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Recently played w/ a deck that contained Hooded Hydra (morphed to +5/+5). I was attacked with 3, 5/5 trampling rhino tokens. I assigned Hooded Hydra to block first, effectively killing it.

Enter the problem: Hooded Hydra's second effect which reads...

When Hooded Hydra dies, create a 1/1 green Snake creature token for each +1/+1 counter on it

How does this resolve from the non-active player's defending combat phase?

My understanding goes:

  • Death is instant

  • That this effect is a trigger as when is included in the wording, and

  • That Hooded Hydra's counters are created upon its death, instantly.

So, thinking these things, I figured:

  • Let Hooded Hydra take 5 damage and die,
  • Immediately be able to put its 5, 1/1 tokens onto the stack
  • Use them to defend against the next 5 damage

All my tokens would die, of course, but they would effectively prevent the necessary damage that would mean me losing the game to trampling rhino tokens

My opponent objected to my actions saying:

  • Creature deaths only occur when things go to the graveyard, at the very end phase.
  • Therefore, I could not create the 1/1 tokens, and would not be able to block the 5 damage to prevent my loss.

I don't think that's correct. Hooded Hydra's card doesn't state the condition, "when sent to the graveyard... create 1/1 tokens". Anyway. Things got heated. And to keep things mellow, I let play go their way, died, and the game ended.

So... What is the correct answer? Are any of my understandings of combat actions correct? Is my opponent correct? Were/are we both wrong? None of my rule reading has shed light on a firm resolution. Just lots more assumptions and possibilities.

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    One thing I want to mention: in Magic, "dies" is synonymous with "is put into a graveyard from the battlefield" (rule 700.4). So the ability effectively does say "When Hooded Hydra is put into a graveyard from the battlefield..." – murgatroid99 Oct 22 '20 at 21:46
  • "That Hooded Hydra's counters are created upon its death, instantly" Hooded hydra creates no counters on death - it creates tokens on death based on it's counters when it died. – Andrew Oct 23 '20 at 16:05
  • @murgatroid99 So helpful. Just started reading up on all the evergreen and expert keywords. Definitely getting in my education! – Cheers! – Snowstone Oct 23 '20 at 23:13
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Your opponents are mostly right.

What you're missing with this scenario are: combat steps, assigning damage, and triggered abilities.

When anyone attacks with creatures, there are certain steps that are taken. In general they are:

Before Combat
Declare Attackers
Declare Blockers
Damage

In each combat step, the action is only taken once. In other words, there is only one "At the beginning of combat". The attacker selects all attackers at once, and then they are set. The blocker selects all blocks at once, then they are set. Damage happens all at once.

In between and before each step, players get priority and triggers happen.

So, in your scenario:

Opponent declares 3 attacking rhinos
You block with Hooded Hydra
Damage happens

You take 10 damage, hooded hydra takes 5
Hooded hydra dies, and its death trigger goes on the stack
Assuming nothing else happens, the death trigger resolves and 5 snakes are created

Go to after combat (likely second main phase)

So, because the snakes are created after you have your opportunity to block, they can't be used as blockers. But they are created immediately on the death of Hooded Hydra.

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    Well, first the ability goes on the stack. Only after it resolves are the tokens created. – Arcanist Lupus Oct 22 '20 at 20:59
  • There is an end of combat step as well. Certain triggers care about it. – Arthur Oct 22 '20 at 21:14
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    @ArcanistLupus Indeed, and from the OP's description of the scenario, their life was at 0 or less after the Damage step - the game will end before the snakes are created. – Nuclear Hoagie Oct 22 '20 at 21:18
  • The trigger normally goes on stack after the damage step is done, then has to resolve like anything else - they are not created immediately on the death of hooded hydra it just usually looks that way. This would not happen in this scenario because the game would end from 0 life as SBA first. – Andrew Oct 23 '20 at 16:09
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    Jon, N.Hoagie, Arthur, A.Lupus – This was perfect. Not only do I know where my knowledge failed, I now have several points of context and added scenario elements I wasn't even considering. Seriously, you all have been a big help. Thanks a ton. So glad to be diving back into MTG. It's like coming home and remembering you're part of this huge, amazing family. – Cheers! – Snowstone Oct 23 '20 at 23:08
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Your opponent is mostly correct. Blockers are declared all at once and once declared can't be changed unless cards specifically say to do so (like creating a token that comes in blocking like Flash Foliage or removing the creature from combat with Labyrinth of Skophos). The rules for blocking are section 509 of the comprehensive rules:

509.1 First, the defending player declares blockers. This turn-based action doesn’t use the stack. To declare blockers, the defending player follows the steps below, in order. If at any point during the declaration of blockers, the defending player is unable to comply with any of the steps listed below, the declaration is illegal; the game returns to the moment before the declaration (see rule 723, “Handling Illegal Actions”).

509.1a The defending player chooses which creatures they control, if any, will block. The chosen creatures must be untapped. For each of the chosen creatures, the defending player chooses one creature for it to block that’s attacking that player or a planeswalker they control.

You choose all the creatures you will block with all at once, as an action that doesn't use the stack and thus cannot be responded to (though there is priority both before declaring blockers and after it before damage happens). Further the actual dealing of damage is covered in section 510 of the comprehensive rules:

510.1 First, the active player announces how each attacking creature assigns its combat damage, then the defending player announces how each blocking creature assigns its combat damage. This turn-based action doesn’t use the stack. A player assigns a creature’s combat damage according to the following rules:

510.2 Second, all combat damage that’s been assigned is dealt simultaneously. This turn-based action doesn’t use the stack. No player has the chance to cast spells or activate abilities between the time combat damage is assigned and the time it’s dealt.

All the damage assigned is dealt simultaneously - this means that at the same time the one rhino is doing 5 damage to your hydra and your hydra is doing 5 damage to the rhino, the other 2 are doing 10 damage total to you - even if you could add blockers after this point they would be added after the damage has already been done.

The term dies as used in magic is defined in the comprehensive rules too:

700.4 The term dies means “is put into a graveyard from the battlefield.”

And this isn't instantaneous either, just handled automatically by the game rules for state based actions, there's a few that matter here from the comprehensive rules: (704.3 cut short to remove what does not apply here)

704.3 Whenever a player would get priority (see rule 117, “Timing and Priority”), the game checks for any of the listed conditions for state-based actions, then performs all applicable state-based actions simultaneously as a single event.[...]

704.5 The state-based actions are as follows:

704.5a If a player has 0 or less life, that player loses the game.

704.5g If a creature has toughness greater than 0, it has damage marked on it, and the total damage marked on it is greater than or equal to its toughness, that creature has been dealt lethal damage and is destroyed. Regeneration can replace this event.

Since you said the other two rhinos were enough to kill you, meaning your life total was 10 or less, at the same time the hydra and rhino are sent to the graveyard, you lose the game, so the hydra's trigger never even gets put on the stack and no tokens are ever created.

The point where your opponent is wrong is where he said "things go to the graveyard, at the very end phase." Things to to graveyard immediately when a destroy effect happens like Doom Blade or Wrath of God or nearly immediately like in this case, when they are destroyed as a state based action. This never waits for the end phase. They may have meant the end of the combat phase, which is pretty close to correct in this situation, technically players get priority at the end of the combat damage step.

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    Thank you, Andrew :) This all really helped, and the rule link/sections will give me great references to learn even more. I tried reading through the rules on my own but, seriously, having someone walk me through it makes it waaaay more accessible. Once I get a bit of a base going I'm sure it will all start clicking more and more. So, I appreciate you taking the time to give an informed response – Cheers! – Snowstone Oct 23 '20 at 23:05

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