by Charlotte Sable

ManaDeprived's favourite judge is back, and this week she's taking you through the exciting world of state-based actions! She also answers all your pressing questions, so take a peek, you might learn something.

Hi everyone!

This week, I'm doing something a bit different with the column. A lot of the questions I've been getting this week show me that the average player out there doesn't really understand state-based actions. So today, we'll be looking at state-based actions in depth, and then answering all those questions about them burning up my inbox.

Remember, you can always send all your burning inquiries and comments to, and I'll do my best to answer them in a future column.


"What are state-based actions, anyway?"

For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, state-based actions (or SBAs) are the game's janitors, keeping the game-state relatively tidy by making sure things happen when they should, like players losing the game, permanents going to the graveyard, etc.

"So how do state-based actions work?"

Immediately before any player would receive priority, each state-based action (and there are twenty of them!) looks for a specific situation in the game-state, then all appropriate SBAs are applied simultaneously, then the check is repeated until no more SBAs are applied, then any triggers that triggered from any of the SBAs are put on the stack, then SBAs are checked again. Once no more SBAs occur and no more triggers need to be put on the stack, the appropriate player will receive priority. Usually only one or two checks are needed, but there can be some complicated game-states that need a few sweeps to clear up fully. So, this all means that state-based actions are checked whenever a spell or ability is put on the stack, a spell or ability resolves, or most steps and phases begin. State-based actions are not checked during the resolution of a spell or ability, though, only afterward.

Here's a quick example of that last point: Let's say you control Maro and you cast Wheel of Fortune. During the resolution of Wheel of Fortune, Maro will have a toughness of 0 for a short amount of time, but by the time the Wheel has finished spinning, Maro is a robust 7/7 and thus the 0-toughness SBA doesn't even bat an eyelash at it.

"This is boring! Get to the questions!"

All in due time, my patient readers. There are questions at the end of the article if you want to skip down, but you'll understand things a bit better if you read through the rest of the explanation of the various SBAs.

There are twenty of these bloody things?

So now we get to the actual meat of the matter. Here's a list of all 20 SBAs grouped into convenient categories. Where the actual wording from the Comprehensive Rules (CR) is a bit obtuse, I've done my best to translate into more understandable English. The full list can be found in the CR under rule 704.5.

"I'm a loser, baby."or How to Lose the Game:

  • If a player has 0 or less life, he or she loses the game.

  • If a player attempted to draw a card from an empty library since the last time state-based actions were checked, he or she loses the game.

  • If a player has ten or more poison counters, he or she loses the game.

  • In a Two-Headed Giant game, if a team has 0 or less life, that team loses the game.

  • In an EDH game, a player that’s been dealt 21 or more combat damage by the same general over the course of the game loses the game.

"So why don't you kill me?"or How Creatures and Planeswalkers Die:

  • If a creature has toughness 0 or less, it’s put into its owner’s graveyard. Regeneration can’t replace this event.

  • If a creature has toughness greater than 0, and the total damage marked on it is greater than or equal to its toughness, that creature has been dealt lethal damage and is destroyed.

  • If a creature has toughness greater than 0, and it’s been dealt damage by a source with deathtouch since the last time state-based actions were checked, that creature is destroyed.

  • If a planeswalker has loyalty 0, it’s put into its owner’s graveyard.

"There can be only one!"or Enforced Uniqueness:

  • If two or more planeswalkers that share a planeswalker type are on the battlefield, all are put into their owners’ graveyards. This is called the “planeswalker uniqueness rule.”

  • If two or more legendary permanents with the same name are on the battlefield, all are put into their owners’ graveyards. This is called the “legend rule”. If only one of those permanents is legendary, this rule doesn’t apply.

  • If two or more permanents have the supertype world, all except the one that has been a permanent with the world supertype on the battlefield for the shortest amount of time are put into their owners’ graveyards. In the event of a tie for the shortest amount of time, all are put into their owners’ graveyards. This is called the “world rule”.

"Time to take out some trash."or Cleaning Up the Board:

  • If a token is phased out, or is in a zone other than the battlefield, it ceases to exist.

  • If a copy of a spell is in a zone other than the stack, it ceases to exist. If a copy of a card is in any zone other than the stack or the battlefield, it ceases to exist.

  • If an Aura is attached to an illegal object or player, or is not attached to an object or player, that Aura is put into its owner’s graveyard.

  • If an Equipment or Fortification is attached to an illegal permanent, it becomes unattached from that permanent.

  • If a creature is attached to an object or player, it becomes unattached and remains on the battlefield. Similarly, if a permanent that’s neither an Aura, an Equipment, nor a Fortification is attached to an object or player, it becomes unattached and remains on the battlefield.

  • If a permanent has both a +1/+1 counter and a -1/-1 counter on it, N +1/+1 and N -1/-1 counters are removed from it, where N is the smaller of the number of +1/+1 and -1/-1 counters on it.

  • If a permanent with an ability that says it can’t have more than N counters of a certain kind on it has more than N counters of that kind on it, all but N of those counters are removed from it.

  • In an Archenemy game, if a non-ongoing scheme card is face up in the command zone, and it isn’t the source of a triggered ability that has triggered but not yet left the stack, that scheme card is turned face down and put on the bottom of its owner’s scheme deck.

So, a couple of quick notes before we move on to some scenarios to examine SBAs in action:

Losing to drawing from an empty library and a creature dying due to deathtouch are the only two SBAs that look back in time. All the rest only look at the current game-state.

The legend rule and the planeswalker uniqueness rule aren't the same thing, though they function pretty much the same way. I'm sure most of you already know that Jace Beleren will wipe out himself and Jace, the Mind Sculptor, whereas Rhys the Exiled won't wipe out himself and Rhys the Redeemed.

Only +1/+1 and -1/-1 counters nullify one another. Other types of opposite counters will just stay put. (e.g. a +0/+1 counter from Scars of the Veteran and a -0/-1 counter from Lesser Werewolf will happily coexist on the same creature.)

Rasputin Dreamweaver must be one awesome dude if he's cool enough to get his own state-based action… but then again, Boney M did write that song about him… hmmm…

Turning Ignorance to Slag

Now that we're done with the list, we can move on to applying state-based actions to actual game situations. – A shocking concept, I know – So, let's start with the card I've been getting the most questions about: Turn to Slag.


Yes, this innocent little burn spell is more confusing than it looks. But knowing what we know now about SBAs, let's walk through what it does, step by step:

"Turn to Slag deals 5 damage to target creature." – Right, so the creature now has five damage marked on it, but SBAs won't check to see if it's been dealt lethal damage until after the spell is done resolving. "Destroy all Equipment attached to that creature." – OK. So the equipment is destroyed immediately and put into its owner's graveyard. Then Turn to Slag goes to its owner's graveyard as the last step of its resolution. After the spell is finished resolving, we apply state-based actions, which will kill the targeted creature if the 5 damage was lethal. Then we check to see if anything triggers off of either the equipment being destroyed or the creature's death. (When multiple triggered abilities with the same controller are put on the stack at the same time, their controller adds them to the stack in any order he or she chooses.) But remember, the attached equipment is already in the graveyard and won't see the creature go there. From there, just keep checking SBAs and triggers until there aren't anymore and proceed as normal.

Hmm, maybe this is all still a little obtuse, so let's make a more concrete example:

Canyon Minotaur is equipped with Sylvok Lifestaff, and your opponent hits it with Turn to Slag. What happens?

Well, we go through the process: We deal 5 damage to the Minotaur and then destroy the Lifestaff. After the spell resolves, SBAs sweep the roast beef into the graveyard, but the Lifestaff is already melted down at this point, and thus isn't around to trigger.

What if we replace the Lifestaff with Nim Deathmantle?

Again, we go through the process: Five damage is marked on the Nim-otaur, and then the Deathmantle hits the bin. Once we apply state-based actions, the Minotaur is destroyed, but again, the Deathmantle doesn't see it die, so there's no trigger here.

One last scenario before we leave this sorcery to its business of making slag: Wurmcoil Engine is equipped with Barbed Battlegear, then hit with a Turn to Slag. What happens?

Well, the 10/5 Wurm gets marked with 5 damage, then the Battlegear is slagged. When we go to check SBAs, the lethal damage SBA sees a 6/6 Wurmcoil with 5 damage marked on it and ignores it, looking for actually dead creatures to prey upon.

And Now: Questions!

I told you we'd get to questions eventually! 🙂

Remember, you can send any questions you have to, and I'll do my best to give you some solid answers.

Ed B. asks:

"If I have an Ob Nixilis, the Fallen in play, then cast Genesis Wave for 7, revealing 3 lands and another Ob Nixilis. If I put the second copy into play along with the three land, what happens?"

Ob Nixilis is one bad mutha who has mostly been forgotten about, which is quite a shame. I'm sure he misses the hype he was getting when Zendikar first came out… At any rate, what happens here is that each Ob sees three lands enter the battlefield under your control, and thus triggers three times, but those triggers need to wait to be put on the stack. Next, we apply state-based actions, which wipes away both Obs with the legend rule, then we'll deal with the triggers by choosing a target player for each trigger (likely your opponent) and putting those triggers on the stack. These triggers still go on the stack even though the Obs are dead, since they triggered when the lands entered the battlefield, at which point both Nixilises (Nixilii?) were alive and well. The triggers will do as much as they can when they finally resolve, which is letting you choose to have the target player lose 3 life for each one. The demons aren't around to pick up their +1/+1 counters, but the opponent will still be out 18 life, which seems like a fine outcome nonetheless.

Ed B. also asks:

"I have Mox Opal in play along with one other artifact. If I play another one, can I tap them both for mana before the legend rule takes effect?"

Unfortunately not. Once the second pretty, pretty Opal hits the battlefield, state-based actions are checked, and both Opals are annihilated before you have priority, and thus a chance to activate their mana abilities. The only time you can activate a mana ability without priority is when you're casting a spell or activating an ability with a cost that requires a mana payment. Thanks for the great questions, Ed!

John D. asks:

"If I control a Tunnel Ignus and my opponent, who hasn't had a land enter the battlefield this turn, attacks me with a Primeval Titan, does the Tunnel Ignus trigger once or twice?"

When it's not busy making double-entendres about its name, the Tunnel Ignus is a crafty fellow, keeping a close eye on the board and gaming the rules to his advantage. Since the two lands (if the opponent fetches two) are entering the battlefield simultaneously, each one satisfies the "has another land entered under that player's control this turn?"question that the Ignus asks about the other land. Since the answer is a solid yes, the Ignus zaps your opponent twice before wandering off to make more lewd comments to the few female players in the tournament.

Stelios K. asks:

"Albert controls a Clone Shell with a card imprinted on it face-down. Can he look at it? If Nella takes the Shell with a Volition Reins, can she look at it? If the stolen Shell died, who (if anyone) can get the creature?"

Nowhere on Clone Shell does it say that anyone can look at the card that's imprinted on it, so once Albert makes his choice, he better have a good memory because that's the last time he'll get to look at that card until the Shell dies. So, Albert can't look at it, and Nella can't look at it before or after she steals it with Volition Reins. It doesn't say you can look at the card, so you can't. No peeking! If the Shell dies while under Nella's control, then she will control the death trigger, and thus will be the one to turn the exiled card face up and put it onto the battlefield, if it's a creature.

Jesse O. asks:

"If I control Future Sight and Jhoira of the Ghitu, can I use Jhoira's ability to suspend the top card of my library?"

Alas, no. If you look at the Oracle wording of Future Sight (which is the printed wording on [Magus of the Future]), you'll see that the "as though it were in your hand"part of the text is now gone. This isn't a functional change at all, but was done to prevent exactly this kind of confusion. The top card of your library is not in your hand, so you can't use Jhoira's ability on it anyway. You can only use Jhoira on non-land cards that are actually in your hand.

* * *

So that's it for this week. I've been fighting off a really nasty cold this past week, so if I come off as a bit less witty, that's why.

I was saddened to see that WotC is ending Magic Player Rewards, but hopefully they'll channel those resources to something even more awesome, like they promised. We'll have to wait and see, I guess.

Good luck to everyone who's playing or judging at Grand Prix: Nashville this coming weekend. I wish I could be there with you all.

Send all your questions about rules, policy, tournament procedure, or whatever to I can't make this column without your input, so keep those questions coming!