Magic Ruling: As the Gods Crumble
You control the following:
- The Scorpion God with a -1/-1 counter on it;
- The enchantment, Crumbling Ashes;
- And a 2/2 black Zombie token creature.
Your opponent controls no non-land permanents.
As your opponent’s turn ends, your three Swamps and two Mountains are tapped.
Is there still an opportunity to use The Scorpion God’s ability to avoid destroying it with the Crumbling Ashes trigger?
The short answer? There is not.
The first thing we should cover is whether you must, in fact, destroy anything with Crumbling Ashes.
603.2. Whenever a game event or game state matches a triggered ability’s trigger event, that ability automatically triggers. The ability doesn’t do anything at this point.
603.5. Some triggered abilities’ effects are optional (they contain “may,” as in “At the beginning of your upkeep, you may draw a card”)…
Because Crumbling Ashes does not include the word “may,” it will automatically trigger at the beginning of your upkeep phase.
Moving on—your best option here would be to use the Scorpion God’s ability and put a -1/-1 counter on your Zombie token, thus creating another applicable target before Crumbling Ashes triggers.
The three steps in the beginning phase of your turn are, in order: Untap Step, Upkeep Step, Draw Step.
So you do indeed get to untap your lands before Crumbling Ashes triggers! However, the rules for timing and priority are going to interfere with your plans.
116.1. Unless a spell or ability is instructing a player to take an action, which player can take actions at any given time is determined by a system of priority. The player with priority may cast spells, activate abilities, and take special actions.
116.3a The active player receives priority at the beginning of most steps and phases, after any turn-based actions (such as drawing a card during the draw step; see rule 703) have been dealt with and abilities that trigger at the beginning of that phase or step have been put on the stack. No player receives priority during the untap step.
That last line is what seals the deal in this scenario. You will not receive priority during your turn until your upkeep step has begun.
Final thought—can the stack help you?
You grudgingly reach the beginning of your upkeep step and Crumbling Ashes’ trigger goes on the stack. Now you receive priority to act. What’s to stop you from responding with The Scorpion God’s ability, putting a -1/-1 counter on the Zombie token, and then destroying the token instead of the god?
Unfortunately, the rules for targeting are to stop you…
114.1. Some spells and abilities require their controller to choose one or more targets for them … These targets are declared as part of the process of putting the spell or ability on the stack. The targets can’t be changed except by another spell or ability that explicitly says it can do so.
So you must target The Scorpion God when the ability is first put on the stack, meaning its fate is decided the moment your upkeep begins.
Optional extra credit ruling, for those of you who have that lingering question in the back of your heads… “Who said I have to target anything with this ability? Can’t I just not, or can’t I choose an unaffected target, like the Zombie, and let the ability fail?”
And to those of you, I give this sequence of rules to pore over:
601.2. To cast a spell is to take it from the zone it’s in (usually the hand), put it on the stack, and pay its costs, so that it will eventually resolve and have its effect. Casting a spell follows the steps listed below, in order. If, at any point during the casting of a spell, a player is unable to comply with any of the steps listed below, the casting of the spell is illegal; the game returns to the moment before that spell started to be cast (see rule 714, “Handling Illegal Actions”). Announcements and payments can’t be altered after they’ve been made.
601.2c. 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.)
603.3d. The remainder of the process for putting a triggered ability on the stack is identical to the process for casting a spell listed in rules 601.2c-d. If a choice is required when the triggered ability goes on the stack but no legal choices can be made for it, or if a rule or a continuous effect otherwise makes the ability illegal, the ability is simply removed from the stack.