I just started learning magic a week ago and I've been playing duels of the planeswalkers 2014 to kind of get a hang of things.

I'm confused with something that has happened twice now. I'm playing against a campaign deck with a Goblin Fireslinger which has an activated ability that says:

{T}: Goblin Fireslinger deals 1 damage to target player.

So this gets cast while I have the instant Path to Exile in my hand, which "Exile(s) target creature." So I cast that.

Now it is my understanding with the way the stack works that once the GF uses its ability and then I follow it up with the Exile, the exile is resolved first so the GF should be exiled before it can resolve. And that's what the game does, but it still resolves the GF's ability while that card is exiled and deals me one damage.

I tried looking for why this could have happened, but I haven't been able to find an answer myself. I can't find anything that says an exiled spell still casts... I'm just confused about the way this works.


4 Answers 4


Your understanding of how the stack works is correct: your path will resolve and exile the fireslinger before its ability resolves. What you're missing is rule 112.7a, which says that the fireslinger's activated ability exists independently of the fireslinger. Once you put it on the stack, the 1 damage is its own object and exists even if the fireslinger itself leaves the battlefield:

112.7a Once activated or triggered, an ability exists on the stack independently of its source. Destruction or removal of the source after that time won't affect the ability. Note that some abilities cause a source to do something (for example, "Prodigal Pyromancer deals 1 damage to target creature or player") rather than the ability doing anything directly. In these cases, any activated or triggered ability that references information about the source because the effect needs to be divided checks that information when the ability is put onto the stack. Otherwise, it will check that information when it resolves. In both instances, if the source is no longer in the zone it's expected to be in at that time, its last known information is used. The source can still perform the action even though it no longer exists.

If you want to actually counter the ability, there are very few ways to do so. Less than 20 cards in all of magic can counter activated abilities.

  • Isn't there just one or two cards that directly counter abilities? Granted, giving the target Hexproof or Protection from Red would counter the ability. (In both case, Last Known Information will supply the Goblin's color and its controller.)
    – ikegami
    Oct 19, 2014 at 5:42
  • 1
    @Ikegami stifle, squelch and voidslime all counter abilities, and there's at least 11 cards that mention countering activated abilities Oct 19, 2014 at 7:08
  • @ikegami, by my count: eight cards that can counter any activated ability, one card that can counter most activated abilities (creature/artifact/enchantment/land source), and four cards that can counter activated abilities of artifacts.
    – Brian S
    Oct 20, 2014 at 14:03
  • That has already been pointed out. Anyway, the point of my post was to introduce the reader to the concept of invalid targets on resolution and LKI.
    – ikegami
    Oct 20, 2014 at 14:40

This is part of your confusion:

I tried looking for why this could have happened, but I haven't been able to find an answer myself. I can't find anything that says an exiled spell still casts... I'm just confused about the way this works.

It isn't a matter of "an exiled spell still casts" here.

A spell is a card on the stack: an instant, sorcery, creature, etc. When Goblin Fireslinger was being cast, just before it entered the battlefield, it was a spell. When Path to Exile was being cast, before it resolved, it was a spell. Those are the only two spells involved in this scenario.

Goblin Fireslinger doesn't create a spell. As you pointed out, it has an activated ability. When you activate it, that puts an activated ability on the stack. (That's important: it means you can stop it with Stifle, but not with Cancel.) If you're imagining the Goblin itself, which you exiled, was on the stack in some capacity, that's not the case.

So, the Goblin got exiled just fine and won't be doing anything else, but its ability is now its own thing still on the stack waiting to resolve.

And that ability exists independently of it. Check the Basic Rules, page 14:

If you activate an ability but then the permanent the ability came from leaves the battlefield, the ability will still resolve.

That's why its ability can get resolved even whilst the Goblin isn't still there.

If you want to learn more about how spells and abilities work, I suggest you read those pages in the Basic Rules book, and possibly for further clarification read this answer that helped me a lot when I was new. In fact, if you haven't read the Basic Rules yet, I suggest you do! I never knew they existed until a while after I started.


When you activate an ability (the damage ability, for example), it exists on the stack as its own object independent from the object it was activated from (Goblin Fireslinger, for example). So even if you exile the Goblin Fireslinger, the ability is still on the stack and it still resolves.


As other people have already pointed out, Goblin Fireslinger's ability still resolves because the ability exists independently of the creature itself. So something would have to happen to the ability rather than the creature.

To expand a bit on what everyone has said about countering abilities - although there are very few cards that will directly counter an ability, what you can often do much more easily is to make its target(s) invalid. Spells or abilities that don't have any legal targets when they try to resolve are automagically countered (rule 608.2b).

E.g. you could cast Gilded Light while Goblin Fireslinger's ability was on the stack, and the ability would be countered. There aren't many ways to make yourself an invalid target, but there are lots of ways to do this with creatures and other permanents.


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