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I am very new to the game, and I have a basic question about the mechanics. Some spells have multiple abilities; for instance, the creature Azorius Guildmage has two abilities, and it is my understanding that you can play any one of them whenever you have priority and have enough mana to pay the cost.

However, spells with abilities that cost nothing confuse me. Take Intellectual Offering, for example. Are you forced to play both abilities when you cast the spell? Is that because those are spell abilities, whereas in the first example above they are activated abilities? Is the following outline of what is supposed to happen when you play that spell correct? (Assuming we have priority.)

  1. Pay the mana cost, add Intellectual Offering on the stack.
  2. If it resolves, do as instructed (choose one opponent for each ability and apply the effects).

Since the abilities are both spell abilities, they don't go on the stack. So there is no counterplay possible once Intellectual Offering resolves. Is that correct?

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    The one thing you seem to be confused about is that when you cast the Guildmage, it's a spell on the stack, and when it resolves, it becomes a creature permanent on the battlefield, not a spell. And its abilities only function when it's on the battlefield. So it might be confusing to think of it as "a spell with multiple abilities" – murgatroid99 Jul 7 '15 at 18:31
  • @murgatroid99 Right, that makes a lot of sense. Thanks! – anon Jul 7 '15 at 18:37
  • When resolving an instant or sorcery, you follow the instructions written, in order. The line break is of no significance. – ikegami Jul 7 '15 at 19:00
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    AFAIK, the only spell with activated abilities is Lightning Storm. – Hao Ye Jul 7 '15 at 19:28
  • @HaoYe Yes, based on a quick search for instants/sorceries with colons in the text. (Plenty of instants and sorceries have activated abilities that can be used while they're in your hand or the graveyard, but only Lightning Storm works while it's on the stack.) – Cascabel Jul 8 '15 at 0:07
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Are you forced to play both abilities when you cast the spell?

Yes. Unless there are qualifiers ("may"/"up to" are popular ones), you must resolve all of a spell's effects.

Is that because those are spell abilities, whereas in the first example above they are activated abilities?

Not quite. It is because you are never forced to activate (pay the cost) of an activated ability.

For the spell, you are rarely forced to cast a spell, but if you do choose to cast the spell, you must resolve all of the spell's effects.

Is the following outline of what is supposed to happen when you play that spell correct?

You've got it. Normally, as part of putting a spell on the stack, you must also choose all of the targets of the spell. These targets are then checked for validity upon resolution. But that particular spell doesn't target, you "choose" the opponent(s) upon resolution.

Since the abilities are both spell abilities, they don't go on the stack. So there is no counterplay possible once Intellectual Offering resolves. Is that correct?

You can (nearly) always respond to a spell on the stack, but if the spell has multiple effects, you must resolve all of them (and they cannot be responded to any longer) once the spell starts resolving.

  • Thank you! It's perfectly clear now. Congrats on the 10k reputation, by the way ;-) – anon Jul 7 '15 at 18:40
  • Oh, hey, thanks for pushing me over! ;-D – ghoppe Jul 7 '15 at 18:40
  • Perhaps helpful: spell abilities are more analogous to static abilities than they are to activated or triggered abilities. They're just a thing that always happens, not a thing that happens at certain times. You don't pick and choose them any more than you pick and choose on a permanent that has multiple lines of static abilities. – Cascabel Jul 7 '15 at 21:53

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