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My girlfriend has Stitcher's Apprentice, and she thinks that you can activate its ability, use the homunculus to block, and then sac the homunculus. Is this possible, or does the sacrifice have to happen before the homunculus can be declared as a blocker?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Alex P has the answer right, but I thought it prudent to point out the principles you and your girlfriend are missing when it comes to the declare blockers step and playing and resolving abilities.

The Rules:

509. Declare Blockers Step

509.1. First, the defending player declares blockers. This turn-based action doesn't use the stack. To declare blockers, the defending player follows the steps below, in order. If at any point during the declaration of blockers, the defending player is unable to comply with any of the steps listed below, the declaration is illegal; the game returns to the moment before the declaration (see rule 717, "Handling Illegal Actions").

Note this well: declaring blockers is a turn-based action that doesn't use the stack. Therefore, if she wants to block with the Homunculus token, your girlfriend has to play the ability to generate the token during the Declare Attackers Step, after you've declared your attackers but before the Declare Blockers Step begins.

  • When abilities are played, the costs are payed (everything before the colon) then the ability is placed on the stack. Nothing happens yet.

To be clear, one of the costs to play the ability is tapping the Stitcher therefore she won't be able to block with it in the Declare Blockers Step.

  • While abilities are on the stack, players may play any other abilities or instant spells and place them on the stack but you cannot end any phase or step until you resolve any effects, abilities or spells on the stack.

I point this out to emphasize that the Declare Attacker's Step doesn't end until the stack is empty. There is no opportunity to declare blockers until the stack is empty. Even if she could do something during the resolution of the Stitcher's ability (see below), she couldn't declare blockers.

  • Once you start to resolve an ability or spell on the stack, you cannot do anything else besides following the instructions of the ability. The only things that can happen is that triggered abilities that depend on game state may be placed on the stack for resolution later.

So the Stitcher's ability resolves:

  1. Put a 2/2 blue Homunculus creature token onto the battlefield,
  2. then sacrifice a creature.

She could sacrifice the Homunculus just created and any "when a creature enters the battlefield" triggered actions will still trigger and be placed on the stack to be resolved or responded to with other effects after the Homunculus is sacrificed. But the Declare Blockers step hasn't begun yet, so it wouldn't be available to block as it is dead. The Stitcher would be tapped, too, so it wouldn't be available to block.

(Oops, got this striked-out part wrong. "Enters the battlefield" trigger isn't state-based, it's event-based. A trigger would have to be written as "if you ever have X creatures in play" or something similar for it to be state based. Very tricky and non-intuitive part of the rules, in my opinion!)

As Alex P suggested, she could wait until the Declare Blockers Step, declare the Stitcher as a blocker, then play the Stitcher's ability. (Note he misspoke a bit. There is no "between the declare-blockers step and the combat-damage step" — the ability resolves during the Declare Blockers Step.) When the ability resolves, she could sacrifice the Stitcher and have a Homunculus token on the battlefield.

In that case, During the Combat Damage Step, your attacker is still considered blocked, but has no creature blocking it, so it deals no damage (unless it has trample or some other deals damage as though it wasn't blocked ability.

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Thank you for putting my thoughts into words! I was trying to explain this to her but I wasn't doing a very good job. Hopefully she'll understand this. –  DForck42 Oct 26 '11 at 18:03

When an ability resolves, all parts of it are resolved in the listed order. You can't interpose any other actions (including playing another ability, but also including ending a step). So, you must sac a creature immediately after the homunculus comes into play (before any ETB triggers even go off).

What you can do is chump block with a creature you already have on the field (including the Apprentice itself), then activate the Apprentice's ability between the declare-blockers step and the combat-damage step, sacrificing your chump. Even if you end up saccing the Apprentice to its own ability, you're still trading up to a 2/2 and getting a body in your graveyard, which is useful in an Innistrad blue deck looking for corpses to enable cards like Skaab Goliath and Stitched Drake.

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Also, strictly speaking, there is no step between the Declare Blockers and Combat Damage steps. The chump blocking trick you describe happens fully in the Declare Blockers Step. –  ghoppe Oct 26 '11 at 18:43
    
Also be aware that if you it this way your sacrificed creature won't deal any combat damage to the attacking creature, since it's not there to fight. But the creature will be declared blocked and won't deal any damage to you. Unless it has trample, then it will deal full damage to you since there's no body there to soak up damage. –  AndSoYouCode Oct 27 '11 at 8:18

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