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Judge Articles: Casting a Spell

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Judge Articles: Casting a Spell Empty Judge Articles: Casting a Spell

Message  Reinout le Mar 26 Aoû - 14:34

In today's article I will discuss the steps needed to cast a spell, and what weird interactions can come up.
Casting a spell sure is more complicated than just tapping some lands and slamming your card on the table, although this seems to work 99% of the time.


First of all, we should discuss what we actually mean by casting a spell. Back in the days it was worded as 'playing' a card or spell, but nowadays cards say 'cast'.
Obviously, there is a rule entry for this:

  • 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.

So, the main difference between casting and playing is that casting only refers to spells (anything that is not a land), while playing combines lands and spells.

In recent sets the card that may confuse players is Daxos of Meletis, who says "cast", while Nightveil Specter says "plays".
With Daxos you could not "play" a revealed land, while you can do it with specter (given you have not played a land before).


Casting a spell or activating an ability is done by following a series of steps. Let's look at the steps in detail:

  • The player announces that he or she is casting the spell. That card (or that copy of a card) moves 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.

So, you announce your spell, move it from whatever zone you are casting it from (most of the time this will be your hand) and it becomes the top object on the stack.

  •  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 a cost that will be paid as the spell is being cast includes hybrid mana symbols, the player announces the nonhybrid 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.

This is a long one. The short story is that you announce how you will pay for the spell and any option the spell provides you.
Modal cards are cards that have the the words 'choose X', such as Cryptic Command.
If a card has several alternative costs, such as a flashback cost, or cards like Force of Will, you must choose one.
This is why you cannot cast force of will 'the cheap way' using Snapcaster Mage from your graveyard.

  • 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. 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.)

So, you need to choose your targets when you cast the spell, not when it resolves. It seems obvious, but players are not always clear about the targets.
For example, Albert playing reanimator plays Thoughtseize without announcing the target player. His opponent casts Brainstorm in response to protect his hand. When thoughtseize resolves Albert smugly says he is targetting himself and a judge is called. Depending on the story both players give Albert might be DQ'ed for cheating, the brainstorm might be rolled back or the game state is left as it is.

The amount of targets you need to choose depend on how many times the word target appears on your card. For example the card Smash requires a single artifact as target.
The card Rack and Ruin has one instance of the word target, and requires two artifacts. Thus, two different artifacts must be chosen.
Consign to Dust allows you to destroy an arbitrary amount of targets, which all must be different.
Decimate requires 4 targets, but you can select the same target twice (for example an artifact land).

  •  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.

When you divide damage (or more general an effect) you must select how the damage is divided when you cast the spell, and every target must receive at least one damage.
Flames of the Firebrand lets you divide three damage amongst 1, 2 or 3 targets. If you choose 3 targets each target must get at least 1 damage. Thus, you can choose your opponent's Phantasmal Bear, Phantasmal Dragon and his face as the three targets and put all the 3 damage on him.

Note that Fireball is a weird card, as it specifies how the damage will be divided when the spell resolves. If you cast fireball targetting Phantasmal bear and another creature, the other creature will receive all the damage as the bear is sacrificed.

  • 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. The total cost is the mana cost or alternative cost, plus all additional costs and cost increases, and minus all cost reductions. 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}. Once the total cost is determined, any effects that directly affect the total cost are applied. Then the resulting total cost becomes “locked in.” If effects would change the total cost after this time, they have no effect.

You have now selected all the different options of your spell, and you compute the total costs you need to pay.
This includes cost reductions and increases, such as Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.
This cost will be used for the remainder of the casting process.

  • If the total cost includes a mana payment, the player then has a chance to activate mana abilities (see rule 605, “Mana Abilities”). Mana abilities must be activated before costs are paid.
  • The player pays the total cost in any order. Partial payments are not allowed. Unpayable costs can’t be paid.

Now you get the opportunity to active mana abilities, such as tapping lands or your Llanowar Elves.
After activating your mana abilities you pay all the costs (determined in the previous step) in any order. Unpayable costs cannot be paid (and thus your spell cannot be cast).

So, that last sentence seems pretty obvious, but I'll still give an example. A Angel of Jubilation is in play and I want to cast Force of Will using the alternative cost of exiling a card and paying a life. This rule will prevent me from doing that.

Activating mana abilities before paying the costs is also important. It means that you cannot first tap your Wild Cantor for the convoke of Chord of Calling, and then sacrifice it for mana. Instead, you must first sacrifice it when you activate your mana ability, and then it no longer is around to be tapped. On the other hand, you can add the 5th minus 1 counter on Wall of Roots when casting Natural Order, and then sacrifice Wall of Roots as the additional cost. The reason being that state-based actions are not checked during the process of casting a spell (remember my previous article? Smile ).

Another example would be flashing back Cabal Therapy when Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is in play. The costs of casting a spell are determined before you sacrifice Thalia, meaning you do have to pay one extra mana for your cabal therapy.

  • Once the steps described in 601.2a–g are completed, 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.

So, you finally cast your spell, and now anything that might have triggered from that is put on the stack.
The player casting the spell receives priority when he had priority (although tournament shortcuts state that you must explicitely hold priority, if not your opponent will get it, which is the behaviour you want 99% of the time).

That concludes today's topic. Casting a spell takes a lot more effort than we think. Luckily we don't notice it when playing the game, except when it really matters. Next time I'll try to cover layers, which are a different beast altogether.


Nombre de messages : 242
Date d'inscription : 13/08/2012

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