anything against global destruction sweepers. Sure, the creature can’t be dealt damage and can’t be targeted, so Unchained Berserker can’t be stopped by Deafening Clarion or Baffling End. However, the creature can still be destroyed, so Kaya’s Wrath or Planar Cleansing will kill it.
As always, thanks for reading. I hope this article gave you some useful takeaways.
Which weird interaction did I miss? Let me know in the comments!