Magic Ruling: The Secrets of Ascending
Let’s discuss the Ascend mechanic and the City’s Blessing designation before we get to play with them at this weekend’s Rivals of Ixalan Prerelease Events!
At the start of your first Main Phase, you control four Plains and five 1/1 Vampire tokens with lifelink (nine permanents). In your hand: Expel from Orazca as well as an Island.
Your opponent controls Fanatical Firebrand, and has no cards in their hand.
Regardless of the fact that you appear to be well ahead in this game, you REALLY want the City’s Blessing this turn.
Is there a way to get it, or does your opponent have a way to prevent it?
Interestingly, this ruling is entirely dependent on your opponent. There are two possible scenarios.
First, let’s take a quick look at what Ascend means, particularly on an Instant or Sorcery spell. From the Rivals of Ixalan Release Notes:
- 702.130a Ascend on an instant or sorcery spell represents a spell ability. It means “If you control ten or more permanents and you don’t have the city’s blessing, you get the city’s blessing for the rest of the game.”
So, if you can pull off resolving Expel from Orazca while you have 10 or more permanents in play, you’ll get the City’s Blessing.
Scenario #1: Your opponent plays unwisely. There is a way for you to acquire the City’s Blessing this turn!
In this scenario, your opponent allows you to use the stack in your favor.
Let’s say you play your Island. This is permanent #10, but you do NOT get the City’s Blessing, because you have no cards in play with Ascend.
- If you control ten permanents but don’t control a permanent or resolving spell with ascend, you don’t get the city’s blessing. For example, if you control ten permanents, lose control of one, then cast Golden Demise, you won’t have the city’s blessing and the spell will affect creatures you control.
You then go to combat, and attack with all of your Vampire tokens.
Your opponent, wanting to avoid some damage to their life total, declares his Firebrand as the blocker for one of your Vampires. Then, in what your opponent considers a cunning move, before damage is dealt they activate the Firebrand’s ability—tapping and sacrificing it—to deal 1 damage to another of your tokens.
This is your opportunity. The Firebrand is in the graveyard, and its ability is on the stack. You cast Expel from Orazca, adding it to the top of the stack.
Your opponent has no response, so Expel resolves first. The first thing it says is Ascend! Because the Firebrand’s ability has not yet resolved, you still have 10 permanents, and you receive the City’s Blessing!!
Now the remainder of your Expel resolves. You must return a nonland permanent to its owner’s hand. Oops! The Firebrand is gone, but you can still target the Vampire token that your opponent targeted with the Firebrand’s ability.
Your Vampire token is removed from the game, leaving you at nine permanents, so….
- Once you have the city’s blessing, you have it for the rest of the game, even if you lose control of some or all of your permanents. The city’s blessing isn’t a permanent itself and can’t be removed by any effect.
Sweet! You deal 3 damage during combat (one token blocked, one removed), but more importantly, Orazca has given you its blessing for good!
Scenario #2: Your opponent plays wisely and prevents you from receiving the City’s Blessing.
Let’s rewind. You played and Island, you went to combat, and now you’re swinging with five Vampire tokens.
Your opponent declares his Firebrand as a blocker.
Well. This isn’t good. You can’t exactly cast Expel from Orazca for the City’s Blessing right now. If you tried, Expel would go on the stack, and your opponent could respond with the Firebrand’s ability—reducing you to 9 permanents before Expel resolved.
And you can’t exactly wait until after combat. The Firebrand is about to trade with a Vampire token, meaning you’ll be left at only 9 permanents after combat.
Should you have skipped attacking to try and cast Expel during your End Step? Nope. No better, as your opponent could still use the stack to their advantage.
This turn only ends in a Blessing if your opponent tries to activate the Firebrand’s ability first.