# What happens if the text of Hardened Scales is changed from "if one or more" to "if zero or more"?

The card More or Less, from Unstable, has the text:

Add or subtract 1 or one from a number or number word on target spell or permanent until end of turn.

Suppose I use More or Less targeting Hardened Scales, which has the text:

If one or more +1/+1 counters would be put on a creature you control, that many plus one +1/+1 counters are put on it instead.

I choose the number word "one" in the condition of the replacement effect to change the text from "if one or more" to "if zero or more".

When will this replacement effect apply? I know that when 0 damage would be dealt, the game treats that as no damage being dealt. But are there any rules that cover zero +1/+1 counters being placed? If not, conceivably I would put one +1/+1 on each creature I control each time a spell or ability doesn't put any +1/+1 counters on a creature I control. Is that really how it works?

And furthermore, if that's how it works, does the replacement effect only apply to spells and abilities, or are there other game objects that the replacement effect would apply to, so that I would need to put +1/+1 counters on my creatures at times I might not have expected?

## 3 Answers

There's a few clear options to handle Hardened Scales at "zero or more".

Method 1, the black-bordered method: putting zero counters on something isn't a thing that happens; it's a non-event. If no counters were put, no counter-putting has occurred.

However, we're dealing with the silver-bordered world, and in that case we should seek out more awesome options. If something wants to care about zero +1/+1 counters being put on things, we can decide that must now be a thing that can happen.

There's two silver-bordered ways I think we can handle this. Method 2 below hardly works; method 3 I think works well.

Method 2, counters-on-everything-always: Things which have nothing at all to do with putting +1/+1 counters on a permanent are recognised as putting zero counters on that permanent by Hardened Scales, which makes that thing put a +1/+1 counter on that permanent.

The trouble with this method is "things" here can be anything based on what your group works out, from spells and abilities to even rules for progressing through phases and steps, to the several dozen state-based actions we check constantly. Depending on how wide you cast the net, it's fairly awesome but also proportionately unmanageable. Each turn through the game would put an arbitrary number of +1/+1 counters on everything, and make everything arbitrarily huge (but not infinitely huge). I don't recommend this because it's messy.

Method 3, things that put zero counters on stuff: If something can put +1/+1 counters on things, and would put some number on a specific permanent or set of permanents, but that number works out to be zero, Hardened Scales at "zero or more" makes it one +1/+1 counter instead for those permanents. This is the method I recommend.

This primarily affects two kinds of effects:

This scenario is a bundle of edge cases, but it lets us work in a silver-bordered but manageable way.

One of the wonderful things about silver-bordered cards is that we can do stuff that maybe doesn't technically work but that players would have lots of fun trying to make work.

Once you get down to corner cases and detailed rulings, a lot of silver-bordered cards don't really "work" at all.

For basic questions of "how do I use this at all," I recommend consulting the set's "FAQ". Beyond that, though, you are — intentionally — on your own.

To some extent, it's really up to you just how zany you want to make it, including how much you want to rules-lawyer about exactly what a weird card does. Generally, though, note that un-sets are far more "playable" when you approach them with a first-time player's sense of wonder rather than a combo player's desire to get the most out of every little weird interaction between two cards.

In this case, the most reasonable reading is that if an effect doesn't do anything with +1/+1 counters at all, the replacement effect won't happen in the first place. That's a boring answer since it means "0 or more" plays a lot like "1 or more," but the alternative is going to involve some nonsense with a lot of strange rules implications about phantom do-nothing actions that's far more tedious to really process in play than it is potentially whimsical — defeating half the point of playing the Un-cards in the first place.

Nothing funny of the like will happen, because you can't at any point choose to give a creature 0 counters. Consider Ajani, Mentor of Heroes's oracle ruling:

You announce how many counters will be placed on each target creature as you activate Ajani’s first ability. Each target must receive at least one counter.

It wants at least one counter on each target. This is because of rule 107.1c

For another perspective, look at the ruling for Blessings of Nature. Still each creature you choose must get 1 counter at least.

107.1c If a rule or ability instructs a player to choose “any number,” that player may choose any positive number or zero, unless something (such as damage or counters) is being divided or distributed among “any number” of players and/or objects. In that case, a nonzero number of players and/or objects must be chosen if possible.

• I guess there could be (and perhaps is, though I don't know offhand) an ability like "XG, T: Put X +1/+1 counters on target creature" without any restriction like "X can't be zero". That would let you put zero +1/+1 counters on a creature. It's not dividing anything, so that part of 107.1c doesn't apply. Dec 9, 2017 at 3:04
• There's no choosing in the OP's example, so 107.1c doesn't apply. Dec 9, 2017 at 21:18
• This answer relies on cards that distribute a number of counters among an arbitrary number of targets, There are cards that place X counters on a single target where X can be zero, like Lifecraft Awakening, Strength of the Tajuru, and Wildcall. This answer would only apply in the edge cases that 107.1c covers. Jan 24, 2021 at 15:50