Magic: the Gathering
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Judge School
MTG cards


MTG cards under the microscope

Hi guys! My name is Irina Samonova. I’m a lvl2 judge from Moscow, Russia. As you probably know, I am seriously involved in popularizing Magic:the Gathering, prioritizing in “promoting the rules into masses”. But not all mages are desperate to study. Most of the novices, strange as it might seem, suppose that they need to learn how one card interacts with another (yep, good luck doing so for the 12K+ existing cards :) ), and that this way, they will grasp the mythical “experience” of prominent players.

It is far from the truth, of course, it is impossible to learn all the rules by just looking at cards. But let us do what best we can — scrutinize one of the many interesting cards closely once a week. And maybe by doing so for those who seek knowledge in their own way, we will let them acquire it :)

What card will be next?

Nissa's Pilgrimage

Nissa's Pilgrimage

  • What is Spell Mastery?
  • When is the graveyard checked for instants and sorceries?
  • May I just find one Forest to put into my hand with Nissa's Pilgrimage?
  • What ways are there to compare MTG cards?
  • How good is Nissa's Pilgrimage compared to other similar cards?
Banisher Priest Figure of Destiny Geralf's Messenger

How does Banisher Priest's ability work? What happens if the Priest is removed before her trigger resolves? May the Priest be cast when there are no creatures to target with its trigger? What happens to Auras enchanting the exiled creature? How does the Priest interact with blinking?

What color is the Figure of Destiny? Do I have to activate its abilities in printed order? What are those terrible layers you keep frightening me with? How does the Figure interact with other continuous effects? What happens when the Figure copies another creature? How about another creature copying the Figure?

How does Undying work? What if a creature has multiple instances of Undying? What about both Undying and Persist? Does Geralf's Messenger always enter the battlefield tapped? Speak of any interesting combos with Geralf's Messenger?

Rancor Strionic Resonator Essence of the Wild

When does Rancor return to the hand and when it does not? How does Rancor interact with Humility? What can Rancor enchant when you put it onto the battlefield through Show and Tell?

What abilities may not be copied with Strionic Resonator? What information is copied and what isn't? How are changes of targets performed when copying triggers? How is damage and counters divided? What happens if I copy Imprint, Evolve, Extort?

What are replacement effect, copying effects? In which order should I apply them? Describe various game situations involving Essence of the Wild.

AEther Vial Detention Sphere Adarkar Valkyrie

When can I use the AEther Vial's activated ability? May I pay additional costs when I put a creature onto the battlefield with a Vial? Can a creature put with a Vial be countered? What ways are there to accelerate the growth of charge counters? Is there a way to remove those counters? Will EtB-abilities trigger if a creature is put with a Vial?

Can a Detention Sphere exile Emrakul? How do I save my army of tokens with the same name? How do I exile something permanently with Sphere? How can I exile a permanent with Shroud / Hexproof / Protection? Why are lands exiled sometimes?

What exactly is “Snow”? May a token be targeted with Adarkar Valkyrie? What happens when two Valkyries target the same creature? How does Valkyrie's ability interact with Undying?

Show and Tel Force of Will Rest in Peace

How are choices made for effects like that of Show and Tell? Can an Aura be put onto the battlefield with Show and Tell enchanting something put by another player? Can a Planeswalker be put with Show and Tell?

What makes Force of Will so special and popular? May Force of Will be cast at its alternative cost when Flashbacking it with Snapcaster Mage? Does Chalice for zero counter it? Do you have to pay 3 mana when Trinisphere is around?

May Rest in Peace's 1st ability be countered? Is the 2nd ability put on the stack? What happens when Wheel of Sun and Moon is in play? Where does Disenchant go after having destroyed RIP? Where does RIP itself go? What happens with discard and Madness? Helm of Obedience + RIP=combo?

Duplicant Llanowar Elves Silverblade Paladin

What happens if there are no cards for Duplicant to imprint? What will Duplicant's size be if Tarmo is imprinted? What happens if the imprinted card stops being a creature?

What is the difference between mana and lands. How does work ability of Llanowar Elves?

How does Soulbond work? What creatures can be paired when the ability resolves? Is being paired an ability? How do I stop creatures being paired or prevent them from becoming paired? How does removing the Soulbond ability affect the game state?

Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth Dryad Arbor Gifts Ungiven

How does Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth interact with Blood Moon? How many Urborgs may I play in my constructed deck? Can I use Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth in my Akroma commander deck?

Why can I not get mana off Dryad Arbor the turn I play it? Can Dryad Arbor be countered? May I play Dryad Arbor on my opponent's turn if I control Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir?

How does Gifts Ungiven function? What is the difference between searching an open and a hidden zone? Why in some cases I have to find something, and in some I do not?

Ruinous Path Crumble to Dust Ancestral Vision

What happens if the spell loses one of its targets?

Will the land be awakened if the spell is countered?

How does Awaken interact with Flashback and Rebound?


Does Devoid have effect outside the Battlefield? Will a card gain a color if its Devoid ability gets removed? What Devoid cards may be used in Commander? Do permanents with Devoid interact with Devotion?

Suspend in detail.

Fleecemane Lion Dragonstorm Temporal Mastery

May a permanent be made Monstrous several times? Can Monstrosity be copied? Can a permanent be made non-Monstrous? What happens if +1/+1 counters are removed from a Monstrous permanent?

How does Storm work? When does the trigger go off? Which spells get counted towards Storm, and which do not? What is Dragonstorm and what it's for.

May a sorcery card with Miracle be cast during an opponent's turn? What is the mana cost of Bonfire of the Damned cast at Miracle cost? May a card revealed through Miracle be cast later that turn?

Narset Transcendent Boon Satyr Extirpate

Narset will let us recall the ability Rebound, which we first encountered in “Rise of the Eldrazi” set.

Boon Satyr will help us figure out Theros' most complicated mechanics — Bestow.

Can a spell with Split Second be countered? Can anything be added to the stack when a spell with Split Second is there?

Golgari Grave-Troll Lotus Cobra Past in Flames

Can dredge be countered? Can a player be hindered from dredging a card instead of drawing? How is dredge applied when an effect instructs to draw N cards? In what order do cards hit the graveyard while dredging? How does dredge combine with Sylvan Library? When does Narcomoeba hit the battlefield? Can it be removed from the graveyard in response to the trigger? How does Ichorid's trigger work?

How does Landfall work? What happens when multiple lands enter the battlefield under your control? May Lotus Cobra's ability be responded to? When do I make the choices for Lotus Cobra's and Retreat to Kazandu's abilities?

Past in Flames grants instant and sorcery cards Flashback. This article explains how that interacts with other alternative costs, peculiar mana symbols and other ways to pay the spell cost.

Kruphix, God of Horizons Flamerush Rider Tarmogoyf

How does Kruphix work? How does he interact with Omnath?

As a matter of fact, the short keyword Dash has a whole lot of three abilities hidden behind it!

Today we are going to scrutinize Tarmogoyf, and characteristic-defining abilities along with it.

Chord of Calling Gideon Jura Sidisi, Undead Vizier

How does Convoke work?

Gideon Jura has the latest card type – a planeswalker. And he can turn into a creature.

Sidisi, Undead Vizier released in Dragons of Tarkir will serve us an example for a brief yet contentful tale of Exploit.

Bridge from Below Whip of Erebos Bloodbraid Elf

How does Bridge from Below interact with Leyline of the Void? Which ability triggers if a creature taken under another player's control is put into the graveyard?

Can Whip of Erebos reanimate creatures with Protection from black? What happens to reanimated Obzedat, Ghost council at the end of turn?

Bloodbraid Elf is an excellent example to take a profound look at the Cascade ability, as well as at casting spells without paying their mana cost.

Treasure Cruise Birthing Pod Soulfire Grand Master

How does Delve work?

Let us talk about Birthing Pod and sacrifices.


How Lifelink works on spells

Batterskull Whisperwood Elemental Rattleclaw Mystic

How does the Lifelink ability function?

How does manifest work? What is the difference between manifest and morph?

How does the Morph ability function?

Blazing Torch Turn/Burn Fire/Ice

Blazing Torch will serve us a great example to analyze Equipments.

On what condition may both halves of a split card be cast? How does a fused spell behave on the stack? How do fused spells resolve?

Before we set to discuss this absolutely new unprecedented mechanics — Fuse, let us refresh our knowledge on the split cards by taking a close look at one of them.

Thassa, God of the Sea True-Name Nemesis Blood Moon

Thassa God of the Sea helps us to understand devotion mechanic and a keyword action named Scry.

That is Protection form player mean?

10 ways of dealing with True-Name Nemesis.

Blood Moon. It is surprising how a card with only four words in the rules text can be so confusing.

Angelic Overseer Fiend of the Shadows Olivia Voldaren

Angelic Overseer helps us thoroughly examine how Hexproof and Indestructible work.

I chose to dissect this card due to a number of reasons, or actually, words that we see in the text: exile, cast, sacrifice and regenerate.

To know more about control effects and the legend rule we will meet the magnificent vampire Olivia Voldaren

Flame-Wreathed Phoenix  Fabled Hero Spirit Mantle

In this article we will be looking at the the Tribute mechanic with help from our special guest — Flame-Wreathed Phoenix.

The Theros theme should be continued by looking at a card with a new keyword ability. Who else but Fabled Hero can tell us about Heroic?

We will learn everything about Auras and protection taking Spirit Mantle as an example.

Ajani's Chosen Kalonian Hydra Gift of Immortality

How does ability of Ajani's Chosen work? May I cast an aura without target in order to attach it to Cat token? What if an opponent controls Elesh Norn? When Ajani's Chosen's triggered ability will be considered missed?

Everybody agrees that Kalonian Hydra is broken in limited play. Some mages foresee it seeing some constructed play. Pro players have already started building their decks. Now it’s our turn to study Hydra-logy 101.

How does Gift of Immortality work? Why does the game track some objects between zones and ignore the other? How comes that some cards do not return? What happens if the card has changed status or characteristics?

Experiment One Stolen Identity Blind Obedience

Experiment One gives me a great opportunity to analyze the Evolve mechanic. As this keyword ability uses the “intervening ‘if’ clause” rule, let’s also talk about this kind of triggers.

How does Cipher works? ?an encode on a creature with shroud? What happens if the creature stops being a creature? Can you encode Stolen Identity on the newly created token?

Searching for “The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything”*: why more than one mana can’t be paid for Extort?

Trinisphere Hero of Bladehold Aurelia’s Fury

Everything you want to know about Trinisphere's effect: Morph, alternative cost, Replicate and Kiker.

Hero of Bladehold and his friends tokens tell us about difference between “being declared as an attacker” and “attacking”.


How to cast Aurelia's Fury properly? When are the targets and damage distribution for Aurelia's Fury chosen? Can the damage be redirected to a Planeswalker?

Melira, Sylvok Outcast Grizzly Bears Chains of Mephistopheles

Melira, Sylvok Outcast was suggested by readers.

When I have just started writing this column some of my mage friends laughed "what will you do when you go out of cards?" "I'll write about the Grizzlies" my answer was.

How does Chains of Mephistopheles work? That about two of them? Rules for the draw replacing effects.

Turn to Frog Emrakul, the Aeons Torn Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir

The interaction of continuous effects, Humility-effects and the layers system are illustrated by Turn to Frog. Say 'Ribbit!'

How to kill Emrakul, the Aeons Torn? That is the question.

Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir tells us about the Flash ability and what it means to be able to “cast spells only any time you could cast a sorcery”.

Phyrexian Metamorph Spellskite Dark Confidant

Phyrexian Metamorph deals with copiable values. Its ability doesn't target anything. Do you know how it works?

The tricky Spellskite's ability can change many targes, but sometimes it's completely useless. Do you want to know when?

Dark Confidant – the card with human face.


Primeval Titan Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle Fireball

Meet the Magnificent Five: Infernal Titan, Grave Titan, Primeval Titan, Sun Titan, Frost Titan. Today we will discuss EtB-triggers, Deathtouch and Trample.

If multiple mountains enter the battlefield at the same time, your Valakut's ability will trigger for each of them, assuming there are 6 or more Mountains under your control now.

Fireball divides damages itself and evenly. And it has different mana cost in different zones.

Shining Shoal Xathrid Gorgon Markov Blademaster

Reading Shining Shoal we can learn something new about alternative cost and redirection effects.


The effect of Xathrid Gorgon's ability does not depend on the presence or absence of the petrification counter on the object, on Xathrid Gorgon being on the battlefield or not, and on the current state of the permanent that used to be a creature.

You will have a chance to acquire or refresh your knowledge on every aspect of combat behavior of creature with first or double strike, and of all things that can happen during such combat.

Irina Samonova © 1999-2017

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