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For example Tamiyo, the Moon Sage. Can I use the -8 ability even though she only has 4 loyalty? I understand it would kill her. Or would I have to get 8 loyalty first with the +1 ability?

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3 Answers 3

Wizard's wording on the matter is thus:

606.5. A loyalty ability with a negative loyalty cost can't be activated unless the permanent has at least that many loyalty counters on it

It doesn't specify how those counters get there. It could be through +X abilities, proliferate, or even cool things like Doubling Season. But they must exist on the planeswalker in order to pay the cost.

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606.5 is a specific case of 117.3: "A player can’t pay a cost unless he or she has the necessary resources to pay it fully. [...]" –  ikegami Oct 25 '12 at 21:30
    
So, does this mean that it's ok to kill off your planeswalker by using, for example, a -7 loyalty cost ability when it has 7 loyalty counters on it? –  cdeszaq Jul 2 '13 at 17:46
    
@cdeszaq Yes, but keep in mind that he will consider that to be the "last straw" and leave you since he has no more loyalty to you. (And apparently, he goes and hangs out with your dead creatures and old memories. I'm not sure why he'd do that...) –  corsiKa Jul 15 '13 at 22:39
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First things first - planeswalkers don't have "life", they have "loyalty counters".

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on the side of the table you're sitting on), you can't play an ability with a negative loyalty cost unless the planeswalker has at least that many loyalty counters on it.

See here for this and other official rules for planeswalkers in Magic.

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I was wondering, can you use the ability twice? or do you need a spell to make that happen? –  James Oct 25 '12 at 20:49
    
@james As the official rules state "You can play one of these abilities only at the time you could play a sorcery, and only if none of that planeswalker's abilities have been played yet that turn." –  ghoppe Oct 25 '12 at 20:52
    
You can play only one of the planeswalker's abilities on each of your turns, and as far as I know it's currently impossible to get around that restriction... but if you have enough loyalty counters, you can definitely play the -8 ability twice on two consecutive turns! (That's a lot of loyalty counters though.) –  thesunneversets Oct 25 '12 at 20:52
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@thesunneversets Two Doubling Seasons in play. 16 loyalty counters when it enters the battlefield. Done. ;) –  ghoppe Oct 25 '12 at 22:37
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I found out you have to use the +1 ability till you get enough loyalty.

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Do you have a rules reference for that? –  Pat Ludwig Oct 25 '12 at 20:44
    
This is a problem for something like Garruk Relentless –  corsiKa Oct 25 '12 at 20:44
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Well, you need to get at least as many loyalty counters on the planeswalker as the cost of the ability you plan to use. You don't necessarily have to use Tamiyo's +1 ability to get them there (though that's the obvious route) - you could Proliferate existing counters, for example... –  thesunneversets Oct 25 '12 at 20:45
    
Wow thanks for reminding me about proliferate!!! –  James Oct 25 '12 at 20:48
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