This was a combination rules clarification/playing hints post that I made to help people enjoy some of the weirder cards in the original (alpha/beta) Magic set.

The file timestamp is November 16th, 1993, 12:47 pm

Tricky Spells and How To Play Them

by Dave Howell

Most of the cards in Magic are pretty easy to use. Lightning Bolt, for instance, or any regular creature. Others take a bit of thought, but reveal their secrets without undue difficulty.

Then there are those cards that have tricked, tripped, confused, and confounded players since the first release. We’re going to take a much closer look at some of these strange cards to see exactly what they do and why.


The most common trick card is Twiddle, and its cousin the Icy Manipulator. They both allow you to tap any land, artifact, or creature in play, and Twiddle also allows an untap. What makes this card tricky is the rules’ failure to clearly spell out the nature of tapping. When a land card says ``Tap to produce mana,’’ everybody naturally assumes that twisting the card is what releases the mana. Unfortunately, that isn’t what we meant. A player frees mana into the mana pool, then turns the land card sideways to remind everybody that this card has had its mana drained this turn. What Twiddle does is let you change the position of a card without causing any effects at all. Draw mana from the Basalt Monolith, and instead of paying three mana to untap it later, you just change the orientation now. The Twiddle card lets you pull off a ``Look over there! A Lord of the Pit just lying on the carpet’’ (untap card while opponent isn’t looking) sort of maneuver; just change the position of the card, nothing more.

The only exception to this ``nobody saw me, you can’t prove a thing’’ approach is if there’s an enchantment on the card being twiddled that is set off when a card taps: specifically Psychic Venom and Wild Growth. If a land card gets tapped when these are on it, then the controller of the land will get bitten by the Venom or gifted by the Growth. Of course, if they didn’t want a point of green mana, well, tough.


The broad definition of creature can lead to some confusing but legal moves. Anything with a power and toughness is considered a creature, which is particularly curious when it comes to walls. Because the Wall of Stone is a creature, it can be terrorized, paralyzed, hit by pestilence, and given armor, to name but a few creature enchantments. One unusual feature of walls that has caused some befuddlement is that walls may not be used to attack, whether or not they have a power greater than 0. The Wall of Stone is a 0/8 creature: other creatures blocked by it are merely stopped. The Wall of Swords is a 3/5 wall: creatures coming in contact with this wall will take damage, and possibly be killed. It is still a wall, however. It’s illegal to throw bits of the Wall of Swords at your opponent.

Paralyzing a wall is a particularly clever move. Paralyze makes it difficult to untap a creature. Since walls are for defense only, and defenders are not tapped, this might seem to be a rather pointless enchantment. However, Paralyze also immediately taps a creature, rather like Twiddle does. Paralyzing a wall just before an attack means it cannot be used for defense, possibly allowing the killing blow of the game to get through.

Another wall, the Living Wall, has a number of features particularly useful for walls, and creatures in general. The key feature, shared with two other walls, is regeneration. For one point of mana, the wall can be saved from destruction. Being an artifact creature means it is susceptible to both artifact and creature spells, which can cause some confusion. Shatter is a spell that ``destroys an artifact.’’ Most artifacts can’t regenerate, but the Living Wall can. This allows regeneration from Shatter, Disenchant, and other artifact-destroying cards. While being an artifact might seem to be a liability, it is also an advantage, since it has no color, and is thus immune to color-based spells such as Wards, Blasts, and other effects. It also has what many consider to be the ookiest art in the deck, perhaps providing a subtle psychological advantage.

Jade Statue

Another card, the Jade Statue, is a victim of the difference between an artifact and a creature. Artifacts can be used the minute they come into play, but creatures and artifact creatures, suffer from ``summoning sickness,’’ and have to wait until they start your turn in play. The only card in the deck that says just ``Artifact’’ on it, the Jade Statue acts rather like an artifact creature, but isn’t one. With the expenditure of mana, the Statue will turn into a creature during a battle. At all other times, it’s just an artifact. This ambiguous nature is the root of most problems concerning the Statue. First of all, it can be a creature on the turn it comes into play, as long as the mana cost is met. The statement ``can be a creature only during an attack or defense’’ really means either attack or defense. It can’t be a creature during both, since making it a creature during the attack phase taps it.

It’s very difficult to put creature enchantments on this object, since you can’t cast enchantments during a battle, and that’s the only time the Statue is a creature. If, somehow, (yes, there is a way), Holy Strength is cast on the artifact, then it sits there, totally useless except when the artifact is brought to life. The Animate Artifact spell can be cast on this, since it is a ``non-creature artifact,’’ and this would make it a 4/4 creature full time, until the enchantment is broken.

Illusionary Mask

My vote for the most mysterious card of all would be Illusionary Mask. This card, for those of you who haven’t met it, allows a player to bring a creature into play face down, and lets the player spend extra mana if they want to disguise the casting cost. As soon as the creature gives or receives damage, or is tapped, then it must turn face up.

What if you have an Iron Star, Throne of Bone, Ivory Cup, Crystal Rod, or Wooden Sphere? There are ways to penetrate the mask before the creature is revealed, and these cards are one such way. The Iron Star allows a player to gain one life point if a red spell is cast, for the cost of one mana point. The other cards do the same for other colors of spells. How do you know if it’s a legal fast effect if you can’t see the color of the spell?

The answer lies in the mana used to summon the creature. If red mana was used in the summoning, then it could be a red spell. This makes it a legal target for using the Iron Star. Once the star is powered, then your opponent tells you whether or not you get the point. If you don’t, then the creature isn’t red. This information might well be worth spending a point of mana to find out.

All right, but that’s not enough, you want to stop the spell. You can’t use Spell Blast on the mask, because it’s a fast effect from an artifact, but you can Spell Blast the summoning. You know the cost of the creature is equal to or less than the amount of mana spent. Go ahead and guess. Your opponent will tell you, once you’ve cast the spell, whether or not it was enough to actually counter the summoning. Look on the bright side. If the spell fails, you know for sure that the creature is bigger than you thought.

Power Sink is better. They’ve spent some mana on the summoning, and some on the mask. Power Sink means they’ll have to spend more on the summoning, and it’s too late to decide to use less with the Mask to make up for the extra drain. The last general anti-spell spell, Counterspell, just works.

Then there are those color-specific anti-spell cards. Blue Elemental Blast and Deathgrip are two. You can cast the spell or fast effect, and find out if it worked. If your opponent smugly informs you that the creature is still here, you know it isn’t blue after all.

The bad news for users of the Illusionary Mask is, if you cast Clockwork Beast or Rock Hydra or a similar card, you’ll have to put the counters on it, which sort of gives the surprise away. Sometimes it takes more than a Mask to hide an identity.

Chaos Orb

Now for an easy one: the infamous Chaos Orb. This card works like a Shatter, Stone Rain, Disenchant, and Terror all rolled into one. You drop the card from a height of a foot, and any card it’s touching when it stops moving is discarded. It has to rotate 360 degrees, and your opponent isn’t allowed to physically interfere with the spell. This means your opponent can’t blow on it when you play it, and they can’t move their cards around once the Orb is in play. Of course, if your adversary knows you have the card in your deck they’re probably spreading their cards all over the room to reduces the possible devastation.

With most people, there’s no big worry when the Orb comes in play, because few people can drop it with any accuracy at all. It’s always a great joke when the card lands on the wrong side of the table, and the Orb takes out some of its owner’s cards. For people who can use the Orb effectively, you’ll need a Shatter or the like to stop it.

Because of the nature of artifacts, there’s a way to surprise people with the Orb, by putting it into play with two points of mana, and spending a third immediately to drop it. The easy countermeasure, if somebody tries this on you, is to point out that, officially, the spell that brings the artifact into play must be complete before it can be used, and you get a chance to respond with fast effects first. Hopefully there’s a Shatter or Disenchant waiting in your hand.

Many people have a pretty strong dislike for this card. It is the only card in the deck that pulls a physical component into game play. Instead of the world of your hand, the cards, and how they interact, you’re now worrying about where you’re playing, how much room you have, whether or not you’re any good at flipping cards, and so on. This change of context drives some people crazy, and amuses others no end.


Kudzu’s also an easy one. People just don’t want to believe that when it says ``another land of his or her choice,’’ it could be any land in play. Kudzu will usually cross back and forth between opponents. Just vile, insidious stuff. Kudzu probably wouldn’t be so confusing, except that card wording is often very subtle, and sometimes wrong. There are a handful of cards that refer to players taking damage or whatnot on ``each turn,’’ which would literally mean everybody takes the damage on each player’s turn. Most people correctly interpret the cards to mean each player on their turn takes the damage. This same effect is why Kudzu is often misinterpreted.


Lich is another spell that’s clear as written, but it’s strange enough that many people think there’s been a mistake somewhere. Lich is a good spell (in principle), you play it on yourself, in your own territory. It’s against the rules to play an ``Enchantment’’ in someone else’s territory, so you can’t kill an opponent by playing it on them and then disenchanting it. If you’re low on points, the Lich can buy you a lot of time to win; in effect, it gives you a life point for every card you have in play.

Drain Life

By the way, if you use Drain Life to make your life points go up and your opponent’s go down, then your opponent uses a Simulacrum or something else well after the fact to retroactively fix the damage, you still get to keep the points you stole, even if in retrospect it shouldn’t have worked. If they have a fast effect that stops the damage right away, well, that does interfere with Drain Life.

In Conclusion

That’s most of the biggies. There are other problem cards, but usually the problem can be resolved by a careful reading of the rules. With a magnifying glass. By a lawyer. However, if you’re wondering why the semi-official name of the Prodigal Sorcerer is ``Tim,’’ well, the answer to this question is left as an exercise to the reader.