My opponent had a creature with an activated ability. He activated it to change his life total and in response I cast an instant taking control of the creature. He said the ability still resolved in his favor because it was already on the stack. I felt that it did not because it wasn't under his control for the resolution. I asked then if I cast the instant first he said that he would still be able to activate the ability due to it taking place at instant speed. Did he twist the rules to simply protect himself or is he correct that no matter what he gets to use the ability?

  • 8
    Please include the exact creature and ability; the wording may matter. Nov 30, 2023 at 18:06

2 Answers 2


Your opponent is correct. Once activated, the ability has no connection to the source in terms of who controls it.

113.7a Once activated or triggered, an ability exists on the stack independently of its source. Destruction or removal of the source after that time won’t affect the ability.

109.5. The words “you” and “your” on an object refer to the object’s controller, its would-be controller (if a player is attempting to play, cast, or activate it), or its owner (if it has no controller). For a static ability, this is the current controller of the object it’s on. For an activated ability, this is the player who activated the ability. For a triggered ability, this is the controller of the object when the ability triggered, unless it’s a delayed triggered ability. To determine the controller of a delayed triggered ability, see rules 603.7d–f.

Redundant rule:

113.8. The controller of an activated ability on the stack is the player who activated it.


Depends on the activated ability. If it is "gain 1 life", then he is correct. Once an ability is put on the stack, it exists independently of its source.

In the case you cast the instant first, he is permitted to respond before the instant resolves (barring split-second and such.)

Note that if you do lethal damage to the player before the ability resolves, the game will be over and the ability won't be able to resolve.

EDIT: As the other answer pointed out:

113.8. The controller of an activated ability on the stack is the player who activated it.

Thus, when you say:

I felt that it did not because it wasn't under his control for the resolution.

In fact, the ability is still under their control, even though you have gained control over the creature.

In the case the ability is activated after the spell is cast:

602.2. To activate an ability is to put it onto the stack and pay its costs, so that it will eventually resolve and have its effect. Only an object’s controller (or its owner, if it doesn’t have a controller) can activate its activated ability unless the object specifically says otherwise. Activating an ability follows the steps listed below, in order. If, at any point during the activation of an ability, a player is unable to comply with any of those steps, the activation is illegal; the game returns to the moment before that ability started to be activated (see rule 728, “Handling Illegal Actions”). Announcements and payments can’t be altered after they’ve been made. ... 602.2b The remainder of the process for activating an ability is identical to the process for casting a spell listed in rules 601.2b–i. Those rules apply to activating an ability just as they apply to casting a spell. An activated ability’s analog to a spell’s mana cost (as referenced in rule 601.2f) is its activation cost.

Note that there is no rule against activating an ability "at instant speed". For instance, contrast rule 307, which gives permission to cast sorceries when the stack is empty:

  1. Sorceries 307.1. A player who has priority may cast a sorcery card from their hand during a main phase of their turn when the stack is empty. Casting a sorcery as a spell uses the stack. (See rule 601, “Casting Spells.”)

Rule 602, which gives permission to activate abilities, contains no such condition that requires "when the stack is empty", which means they can activate "in response" to your ability.

  • 2
    What's a scenario where it wouldn't work this way? The player who activates an ability controls it, and an activated ability exists on the stack independent of its source. I can't think of a scenario where it depends on what the activated life-gain ability is, it's going to resolve even if the source changes controllers (and even if the ability references the card itself). Nov 30, 2023 at 18:21
  • Since the question said "change" rather than gain life, my first thought was Tree of Redemption. It would be helpful if the question was more specific. Tree of Redemption changing controllers might cause its toughness to change, which may affect "how favourably" the ability would resolve.
    – Han Guo
    Nov 30, 2023 at 18:33
  • Please include the rules and sources that back up this answer.
    – Joe W
    Nov 30, 2023 at 18:53
  • I've added some rules to back up the answer, but I don't know into how much detail the answer should go, especially because the question is so vague. The complete answer would involve the abilities being put on the stack, whatever control-changing effect being put on the stack, priority being passed, etc. Under rule 117.3, priority is given in APNAP order, but maintained when something is put on the stack (see rule 117.3c). Unfortunately, OP did not give enough detail to explain exactly how the priority passing works, but the result would be as I described.
    – Han Guo
    Nov 30, 2023 at 21:10
  • 1
    if it depends on the ability, then what would be an example of an ability which would not work due to the controller of creature changing?
    – ilkkachu
    Nov 30, 2023 at 21:14

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