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For example, consider Akoum Boulderfoot. It says:

When Akoum Boulderfoot enters the battlefield, it deals 1 damage to target creature or player.

At what point does the player have to decide on the target? Specifically, is the following sequence of events correct?

  • Player announces the casting of Akoum Boulderfoot and declares my 1/1 creature the target
  • I cast Unsummon on my 1/1
  • Akoum Boulderfoot resolves, but its target is invalid, so the spell fizzles.

Or is the following sequence correct?

  • Player announces the casting of Akoum Boulderfoot
  • I cast Unsummon on my 1/1
  • Akoum Boulderfoot resolves, enters the battlefield, and then the player chooses a valid target
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Easy answer is the second scenario you propose. Akoum Boulderfoot's ability is a triggered ability, with the trigger for the ability being 'Akoum Boulderfoot has entered the battlefield'. Targets for spells and abilities are chosen when the spell or ability is put onto the stack. Triggered abilities do not go on the stack until the trigger for the ability is true. Permanents are not actually on the battlefield until the spell resolves.

Answer to your primary question though is no, you can't counter a creature by invalidating the target of its 'come into play effect', due to the come into play effect not going on the stack until the creature has fully resolved.

  • Your last comment is a bit inaccurate. If instead the card read "When you cast Akoum Boulderfoot, it deals 1 damage to target creature or player.", Akoum Boulderfoot would still not be countered if the target of its ability became invalid. The reason why not is simply that the creature spell and the card's ability are different things. A spell or ability can't be countered due to some other object lacking a valid target. – singletee Mar 11 '15 at 15:13
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    @Bret The question and this answer have absolutely nothing to do with "when you cast" effects. The topic is "enter the battlefield" effects, which I think Waterseas accurately covers. – Rainbolt Mar 11 '15 at 17:28
  • @Rainbolt, Of course. I was just pointing out (as you do in your answer) that the issue is not the timing of the effects but the fact that the creature spell and the activated ability are different objects. Waterseas' answer appears to say "the creature spell won't get countered because it has already resolved by the time the ability goes off", when the real answer is "the creature spell won't get countered because abilities of things that are countered don't also cause their source to be countered". – singletee Mar 11 '15 at 18:14
  • @Bret Well, there's more than one way to approach the question, and one of them does involve timing. By the time an ETB ability has triggered, the source of it must have resolved already, and therefore cannot possibly be countered. Waterseas took this approach, he arrived at a definitive answer of "No.", and his logic is not flawed. – Rainbolt Mar 11 '15 at 18:37
  • @Bret and Rainbolt To be honest, I did consider that my wording could lead to that conclusion. If you have a better way to word it, please feel free to propose an edit. Tis what that feature is there for after all. – Waterseas Mar 11 '15 at 19:29
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Just because you cause a creature's triggered ability to fail, that doesn't mean the creature spell is countered. Once a creature is on the battlefield it is no longer a spell and can't be countered. Here's the sequence of events.

  1. Opponent casts Akoum Boulderfoot.
  2. Opponent passes priority.
  3. You pass priority.
  4. Bouderfoot resolves, enters battlefield. (Note: It can't be countered now. But its triggered ability may still be thwarted.)
  5. "Comes into play" triggered ability is placed on stack. Opponent choses target of triggered ability.
  6. Opponent passes priority.
  7. You cast unsummon on the 1/1.
  8. You pass priority.
  9. Unsummon Resolves.
  10. Triggered ability of the Boulderfoot tries to resolve and fizzles when it checks for a valid target.

One more point of confusion: the first step of your first scenario is a common shortcut in casual games, although it isn't ideal play (because you're giving away information before you need to.) I see people announcing triggered ability targets as they cast quite often. If the opponent doesn't accept the shortcut and wishes to counter the creature spell before the trigger is added the stack, they can say so.

  • Confused what you claim I'm missing. I do in fact specify that the creature can't be countered by invalidating the target. – Waterseas Mar 10 '15 at 15:29
  • I concur with Waterseas. Your answer is more detailed, but he didn’t miss anything important. – Timwi Mar 11 '15 at 13:22
  • @Waterseas Obviously he thinks that "You can still save your creature with Unsummon." was a very important detail that you missed. Personally, I think it's not very important, and I'm not sure why he needed to call you out for missing it. I tend to write my own answers as if the others might cease to exist at any moment. – Rainbolt Mar 11 '15 at 13:41
  • @ghoppe I'm not bothered or anything, more bothered that they haven't responded. – Waterseas Mar 11 '15 at 14:10
  • @Waterseas I was confused by what the question was asking at first, and I think that coloured my response. I thought the question was really trying to ask "can I counter a creature ability." Of course a creature's comes into play trigger only happens after the creature has resolved so it's too late to counter it then. I'm going to edit and also add another note. – ghoppe Mar 11 '15 at 17:39
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If an enters the battlefield ability is countered by game rules, the source of that ability doesn't suddenly get countered as well.

The target of an enters the battlefield ability is always chosen when the creature enters (your second scenario). In general, you cannot choose targets for an ability that hasn't triggered yet.

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