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My friend and I had a very long (and incredibly close) Commander duel last night which I barely won, and one of many crucial moments hinged on a counterspell I used.

My friend and I both are basically out of creatures. They cast Jarad's Orders, and search their library for two creatures. They decide on Sheoldred, Whispering One and another creature, and want Sheoldred to enter the battlefield, so they can retrieve the other later. I have plenty of swamps, so obviously I am displeased with this. In response, I cast Countersquall after they have chosen the creatures, revealed them, and decided where they were going.

Was this incorrect? Was it too late at that point for me to do something about it? Because honestly, were it not for that counter, I might very well have lost. I got wrecked in the previous two matches we had so I don't feel too bad, but I want to be upfront with them.

Thank you for any help.

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    Note that Sheoldred goes to their hand and not directly to the battlefield, so if you have a counter that can target creatures you can use that when they cast Sheoldred. – diego Aug 15 '16 at 18:11
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    I have to ask: how did the number of swamps you controlled affect your decision to counter the spell? – murgatroid99 Aug 15 '16 at 18:15
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    @murgatroid99 I imagine Sheoldred's Swampwalk would have been unpleasant for them. – Chris Hayes Aug 15 '16 at 18:19
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    I always treat Sheoldred basically as an enchantment with the last two abilities, so I honestly just forgot it had Swampwalk. – murgatroid99 Aug 15 '16 at 18:23
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This was incorrect. When a player casts a spell, it goes on the stack, and then each player has a chance to respond to it by casting other things, such as Countersquall, before the spell resolves.

When both players pass, then the top spell of the stack resolves, which is when you follow the instructions on the card*. So by the time your opponent was searching for cards, you would have had to already passed and chosen not to respond to or counter Jarad's Orders.

*To add some details for full accuracy: There are some instructions on cards that come into play before a card resolves. Especially:

  1. Additional or alternate costs - Some cards have additional costs for casting; in the case of Draconic Roar, your opponent would reveal the card as part of casting the spell, before it resolves. This is because it's part of the cost.
  2. Targets - You choose all targets for a spell as part of the casting process. So if your opponent casts a Lightning Bolt, you will know what he is trying to do damage to before you decide if you want to counter it or not. But note that the cards found with Jarad's Orders were not targets, because the card doesn't use the word "target".
  3. Modes - For cards that have multiple options of how they can be used, this choice is made while casting the spell. See Healing Salve.
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    It might also be worth pointing out that between the spell's resolution, nobody gets priority, which is why if you let it begin to act, you can't do anything until the whole spell's done. – doppelgreener Aug 15 '16 at 18:09
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    One other thing to note is that there are cases where it is 'reveal, then counter'. This is specific to the case that the text on the card says "as an additional cost to play this card, reveal X". This happens before the card goes on the stack. The specific instance of Jarad's Orders does not say this, so the above answer is correct. – Nate Diamond Aug 15 '16 at 18:59
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    I would like to note that Jarad's Orders instructs you to "search your library" for the cards, and there are no cards ever that have costs that involve searching a library. – murgatroid99 Aug 15 '16 at 20:39
  • GendoIkari, thank you for your succinct response. I must choose your answer only because I found it most helpful; specifically, your wording helped me understand most easily how a spell transitions from the stack to resolution. My understanding of it previously was a little backwards! – Violet Aug 15 '16 at 23:02
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    @NateDiamond I added details to be more accurate about which instructions you wait to follow. – GendoIkari Aug 16 '16 at 18:59
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You cannot cast spell or activate abilities during the resolution of a spell or ability unless the spell or ability tells you to cast a spell or it requires you to pay mana (and then you can only activate mana abilities).

Magic has a system called priority that determines if you can cast a spell, and no player gains priority during the resolution of another spell. (Rule 116.3 explains how a player gets priority)

608.2f If an effect gives a player the option to pay mana, he or she may activate mana abilities before taking that action. If an effect specifically instructs or allows a player to cast a spell during resolution, he or she does so by following the steps in rules 601.2a–i, except no player receives priority after it’s cast. That spell becomes the topmost object on the stack, and the currently resolving spell or ability continues to resolve, which may include casting other spells this way. No other spells can normally be cast and no other abilities can normally be activated during resolution.

116.1. Unless a spell or ability is instructing a player to take an action, which player can take actions at any given time is determined by a system of priority. The player with priority may cast spells, activate abilities, and take special actions.

  • diego, thank you for your response. I appreciate your citing the rules, as well! I am aware of priority but it still boggles me a little bit. And clearly I misunderstood when exactly a spell resolved. This was very helpful. – Violet Aug 15 '16 at 22:59
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I originally made false assumptions... since I believe such mistakes may be easily made, I'm going to update my original response with strikethroughs and add comments in bold to show where I\others may go wrong...


As I see it in the current comprehensive rulebook...

601.2 is the casting process. The keys:

601.2c The player announces his or her choice of an appropriate player, object, or zone for each target the spell requires.
601.2h The player pays the total cost in any order.

So indeed, if you couldn't wait until after targets were selected, you'd have to counter the spell BEFORE mana was paid!?! Not how I've ever seen it done. Technically true, but there's a key word that explains why this doesn't work as I expected when writing this...

But the clarity continues further:

701.4a To cast a spell is to take it from the zone it’s in (usually the hand), put it on the stack, and pay its costs, so that it will eventually resolve and have its effect. A player may cast a spell if he or she has priority. See rule 601, “Casting Spells.”

As diego's answers seems to allude to, no one has priority to act after the spell is initially cast into the stack... indeed the opponent could add other instants first if they wanted to. But you have the right to cast your counterspell onto the stack as you wish before it does resolve. **Rule 601.2i shows the caster has priority first after the initial cast. If they do not add anything to the stack, then the other player has the option to do so (see passing priority in 116.3d). I don't imagine this affects things a lot, but not knowing what cards there are now, could be entirely wrong! Still not sure what priority would have to do with this scenario, but I was wrong in my explanation.*
Perhaps confusingly, casting is just the initial act, and the stack goes on from there, allowing additional spells, including counterspells:

701.5a To counter a spell or ability means to cancel it, removing it from the stack. It doesn’t resolve and none of its effects occur. A countered spell is put into its owner’s graveyard.

Note that if it removes it from the stack, it must already be in the stack, which means it must already be "cast", which means all of 601.2 took place first, including selecting targets. It thus appears based upon how WOC has defined cast (as just the initial declaration process) that it is impossible to prevent casting, which, at least for an old player like me, that seems would cause unexpected effects, as many cards might activate even if the spell is countered (or perhaps they've cleaned up the rules\writings since the era I played in... which indeed even included a separate category called interrupts for counterspells. So perhaps my concerns on card language have been taken care of.). Again, appears all this is true... but there's an additional term which I faltered at in my understanding throughout...

But further evidence of the process:

701.5b The player who cast a countered spell or activated a countered ability doesn’t get a “refund” of any costs that were paid.

Since targeting takes place BEFORE paying cost, indeed you counter later. Again true. But need to properly understand those terms

I see nothing odd in the wording of Jarad's Orders, the cards appear to be the target.
If that's so, then it's clear. Just as DavidZ and Hackworth suggested in the linked similar question given (At what point does a spell 'target' its target?). Targeting is one of the initial actions of just commencing casting (before mana is even paid), and so countering not only can be done later... but MUST properly wait until after targeting. And you were entirely correct in doing what you did.


Resolution:
What I'd failed to understand was the term target. I had assumed that whatever a card was directed towards was the target.

But that is entirely NOT true.

114.9a Just because an object or player is being affected by a spell or ability doesn’t make that object or player a target of that spell or ability. Unless that object or player is identified by the word “target” in the text of that spell or ability, or the rule for that keyword ability, it’s not a target.

And

114.9. Spells and abilities can affect objects and players they don’t target. In general, those objects and players aren’t chosen until the spell or ability resolves. See rule 608, “Resolving Spells and Abilities.”

So MTG has a specific meaning of the word target, and only cards explicitly using the word TARGET must choose the intentions of the spell before the counterspell opportunity.

Because Jarad's Orders doesn't say target, you cannot wait until after he chooses (after resolution) to counter. Your play was not allowed.

Word meaning has gotten so complex these days!

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    Yes, a spell must be completely cast and on the stack before it can be put on the stack, including choosing targets. But the OP isn't asking about choosing targets. They're asking about cards which are revealed in the process of the spell resolving, nothing to do with targets. – Cascabel Aug 15 '16 at 19:10
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    "no one has priority to act after the spell is initially cast into the stack". This is incorrect; the player who cast the spell gains priority, and all players have priority before the spell resolves. – murgatroid99 Aug 15 '16 at 19:41
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    If you want to fix your answer, that's awesome, but it's generally best to just edit into a form that directly answers the question. The previous versions will be retained in the revision history if you want to point people at them. When you leave everything in the answer like this, it takes a lot of reading to understand what your actual point is, and can be a bit confusing even after all that reading. – Cascabel Aug 15 '16 at 19:52
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    @JeopardyTempest If you want to explain that Jarad's Orders doesn't target, go for it. I'm not saying not to explain that, I'm saying make sure you answer the question in a way that's easy to understand for future readers - directness, clarity and brevity are more important than explaining the entire thought process by which you wrote your answer. (And the reason I'm not editing is that I'm essentially suggesting rewriting the whole answer, a bit much for me to do to someone else's answer.) – Cascabel Aug 15 '16 at 20:06
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    @JeopardyTempest In response to your edit regarding priority: Priority is the opportunity to act. If you say nobody has priority, that means that nobody can respond to a spell, which is clearly incorrect, and also inconsistent with the following statements. – murgatroid99 Aug 15 '16 at 20:10

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