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Mirror-Mad Phantasm in the upcoming Innistrad set looks like the following:

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If I use the Phantasm in combat against a creature that does at least 1 damage, is it possible to activate its ability after combat damage has been applied but before the Phantasm enters the graveyard? I'd really like to do 5 damage and return to the battlefield unscathed.

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Unfortunately that's quite against the law! Even the laws of the spirit world...

The way the timings work in Magic are basically as follows: after you announce the beginning of combat, both players have a chance to play spells and effects. After attackers are declared, both players have a chance to play spells and effects; after blockers are declared, both players have a chance to play spells and effects. Once all of that is finished with, we go directly to combat damage. There is no window of opportunity for the Phantasm to activate its ability before it deals and receives combat damage and goes to the graveyard.

Well, I say that... there is one way! If you can manage to give the Mirror-Mad Phantasm first strike, it will deal its 5 damage in the first strike combat damage phase, and then there will be a chance for you to activate its ability before the normal combat damage step. It's probably not what you wanted to hear, but that's the only way to do it.

Are you getting as excited for Innistrad as I am? I can't remember the last time a Magic set had so much sheer flavour about it...

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I hadn't thought of the first-strike trick, but that would obviously work. Is there no timing slot between "damage applies" and "creatures enter graveyard"? In my old play group we used to do things in that slot all the time as the "last chance" to use abilities on creatures that were about to die. –  JSBձոգչ Sep 13 '11 at 14:20
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@JSB, in the old rules you could assign damage and then play spells and abilities "with damage on the stack". This was very explicitly changed in a major rules overhaul a couple of years ago. It still causes huge amounts of confusion to all players with hazy memories of playing the game years back... things just don't work the same way any more! –  thesunneversets Sep 13 '11 at 14:22
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(Self-answering:) I believe that creature death is a state-based effect, not a stack-based effect, so it actually isn't possible to cast instants in the moment between when the creature dies and when it enters the graveyard. However, I think our old play style was still technically legal while combat damage used the stack, as you could activate abilities and put them on the stack before damage resolved, then resolve them even if the activating creature had died. –  JSBձոգչ Sep 13 '11 at 14:23
    
You beat me to it :). –  JSBձոգչ Sep 13 '11 at 14:24

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