Pattern Recognition #179 - Copy Protection

Features Opinion Pattern Recognition


14 January 2021


Hello everyone! This is Pattern Recognition, TappedOut.Net's longest running article series as written by myself, berryjon. I am something of an Old Fogey who has been around the block quite a few times where Magic is concerned, as as such, I use this series to talk about the various aspects of this game, be it deck design, card construction, mechanics chat, in-universe characters and history. Or whatever happens to cross my mind this week. Please, feel free to dissent in the comments below the article, add suggestions or just plain correct me! I am a Smart Ass , so I can take it.

This article started out as a thing about the Storm mechanic, but as I realized that I had already written one over two years ago, I decided that there was no need to copy myself so quickly - despite doing so on other subjects with quicker turnarounds. No, I decided that thanks to my word choice, I would pick up a slightly different subject for this week.

Today, I'm going to talk about Copy Spells.

The ability to copy a spell on the stack, or even a permanent on the battlefield has been baked into the game since Limited Edition Alpha. Fork was the classic powerhouse, while brought to the table Copy Artifact , Clone and Vesuvan Doppelganger . And this sort of thing has shown up in practically every set since then. In fact, it is so ubiquitous that copying a creature is sometimes simply called Cloning a creature thanks to and how they went in on the mechanic since day one.

Now, this isn't to say that only these two colours can do it. No, everyone has dipped into it at one point or another. Blue can and has copied pretty much everything - including Planeswalkers with Spark Double and Jace, Cunning Castaway and Jace, Mirror Mage . I don't think they've copied lands, but when you have Thespian's Stage to do that work, I think it's safely covered.

can copy instants and sorceries, and I'll be covering what that entails in more detail later.

looks at their creatures for a source of copies. One of my favorite things that does this is Nacatl War-Pride , a creature that makes copies of itself when it attacks. Or Permeating Mass , a hilarious card if it goes off.

isn't big on making copies, but when it does, it tends to focus on token creatures, such as with the number of Populate cards that they have, from the basic Wake the Reflections , to Song of the Worldsoul , a card that makes you Populate just by casting a spell, making token copies of other token creatures. So when you cast Call the Cavalry , you Populate, then you get your Knights.

I'm looking at this, and I don't see why I'm being told that likes to copy token creatures. Rather, I think that's because it's tied to other mechanics, like Storm, Embalm, Eternalize, Myriad or Encore rather than through anything they actually care to do, which is to say that White makes lots of copies already when they mass produce tokens, but they don't go out of their way to copy pre-existing things.

A previous version of this article had me talk about Proliferate instead of Populate, and for that, I apologize. I got my wires crossed and just wrote it out.

And ? Doesn't really care outside of preexisting mechanics.

When you create a copy of something, there are two different ways to go about it. You either Copy a Spell - often an Instant or Sorcery - as per Fork , or you can copy a permanent as per Copy Artifact or Clone .

Whenever you Copy a non-permanent, there are a few things that are looked at and not looked at when the copy is created on the stack. Let's start with something basic like me casting a Lightning Bolt , and I want to copy it with Fork .

In this case, I cast Lightning Bolt with all legal targeting and payments. That poor Llanowar Elves has no idea what's about to happen to it. Now, while Lightning Bolt is on the stack, before it resolves, I cast Fork targeting Lightning Bolt . Now, when Fork resolves, it creates a duplicate Lightning Bolt on the Stack. This is a ... let's call it virtual copy of the spell in question. There's no physical card to represent the spell itself, but the effect of the spell is still on the stack. This Lightning Bolt is considered to be its own independent entity, and has its own target (which could be the same Llanowar Elves as before, but in this case, let's share some love with that Birds of Paradise over there. Thus, thanks to Fork , I now have a Lightning Bolt on the stack that was cast from my hand and aimed at one target, while there is a second Lightning Bolt , a copy created by Fork and aimed at a different target.

There are two spells on the stack, and they resolve and are interacted with independently of each other. Counterspell could only hit one of them and not both, and WHY YES, it is completely legal to cast Lightning Bolt , having Counterspell cast against it, then Fork your Lightning Bolt to do it again, or for more hilarious technical points, Fork your opponent's Counterspell and use that copy against the original.

It's legal.

Of course, things aren't always that cut and dried. When you copy a spell, it can have variables, and those variables are fixed to the choices made with the original casting, save for those copies that specifically allow for an alternate target. So let's say, you cast Cryptic Command and choose to Draw a Card and Tap all my Creatures. Fair enough and I Counterspell it. You respond by casting Expansion / Explosion on Cryptic Command . You cannot have the copy of Cryptic Command counter my Counterspell as it's copying a spell whose modes have already been chosen, and thus those choices are the same. He still gets his card draw, and my creatures are still tapped thanks to the copy, but now it's not a case of "I cast and Copy Cryptic Command to Draw 2 cards, counter a spell and tap all your stuff!".

In addition, copies of spells on the stack have the variables fixed in and cannot be change. So if I were to cast Torment of Hailfire for... , then a copy would also have equal , despite not paying for the variable.

On the flip side, additional casting costs, such as life payment, or other resource usage aren't copied as the copy is created on the stack and not cast. So a copy of Murderous Rider would still deal two damage to you, but a copy of Toxic Deluge would have set on the initial casting due to the life paid into it while a copy would still have the set value but no life payment required.

Moving on, copying Permanents is both easier and harder to deal with. The first problem is that while likes to make Token Copies of a creature, like with Dual Nature to use as my example here, likes to do something different and have something come into play as a copy of something else, and so I'll have to cover them both.

When you make a token copy of a creature through Rite of Replication , Quasiduplicate , or Fated Infatuation or... Parallel Evolution . Look, what I'm saying is, is really good at this stuff, more than for the most part. Anyway, when a creature is copied, the card itself is physically copied, with nothing else about it. So, a copy of Carnage Tyrant would be a second Carnage Tyrant , and thus, extra trouble for your opponents.

You don't copy any enchantments or equipment attached to the creature and you don't copy any temporary modifiers that have been applied to it as well. So if that same Carnage Tyrant had a +1/+1 counter on it, and was under the effects of a Giant Growth , then the copy would just be a default 7/6, and not a 7/6 with a +1/+1 counter and a temporary +3/+3 for a total of being an 11/10.

By the Rules, a Copy of a permanent is that permanent in all cases except as specified by the card doing the copying. This shouldn't matter much, except for a couple of things. First, when you create a copy token, it does enter the battlefield, triggering Enters the Battlefield effects of all sorts and stripes that I don't have to enumerate here. Second, The Legendary Rule still applies unless you're talking specific cards that disregard the Legendary Rule.

So yes, I have copied my own Commander in a Commander game just to get my Commander out from under a lockdown effect. There is nothing in the Legendary rules that state that when the Legends get checked for duplication that it has to be a physical card that is retained, just that all but one get sacrificed. So why not sacrifice the locked down card, return it to my Command zone and keep a copy of my Commander in play?

Now, because you're also copying a permanent and not a spell, and because you are just copying the card and not the variables that come with it, you can wind up doing more harm to yourself than good. Let's say I Quasiduplicate an Arcbound Ravager . The copy has the Modular 1 ability on it, which means that it enters with a +1/+1 counter on it, no problems.

Let's say, however, that I get a little big for my britches and I kick a Rite of Replication on a Walking Ballista that has six +1/+1 counters on it. Like a chump. These copies of the Walking Ballista all enter the battlefield, then go "Oh, no mana was spent to cast me, as I am just a copy, thus, the value of to check for the number of +1/+1 counters I need to come into play with is Zero! Now, I am in play, my toughness is zero, and I am now dead. BLARGH."

Not that that has ever happened to me or anyone I've ever played with or against. No-siree. Not at all.

Now, so far, I've just talked about creating copies of creatures, but the same logic works for anything, and a reading of Jace, Mirror Mage or Jace, Cunning Castaway can show you how creating token copies of Planeswalkers work, including the explicit caveat that these tokens are not Legendary so they don't run afoul of the Legendary Rule. You can copy an artifact, or an enchantment or a Land, and it all works on the same rules.

On the other hand, there is the variation with cards like Clone that don't create a discrete copy of something, but rather, they exist in the place where they enter as a copy of the target. This is different from simply creating a copy, as there is a physical card being cast. Ah... let me demonstrate. I still have my Carnage Tyrant in play, and I have Clone in hand. I cast Clone for the cost of and on the stack, it looks like Clone for all intents and purposes. When it enters the battlefield though, it becomes the creature that is being Clone d, and for all intents and purposes, is that creature when it enters the battlefield. So while that's nothing special for my brand new Carnage Tyrant that only cost me , this can matter, if say, the creature that I have made a copy of was... (random Gatherer search here)

Thassa's Devourer ! OK, so not only does this creature cause the Mill 2 effect for coming into play in of itself as it enters as Thassa's Devourer , but the original also sees another Enchantment coming into play for another Mill 2. Double the Mill, double the fun!

Copying things is one of those aspects of the game that don't seem important, but it's an effect that has a lot of space to work with. Not only can you copy many things, but you can change the conditions of the copies as well to some effect or another. A card like Narset's Reversal can create a copy of a spell, then return the original to your hand in order to preserve the spell from a counter or to have it cast again at a later time. A Clever Impersonator that copied Jace's Sanctum has won me games thanks to the additional Scry effect, not to mention just how cheap spells could get.

Copies allow you to get around the 4-per limit of the game, just as when they were made for Limited Alpha, they were printed in a time when people didn't open boxes at a time, but rather occasional packs and so a copy effect could turn that one card you have into two. That's not the way of the game anymore, so copies are more tactical in nature, not surprise bombs. Oh, they can be that too, don't get me wrong. Copies are still "But that effect? For so cheap!", and that's something that you and your opponents have to watch out for. Especially with at the table to do most of the copy work.

Just remember, it wasn't because he copied spells that caused Lutri, the Spellchaser to eat the most proactive banning in the history of Magic, it was because at the time of release, he was a free Copying spell that you could cast at any time from the Command Zone in any deck that ran . And that amount of viability is what killed it. Even now, with the changes to Companion, pulling him into your hand is essentially announcing that you have a spell you want copied ready to fire, and so he's still banned in Singleton formats.

Copies show up in pretty much every set, usually at around the Rare level. Not because they're powerful, but outside of dedicated mechanics that create copies, it's something that can cause plenty of headaches for players who miss an interaction or two.

I like the effect, and I know we'll see more of it in the days to come. It's one of those spinning wheels that Wizards has to balance to keep the game from going too off-kilter, and for the most part, they've done a good job of it, and they can keep the surprises coming as to what copies what and how.

Join me next week when I talk about something. What, I don't know yet.

Until then please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!

This article is a follow-up to Pattern Recognition #178 - Sing to Rest, Chose the Slain The next article in this series is Pattern Recognition #180 - Saga

Flooremoji says... #1

were you meaning to talk about populate back in the beggining of the article? Reffering to

isn't big on making copies, but when it does, it tends to focus on token creatures, such as with the large number of Proliferate cards in that colour... wait, there's only three? And they're all from War of the Spark? Yeesh. Although that's just mono-. If we go to multi-coloured, we get ... Five?

January 14, 2021 4:52 p.m.

berryjon says... #2

Changed to wrong section to:


January 14, 2021 7:46 p.m.

JANKYARD_DOG says... #3

And either skipped an article or mislabeled this one. What happened to Issue #179? XD

January 14, 2021 10:59 p.m.

berryjon says... #4


January 14, 2021 11:20 p.m.

plakjekaas says... #5

The legend rule doesn't make you sacrifice. You choose which one you keep, the other one stops living and moves to the graveyard. It triggers "whenever a creature dies" effects like Blood Artist, but not "whenever a player sacrifices a permanent" effects like Mayhem Devil.

January 21, 2021 9:07 a.m.

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