Cryptic Command is one of those amazing modal spells that do anything, except maybe fetching you coffee”.
Let us scrutinize modal spells thoroughly. We’ll need a glance into the rules to do that:
- “Choose one —” in Boros Charm;
- “Choose two —” in Primal Command;
- “Choose one or both —” in Branching Bolt;
- “Choose one or more —” in Clan Defiance;
- “Choose three —” in Mystic Confluence
- or “[certain player] chooses one —” in Misfortune.
Cryptic Command has four modes. Its text allows you to choose any two modes the spell will be played with. You may not choose the same mode twice, they must be different modes:
- Counter target spell;
- This part of the Command’s effect counters target spell. It cannot counter an ability and may not target the Command itself. The countered spell is removed from the stack (usually, the card is moved to the graveyard, but other situations are possible) and has no effect.
- Return target permanent to its owner’s hand;
- This one may target any legal permanent on the battlefield. It doesn’t matter who controls it or what its card type is. It deals even with lands and planeswalkers.
- Tap all creatures your opponents control;
- This part of the Command’s effect does not target opponents! Only the creatures controlled by your opponents as the Command spell resolves are tapped. It doesn’t target creatures either, so it will tap creatures with protection, hexproof and shroud.
- Draw a card.
- If it is the first card you draw this turn, a Miracle can happen.
As the Command resolves, the chosen modes are fulfilled in the order printed on the card. This matters a lot sometimes:
700.2a. The controller of a modal spell or activated ability chooses the mode(s) as part of casting that spell or activating that ability. If one of the modes would be illegal (due to an inability to choose legal targets, for example), that mode can’t be chosen. (See rule 601.2b.)
700.2b. The controller of a modal triggered ability chooses the mode(s) as part of putting that ability on the stack. If one of the modes would be illegal (due to an inability to choose legal targets, for example), that mode can’t be chosen. If no mode can be chosen, the ability is removed from the stack. (See rule 603.3c.)
A player chooses modes as the spell (or ability) is put onto the stack. After this, the other modes are forgotten — the game doesn’t see them. An illegal mode may not be chosen.
700.2c. If a spell or ability targets one or more targets only if a particular mode is chosen for it, its controller will need to choose those targets only if he or she chose that mode. Otherwise, the spell or ability is treated as though it did not have those targets. (See rule 601.2c.)
This means that as you cast a modal spell, you choose targets only when you have chosen a mode that has targets.
If a spell has targets, they must be legal both when the spell is cast and when it resolves. If all targets become illegal at resolution, it is countered (fizzled in game slang). Being countered means that it leaves the stack without having its effect.
If you cast Cryptic Command choosing “Return target permanent to its owner’s hand” and “Draw a card”, and that permanent gains protection from blue before your Command resolves, it is countered and you do not get to draw a card.
If you choose “Counter target spell” and “Return target permanent to its owner’s hand”, and the permanent becomes an illegal target, the Command will still resolve due to still having a legal target. The target spell will be countered on the Command’s resolution.
700.2d. If an effect allows a particular mode to be chosen more than once and that mode requires a target, the same player or object may be chosen as the target for each of those modes, or different targets may be chosen.
700.2f. Modal spells and abilities may have different targeting requirements for each mode. Changing a spell or ability’s target can’t change its mode.
700.2g. A copy of a modal spell or ability copies the mode(s) chosen for it. The controller of the copy can’t choose a different mode. (See rule 706.10.)
700.2e. Some spells and abilities specify that a player other than their controller chooses a mode for it. In that case, the other player does so when the spell or ability’s controller normally would do so. If there is more than one other player who could make such a choice, the spell or ability’s controller decides which of those players will make the choice.
For the dessert:
- ⇑ According to rule 609.3, if an effect attempts to do something impossible, it does only as much as possible. I.e. the Command will not be countered just because the creature spell cannot be countered. It will continue to resolve.
Translated by Witas Spasovski