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Say, I have Cancel, which is an Instant, on my hand. It can counter any spells.

The opponent has had a creature, for example Ajani's Pridemate, on the battlefield for several turns attacking and blocking.

Can I use my Cancel onto Ajani's Pridemate and send it to the graveyard (or to its owner's hand)?

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You might want to have a look at the basic rulebook, linked from here. It'll help out in general with your understanding of the basic parts of the game (like spells and creatures) and even has a brief bit about countering spells, on page 24. – Jefromi Jul 31 '14 at 7:05
up vote 8 down vote accepted

As Gendolkari says - A creature on the battlefield is no longer a spell.

Once your Opponent's Ajani Pridemate makes it onto the battlefield, there is nothing Cancel can do to stop it's reign of attacking and blocking terror. Here are the step by step actions that were taken, including the only time your Cancel can hope to stem the tide of destruction caused by Ajani's cat friend.

  1. Your opponent chooses to cast Ajani's Pridemate from their hand.
  2. They place Ajani's Pridemate onto the table and says "I cast Ajani's Pridemate" to explicitly indicate that they are casting the spell, rather than accidentally dropping it onto the table. The spell is now "on the stack"
  3. They pay any costs involved in casting the spell (mana cost, and any additional costs such as sacrificing a creature for Fling)
  4. Your opponent, having not explicitly stated they are retaining priority implicitly passes priority to you. The spell is in the process of being cast, but has not yet resolved. It is still a creature spell on the stack.

At this point, if you do nothing, the creature spell will resolve, it will make it onto the battlefield, and your cancel will not be able to do anything about it. This is your first and last chance to prevent the otherwise inevitable cat invasion.

after your opponent passes priority, with the spell on the stack, you gain priority, and have the opportunity to cast any and all instants, or cards with flash, or activate any abilities of creatures you control for which you can pay the costs. This includes your Cancel.

  1. You gain priority and your opportunity to cast Cancel targeting the Ajani's Pridemate spell on the stack.
  2. You do so, your Cancel goes on the stack above Ajani's Pridemate
  3. You implicitly pass priority.
  4. Your opponent has nothing else they can do, and so must state "Cancel resolves" or some equivalent, indicating that they too pass priority without doing anything.
  5. The top card of the stack resolves, this is your Cancel. Cancel's effect happens, removing Ajani's pridemate from the stack and sending it to the graveyard.
  6. everything is fine, the world is once again safe from marauding cat men.

I recognise the above is a long-winded and thorough answer to your question, and the majority of it is overkill for the interaction that you are asking about. However, it should give you some insight into the complexity of the game. We should be clear, there are games where every one of these steps is absolutely critical to the victory of a player, and doing things at the exact right time can make the difference between winning and losing.

to give you a Tl;Dr

The only time your Cancel can target the Ajani's pridemate is the point where they pay mana to cast it from their hand. At this point, before it officially enters the battlefield (even though it may be physically "on" the battlefield i.e. the table), you always have an opportunity to say "No, because I cast Cancel". After that, it's too late.

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Tiny mistake in there: he can't cast sorceries in reply, of course. – RemcoGerlich Jul 31 '14 at 9:28
well spotted, i was clearly waxing too lyrical - fixed. – Patters Jul 31 '14 at 9:36
@Patters then, what about enchantment? One card, for example, has +2/+2 modifier and it's been cast onto a creature several turns ago. Can a Cancel remove that enchantment? – June Kim Jul 31 '14 at 13:18
the same applies, the enchantment on the battlefield is a permanent, not a spell. When that enchantment was first cast it was a spell, you could cancel it just like in the text above (replace Ajani Pridemate with the name of the enchantment). The thing you need to understand with cancel is it works on basically any spell. The only time anything is a spell, is when it is on the stack and being cast (it's costs have just been paid and its effects have not yet been performed, or is not yet on the battlefield) any other time, its either a permanent (on the battelfield) or a card (anywhere else) – Patters Jul 31 '14 at 13:34
@junekim It would be better in general to ask this a separate question; any time you have another question, even about a related topic, a new question is better. But since it can be a quick answer, the answer is that you can target any spell on the stack, simply because there's no limitations placed in what spells it can target. – GendoIkari Aug 3 '14 at 1:14

No. A "spell" is something that is in the process of being cast, while it is on the stack. A card in your hand, or on the battlefield, or anywhere but the stack, is not a "spell", so Cancel cannot target it.

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I think summoning a creature is a spell. Than, the creature card just put down in the turn to summon it could be canceled by Cancel spell(but cannot be canceled as soon as the turn ends)? – June Kim Jul 31 '14 at 6:26
No, the summon can only be cancelled when your opponent makes clear he want to place the creature on the battlefield. That's your only time to react on the spell. Once you accept it's on the battlefield, it can't be cancelled, so you don't even have until the end of turn. – Siebe Jul 31 '14 at 6:37
@Siebe, No, placing on the battlefield is not subject to countering. It must be a spell (a card or copy of on the stack) specifically. – ikegami Jul 31 '14 at 12:41
@ikegami I should have been clear. When he wants to place the creature on the battlefield by casting a creature spell that get's put on the stack of course. – Siebe Jul 31 '14 at 13:27

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